#1
Currently, I'm not focusing real heavily on improvisation, but it's nice to do when I wanna play the guitar, but can't be bothered with anything I SHOULD be doing.

Anyways! When I sit down, put a backing track on, and start improvising, it feels less like doing something intelligent, and more like throwing sh*t at a wall, hoping some of it sticks. I obviously don't expect to be any good at it so early in my playing, but I was wondering if I was even doing it right? Not sure how there could be a right or wrong way, but whatever.

Am I trying to improvise too early, or as you practice more, do you develop the ability to come up with musical ideas, rather than hoping some of the sh*t you play sticks?

Just don't want to develop bad habits that I'll have to break later!


Thanks for answering yet another REALLY dumb question of mine.
#2
Stop playing, start thinking. You can't come up with musical ideas if you're not thinking, the whole approach you're doing now is just playing whatever and hoping it works.

Of course it's worth while to have a big bank of licks that you can fall back on which work in certain situations but for really musical playing you shouldn't rely on that, it should only be a backup.

Listen. Think. Then play.
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#3
Where I am struggling is getting the thinking to the fretboard. Any musical idea I hear in my head becomes mangled by the time it hits the instrument. From there it deteriorates until I'm just running up and down a scale, more or less so.
#4
it comes with time really. the more you play with the instrument the more it becomes an extension of you and less of an object to funnel ideas in your head though.

I'd say improvise everyday for like 15min at the end of your practice session. The following gibberish is advice, but not necessary to improve your improvisitional skills.

Learn the 5 pentatonic box shapes. Learn the scale degrees in said box shapes in order to combine box shapes to play scales horizontally as well as vertically. Once familar, you should be able to drop in the 4th and 7th notes to start play with the full major scale/whatever other mode.

Whilest doing this learn some songs. Learn them completely, vocals, lead, rythm, bass, drums(beatbox and clap/slap stuff). Study what specific notes are going over specific chords, how notes move along a scale, and how the chords are changing. When playing lead sing to match the notes youre playing in order to train your ear. In addition, when singing the actual vocals play what youre singing (for more ear training).

Ear training is essential for connected your mind to your instrument.
Scalework, Chord Vocab, and other Theory are your toolset.
Learing songs, melodies, chord changes is learning the instruction manuals for your tools.
Improvising is the actual job.

But its a fun job! yay!

poop.
#5
if your only improvising and not doing the other stuff I said, you shoud then improvise for like an hour or two.
#6
I have found it helpful to limit yourself to only a few (consecutive) notes within a scale and work on getting some good sounding licks from them, it limits your note choice and makes you think a bit more, then as you become more comfortable add more notes to your selection
#7
What helped me was to use questions and answers phrasing.

The other thing was the drum beats or drum loops.
I'll listen to the drums and get a feel for that.
I'll either add drum fills and some sort of crash to help me...to change.
The rolls/fills gives me a moment notice to end a phasing and get ready for the next.
It all helps to break up from fast notes and slow notes.
The slow notes to make scream/weep..ect
It gives contras for the fater notes....visa versa.

It's the samething when you speak. If you speak all fast, it'll just be a bunch
of gibberlish. Some women finds my accent rather sexy.
So yeah...give those notes some english.lol

I also get mindful of playing scale in ascending then decending.
Same concept...it gose back and forth like a repore.
Sometimes I'll rip it just going striaght up or down. Other times I stager steps.
Sometimes I do leaps. Other times I loops, trills or repeat triads..ect
Do legato or stagato. Sometimes I tap. otherimes I dont.
I mix it all up

I also spent time writting questions and answers phrasing.
I dont write it out on paper.lol
I'll have two tracks for the lead. I alter between them.
Then I go back to listen to them. Make correction or try different ideas.
After doing that to 3-4 songs or jamming tracks.
I got much better at improvising. Yeah i guess it's kind of like thinking before I play.
I dont think too much though. I know I can go out..but eventually I'll have to come back in.
This too give it another type of contras. Knowing the arpegios helps or at least the root note. For me to come back in.

