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.

-Alex

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