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#1
Whereas there seem to be mixed views on technique, being virtuoso ... from the many discussions I've had with fellow musicains, from beginners of all ages, to pros of all ages, I firmly believe that everyone with an interest in playing music wants to learn the tools for improvisation, almost as a human need, to have a musical voice, to engage with others at some level musically, even just in the bedroom with a friend, even just to conquer shyness.

Am I right in my belief that players feel the need to improvise as soon as they can, even if it's limited to start with?

Do you include improvisation as an essential goal of learning guitar? How do you rate that goal against developing mechanical technique? Do you see these going together, and that you have to have great technique to improvise? Or do you believe you can achieve the musicality you want without great technique?

If you agree, what (if anything) is stopping you developing how to improvise?

If you don't agree, why? Too hard ... too time consuming ... don't care about it, .,..?

Chip in, guys and girls ... especially newbies! Don't be shy! Air your views here; there is a lot of bad stuff happening in music education that keeps placing developing you own musical"voice" (on whatever instrument) at the back of the list, thereby causing major demotivation (at least in UK, but I've read reports about US music education in schools as failing and dropping also).
Last edited by jerrykramskoy at Jul 22, 2016,
#2
The first "interesting" thing I can remember doing is my own fingerpicked arrangement of a trad folk song, so, yes, improv has always been important to me, and I have never done "tribute" versions of anything. I think that the desire to improv, is one of the things the drives technique. The other thing that drives technique is the desire to be able to play like (not necessarily copy) your heroes.

I think lack of musicality limits my improv abilities much more than lack of technique, and I don't think that you can learn musicality no matter how good your technique becomes. - I distinguish between "clever" and "musical". For example, I see many shredders as clever, someone like Ry Cooder as musical.
#3
I would love to be able to improvise complex technology out of 2×4s and junk the way they do in Kids Next Door.
There's no such thing; there never was. Where I am going you cannot follow me now.
#4
I subscribe to the idea of music as a language that Victor Wooten's always going on about. Recitation is fine but spontaneity is the real purpose of it all. Technical ability gives you means to do that but the more you focus on the language you're communicating with, the harder it is to communicate the actual point effectively. If it sounds like I wrote that at three in the morning, it's because I wrote that at two minutes past three in the morning.
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#5
I was raised on Jazz and Blues so improv is part of my DNA. It's not the same for everyone though. Some are much more comfortable with a lot of structure or simply playing it "straight". Finding the path that allows you to best express yourself is more important than saying one method is better than another.
"Your sound is in your hands as much as anything. It's the way you pick, and the way you hold the guitar, more than it is the amp or the guitar you use." -- Stevie Ray Vaughan

"Anybody can play. The note is only 20 percent. The attitude of the motherfucker who plays it is 80 percent." -- Miles Davis

Guthrie on tone: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zmohdG9lLqY
#7
Tony Done
Good to hear, Tony. Haven't listened to Ry Cooder for awhile. I agree that technique of itself doesn't help musicality. I went through a phase of extreme technique practise, and did get to ridiculous levels of speed and accuracy etc ... but the music was pretty uninspiring ... and then I had major hand issues ... that forced me away from technique and into the awful realisation that, slowed down, I really had nothing much to say ,,, which took me deeper down learning the tools of the trade, and then investigating these further ... something that's been ongoing ever since. Very grateful for it too.
#8
K33nbl4d3
Music is a language, for sure. Taking your point on focus ... there's the focus during study and practice, but then there is expression during just playing (and that relies less and less on the original focus).

My biggest gripe is that the standard methods for teaching music to newbies seems very good at silencing a lot of folk too quickly (why should everyone be a dedicated, "must be pro", player to engage and enjoy music??). This is criminal.
#10
As to actually answer the question posed in the thread title, I do not want to improvise badly. Why would anyone want to improvise badly? I would think that one would want to be good at what they do.
There's no such thing; there never was. Where I am going you cannot follow me now.
#11
"Am I right in my belief that players feel the need to improvise as soon as they can, even if it's limited to start with?"

I'm not sure everyone even thinks of it - I luckily fell into improv and learning by ear immediately, almost by accident, but nearly none of friends did - they just learnt tabs and were always playing songs or riffs they knew. I don't think the average person is aware of what improv even is and why it's ABSOLUTELY CRUCIAL ! Nearly all of my friends who were playing guitar back in the day barely play anymore, and when they do all they do is pull out some Metallica riff from years ago and bore themselves to death.


