#1
As the title suggests I need some guidance as to how I can improve my improvisation.

I know scales all over the fretboard and can go from one place to another reasonably well, but I just need help on getting the improv sounding good; right now it just sounds like a load of notes which sometimes fit and sound good and sometimes just don't do anything musical.

Any tips appreciated, thanks!
Member of the 7-String + ERG Legion.
#2
First off maybe find some licks you like, and then test them in different keys/rhythms etc. Then if you get stuck, you have this bank of "safe licks" to rely on.

Also what instrument are you playing? I personally find it much easier to improvise on bass than guitar so I can help you more if you're playing bass.
#3
Nah it's guitar.

Do you mean just like from other solos? Just cut bits out and move em round a bit?

Cheers mate!
Member of the 7-String + ERG Legion.
#4
Yeah learn tons of licks from people you want to emulate. Also the key to great improvisation is having a good grasp of the harmony you are soloing over. The more you follow the harmony the better you are going to sound so go mad with learning your chord tones.
#5
To branch out on the licks idea, whenever you have a good jam, write down the parts you liked. Go over them, find out the theory behind them, then find out how to apply them to different settings.

I find thinking of it as Mediant > Dominant > Tonic is far more useful then thinking 4th fret 7th fret open.
Quote by Zaphod_Beeblebr
Theory is descriptive, not prescriptive.


Quote by MiKe Hendryckz
theory states 1+1=2 sometimes in music 1+1=3.
#6
Can you identify musical intervals? Memorizing scales doesn't do much good if you can't predict what the next note you play is going to sound like.
#7
I'll requote GP newsletter which I think answers this pretty well:


Okay, here's the deal on becoming a good "improviser".

First, there are a few things EVERYONE does wrong at the beginning. Actually, it's not so much that these things are wrong, they are just the beginning stages of the process of learning how to improvise. However, they must be "grown out of". You have mentioned the major "wrong move", which is the tendency to play too many notes. In the beginning, everyone thinks they must keep their fingers moving all the time, like they are going to get in trouble if they don't look "busy". This happens because when we first attempt to improvise, we relate to as a purely physical mechanical process (moving fingers) instead of the EMOTIONALLY based process that it really is.

It's like talking. Imagine someone just learning to speak. They would be so concerned with the mechanics of speech production, making the sounds and having the words clearly articulated, they would forget to stop and ask themselves whether they had anything to say before they spoke!

That's what people do in the beginning of improvising. You are not actually FEELING anything emotionally before you move your fingers, you are just moving your fingers. It is as if I had nothing much to say here, and no thought or feeling behind what I am saying to you, but I like the way it feels as my fingers type these words.

Well, actually, I do like the way my fingers feel when I type these words, but that's beside they point! The point is that without first having something to say, just sitting here and typing words is not going to give either of us much of a fulfilling experience. In the same way, if you are not FEELING something when you play, if you are not getting EMOTIONAL SATISFACTION from the sounds you are making, no one is going to get any by listening to the sounds you are making.

People new to improvising usually feel that the most important thing is to keep making sounds, rather than allowing any silence or space. So at a minimum, they would feel that they should keep making sounds to fill up any potential silence.

Good improvisors don't do that, they are in control of the entire context. They are aware of the sounds they make, and the space in which those sounds take place. They use the space as much as the sound. A painter does not feel that they have to fill up every inch of the canvas with "stuff", quite the contrary, it is the space that gives shape to the content. So it is with music.
#8
Quote by The_Sophist
To branch out on the licks idea, whenever you have a good jam, write down the parts you liked. Go over them, find out the theory behind them, then find out how to apply them to different settings.

I find thinking of it as Mediant > Dominant > Tonic is far more useful then thinking 4th fret 7th fret open.


Can you elaborate on the last sentence or post a link? I try to think of the notes by their scale position but I'm not familiar with a term like "mediant."
#9
I = Tonic
ii = supertonic
iii = mediant
IV = subdominant
V = dominant
vi = submedient
viio = leading tone

Somebody correct me if I made a mistake, It's been a long time since I've used those terms.
#10
Quote by werty22
I = Tonic
ii = supertonic
iii = mediant
IV = subdominant
V = dominant
vi = submedient
viio = leading tone

Somebody correct me if I made a mistake, It's been a long time since I've used those terms.


Is there method to the madness of learning the effect of each of these notes? For example, ending on the tonic resolves the rest of the notes. Are there any guidelines for the others?
#11
Yes. They all have harmonic and melodic functions and implications when used in
a context (which is why I absolutely hate the expression "modes are the same
notes except you start on different roots" -- EVERY note has a different function. Not
to mention "start on" is pretty meaningless and results in lots of confusion).

There's plenty of info out there about how these notes function in different
contexts. Which is basically a big part of ... drum roll ... music theory!
#12
First off maybe find some licks you like, and then test them in different keys/rhythms etc. Then if you get stuck, you have this bank of "safe licks" to rely on.


Spot on Heavens_To_Hell.

