#1
Hey Guys

I've been practising my improvisation skills recently, and can see a slow and steady improvement in my phrasing. The only major issue that seems to be holding me back at the moment is that I keep losing my place in the chord progression.
When I attempt to improvise, I tend to see one of two things happening when I watch my recording back:
1/ I focus on the progression itself, and make every attempt to hit the chordal notes as the chords change. This leads to rather stilted playing, with close to no feel; I can practically see the cogs turning in my head as I struggle to remember the progression, and which notes I can target!
2/ I get into a "feel" with the playing, which results in much more interesting and emotional phrasing. However, I almost always lose track of the chord progression, and resort to focusing purely on the key of the track, and not the actual chord that's playing at the time. This ultimately renders the improvisation directionless, and it generally sounds like I don't know what I'm doing.

Does anyone have any suggested practice techniques i can implement, in order to get these two sides of improvising to co-operate? How do you exactly get your mind to focus on both the progression and the phrasing? Does it just happen one day? Am I going about improvising in a way that's hindering my progress?

many thanks in advance for any advice
#2
I like the way your are thinking about this, and I think it will serve you well. One thing that you may find helpful is to start with a veeeeery basic melody and keep building on it. So play a chord tone everytime the chord changes, and only that note. Do that for a couple passes of the changes. Then add a note to link the chord tones together. Ignore phrasing and don't do anything fancy with the rhythm.

Get something like that under your fingers, then do something you find interesting to phrase the notes. Vibrato, pre-bend, whatever blows your hair back. The point is to slowly and surely keep adding layers to make it more interesting while keeping your attention on the chord tones.

Another method is to just force yourself to start and end each phrase on a chord tone, and do whatever wankery inbetween you want. I find myself getting lost sometimes to, and it's almost always because I'm trying to use too many notes. I also tend not to like the sound of that anyways. Long scale runs and arpeggios just aren't my thing, but if thats what your into you need to get them down to a level where you can play your phrase while keeping your conciousness on the home notes.
#4
I like Mr. Dissonant's answer. I am always aware of the chord changes but depending on the song and how busy the chord changes are I know before starting a lead just how much I have to think of and follow the changes. If the song uses chords that do not stray from the songs basic key, I can just  relax and play very melodic leads with notes/based primarily in the key of that song. On the other hand if the song has a chord structure that utilizes chords that are not all based within one particular key, I know I have to follow the chords. This of course is more challenging and can be more interesting but I do like stated above and start each phrase with a note or two from that chord. When you get use to thinking this way you will start to automatically structure your lead so it moves seamlessly into the next chordal tones. You'll start thinking ahead and making your lead go effortlessly into the next change. It doesn't happen overnight but the more you do it the better you get at it. As an example my band often plays Marvin Gaye's "What's Goin' On". The middle part of that song changes key and at the end of that middle section the chord changes move seamlessly back to the original key.  When I play a lead in the middle I have to make sure that the last few phrases of my lead bring me back into the original key. It's a great piece of writing. For a song like that I have to be aware of the chords under my lead and think ahead. It's a challenge, and I love it.
Yes I am guitarded also, nice to meet you.
Last edited by Rickholly74 at Jun 29, 2017,
#5
dragozan A big factor in this is how fast chords change ... twice in a bar, once in four bars, etc.  And of course, tempo.

To gain more fluency, when you want to follow the changes, a really, really useful practice exercise is to take a chord scale, and then:

1/  using 1/8th notes, play the scale from 1 to 7, 2 to 1 (in next octave), 3 to 2 (in next octave), and so on.  Do reverse.
2/  using 1/16th notes, play the scale from 1 to 2 (in next octave), 2 to 3 (in next octave), and so on.  Hold the last note until the end of the bar.  Do reverse.  

(Starting on beat 1 sounds a bit stiff).  Sounds more fluid if you start on beat 3 and end on beat 1, and hold that, or start on 2& or 3&.

(The actual intervals obviously depend on the chord scale type, so "7" may be a b7, and "3" may be a "b3" etc).

These  really drill in awareness of intervals in the scale, and gives you a line that will work from anywhere in the scale. (For the real thing, you probably want to experiment with the phrasing (durations etc)).

This sounds harder than it is, but it's not a piece of cake either.  You have to work at.

For example, if the progression is Am7b5  D7#9 , Bb11:

you could start on the b2 of Am7b5 (using 1/16ths to play A Locrian) and hence end up on b3 in the next octave.  Then against the D7#9 you can try D Mixolydian b9 b6.  The nearest scale note to where you ended the previous line is either the b6 or the 1 of the D Mixolydian b9 b6, and then from there, use 1/16ths to ascend or descend.  Finally choose the nearest Bb Mixolydian note and ascend / descend from there.

If you practice 1/ and 2/ above, and ideally sing these as you do them, against the chord types (hence chord scales) you use, it expands your vocabulary when improvising.

Even more ideally practice this all in the area of the neck, so everything is under your fingers ... leads to smoother connections.