"Do you include improvisation as an essential goal of learning guitar? How do you rate that goal against developing mechanical technique? Do you see these going together, and that you have to have great technique to improvise? Or do you believe you can achieve the musicality you want without great technique?"

You don't need anything but a few notes to start improvising and tinkering - I was doing it before I even knew what a root note was! I think it's vital to have people start immediately - even when they only have a few notes under their fingers - because it stimulates creativity on the instrument and helps develop the ability to compose, harmonize, develop melodies, and play with others. Improvising and writing are skills that need to be practiced, as bizarre as that sounds - the earlier you start the better you will get at it over time.

" there is a lot of bad stuff happening in music education that keeps placing developing you own musical"voice" (on whatever instrument) at the back of the list"

How many of us know people who were forced into archaic classical piano lessons as children and that do not even play music anymore as an adult? They couldn't even play a tune without a sheet of paper in front of their face - it's the saddest thing. It's a cliche because it's true. Formal musical education, when focused solely on reading and performing, is in most cases a recipe for boredom and discontinuance - Improvisation taps in to the more visceral element of musical expression and feeling and therefore makes things funner overall. I really do feel sorry for anyone who can't just pick up a guitar and noodle around some lines and chords, it's sad to me because those people have boxed themselves in and are being deprived of one of life's greatest pleasures : the accidental awesome of improvising something truly great. Those of us who improvise know how amazing the feeling is when everything is just locking in and you're surprising even yourself at how great a line or solo was. It doesn't happen all the time, but when it does it's a euphoric feeling. It's also usually how many great compositions get started.
Last edited by reverb66 at Jul 22, 2016,
#12
I think I just started kind of improvising subconsciously, I mean I was pretty naïve when I first started, expecting things to go a lot quicker and easier. When things weren't going "by the book" I found other ways to make it happen. It was one night after being frustrated with trying to do things exactly like the directions say, I saw Buddy Guy on the audio channel talking about how he just made it happen, never really gave it that much though but just imagine starting to play without the internet, no Google or any forums. For me, improvising was kind of my bridge to just keep on keeping on, to me its just freedom to do whatever I want...neighbors are not close so I can improvise as loud as I want, which is nice.
Flying in a blue dream
#15
SanDune65
There was no Internet when I started ... just a desire to play, friends that could, and a crappy old record player that could be slowed down to half speed (ish). Lot of worn out records!!

So now ... what you into musically?
Last edited by jerrykramskoy at Jul 23, 2016,
#16
You know, with me...if it sounds good I like it. I'm not all that into being specific about a type of music. To make it easy I would say the only music I'll pass on is Bluegrass and Rap, and not that I don't think its any good, just not for me. Over the last year or so I have been turned on to Country and kinda started digging it, but playing country songs on the guitar, well...doesn't seem to be captivated me very much. I've found out though that there are some pretty dang good country players, I mean of course I knew about guys like Chet Atkins and Roy Clark, but these guys like Brad Paisley and Keith Urban are really good.
Flying in a blue dream
#17
Jerry,

I really liked this topic, since I have been thinking about my own improvisations. Here are my 2 cents:

I see improvisation as absolutely crucial to any wannabe musician and musicians. It is part of learning and making music. Not only to learn other people's songs, but also to be able to express one's feelings thru the instrument he/she plays.

That said, I'll tell you about my own experience with improvisation:

I have been playing for awhile (some good years), but I still consider myself a mediocre guitarrist. It lacks me technical ability, and I can't play full songs. But you know what really bothers me? I don't have the ability to express my self or to improvise.

I know some scales, shapes, etc... For what? I kept thinking about this the other day... There are lots of songs that have solos/licks/riffs built around one scale "shape", or even 4 or 5 notes. And these are so MUSICAL... Whenever I'm trying to play/improvise, I feel I lack MUSICALITY...

And I have been having a bad time trying to develop this, always getting back to triplet runs along the scale...

So, to sum it up: I believe that improvisation is essencial, but I couldn't do it, even if my life depended on it, because I feel I'm missing something musically speaking.
Last edited by YellowCat at Jul 25, 2016,
#19
YellowCat, TonyDone ... Thanks to you both. I strongly disagree that musicality can't be learned. Think about it ... the fewer notes used, then what are used have a musical impact for only a very few reasons:
1/ note choice against the backing, and which octave and which string.
2/ phrasing ... where each note is placed in time, and how long it is held for,
3/ What you hands are adding to that note (vibrato, damping, harmonics ...); bending to hit the note
4/ note introduction (slide, hammer on ...) and note outro (slide out, bend release, whammy bar ...)
5/ sound used.

