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  • Improvisation help needed

    I've been playing guitar for more years than I care to remember and most of that time has been spent learning songs. Over the years I've learned some quite challenging solos, but all I've really learned is where to put my fingers and when. What I'd really like to be able to do is just put on a random jam track or join a jam, and simply improvise. I've started trying to do this, but I think I'm hitting a wall. I know my 5 Pentatonic shapes, I can add the notes from the minor scale, I can move around the neck reasonably well, and I know a few nice licks in each position, but when I improvise, it largely just sounds like mindless noodling in a scale. It strikes me that what I'm really missing is melody, but I can't find an obvious way of getting that into my playing. I've heard people say 'follow the chords' but if I put on a random jam track or simply join a jam, I only really know what key I'm in, not the chords.

    Are there some general rules I should be following for incorporating melody? Are there things I can focus on and practice with this?

    My 'model' for the approach I want to take is Adrian Smith as everything he does seems to be based on melody and then he throws in a few flashy licks to keep things interesting and impressive. It seems to me that if I can get more melody into my playing, this would be a very workable approach as I already have the basic scale shapes and some licks. I can't find any courses that I can buy that covers this, so any help and advice would be gratefully received.

  • #2
    1 word: sequence. A lot of what sounds good in rock solos are just sequences. It builds on a good idea and it's logical so it doesn't sound like noodling.

    2nd thing I'll add is try to string together logical phrases that are interesting rhythmically. They don't all have to be rhythmic, you can (should) have phrasing in there, but try to make up rhythmic phrases you like, string them together and then decide what tonality you're going to use.

    Pros can probably just let solos fly because they've learned the ropes and have a vocabulary, but when you're learning, it's kind of like composition to make yourself learn stuff that is going to sound legit and not just stuff people don't wanna hear. You can't just go ok these scales fit on these chords and expect something good to happen.
    Last edited by Clint 55; 07-21-2021, 10:44 PM.
    The things that you wanted
    I bought them for you

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    • #3
      Don’t worry about chords or notes. Learn to hear intervals. When I improvise I hear what notes would work over those chords in my head and have learned how to play those. Once I know what the first note is I can find the rest from the intervals.

      And chords and melodies are diatonic. So if you’re going up one string it would be something like a whole step, half step, two whole steps, a half step, etc. you just get used to those patterns.

      And look at some of the solos you learned. Take bits and pieces from those. That’s what they did. In any genre of music, like rock, there’s a certain vocabulary of riffs that you hear over and over. As much as I try to avoid clichés, people expect to hear certain things.

      Lastly you have to get out of your own way and just play. I play unplugged while watching TV. I play along with the music. It’s a good excuse to use down time to keep the fingers moving and get your ear and hand coordination together.

      I don’t know what I’m going to play most of the time for a solo. And then something magic happens. If I think about what I’m going to play that doesn’t happen.

      Also try to not look at your fretting hand. Don’t think about notes on the neck. Just hear the intervals: how far between notes.


      Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

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      • #4
        A good part of what I do is pure improvisation. The trick is as much learning what NOT to play as what TO play. Play what fits the flow of what is going on around you don't just wank. I know that if we are playing in say G major that the notes of the G Major and also the relative minor scale of Em will normally fit melodically If I stay with in those patterns listen to the phrasing and then play melodically I can most of the time stay in the pocket and play some thing that is pleasing. I play out often because of the ability to do this. Like here when the pastor grabbed the mic began singing while we were just randomly jamming I could just flow with it on the fly and it all fit.

         
        Guitars
        Kiesel DC 135, Carvin AE 185, DC 400, DC 127 KOA, DC 127 Quilt Purple, X220C, PRS Custom 24, Washburn USA MG 122 proto , MG 102, MG 120.
        Amps PRS Archon 50 head, MT 15, Mesa Subway Rocket, DC-5, Carvin X50B Hot Rod Mod head, Zinky 25watt Blue Velvet combo.

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        • #5
          Or like here this was all spontaneous improvisation. In particular notice the girl with the Shofar who walks up close to the camera and begins playing it IN KEY! Still have no idea who she was.
          It's just what a bunch of us in my circle do--.
           
          Guitars
          Kiesel DC 135, Carvin AE 185, DC 400, DC 127 KOA, DC 127 Quilt Purple, X220C, PRS Custom 24, Washburn USA MG 122 proto , MG 102, MG 120.
          Amps PRS Archon 50 head, MT 15, Mesa Subway Rocket, DC-5, Carvin X50B Hot Rod Mod head, Zinky 25watt Blue Velvet combo.

