Tips For Improvisation

I got a request to do a lesson on improving solos. But, there is just one problem with that request. You can not learn how to improvise! So I decided to try and compile one of those lists on tips to HELP you improvise solos.

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Intro: Hello, and thank you for reading this article! I got a request to do a lesson on improving solos. But, there is just one problem with that request. You can not learn how to improvise! It can't be taught, as it is your sense of musicianship that determines how well you can improvise. But, I try not to fail on delivery of requests, so I decided to try and compile one of those lists on tips to HELP you improvise solos. This will not say to improvise a solo, do this, it is merely some suggestions to try and help you build up your improvisation skills. PRACTICE is the only thing that will make you good at improvisation, keep that in mind. Anyways, this is Tips for Improvisation, so enjoy! 1. Be Fluent in your Scales: Since improvised solos are based heavily around scales, it is obviously a good idea to know your scales inside and out. The scales that you need to know are largely based on what style of music your improvising. But, it is a good idea to know the basic major and minor scales, as well as the major and minor pentatonic, no matter what your genre is, as those four scales are universal amongst music. When improvising, you shouldn't have to be thinking about what note comes next. This is probably the main cause of improvisation freeze-up; a guitar player (or any instrumentalist) not knowing their scales fluently enough, causing them to blank out in the middle of their solo. Another important aspect of being fluent in your scales is knowing the scale up and down the entire neck. If you only play notes between the twelfth and fifteenth fret, for example, you probably won't have the most exciting solo in the world. If your doing a short solo, like eight bars or so, you might be able to get away with a four fret window, but for extended solos, don't expect to keep your audience amused for very long. 2. Understand Scale Modes This is kind of the same thing as being fluent in scales. It's a good skill to understand scales modes, and be able to utilize different modes in one solo. It just makes your solos that much more interesting and fun. Now, I don't believe in memorizing something, but instead understanding it, so don't study a little piece of paper for hours, trying to memorize each mode. Order the modes in a way that seems logical to you, and it will help you understand scale modes. Practice switching between modes, and find combinations that you like. Scale modes aren't extremely crucial to improvising a good solo; I'm not saying that if you don't use modes in your solos they will suck. I'm just saying the being able to utilize modes is what can separate the good soloists from the great soloists. 3. Know Your Key! This one is probably the most obvious, and very little needs to be explained. Just please know what key your actually supposed to be playing in. You'd be surprised how many people just start ripping a solo in any key they choose. Also, be sure that if there is a key change, you know it's coming. Trust me, this is coming from a guy who was soloing on stage, and went what? We're in G now! half way through a solo. 4. Know your Genre and Mood Another thing you should be aware of is the actual style of music your playing, as well as the mood that is set. As far as genre goes, you should use a scale that is often used in that genre, as it would sound familiar to the audience as that style of music. If your doing some sort of experimental genre-fusion, feel free to ignore what I just said, but otherwise, try and keep it in mind. For example, if your doing a bluesy solo, try using someblues scales. Examine solos by other artists of that genre to get an idea of what kind of scales are used (but don't steal their solos!). Another thing about knowing your genre is utilizing techniques used in that genre as well. If you doing an heavy metal improvisation, feel free to throw some sweeps in. If you doing a blues solo, add some bends and double-stops. Just listening to music can help you improve in this category, as it will give you an idea of how this genre differs from that genre in playing. Also, you should understand the mood that is set. If the band is play a slow and sad accompaniment, you will probably match it with a minor scales. If the band was play fast and joyously, you would probably match it with a major scale. It also helps if you put yourself in that mindset. You might notice that when a guitar player is doing a happy, up-beat solo, he or she has a smile on their face, and is probably moving around the stage, playing very joyously. You might also notice that when a guitar player is doing a sad, depressing sounding guitar solo, he or she is probably frowning, and is quite stationary on the stage. What ever mood it is, just get into it! 5. Don't Think Too Hard! Yes, when you are improvising a solo it is possible to think too hard. Another major cause of improvisation freeze-up is when the guitar player starts to think what note would sound the best next? A main part of improvisation is just going for it. You need to realize you probably won't have the most melodic solo, especially on your early attempts at improvisation. But, if you know your scales well enough, you can guarantee yourself that you won't go out of key, and you can just let your fingers do all the thinking! Be bold, and trust yourself! If you mess up, keep going! It happens, so don't look back! If you stop when you mess up, it will just make your mistake a million times more obvious. Just go for it! 6. Practice!!! This is easily the most important tip of the six. As I said before, the only way you will ever become good at improvisation is through practice. Find some backing tracks on the internet, and play over those. One thing I do often is improvise solos over some of my favourite songs. Another thing you can do with a group of people is what's called passing solos. Just get a group together, think of a basic progression in any given key, style, or genre, get a rhythm going, and just take turns soloing over it (you can make it even more interesting by improvising the backing instrumentals). You can do this in any scenario, from you and friend with two acoustic guitars, to a full band passing solos in your garage (remember, drummers can solo too!). One thing is for sure thoughPRACTICE!!! Outro: Well, hopefully that helped you get into the groove of improvisation. Just keep those six tips in mind, and feel free to expand on them. That's all for today's lesson, so get out there and start passing those solos! And remember, PRACTICE! Did You Like This Lesson? Check Out All My Lessons Here. More Lessons Coming Soon!