Every one of these can be taught and learned and experimented with. Doesn't require mega-technique / speed etc. All things equal, I'd rank learning phrasing as the one that makes the biggest difference.
Last edited by jerrykramskoy at Jul 26, 2016,
#20
jerrykramskoy

There have been a lot of arguments over this, and I don't think we are going to resolve it. My take on it is that we can learn technique as you describe, but turning into great music takes something more than that. Like painting, many could learn to apply paint like Van Gogh or Leonardo, but to create a great picture takes more than that, and I don't think that it can be learned.
#21
Quote by jerrykramskoy
YellowCat, TonyDone ... Thanks to you both. I strongly disagree that musicality can't be learned. Think about it ... the fewer notes used, then what are used have a musical impact for only a very few reasons:
1/ note choice against the backing, and which octave and which string.
2/ phrasing ... where each note is placed in time, and how long it is held for,
3/ What you hands are adding to that note (vibrato, damping, harmonics ...); bending to hit the note
4/ note introduction (slide, hammer on ...) and note outro (slide out, bend release, whammy bar ...)
5/ sound used.

Every one of these can be taught and learned and experimented with. Doesn't require mega-technique / speed etc. All things equal, I'd rank learning phrasing as the one that makes the biggest difference.


Tony, I'll have to agree with Jerry on this one.

I believe that musicality can be developed, not learned. We can learn hamony, timing, scales that fit a given progression, etc. Since we all like music, maybe making music is inside us, and we need to learn how to express it. This is all about "music is a language" thing.

My first teacher who planted the seed of improvisation in my head tought me to use motifs, and develop something around them. I reckon that today my motif making and my improvisation are years ahead what they were when I started. However, it is far from where I'd like to be.

1. About note choice: I tend to use pentatonics. Why? I'm always afraid of using the major/minor scale of the key chord a song is in. This, because there is more chance of a "clash" between the major/minor scale with the progression chords. I have the impression that pentatonics are easier to use. On the other hand, each choice of intervals not contained in a pentatonic can give a diferent intention to what is being played.

Also, using the full scale would make me have to change the scale according to the chord change. I tend to think this is terribly hard and VERY frustrating.

Just as a complement, note choice can be not so hard, if we have a good notion about a given scale. However, I tend to think that the last note, the rest note, to be the hardest to choose. Yesterday I found that I like to finish Blues in minor keys phrase on the perfect 5th. It's a note I chose that I think sounds good. But I can't end every single phrase on the perfect 5th... minor 3rd is nice... tonic is good, but stale.


2. About phrasing: I listen to every kinds of music. There are songs that have very intricate parts of guitar, but there are songs that use repetition phrases with 3 or 4 notes that sound SO melodic. Just listen to Zakk Wylde, Dave Murray, Alex Skolnick, or even Slash... lots of phrases repeating a few notes. Seems so simple, but yet they say so much! Whenever I try to repeat notes, I feel like if I had someone listening to me, I'd be saying "Hey! I have nothing to play, so listen to these 3 notes!", not melodic at all. Like it is almost out of place!

Sometimes I watch a YT video of any random guy speaking about phrasing. And they come like "Pick 4 notes, and do something like this", and then proceed to show some short, yet very interesting, phrase with these 4 notes. And I get like "How come that I can't play or have an idea like this!".

What can make me learn to phrase better? Music knowledge? Better technique? More scales? Learning licks from others? I really don't know!


3. Hand work: My last teacher used to use a slide to start his phrasing. I have been using this... I also slide a lot whenever I notice I won't be able to fret a note for any reason. I've been working on my vibrato, and bending.