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          • #6
            A looping pedal helps- it isn't enough to know the scales, you have to understand the relationship to the chords, too. I wrote lots of blogs on the SD site about improvising with carious modes.

            But also, and this is important...start to immerse yourself in any music steeped in improvisation, and learn what the best improvisers do.
            Dave, Ambassador/Writer/Artist for Seymour Duncan

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            • #7
              I'd recommend going to a professional for lessons.

              ...and in the meantime listen to what you're playing over, very carefully. Both notes and rhythm.
              ... practice dynamics i.e. make use of how hard (and how) you're hitting as you pick so you can incorporate that into the music you are making.
              ...learn the melody and chords of the song / music you're playing over.
              ...and don't be afraid to be sparse in your playing. Better two notes that fit than 2,000 that don't. I like to practice fitting in with vocals in a song for this -i.e. fills.

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              • #8
                Originally posted by Mincer View Post
                A looping pedal helps- it isn't enough to know the scales, you have to understand the relationship to the chords, too. I wrote lots of blogs on the SD site about improvising with carious modes.

                But also, and this is important...start to immerse yourself in any music steeped in improvisation, and learn what the best improvisers do.
                Solid advice here. Knowing the scales and patterns in particular the major and relative minor scale patterns in a key and what is outside what inside many times are essential for real improv. If nothing else unless you are playing jazz it tells you what notes NOT to play. In my world I mostly stay inside melodically and cheat if I want to work as a player. The down side is IMO I can be a little bland and one dimensional in my melodic playing at times now as a result of doing this so long.
                It's knowing the scales and patterns that however allow me to do things like this--.
                A few weeks ago when these guys guitarist was playing with an old friend on mine and not available I got tapped to set in. We never practiced never played together before and i had no idea what we were playing I just knew the root key listened and as a result stayed in the pocket so---.
                 
                Last edited by Ascension; 07-22-2021, 07:43 AM.
                Guitars
                Kiesel DC 135, Carvin AE 185, DC 400, DC 127 KOA, DC 127 Quilt Purple, X220C, PRS Custom 24, Washburn USA MG 122 proto , MG 102, MG 120.
                Amps PRS Archon 50 head, MT 15, Mesa Subway Rocket, DC-5, Carvin X50B Hot Rod Mod head, Zinky 25watt Blue Velvet combo.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Here is another example Debby just pulls this out starts singing we grab the key and off we go. This is pretty normal for what I do and have done 2 hour sets of pure improvisation many times doing this. Find the melody line over the key line and vocalist until the pattern becomes stable then expand. Do this a while it just becomes second nature. Hit the upper link as the system here won't let me post unless i drop a link in the box and that link wont work right it's maddening!
                  https://app.box.com/s/si1y0vger50vph3b2no0
                  Last edited by Ascension; 07-22-2021, 08:17 AM.
                  Guitars
                  Kiesel DC 135, Carvin AE 185, DC 400, DC 127 KOA, DC 127 Quilt Purple, X220C, PRS Custom 24, Washburn USA MG 122 proto , MG 102, MG 120.
                  Amps PRS Archon 50 head, MT 15, Mesa Subway Rocket, DC-5, Carvin X50B Hot Rod Mod head, Zinky 25watt Blue Velvet combo.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Slartibartfarst View Post
                    I've heard people say 'follow the chords' but if I put on a random jam track or simply join a jam, I only really know what key I'm in, not the chords.
                    This is a common problem, and something that I've struggled with.


                    You need to get in the habit of some mental juggling. Record yourself playing a simple chord progression . . . say E - A - D - A (I - IV - V - IV). Record several different speeds - from very slowly to pretty quick. You want a good five seconds on each chord at the slow end, and only a second or so for each chord at the fast end.

                    Once you have that backing track, try soloing over it. Your default reaction (if you're like most guitarists) will be to find the Em pentatonic scale, and wank away. Don't fall for it this time! Take a few minutes to really hear/feel the chords as they change. As each chord switches over, picture it in your head. E. A. D.

                    Now, go back to the fretboard for a second. Take a small four or five fret chunk of it. We're going to learn the hell out of this chunk of fretboard. Think about the E chord. An E chord is made up of a root note (E), a major third (G#), and a fifth (B). Locate all instances of the root and the major third in your little fretboard chunk. Do the same for the A chord (A, D) and D chord (D, F#).

                    Start playing the slowest backing track you recorded. At first (and this is going to seem dumb), just try to hit the root and the third of each chord as the chord comes up. Then start varying rhythm and attack, while still just using those notes in that small fretboard chunk. It starts to sound like music. Try anticipating the chord change by hitting one of the notes and holding it while the chord shifts over. Then do it again with a slightly faster backing track, until you're comfortably targeting those notes at the fastest speed you've recorded.

