#1
Hi UG Community! First post here!

I have taken the time to learn some important scales (eg. pentatonic), but I am unclear about how exactly to use them for improvising over chord progressions or writing solos. Do I start the scale on the key that the progression is in and then follow all the 5 pentatonic scale shapes from there?

When improvising over chord progressions (eg. F, C, Am, G), do I need to play a scale in F while the F chord is playing, then move to a scale in C while the C chord is playing, then Am and so on? Or will the scale I'm playing in F work with the rest of the chords? And how do I know what scale to use - whether major, minor or pentatonic scales?

If anyone could help clarify this for me, I'd be thankful!
#2
You need to find the key of the song. You need to use your ears to figure it out (though sometimes it's obvious and you don't even have to listen to the song to know the key, for example progressions like C-Am-Dm7-G7 which is in C). The tonic chord (that is the same as your key) feels like your home chord. You would most likely end the song with this chord. You can feel a pull towards that chord. And when you play that chord, you release tension.

Try this with C-F-G. This doesn't really sound complete. It wants to go somewhere, doesn't it? Now add a C major chord in the end. Now it should sound complete. That's your tonic.

Your progression (F, C, Am, G) is in C major. All of the chords are diatonic to C major (so there are no "out of key" notes) so just play C major over everything.

To come up with good melodies you need to use your ears. Good guitarists know what they are doing. They can hear sounds in their head and they can make those sounds on their instrument. It's like singing, but guitar is your voice. Of course you can't do this yet, but you'll get better at it if you train your ears and play a lot of solos. Try playing by ear as much as possible.

I would learn about intervals and scale degrees. They help in ear training because the note C sounds different depending on the key you are in but a major third is always a major third. And the third note of the scale is always the third note of the scale. When you train your ears, you learn to recognize the scale degrees/intervals you are playing. Every major scale is the same pattern (root, major second, major third, perfect fourth, perfect fifth, major sixth, major seventh) so you just need to learn how every scale degree sounds like and you also need to find them on your fretboard. As I said, you'll get better at it if you just play solos and play by ear a lot.

And yeah, the major pentatonic (just like any other scale) is all over the fretboard. The position you are using doesn't really matter. It's good to know the scale all over the fretboard.
Quote by AlanHB
Just remember that there are no boring scales, just boring players.

Gear

Bach Stradivarius 37G
Charvel So Cal
Fender Dimension Bass
Hartke HyDrive 210c
Ibanez BL70
Laney VC30
Tokai TB48
Yamaha FG720S-12
Yamaha P115
Last edited by MaggaraMarine at Aug 2, 2014,
#3
^What he said about intervals

IMO scales are useful, sort of like training wheels on a bicycle, but sooner or later (maybe even right now) I think you'll see that they aren't really that fundamental to making music. Intervals are more of a fundamental concept- scales are built from intervals themselves.

I'm not very good at improvising, but I have noticed knowledge of intervals is pretty important. Through time and analyzing more music, you'll come to notice that each interval relative to your tonic (what key you are in- your tonal center as explained above) has its own "function". This is the idea behind what I try to do anyway- try to find practical functions behind all those notes in different situations. It seems to be all about context (how does it fit with everything else) in my experience.

For example, when ending a melody in the key of C Minor I often use a B note (major seventh) right before the C because it has this tense sort of feel to it that seems to lead quite nicely to the tonic; I like the sound of it, and I think it performs the function of ending something quite well. Lots of classical music seems to end melodies like this- it's actually a bit cliche come to think of it.

Anyway, I think the most basic way to think of it all is in terms of consonance and dissonance- how harmonically do two pitches physically "fit together"? The more consonant intervals are generally seen as "safer", but if you don't mix it up enough it will sound boring.

Think of all the individual notes as waves with their own frequencies and wavelengths. The most consonant sound you can get is the same two frequencies- the unison interval. Basically, you have two identical waves which overlap eachother perfectly (in theory, anyway). People generally find sounds unsettling when there's a large difference in some way- silence followed by the sound of an explosion across the street would be pretty jarring. However, the sound of one explosion in a warzone is bound to be a bit less startling. The same thing goes with sound frequencies- the less two frequencies overlap, the more they tend to interfere with one another and make things more jarring.

If you're interested, Wikipedia seems to have a pretty detailed explanation on this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consonance_and_dissonance

