#1
I've played guitar for about 8 years now. Music has been a part of me all my life, having musicians in my family on both sides for many generations. The problem I have, though, is improv. I can't do it. I can't wrap my head around it, the rhythm or feel. I can't remember scales, I hardly even know the minor pentatonic. I play solos through my head day-in and day-out, it's there, it's just that when I pick up my guitar I basically experience writers-block immediately. When I try to learn, it's the same thing. I can play solos from other songs, every song I know I've learned the solo and possibly changed it in some ways or spent time trying to figure out an alternative for a section I can't play, but that's just about it. I was in the school band for 3 years, from 5th grade to 8th, and I couldn't even learn the scales then, not even how to read sheet music. I can't read sheet music for sheet. All I would do is memorize the song and fiddle around until I could play it perfectly. I took guitar lessons from grades 6-8, too, and he tried to teach me how to solo but he didn't teach me how it was actually done, he just gave me the pentatonic and a 1-3-5 progression and told me to play notes over it. Of course, I sounded like horse defecate.

The most I know off by heart are the first sections of the aeolian and minor pentatonic. I know the rest of the shapes of the pentatonic, I just can't remember them enough to know when and where and how to use them or what they are on the fly. The aeolian, well, I've spent hours trying to remember it but I can't. I've spent countless hours, too, sitting down with the scales I need in front of me and playing very long jam backing tracks to songs I know, commonly Since I've Been Loving You by Led Zeppelin, but I just cannot do it. I have saved on my computer and phone about 10-dozen riff ideas and variations that I just thought of and grabbed whatever guitar was closest to me and shaped them with a voice recorder going, but as far as soloing goes there's absolutely jack-sheet.

What I want to know is how to improvise on-the-go, how to remember the scales, how to practice them, just how to do it and understand it.


I'm actually sick of sitting down and wanting to solo like the sounds I hear in my head and not being able to. I need to learn how to, but I don't even know how to do that. I'm turning to you guys to help me. I need to know how to get myself to understand it. I'm extremely frustrated because I can teach myself how to do almost anything, I almost completely taught myself how to play guitar, I just can't actually play it good because I suck at soloing. I have a friend who's been playing guitar for 3 years less, he did a cover of a Clapton song and improvised his own solo and I thought it was the solo from the studio version but it was just him, and that both made me jealous and inspired me to try and work harder (this was last year, I obviously didn't learn anything).

TEACH ME PLEASE.
Last edited by Distophase at Oct 24, 2015,
#2
^This is all good advice

I'd stress the value of learning other people's licks and getting used to how they sound over different chords. Later on, you'll need to push yourself to escape that comfort zone, but it'll really help learn what notes to focus on where.
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#4
Quote by ChucklesMginty
Well, I would say find a good guitar teacher. But I realize for a lot of people that's not an option.

Memorizing the scales? That's easy, play through them over and over. Make it the first thing you do when you pick up the guitar. Set a timer for 15 minutes, get them under your fingers. Master the first shape, then move on etc... Start by just going over the minor pentatonic and you'll have it down pretty quickly. Try it in few common keys, start with A minor, the E minor, then D minor... The first shape has it's root on the E string, the 4th shape has it's root on the A string. The 1st and 4th shapes are the most common and fit under the fingers best. They also have a lot of good bends. You can learn about good string bends here.




Honestly, this is a problem here. I don't know what the hell a minor or major is. Would you mind explaining?

Now, lastly. I'm going to assume like 99.9% of guitar players you've never learned anything by ear in your life and have only read from tabs. This is the absolute best piece of advice I can give you, get good at this and you'll rely on scales a lot less:

Learn stuff by ear. Learn your intervals. Stop using tabs.


I've learned perhaps 30-40% of the songs I know by ear. That's something I can just do if I'm hearing it playing over and over in my head because I can imagine how it's being played and where it might be played on the neck, and then when I get home I try it out and see if it works. It doesn't work all the time, but I've learned a lot like this. I'm okay with listening to how a chord rings and playing around until I find that certain ring.
Last edited by Distophase at Oct 25, 2015,
#5
The best advice I ever had, and still follow after 15 years was to loop a drum track and play over the same loop for 8 hours in a dark room.

You will find that within that time you start to play things over it that sound good.

You need to put the time in so you train your muscles and brain to transfer what you imagine in your head to the strings.
#6
Quote by Distophase
Honestly, this is a problem here. I don't know what the hell a minor or major is. Would you mind explaining?


I've learned perhaps 30-40% of the songs I know by ear. That's something I can just do if I'm hearing it playing over and over in my head because I can imagine how it's being played and where it might be played on the neck, and then when I get home I try it out and see if it works. It doesn't work all the time, but I've learned a lot like this. I'm okay with listening to how a chord rings and playing around until I find that certain ring.


I think that you kind of made it clear here what the actual problem is. To communicate musical ideas you need to start learning all of those basics that you are missing. You should go through this like a check list of things to learn and then worry about improvisation- Do you know the notes of the fretboard? Do you know the major scale? Do you know the minor scale? Can you make a chord from a scale?

