#1
I know the shapes of the pentatonic scale and when i improv i like what i hear. However, i do not know exactly what im doing from a technical standpoint. I know the shapes and i just hit random notes and make up random melodies spontaneously. I do not know if this is the correct way to improvise. Is it bad that i do not know what im doing technically? As i said, I like the sound of my improvising, but i feel like i should probably know what im doing. Does it matter if i know what im doing or not?
#2
There is no "correct way" really. But generally you want to be in the key you're in. You're already there. Experiment with some other scales, you don't have to be stuck in pentatonics all day.

One way is to think of a melody in your head, even sing it, then translate it to guitar. The catchier the better.

This chap has a lot of neat tips: https://www.youtube.com/user/Wallimann/videos

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g0qJWcfIwls
Last edited by Will Lane at Oct 23, 2015,
#3
Quote by J23L
I know the shapes of the pentatonic scale and when i improv i like what i hear. However, i do not know exactly what im doing from a technical standpoint. I know the shapes and i just hit random notes and make up random melodies spontaneously. I do not know if this is the correct way to improvise. Is it bad that i do not know what im doing technically? As i said, I like the sound of my improvising, but i feel like i should probably know what im doing. Does it matter if i know what im doing or not?


For a few years, I remember I used to be in a similar sort of boat. Except there is no "right way" to improvise, and all that matters is how it sounds, and I knew that, except I also only really knew the pentatonic scale, and I'd mess around given that, and I remember thinking I was cheating.

Here I was playing music that I thought was pretty good, but I always felt it was missing something, and that I was cheating, because imagine if everybody knew all I was doing was playing one pattern all the time? And some people think I'm actually pretty good, but I am using only one pattern. If only they knew I was cheating this way.

But, that's actually not far from all it is. There is some more you can learn, and I would suggest you go and learn more about theory and how it works, but honestly, it actually is, for the most part just very simple and easy. It's not a trick, it's just actually that way.

However, some music often changes key, and some music can have tricky chord changes, like what often happens in Jazz fusion. For stuff like that, the difficulty level definitely goes up, and you will have a tough time sounding good if all you know is pentatonics. Even blues is more demanding than usual that way.

It sounds like you're just randomly hitting notes that are part of the pentatonic pattern, and to me, the purpose of improvising is to deliberately deliver the phrases you want to deliver. That's what it is, you use the guitar to evoke the sounds and feelings you feel like expressing in the moment. So, if you're not doing that, then I guess I would actually say you're doing it "wrong" I guess, but otherwise, you are doing fine, but would benefit from learning more stuff. If you don't want to randomly hit notes, then imagine the notes in your mind first, sing them first, and then play the notes you sing. Or just sing along while you play, making sure that you are not first hitting a note and then just repeating it with singing. The objective is to train your mind to decide the notes, rather than the pattern on your fretboard.

But really, at the end of the day, what matters is that you enjoy what you're doing, that you have fun playing music, and whatever works for you to that end, is good.
Last edited by fingrpikingood at Oct 23, 2015,
#4
Quote by fingrpikingood
For a few years, I remember I used to be in a similar sort of boat. Except there is no "right way" to improvise, and all that matters is how it sounds, and I knew that, except I also only really knew the pentatonic scale, and I'd mess around given that, and I remember thinking I was cheating.

Here I was playing music that I thought was pretty good, but I always felt it was missing something, and that I was cheating, because imagine if everybody knew all I was doing was playing one pattern all the time? And some people think I'm actually pretty good, but I am using only one pattern. If only they knew I was cheating this way.

But, that's actually not far from all it is. There is some more you can learn, and I would suggest you go and learn more about theory and how it works, but honestly, it actually is, for the most part just very simple and easy. It's not a trick, it's just actually that way.

However, some music often changes key, and some music can have tricky chord changes, like what often happens in Jazz fusion. For stuff like that, the difficulty level definitely goes up, and you will have a tough time sounding good if all you know is pentatonics. Even blues is more demanding than usual that way.