Learn as many licks as you can. Practice and understand the technique to make these sounds. Then throw the rule book out of the window! Change/alter the licks. Make them your own. All players do this. Hendrix robbed and borrowed from his idols - do the same yourself!

I'm well aware that practicing licks can be tedious, but you will be learning new skills which (with your own unique personality and style) you will convert into new and original ideas.

Here's 50 of the suckers to get you going (audio and TAB - flash required)...

http://chrispearcemusic.com/downloads/50licks.php

and here to print off the TAB...

http://freeguitartuition.blogspot.com/2008/09/licks-rock-blues-metal.html

It's a start
#13
Quote by edg
Yes. They all have harmonic and melodic functions and implications when used in
a context (which is why I absolutely hate the expression "modes are the same
notes except you start on different roots" -- EVERY note has a different function. Not
to mention "start on" is pretty meaningless and results in lots of confusion).

There's plenty of info out there about how these notes function in different
contexts. Which is basically a big part of ... drum roll ... music theory!


Could you point me to some of that information? Everything I'm finding just lists the names of the degrees and not really the context.
#15
Quote by chrispearce
JHogg11,

Is it Mode info that you are after? The basics are explained here...

http://freeguitartuition.blogspot.com/search/label/modes (Scroll down for lesson 1)

Hope that helps? If not, sorry for posting the wrong info!


Well I have a basic understanding of modes. He was talking about information that shows the effect of a particular note in the context of the music. In other words how a note, say an E, works differently in Em versus D or A. I never realized that there was this information like that out there. Normally we think we need to just make up licks until we find something good but if there was a way to know exactly which notes will be best to create certain feelings, I think a lot of people would improve and save themselves some time.
#16
Quote by JHogg11
Could you point me to some of that information? Everything I'm finding just lists the names of the degrees and not really the context.

The most valuable information about that that I know of off the top of my head is that chords tend to like to move in fourths.

For instance, ii V I is a common progression. The distance from the ii to the V is a perfect fourth. Same with the V to I.

iii vi ii V I works the same way. The only exception to this moving in fourths rule is viio iii. That's probably because the leading tone pulls strongly to the tonic.

Secondary dominants are a related concept. I'm too lazy to explain it, but ther are plenty of lessons about them on the internet.
#17
Chords like to move in fourths because it's an implied cadence, but don't bother with that stuff yet.

Learn the major scale, and I mean learn, don't just memorize the box. Figure out what each not does, how it sounds in different chords, how you can connect the chords, then come up with your own motifs.

Only after you are proficient in the major scale should you move on to modes (and that's skipping a whole lot of other stuff.)

Edit : Corrected spelling mistake.
Quote by Zaphod_Beeblebr
Theory is descriptive, not prescriptive.


Quote by MiKe Hendryckz
theory states 1+1=2 sometimes in music 1+1=3.
#18
Quote by The_Sophist
Chords like to move in fourths because it's an implied cadence, but don't bother with that stuff yet.

Learn the major scale, and I mean learn, don't just memorize the box. Figure out what each not does, how it sounds in different chords, how you can connect the chords, then come up with your own motifs.

Only after you are proficient in the major scale should you move on to modes (and that's skipping a whole lot of other stuff.)

Edit : Corrected spelling mistake.


This is what I've been trying to do in the last few days. That's why I was asking about information about using the notes in context. I'm not lazy but there's SO MUCH to it. Any key could have 7 different chords in any order and relationship in time, and just using a pentatonic scale, have 5 different notes. Through what I've been messing around with, one note can have a radically different feeling depending on what's going on behind it. I'm looking for as much information to give me as much of a basis as possible. I've already learned quite a bit (when to use what) with the things I've been reading in the past few days but there's so much to it all. I don't expect to learn it all immediately but it doesn't hurt to get as much information as possible.
#19
Quote by The_Sophist
Chords like to move in fourths because it's an implied cadence, but don't bother with that stuff yet.

Learn the major scale, and I mean learn, don't just memorize the box. Figure out what each not does, how it sounds in different chords, how you can connect the chords, then come up with your own motifs.

Only after you are proficient in the major scale should you move on to modes (and that's skipping a whole lot of other stuff.)

Edit : Corrected spelling mistake.


Also, what's the "stuff" in the middle?
#20
I think as far as getting the notes on what each one sounds like against a chord you gotta just learn it for yourself through playing. There are two that are almost always the same - the leading tone pulls strongly to the tonic. The tonic will pretty much always resolve the other notes.

One way to learn this stuff would be through studying and practicing counterpoint. Another would be through vamping one chord and creating phrases that accent begin or end on certain notes. Do it in a way so that you can record it and listen back to it without worrying about playing. This gives you more room to really just focus on listening.

As for tips on improving your improv that is one tip right there. Try to record and listen to what you're doing.

Another one is pay attention to edg his advice is good.

Also try repeating phrases "motifs" etc.

