#1
So I've been playing guitar for almost 3 years now and the multiple teachers I've had have always told me to practice improvising solos, improvise over songs, with scales, and almost everything to possibly encourage it. So they've taught me a bunch of scales (I believe all pentatonic scales and all major scales) and have had me (attempt to) improvise/solo over some riff or chord progression. But something they always told me was to play in the scales and only in the scales. They also had me connect to scales to "unlock the neck" but all my solos always sounded boring and like scales, they didn't sound like a solo. My current teacher told me to stop thinking of what I was playing as notes in a scale and instead as notes on the neck, or something along those lines. So now I am clueless on how to go about improvising and soloing. Every time I try to practice it sounds the same, or sounds too pentatonic, or sounds like I'm just practicing scales. What's the point of learning scales if you don't know how to implement them into your playing, right? Some guidance into the right direction would be much appreciated.
#2
in wrong section will probably get moved.

ok scales are just the building blocks for solos so you have to start somewhere. a solo is all about phrasing as in how you play the notes. it's the little things like bends and finger vibrato that give the scales life and make a solo. one thing i do to practice is play along to songs vocal melody and try to get the notes to follow that. keep in mind that playing solos takes time and if it was easy then we wouldn't have guitar heroes.

for an example of my playing a solo with pentatonic scales check link in profile and listen to the song The Land Unknown.
#3
What helped me get out that boring "scale sound" was to first sing over that part as if I were playing a solo. Then once I figured out what I liked, I would try and replicate that vocal melody. The guitar should sing while soloing. That might sound confusing or dumb, but try it. Let it sing.
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#4
Not silly at all. Prince once advised one of his touring guitarists- who, struggling with a part, had come to him for advice- that the part was meant to be played as if Billy Holliday were singing it. That did the trick.
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#5
ideally you want to know what you want to play in your head (so you can hum it or something) and then play what is in your head on the guitar, so the guitar will become an extension of yourself and will be as natural as singing.This will take practice, hard work and time. But that's a long term goal to be able to hear what you want to play before you play it.

Try singing something then figure out how to play it on the guitar.

Other guitarists might be different, but this is what I'm working at.
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#6
Phrasing, phrasing, phrasing. Developing a strong vibrato (especially bending + vibrato) can bring a dull section to life. Sliding in and out of phrases, and knowing when not to play anything are also strong highlighters.

Keep in mind, most guitarists have a handful of licks they tend to end up coming back to, or at least using as reference points. Expand your vocabulary of these licks, and try to really understand what context they work best in. Learn other peoples' solos to get some fresh perspective on how to approach things. The more styles you can study this way, the better.
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#7
Quote by dannyalcatraz
Not silly at all. Prince once advised one of his touring guitarists- who, struggling with a part, had come to him for advice- that the part was meant to be played as if Billy Holliday were singing it. That did the trick.

I know a fair number of guitarists do something similar, because working in 'pauses'(either actually not playing, or just letting a note ring or something) where a singer/horn player might take a breath forces them to think that bit harder about phrasing and structure of the solo. And, to an extent, it makes the solo more 'listenable'.
#8
Think of the notes in the scales as letters of the alphabet. In a row they sound like the alphabet. Mix them up and you can make words.
But the words you make will be in your own language, start making words and sentences.
Does this make any sense?.
#9
When you are holding a guitar, you look at the fretboard, and it's just a bunch of frets and everything looks the same. If you think a sound, you can't play it on the fretboard. Sing a note, and look at the fretboard. Which one is it? That's impossible, unless you have perfect pitch.

Music works a certain way, it's relative in nature. That's what the key is all about. Some music is more chord-centric, and you need to play in a chord-centric way for it, but it's more advanced and you don't need to worry about that for now.

So learn about the key and the key scale.

The point of scales are not to be things that you mentality attach together, and then music comes out. If you ask how to write a book, and then people say "well you need to learn how to spell words first" that doesn't mean just randomly jam whatever words together, or recite the alphabet in order all the time. That's wouldn't make for a great book.

The scales turn your featureless fretboard into a way to know where the notes are. So that when you think of a sound, you can play it. Just like spelling and grammar is not how to write a great poem, but is a way to turn the ideas in your mind into a poem on your piece of paper.