I admit I have to work on my legato and harmonics. Actually, I don't know why, but I can't pull artificial harmonics for nothing! And I really want to. =(


Nice thing is that whenever I finish posting, I feel like practicing! lol
#22
I think improvising is pretty much how you end up writing songs if you're interested in doing that. I think that if you learn a song by one of your favorite bands or artists and start to play it, you eventually start jamming on some of your favorite riffs, and then comes improvising where you add notes or chords in there. You'll start changing up tempos and literally just changing the riff you started with into an entirely new being. Think of it like replacing the insides of a car entirely over the years until it's essentially a new car on the inside.. or the outside. You get what I mean? I find that the best way to write anything is by jamming on a song you like and improvising on parts of it until you can turn it into it's own being where it won't even sound like the song you started jamming on. Of course this is much easier when you add progressive time changes into the mix but I feel improvising is definitely needed for any aspiring musician of any age or instrument.
#23
YellowCat
We all go through the concern of using the "right" notes as we learn more. The irony is, when you come out the other end of this learning process, you realise you use any note against any other note(s), and make it sound fine, and there is actually really nothing to doing this effectively. You might want to check this out: https://www.ultimate-guitar.com/lessons/for_beginners/wrong_note_there_are_no_wrong_notes.html
#24
I improvise a lot! Can't say it always sounds good though, hehe. Sometimes I'll get off track and try to pull it out, and just keep digging that hole deeper and deeper. When that happens you just gotta stop, laugh, and start picking again.
#26
Improv is my ultimate goal. To some extent I guess I can already do it on a very limited scale. But as I see it, true improv (where you can play anything that is in your head) requires a lot of things. You need to know your fretboard and some theory. You need to know playing by ear. You need a good sense of rhythm. You need to have good left hand fingering of all positions and chord types that you'll need. Etc...
#27
Honestly that is all I picked up the instrument for in the first place was to play musical ideas I would tap out or hear in my head to somehow get so connected with my instrument of choice to be able to play what I hear in my head the best I can, that hand mind connection is all I desired. I was doing it from day one, and I still do it every time I pick up the guitar. Never started learning songs or parts of songs till much later and even now I can play maybe 1 whole song all the way through, the song is Straight No Chaser lol. Even to this day I really do not care to learn anyone's songs, I know it would be beneficial to do so but I do not care for it, I hate it in fact.

Music is just a hobby for me and I want to keep it that way, I do take it seriously but I am going to do what I want to do at the end of the day with music. So yea all I would and wanted to work on in the beginning was musical theory, technique and improvisation. So that is all I do, I record my music and write down ideas I come up with and just enjoy my own journey.
#28
Fourfourforever Great answer. Remember though, there is no shame in figuring out how othe greats have put stuff together, and how they phrase it especially. Then make it your own. There's only so many pitches, but the inventiveness with rhythm is endless. Thanks for your thoughts.
#29
gweddle.nzYes, improv takes working at ... I think it's something that can be started on from day one, even if then it's very sketchy, like the first faltering sounds of a baby learing to speak. The amount of theory needed initially is tiny. And later, with some theory under the belt, where the ears let you down, knowledge can make up the deficit.

You know, I'd have expected an avalanche of replies to this thread ... I really hope the limited response is due to apathy or shyness, and not down to the fact that the majority really don't want to get better at improvisation, which after all, is really what music is about, socially.
Last edited by jerrykramskoy at Aug 15, 2016,
#30
jerrykramskoy These are slow forums. I wouldn't worry about a lack of response.

I've been playing (properly) for around 2 yrs (I only played power chords and really simple riffs for years before that). I still feel like a complete amateur. I want so badly to be able to improvise on the fly but I don't have the tools to do it. I can certainly sit down and map out cool ideas and turn them into my own songs, but on the fly? No way. I stumble as I try to figure out what I want to do next. Sometimes I hear a cool idea in my head but I'm unable to translate it onto the guitar.

I'm impatient. I want to learn everything at once but that's too much. I need to really sit down each practice session and work on certain areas and slowly build my knowledge rather than trying to cram everything in to one uber long practice. I also don't feel very comfortable with the guitar still. I play acoustic which is quite unforgiving (no effects to hide mistakes) so I'm trying to hone my technique but I still feel quite clumsy with most things other than a few select songs that I've been playing for a long time.

