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collegefbfan

Improvising? If That Is What You Call It...

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I played guitar about 25 years ago.  I took lessons and could play a lot of intros and maybe a couple of songs here and there.  After about 3 or 4 years, just left it.  With so many things online these days, I am interested in getting back into it.  The thing is when someone sees that you have a guitar and they ask if you play.  You say yeah.  If they want to hear me play, I don't want to just break out into some random rock song intro.  I would like to just be able to play and make it sound good.  Some chords mixed in with some scales and make it sound original.  I have tried and tried this, and my stuff always sounds like garbage.  I hear someone else create something randomly and you would think that Vai or Slash came up with it. 

 

What is the easiest way to improvise?  Or create your own stuff?  Like solos, or just picking up the guitar and playing just to play? 

Any help would be appreciated.

Thanks.

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Rockerbob    47

Easiest, and only as far as I can tell, way to learn is what I call "laptime."  Do you spend at least an hour a day playing and learning with the guitar in your lap?  More than an hour if you want to progress faster.  For most of us its just a matter of time spent playing, learning, practicing, and hopefully having fun. 

 

If you are learning on an electric guitar, don't.  Some experienced players might disagree and say its OK to learn on an electric guitar, and that I might be wrong.  I'm not.

 

Most people can't justify an expensive instrument while beginning.  Tone and cosmetics are of lowest import on the "learner's" guitar.  What is important is if the neck is straight and the action is very low.  Most inexpensive guitars come with the action too high, both at the saddle and at the fingerboard nut.  If the strings are too high at the nut even an experienced players wouldn't like it much.  Its very fine adjustments.  Paying a good repair shop to get a good setup might cost more than the price of some inexpensive guitars.  It can be a conundrum because you can't trust what the sales guy is saying.  He wants his commission.  Getting help from a friend that knows guitars.  Don't get advice from someone who only thinks they know guitars, which is most people who have ever touched a guitar and learned three chords.

 

Spend lots of time with the guitar in your lap.  After that, spend more time with the guitar in your lap.

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I have a locally owned shop near me.  The guy does great work.  I meant like what does it take to make good solos or good pieces of music, licks, etc.  I have an acoustic at the moment.  I played electric for 3-5 years though.  I hate to phrase it this way, but when I say play, I really mean "play".  Like jamming, wailing, etc.  Sort of like the parts that Steve Vai played in Crossroads.  Now, I know I will not be that good... ever.  But just referencing that type of playing.  Not just that type of playing, but you get the idea.

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Rockerbob    47

The answer is still laptime.  I have found nothing better.  Learn to bake a cake before you frost it.  Just playing completely ad-lib over a band takes a while for most people.  It probably took me a decade to learn to ad-lib over a rhythm track on electric guitar, but that was when I also did solo acoustic guitar gigs in quiet restaurants, so I played acoustic a lot.

 

"Lap Time!" "Lap Time!" Sing it with me. "Lap Time!"

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JanVigne    27

The first requirement to leaning anything is to have patience.  Nothing worth having comes easily.  Maybe more easily to some than others but that is merely a matter of how you learn, finding the correct way to learn and how much dedication you can put into your studies.   That amounts to "lap time" and there's no substitute for it. 

 

Other than that, there is no easy answer to your question as this is the same question innumerable wannabe's have asked.  

 

You must decide whether you will work with an instructor or do this on your own.  Good instructors are very difficult to find and they require a certain discipline if you are to succeed.  Going it alone also requires discipline in that you are your own judge of your progress.  Too many instructors, IMO, are too willing to let a student slide as long as they are paying.  That's somewhat unfair as they cannot force you to work at playing better.  

 

The greatest (most common) fault with going it alone is, you do not know what you don't know and therefore what you should learn next.  It's impossible to create a plan when the end goal is simply "play better".  That lack of planning leads to most self taught students being the crow that chases the next bright and shiny thing while never formulating a plan for getting from point A to point Z.  That approach largely spins your wheels as you attempt to learn material that is above your pay grade.  That leaves you learning a few riffs and a few licks and a few intros and not much else.    

 

You can begin with the lessons on this site.  

 

You can also look at https://www.justinguitar.com/

 

Justin has spent years formulating a plan which actually goes from A to Z.  He lays out the basics and then allows the student to learn more about the lesson by including well known songs.  There is a forum attached to that site also.  

 

None the less, you begin by beginning.  Pick up your guitar and assess what you know and what you think you need to know.  If it comes down to you think you actually know very little to nothing useful, then accept that and move on.  

 

Which ever course you take, instructor or on line, you must begin from the first lesson.  

 

Never assume you know something.  

 

Even if you've been over the material before, learn it in the context of the entire lesson plan.  

