#1
As usual, informative title -> long. But whatever.

For some time now I've been trying to do some improvisation, and while they all sound kind of bluesy, that's not my focus right now.

My focus would be, as mentioned in the title, the process of using the notes on the fretboard to improvise. Right now, I'm having the pretty common problem of being stuck in boxes and patterns, because that's how I learned the scales when I started out.

I've been actively trying to remedy this, and to some level I think I have, because I've memorized more notes on the fretboard over the past few weeks.

My question is this. Let's say you're improvising. And you know the notes on the fretboard. What's the process when you're improvising?

Do you do something like this: Recall the notes of the scale -> Find the notes on the fretboard -> Go nuts?

TL;DR What is your exact train of thought when improvising?

Edit: Is it me or do bolds not appear? The word 'exact' in the previous sentence is both underlined and bold. :/
#2
I'd be interested in hearing this too, I'm sort of a pattern man myself. I just use the fretboard knowledge to determine root notes then go from there. My improvising is based more on feel than on boxes but they come into play. Btw it shows up bolded and underlined
Last edited by Necronomicon at Apr 2, 2011,
#3
Ok - knowing all the notes on the fretboard - I hope I can answer your question. To give you a bearing - I've been playing for 9 years and have taken lessons for the past year or so; b4 that I was self-taught. I've been in four bands - a pop punk band/classic rock band, a metal core band, a super-heavy-death-whatever metal band, and now an original punk/alternative/ambient band.

In my opinion - knowing the notes on the fretboard is a neccessary tool, but not a save-all. When I'm improvising solos, first I know what key I'm in, and then I know where all of the tonics (first note of the scale) are. So if I'm in e, first I see all of the e's on the guitar. Then, depending on the 'feel' I want, I can go a number of ways. I can:

1.play an arpegio (either an e arpegio or a substitution)
2. play the e pentatonic/blues shapes
3. Play the modes of e
4. Play in e harmonic minor or any of its arpegios
5. Play the dimished scale that fits with e harmonic minor
6. Use triad imrpovisation

Of those, all are box shapes learned by practicing over and over and over except for the last one. In triad improvisation (I'm sure there's an article on UG somewhere about it) I think of where e, g#, and b are and then improvise around the chord, but I need to know where the notes are for that.

To make yourself sound less boxy I suggest getting more tricks and practicing integrating different shapes into each other in interesting ways. The fretboard is neccessary for any guitarist to know, but its not going to be a primary soloing tool.
#4
Quote by triface


My focus would be, as mentioned in the title, the process of using the notes on the fretboard to improvise.


Right now, I'm having the pretty common problem of being stuck in boxes and patterns, because that's how I learned the scales when I started out.

I've been actively trying to remedy this, and to some level I think I have, because I've memorized more notes on the fretboard over the past few weeks.

My question is this. Let's say you're improvising. And you know the notes on the fretboard. What's the process when you're improvising?

Do you do something like this: Recall the notes of the scale -> Find the notes on the fretboard -> Go nuts?

TL;DR What is your exact train of thought when improvising?

Edit: Is it me or do bolds not appear? The word 'exact' in the previous sentence is both underlined and bold. :/



Knowing the notes helps you when studying the concepts (which is a good thing ofcourse), but on it's own does not contribute to your ability to improvise. What does help is a knowledge of the concepts and an ability to hear them. It takes time to accumulate that knowledge/skill, and it involves far more than just knowing where the notes are on your instrument.


and don't get hung up on this "shapes are bad" thing, because it's not at all true. They actually serve to reinforce knowledge... they don't take anything away from you. Use them to your advantage. * Be smart about it of-course. Learning a bunch of shapes without understanding what they represent, and without listening/connecting them to musical context is a huge mistake..... but the mistake isn't learning patterns, it's the approach.

So, to reiterate....... learn where the notes are on that musical instrument you play.... thats a logical thing to do. Just don't expect your improvising skills to improve as a
result of that alone.

Improvising requires a fluency in the language, not just the alphabet.
shred is gaudy music
Last edited by GuitarMunky at Apr 2, 2011,
#5
Quote by GuitarMunky
Improvising requires a fluency in the language, not just the alphabet.
Yep that's a great analogy.