I'm lacking direction. Not sure on what path to be taking to reach my goals. I've spent a lot of time on fingerstyle, then realised my strumming rhythm was atrocious so I've been working on that. Then I realised I couldn't easily do A shape and C shape barre chords. Then I realise my pull offs sucked. Then I realise I really don't know the fretboard that well at all (and I don't know any scales off by heart). It gets disheartening for sure. If someone could come along and say "hey man, if you wanna be able to do this (plays some awesome improv), just follow this course, but it will take you 3yrs" I would do it! I have the dedication, I play every day for at least 30min, usually 2hrs. I just lack the direction.
#31
gweddle.nzThank you for sharing your thoughts.
Yeah, I remember when the guitar fretboard was a mass of uncharted territory (and when I started, there were very few books available, and certainly no Internet). If you want I'll give you some pointers to set you on your way (for free, but I haven't got lots of spare time). Just send me a private message, and I'll give you my email. I'll certainly give you enough to demystify the fretboard ... it's actually very logical.
Last edited by jerrykramskoy at Aug 16, 2016,
#32
jerrykramskoy

I use Minor & major pentatonics mainly when improvising. I have been considering buying this to help in my improvising...

http://www.planetalkguitar.com/ by Kirk Lorange. It's supposedly endorsed by Tommy Emanuel.



Thoughts....? before I spend my hard earned....
#33
sumayo2Not sure. The guy is 100% right about the power of chord tones. Way too many guitarists miss out on these.

But without seeing what comes with the video, I can't say if it's a good buy. It is not very helpful just saying "all chord tones" ... may as well say, "uses various frets". He's not breaking it down ... but maybe that's because this is a promo to get you to buy the material that explains it.

I had a quick look at the website, and the Kirk Lorange video is uninspiring ... I've heard and seen way better blues playing. But again, he may be deliberately keeping it simple? I'd expect to see real fire and capability to market the playing ability, followed by a demo of teaching ability. Point is, I'd stopped the video pretty quickly.

Looking at http://www.planetalkguitar.com/planetalk.html, he hits the nail on the head (most people's problem with melodic improvisation).

But there is no secret to what he's referring to ("follow the changes"), and that is quite simplly, learning the root, (b)3, (b/#)5, (b)7 intervals, to match the underlying chord, in essence. Know the intervals in your chords, visualise them, visualise how to move from one to another as chord changes. If chord substitutions are learned, then the same can be done here.

If you're prepared to put the work in, then you can learn these intervals very quickly. Applying them musically takes longer obviously, but the results are really nice.

I'd advise shop paround some more, or try and see what his accompanying material is like.

What style of you music is it you want to work on?
Last edited by jerrykramskoy at Aug 16, 2016,
#35
jerrykramskoy Thanks, I would like to be able to get up and play blues anywhere and any time. Right now on a good day and right backing track I can fumble out an impro just,.... good enough. Just need to get more consistent, I really only use Major and Minor pentatonics.

He says he never thinks about scales while improvising

#36
sumayo2
I suspect that might be an exaggeration ... I'm guessing he uses a combination of scale(s) and chord tones.

Chord tones are simple. Do you understand what is meant by 3, 5, b7? Also do you understand that a dominant 7 chord (e.g. G7) is made up of a root (G) and these other intervalsa measured from G.

Based on your answer, I'll show you a bit more on chord tones as suits your knowledge.

Suffice it to say, whenever you strum any form of triad (e.g. C, Cmin) , or any form of seventh chord, (e.g. C7, Cmaj7, Cm7b5, Cdim7 ...), your are by definition using chord tones, just not melodically.
Last edited by jerrykramskoy at Aug 16, 2016,
#37
gweddle.nz Thanks. He's being a bit "free" with his definition of chord tones. 9ths etc are usually called chord extensions, not chord tones. I have no idea what the "secret" can be ... if someone knows the interval shapes, job done.
Last edited by jerrykramskoy at Aug 16, 2016,
#38
Quote by jerrykramskoy
TobusRex
Don't forget staring accusingly at the bass player or other guitarist, the deeper that hole.


Hmmm....I'll remember that sage advice
#39
jerrykramskoyThanks, yes I understand that, just don't know it well enough (over the neck) not to get lost. I have to stop and really think about what chord tones I am playing for example, this video this guy loses me really quick. It's like woo up stop wait..!!! What are you doing...

#40
jerrykramskoy From what I've read around it seems that Kirk's "secret" is teaching triads and learning how they repeat all over the neck and then basically using those triads as anchor points for mapping out the neck (since if you know where the R, (b)3, and 5 are then you'll have a much easier time finding the other notes around it). He then follows the chord progression so you are always playing a tone within that chord, which gives a more melodic feel than just playing any note in the scale regardless of the chord that is currently being played.

I've read some positive reviews from unbiased sources on the net in other guitar forums. Most people say it is basically the CAGED system but broken down into smaller chunks (hence triads). Little on the expensive side for me though, and I think I could teach this to myself.
Last edited by gweddle.nz at Aug 16, 2016,
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