So practice improvising without a guitar also. By singing, or just in your head. That's truly where the ideas come from. Not from patterns or algorithms, really. But it does a little also, and when you learn what the patterns sound like, you can control the sounds you want.

So learn your scales and practice them, but not necessarily in order. It's pretty rare that I'd ever play a scale in straight order unless I'm doing a faster run.
#10
Your issue is very common, so don't fret over it ( pun intended!).

1) you need to learn some musical phrases to begin improvising - I suggest learning a few SRV solos because he has a bunch of "go to" licks that are easy to use in other contexts. At first you should try applying some phrases in another context - try playing with and modifying the phrases to fit the other contexts. It's all plagiarism at first, but eventually you will get the hang of it.

2) start learning solos by ear now. This will make improvising much easier and is absolutely crucial.

3) play your scales using a metronome set to 90 bpm and play the same pattern using whole notes, then half notes, then triplets, then quarter notes etc. this is also crucial because improvising is not just about notes, it's about rhythms and if you don't have a solid instinctive grasp of those you won't be able to come up with interesting phrases. By doing this exercise you will get a feel for how each rhythm sounds and feels under your fingers.
#11
Quote by pantallica87
What helped me get out that boring "scale sound" was to first sing over that part as if I were playing a solo. Then once I figured out what I liked, I would try and replicate that vocal melody. The guitar should sing while soloing. That might sound confusing or dumb, but try it. Let it sing.



I totally agree here. When you improvise, you probably want to be melodic, and in doing so you should be able to sing whatever you aim to play. Sometimes, it is best to only focus on a few notes in the scale/mode that way you can work them in without feeling overwhelmed by the fretboard. I will tell you, the fretboard had overwhelmed me for several years and one day it just all clicked. When improvising, you want to be ACTIVELY listening. This is something I learned over at York University.. It was my epiphany. Hope that helps, otherwise message me!
#12
Some teachers make the mistake of giving students a lot of scales (or different positions on the same scale) without teaching them how to use them.

In reality, listeners don't care if you're playing A minor pentatonic in the 5th position or E Dorian. They care about the sound that's coming out of your guitar.

Some suggestions:

1) Choose a scale in one position and improvise on it with a backing track.
Just one position so that your mind can concentrate on your bending, vibrato and phrasing rather than which notes to play. You may even choose just 4 notes from a scale and play only them. What's important is that you focus fully on the phrasing, not on the scale.

2) Before you improvise in a scale, learn a few licks in that scale. They will give you ideas and
add to your bag of tricks.

3) Don't learn any new scales until you're able to improvise on the ones you know.
#13
I agree 100% with julianjanetta.

I'm going to give you what may appear a strange answer at first, but read on.

Music has a very deep psychological effect (primarily emotional, maybe analytical (e.g. if the listener is figuring something out). The emotional effect part comes from the way the music conveys contrasts over time, part comes from the rhythm (think how you want to tap your foot, dance ...), part from lyrics, part from your mood, and so on.

Ignoring rhythm (which in reality we can't ... it underpins music), then the principle way we, as players, try to impart emotion, is through note choice, feel, technique (vibrato, harmonics, speed flurries ...). Note choice can create expectations in the listener. For example, get a friend to play a G chord, and you play and hold a G#, and see how long you both "enjoy" that experience. I guarantee you both want to hear that G# move to a G. Try the G# in different octaves, and listen how the expectation changes. Next, try using a Gb against the G chord. How does that feel? These are examples of playing a note a semitone above or below a chord tone. The "above" case is usally the killer ... but this can be put to great use to build that expectation. Taste, or health and safety in front of a hostile audience, dictates how long you play this game for, before being kind and moving off that note somewhere else.

In a similar manner, most scales have a combination of semitones and tones between adjacent members. These semitones set up stronger expectations ... e.g. in the major scale, the 4 creates a need to hear the 3 next. The 7 creates a need to hear the 1 above it. Other patterns, like 5 to 1, are very powerful. Scale notes a tone apart are less prone to creating expectations.

5 note scales are less effective at this for melodies ... but even so, the major or minor triad off the root (e.g. the Am triad in an Am pentatonic) are notes with little to no expectations being set up that they must move on. So, use the other notes (the 4 and the b7) to build and release, and use the triad for resting points (sometimes, as you feel).

