"Ok, today I'm going to teach you how to start improvising on guitar... "
That's a sentence that's often met by my students with a look of "Whaaaaaaaat? I'm not ready for that yet!"
When, in fact, they (and you) are absolutely ready for it.
That feeling comes only from a fear of failure. And the nice thing about music (especially improv) is that failure doesn't really exist. Maybe you played a note you didn't want to hear right then, but that doesn't make it a "bad"
note and certainly doesn't make you a failure of any sort.
To many beginners, a guitar solo sounds like an endless flurry of notes that just goes and goes. In reality, a solo is a collection of smaller distinct musical phrases chained together. I'm going to help you work out those small ideas with this exercise.
So if you're new to the idea of improvising on guitar, be patient with yourself, jump in without fear, and play some really nutty stuff until you start to hear stuff you like. No one was ever killed by a "bad" note.
If you've tried soloing and don't like the outcome, it's probably because you're feeling like the solo wanders from note to note, not really creating any phrases or going anywhere. Today we'll learn how to tighten that up so that you're creating interesting and more memorable melodies.
The exercise I'm going to take you through is one that I was put through in college. And while I use it to teach beginners, I'd already been playing for 5 or 6 years when I learned it, and still got some valuable fixes out of it in my own playing.
It's useful to have some sort of backing track on this to help you keep in a groove. It's also more fun. But you can also do it with a simple metronome click.
If you're recording your own backing track, just keep it simple. Maybe one bar each: C
| and loop it around a couple times to give yourself some time to play.
Ok, let's get into it:
Throwing you off the cliff: Try playing a solo with a C major scale (C D E F G A B C
). Haven't learned that scale yet? No worries, play any notes you want. This is just to give you a baseline of where you are right now as a guitar soloist.
Take note of what you LIKED and DIDN'T LIKE about that solo. Do this after each and every step.
For your next solo, you only get one note to play. If you're in the key of C major
like the example chord progression, use the note C
. Or whatever the root note of your key is.
Yes, you're going to play a whole solo with one note. Since you don'tget any other notes, you won't be thinking melodically here. Only RHYTHMICALLY. This is a big key point. The "wandering" sound we're trying to cure is because there's no engaging rhythm to the solo.
In this one-note solo, you need to come up with as many different rhythms as you can over your groove. No bending, no hammers, no pulls ... Just come up with as many different rhythms as you can muster with that one note.
Take just one of the rhythms that you played in the previous solo. It will probably be a one measure rhythm. Play another solo using still just the one note. But this time I want you to repeat that one rhythm over and over as well.
You may find that when you're doing this, that one rhythm starts to morph into something different because of tiny errors or "it feels like it wants to go somewhere else."
This is good. This is how you're eventually going to let one phrase smoothly transition into the next in a real solo.
Obviously a real solo doesn't just repeat the same rhythm over and over. So if yours starts to morph, keep it in the groove and let it morph.
Now take that same rhythm you used on the last solo. This time you get two notes to play with. Let's take C
. Play that same repeated rhythm solo, this time distributing the rhythm over the two notes in any way you like.
Let's say your rhythm has 4 notes. You could play: CCAA
, etc. Play whatever combination you like of those two notes over your one rhythm.
These notes will sound a little squirrely over the G chord
(if you're using that chord), but don't sweat it. Stay on those two notes.
Again, if your rhythm starts to morph into something else, let it. Just make sure you're playing something that fits the tempo.
The purpose of this section is to help you distribute your rhythm over a SMALL group of notes. In your previous wandering solos, not only was the rhythm static, but you were probably poking out very random selections of notes. Most phrases will contain no more than 4 or 5 notes, tightly grouped together. Later as you become more advanced you can certainly develop wide jumps and more angular sounding phrases. But as a beginner, concentrate on small groupings to get a sound that pleases you.
Once you've done the 2-note solo, expand to four notes. Maybe G A B C
. Use that same rhythm from the last couple solos, again, letting it morph into something else whenever it does.
Now try combining two different rhythms, still with just four notes, but alternating between the rhythms.
Going through these 7 steps will tighten up both your melody choices and your rhythms to help you create great, cohesive little melodies. Then, as I mentioned previously, your solo becomes lots of those little melodies strung together. No more wandering! Yay!
Also, there is one other concept you need to know about that is really the best way to learn guitar and put me out of business