#1
Hi guys

Been playing guitar on off for probable 10-15 years. I have completed a music course at college and also played professionally also (paid to be a touring guitarist for acts)

I am good player and am always told by people I play with that I'm the best guitarist they have played with before (even though I find it hard to believe sometimes)

I went to a jam last night and absolutely bombed (although the to be fair I was under the influence of drugs and alcohol). I couldn't think of anything to play as a solo outside of the pent minor and it was all basic shit. I couldnt even Improvise a decent rhythm for the other guitarist without doing basic chord professions

How is it possible that I can play almost any type of music when I learn it, and learn things by ear easily and quickly but still cant improvise for shit?

Am I alone in this? Ever heard of a guitarist who is accomplished not being able to improvise anything?

Also I realised that I havent learned most typical jam songs as the common ones that everyone knew I had never bothered to learn. I found myself just strumming the chord progressions whilst the other guitarist played it properly. I felt like just quitting guitar there and then tbf

If anyone has any horror stories of their own It would make me feel better!
#2
No horror stories, but I'll tell you you're not alone. I've been playing guitar since @1989, and other instruments since the mid-70s.

I can compose, but I cannot improvise on the fly.
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#3
Easy answer is that you clearly haven't practiced your improvisation as much as your other skills. If you don't know what to use besides pentatonic minor then you need to look at what other scales you can use in different situations and practice actually using them. Most skills will benefit from practicing similar skills, but you can't learn to do something without actually doing it.
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#4
Dannyalcatraz thanks that's good to hear! Do you worry it makes you a bad musician? Or do you not care so much?

K33n, I see what you're saying. I've gotten this far without it, so I wonder if it's necessary? I wonder if I'm a crap guitarist because I cant improvise...

I wonder if any of stories of any of the greats being terrible at this? I don't really have an interest to learn how to play all different types of music, I just like what I do.
#5
Quote by AdamBa17
K33n, I see what you're saying. I've gotten this far without it, so I wonder if it's necessary? I wonder if I'm a crap guitarist because I cant improvise...

It's necessary if it's something you intend to do. If not, then you're no less of a guitarist for lacking it. Ultimately what you've got to focus on as a guitarist is what you'll enjoy using and what will benefit the kind of music you'll enjoy making/can make money with.
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#6
If you're serious about learning to improvise better, I'd highly recommend you look into some basic Jazz. It'll help a bunch with both your rhythms and your melodies.

Look into some funk rhythms will help with your rhythm playing too.

If you're playing mostly modern metal or harder, less Blues influenced Rock improv isnt as important as a skill, But if you jam to a lot of Classic Rock it might be helpful to do some practice with it.

Not being able to improvise doesn't make you a bad guitarist, but being able to improvise does make you a better musician than you all ready are.
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Last edited by boblittle at Apr 11, 2015,
#7
Quote by AdamBa17
Dannyalcatraz thanks that's good to hear! Do you worry it makes you a bad musician? Or do you not care so much?

Well, building off of this:
Quote by boblittle

Not being able to improvise doesn't make you a bad guitarist, but being able to improvise does make you a better musician than you all ready are.


I don't let it worry me too much, TBH. I'm not really playing for anyone but me. I rarely play with others, and those I would most likely be playing with would have no use for my improv skills.
Sturgeon's 2nd Law, a.k.a. Sturgeon's Revelation: “Ninety percent of everything is crap.”

Why, yes, I am a lawyer- thanks for asking!

Log off and play yer guitar!

Strap on, tune up, rock out!
#8
Thanks for all the replies, good answers

I listened to eddie van halen jam with allan holdsworth on YouTube and I could hear them both playing the same licks I hear them play normally so maybe even the best guitar players aren't necessarily wizards of improvising on the spot
#9
'Improvising on the spot" doesn't mean you come up with crazy stuff you haven't played before. It means that you play stuff you've played a million times before. A good improvisation is something you are able to do after doing it a thousand times over the same type of chord changes, being so familiar with the sounds that you know how a note will sound with a particular chord before you play it.

