Lead Guitar Improvisation – Part 4

This is the 4th and final part in Bruce Music‘s Improvisation mini-series.  It’s about Listening.  

“‎Listening is the key to everything good in music”
– Pat Metheny

Listening is a huge part of your improvising process as a Guitarist.  Listening to recorded and live music, and listening to the rest of your band while you play.  Here’s how to use your listening skills to your advantage as an improviser.

1) Copying phrases by ear.
Listen to your favourite guitarists’ solos and try to repeat some phrases by ear.  There are two benefits to this.  One, you’ll improve your musical ear and soon be able to do learn songs quite quickly by ear, especially as you get more familiar with all the chord and scale patterns and shapes most commonly used.  And two, you can apply the skills learned to real life improvisation, as described in the next point.

2) Responding to your band.
This can be very subtle or very obvious.  Your Bass player just played a certain run of notes from a pentatonic scale.  Your listening and aural skills can allow you to respond by playing the same run yourself, or even a response or “answer” to it.  You hear your Drummer placing cymbal hits on a certain beat in every bar.  You can then adapt your playing to suit this.  Strumming more emphatically on this beat, or resting and playing nothing.  Whatever it may be, if you listen and keep conscious of the other musicians, you can compliment and adapt to their playing

3) Apply rules when jamming.
If you’re jamming with a friend or your band,  trading rhythm and lead every so often, you should determine that you will switch after a certain number of bars, or certain number of times around the chord pattern.  This is great practice at soloing while keeping the awareness of what else is going on.  It teaches you a stronger rhythmic feel, and an instinct for how different sections of a cycle “feel”.

4) Recognising styles/patterns
An extension of point 2 is recognising wider things, as a whole, when playing with a band.  If you’ve made yourself get used to certain familiar chord progressions, time signatures, styles etc. you’ll be able to recognise increasing numbers of things about the music your band’s playing.  You might not yet be able to recognise instantly what the specific chord progression is, but you should find things like, you can recognise major or minor chords, a rough idea of the beat, what style the music is in, and find the key you should be in.  You’ll be ready to go a lot quicker than had you not practised listening skills.

Other parts in the Improvisation series:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Thanks for reading.


Lead Guitar Improvisation – Part 3

Welcome to part 3 of our mini-series on improvisation.  Today’s post is 5 tips to improve your improvising ability and practice methods.

1)  Don’t just use instrumental backing tracks designed for soloing practice, use backing tracks of songs as well where possible, to practise soloing in context.

2) Record some of your improvisation sessions and listen back later.  What are you doing well? Where are you going wrong?  Pause at any nice phrases, figure out what they are and add them to your bag of tricks.

3) Practise switching back and forth between rhythm and lead during improvisation practice.  This works on your timing, listening awareness and gives you a chance to practise some experimental, improvised rhythm guitar playing too.

4) Practise the discipline of giving your phrases definite endings, so they don’t become one long ramble.  It’s especially good to consider ending each phrase on a targeted note (ie.  one that occurs in, or fits well with the chord happening underneath at the same moment)

5) There’s a “good” note on either side of every “bad” note.  (ie.  If a note on the 7th fret does not fit with the music, the notes on both the 6th and 8th frets will).  This knowledge gives you 2 opportunities.

Firstly – You can use it to never be lost when improvising in an unfamiliar area of the neck.  After a few bad notes you will have discovered enough good ones for a whole solo

Secondly – For added flair, and to avoid that period of having to play bad notes to find good ones, when you land on a note that doesn’t fit, just quickly slide or bend up to the note above that you know will fit.

Part 4 in our Improv series to come early next week.


Lead Guitar Improvisation – Part 2

Welcome to part 2 of Bruce Music‘s mini series on improvisation.  (Click here for part 1)

Today’s topic is Improvisation Exercises.  The exercises are designed to stop you getting stuck in a rut with your playing.  (Or help you out of a rut you’re already in!)  They’re also good for general practice, and you should learn lots along the way.

1) Improvise over the same chord progression, in different styles
This ensures the style you’re best at doesn’t take over, which is a very common bad habit when you’re improvising.  If you have recording software/a loop pedal/a willing friend, then record/have your friend play a chord progression in a funk style, while you improvise.  Then transfer the same progression to a jazz style for a little while, then rock, then country, and so on.  This approach forces you to consider the style you’re playing in.  You’re less likely to be repeating your soloing phrases because the chords have stayed the same, so the stylistic difference becomes more apparent. 

2) Restrict Yourself  
If you feel like your phrasing is becoming repetitive or stale, apply a restriction.  Only the first 5 frets, only the top 2 strings, even down to only using 3 or 4 notes.  This forces you to use all your techniques, expression and creativity to get the most out of what you have at your disposal.  It sounds like it should make your playing even more repetitive, but you’ll be surprised what you can come up with.  Better still, when you lift the restriction, the whole fretboard will seem full of even more possibilities than before.

3) Play Like Someone Else  
For example:  Take a blues/rock backing track and improvise over it 5 times.  The first time you’re Jimmy Page, the second Jimi Hendrix, the third Slash, the fourth Dave Gilmour and the fifth Eric Clapton.  (Examples only, of course you should change up your list and include your favourites.)
play as if you are the guitarist you have in mind, their style, their approach, their attitude.  You’ll get to grips with their different styles and learn all sorts of new things to add to your own soloing repertoire.
A twist on this is to make the guitarists you’re copying ones from a completely different style to the backing track.  How would they respond to a different style and how would they play?

4) Play In An Unfamiliar Position  
If you know your fretboard inside out, then great.  The chances are though that there’ll be somewhere on the neck that you’re not very comfortable improvising.  (Especially if you’re in an ‘unusual key’ ie. not E, A, etc)
This is a chance to use that unfamiliarity to your advantage.
You are now improvising in the truest sense.  Your bank of phrases and licks is gone and your ear is guiding you.  Play confidently and without worrying about mistakes and you’ll discover new licks, avoiding familiar scale patterns and improve your ear.  All the while gradually getting to grips with another area of the fretboard.

More to come in Part 3 later in the week.

Want Improvisation help in person?  Guitar Lessons In London