Obviously, you can slip these kind of lines in where you feel, and mix and match with say pentatonic playing, pure chord tone playing ...
Last edited by jerrykramskoy at Jun 29, 2017,
#6
Thanks guys for this It's definitely giving me things to think about. The backing track I'm using right now is a simple Satriani-esque one in A Minor (). The chord changes are fairly fast in places, but i'll use these bits of advice next session
#7
dragozan  So here, for example, you could use

1/ A natural minor (from C (8th fret, 1st string) down to the B on 3rd string, against Am, and hold that B over rest of chords, and next Am chord of next round.
2/ On this next around, when C maj chord  comes along,  play from A (2nd of C major) down to G on bass string, using C major
3/ On next round, wait until the F comes along, then play from F on bass string  ( 1 of F Lydian ... same notes as C major) up to G (2 of F Lydian in next octave).

Have fun!
#8
i think the problem here is less theoretical/scale based and more an ear problem

short term, you can break down your improv and just keep pounding at it until you know a track down to muscle memory and everything you can do with it. that's a really good skill to have, esp if you do a lot of jazz standards you need to be able to pull out off the cuff in a live situation with other musicians

for the greater root of the problem, though, i feel like the issue is that you're hearing the track, breaking down what's happening, trying to translate that to your fingers, then making sounds that theoretically work. then when you're just listening and letting yourself go, your playing isn't structured appropriately to the track

so basically, there's a disconnect because you're not thinking of your fretboard/intervals in terms of sounds yet, so there's a buffering process you have to go through, and before you play something, you aren't always thinking of how it will sound before you play the note. this is normal and works in pretty much every scenario except straight up improvising, but you really should be able to hear the track, hear what you want to play, and then play it instead of thinking about the chords and whatnot.

knowing the chords is important, but if you learn the chords to one track perfectly, you've learned one track. that's still useful, but if you can do that and get by without having to register the notes being played, that's even groovier.

unfortunately, the only thing you can do for this is listening better, using an ear trainer (like miles.be) and just learning music by ear. you're better off knowing the sound of a note than the name of it, because it's a lot faster to go from ear to finger than processing all your theoretical knowledge for a "hypothetically" functioning sound

listening to that backing track, i had tons of ideas for groovy guitar parts, and there are plenty of places for fills. it's pretty simple as far as improvisation goes, which concerns me cause in the OP i was thinking more Giant Steps kinda stuff. try just humming along to the backing track and imagine what you want a lead guitar to be doing, then copy that
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#9
Quote by dragozan
Hey Guys

I've been practising my improvisation skills recently, and can see a slow and steady improvement in my phrasing. The only major issue that seems to be holding me back at the moment is that I keep losing my place in the chord progression.
When I attempt to improvise, I tend to see one of two things happening when I watch my recording back:
1/ I focus on the progression itself, and make every attempt to hit the chordal notes as the chords change. This leads to rather stilted playing, with close to no feel; I can practically see the cogs turning in my head as I struggle to remember the progression, and which notes I can target!
2/ I get into a "feel" with the playing, which results in much more interesting and emotional phrasing. However, I almost always lose track of the chord progression, and resort to focusing purely on the key of the track, and not the actual chord that's playing at the time. This ultimately renders the improvisation directionless, and it generally sounds like I don't know what I'm doing.

Does anyone have any suggested practice techniques i can implement, in order to get these two sides of improvising to co-operate? How do you exactly get your mind to focus on both the progression and the phrasing? Does it just happen one day? Am I going about improvising in a way that's hindering my progress?

many thanks in advance for any advice
I think your approach is good, and you're aware of what matters. But I think it comes down simply to - practice.
The fact you're getting lost means you're just don't know the chord sequence well enough yet. You have to really internalize it by playing it over and over, in order to play more naturally across it, as it were. (And I mean playing the chords themselves, in as many shapes and positions as you can, not just soloing on them.)
It's like memorizing a route - walking or in a car. To start with you have to check all the street names, count the turnings, etc. Maybe follow a map or satnav (lead sheet, chord chart). But the more you do it, the less you have to think about it. You can have conversations and not lose your way, because your subconscious guides you.

But before you get to to that point - say you have to improvise (maybe live) on a chord sequence you're not yet familiar with - a tip I've found useful is to look ahead. It's easy to focus too much on the present chord, but there is no need to do that. Before your solo starts, you look at the first chord, and maybe the second (if it's coming up quick). You plan (roughly) what to do. Then while you're playing on those chords, you look at the next one (or two).
This not only lets you feel more relaxed as you play (not being taken by surprise by each chord), but helps you play more musical lines, by planning targets on approaching chords, so your phrases bridge the chords.
Last edited by jonriley64 at Jun 30, 2017,
#10
I totally agree with the above ideas. Learn the chords so you can play them without thinking then try to solo over them. Fit the solo to the chord structure. I agree with the idea of looking ahead and knowing what chords are coming up so you can make sure your solo flows into the next chord effortlessly. For me the ideal solo melds with the chords and adds another melodic element to that part of the song. 
Yes I am guitarded also, nice to meet you.
Last edited by Rickholly74 at Jun 30, 2017,
#11
Quote by dragozan
Hey Guys

I've been practising my improvisation skills recently, and can see a slow and steady improvement in my phrasing. The only major issue that seems to be holding me back at the moment is that I keep losing my place in the chord progression.
When I attempt to improvise, I tend to see one of two things happening when I watch my recording back:
1/ I focus on the progression itself, and make every attempt to hit the chordal notes as the chords change. This leads to rather stilted playing, with close to no feel; I can practically see the cogs turning in my head as I struggle to remember the progression, and which notes I can target!
2/ I get into a "feel" with the playing, which results in much more interesting and emotional phrasing. However, I almost always lose track of the chord progression, and resort to focusing purely on the key of the track, and not the actual chord that's playing at the time. This ultimately renders the improvisation directionless, and it generally sounds like I don't know what I'm doing.