K..here's the thing about playing off of arpeggios. it's all in the intervals.
They alter back and forth between min and maj.
For example 1,3,5.....
If I use the 1 as the root, it's going to have a maj sound.

If I use the 3rd as a sort of ghost root. It's going to have a minor interval.
The interval from the maj3rd is 1 1/2 step to the 5th.

Then it alter back to maj if you use the 5th as a ghost root.
From the 5th to the 7th is like a maj3rd or two whole steps.

If i use the 7th as a ghost root. From the 7th to the 9th/2nd is 1 1/2 step.
Last edited by smc818 at Feb 4, 2014,
#8
How about not thinking in scales. Study basic triad arpeggios, just the maj and minor shapes. When you can change arpeggios with every chord you are playing over, you'll start sounding pretty good. Then start adding notes outside of the basic triad. I find that way of thinking is a lot less daunting and more productive than throwing scales at the problem. I know my scales well but my solos are far more hit and miss when I think that way.
#9
Quote by JakeFrmStatFarm
Currently, I'm not focusing real heavily on improvisation, but it's nice to do when I wanna play the guitar, but can't be bothered with anything I SHOULD be doing.

Anyways! When I sit down, put a backing track on, and start improvising, it feels less like doing something intelligent, and more like throwing sh*t at a wall, hoping some of it sticks. I obviously don't expect to be any good at it so early in my playing, but I was wondering if I was even doing it right? Not sure how there could be a right or wrong way, but whatever.

Am I trying to improvise too early, or as you practice more, do you develop the ability to come up with musical ideas, rather than hoping some of the sh*t you play sticks?

Just don't want to develop bad habits that I'll have to break later!


Thanks for answering yet another REALLY dumb question of mine.



So there is nothing wrong with jamming and trying to keep up with songs and changes. That isn't practicing improvisation though. I think the best way to practice and improve your improv is to record a chord progression and then work on expanding your own playing

I'm an advocate that you should focus learning theory based on your existing chops rather than mindlessly playing scales, arpeggios and hoping to absorb it. What that means is that if you have a lick that you play that is mindless , stop and analyze it. Learn the notes and what you are doing and how it relates to what you are playing over. Then learn to modify it. In other-words if you find that you are playing simple triad shapes, learn to add a 7th or 9th to the shape you are playing, make it modal, etc, etc. Soon you will have expanded your vocabulary greatly.

The reason I advocate this is because the results are faster. It can be frustrating to for a guitar player who has some chops but doesn't know theory to dumb down their playing to focus on trying to learn a scale. If you take what you are already comfortable playing , analyze it, learn to add to it and learn to play it in different keys. You will absorb it and be able to use the knowledge much faster.
#10
When it comes to improvising, of course you really need to know your scales and intervals, but you mustn't let the scale tell you what to play. You need to be in control of the scale, not the other way around.

The scale is just the notes which will work well over what you're playing at any given moment, and while learning box shapes is a great way to initially learn where the notes are, if you get too used to thinking of scales just in terms of these shapes you'll end up getting stuck, just playing whatever is convenient to your fingers, and not what sounds good.

You need to have total control over the fretboard. That means knowing where all the notes are, and particularly knowing and understanding your intervals - both in terms of where and how to play them on the neck, AND in terms of how they sound. This means that for improvisation (in fact, in my opinion for pretty much anything on the guitar), ear training is the most important thing you can do. It's overlooked way too often by too many guitarists.

Once you can combine an understanding of what music sounds like in your head, with a thorough knowledge of the fretboard, as well as some decent technique, the only limitation to improvisation is your imagination. If you can think it, you can play it.

Whilst that is much easier said than done, that should be your intention with improvisation. Play what YOU want to play, not what your fingers want to play because they only know scales up and down.

I'd also agree with what a couple of people above have suggested, limiting yourself to just a few notes - pentatonic scales, triads, or even (as a basic exercise) just two notes. This gives you more time to focus on picking the actual notes you want to hear before playing them, and also makes you think a lot more about timing and phrasing, two things which are often overlooked in favour of playing as many notes as fast as possible.
Last edited by Chris Lake at Feb 8, 2014,
#11
What I cannot stress enough is that you should not just focus on scales. For improvising, licks are just as important. Single out a few of your favourite guitarists (for getting off the ground on improve, any bluesy/classic rock ones are a good choice). Learn a couple of their licks, and in doing so don't just learn to play it, but work towards understanding it. What scales are they using, and how? How are the slower, more minimalistic parts played, as well as the flashier bits?

