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Old 01-21-2013, 06:51 PM   #1
ch1ng_chung
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Why is my improv so bad?

I don't get it, I've been playing for 2.5 whole years so far, and my improv hasn't picked up at all. I mean, just look at guys like Malmsteen, Govan, Steve Vai, they can improvise over anything and make it sound good.

At age 18 Malmsteen started his solo stuff that everyone knows him for; at age 16, Becker was the lead guitarist of Cacophony; at age 20, Govan got "guitarist of the year" and was as good/better than he is now. I'm freaking 17 and I can't even improvise on guitar right without it either sounding like BB King repeating the same lick 10 times or some weird alien scale playing.

Here's an example:
2 examples of my improvisation
Somehow, I can connect and relate each chord of the progression in the beginning, yet I can't improvise over a single scale.

And I can't even get help for my improv because I've tried, but I don't know any guitarists at my school who are good at it. It's freaking pathetic because I'm one of the "best guitar improviser" in my school's music dept.

How do I get better at improv? I've tried the "library of licks" method, but every time I remember a lick and learn to manipulate it across different variations, I forget a lick, so metaphorically, it's The Sieve and the Sand.

And moderators please, this isn't a "my name's Yngwie and I'm so amazing" thread; this is a serious question that demands a serious response.
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Old 01-21-2013, 06:57 PM   #2
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Well, first off, you need to know some basic music theory like identifying the key of a song and what scales to use with it. You can find a lot of great lessons on that here on UG. Not only on the forums, but also in the Lesson and Column sections.

Secondly, you need to use those scales in a musical context. A LOT. Don't just run up and down the scales - search for some guitar backing tracks on YouTube and try playing the scales over those.

Focus on writing melodies with the notes the scale gives you, your "palette of notes" in other words - not on which note comes after the other in a scale. A scale is not about the order in which the notes are laid out - it is, essentially, a palette of notes that you can choose from to write or indeed improvise a melody, that when used together atop the right key, create a particular sound. Think of it more like on-the-spot composing. If you play a melody during the improv and like it, repeat it a few times with slight variations. Other than that, embellishments through guitar techniques such as slides, bends, double stops, tapping, and-so-on can really improve your improvisations.

(Sidenote: I haven't watched your YouTube video yet because YouTube is acting up for me at the moment.)

Last edited by robbit10 : 01-21-2013 at 07:06 PM.
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Old 01-21-2013, 07:28 PM   #3
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My first thought was that you tend to be playing too many notes, and not leaving enough emphasis on any of the phrases. You're obviously comfortable with the scales, so I don't think that's the problem. You do seem to be in the problem of running up and down the scales without any real melody to it though.
Think of a guitar solo as like a melody line that a singer would perform. You want it to be interesting and ear catching, rather than lots of notes crammed into a short space of time.
Don't be afraid to hit a huge bend, and hold it with vibrato on. If the music suits of course.

So yeah... just try to come up with a melody you want to hear, rather than hitting the notes seemingly randomly. That said, I did enjoy some of the licks in the blues improv, so I wouldn't say you're a terrible improviser
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Old 01-21-2013, 07:30 PM   #4
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Ignore my stupidly bad funk improv (the second one, I've never attempted that track or funk before)
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Old 01-21-2013, 08:02 PM   #5
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Why is your improv bad?

Because you don't listen. You just go on autopilot and expect greatness to eventually seep into your playing.
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Old 01-21-2013, 08:28 PM   #6
ch1ng_chung
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Originally Posted by Geldin
Why is your improv bad?

Because you don't listen. You just go on autopilot and expect greatness to eventually seep into your playing.


Isn't that how good improvisers do it? Like they just "stumble" into it naturally?
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Old 01-21-2013, 08:47 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by ch1ng_chung
Isn't that how good improvisers do it? Like they just "stumble" into it naturally?