It's a lot to think about, but I think this is a pretty good way to study improvisation and music in general. There isn't really any simple, clear-cut answer to this question.
Quote by Jesus
Gaza Strip- home. At least it was before I fucked ereythang up...
#4
There are a number of approaches to playing a good solo. Start simple. Play around your tonic note such as let's say 'a' in the key of A. You can play notes in the minor pentatonic, but as mentioned above the ear is very important. Repeating short groups of notes in the pentatonic scale then repeating with slight variation of a note or two is one way to start. If you are playing some rhythm with lets say an A5 and G5 chord moving back and forth you are pretty safe in pentatonic minor. You should learn some classic rock and/or blues riffs as a bag of tricks to work from. Build on these. Connect your ideas into larger lines, but don't wander too much, develop your ideas using your ear. Listen to how others create solos, especially longer rock, country and blues solos. If you are playing against a type of 1-4-5 progression you may sound better working between pentatonic major and minor. Listen to early Eric Clapton on songs such as Crossroads and Hideaway. You hear a seamless blend of the major and minor pentatonics. There is some room for playing a bit modally focusing on scales and arpeggiated runs that fit individual chords. I love to play a D7 arpeggio mixed in with A Mixolydian scale tones during the IV chord in a blues or even a jammin' rock I-IV-V progression. Lots to learn along the way. I used to memorize a lot of solos and try to figure out which scales and positions the notes were being played in. Learned a lot that way. Hope some of this gives you direction. Keep Jammin!
Last edited by eenberg at Aug 2, 2014,
#5
The method you described of soloing over each chord with a separate scale is one way to go about it. That sort of method takes a lot more time and skill to become good at, and a very strong knowledge of the fretboard. That sort of stuff is a big part of jazz improvisation but can be applied to other styles of music as well.

You can just stick to one scale though (the master scale I like to call it) that belongs to the key of your chord progression. So, just thinking in terms of the master scale and using your ear a bit would suffice in making solos and improving.

Really it just depends on what you want to do and what sounds good to you. Just don't get too carried away though and lose sight of creating artful music, trust me it is very easy to get distracted into certain things and lose sight.

I had very similar confusion as you are having now, and let me tell you to save you time... by all means, try to do whatever you can to get your confusion out of the way as quick as possible, because the stuff you are asking is very, very basic in terms of the realms of what music has to offer. Being that you are a guitar player, just get the basic theory out of the way and try your best to learn it so you can get to improving and making artful music that means something to you.

Also, you know all the theory you want, but you also need to have a good sense of time, which can be developed if you think you are not great at it now. Having a good sense of time and thorough knowledge of rhythm is C-R-I-T-I-C-A-L if you want to be good. I cannot stress that enough.
Last edited by Unreal T at Aug 3, 2014,
#6
Quote by Unreal T
The method you described of soloing over each chord with a separate scale is one way to go about it. That sort of method takes a lot more time and skill to become good at, and a very strong knowledge of the fretboard. That sort of stuff is a big part of jazz improvisation but can be applied to other styles of music as well.

You can just stick to one scale though (the master scale I like to call it) that belongs to the key of your chord progression. So, just thinking in terms of the master scale and using your ear a bit would suffice in making solos and improving.

Really it just depends on what you want to do and what sounds good to you. Just don't get too carried away though and lose sight of creating artful music, trust me it is very easy to get distracted into certain things and lose sight.

I had very similar confusion as you are having now, and let me tell you to save you time... by all means, try to do whatever you can to get your confusion out of the way as quick as possible, because the stuff you are asking is very, very basic in terms of the realms of what music has to offer. Being that you are a guitar player, just get the basic theory out of the way and try your best to learn it so you can get to improving and making artful music that means something to you.

Also, you know all the theory you want, but you also need to have a good sense of time, which can be developed if you think you are not great at it now. Having a good sense of time and thorough knowledge of rhythm is C-R-I-T-I-C-A-L if you want to be good. I cannot stress that enough.

CST (chord scale theory) is useful if the song uses a lot of accidentals and modulates all the time. But there's no use for CST in a simple progression like this because all of the scales you would use would actually be the same scale. (I mean, if the progression is F-C-G-Am, you would use "F lydian" over F, C major over C, "G mixo" over G and A minor over Am - but guess what? They are all the same notes! So you are actually not changing scales. This kind of thinking would just be too complicated for this simple progression.)
Quote by AlanHB
Just remember that there are no boring scales, just boring players.

Gear

Bach Stradivarius 37G
Charvel So Cal
Fender Dimension Bass
Hartke HyDrive 210c
Ibanez BL70
Laney VC30
Tokai TB48
Yamaha FG720S-12
Yamaha P115
#7
people are way too obsessed with improvising. you're trying to run before you walk

learn a bunch of music - by ear - and learn to play it to the record. it's painful. it's boring. it takes time. it doesn't look cool. but it's a really important skill, and eventually you can take basic concepts like scale shapes and arpeggios and understand how they work in that music and thereby how they can work musically, tastefully, and seamlessly into your music

there are a million musicians that play music with 3 or 4 chords, but learning the shapes doesn't mean you can do the same. there's some magic that comes from just pure experience, and when you're improvising, you're limited to your knowledge and experience, which is good to explore, but it shouldn't be your primary focus. you want to learn from the best, so you listen to the best - whatever might inspire you - and figure out how they did it, break it down, analyze it, and apply it to yourself.

improvising is easy once you have your fundamentals down. you're trying to alley-oop and you just learned to dribble
#8
I see nothing wrong with starting to improvise right away. It's another skill. You can get better at improvising only by improvising. (Of course ear training helps and technique helps but still, you can't improvise even if you have the best technique and ear if you have never improvised). I agree that playing the guitar is not all about improvising and yeah, you should of course focus on more things than just improvising.
Quote by AlanHB
Just remember that there are no boring scales, just boring players.