 

Follow a plan.  

 

You'll need to spend some time taking on what is termed "practical music theory for guitarists".  You do not need a MFA degree in music theory but you must know a bit about the workings of music if you are to make sense of how others work withing those rules.  Andrew Wasson is the best site I've run across for a guitarist's view on music theory; http://andrewwasson.com/

 

Playing an instrument well is going to depend on your ability to listen to yourself.  Buy a digital tuner and use it every time you pick up your guitar.  Buy a metronome and learn how to work it, then work to it.  

 

In short, start playing at the slowest beat per minute the metronome allows.  You are not allowed to move up in the BPM's until you can play through the entire piece four times straight without a mistake.  One you accomplish that, you bump up the metronome by 5-10 bpm's and start again.  

 

When you can play the material at 120-140 bpm's. then you can say you have that material under your fingers.  Always come back and work to make the old material more complete with the lessons you have learned from the new material.  It's much easier to embellish a song you already know than to start from scratch with each song.

 

The metronome is an objective measure of how well you can play time and keep a beat.  Use a recorder/smart phone to create a record of your playing and then criticize yourself after every practice session.  The recorder is another "objective critic" of your progress.  Use it to evaluate just how well you have taken in the new lesson.  

 

Do not cheat on yourself.

 

Playing is the best way to learn how to play.  That's the best answer I think anyone can actually give you at this point.  

 

You do not have to impress anyone and, if you are only capable of playing one song well, then that's all you can do at the moment.  You simply determine to learn more and play more expressively.  Then you set about doing that by following a plan.

 

Patience. 

 

Learn what each song has to give you.  Don't worry about learning licks and riffs, they don't impress most folks.  If, instead, you learn how a more accomplished musician takes the bare bones structure of a song and fills it out, that will allow you to do a similar creative act with other songs.  Therefore, spending time with music as a listener is also important.  If you have TAB or notation for a song, study how another player has added to the structure to fill out the blanks found in most student's playing.  

 

Basically, think about what you are doing and listen to what you have done.  Rather than being intimidated by other players, learn from what they do.  

 

In a sense, you have to spend time with your guitar even when you are away from your guitar.

 

There's not much else to say at this point.  You must make the commitment to doing this first.  No magic wand and no easy path.  There's lots more to this than just that but, until you do that, there's nothing more to say at present.

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JanVigne    27

"I also like nap time.

 

When I was young a took a couple lessons, but not enough to hurt my playing."

 

 

No disrespect intended, and I understand this is a very old joke, but that is not an answer to the op's question.  A "do it as I did it" suggestion is not beneficial.  

 

We each learn in our own way and discovering how we, as individuals, learn is, IMO, one of the greatest obstacles to actual learning.  

 

I generally, and initially, go with the basic idea we are all one type of learner; either auditory, visual or tactile.  If you are a visual learner, you will possibly be lost with a lesson plan which focuses on tactile learning procedures.  While no one is completely one type, there is almost always a dominant method which pays the greatest rewards.  

 

That too is merely one method to consider when thinking about acquiring new information.

 

 Instructors who teach in one method only, or advocate a "do this as I did it decades ago", to each and every student, will likely fail a good many students.Unless, that is, they can make the move from being "this" type of instructor to being "that" type of instructor as each student addresses their own personal needs.  If the instructor is not interested in assisting the student as they explore their own learning methods, then I would say that instructor is largely worthless to that student.     

 

I will defer to the author of "Fretboard Logic" (https://www.amazon.com/Fretboard-Logic-SE-Reasoning-Arpeggios/dp/0962477060) when I say every player can consider themself to be self taught no matter how many lessons they have taken.  Edwards' logic in saying this is the obvious reasoning that every individual must be responsible for their own advancement.  Each must make the mental leap from theory to practice and from practice to perfection.  For some players this is less difficult than for others.  For some students, more data - and encouragement - is important than might be the case for another student. 

 

Knocking lessons however isn't helpful to most students.  Quite the contrary I would say.

 

If nothing else is considered, the information available today through the use of internet instruction dwarves the amount of available instruction you and I had available when we were young and eager.

 

To each their own way IMO, however, to say "I didn't need lessons" is rather absurd.  Of course you did!  You obtained your lessons in your own manner.  Allow the op the same choice.       

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Rockerbob    47

I think we have a new record for the fastest anyone has pissed me off here.  The joyfulness has faded. Will you now argue the joyfulness has not faded?  I don't usually get called absurd until afternoon.

 

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JanVigne    27

"I think we have a new record for the fastest anyone has pissed me off here."

 

I'd guess, then, you are primarily a visually dominant person.  I tend more toward the audible type.  