To take it further, it's a very basic understanding of a language to be able to repeat a series of consonants and vowels (scale patterns). In order to truly understand the language, you need to be able to construct coherent sentences without just regurgitating a pattern. What this means for improvising is hearing a note or phrase in your head before you play it. There's a quote from Chick Corea about this that I've been referring to a lot recently: "Only play what you hear. If you don’t hear anything, don’t play anything." The point is, if you don't have the sound of the note or phrase in your head, it can't possibly be genuine.
Only play what you hear. If you don’t hear anything, don’t play anything.
-Chick Corea
#6
If I may, I'd like to share a recent discussion I had with a UG'er from here that has since enrolled in the Academy. This outlines my philosophy with learning lead, scales and improvisation.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

While I think it's admirable you have been trying to play, learning the
scales and formulae, I think in most cases, that is can be un-natural.
While many people in UG forums laud that approach, I think it's a terribly
ignorant idea, and here's why. In doing so, there's a natural approach to
maturity that's bypassed. I see several tiers, or stages if you will,
related to the ultimate expression of one's self, as it pertains to lead,
and all of them are important stages that should be passed through,
thoroughly explored and finally transitioned from.

STAGE 1 - The Pentatonic and Blues scales, as shapes, boxes or whatever
you have. These are the safest scales, lacking the notes that would
musically get one in trouble. Benefits - since they are also the safest
scales, they are the most predominantly used in most rock and popular
music in terms of lead. Another benefit, they invite exploration and
emulation of heroes and also the learning and encouragement of
improvisation, as once their confidence in that scale has manifest, they
can learn the beginning stages of improvisation stretching their musical
wings, so to speak without much fear of failure. This bonding with their
fingers, instrument and ears is a critical one in my opinion.

TRANSITION point - Stage 1 to Stage 2 - The player moves from that spot
into the desire for more melodic ideas. While stage 1 was great and had it's place, a natural evolution took place during the exploration where the need to express
themselves started to manifest the need for more melodic options.

STAGE 2 - Coupled with this, they began to play within diatonic harmony,
and the Major and Minor scales and exploration past power chords and I IV
V, and the ability to explore, the entire fretboard range, and process and
fine tune their ear to learn to use these notes, as well as melodic ideas
such as arpeggios, and the like. Now they learn how to play within a
completely diatonic key with the "bad notes" but more efficiently, and
further develop their ear and confidence. Playing matures, improvisation
matures, and the guitarist starts to explore the full range of ideas
within the diatonic realm.

TRANSITION Point - Stage 2 to Stage 3 - Now that the student has been
playing a while, and their ear has matured along with their inner
connection to intervals and pitch collections, the new need is to
incorporate more outside ideas, borrowed chords, embellishments and
extensions. Accidentals and the need to play not in a carpet bombing one
scale over 1 key sense, but a new level of sophistication in where more
notes are placed intentionally for the purpose of creating an emotional
response with the listener.

STAGE THREE - The saccharine taste and the familiarity of the major scales
and scales in general take a more muted role, in that now all notes are
seen as a valid tool for conveying a degree of tension and resolution
whither in the scale or not, and using this approach they have more
command over the notes that are played, regardless of chords regardless of
changes, intervals are used but rarely consciously thought of. Chord
tones and extensions are applied and the music begins to become closer to
their own voice. At this stage the player is more likely to be able to
play what he hears in his head in real time. Theory, while still there,
becomes felt and not so much as a structure, as the student is much more
comfortable with exploring outside ideas, limited only by what they feel
sounds "good". The player can now play what they feel and hear, in a
voice that feels unique and authentic to them.

I think ALL of these stages are a necessary part of growth and its a
disservice to give the bottom rung or promote the bypassing of any of
them. I think many people at their level of enlightenment look down at
the other levels as if there was some sort of mistake, but those so called
"mistakes" if thats why they want to look at these growth points as,
allowed them to reach these transition points. What I see happening is
people want to cut to the chase and become stage 3 overnight by learning
theory and the rules and dismissing anything less as childish or worse
yet, wrong. I bristle when someone says "Don't learn shapes and scale
patterns, learn intervals." That's well and good for the person saying
it, but they had to go through a number of stages and most likely reached
their upper stages through a private teacher, or formal education, such as
high school theory classes, etc. But there is and should be more value
placed upon the idea of natural progression.