Gear

Bach Stradivarius 37G
Charvel So Cal
Fender Dimension Bass
Hartke HyDrive 210c
Ibanez BL70
Laney VC30
Tokai TB48
Yamaha FG720S-12
Yamaha P115
#9
when have you ever got paid to improvise?

i mean yeah i sit and doodle and play around with ideas, but if you look at how pretty much every other instrument starts learning music since, well, the beginning of time

1) mechanical basics
2) simple sheet music
3) more advanced music
4) music theory after 4-5 years of already playing music, now that you have the experience to identify basic patterns and understand their role in composition and performance

obviously we're not in a conservatory, and when you're not in 6th grade and forced to take an art elective you're not gonna take 4 or 5 years to motivate yourself to understand how things work, but you have to think of the end result. if you spend 5 years practicing improvising and decide "hey, i like this music stuff, i wanna take it seriously!", you'll realize you've given up a lot of precious time to develop a skill that basically allows you to post 30 second snippets on youtube over metal riffs for random guitar contests

really, it's not even something you should focus on for quite a while. it's such an insignificant skill in actually, and even i'm guilty of bad habits due to spending more time doodling around than actually putting work into my instrument

it's all relative and based on your goals, but i'd say it's worth considering that you're looking for the wrong thing, OP

you're trying to figure out how an engine works before you can drive the car you're trying to take apart. baby steps
#10
Improvising isn't everything but it's a good skill nevertheless. I'm pretty sure TS won't focus solely on improvising. Also, making music isn't all about the money. I think you should first focus on doing what you want to do. That will keep you motivated. Being successful isn't all about your technique (of course it depends on what kind of music you want to play - classical is very technical). If you want to make money, music isn't what you should focus on.

I think improvising makes your playing more "free". It also adds your "own voice" to the music. I wish I had started improvising right in the beginning when I started playing the trumpet. But I always just used sheet music. And I kind of feel my playing is a bit limited. I wish I could play more freely.

I would focus on things that you enjoy. Of course getting better may require doing things that you may not like. But I think first you need to figure out what you want to do.

^ The points you mentioned apply more to classical music than popular music. I'm sure if you started learning jazz trumpet, you would start improvising in the beginning because improvising is such a big part of jazz.

I also don't understand why you should know all the fundamentals before starting to experiment with things.
Quote by AlanHB
Just remember that there are no boring scales, just boring players.

Gear

Bach Stradivarius 37G
Charvel So Cal
Fender Dimension Bass
Hartke HyDrive 210c
Ibanez BL70
Laney VC30
Tokai TB48
Yamaha FG720S-12
Yamaha P115
#11
Quote by Jack Robinson
Hi UG Community! First post here!

I have taken the time to learn some important scales (eg. pentatonic), but I am unclear about how exactly to use them for improvising over chord progressions or writing solos. Do I start the scale on the key that the progression is in and then follow all the 5 pentatonic scale shapes from there?

When improvising over chord progressions (eg. F, C, Am, G), do I need to play a scale in F while the F chord is playing, then move to a scale in C while the C chord is playing, then Am and so on? Or will the scale I'm playing in F work with the rest of the chords? And how do I know what scale to use - whether major, minor or pentatonic scales?

If anyone could help clarify this for me, I'd be thankful!


No.

You don't have to do it that way at all. Because the scale family of C major, has the same notes that make up every chord in that chord family (F C Am G).

Now what you might want to do though, is have a look at the notes of the scale and the notes which form each chord, and make those notes your "target notes of the scale" when that particular chord comes up.

So for example, you could be playing in a C major scale, and the F chord is coming, you could discover that the notes of an F chord are F A and C. So, then you could choose to target any of those notes, at the same moment that the F chord arrives.

Best,

Sean
#12
Had some time to noodle around on my guitar with the F C Am G progression you mentioned. I power-tabbed a rhythm with 2 beats of on each chord. C major works well with this and also the more common C Am F G (I vi IV V) progression. Using your ear you will find you can play any note in the major scale (or pentatonic major) as long a you keep in motion. Pauses on any particular note can be pleasing or annoying. So plan these pause at the ends of your 4 beat (or 2) phrases for safe notes. In the key of C the Dominant chord is G. Both the C chord and G chord have the g note in common. It is a good choice to end phrases. The c note itself is a good choice to end phrases since it is in common with the F and C. The c note is also the suspended 4th of the G chord and so makes a pleasing end for phrases. I particularly like the b note for ending phrases on the G chord. The b note is the leading tone in the key of C and leads nicely back to the C, the tonic chord. The Am chord is the relative minor to C major. They have the c and e notes in common. If playing in C you shouldn't have to focus on what to play over Am. Just play pretty much what you would if you were still on the C chord though you could favor the a note if your ear desired. Yes, again you can't dispense with the ear. Hope these hints are helpful.
Last edited by eenberg at Aug 4, 2014,