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Teaching Improvisation, Where Do I Start?

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Hey, I've been playing for 3 years now and its been over a year since I've been learning how to improvise, due to my discovery of Jazz. :claping:

I go to a community college in Sacramento and I've made more than 3 new friends whom are new to guitar (1-2 yrs.), they wanted to learn how to improvise. So they came to me!

ahh! I'm relatively new as well! But I don't want to leave them hangin'. They have good intentions, and I don't want to seem like I'm holding back anything. I want to help steer them in a rather good direction. Everything I know about improvisation was learned in a very indirect and unstructured manner, so I don't know how I know as much as I do. haha

Where do I start?

But I've noticed that many developing musicians have problems learning improvisation.

It is probably due to:

1 A lack of exposure to artists with a well-developed rhythmic sense.

2 Tension in the body(poor coordination and relaxation).

3 Technical difficulties with the instrument. Lack of control, as if a barrier is blocking them from expressing themselves.

What could I do to direct my now unofficial students? lol my guitar teacher makes it look so easy! lol

:helpsmili

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Hi, edhotmail.

I had never actually thought of those three points as being specifically important to improvisation. I think, musically, before you can even consider rhythmic sense, you need to know about note choice. I think the second point is relevant to all aspects of playing, ditto for point number three.

But, I'm certainly open to hearing why you think these are the three main points to consider. Can you expound?

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Hi edhotmail,

Those are some interesting observations you have made.

As for number 1, I am not sure how much of a problem that is in learning to improvise but that seems like something you could offer on your own.

I agree with Kirk the numbers 2 and 3 are relevant to all aspects of playing.

So the questions are:

1. How do I maintain relaxation and good posture while practicing/playing?

2. How do I develop technique and control on the instrument?

1. If you practice with awareness you can maintain good posture and become aware of and eliminate areas of tension in your body. In college I had a great classical guitar teacher and we worked on this constantly. Practicing in front of a mirror can be helpful as well.

2. Developing technique and improvising skill is an ongoing process. Players that are highly skilled have been developing their craft for years.

Any kind of routine that requires daily repetition will help build technique.

If I had to pick one place to start I would say start with the major scale. If you learn it well you can get to anything else you need.

Don't just run the scale up and down though. If you listen to music you might hear a scale played in that manner from time to time, but you have to break it up.

Play it in intervals, practice the arpeggios that are in the scale and above all, learn the number locations for each note. If you do this you will be able to manipulate the scale to fit all playing situations.

Another important aspect is training the ear. Try to pluck out simple melodies like Happy Birthday or TV themes etc. This will help them train the ear and get used to finding melodies on the guitar.

Good Luck,

Bob

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i guess point no.1 is easily resolved .

2 could be caused by many other aspects of life that interfere with a persons 'guitar time'

3 is purely a lack of experience and technical ability.

im not sure what you can do yourself as i dont know how much you know yourself and im a firm believer that improvisation simply cannot be taught .

its a process that arises from experience that takes years to learn , let alone master .

i guess you can teach em a few licks and riffs based upon the blues scale , and see what happens , at least with that sort of thing , you cannot go wrong .

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Ok, I think I miss the point here. I don't think (personally) that improvisation itself has anything to do with that. These things are general guitar playing.

For improvisation you need notes which sound good together, and then you choose between them (hope this doesn't sound a bit stupid).

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In my opinion - the most important thing in meaningfull improvising is being able to play on the guitar what you "hear" in your head which means that you need to know where are the notes on the guitar and how they sound and being able to fret them correctly and on time.

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felixdcat, doesn't sound stupid at all.

oki270, I agree ... the ultimate goal is to be able to play on the instrument what you hear in your head. What you hear in your head, not what a scale mode pattern or 'blues box' lets your fingers play mindlessly. That's something else. It's not a bad thing ... I just don't see that as 'improvisation'. So long as your twanging away and enjoying yourself, it's all good, but the real challenge is more than that: it's creating real melody, on the fly, to whatever set of chord changes is thrown at you.

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felixdcat, doesn't sound stupid at all.

oki270, I agree ... the ultimate goal is to be able to play on the instrument what you hear in your head. What you hear in your head, not what a scale mode pattern or 'blues box' lets your fingers play mindlessly. That's something else. It's not a bad thing ... I just don't see that as 'improvisation'. So long as your twanging away and enjoying yourself, it's all good, but the real challenge is more than that: it's creating real melody, on the fly, to whatever set of chord changes is thrown at you.

Well, why not..if you can make your head to use only 5 notes, then improvising in pentathonic scale is fair deal improvising, isn't it? Anyway, human brain is much better to think in chromatic scale as far as I know. I find modal approach pretty interesting but haven't done anything yet on it.