Basically, if you want to make an expectation stronger, create it using the highest or lowest note in a phrase; or using a longer duration; or starting it on a strong beat. To reduce it, do the opposite. So, to play a G# against the G, you play 4 quarter notes, G, G#,A, G, followed by a whole note G.

If you get the above idea, then experiment with short rhythmic patterns, and try repeating these, with slight changes in note content, or in the rhythm itself, or both. This starts to put recognisable things into your solo that a listener can pick up on.

Part of the problem is when the teacher doesn't (or can't) explain the "job" that each different scale note serves, or the "job" that each chord serves in a progression, and how chords and scale notes interact (in a melody or solo), or how scale notes themesleves interact in an unaccompanied melody. This knowledge needs combining with with a basic understanding of rhythm.

The other issue is the fixation for technique and speed, which often results in playing up and down scales as fast as possible, which is utterly useless for creating an entire solo from. At least learn how to play arpeggios out the scale.

You want to get good, get good at chords (chord types and inversions), and especially check out rhythm ... that is gold mine so often ignored. Listen to sax players for phrasing. And singers ... why? because they have to either produce notes, or breathe, but not both at the same time (ignoring circular breathing). So stuff naturally gets broken up!

Get a teacher that understands this stuff.

The good news is this not hard.
Last edited by jerrykramskoy at Mar 28, 2016,
#14
If you only practice playing scales up and down, of course that's the only thing you learn to play. Improvisation is not about scales. It's about knowing how to use them. Pentatonic can sound boring but it can also sound great.

I would suggest learning some actual solos and melodies and seeing how they use scales. How the note choice relates to the chords. That kind of stuff. Also, learn about phrasing. You can't just play random notes inside a scale and expect it to sound great. Scales are just a tool for finding the notes you are looking for.

You also need to train your ears. You can't expect yourself to play good sounding melodies if you have no idea of what you are playing.


Yeah, Robert Callus has some good advice. Just pick a couple of notes from the scale and try to make them sound as interesting as possible. This way you don't need to worry about the note choice at all and you can focus on the other important things (like rhythm). When you have too many notes to choose from, you will most likely focus on the note choice.

If you only have a couple of notes to choose from, to play a good solo, you really need to use your imagination. Play long notes, play different rhythms, use different kind of techniques, use dynamics, play phrases. This way you can't just go up and down the scale as fast as possible.

Also, four notes is just one note away from the full pentatonic scale. If you learn the sound of those four notes, it's not hard to learn the sound of the full pentatonic scale.


The main point is, improvisation is not scales. Scales are just a tool.


I think everybody here has given good advice.
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Last edited by MaggaraMarine at Mar 28, 2016,
#15
I took some guitar lessons from one of my friends some time ago. That helped me a lot with improvising. He taught me to know the neck really well and so easy!!! try to find Anton Oparin guitar lessons, don't remember as he still available for lessons. But his way of seeing the neck is so amazing. He teaches to see the tonic notes and positions that are around everywhere... damn! After his system when he explained me how he learned to improvise, it's easy! It's easy to change scales, notes, positions!
Really easy. I'm afraid I need a video to explain it of 10 minutes talk, but then, you just see the neck like bottle of water. It's so easy
#16
Quote by sunhunchan1
I took some guitar lessons from one of my friends some time ago. That helped me a lot with improvising. He taught me to know the neck really well and so easy!!! try to find Anton Oparin guitar lessons, don't remember as he still available for lessons. But his way of seeing the neck is so amazing. He teaches to see the tonic notes and positions that are around everywhere... damn! After his system when he explained me how he learned to improvise, it's easy! It's easy to change scales, notes, positions!
Really easy. I'm afraid I need a video to explain it of 10 minutes talk, but then, you just see the neck like bottle of water. It's so easy


There's a lot more to it than visualising the neck.
#17
Improv is easy, it starts with confidence. Seriously just play with confidence and your solo's will already start to sound better. Otherwise pay attention to where the scale tones you really want to sit on are (mainly 1st or "root" and the 5th) of said scale. Start with those two things and your solo's will sound better already i promise.

