Do you know the phenomenon of covering your eyes to make your hearing sharper? It happens because it narrows your focus. The same is true about music writing, narrowing your focus by using strategic limitations can increase creativity.
This phenomenon actually happened a long time ago, when musicians were limited with their gear, equipment, audio channels, instruments, etc. They had to find ways to create something new with what they had, but you can use limitation to make yourself more creative even in the age of unlimited tracks, instruments and effects.
Where to start?
Bass writing with only one note
Writing a bass part using only one note will create the urge to be creative regarding rhythm or sound intensity. In this case the mind will have an easier time focusing on accents, colors and groove, which will inject life into your part writing before you go into adding scales and notes.
Here are 2 examples:
Harmony/melody writing on one consistent rhythm type
Writing a harmony/melody part using only one consistent rhythm (quarter notes or half notes for example) will get the mind to focus on note choice and melodic contour. In this case the mind will focus on colors, feeling and energy, which will give you the freedom to choose notes that sound fresh and unique before you go on into adding rhythmic variations.
There’s another benefit to this exercise, it helps you to let go of scale limitations, aka which notes are theoretically right or wrong. You will choose the notes that “feel” right even if you don’t have a deep understanding of music theory.
Shaping your sounds only with a dynamic EQ like Frequency 2 in Cubase
For production purposes you can restrict yourself to shaping your sounds only with a dynamic EQ. It can be beneficial if you have been provided only with full audio channels and no VST instruments/synth plugins. You will be amazed how much you can achieve with this diverse powerful tool in your productions, and in some cases it’s actually easier than to start fiddling with unknown synth controllers.
One more benefit is that you’re going to learn your dynamic EQ effect so deeply and from so many angles that you will be able to do much more than just equalize frequencies with it.
Be creative, try to make a sound feel “far away”, make the kick and the bass sit better in the mix without ruining the waveform of the sub, use automations and make a pad feel more rhythmic… The options are endless.
If you know about other ways to use limitations in order to increase creativity, feel free to share them so others will enjoy developing their skills.