Improvising With Knowledge: Lesson 3

Your rhythmic choices are just as important as your note choices when soloing. This lesson will focus on playing eighth note rhythms and incorporating rhythmic and melodic motifs in your solos.

Ultimate Guitar
Hey guitarists! This is Greg Studley! This is Lesson 3 of Improvising With Knowledge on Ultimate Guitar.

Here's what we've covered in the previous lessons:

Improvising With Knowledge: Lesson 1 focused on the Minor Pentatonic Scale Shape E1, notes across the E-string, moving the Min Pent E1 shape across the neck, and soloing over a minor chord.

Improvising With Knowledge: Lesson 2  focused on the Major Pentatonic Scale Shape E4, understanding flats and sharps, moving the Maj Pent E4 shape around the circle of fifths, and soloing over a major chord.

Improvising With Knowledge: Lesson 3

This lesson will focus more on the rhythmic aspect of soloing, which is just as important as the notes you choose to play. Here is a summary of the lesson, but you can also just watch the video and play along with the scrolling TAB for more in-depth descriptions and playing exercises.

First of all, you will need a solid understanding of eighth notes, and the appropriate method for counting them. In a 4/4 time signature, an eighth note will receive half of a beat, allowing you to fit 8 eighth notes in a measure. The best method for counting such a rhythm is by counting the beat numbers as needed, and counting "and" in between the beats. Therefore, a full measure of eighth notes in a 4/4 time signature would be counted "1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &"

Playing eighth notes on the guitar requires alternate picking, which involves picking down on the beat and up on the "and." You can practice this with any eighth note rhythm on a single note (the video has a great exercise that you can use to play along).

If alternate picking seems to make sense, try playing some relative major and minor pentatonic scales (these are major and minor scales that contain the same notes, but are based upon different roots, such as C major and A minor). Remember to use alternate picking, playing down on the beat and up on the "and." If you are doing this on your own, use a metronome to stay in time, and reference the click of the metronome as your cue to pick down. Here is the scale sequence that is used in the video:

D Bm G Em C Am F Dm

And now for the most important part of the lesson: motifs. Motifs are short rhythmic or melodic patterns that can be used in repetition within your solos. All of the best solos have motifs - sometimes they use exact repetition, or sometimes there is some slight variation. Essentially, motifs will remove that sound of "random scale playing" from your solos. If your current musical phrase has something similar to your previous one, then your notes have a purpose - ideas are now related to one another. These motifs may be both rhythmic or melodic, and the video will give solid examples of both.

Finally, the video will give a solo in Bm, incorporating all that has been taught in the lesson - eighth notes, alternate picking, and tons of rhythmic and melodic motifs. Try and pick out as many motifs as you can find, as this will make you more aware of how you can use them in your own solos.

Use the following video to practice all of the different exercises listed above, with scrolling TAB so you can play along.

YouTube preview picture

About the Author:
By Greg Studley, author of "A Guitarist's Guide to Improvising With Knowledge" and "Speed, Accuracy & Technique for Guitar." All exercises, examples, and solos from these lessons are taken from my book, "A Guitarist's Guide to Improvising With Knowledge." You can also download PDF versions of the exercises and play with free jam tracks at

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