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Old 10-14-2012, 10:49 PM   #1
ToneMasterDelux
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Can't Improvise

We've all had those days we have trouble playing, the problem is I feel like this has been happening and getting worse for a week or two.

Usually I'm pretty good at improvising (at least thats what people say) and I can make things sound pretty melodic. Lately I've found my improvising is terrible and does not sound cohesive at all. The strange thing is that this usually happens when I focus more on scales and modes for a while, my teacher has told me to do a bunch of scales and 2nds and 3rds and such everyday and I'm wondering why this would cause me problems.

I still try jamming with friends and backing tracks and cds everyday but it doesn't get better and certainly not back to where I was at a week or two ago, what is wrong with me and how can I fix it? I kind of feel locked within the scales but even thinking outside of them doesn't help and you'd think knowing the scales would help...
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Old 10-14-2012, 11:19 PM   #2
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Quote:
does not sound cohesive at all


This part makes me think three things:

1. You're not following the harmonic changes. Therefore, your melodies lack direction and aren't overly harmonious with the backing track.

2. You're not playing in time.

3. All of the above.

I'm not sure what your skill level is, but from what I've seen, 9/10 times the reasons I listed are exactly the problem. Ya can't just play scales randomly and expect it to sound great and flow together.

But like I say, I have no idea what your skill level is.
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Old 10-15-2012, 12:15 AM   #3
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Start with easy pentatonic scales (in the box), until you get the feel & flow of your playing, recognize the patterns, change the positions but following the chords.

Build yourself from there.

What would really help, if you record yourself playing the chords on your computer or if you have a track recorder (eg GNX4), then playback the chord progression & follow using simple pentatonic scales, if you have a drum machine to...play the chord structure around that.

A simple chord progression I IV V progression (simple blues) E A B or A D E, lots of songs use this progression.

Good luck!
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Old 10-15-2012, 12:26 AM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ToneMasterDelux
(at least thats what people say)

That would be your problem there
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Old 10-15-2012, 12:34 AM   #5
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think about this for a second, TS: why do you want to improvise?
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Old 10-15-2012, 01:44 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Hail
think about this for a second, TS: why do you want to improvise?


Yeah, because improvising is pointless


I've been in the same boat as you. Are you talking about improvising on a lead style, or improvising progressions for a lead to play on top of? Either way one way to help is to start with a basic riff to jam over, then work on transitions into different parts using chords within the key. If you are playing lead, you have to trust your rhythm section to make progression changes while you solo. If you are playing rhythm (bass or guitar), experiment with different progressions. For example if you are playing in A Aeolian, one of my go to part Bs to a jam would be going down to the low E then to the F then back to the E, creating a Phrygian type sound. Or if you are playing in A Aeolian, you could go to C major chord to change the type of sound and effect it has under the lead.
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Old 10-15-2012, 02:03 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Hail
think about this for a second, TS: why do you want to improvise?

Well, mostly because that is one of the things I love most about guitar playing. It is also a way that I find produces some good songs and licks and I'm pretty inspired by jam bands.

To the others I would say I am moderate leveled, I could always learn more theory/ sight reading. This isn't a matter of not understanding concepts, by cohesive I meant that it fits into the song and is in the correct key but I feel I can no longer make it sound like a song.

What I used to do was play very much by ear and location syncopation (that is I can easily find the key of the song) then from there use scale and fretboard patterns to connect the notes and play what I want. Now after playing scales for a while my playing feels more linear and does not encompass the majority of the fret board but feels locked within a pattern such as playing in a 1E scale then just moving up to a 2A scale and not playing in between at all.
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Old 10-15-2012, 02:18 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by fenderbassist12
Yeah, because improvising is pointless


when you know the why, the how is easy.

Quote:
I've been in the same boat as you. Are you talking about improvising on a lead style, or improvising progressions for a lead to play on top of? Either way one way to help is to start with a basic riff to jam over, then work on transitions into different parts using chords within the key. If you are playing lead, you have to trust your rhythm section to make progression changes while you solo. If you are playing rhythm (bass or guitar), experiment with different progressions. For example if you are playing in A Aeolian, one of my go to part Bs to a jam would be going down to the low E then to the F then back to the E, creating a Phrygian type sound. Or if you are playing in A Aeolian, you could go to C major chord to change the type of sound and effect it has under the lead.


there's a bit more to it than telling TS to use a phrygian half cadence.

if you can't improvise, angelcityoutlaw's pretty much got it. your melodies likely lack direction, and this means you aren't using your ear. to improvise at a basic level, you only need a sufficient degree of technical ability on your instrument, and you need an ear. you might not be listening -- are you playing the guitar or is the guitar playing you?

i have no idea what you're talking about with "1E" and "2A", and that's saying something. but regardless, there's your problem - you're playing scales. you're focusing on patterns. consider the question i posed rhetorical; the guitar is playing you.