It sounds like you're just randomly hitting notes that are part of the pentatonic pattern, and to me, the purpose of improvising is to deliberately deliver the phrases you want to deliver. That's what it is, you use the guitar to evoke the sounds and feelings you feel like expressing in the moment. So, if you're not doing that, then I guess I would actually say you're doing it "wrong" I guess, but otherwise, you are doing fine, but would benefit from learning more stuff. If you don't want to randomly hit notes, then imagine the notes in your mind first, sing them first, and then play the notes you sing. Or just sing along while you play, making sure that you are not first hitting a note and then just repeating it with singing. The objective is to train your mind to decide the notes, rather than the pattern on your fretboard.

But really, at the end of the day, what matters is that you enjoy what you're doing, that you have fun playing music, and whatever works for you to that end, is good.

What if a song is in the key of D and it has a 1,4,5 progression, wouldn't it still sound good if i play the D pentatonic over that 1,4,5 progression regardless if i follow the chord changes or not? It's not necessary to follow the chord changes is it?
#5
Quote by J23L
What if a song is in the key of D and it has a 1,4,5 progression, wouldn't it still sound good if i play the D pentatonic over that 1,4,5 progression regardless if i follow the chord changes or not? It's not necessary to follow the chord changes is it?


In the key of D, if the progression is diatonic, the D major scale will be the inside notes, and the other notes the outside notes. I don't like to say "sound good" or not sound good, because the objective, to me, is not to randomly play inside notes, and it won't sound poor, as in nothing will clash, or sound "off".

The objective, to me, is to play sweet melodic phrases which can contain inside notes and outside notes.

For me, what is important for the chord progression, is that I know where it is on my fretboard, and I know what it sounds like. What it sounds like will inspire me to play phrases or chords I want to play. Those might be the chords of the progression, or even some other chords sometimes, like if you play a G chord on top of a C chord, those combined would be a C9, you might want that.

I believe it is a mistake to look at theory as "what notes are correct to play" What you want to do, is look at the names of things, and learn how they sound, and then choose the sounds you want to hear.

That is my philosophy.

I probably play chord tones often enough, but I never think about that. I don't actually know how often I do, because it only ever comes up for me, if I want to access the chord shape itself. Other than that, I am just listening to the music, knowing what is coming, knowing want I want to hear, and playing those notes. It never enters my mind whether or not the notes I am choosing are chord tones or not. I don't really care. The theory never really matters in a right or wrong sense to me. It isn't that. I just want to be able to play the notes I want to hear, and theory helps me do that, by organizing sounds and patterns so that I can reflexively play the notes I am thinking.

So, imo, you should be playing these things, and paying attention to their names, rather than asking about what is theoretically correct, or trying to figure out what you should be doing from a theory standpoint. The truth is, you can literally play any note any time, as long as you phrase it in such a way that sounds great.
#6
Playing to the key and basic scale is a good start. The next step is to look at the individual chords, and coordinate your note choice with the notes in each chord.

If you're playing blues in A, you can get away with Am pentatonic the whole time, but you'll make much more interesting melodies by following the chord changes.
#7
You aren't really doing anything "wrong", but I would suggest learning the sound of the notes. It's all about ear training. I would suggest learning about scale degrees, intervals and chord tones. You could use the functional ear trainer. Another good thing to do would be learning songs and solos by ear. Also, if you hear something in your head, just try playing it. Try to find the notes you are looking for.

That's just going to make your improvisation more "effective". Improvisation is basically about playing what you feel. If the notes that you play are random and you have really no idea what you are doing, they are not really what you feel. But I guess you do have at least some kind of idea how what you are playing is going to sound like. I mean, you know if the melody is going up or down. You know what kind of rhythm you are playing. So I doubt what you are playing when you are improvising is completely random. I don't think you always need to know the exact sound you are after. Hitting a note you didn't mean to play may give you new ideas.

Pentatonic is always a safe choice. But it's also easy to make sound kind of generic.

Is it necessary to follow the changes? Well, I think I do that automatically. If the note I play doesn't sound good over the chord I'm playing, I play another note. Of course when I know how the progression sounds like, I don't really need to think about the chords. I can just think about the sounds. I know what sounds I'm after - I really don't care if it's a chord tone or not. If I know the exact sound I'm after, I know it will work (but I need to get in the "zone" first to do that which doesn't happen all the time). I think it's important to know the sound of the chords you are playing over well, so that you don't need to think about it. Good improvisation is about not having to think.