After that make sure to start learning where the other scale tones are and what it sounds like when you sit on them and when to use them for the particular sound your trying to achieve.

Lastly when i'm writing my solo's i tend to start with a lick or idea i've just recently learned, put it in the key im in, then see how it sounds and where i want to go with it and progress accordingly. It helps to learn lots of licks and how to play them in different keys.

hope some of that helped
#18
Quote by Scramblesthe
Improv is easy, it starts with confidence. Seriously just play with confidence and your solo's will already start to sound better. Otherwise pay attention to where the scale tones you really want to sit on are (mainly 1st or "root" and the 5th) of said scale. Start with those two things and your solo's will sound better already i promise.

After that make sure to start learning where the other scale tones are and what it sounds like when you sit on them and when to use them for the particular sound your trying to achieve.

Lastly when i'm writing my solo's i tend to start with a lick or idea i've just recently learned, put it in the key im in, then see how it sounds and where i want to go with it and progress accordingly. It helps to learn lots of licks and how to play them in different keys.

hope some of that helped


Good advice.

Confidence is very important in improvisation. It's relatively easy because if you're playing notes in the scale and in time, there is no "wrong".

Learning a lick and using it in the scale, becomes second nature after some time.

In short, the best way to learn improvisation is to start doing it, using what you know at present. Once you know more things, incorporate your new knowledge in your impro.
#19
All good advice.Also learn the structure of each chord you're playing over.The main melody notes usually come from the chord tones and use the other notes as window dressing.Also when playing other notes from the scales a good way to get a nice melody is to use the scale which corresponds to the current chord that you're playing over rather than just blasting through the tonic key all the way through.
#20
Get a book of licks and learn through em, that will show you how to put notes together that are not sequential.

Try soloing using notes from the chord arpeggio, then start adding in the between notes, that sounds cool and is how a lot of jazz that I've heard hangs together.

Play ur scales in intervals of 3rds, 4th etc. E.g. Instead of playing 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8, play 1 3 2 4 3 5 4 6 5 7 6 1 (that's 3rds). Doing that will get the sound of the various intervals in your head, free the fingers up to play bigger note gaps and also give u more ideas.

When soloing over chords u wanna learn to hit landing notes at the right point in the phrase, that will instantly make them sound more musical. Landing notes are generally ones that are contained in the chord, e.g go for a c, e or a g if the chord is C major. Some dissonant notes can also sound cool, e.g. Hitting a d ( the 2) over a c major chord.

Don't underestimate the value of singing, try singing or humming a nice melody over chords then playing it on the 6 string. The interval work above will help with that, allowing u to translate the melody to the notes on the guitar.
Last edited by Stratman2016 at Apr 11, 2016,
#21
OP, have you actually practiced the scales and gotten them under your fingers? Knowing them up and down is what will open them up as more than just patterns of notes. Practice them in linear fashion, in 3rds, with string skips, with double-stops... use your imagination and find new ways of playing the scale. Interesting sounds will come out, but you have to find them.

But you do have to practice more than scales. Scales are just one tool to use while improvising, and like any other tool, you will get better at using it with practice.

As your teachers suggested, put on some basic jam tracks and start with the basic scale as you know it. Once you feel comfortable with where the notes are, open up and start playing them in different orders with with different rhythms. Choose your notes with intention. If a note sounds bad, just keep going and try a different one next time that chord comes around.

You can think of it like cooking: Playing scales in scalewise, unimaginative ways is like walking through a cafeteria buffet where you're just going past all the bland food in an obvious, boring order. But applying creativity and musicality to scales is like cooking yourself a nice meal at home. In the end, you're using all the same ingredients that the buffet does, but you're doing something a lot more fun and interesting.

And like mentioned above, you absolutely must learn music in order to play music. Other guitarists are using all the same scales and stuff that you are, so your challenge is to figure out what they're playing and see how it all fits into the scale patterns that you know. Some stuff won't fit neatly into scale patterns, but if you start with basic classic rock solos, you should start seeing familiar patterns pretty quickly.

And yes, chord tones are essential melodic material, but don't overwhelm yourself yet. Chord and scale tones overlap significantly, so as long as you use your critical ear, you'll find that you're doing much of the same thing regardless of approach.
Last edited by cdgraves at Apr 11, 2016,