focus on using your ear. improvise over a track and limit yourself to 2-3 notes per chord. start learning to construct small melody snippets in real time. this will help you learn to improvise far more than playing a few scales will.
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Old 10-15-2012, 02:38 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AeolianWolf
when you know the why, the how is easy.



there's a bit more to it than telling TS to use a phrygian half cadence.

if you can't improvise, angelcityoutlaw's pretty much got it. your melodies likely lack direction, and this means you aren't using your ear. to improvise at a basic level, you only need a sufficient degree of technical ability on your instrument, and you need an ear. you might not be listening -- are you playing the guitar or is the guitar playing you?

i have no idea what you're talking about with "1E" and "2A", and that's saying something. but regardless, there's your problem - you're playing scales. you're focusing on patterns. consider the question i posed rhetorical; the guitar is playing you.

focus on using your ear. improvise over a track and limit yourself to 2-3 notes per chord. start learning to construct small melody snippets in real time. this will help you learn to improvise far more than playing a few scales will.


I used to suck at improvising because you're right I would just play scales. After a few years though your ear will know which direction to go in better because you are more familiar with the tension between half steps and how to resolve back to the key. The patterns can put a limit on creativity, but it's pretty damn convenient to know every note in a key on every fret on every string. I'm not sure I have a "problem" other than not being able to explain myself clearly, which I will try to do better.

Also
Quote:
Originally Posted by AeolianWolf
when you know the why, the how is easy.


I don't know what you mean by this, are you agreeing with the guy saying that improvisation is pointless?
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Last edited by fenderbassist12 : 10-15-2012 at 02:39 AM.
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Old 10-15-2012, 08:36 AM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by fenderbassist12
I don't know what you mean by this, are you agreeing with the guy saying that improvisation is pointless?


I doubt he's saying that..when you know whats wrong its easy fix. Finding your problem is the hard part.

I hard a few guitarist mention learning songs by hear..I heard sinister gates from a7x say that.

Didn't realize it at first, But I started transcribing everything I could. starting with X-mas corals, cartoon & movie themes. all single note melodies.

Then all of a sudden my solo sounded like a solo? not that great but not bad at all!

all the scales in the world wont train your ears. aeolian wolf is right you need to train your ears.
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Old 10-15-2012, 10:09 AM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ToneMasterDelux
We've all had those days we have trouble playing, the problem is I feel like this has been happening and getting worse for a week or two.

Usually I'm pretty good at improvising (at least thats what people say) and I can make things sound pretty melodic. Lately I've found my improvising is terrible and does not sound cohesive at all.

Subjective. I go through this all the time where I'll say "I don't like anything I played today" after a rehearsal and my buddies and instructor will go, "No, man. There were a few times when you would play something really nice, stop yourself and make some sound like you messed up."
It's a confidence thing. You could try this improvisation practice technique: Get a backing track going... Any time you feel like you should play something, dont. If you feel like you shouldn't play something, play something. It gets you to explore new phrasing ideas which is a great way to spice up a solo. The trap a lot of people learning to improvise fall into if finding one rhythmic phrase and working with that and that leads to stagnation of ideas very quickly.

Quote:
The strange thing is that this usually happens when I focus more on scales and modes for a while, my teacher has told me to do a bunch of scales and 2nds and 3rds and such everyday and I'm wondering why this would cause me problems.

Because then you're thinking in terms of scales. Grinding scales in different ways (rhythms, 3rds, 4ths, 5ths, etc., different positions on neck) are just technical exercises for you to do so that when you get an idea, no matter what it is in your head, your fingers are able to make it happen.
When you solo, if you're "playing changes" think in terms of the color tones (3rds, 7ths) and how they move throughout the changes. That can help give direction to your line.
Also focus on the overall "sound" of your solo. What I mean by this is do you want a flashy Charlie Parker solo thats technically impressive or do you want a grooving in-the-pocket solo like Wes Montgomery?

Quote:
I still try jamming with friends and backing tracks and cds everyday but it doesn't get better and certainly not back to where I was at a week or two ago, what is wrong with me and how can I fix it? I kind of feel locked within the scales but even thinking outside of them doesn't help and you'd think knowing the scales would help...

Knowing scales helps to a point because that centers you around the "right notes."
Keep jamming with friends. When you jam with your friends, remember that it's not a performance and people aren't paying money to see you and no ones paying you money to play well. Play with people and MAKE MISTAKES. TAKE CHANCES. Because thats when you will discover new things.
Also, don't be afraid to play the same solo more than once. I don't mean note-for-note, but if you begin to develop an idea and don't like where it went, try it again the next time around and take it somewhere else.

You are going to reach plateaus in your playing. By that I mean there's going to be times when you feel like you're absorbing everything around you and you seem to get better every day and you'll really like what you're playing. Then you'll hit walls and you'll feel like you're going no where or moving backwards. This is when you have to work that hardest. The fact that this has been going on 2 weeks makes me think this is where you are.