Also, following the changes doesn't necessarily mean you need to play the root, third and fifth all the time. Many times not playing the most "obvious" chord tones sounds good - it gives your solo a more "sophisticated" sound. But you need to know what you are doing (to do it effectively). Root, third and fifth are more safe choices.
Quote by AlanHB
Just remember that there are no boring scales, just boring players.

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#8
Suggest you work towards knowing the relationships the pitches in the shapes make with what's happening with the backing ...it helps a lot to make conscious decisions on landing pitches, and understanding what will cause a clashy sound, and what won't.

I wouldn't recommend chasing chords too much (depending on genre).

There is a lot more to impro beyond the pentatonic, though (depending on genre).
#9
The number of patterns you know is a secondary issue here. The key thing is that you should know what each note sounds like before you hit it. Just as an experiment, you might want to try singing over a chord progression you often play over, and record yourself. Are you singing the same kind of notes as you would normally play?

There are two basic steps to improvising:
1. Learn to play what you hear in your head
2. Learn to hear better stuff in your head
Repeat the process over and over.

There are certain exceptions and things that need more explaining, but this is the essence of it.
Last edited by scarletcantos at Oct 30, 2015,
#10
The idea behind learning many patterns is they are a means to learn to be able to play whatever is in your head, and they are also a way to help develop new ideas, and explore more sounds you may not have otherwise thought of. So, the number of patterns you know is pretty up there in importance.

It almost goes without saying that you want to be able to do is play what you're thinking and to be creative. But that's kind of like saying. "The way you play the sport is, you score more points than the other guy and you win." Well, ya, but you need a method for being able to score more points and give up fewer.

However, in this case, I think it is still good information because I think there is often the idea floating around that the idea behind music is to learn this sort of reasoning called theory, which is sort of algorithms or logic, or what have you that people can just follow, and then out comes beautiful music, sort of like painting by numbers.

But that is not to say that patterns, or theory also, are of little importance, these are the meat and potatoes you gotta train with in order to have the physical ability to play what you want, and also the understanding on your fretboard so you know where everything is, and can get to it with the least amount of effort possible.

Learning patterns is one thing, navigating them aimlessly is another. The number of patterns is important because the guitar is kind of a shitty configuration in a lot of ways. Things aren't simple and obvious like they might be on a piano. On one string they are, but not on the whole fretboard. So, you really need to approach the key in a number of ways. For example, if you want to run up the key scale, you would probably want to use 3nps, however, if you want to run up the key scale in triad arpeggios, you will want to learn the key scale up and down the next in terms of harmony, or chords. On a piano, you just look at the key notes, and you can play them however you want. But even then, the patterns are still pretty important, because the muscles and dexterity you need for running up the key in single notes, is not the same as those you need to run up in arpeggiated triads. The more ways you know something the easier it is to visualize as well.

Chords are a pattern as well, but aside from those, and the pentatonic, as soon as I realized the power of the key, and what the patterns were, I went looking for any pattern I could find useful to master it. I've learned a few and they all opened stuff for me. They all brought me closer to being able to play what I think. It is impossible to be able to do that perfectly though, because of the limitations of the hands, and the configuration of the instrument, but the more patterns I learned, the better became my ability to play whatever I think of. I also learned some stuff along the way, like new ideas I would not have thought of otherwise.
Last edited by fingrpikingood at Oct 30, 2015,
#11
Quote by MaggaraMarine


That's just going to make your improvisation more "effective". Improvisation is basically about playing what you feel. If the notes that you play are random and you have really no idea what you are doing, they are not really what you feel. But I guess you do have at least some kind of idea how what you are playing is going to sound like. I mean, you know if the melody is going up or down. You know what kind of rhythm you are playing. So I doubt what you are playing when you are improvising is completely random. I don't think you always need to know the exact sound you are after. Hitting a note you didn't mean to play may give you new ideas.




Wherein lies the sort of difficulty where the better you become at not making mistakes, the more visible the ideas you actually have become.

But you're right. I think everyone has benefited from mistakes in improv and composition, and think all musicians of all levels do make use of happy accidents, and how you rescue a flub is definitely part of creativity also.