Does anyone have any suggested practice techniques i can implement, in order to get these two sides of improvising to co-operate? How do you exactly get your mind to focus on both the progression and the phrasing? Does it just happen one day? Am I going about improvising in a way that's hindering my progress?

many thanks in advance for any advice

1)  There is an art to playing the changes - but it won't simply come to you, you need to learn some real world examples - find some and learn them - most chord progressions are common, so you can find examples of solos to fill your vocabulary. 

2)  Sometimes the trick is start a line before the chord change knowing that you are going to end it on the key tone of the next chord - so that way you're not just starting lines on the 1 of each new chord, there is some flow. Listen to some jazz blues - they really have this nailed down better than anyone as far as playing changes. Wes Montgomery or Grant Green is a great place to gain some chops in that area.  The problem with rock and metal is that you can often get away with wailing away on a pentatonic scale over the whole progression, and so they aren't always that great for learning how to play changes.

3)  It's best to start by focusing on simpler progressions - two chords, three etc. You always need to be aware of where you are.   

4) It's important to really know a song and know the progression inside and out to be able to solo well over it. It also helps to learn the vocal line on guitar.  There is a trend with you tube to simply put on these long backing tracks devoid of musical content and simply wail away on them - it's not a good approach.

5) .A trick if a progression simply has too many chords is to lump them together in groups - so play a certain scale over three of the chords and then another over the next three etc. 

6) silence is your friend - sometimes don't play, listen to the next chord and then start a line after - that space will be gold and it gives you time to think. Mark Knoplfer is one of the greats at phrasing and I highly recommend you learn a couple of his solos - brother in arms, sultans of swing etc.  It will really add to your playing.
#12
Quote by reverb66


6) silence is your friend - sometimes don't play, listen to the next chord and then start a line after - that space will be gold and it gives you time to think. Mark Knoplfer is one of the greats at phrasing and I highly recommend you learn a couple of his solos - brother in arms, sultans of swing etc.  It will really add to your playing.


learning to treat silence as its own note is incredibly important. music is all about tension and resolution, and silence in the middle of notes is the ultimate form of tension
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#13
Count!

As you continue to take an intentional approach to practicing improv, you'll start to get a melodic sense of the chord changes (assuming they aren't just random chords in a key), which will make it harder to get lost. You'll also develop the ability to listen while you play.

Be intentional, work with the chord tones, and focus on the changes rather than what chord is already happening.
#14
dragozan I think the matter resides in the area of, harmony tones and passing tones.  Of course you can arpeggiate the progression - and this is good, but, it probably won't sound mega different unless you are able to change positions of the same given arpeggios.
Of course you can pay no attention to the movements, for that matter play nonsense, but then it's fine because all you have to remember is what the key is, say, A Lydian.  If there were a progression along the lines of A Maj B Maj, or A Maj and C# Min Add 2 (or add 9 etc)...  it's hard to mess up.
I also super recommend playing through the view of two chords at a time.  What changes, and how?
A rudimentary but good approximation would be something like:  A Min, E Maj, G Maj, D Maj, F Maj, A, or i V bVII IV bVI.
A Minor being 1,2,b3,4,5,b6,b7, that applies right away, which may well be Melodic Minor or Harmonic Minor with the E Maj (1,2,b3,4,5,6,7 - 1,2,b3,4,5,b6,7 respectively ), perhaps a Min/Maj 7 arp (1,b3,5,7)... as soon as G hits the 7 has been restored to flat, the D says 6 so now it 's A Dorian, the F says b6 so now that has changed, which is the sole differene between Minor and Dorian.
What you do from there, could be bringing back that E Maj, or something with C, G, F and E again.
Another offhand aside is that during any V chord it's pretty legit to use chromatic scale.
Anyway, I think you have all the right stuff.  Juz keep playing.  It's very smart to track where you are, and to get lost.  Guess I was saying the former is like a map, and the latter more like a formula to keep track of.
An interesting one is when there's a Dom 7 on the b6, bVI, because that b7 from it calls out the b5th, while the b6 is the root of the chord, which can be chromatic fun again.
This is neat.  In general anyway, exposure over time helps.  And map things for yourself however you need to.  Arp fragments are just as legit as some Yngwie sweep thing and all.
Okay no more words outta me.  
Last edited by leitgebwalter284 at Jul 7, 2017,
#15
A good simple one, is get your eyes on a chart for double pentatonic minor, and just pretend you're Stevie Ray Vaughan  haha