                    OK, pretty easy so far right? But also, pretty damned limited.

                    Now, look at the little fretboard chunk and see the pattern of the Em pentatonic scale that we all know and love. Play the Em pentatonic scale over the backing track at the slowest speed - but make sure that you continue target the root and third of each chord as it comes up. Sounds waaaay more musical, right? That's because now you're 'following the changes'.

                    Break it back down and try playing just the 1, 3, and 5 of each chord. Then work your way back up to re-adding the minor pentatonic scale again. Then try doing it in a different key - so re-record the progressions (maybe go with G - C - D - C). You can use the same little 4-5 fret box, but it'll have to move up three frets higher on the fretboard. Once you've got that, try expanding your little 4-5 fret box to 7-8 frets. Then try different chord progressions. You can keep adding on to the same idea.

                    Eventually the goal is to get to a point where you can hear a backing track, say "OK this is a I - IV - V - vi in C (C–G–Am–F)" and jam away - following the chords.
                    Join me in the fight against muscular atrophy!

                    Originally posted by Douglas Adams
                    This planet has - or rather had - a problem, which was this: most of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movements of small green pieces of paper, which is odd because on the whole it wasn't the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy.

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                    • #11
                      General comment: when you break "improvisation" down....it isn't nearly as much "improvisation" as you think.

                      Quick Example:
                      - Follow Blues Players around for a while and record them practicing, rehearsing, and jamming

                      They are working out new "licks" and sequences alone
                      They work up "sort of" solos when rehearsing
                      They test them out when jamming. They get modified, but a lot less than you would think. They might mod the rhythm a little, the sequence a little. Mod both and it sounds really "Original" but it isn't.

                      Building up that library is really important. The next level skill is learning how to select and assemble it on the fly, appropriately.

                      Next...and I have no idea how this works out....but Melody is really important!
                      Originally posted by Bad City
                      He's got the crowd on his side and the blue jean lights in his eyes...

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                      • #12
                        I also will 2nd anything that said playing less/not playing is a key thing!

                        The memorable thing of a conversation is not all the words said. It is where the conversation stopped.
                        Originally posted by Bad City
                        He's got the crowd on his side and the blue jean lights in his eyes...

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                        • #13
                          Good luck. You'll work at this forever!

                          Here are some of my favorite tips from various folks that resonate with me.

                          1. It's a good melody if you can sing it. So, sing until you find a melody you like and then play it on guitar.
                          2. "Improvisation" is 90% piecing together various phrases and licks that you already know. So, work on building your vocabulary of phrases and licks.
                          3. Record yourself improvising over jam tracks, loop tracks, whatever. Listen back. The stuff that's good, learn it on the guitar and add it to your vocabulary. The stuff that's bad, recognize it so you can avoid it when it starts happening in a future improvisation.
                          Originally posted by crusty philtrum
                          Anyone who *sings* at me through their teeth deserves to have a bus drive through their face
                          http://www.youtube.com/alexiansounds

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by alex1fly View Post
                            Good luck. You'll work at this forever!

                            Here are some of my favorite tips from various folks that resonate with me.

                            1. It's a good melody if you can sing it. So, sing until you find a melody you like and then play it on guitar.
                            2. "Improvisation" is 90% piecing together various phrases and licks that you already know. So, work on building your vocabulary of phrases and licks.
                            3. Record yourself improvising over jam tracks, loop tracks, whatever. Listen back. The stuff that's good, learn it on the guitar and add it to your vocabulary. The stuff that's bad, recognize it so you can avoid it when it starts happening in a future improvisation.
                            Actually, true improvisation is rarely just putting licks you know in a different order. You should be coming up with arrangements of notes you have never done before.
                            Dave, Ambassador/Writer/Artist for Seymour Duncan

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                            • #15
                              Lots of good advice here, here's a big one too, and one I definitely have not mastered.

                              Learn to get the melodies from your head directly to your fingers. We all listen to chord progressions when we don't have a guitar in our hands and can imagine a melody in our heads, that's what you want to be able to get out on our instrument. When we get an instrument in our hands we (I'm guilty!!!) get overwhelmed by thinking about scales, patterns, positions, etc....

                              I reality think they should work together, scale knowledge is important and is a starting point, to make the step to melodic I think our imagination needs to come through. Licks and scalar runs can get us between melodic ideas, or sometimes a melodic idea involves moving a "lick" through a melodic pattern (hope that makes sense). Of course, if you master this, I'll sign up for lessons!
                              Last edited by devastone; 07-25-2021, 12:30 PM.

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