Watching a skilled player improvise on guitar is always an amazing experience. They are able to come up with great harmonies, fills and versions of tunes “on the fly”, sometimes at a really fast tempo as well! How do they do that?
I must confess, I’m not one of those players who always seems to be able to play guitar and then come up with a great solo on the spot. I am working on it and getting better all the time though!
How to Improvise Great Blues Solos with Just a Few Notes
There are some secrets to good guitar improvisation and anyone can learn them
How would you like to learn some shortcuts to guitar improv, maybe saving you months of noodling around, trying to figure out how to improvise. What often happens is, you finally come up with a good improv, but quickly forget how you did it! Eventually you can get good at almost anything, but there is usually a better way.
Russ Barenberg, one of the most tasteful acoustic guitarists anywhere, has an excellent instructional video where he walks you through the process of improvisation on several different melodies. Once you “get it”, you find out that you can do the same thing with almost any tune you know. A Flatpicker’s Guide to Better Playing: Tone, Timing, Improvisation & More
Suddenly, you see why you learned those chords, scales and fingerings. Everything starts to come together and make sense and you can make music! No more hunting and pecking around like somebody who never learned the correct way to type.
Once you get the mechanics out of the way you are free to create good sounding music. I always look forward to playing with those who are able to play freely and melodically when it is time for their solo.
5 Ways To Improve Your Improv
- Know the melody well enough to sing, whistle or play it. If you are in a jam session and have only just heard the melody for the first time try to at least capture the hook or theme.
- Know what key the song is in! This sounds obvious, but it happens a lot that players try to noodle their way into an improv. Knowing the key gives you scales, fingerings and chords right away.
- Start with the melody, and try variations of parts of it, always coming back to the melody. This way you have a sort of grounding point or home base to come back to.
- Keep in mind the end of phrases so you end up resolving at the right time and aren’t left dangling out in the land of expectation with a phrase that leaves the listener wondering.
- Less is often more when improvising. It is better to play fewer tasty notes than a ton of pyrotechnic ones that add little to the melody. It’s better if people wish you would do more than if they wish you had done less! (same goes for talking…)
Some people who seem to not want to learn how to “properly” play the guitar always resort to improv, and generally, it is ignored by listeners. Music that has to context just floats around and has little or no connection to a beginning or end and is difficult to play along with. It might be fun for the player and is a great pastime at home, but it just doesn’t do much in a jam situation.
Each of the 4 recommended online guitar lessons feature improvisation, some more than others. Personally, I would focus on getting the basics down really well, then start experimenting with improv by using the simple 5 ideas mentioned above.