 

I'll add you to the list of people I've pissed off in my life.  

 

Sooooooo, ...

 

What pissed you off?  I said, "No disrespect intended, and I understand this is a very old joke ... ".  So what didn't you like? 

 

IMO some people do better with lessons from an instructor with a plan and the ability to keep them motivated.  

 

Is there a problem with that?

 

 

"I don't usually get called absurd until afternoon."

 

You were napping and I got here early.

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JanVigne    27

"collegefbfan have you looked at Kirk's improvising lessons?    https://www.guitarforbeginners.com/Lessons/Guitar_Improv_Lessons.html"

 

 

Not knocking the lessons but, don't those lessons assume the person looking at them already knows how to play fairly well?  

 

I understand the op placed this thread in the "Improvisation" section of the forum.  

 

"I would like to just be able to play and make it sound good.  Some chords mixed in with some scales and make it sound original."

 

There seems to be the mistaken belief you can simply "improvise" your way to impressing others.

 

 

"Some chords mixed in with some scales and make it sound original.  I have tried and tried this, and my stuff always sounds like garbage.  I hear someone else create something randomly and you would think that Vai or Slash came up with it."

 

I read this sort of comment from many wannabes and I have to wonder whether they actually believe their guitar heroes just knew how to perform these magical feats without any study or effort put into the actual workings of music and the guitar.  They make it sound all so simple; a few chords and a few scales and there you go, you're a star player. 

 

I've yet to meet that person.  Maybe Robert Johnson had it right after all, just wait on that crossroad for someone to show up and strike up a bargain.

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JanVigne    27

Here's a brief bit from Kirk's lesson, in his own words ...

 

"Music does follow certain rules that, once learned, allow you to play something you've never practiced or rehearsed before. I won't say 'something you've never played before' because that wouldn't be accurate. Improvising is more like 'using bits and pieces you've played a million times before in a brand new way', in the right context"

Possibly, I'm reading this incorrectly but, this doesn't read as if Kirk believes anyone can simply sit down with a guitar and play as if they are a superstar.  It would, IMO, appear to mean just the opposite.  That such a feat takes (the few million times that you) study and practice playing music with the intent of making it interesting to another listener.  I assume that alone doesn't even count the few million times you play just to learn and absorb what you are playing.  That you bring with you a dedication to the task of learning and a fair bit of creative imagination (stolen directly from your few million times through) thrown in for good measure.  

 

After all, there are only 12 notes to work with, right?  Sounds simple enough to think you can manipulate 12 notes into sounding great with just a few neat little tricks anyone can learn in just a few tries.  

 

Most folks who've tried though will tell you it doesn't all come together without a few million hours of study, practice, etc, etc.

 

If I've learned anything in this life, it is this; when I finally realize how little I actually know, that's when I have finally learned something.  

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oldstrummer    1

Well now, this is a bit of a conundrum for me, too.  You see, I consider myself a not half-bad rhythm guitar player.  I've even created some pretty cool tunes, if I say so myself.

 

What I can't seem to do is play lead guitar.  I have and study Kirk's PlaneTalk program, and I get the principles, but I can't seem to apply them when I have guitar in hand (or lap, as RockerBob refers to it). 

 

I have never taken a lesson in my life.  But I think that may be where I have fallen short.  I do know that lead guitar is not the same as rhythm guitar. 

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Thanks for the replies.  I played and practiced a lot in my teens.  I did a little in my 20's.  I am in my 40's now.  I know chords, a few scales, a few songs, etc.  I can pick in my opinion a little below decent. I can read tab and pick up on a lot of song intros and the like.  I am really practicing on Manic Depression by Hendrix and Rough Boy by ZZ Top.  The thing is though and you all have answered it in so many ways.  I would like to just pick up and play.  Like improvise, I guess.  Just say a friend or a coworker hears I play guitar, and they say let me hear you.  Well, I don't want to play some song they don't even know.  That's just an example, but you get the idea.  I know the end result will not occur overnight.  I will check some of the links out. 

 

By the way, I found a huge deal on a Schecter Diamond Demon 6 a guy is letting go.  It is the older design where the strings DON'T come up through the body.  It has an actual Les Paul looking bridge.  It is in awesome shape to be a little over 4 years old. 

 

Many thanks.

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JanVigne    27

"Well now, this is a bit of a conundrum for me, too.  You see, I consider myself a not half-bad rhythm guitar player.  I've even created some pretty cool tunes, if I say so myself.

 

What I can't seem to do is play lead guitar.  I have and study Kirk's PlaneTalk program, and I get the principles, but I can't seem to apply them when I have guitar in hand (or lap, as RockerBob refers to it). 