You might start with a melodic phrase and then repeat it with a different ending creating a feeling of familiarity and creating an expectation and then ending it with a new direction and surprise. The variation might only be the last note of the phrase.

repetition can be used to prolong a stable part of the solo or to accentuate and prolong a climax. Listen to solo's Led Zep's Stairway solo or Red House by Hendrix and just about any great solo you can name (slight exaggeration here) they all use maybe three notes repeated about 25x.

Scale runs are good and just shifting a few positions up or down the fretboard can give the solo a feeling of movement.

Anyway some ideas. I'm still working on heaps of this myself. Sometimes I get it right sometimes I don't. But good luck with yours all the same.
Si
#21
Edg, still waiting for your words of wisdom.

In the meantime, would it be beneficial for me study counterpoint?
#22
Well, in general the scale degrees work like this for MELODY:

First off, note how 3 out of 7 degrees don't begin with "sub" or "super": tonic,
mediant and dominant. These are your 3 notes that will tend to bring a melody
line to rest and generally are used on strong beats and emphasized.

The tonic is where everything points. It's the beginning and the end. The alpha
and omega. All other notes relate to this one. The root.

The dominant does, in fact, dominate. The perfect 5th interval is the key note that
brings harmonic stability to a scale (or ability to tonicize the scale).

The mediant is the primary note giving the scale quality. Is it minor or major?
It's name comes from being midway between tonic and dominant.

All of the above are good emphasize notes. Played on strong beats. They'll tend
to bring a line to its end. The root and dominant do this in a neutral way. The
mediant has the same function AND determines major or minor. As such, the
mediant is probably the strongest note you can use in a line as its strong and
defines the scale or chord quality.

All of the "sub" degrees are in relation to the tonic. The subdominant is NOT named
because it's below the dominant it's because it's a dominant interval below the
tonic (ie it's an inverted 5th). Same for submediant.

Also there's a subtonic (7th).
Sometimes that's the leading tone, sometimes not. As a leading tone it
pulls strongly to the root. It's also the second note (aside from the mediant) that
defines scale quality. After the above 3 notes, it may be the next most important.
It tends to want to "go elsewhere".

The 2, 4, and 6 are somewhat variable in nature. They are inversions of the
7, 5, and 3 respectively. If think they tend to have a relationship to
thier inverted twins. The 6 tends to be the most consonent. They all impel some
movement to a line. The 4 is tricky to use. Its aka the "avoid note". It sounds
like a real clam over a major. But, it can sound nice when used well.

Generally the 1, 3 and 5 = rest. 2, 4, 6, 7 = movement.
#23
Quote by edg
Well, in general the scale degrees work like this for MELODY:

First off, note how 3 out of 7 degrees don't begin with "sub" or "super": tonic,
mediant and dominant. These are your 3 notes that will tend to bring a melody
line to rest and generally are used on strong beats and emphasized.

The tonic is where everything points. It's the beginning and the end. The alpha
and omega. All other notes relate to this one. The root.

The dominant does, in fact, dominate. The perfect 5th interval is the key note that
brings harmonic stability to a scale (or ability to tonicize the scale).

The mediant is the primary note giving the scale quality. Is it minor or major?
It's name comes from being midway between tonic and dominant.

All of the above are good emphasize notes. Played on strong beats. They'll tend
to bring a line to its end. The root and dominant do this in a neutral way. The
mediant has the same function AND determines major or minor. As such, the
mediant is probably the strongest note you can use in a line as its strong and
defines the scale or chord quality.

All of the "sub" degrees are in relation to the tonic. The subdominant is NOT named
because it's below the dominant it's because it's a dominant interval below the
tonic (ie it's an inverted 5th). Same for submediant.

Also there's a subtonic (7th).
Sometimes that's the leading tone, sometimes not. As a leading tone it
pulls strongly to the root. It's also the second note (aside from the mediant) that
defines scale quality. After the above 3 notes, it may be the next most important.
It tends to want to "go elsewhere".

The 2, 4, and 6 are somewhat variable in nature. They are inversions of the
7, 5, and 3 respectively. If think they tend to have a relationship to
thier inverted twins. The 6 tends to be the most consonent. They all impel some
movement to a line. The 4 is tricky to use. Its aka the "avoid note". It sounds
like a real clam over a major. But, it can sound nice when used well.

Generally the 1, 3 and 5 = rest. 2, 4, 6, 7 = movement.



As simple as that is, it's a very good start. I've been reading the "Melody and Harmony" thread found here:

https://www.ultimate-guitar.com/forum/showthread.php?t=220138

It's a little bit much to digest at once but I'm trying to throw in some of the ideas with what you said. Thanks a ton.
#24
TS, you're approaching this definitely with a good mentality. Give it time and you'll start to hear how a certain scale degree sounds over a certain chord. Those sounds aren't something that can be described on paper, only identified. Knowing something is a 9th doesn't help your improvisation until you know what a 9th sounds like. It may be frustrating, but building this vocabulary takes time. You don't go to China and expect to engage in philosophical debates about the afterlife in a week.