KEEP GOING. YOU'RE DOING FINE.

Lastly, find new music. Learn that. Learn new ways to work in and out of chords. Or new ways to look at chord changes you already know. New music. New music. New music. Listen. Listen. Listen CRITICALLY. Absorb.
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Old 10-15-2012, 11:09 AM   #12
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My question is this:

How good's your ear?

What can you tell us about what's going on when you improvise: what's your process? What are you (for lack of a better word) thinking?
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Old 10-15-2012, 12:08 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by fenderbassist12
I don't know what you mean by this, are you agreeing with the guy saying that improvisation is pointless?


a lot of people want to learn to improvise because they simply don't know a whole lot of music. i never said that it was pointless, but it's important to know why you want to do it. every guitarist comes here asking to improvise, but do you have a firm grasp on actually playing music as it was written?

or, for example, if TS wants to make improvisational jazz: "listen to improvisational jazz"

it's easy to ask the how without the why and by the end of the day you might reach results you later find aren't what you should have been looking for in the first place. same concept with "why can't i play 280 32nd note sweeps guys what am i doing wrong" threads
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Old 10-15-2012, 01:07 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by fenderbassist12
I used to suck at improvising because you're right I would just play scales. After a few years though your ear will know which direction to go in better because you are more familiar with the tension between half steps and how to resolve back to the key. The patterns can put a limit on creativity, but it's pretty damn convenient to know every note in a key on every fret on every string. I'm not sure I have a "problem" other than not being able to explain myself clearly, which I will try to do better.


you're right, it's key to have the patterns under your fingers (and, ideally, in your ears).

most of that post was directed to the TS, though.

Quote:
I don't know what you mean by this, are you agreeing with the guy saying that improvisation is pointless?


not at all. when you know why you want to do something, learning how to do it becomes far, far easier.
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Old 10-15-2012, 05:17 PM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Hail
a lot of people want to learn to improvise because they simply don't know a whole lot of music. i never said that it was pointless, but it's important to know why you want to do it. every guitarist comes here asking to improvise, but do you have a firm grasp on actually playing music as it was written?

Actually my current focus is on notation and classical guitar, however I like the process of creating rather than replaying, I know that playing written music has its benefits but I just don't get as much satisfaction from it.

Thank you to the KingofSuede, that was actually pretty helpful. As for Ears I try to do Ear training with EarMaster and also try to figure out songs on my own, I'm pretty good but I could use work on sections with intertwining melodies. I really don't have much trouble at all staying on key just lately its been keeping it interesting and unboxed.
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Old 10-15-2012, 09:35 PM   #16
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do you compose anything yourself, or actually break down and analyze most songs you play? improvisation is just writing on the fly at the end of the day
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Old 10-15-2012, 09:38 PM   #17
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Originally Posted by Hail
do you compose anything yourself, or actually break down and analyze most songs you play? improvisation is just writing on the fly at the end of the day

The way I usually compose is after finding something I played and thought was interesting then composing a song off of it, basically I use improvisation as a foundation but the majority of the song is thought out and composed over a period of time.
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Old 10-16-2012, 12:22 AM   #18
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Improvisation I don't believe is writing on the fly. When you write music, you have a specific plan. Improvisation is just playing based on the reaction you get from whoever you are playing with, no writing at all.

One of my strategies for creating songs is recording jams where no direction is planned. You just play for 10 or so minutes, listen to it, and create a song from the good parts of the jam.
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Old 10-16-2012, 12:30 AM   #19
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Originally Posted by fenderbassist12
Improvisation I don't believe is writing on the fly. When you write music, you have a specific plan. Improvisation is just playing based on the reaction you get from whoever you are playing with, no writing at all.

One of my strategies for creating songs is recording jams where no direction is planned. You just play for 10 or so minutes, listen to it, and create a song from the good parts of the jam.


if this is your approach, i'll be honest, and i mean this in the most non-confrontational way possible -- but i wouldn't want to listen to your improvisation. this method of thought does not make good improvisation. pretty much the only thing it does make is a couple of snippets to be able to use for new material, like you've said.

GOOD improvisation is nothing more than composition in real time.
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Old 10-16-2012, 12:36 AM   #20
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Ok, let me explain how I would go about an improvisational jam. Something easy would be a simple baseline starting in A Aeolian. I would start by playing a part A where it involves the root note, the octave, the b7 and the b6. The lead guitar can do as it pleases playing in that scale and it will sound fine. While the guitar is soloing, I would go down to the b6 then to the b7, then back to the b6, then to the b7, then repeat and then after the 4th measure instead of going back down to the b6 you walk up to the root note to your original "home base" riff. When I am playing bass during a live improv jam, all I am thinking about is making a new chord progression after the orginal one starts to get old. I'm not just randomly playing notes in the scale.
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