The thing is that you always use the same notes - using movable pentathonic, other scales, modes or chord tones but there is a thing that stays unchanged - you MUST know how it will sound before you play it so most important would be "able to play by ear". I think I have a long road to achieve this - I still have a lot of problems to tab something I hear.

Comments?

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It's just my opinion, oki270. I just always found that confining myself to 5 notes when there are 12 to play with severely limited the melodic possibilities and by doing so, the scale itself was doing most of the deciding for me. These days I let the chords show me the multitude of melodic paths and I do the deciding, using all 12 notes.

But, as I say, it's just my opinion. Many, if not most, disagree with me. :yes:

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It's just my opinion, oki270. I just always found that confining myself to 5 notes when there are 12 to play with severely limited the melodic possibilities and by doing so, the scale itself was doing most of the deciding for me. These days I let the chords show me the multitude of melodic paths and I do the deciding, using all 12 notes.

But, as I say, it's just my opinion. Many, if not most, disagree with me. :yes:

Well, why not..if you can make your head to use only 5 notes, then improvising in pentathonic scale is fair deal improvising, isn't it? Anyway, human brain is much better to think in chromatic scale as far as I know. I find modal approach pretty interesting but haven't done anything yet on it.

The thing is that you always use the same notes - using movable pentathonic, other scales, modes or chord tones but there is a thing that stays unchanged - you MUST know how it will sound before you play it so most important would be "able to play by ear". I think I have a long road to achieve this - I still have a lot of problems to tab something I hear.

Comments?

Actually, you guys are doing the same thing, there's no need to argue.:yes: It's just a different approach.

In both ways you know what it's going to sound like, so in both cases it's improvisation. Maybe some will struggle more to make it sound better, but finally, if done ok, it's pretty much the same - same 12 notes used, maybe even same result, but different approaches.

Pentatonic has only 2 notes more than a chord, so it's really close to it. If you hit the chord tones inside it, it will bring the melody

However you turn it, chord tones will make it interesting, that's how I see it. :dunno:

So, it really doesn't matter what you think, if it suits you, and you end up with good melody. :smilinguitar:

Peace! :)

And yeah, I'm a PlaneTalker. :)

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Hi felixdcat ... we're not arguing, just exchanging opinions about what improvisation is and isn't. :winkthumb:

I know you guys aren't arguing... Just wanted to point out you're doing the same thing, so... :winkthumb:

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I know you guys aren't arguing... Just wanted to point out you're doing the same thing, so... :winkthumb:

I think that Kirk and I have an interesting and civil discussion. Wouldn't you agree Kirk?

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I think that Kirk and I have an interesting and civil discussion. Wouldn't you agree Kirk?

I just don't like when people discuss scales and chords so deeply, man, just choose what you want and do it. :clap:

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Yes, oki270, I agree.

The other aspect that I always forget to bring up in these discussions is that (what I call) improvisation isn't just playing single note lines, it's combining lines, harmony, chord fragments, double stops -- all the elements of music -- into a "part". I'm not sure how easy that is just thinking scales/modes, but I do know how easy it is thinking chords. You're always looking at all those possibilities when thinking chords. An example (I just used it in another post) is this 12 bar I did where there are all kinds of things going on:

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hey guys, just putting my two cents out there. I have been improvising for a good 4 years now, and to me, the thing that is key to having meaningful, strong solos is listening. Listen to your favorite artists, and really concentrate on the lines that they play during their solos. Try and recognise how they build up to something, or how they work melodic lines into their solos. If you are just starting, i recommend using the minor penatonic to solo in. Learn the scale, learn a few simple licks and then try and use those licks, and notes, preferably on the d,g,b,e strings to fill inbetween. (just noting, this is only for when you are learning, when you progress, you can create and play at the same time) Also, learn vibrato. It is a pain to learn, and can take a while, but it is completely worth it. A guy who knows 5 notes, and has killer vibrato strait up beats the shredder who has no feeling and meaning to his playing. (not trying to piss off metal-shredders) Also, bend the strings. If you dont, you are playing the piano. Try and bend on the e,b, and g strings, to pitch, by playing a note 2 frets higher, and then bending to the same pitch as that note. I hope this helps anyone trying to learn how to improvise. (btw, i am a lefty, so improv came pretty easy for me. :D) Good Luck :winkthumb:

PS.

try and solo over your favourite songs. You can solo while the vocalist is singing, just try and go for the whole song. You will progress weekly if you do one song a day.