Combining that knowledge with an understanding of scales and positions is priceless, as you're learning the application of the theory. The same guitarists you're 'stealing ideas' from earned their stripes in the same way. Once you get the solos down, isolate all the seperate licks and start playing them in different keys, doing things like changing a couple notes/rhythms around. The idea is to develop a vocabulary of licks and phrases, as well as scale knowledge. I'm simplifying the process for explanation's sake, but that's how you go from 'throwing shit at a wall' to improvising solos!
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#12
If I'm having trouble with techniques, I use videos to help me learn. It's the easiest way to follow the right technique. I also use a site that allows me to cut step by step procedure so I can follow better. You can try the site and explore how your technique can improve.

here's a link of one video I learned through that site:

http://www.stepup.io/videos/0aa510f2510158b1
#13
One thing you could try is a motivic approach to improvisation. In classical music if you take a melody and break it down to the smallest building block that is still recognisable you would have a motive (or motif, depending on who you're talking to). Basically it's a 4 to 9 note melodic fragment. The most famous one in classical music is probably the first 4 notes of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. A classical composer would expand a motive into a complete melody by using one of the following 3 techniques:

1. Repetition. That is, simply repeat it. The repeat need not be absolutely identical. A couple of notes could be different.

2. Transposition. That is, move the idea higher or lower within the key. For instance if my motive consisted of the notes C G F E a transposition of this would be the notes A E D C: the same idea moved down a minor 3rd (3 semitones) within the key. This is exactly what Beethoven does in the Fifth Symphony. The second group of 4 notes is a repeat of the first, transposed down a whole step.

3. Create a sequence. A sequence is just a series of transpositions. For instance, if my motive was the notes C G F E in the key of C an ascending sequence might be C G F E - D A G F - E B A G....(etc). Again Beethoven does this immediately after playing the transposed motive.

What the heck has this got to do with improvisation? Rather than trying to come up with a complete solo on the fly, or even all these expressive phrases we may be expecting ourselves to come up with we instead simply attempt to create a motive: a 4 or 5 note fragment of a tune. That's it. Just this small piece of an idea. We then use one or more of the 3 techniques to expand our motive into something resembling a musical phrase. We keep it really simple too. Note that our motive could be rhythmic and not necessarily melodic. That is, the timing of the notes could be the motive.

The idea here is to add some sense of structure to our improvisations. You could imagine that if I told you I had written a song and then proceeded to play a completely random sort of chords you might wonder what the heck I was doing. We generally expect to hear some semblance of structure or form when we hear music and my random collection of chords has zero structure to it. When we get into improvisation we sometimes hear something akin to my 'composition'. It just sounds formless. Using a motivic approach can circumvent this issue.

Really hope this helps.
#14
Quote by JakeFrmStatFarm
Where I am struggling is getting the thinking to the fretboard. Any musical idea I hear in my head becomes mangled by the time it hits the instrument. From there it deteriorates until I'm just running up and down a scale, more or less so.


Some advice:

1) Start learning songs and solos by ear if you haven't already. This develops your ear and helps make playing what you hear in your head a lot easier with time.

2) Learn solos by guitarists that have good and slow phrasing ( not the shredders, but the slower players) : Albert King, Mark Knofler, SRV, BB king, Wes Montgomery. This can help you interiorise phrasing that is more rhythmic and actually uses silence as well as playing notes. It will also keep you away from running up and down scales too much.

3) learn the major scale and its modes and learn solos that focus on a given mode so that you can really understand how to use it.

4) sing a solo! Sometimes putting the guitar down and simply singing a solo is a good way to avoid patterns and muscle memory. You can come up with some good lines this way. Record them and learn them on guitar afterwards.

At the end of the day, your output will only be as good as your input, so learn a lot and try to incorporate it into your improvisation.