Hellllllllllll no. They know the fretboard up and down and know the scales and how to manipulate them. They practice and practice and practice combinations of notes and understand how to position the notes for maximum effect. BTW that blues improv you are definitely playing waaaaaay too many notes for something with that feel. Unless you're going for a bebop feel, you should fit your notes in. One of the things that's helped me understand how solos fit harmonically is listening to Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Charlie Parker. None of them are guitar players, sure, but Davis is a master of note placement and Coltrane and Parker could play lots of notes while still fitting the feel of the song. Don't just play notes to play notes, play them to fit what everyone else is playing.
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Old 01-21-2013, 08:50 PM   #8
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improv takes lots of patience young grasshopper. you have to factor in all variables. but the most important variable is what sounds good to you. you may be a great technical player, and if thats what you want your style to be then thats fine, if you want to play what you feel in your soul then that is another path that most people on this website will not be able to help you with. if you can find any musicians in your area who are vets of the axe, take their advice. Most important is to learn from all forms of music, not just guitar-oriented. Find what you like and learn how to play in different styles. if you don't really listen to improv music, then maybe playing that way isn't meant to be for you, bro.
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Old 01-21-2013, 09:08 PM   #9
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First off, its not really fair to compare yourself to guitar legends, everyone learns at a different pace. Many of those people u stated had been playing from a very young age on. Not all of your improv was bad either. The biggest thing i can tell you, is use your EARS TO PLAY! Dont play what ur brain says, but truly use your ears. Sometimes to go forwards you have to go backwards, id def suggest working on some bending and vibrato technique, also id say you should use your ear.

Who are your fav guitarists?
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Old 01-21-2013, 09:08 PM   #10
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Originally Posted by ch1ng_chung
Isn't that how good improvisers do it? Like they just "stumble" into it naturally?

Yes and no. A skilled guitarist will rarely make mistakes, and if he is a good improviser, should he make a mistake, you'd never notice it because he sees in every mistake he makes the opportunity to change direction in a new and unexpected way.

To say it without sounding quite so esoteric: a skilled improviser doesn't stumble because he listens to the music over which is playing and hears a melodic direction in his head. He follows it and keeps listening, trying to hear how each note interacts with the chords beneath it and how each note grouping suggests a melody. If he makes a mistake in executing his melody, instead of flailing around and hoping to get back on track, he instead capitalizes on his mistake and adapts what he is hearing in his head to allow for (and even require) that supposed misstep.

Someone like Guthrie Govan will still make mistakes in his note choice when improvising (as in, the notes he ends up playing are often different than the notes he planned to play originally). The X-factor that makes those players truly excellent at improvising is that they don't get flustered by those mistakes and instead use them to their advantage, to find new ways to build tension that they hadn't originally planned on and adapt their ultimate goal of resolution to include this new idea.
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Old 01-21-2013, 09:45 PM   #11
ch1ng_chung
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Originally Posted by awesomo41894
First off, its not really fair to compare yourself to guitar legends, everyone learns at a different pace. Many of those people u stated had been playing from a very young age on. Not all of your improv was bad either. The biggest thing i can tell you, is use your EARS TO PLAY! Dont play what ur brain says, but truly use your ears. Sometimes to go forwards you have to go backwards, id def suggest working on some bending and vibrato technique, also id say you should use your ear.

Who are your fav guitarists?


I really like Yngwie Malmsteen's style in the blues and I want to be able to improvise like he does. I also like Guthrie Govan but I have no idea how he does it so well
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Old 01-21-2013, 09:48 PM   #12
ch1ng_chung
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Originally Posted by rainfool
if you don't really listen to improv music, then maybe playing that way isn't meant to be for you, bro.


what exactly is improv music? I find Govan's improvisations to be inspirational, but they quickly turn from very pleasant to audibly painful after 5 minutes because they sound so repetitive

do you mean jazz music?
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Old 01-21-2013, 10:02 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by ch1ng_chung
I don't get it, I've been playing for 2.5 whole years so far, and my improv hasn't picked up at all.



Technically, 2.5 years is two whole years and half of a whole.

Ok. Let's get serious.

Some guitarists are natural-born performers. It seems like they were in the womb for 9 months with a small Strat. Some of us have it and some of us have to work our tails off to even get close to having it. 2.5 years isn't all that much time in the grand scheme of things. I know you said you're 17 and have compared yourself to other famous guitarists, who were your age and hitting it big - but you can't do that. Everyone one of us is different. A technique that you can learn in a month might take me 8 months to learn.

Have patience. It's going to come. Listen to what you're playing. Analyze your phrasing. What can you do to improve it? Have you taken lessons? Have you considered lessons? Have patience.