The problem is, that without some structure introduced at some point in
the process, people could spend their whole life in STAGE 1, and never
know what they are doing.

However, if we could make theory easy to understand and easy to apply, and
do so in a set series of deliberate steps, and move the student through
the personally creative and responsive process of that 3 stage melodic
development, then we effect those changes in a way that makes sense.

Combining the application with the understanding = confidence and forward
motion.

What my course does is go through those stages. While simultaneously
developing the applied theory in such a way as it can be explored in real
time, so that as the student arrives at STAGE 2, which we call Lead Guitar
Volume 2, they now also have been applying theoretical underpinnings so
that they now can make the most of this, i.e Diatonic Harmony, Intervals,
their own improvisational and phrasing abilities as they have been
developing.

By the end of the course, the whole perspective changes and becomes more
organic. One of the things that I find very gratifying and wish I could
bottle, is the absence of concern and unfamiliarity our student develops.
Music isn't a mystery to be stressed over, its an environment which they
can now participate in, and create and understand. And when I look at a
student at the end of this, they aren't afraid of music or their place in
it anymore, there are no tentative tiptoeing as to what they are going to do
now.

They can walk out and play, with nearly anyone or anywhere, they
want, and have a solid set of skills and the knowledge that attends these
things.

Maturity happens with time and experience, but because they know
and understand so much, they are much firmer in their foundation, equipped
to move forward and explore their own musical beacon for the rest of their
lives without being blocked by a 20-30 year learning curve just to find
that musical voice in which the scale isn't dictating how you sound, but
your inner voice shines through.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Best,

Sean
Last edited by Sean0913 at Apr 2, 2011,
#7
Quote by food1010
Yep that's a great analogy.

To take it further, it's a very basic understanding of a language to be able to repeat a series of consonants and vowels (scale patterns). In order to truly understand the language, you need to be able to construct coherent sentences without just regurgitating a pattern. What this means for improvising is hearing a note or phrase in your head before you play it. There's a quote from Chick Corea about this that I've been referring to a lot recently: "Only play what you hear. If you don’t hear anything, don’t play anything." The point is, if you don't have the sound of the note or phrase in your head, it can't possibly be genuine.


Yeah, thats a great quote.
shred is gaudy music
#8
there is a lot of theory out there that you could and probably should learn, practice, and apply to your playing. As mentioned previously, more important than simply learning the notes is learning how they relate to each other and how you can use them with different sequences of chords.

That is something that takes quite a bit of time, weather you're self-taught or instructed. As a starting point for you, I suggest you be able to identify the key you are playing in, then all of tonics in that key along all of the strings from the 0-12th fret. This should then lead to learning the different intervals or scale degrees in that key.

You can also implement some techniques like sliding along one string instead of just going to the next one. Take a lick you normally like to play that involves two or more strings and limit to 1 or 2 strings. This will inevitably require you to alter the phrasing of this lick. You might discover something cool that way.
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#9
Theory is great but in the end it's just a tool. It's always important to know what notes are in a chord. This in number one for me. Then it's nice to know scales, etc.. But really the thing that will help your playing the most is "hearing" it as people already said. You need to spend some time with intervals and really get to know them. Some people just learn them and think it's enough to know they exist. I think you should be able to hear in your head what they will sound like against any given chord before you play it. A great way to learn is to sing them. Knowing where they are on the guitar is only one part of the equation... You need to know them by ear. You improvise from emotions and your mind, not from your fingers.... Well, there are no rules but in my opinion this yields the most creative improvisation. I feel like the best improvisation happens before you even touch your instrument in your mind. I think that sometimes improvisation get confused with random playing. The best improvisers are building a story.

--m
www.knobtwiddler.net
#10
"Let's say you're improvising. And you know the notes on the fretboard. What's the process when you're improvising?"

When I PRACTICE my improvisation, I too use a lot of the same areas of the neck or scale patterns. What I have personally found beneficial is putting myself under "restrictions". Here are some that have really helped get me out of ruts!
E.G. Only play on 1 string - don't use adjacent pitches - don't use adjacent strings - play using constant 8th notes (really hard to do and make sound good!) use odd numbers of notes for phrases 3, 5 or 7.
This has helped to improve my overall phrasing, which IMHO is more important when training yourself to improvise. Hope that helps