Happy New Years all,

Introduction(skip this if you're New Year wasted):

I've played guitar for 7 years, my technique is solid but my improvisational/theory skills blow cactus. I can play the scales, but only by pattern. Ask me to play a C major scale, I'll bust it out, no matter the root position. Now, put the guitar down and ask me to name the notes in G# minor, you've already lost me. Expect me to be able to tab out a song by listening to it? No way, sally. Play along with a band by ear, using chords along the same key they're using? Sorry, I'm busy being incompetent. I don't even fully understand how you'd use a scale, other than it being something you "just learn".

The question:

What books or DVDs or websites do you recommend to learn improvisation and practical theory? Something I could absorb that'd help me jam in a guitar session, improvise to a song, teach me to figure out the key a songs in. I searched and read amazon reviews, but I was paid to write those when I was 16 years ago, so now I'm skeptical.


How do you regiment ear training? Like, do you do this every day trying to name intervals? Or is this willy nilly?

Thank you all so much, hope you're having a great holiday,

I am interested in this as well. I've been playing for 11 years and I can learn to play any song spot on, but like you said my improv and theory skills are seriously lacking. I've never played in a band so I'm guessing that is half of the problem. Just never had a reason for either. It would be nice to jam with people and just improvise a blues solo in the right key. haha
Hey man!

Improvisation is a tricky thing to develop indeed, good improvisation comes from having a good ear.

There are a few things you could do to strengthen your ear and improvisation skills, these include:

1. Sing what you play. Developing your ear takes time, and you want your ear and creativity to develop in the musical style you like. So whenever you learn a song, if you are learning a riff or a solo, you should be able to sing that solo aswell. You don't have to be an amazing singer, it's just to strengthen the bond between your mind and your fingers, to be like a bridge between the two.

2. Learn songs and melodies by ear. This is the best way to develop your ear, but you have to start simple! You need to start with something that is so much engrained in you that you can hear it in your mind without even listening to it, it's those songs that help you a lot in the beginning. I would recommend children-songs and such, i mean everyone knows how "happy birthday" goes without hearing it, can you play it without hearing it?

Other then that, start with simple songs by bands you like. And remember, you are not restrained to only learn guitar parts. You can learn vocal lines, bass lines, piano parts even drum patterns by ear. Point is start simple and give it time. Once you have trained your ear abit it is an awesome feeling to be able to learn ANY song you like without needing to resort to tabs. I'd also recommend you get some sort of software to slow down and loop songs you are trying to learn by ear, "Anytune", "Amazing Slow Downer" and "Transcribe" are good examples.

3. Play what you hear. This is hard in the beginning, but it will benefit you immensely. Play a chord or chord progression and then try singing a line over it and then try to play it back. You want to develop your creative side right here. Being able to hear some harmonic backdrop and just come up with melodies. You'll have to start simple here aswell.

As for music theory i recommend the site "musictheory.net". It has great lessons from the basics to more advanced stuff. Give it a try, just do the lessons in order and you should be fine. One thing worth mentioning is that when you practice improvisation you might want to forget about scales and theory. I know some people disagree with me on this but personally i find it better to just forget everything when i am practicing improvisation and use my ears to find the sounds i am looking for.

I hope that was useful to you in any way, despite me being horribly tired from new years.
Happy New Year & Best Regards
Fusion and jazz musician, a fan of most music.

Quote by Guthrie Govan
“If you steal from one person it's theft, and if you steal from lots of people it's research”

Quote by Chick Corea
"Only play what you hear. If you don't hear anything, don't play anything."
This is not really of any help but... I can totally relate to the posts above!
Sikz said most of what I was going to write. His tips on ear training are spot on. Here's my take on it.

- Learn other people's solos. This gives you some range of ideas of what you can do with a guitar. But it's not just about spewing out other people's licks when it's your time to solo (although that does happen too), but try to understand what the person was doing in your favorite solos. Here are some things to think about:

- how long are their phrases? do they just do endless scale patterns, or do they "speak" with the guitar? How often do they pause and put in gaps? (the gaps can be as striking as the notes). Think of it as normal communications - if someone talks to you without pausing to breath, it's hard to listen to them. Give the listener breaks.

- how do they vary intensity? You need to alternate intensities if you play for a while. Start slow and stiff, then build up speed an intensity. Take the listener to different places. If you play at maximum intensity all the time, it doesn't sound maximum because there was nothing to compare it too. This could be loudness, or number of notes, how high up the fretboard, etc.

- do they repeat themes/motifs? A lot of good solos repeat a theme (while changing up the notes or positions). A listener wants to actually be able to know many of the notes before they hear them. Repetition does that. If you send random streams of eighth notes at someone, they will get confused and loose interest. Repeat a little theme, then leave out a note, then add a note. Try to let the listener guess the next note maybe 30% of the time and then surprise them 30% of the time. Your theme might relate to the original melody, or it might be something you just make up then.

- do they play in one area or move around the neck? A common theme is to play notes in the middle of the fretboard but at the end of your solo, finish with the higher notes (this is related to the intensity thing above).

But anyways, don't just learn the riffs from good solos, but learn *why* it sounds so good.

