Beginning and intermediate guitarists are often intimidated by the prospect of improvising. Seemingly reserved for the elite of guitar heroes who scrunch up their faces when shredding, this imposing wasteland appears to be impossible to cross.
But fear not, brave people of the six strings! You can do this!
Step 1. The Map
The map for this quest is the A minor Pentatonic scale, outlined in Example 1.
This is a handy little scale with a big name. Breaking it down, Penta means five and tonic refers to tones. So, we have a five-tone minor scale. Nothing too hard about that, right?
Play this scale a few times to get it under your fingers. The eventual goal is to know it so well, you can play it without conscious thought. If you can do so and carry on a conversation at the same time, good job.
Step 2 (optional). The Rhythm
For our canvas to paint sonic art on, we need a rhythm guitar part. The A minor Pentatonic scale contains the notes to build several chords, an A minor being one of them. We'll choose this chord for our exercise.
Get a buddy, keyboard, or backing track to hold down a steady rhythm of just an A minor chord. The idea is to provide a backdrop for you to solo over.
Step 3. Show Time
Armed with your scale, a sense of adventure and trusty friend or backing track, it's time to conquer soloing!
A: Play your scale in order, ascending, and then descending. Listen to how it sounds against the A minor chord.
B: Play your scale in the same order, but hold some notes longer than others. Play a few fast, then some slow, and see what sounds you get.
C: Repeat step B, and this time, repeat some of the notes.
D: Start to mix up the order of the notes. Skip a few, repeat some, and jump around. Be creative! Approach the scale as a skateboarder would look at a flight of stairs-
don't just walk up and down 'em!
E: Add seasonings. Bends, slides, pull offs and hammer ons are to be tried. Picture the solo as a salad, and these articulations are the bacon bits. See Example 2. for further ideas.
Ok, so what just happened? Hopefully, you will have taken the scale, listened to it in it's basic form, and then started to spin some melodies from it's framework. At the end of the day, the goal is to play music, not scales. I'll often see students playing scales very well, but not knowing what to do with them. Simple steps such as these can be very helpful. Remember, it's not magic. You can do it, and before you know it, you'll be soloing like an old pro.
If any of these concepts don't click, or if you're having trouble getting the hang of it, drop me an email! I'll be glad to help you out.
And for more ideas, don't forget to check out my blog! Rock on!
Don't forget to check out my blog.
Josh Urban (photo) is a musician with a unique perspective on music. Always a thinker, he gains insight wherever he can find it, be it in the clubs as a working musician, busking on the city streets, or teaching in the classroom. A naturally enthusiastic fellow, Josh is always fired up about bringing the lessons he's learned to his readers. Maintaining a website, a blog, and a monthly newsletter, he aims to make musicians stop, think, and play with a little more intensity, integrity, and inspiration. You never know who's listening.