You can improvise without any knowledge but when you are having trouble doing it naturally and cannot break down the thing you are trying to improvise over, you are going to hit that wall again and again.Being able to say "ok this has these three chords playing in it, Lemme see what scale I can make those chords from" and then if you are like how I started out it'll take a bit but once you find the answer you have the scale that will match the chords and you'll have a starting point. But thats it, a starting point.
#7
Meant to have a longer post, oops....

Anyway, having that knowledge under your belt, You can then do sometihng like you usually do- Pick out the sounds you are hearing in a song, figure it out and then when you have it as close to the real thing as you can get or have actually nailed it, you can backwards engineer it a bit and see why it sounds good. Figure out what scale was played over what, and then you can just try using that scale over the song yourself. It might still sound bad but it'll be a lot easier to make it sound better.
#8
Find songs you like, find out what key they are in, and practice your scales to them. You need to practice them in every position along the neck and learn the whole fretboard that way. You have to put the time in.
#9
I think you should narrow things down and simplify things - You seem to want to do everything all at once , One problem could be that these solos in your head could be very complicated - fast - which is making it hard for you to transmit to the guitar , I know this because I make up solos in my head all the time and half the stuff I can not get to the guitar yet . But starting slow and make a simple solo up in your head just a few notes and then try and transmitting that to the guitar . sometimes I think of a solo I like from a song and I will try and play the solo on the guitar from my head - Possible out comes for me is - I am playing the solo in another key or maybe a different part on the neck - or some minor difference in notes but it still sounds good , Or I just cant transmit it to the guitar which is complete failure , The good thing is you will get better the more you practice at this . When it comes to scales I understand but again you need to simplify thing's , When I started scale I started with E minor nature scale - up and down the neck, I didn't want to learn pentatonic because I wanted to train my ear and mind each note and the difference in the major and minor scale - I then added the E pentatonic scale or mix each . I now don't think of it as a scale but more of a safe way to get sounds or licks from the key - but don't be scared to go out side of the scale because you don't want the scale to rule you , But then again when it comes to scales I am lazy I don't want to learn them Its just to much information for my brain . .
#10
Quote by fingrpikingood
Find songs you like, find out what key they are in, and practice your scales to them. You need to practice them in every position along the neck and learn the whole fretboard that way. You have to put the time in.


That is exactly how I practice scalar stuff. I also noodle all the time while watching TV. Some say that isn't a good idea, but it's better than clutching a can of beer.

I also use my sound editor (Cool Edit Pro) to analyse tunes/licks in detail. - Not because I want to copy them, but because I want to understand their structure, insofar as it can be applied to other arrangements.
Last edited by Tony Done at Oct 25, 2015,
#11
Quote by Tony Done
That is exactly how I practice scalar stuff. I also noodle all the time while watching TV. Some say that isn't a good idea, but it's better than clutching a can of beer.

I also use my sound editor (Cool Edit Pro) to analyse tunes/licks in detail. - Not because I want to copy them, but because I want to understand their structure, insofar as it can be applied to other arrangements.


me too, I do that more often just for practicing sort of physical stuff. Hockey is my favourite for that, because there is no plot to follow, so I won't really miss anything important, unless it's a goal, but the excitement of the announcer notifies me, and I will get a replay also, if that didn't work. There is also generally not any music playing, aside from the commercials.

Some other stuff is ok also, but there is often music on TV, which easily gets in the way if you're not just doing sort of a physical workout. But I will end up soloing with stuff on TV, like the commercials or whatever mood music is going on or what have you.

I sometimes put spotify on as well, and play with whatever comes up, and explore the chord progressions they use. If it is too tough for me to get before the song is over, I might put it into Transcribe! so I can more easily loop it/slow it down or whatever. That's if I really find it particularly interesting. I find Transcribe! a little bit easier than cool edit pro (or adobe audition as it is now known), except what I hate about Transcribe!, is that you can't place your play marker wherever you want, without destroying the loop area. That really bugs me all the time. Cool edit, if I recall always likes to destructively rewrite or render everything if you want to change pace without changing the pitch. Transcribe also lets you use videos, so if you grab a Tommy Emmanuel video off YouTube, you can use it to see what voicings he is using when you get a little stumped, or just to see how he is doing it, which might make it easier to play.
Last edited by fingrpikingood at Oct 25, 2015,
#12
Yeah, I should upgrade my sound editing capability to include vid as well as sound, but I've had CEP for so long that I've got used to its quirks and can use it quickly and reasonably efficiently. - I'm certainly not saying it's much good by modern standards!

I can't just sit and watch TV, I have to be doing something else at the same time; my grandmother used to knit. I also play along with music that comes up on TV. It is good practice for picking up keys quickly, and I've found that I can now find the key faster from the matching pent than from the chords.
#13
Quote by Tony Done
Yeah, I should upgrade my sound editing capability to include vid as well as sound, but I've had CEP for so long that I've got used to its quirks and can use it quickly and reasonably efficiently. - I'm certainly not saying it's much good by modern standards!