Going back to ear training, think of what you want to say with your guitar and sing it first. You won't be constricted by your knowledge of scales and such (which like Sikz says can get in the way). The theory is all good, but you want to liberate your thinking from that in the end. Then go play your idea on the guitar. You might be surprised that you came up with notes out-of-scale to create your idea.

Lastly, try to summon up some emotion and channel it into your playing. This is the hard part. Think of what the song is saying to you and try to channel some of that emotion (intensity, passion, sorrow, whatever) and send it out on your fingers. Just let it all come out. This is what changes it from a bunch of notes to something really important.

For books, etc.... Improvising Jazz by Jerry Coker helped me a lot. It's got great ideas (some I expressed above) but it's not really geared towards guitar players (no TAB!), but it has a lot on chord theory and jazz standards. The "how to improvise" is generic enough.

I also got a lot from Victor Wooten's Groove Workshop DVD. This is geared towards bass playing (so maybe not for you), but after many years of playing, this captured most of what I learned by experience and also taught me a lot of news ways to look at playing both guitar and bass (it's not for beginners). I took his ideas on improvising bass and apply it my guitar playing as well.
There's lots of backing track video on youtube you can watch or download.

12 bars movement are simple to keep track of.
You can practice play minor or major pentatonic scales over 7chords.
Example if all the chords are 7chords. You just play minor pentatonic
over them, Then practice playing major pentatonic over them.
After a while...you'll just mix it up.lol...it's the root and 5th that holds everything
together when you go back and forth between major and minor pentatonic.

Once you get use to doing that...then the rest are just filling in more passing notes.

The easiest way I learned or improve was to make my own tracks. Simple tracks or loops.
Just off with 2 chords. A couple of measures each. Back and forth.
This way you can practice phrasing questions and answers.
Then you go to 3 chords moment. Then to 4.

A lot of it is because I know where the drum breaks or fills are at.
I put in rolls, crash...ect.lol
I also have a drum machine. It allowed me to recognize the various drumming patterns better.
Even in off beat jazz drumming. I get used to hearing the beginning of that loop...the rest
become like passing notes...kind da.

So it's basically the samething when you improvise. A lot of notes you play are passing
notes. You bascailly stress the arpeggios or play around it.
It's like just strum a chord then picking the arpeggios after.
When you fill in the rest of the notes...they're call modes.lol
You don't have to play all the notes in the mode.
You can even play notes not in the mode.
When you mix it all up...it's call accidental, passing notes. chormatic or axis pitch.lmao

In axis pitch...lets say your playing over a minor chord.
The root, flat 3rd, 5th....
You can play dorian, phyrgian, Aeolian, locrian, homonic minor..ect
All these modes have a minor 3rd in them.
Just don't stress the 5b on the locrian too much.
It's just like play the option note in the pentatonic minor. When you do that. People
call it the blues scale.

Yes, when you train your ears...you'll notice the difference in modes.
I can make Lydian sound dooms day wicked...it's just how I stress those 1/2 notes.

You just play through your mistakes. Bend the notes, hold them until the next phase...ect
If you land on one of the arpeggios...its all good.lol

You basically just learn different tricks, technique..ect just mix it up as you go.lol

The diatonic scale is just the beginning.
once you get used to playing off of the various arpeggios as a hook point...not
just the root...you're actually just warping the scale in the middle of a scale run or whatever.
Then come back one of the arpeggios every so often to resolve the phrase.
Sometime...you use the arpeggios as the root note.
Example..in a simple power chord. The root and the 5th.
You can use the 5th as the root. You just gotta hit the 4th note of that scale every so often to make it harmonize with the parent root of that chord.

It's easier to improvise over a power chord or just a bass because the chord isn't totally colored or defined.
Last edited by smc818 at Jan 2, 2014,
One thing that I learned when studying with a drummer is Singing what you hear in your head. Improvising has some to do with scales and keys and what not...that's the technical side of things. However, the rest of your creative side is a mental thing. What you hear in your head while you're playing is your creative juices flowing. Kind of like how you hear a favorite song of yours and you're just singing it in your head over and over. Sometime, you may just get an idea for a riff in your head. Best thing you can do is sing that riff, then play what you sing. Then you take a piece of the advice mentioned above (playing and singing at the same time) because you know how that specific riff sounds like because you know how to play it. The next step is to play along with a song, and practice soloing over that song, but as your playing, throw in that riff. See which parts of the song that riff sounds good over. You should eventually be able to find whatever the particular chord(s) are and realize that riff works on that part of the song.

This is an approach that was actually used by many of the greatest guitarist, pianists, bassists, and many other musicians. This is purely creativity. Yeah you want to know what you're doing by studying theory and modes and chord substitutions and whatnot, but don't doubt your minds ear. That's what makes every musician truly unique.
Hey guys! Thanks so much. You've all helped a ton, can't begin to say how much I appreciate it.
Great advice guys. Also, make a point of phrasing. Instead of playing 'idea 1' then 'idea 2' then 'idea 3' etc, do this: Play idea 1, then keep hold of idea 1 but vary it slightly - maybe change the last note. Then idea 1 again but maybe with a slightly different rhythm. Then slightly different again, etc, until you feel your idea has run its course. Then try idea 2…

There are no fixed rules about how you vary the original phrase, but this kind of approach is very often more coherent than a series of unrelated licks. It's also a lot of fun.