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awesome! I learned a lot from you guys. Your replies got me deeper into learning how to improvise. now i 'just do it' and sometimes i don't think, but it sounds good! hrm. that's cool but eventually ill learn more about what notes im playing instead of just playing a broken up chord or scale or lick whatever its callled. its fun!!:thumbup1:

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awesome! I learned a lot from you guys. Your replies got me deeper into learning how to improvise. now i 'just do it' and sometimes i don't think, but it sounds good! hrm. that's cool but eventually ill learn more about what notes im playing instead of just playing a broken up chord or scale or lick whatever its callled. its fun!!:thumbup1:

But careful, not note names, note roles count. :smilinguitar:

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Hi Kirk,

I thought I would wade in on the chord vs scale discussion. Your system was a revelation to me, despite the fact I haven't found the time to study up on it yet. (I bought the program). What I tend to agree with is that knowing the chords and changes you are playing over, and by that I mean having at least a bare theoretical knowledge of their structure and how fretboard theory is applied, will aid you in your choice of notes. Whenever I go out to listen to a guitar player, whether blues, jazz or rock, I evaluate him based on how a solo can either be totally repetitive using the same worn out phrasings that the guy the night before used, or how it can be fresh and adventurously creative either in timing or melody using an obviously studied approach to where on the fretboard the guy is playing. Make sense? (I almost lost myself in this rant) I don't think that posture, although I have my preferred stance, has much to do with it. I do think that getting over nervousness has a lot to do with it, yet that stems from an inadequate knowledge of where and what to play.

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In my opinion, SCALES are the key to improvisation. I have my students practice scales in different rhythms with the metronome. Then I have them play a scale in a specified rhythm--eighth notes, triplets, or sixteenth notes--while i play a chord progression.

After that, I have them imagine a sentence or phrase and match the scale notes to the rhythm of that sentence. In this way they not only learn what notes to use, but they learn about phrasing as well.

Pretty soon they are improvising like they were born to do it!

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Improvisation, IMO, comes from a great familiarity with the instrument and the music played on it. After going through the different chord progressions and lead licks associated with them time and time again they all seem to flow together and that's when you get improvisation. Improvisation takes complete control of the instrument and the music.

It doesn't take a long time to master but it does take a lot of playing and familiarity with the music and the instrument.

I used to improvise on the classical guitar using chords and associated notes just from memory and familiarity. Not fast but improvised not the less.

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I guess there are many ways to look at this. It would seem improvising out of chords would be the most efficient (as kirk would

teach) because your using less movement with more choices. Of

course it takes time to learn all the chords including barres, and then

moving in a timely manner to them. I personally am not experienced

enough to give advice on inprov, but with the limited knowledge i

have i seem to be moving in the listening, then remembering, what

the notes sound like. Then use that along with what you know

mechanically at that point

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I am kind of new to improvising and as a casual observer on this specific topic, I have improvised using mainly pentatonic scales, and after awhile they can get a little, same sounding, to me. I know there are other ways to play the penta. to make it more interesting sounding. I have read a little deeper on the workings of making music along with this forum and together it seems to me that important details such as intervals, scales, chord tones, leading notes and other tools help make an improvisation sound great. Preparation breeds confidence, easy for me to say it than actually do it, but dedication to your instrument and discipline to learn the music is the key I think.

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In my opinion I would teach the blues shuffle I've copied and pasted below from another post, and the blues scale or minor pent. It was the first thing I improvised too and it's simple enough to enjoy it w/o thinking about too much stuff.

I have an mp3 of the riff here

Pentatonic Minor in G: (the convention I've used here is the strings and the frets that contain a scale tone on that string next to the string letter name)

e | 9 12

b | 9 12

g | 9 11

d | 9 11

a | 9 11

E | 9 12

Blues Scale in G: (minor pent with the blue note)

e | 9 12

b | 9 12

g | 9 11 12

d | 9 11

a | 9 10 11

E | 9 12

Here's a blues shuffle, each one is a measure in 4/4 time:

I

e|--------------------------

b|--------------------------

g|--------------------------

d|--------------------------

a|-2--2--4--4--2--2--4--4--

E|-0--0--0--0--0--0--0--0--

IV

e|--------------------------

b|--------------------------

g|--------------------------

d|-2--2--4--4--2--2--4--4--

a|-0--0--0--0--0--0--0--0--

E|--------------------------

V

e|--------------------------

b|--------------------------

g|--------------------------

d|-4--4--6--6--4--4--6--6--

a|-2--2--2--2--2--2--2--2--

E|--------------------------

Turnaround

e|------------------------------------------------

b|------------------------------------------------

g|------------------------------------------------

d|------------------------------------------------

a|-2--2--4--4--5--5--4--4--2--2--4--2--2-2-2-2--

E|-0--0--0--0--0--0--0--0--0--0--0--0--0-0-0-0--

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