Someone can be a great improviser over a typical blues progression, but can totally bomb trying to do something jazzy. You have to have the sounds in your head, and that takes time. It's a skill you have to learn as well as any skill. If you're already there technique-wise it gets easier.
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#10
Quote by AdamBa17
Thanks for all the replies, good answers

I listened to eddie van halen jam with allan holdsworth on YouTube and I could hear them both playing the same licks I hear them play normally so maybe even the best guitar players aren't necessarily wizards of improvising on the spot

I'd say even fewer than the people who can improvise in Q# dicksolydian over diminished 20th chords are those who can really improvise melodically. Most people do have their licks that they use and largely stick to those. So people who improvise well are, for the most part, those with a large vocabulary of licks and a good feel for when to use which. Believe me, I don't really mean to demean any approach to improvisation, I just think they're somewhat different skillsets. Genuinely melodic improvisation requires a lot more attention to what you're hearing and what notes your playing, and usually less to the physical activity of playing. I'd cite John Frusciante as a good example of a generally melodic soloist - with a few exceptions his solos don't really have discernible licks in them and in many cases only have a handful of notes in them; they also tend not to leave the bounds of the pentatonic scales. What he does incredibly well is follow the harmony so rather than thinking about how few notes he's played you think about how great each one sounded at that particular point. I don't think his recorded work is generally improvised, but I get the impression improvisation plays a big role in how he puts those solos together.

Again, I don't mean to place any approach to soloing over another, I only want to point out that the ways different guitarists solo can be very different in fundamental ways. Also, please don't consider this factual in the least, I'd place it one step above a "musing" on the did-I-have-a-point-to-make scale.
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Last edited by K33nbl4d3 at Apr 11, 2015,
#11
Practise. Practise practise practise. That's all there is really. Play over jam tracks whatever comes to your mind, and with time it comes. Knowing your scales helps a lot, but just fool around really.
#12
Coming from a guitar player that probably relies a little too much (at times) on improvising through shit:

About 95% of our improvising isn't improvising. It's ideas/licks/scales we've familiarized ourselves with. We've practiced playing certain licks and experimented with scales/runs/arpeggios over different chords in a key. We do it for hours. Then, when it's time to play in a jam situation or a solo, we just chain together the licks we know best based on the chord progression, feel/flavor of the situation, and time allotted.

What's most important is rhythm and timbre. If you can get those two down, the notes you're playing become less important. In fact, with proper rhythm and timbre, when you hit 'wrong' notes, it makes you sound like you meant it and that you were going for something expressive.

If you're familiar with jazz standards, listen to Miles Davis improvise and try to count how many jazz standards he 'quotes' in his solos. You might find that A LOT of his improvising are actually chaining together the melodies of other jazz standards. Same idea when improvising on guitar. The licks we 'come up with on the fly' are mostly accidents, to be honest. People eat that shit up though.
Last edited by mjones1992 at Apr 11, 2015,
#13
It's interesting that everyone looks at improv as a skill that can be learned, I never thought of it that way. Now I don't feel so bad, I just realise it's something I haven't worked on.

I wonder if many metal guitarists (which is what I largely was for most of my playing years) can improv over different styles to be honest. Now I'm listening to more Classic rock type stuff it's becoming more important.

All replies appreciated
#14
Quote by AdamBa17
It's interesting that everyone looks at improv as a skill that can be learned, I never thought of it that way.


Uhm, every skill has to be learned, no?
#15
Quote by AdamBa17
It's interesting that everyone looks at improv as a skill that can be learned, I never thought of it that way. Now I don't feel so bad, I just realise it's something I haven't worked on.

Absolutely. I guess the closest analogy I can think of is debating; you can be a charismatic person and know your stuff really well, but the only way to be really good at debates is to practice structuring your thoughts and words for persuasion and explanation. Improvising is a skill that contains elements of others, but ultimately has to be developed as an independent skill, because that's what it is.
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#16
It happens. It all depends on what you practice. I know a ton of players that are fantastic at playing, that are my go-to guys when getting a band together for a couple of gigs, but if the gig has an aspect of improvisation to it some of them are switched out.

You are good at what you have practiced, if the music you are interested in didn't have an element of improvisation in it of course you are not going to develop that side of your playing.
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#17
AdamBA17, are you satisfied with the solos you compose when you record? Because if you are, improvisation is just a next step to be able to play what you hear in your had and what you've already player 1000 times before but in different musical content. Like it has been said before, improvisation is not playing new stuff, it is to some extent 5 to 15% on a good night. everything else is just using what u know. it'l like language, we dont invent words when we speak, we put the words we know into new context. It's the same with improv. And actually no player in the world can improvise awesome all the time, you have nights when you suck and nights when you're awesome, that's just the way it is with improv. and 99% of stuff you see on youtube are awesome players who play their songs which they have written, recorded and played 1000 times. of course they're gonna nail it. it's like putting together a presentation or i don't know a guitar clinic for students. when you do it 10 time you're gonna nail it, and you wont tell the same thing every time, but you will have enough stuff to say (licks, scales, motifs...) that you'll be able to get deliver the message to your listeners. I think we sometimes forget how language and music are actually the same.