One of those I repeated. It's the most important one.
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Old 01-22-2013, 12:07 AM   #14
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Originally Posted by ch1ng_chung
I really like Yngwie Malmsteen's style in the blues and I want to be able to improvise like he does. I also like Guthrie Govan but I have no idea how he does it so well

Well, my advice then, is sit down with yngwies song, blue (I THINK thats what its called) And learn what u like using your ear.
When improvising, or even crafting a solo in general, the solo is secondary in importance (Might sound odd, but it's true, at least in my theory haha). The thing that really decides how the solo will sound is the rhythm. Learn to understand what the rhythm IS playing, and what each note does. Then, try and figure out the feeling each note you could play over it would sound (Not just scalar notes either, as long as they dont clash, keep most notes open, even clashing ones in some cases). Learn how rhythms function. To be a good lead guitarist, you have to have a great understanding of rhythms.
So say you like what yngwie plays in bar 25 of blue for example (No idea what that sounds like but for the sake of example ill say that). The last thing you wanna do is just learn the solo lick. Doing that will get you nowhere. Learn first the rhythm guitar underneath, the bass line, what the drums are doing (Not as important but important) and then learn the notes yngwie chose. Then analyze how those notes fit over the chords/notes. Even in a single note line a lot of times you can derive a chord progression.
This all may seem like a ton of work, but eventually it will become second nature. You will find yourself analyzing music no matter where you hear it (Happens to me at work all the time). And you dont always analyze that in depth, but soon you will hear what would sound good over it in your head.

EDIT: If you have any questions on this, send me a PM over this, and i can try and help you more.

Last edited by awesomo41894 : 01-22-2013 at 12:08 AM.
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Old 01-22-2013, 04:05 AM   #15
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Others have cover most of what I would say but- Whilst I don't know much about Malmsteen or Becker, they probably sucked when they first started improvising too. And you've playing since you were 14 and a half, 15? Some guitarists had by your age been playing two, three, even four times as long.

Awesomeo has a good point about not just learning the solo licks you like too. Learn the rhythm first, at least. As a bassist and guitarist myself I would learn the bass part of my favorite songs for fun but for learning, it could help you get a feel for (sometimes) more tasteful placement of notes then just playing notes all over the place. A good bassist chooses carefully (at least, he's good at choosing carefully without having to think to much about it) what he plays, because a bass can easily destroy a song if there's just too much being played. Sometimes the bass parts are just too simple though (like going c-f-g-c over a I-IV-V in a C ), so that may not always apply. See how the music is crafted and then see how that lick fits in, maybe why it sounds so good. Learning some music theory can help a lot with this, if you haven't already.

When you do learn the solo parts, I would stress trying to decipher them by ear when you learn them, if you don't already. That always helped me because rather then thoughtlessly learn it from tab, I was forced to figure what scale was being used, what key said scale was in, and then I also got the feel of what notes flowed well, through sitting there for hours figuring out what they were. And, knowing what the rhythm guitarist is playing under the lick you're trying to figure out will help too (say, if he's playing Fmaj7#11, just in that you have a handful of highly possible notes he could be playing to emphasize the chord) Just reading tabs never did that for me. This can be patience testing too- it's easy to get pissed off and give up. But don't- you'll be glad you didn't in the long run.

Try to work on tasteful phrasing too. You don't have to be a playing a note every second of the second. It's not wrong to play stylish lick, let a few moments pass and start up again. That's something I had trouble with, when I started I would just continuously spit out notes. This is what Geldin said- going on autopilot and expecting greatness to seep into your playing. The great guitarists may just 'stumble' into it naturally, but that's because the greatness is already there now, which probably wasn't when they started improvising. They don't need it to seep in.

And last but not least, your practice can be a problem. For a while I practiced scales up and down thinking it would make me better, but that only made me faster. Then I would improvise on my free 'jam with self' time when I was bored. Improvisation takes practice too though. If you're comfortable playing the scales you know, spend the practice time using them instead of just practicing them. Another thing you can practice is to try writing an instrumental song with a very simple guitar melody. Make a verse, chorus, bridge if you want, then a solo to perfect (again if you want, I had fun doing that). The verse, chorus and bridge would be solos in themselves, but think of it like songs like Always With You Always With Me, or the tribute to Stevie Ray Vaughn and Jimi Hendrix that Steve Vai and Joe Satriani did. It has clear verse and chorus parts, with slight variations. The verse and chorus thing helps develop more tasteful note placement (think of it like someone singing and verse and chorus, rather then a solo), while the solo helps you work hone your speedier, more complicated stuff.
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Old 01-22-2013, 05:31 AM   #16
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You've been playing for 2 years. Chill.

