The Key to Guitar Improvisation

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What does that even really mean? If we think about how we learned to speak any language. It’s very similar to Improvisation on the guitar.

Each word we speak is like a note we play on the guitar. We first learn to string a few words together and it doesn’t really make a lot of sense. When we first try to solo on guitar it’s the same way, we play a few notes and it doesn’t sound like the players we listen to and love their playing. After a while we learn more and more words and how to put them together to make sentences. A logical thought comes out that the other person can understand. And you can have conversations with other people.

On guitar, we string several notes together and then have a musical sentence. We then take a breath and make another statement. This is called Phrasing. I always say phrasing is king. It’s not about how fast you can play but what you say when you’re playing. It’s a bit like your telling a story to the audience through your guitar. Just like a singer. B.B. King used to say that when he played he would sing through the guitar. One of the great guitarist, Robben Ford, said that the open secret of great players is to sing the notes as they play.

The ultimate goal is to sing our notes, sing our phrases as we play. So instead of fingers just moving along the neck of the guitar, I’m playing notes together that create a certain emotion. Now I’m playing from the heart and every note means something.

Have you ever heard someone speak in a monotone way, There’s not a lot of emotion behind what they’re saying. You’ve definitely have heard someone play a guitar solo and it doesn’t really catch your attention or make you feel anything while you’re listening.

We all have the same scale shapes. The difference is how we play them. I train my students from the beginning to be able to play short musical phrases of 4 to 8 notes and be able to use many, many ideas to make the notes come to life. How to play variations.

It doesn’t happen in a week but it doesn’t take 6 months either. I’ve had many guitar students depending on experience in 1 to 3 months really sound great improvising Blues solos. Being able to play a couple 12 bar Blues and not repeat themselves and sound like they’ve been playing for a few years.

Later we work on the playing styles of Stevie Ray Vaughan, Clapton, Hendrix and others to study what many of the greats did. It’s kind of like going to college to study to be an artist and then going to the museum and learning from what Rembrandt, or Da Vinci did.

I believe the vast majority of guitar lessons on Improvisation have it backwards. They try to teach you a bunch of licks and solo’s first. You need to be able to make a solo from scratch and then you’ll understand the process. Be taught how to find a group of notes that sound great together and then what can I do to those notes to transform phrase to a great phrase using slides, hammer on’s and a myriad of of other ideas/

And then you’ll be able to pull the Stevie Ray Vaughan 25 Hottest Licks that’s collecting dust and be able to play it. I also believe that you should take some time to be able to solo solidly in one guitar scale position before moving on to other positions. It doesn’t help and actually wastes time to try and play all 5 Minor Pentatonic positions along the neck. I’ve had many students over the years who could play all 5 Minor Pentatonic positions but could not play a couple quality solos to a Blues track.

Make music in one and the rest will fall like a domino effect. Read this article more than a few times and really get what I’m giving you. This information will save you a lot of headaches and time. I guarantee you can transform your guitar improvisation in a relatively short time if you follow this thinking!

Keep playing and have fun,