But still, to me, overall the art of improv is to honestly speak one's mind and express exactly what a person is feeling in the moment. If you goof, and what you feel immediately changes as a result, so be it though. That's just the way it is sometimes.
Last edited by fingrpikingood at Oct 30, 2015,
#12
Quote by J23L
What if a song is in the key of D and it has a 1,4,5 progression, wouldn't it still sound good if i play the D pentatonic over that 1,4,5 progression regardless if i follow the chord changes or not? It's not necessary to follow the chord changes is it?
Whether it's necessary depends on the song.
If it's a blues in D, then yes, the D minor pentatonic will probably work over all the chords, regardless of the changes.
But that's because blues is an unusual kind of music. The clashes (the "dialogue", if you like) between the scale and chords are part of its language. They don't sound "wrong", as they might in other kinds of music.

Generally speaking - putting it as simply as possible - the way to improvise is to use the material in the song.
So, you have the I IV V in key of D. That's the major chords of D, G and A - as I guess you know . You don't need anything else. You don't need to "apply" anything else. The notes you need are all there under your fingers in the chord shapes. Between them they spell out the whole D major scale, in whatever position you're playing the chords - but you don't need to even know that.
Work from the chord shapes, and use notes from the other chords as passing notes.

So, here's your D chord:
-2-
-3-
-2-
-0-
-0-
(2)

And here are your potential additional passing notes, combining the G and A shapes:
-0---3-
-0--2---
-0--2--
(0)-2----
-2----
-0--3----

So you get a complete diatonic scale pattern on those top 3 strings:
-0--2--3
-0--2--3
-0--2---
... but you don't need to name it. You know it's correct because the chords tell you.

But equally, don't get distracted into the scale pattern. It's still important to see the D chord shape while soloing on that chord, and start and end phrases on notes in that chord.

On the G chord, as you might imagine, it works as follows:
Chord tones (start and end of phrases):
-3-
-0--3
-0-
-0-
-2-
-3-

Passing notes (from D and A chords):
-0--2-
-2-
-2-
-2-
-0-
(2)

OK, this is beginner level stuff! You're probably thinking "I don't want to be limited to 3 strings in open position!"
(Likewise, it's beginner technique to start and end on chord tones - sometimes it's effective to accent non-chord tones, which can work as extensions on the chord, more expressive than the chord tones. Experiment! The next level after that is to add chromatics, which essentially means any other notes, between the ones you already have. )

The way to expand out of that position is to learn more shapes for those chords, higher up the neck. (eg, via the CAGED system.)
This is better than learning scale patterns, for at least three reasons:
1. Chord shapes are easier to remember than scale patterns;
2. Knowing the chords means you're always aware of the connection between melody (solo) and chords, which is fundamental (even in blues actually...);
3. You no longer have to worry about what scale to "apply" in any situation. You have all the notes under your fingers already. (And if those "diatonic" notes sound too vanilla for your taste, experiment with "chromatics", eg coming up to chord tones from a fret below.)

Naturally the more chord shapes you know, the more of the neck you can cover. (Every chord is playable everywhere on the neck, if not in a strummable shape, then in an arpeggio pattern.)

This way, you don't even have to learn note names - it can all be done via shapes and arpeggio patterns - although of course it will help your understanding enormously if you do learn the notes!
Last edited by jongtr at Oct 31, 2015,
#13
I personally think the scale approach is superior to the chord approach, but I use both. For me, and how I play, anyway.

In music I think in most cases you can't really say "this way is better than that way". What you can do is listen to what approach yields what results, and then keep that in mind when you decide which way you want to lean on more in your approach on the guitar.

I use both, and I can play most chords anywhere on the neck, but some I find have fewer useful inversions than others. However to solo, I still predominantly use a scalar approach. I find it a more useful tool overall for a number of reasons.

Different players like different methods, and different methods yield different results.

Music is not linear, as in there is one single end, which is "great guitarist" and then just a pile of things to know to get there.

Different guitarists play differently, and use different ways to look at music to get to where they are. Joe Pass, and Tommy Emmanuel, and Satriani, and Guthrie Govan, and BB king, and Allan Holdsworth, all have different styles, and all have different ways of looking at the guitar, which are instrumental to why their music sounds the way that it does.

I personally prefer using a more scalar approach and I use a chordal approach more to complement that. I find that way makes it easier for me to be able to phrase poetically.

One approach is not better than another, just like impressionism is not superior to realism or vice versa. Just different methods. Different means to different ends.