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    Zeletros
    I speak from my own personal experience. I don't know any scales, so nm. 1 and 2 are pretty "dead" for me, but I've been practicing improvising for quite a while, and I dare say I'm doing much better than I was a month ago. I'm not saying I'm good, but I don't totally suck either. But basically you're right about these being "tips" and not "lessons". Improvisation is a really personal thing, it's different for everyone.
    crazysam23_Atax
    tehREALcaptain wrote: is this serious? this is not a lesson on improvising solo's, this is tip of the ice-berg common sense generalities about improvisation. how about discussing phrasing, scales beyond 'match your genre, blues scales for blues harmonic minor for teh br00talzz'. how about talking about things one can do to vary a melody like augmentation, diminuation or retrograde, or about how to analyze a chord progression. how about at least telling people how to match scales with keys, or going over some basic diatonic harmony? how about actually teaching something instead of making obvious and sweeping generalizations based on a small amount of common sense, perhaps a drop of expertise and no effort to show the reader how to apply what you are allegedly teaching.
    Yeah...apparently someone didn't read the intro. Ya know, the part where he explained that this wasn't a lesson as much as it was simply tips.
    ylearby
    crazysam23_Atax wrote: Besides, anyone who thinks you can teach people to improvise is either arrogant or stupid.
    I'm totally agree. I mean, improvisation is that ! IMPROVISATION!!!! No one can teach you to do that! It suppose that an improv it's a personal composition, which is interpreted at the time, without writing or reading, you can only give advice and each one is responsible for making their composition, if you read it or somehow you "prepare" what you go to play, it's not an "improv" anymore... c'mon guys!!... I really don't know what do you expect... I think that this is a real good article... That's all anyone needs to begin improvising.... =P ....
    corrda00
    Seems like a good intro. I think you should add more about chord tones and their uses.
    NickAgueci
    Thanks! This should really help me! I struggle with improvising right now, so this is just what I need.
    IROn 5L1nKY
    I would be interested in reading an article much more like tehREALcaptain's, not because this one is useless or anything, but because I'm more at that level, myself, I feel. It would be good to have something like that on this site.
    klutz182
    another tip is to record yourself and then listen back to pick up on anything that sounds bad, and fix anything that's wrong with it.
    GuitarViking
    tehREALcaptain wrote: is this serious? this is not a lesson on improvising solo's, this is tip of the ice-berg common sense generalities about improvisation. how about discussing phrasing, scales beyond 'match your genre, blues scales for blues harmonic minor for teh br00talzz'. how about talking about things one can do to vary a melody like augmentation, diminuation or retrograde, or about how to analyze a chord progression. how about at least telling people how to match scales with keys, or going over some basic diatonic harmony? how about actually teaching something instead of making obvious and sweeping generalizations based on a small amount of common sense, perhaps a drop of expertise and no effort to show the reader how to apply what you are allegedly teaching.
    If this lesson is so bad, why don't you make a better one?