You need time to develop everything from your ear to your taste to licks, technique and a song repertoire. Work on technique, you were bending out of pitch and stumbling around a bit.

It's not easy to use all the modes in blues improv. Most people will use the pentatonics, aeolian mode and harmonic minor because it sounds great, the other modes will sound shitty when used by most people. Just mess around in the natural minor and stop trying to run before you can walk.

There's a technique analysis thread TS, post in there. You post a lot of these type of threads, call me a cynic but I think you look for approval too much.
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Old 01-22-2013, 08:49 AM   #17
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Originally Posted by ch1ng_chung
I don't get it, I've been playing for 2.5 whole years so far, and my improv hasn't picked up at all. I mean, just look at guys like Malmsteen, Govan, Steve Vai, they can improvise over anything and make it sound good.

At age 18 Malmsteen started his solo stuff that everyone knows him for; at age 16, Becker was the lead guitarist of Cacophony; at age 20, Govan got "guitarist of the year" and was as good/better than he is now. I'm freaking 17 and I can't even improvise on guitar right without it either sounding like BB King repeating the same lick 10 times or some weird alien scale playing.

Here's an example:
2 examples of my improvisation
Somehow, I can connect and relate each chord of the progression in the beginning, yet I can't improvise over a single scale.

And I can't even get help for my improv because I've tried, but I don't know any guitarists at my school who are good at it. It's freaking pathetic because I'm one of the "best guitar improviser" in my school's music dept.

How do I get better at improv? I've tried the "library of licks" method, but every time I remember a lick and learn to manipulate it across different variations, I forget a lick, so metaphorically, it's The Sieve and the Sand.

And moderators please, this isn't a "my name's Yngwie and I'm so amazing" thread; this is a serious question that demands a serious response.



1. Malmsteen is basic at improvising. And when I say basic, I mean more basic that than the basics of basic. All the fool does is practise broken chords over some stupid chord progression. Anyone in the world with enough time to waste can do that.

2. To be happy soloing, you need music theory. Try and read books such as Walter pistons harmony, ted Greene, randy felts etc... Then try musical analysis. Analyse harmonic structures and harmony and melody relationships.

3. Reading a book of licks is useless if you don't understand how melody corresponds to the harmonic function.

This will be the best advice for you if you want what your asking. There are no shortcuts.

Steve via has a very good understanding of harmony. When you analyse Stevens harmonic content, it's fantastic. In other words, if you don't have a good understanding of harmony, melody and harmony and melody relationships, then you can't improvise well. Some fool is now going to say that I'm wrong, but ignore them. They will only be saying it's useless because they're too lazy to learn it. Or are just not very knowledgable about music in general.

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Old 01-22-2013, 11:32 AM   #18
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To improvise you require a lot of practice and theoretical knowledge, use software like band in a box or backing tracks, a lot can be found at youtube to practice.
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Old 01-22-2013, 11:34 AM   #19
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1. Malmsteen is basic at improvising. And when I say basic, I mean more basic that than the basics of basic. All the fool does is practise broken chords over some stupid chord progression. Anyone in the world with enough time to waste can do that.

3. Reading a book of licks is useless if you don't understand how melody corresponds to the harmonic function.


1) you should check out his red house

3) I'm not taking licks from a book, I'm taking them from listening to Guthrie Govan improvs on youtube and playing them back on guitar
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Old 01-22-2013, 11:36 AM   #20
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To improvise you require a lot of practice and theoretical knowledge, use software like band in a box or backing tracks, a lot can be found at youtube to practice.


Strangely, I find that my imporv improves greatly when I play over, say, a real guitarist playing a few chords, like A and Bm7 and then F#m (Root, dorian, aeolian), than when I get an internet backing track

I don't know why, has this ever happened to any of you before?
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