I can't just sit and watch TV, I have to be doing something else at the same time; my grandmother used to knit. I also play along with music that comes up on TV. It is good practice for picking up keys quickly, and I've found that I can now find the key faster from the matching pent than from the chords.


Ya definitely. I don't usually really worry about the "key" technically, but more finding where the pattern is, which degree is the tonic, doesn't really matter to me for soloing really, but usually it's really fast for me with single notes soloing. If you just guess a note, you have 7/12 odds of hitting an inside note right off the bat. If you slide into your solo, then you can choose where to end your slide, to end on an inside note.

From there, in any key, the next or previous note in the key can only either be a half step or a full step away. So, you only need to be that good at intervals to find the next note. If you go, say down, then after a maximum of 4 notes, you will know how the pattern is. Often times it will be less, and then you're good to go.

The pentatonic is similar, except the intervals are either one step, or a step and a half. I use both for finding the pattern, and once I found one, I know where the other is.

Chords are a little bit more tough I find. Sometimes I can quickly get them, and sometimes I know them just by hearing them, but they can be more tricky. Some are more obvious than others, like a functioning dominant in major or minor, but idk, sometimes I get pretty stumped for a while, and have to hunt around, fighting the temptation to just go solo crazy all over the place. Especially that sometimes a chord is not there for long, and then it's gone and you're trying to get the next one, and it goes away, and it's like you're always one step behind because of that. The key stays the same for a good while, usually. And if it doesn't, if it changes every chord, then I will have a lot of trouble soloing over it. But that's ok, because I generally don't like that kind of music anyway, and have no interest in soloing over it to begin with, so that works out well.
Last edited by fingrpikingood at Oct 25, 2015,
#14
So, what I'm getting at for minors and majors is...

A minor is just a flatted note.

The major scale consists of a natural 3rd, whereas the basic melodic minor consists of a flatted 3rd, the harmonic minor a flatted 3rd AND flatted 6th, and the natural minor a flatted 3rd, 6th, AND 7th.

Then the dorian, aeolian, and all that are just flatted variations of the basic scales.


If you're soloing over an A-minor, you'll use a minor scale?
#15
Quote by Tony Done
That is exactly how I practice scalar stuff. I also noodle all the time while watching TV. Some say that isn't a good idea, but it's better than clutching a can of beer.

I also use my sound editor (Cool Edit Pro) to analyse tunes/licks in detail. - Not because I want to copy them, but because I want to understand their structure, insofar as it can be applied to other arrangements.


i've been noodling in front of the tv for a very long time and it hurts nothing. gets your fingers going and you'd be suprised at what you come up with when the pressure isn't on.

OP just sit down and noddle to whatever you can. don't worry about scales or anything just play along with something. one thing i do to make my solos better is to play along to the vocal melody of a song. just get the flow to go along with what is being sung in a song. this will stir up some creativity. big thing is to not seat it so much. you can't expect to just bing out mind blowing solos right of teh bat.
#17
Just a bit of an update...

To memorize the notes and scale positions so far, I've just been using the basic chords to help me find the scale positions. Play a bar of a chord, then go to the first position of the corresponding scale, then play the chord again, second position, and on and on. Then I started looping chord changes and verses and then try to find the first position of each chord on-the-go and then the second for the next loop, and then mixing it up to the first and then third and second and fifth, just whatever I want, and I've just started changing it up to change to a different position (preferably the closest) per chord. After this I'll probably start trying to memorize the roots, since before all of this i've only known the shape of where they are and not exactly where they are.

Coming here, even though I didn't get as easy-to-follow a response as I hoped, was a life-saver. I checked out a site that was listed in Chuck's post (the recommended one) and learned a bit about minors and majors, and how to figure out whether a scale is those two or one of the other 20 million or whatever. I still don't have the fretboard completely memorized, but for the first two strings I can just look at it and see the notes so I've definitely made progress.
#19
Quote by Distophase
So, what I'm getting at for minors and majors is...

A minor is just a flatted note.

The major scale consists of a natural 3rd, whereas the basic melodic minor consists of a flatted 3rd, the harmonic minor a flatted 3rd AND flatted 6th, and the natural minor a flatted 3rd, 6th, AND 7th.

Then the dorian, aeolian, and all that are just flatted variations of the basic scales.


If you're soloing over an A-minor, you'll use a minor scale?


This is all correct.
#20
Quote by scarletcantos
This is all correct.

Kind of, except thinking about minor scales in terms of major scales is somewhat counterproductive.

2nds, 3rds, 6ths and 7ths all come in a pair, major and minor (for the moment, we can definitely go without diminishing or augmenting them). One's higher than the other, but really it just describes the note as being a certain distance from the tonic.

A minor 3rd is a semitone less than a major 3rd, but more importantly it's 3 semitones from the root.

A minor scale is just a scale with a minor 3rd.

If you're just starting off getting the hang of improvisation, it's probably best to use the minor pentatonic, because those 5 notes are pretty reliable in terms of sounding alright over minor (and sometimes even major) progressions.
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