    Guitardude19
    I found that not only learning all the scales in all their positions helped greatly with my improvisational skills, but also spending 20 minutes a day learning all the notes on the fret board helped. It made my playing more fluid because I knew where the notes were. I still hit a bum note here and there and I am no way a brilliant improvisational player but I found that knowing where all the notes are on the fret board helped a lot.
    ruletheneck
    good tips scale modes... it would help if i knew what a mode was (i'm guessing it's the various shapes of a scale along the fretboard??) i'll google it after i post this comment. anyway, great article, although i think you could have added in another thing: "experiment with different licks, techniques, combinations of notes, and dont be shy to wind in arpeggios and power chords every now and then" i'm not brilliant at improvising, but every now and then i'll throw a power chord in to see if it works, sometimes it does, sometimes it doesnt
    freighttrain
    tehREALcaptain wrote: is this serious? this is not a lesson on improvising solo's, this is tip of the ice-berg common sense generalities about improvisation. how about discussing phrasing, scales beyond 'match your genre, blues scales for blues harmonic minor for teh br00talzz'. how about talking about things one can do to vary a melody like augmentation, diminuation or retrograde, or about how to analyze a chord progression. how about at least telling people how to match scales with keys, or going over some basic diatonic harmony? how about actually teaching something instead of making obvious and sweeping generalizations based on a small amount of common sense, perhaps a drop of expertise and no effort to show the reader how to apply what you are allegedly teaching.
    tehREALcaptain wrote: also: when discussing mood, you advocate allowing the band to set the mood and soloing based on what they're doing. how about encouraging people to make their improvisations strong enough that they can subtly direct the band without overpowering and the band (being good players who listen) respond.
    Dude, seriously relax, he starts by stating these are just tips, not a lesson. It is a brief overview of the main things people should think about when starting and practicing improvisation. If you want more information and a much more indepth article then write one for us all to see the error of this writers ways. On topic this was quite useful and pointed to several things i keep putting off (such as learning the fret names of the notes on the fret board, i know them and can work them out but i really should be able to name them instantly without thinking about it) so yeah keep up the good work!
    tehREALcaptain
    also: when discussing mood, you advocate allowing the band to set the mood and soloing based on what they're doing. how about encouraging people to make their improvisations strong enough that they can subtly direct the band without overpowering and the band (being good players who listen) respond.
    tehREALcaptain
    is this serious? this is not a lesson on improvising solo's, this is tip of the ice-berg common sense generalities about improvisation. how about discussing phrasing, scales beyond 'match your genre, blues scales for blues harmonic minor for teh br00talzz'. how about talking about things one can do to vary a melody like augmentation, diminuation or retrograde, or about how to analyze a chord progression. how about at least telling people how to match scales with keys, or going over some basic diatonic harmony? how about actually teaching something instead of making obvious and sweeping generalizations based on a small amount of common sense, perhaps a drop of expertise and no effort to show the reader how to apply what you are allegedly teaching.
    TheDissident
    .... I laughed out loud at the "drummers can solo too!" reminder.... All solid tips, improving when you're just jamming with the band is so much fun, it's a great thing to get good at and enjoy
    hildesaw
    GuitarViking wrote: "I got a request to do a lesson on improving solos." You do know improving is not the same as improvising?
    I read it as improv-ing, and I realize that's not a word. But I was put in a frame to think about improvisation. I can see where the mistake could have been made. Anywho, what I did for a long time, and still do quite a bit, is to loop a backing track over and over, and improvise over that. Because honestly, I think the best way to improve your improv is to practice at it. And it helps you learn scales and arpeggios (and especially modes!) in context, rather than just as patterns.
    GuitarViking
    "I got a request to do a lesson on improving solos." You do know improving is not the same as improvising?
    Pudel
    Good idea - to sing the notes you're playing. The best way to do this is by making it in real time, but it's hard - the crucial thing is to let the 'head' choose the melody, and fingers to find it easly - in your scales, memorized patterns - 'on the fretboard'. A huge bit of time ago I saw on this site a lesson about improvising, which stressed these roles of 'head' and 'fingers' - and it helped me a lot.
    espChris93
    Zeletros wrote: I speak from my own personal experience. I don't know any scales, so nm. 1 and 2 are pretty "dead" for me, but I've been practicing improvising for quite a while, and I dare say I'm doing much better than I was a month ago. I'm not saying I'm good, but I don't totally suck either. But basically you're right about these being "tips" and not "lessons". Improvisation is a really personal thing, it's different for everyone.
    Im not going to say that you cant play, write or improvise music without knowledge of chords and scales but knowing your way around the guitar and knowing what fits where melodically will make things SOOOOO much easier for you or anyone, so wether what you or someone else is doing now works for them is irrelevant to the fact that 1 and 2 will certainly help improve your playing. Besides the point of guitar playing is to always progress and learn more so dont just get in a rut of satisfaction always push your boundaries to get better in any aspect of playing.