 

I have never taken a lesson in my life.  But I think that may be where I have fallen short.  I do know that lead guitar is not the same as rhythm guitar."

 

 

I know what you mean, I think.  By "play lead guitar" I assume you mean playing solos.  That seems to be a desire for most electric players.  

 

I would say, first, you should know that the solos you hear from the famous players are not "improvised" in most cases.  They have been worked out in advance and practiced over and over.  As Kirk said in that clip I pulled out, "Music does follow certain rules that, once learned, allow you to play something you've never practiced or rehearsed before. I won't say 'something you've never played before' because that wouldn't be accurate. Improvising is more like 'using bits and pieces you've played a million times before in a brand new way', in the right context."

 

BB's box, Clapton's Major/minor pairings and Slash's vibrato are good examples of players who have their chops down to a science.  They did not, however, begin life that way.

 

My first question then would be, how many times have you tried to hone a solo to achieve a desirable product?  If you've tried, say, a dozen times and failed, well, you still have 999,988 tries to go.  

 

Additionally, as Kirk also says, music is contextual.  Which means it is a language which is dependent upon what has come before and what will come next.  

 

If someone asks, "Which way to the bus station?", and you answer, "I'll have a ham sandwich", you are using the wrong words in the context of the conversation.  Make sure you're selecting appropriate words before you begin.

 

Then, to somewhat contradict myself, it doesn't matter what the context is once you have the words and ideas right.  If you play good words but hit a stinker, then context (and technique) allows you to make that wrong note sound right.

 

I think too many people only think of solos as a collection of notes.  They ignore the idea music is a language and speaking is expressing an idea.  Most of us don't begin life speaking like we do when we hit 50.  We have a more limited vocabulary at 16 and we need time to grow our words to match our ideas.  Therefore, don't bite off more than you can handle at first.   

 

There is no magic bullet but you must begin slowly and without trying to eat the whole pie in one bite.  

 

The famous four note blues solo (https://www.google.com/search?q=four+note+solo&rlz=1CAACAJ_enUS705US705&oq=four+note+solo&aqs=chrome..69i57.5222j0j1&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8) is a very good example of how a very simple, many would say very limited, selection of notes can be turned into an interesting musical moment.  It's not just about playing notes, that is the main reason so many players sound as if they are simply playing scales when they begin to experiment.  It is the seasonings of creatively using hammer ons, pull offs, bends, slides and other embellishments which grabs a listener's ear and makes the work your own.  It is those discrete pieces which, when put together, transforms your ideas into one cohesive thing.    

 

What have you tried as far as "thinking about" your solo work?  How have you approached the work?    

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Kirk Lorange    128

Hi, collegefbfan. Welcome, and good to hear you're getting back into it. I've read the responses to your question and they're all valid in my mind. Yes, as RB says: lap time. Play and play and play, as much as you can, and listen as hard as you can to what you're doing.

 

Your goal was my goal way back when. I had no desire to sight read or play anything note for note, I just wanted to play. I was fortunate enough to witness a seasoned player actually do that one day in a London rehearsal studio. His name was Henry McCullough, who went on to play with Wings. He was being auditioned as the new player for a band (maybe even Wings) and he just plugged in and started playing along with the band, tunes he'd never heard before, every lick and riff a winner. I thought 'That's what I want to do'. I had learned some scales, but I could tell that Henry wasn't thinking about scales and I certainly wasn't hearing scales. I was hearing music, melody ... every note he played was deliberate, had meaning. What the band was telling him before each song was a rough outline of the CHORDS and Henry asked a few questions here and there about the CHORDS. I had already learned that recording sessions usually give the players CHORD charts to follow, never scale charts or mode charts or any instruction to stick to any pentatonic boxes. CHORDS were the thing.

 

To solo and to improvise, to me, is to see the fretboard as a well laid out environment in which you can express yourself, and, for me, that environment has to do with the CHORD that is play NOW. If you can see the fretboard as one long chord you can see all the strongest notes for all moments until the next chord comes along in the progression. Then you're in a new environment and the same applies. You get to learn that certain chords go together well and so there is an overarching environment (the key) that helps in your thinking, but it's the chord-by-chord mindset that guides me, especially in those tunes that keep changing key. You don't have to worry too much about that thinking 'Chord of the Moment'.

 

When you're thinking chords (which we all have to do anyway) you can also literally see all double stops, harmony notes, chord fragments, snippets of everything, and they're always right. This is what Henry was doing: playing a little riff, leaving a gap, stabbing at a double stop, then a full chord or two, then another riff ... then a solo. Pure taste, total knowledge of the fretboard.

 

So, as I'm sure you have gathered, from my point of view, chords are what you should be concentrating on. They are crystallized scales, so you're sort of playing scales via the chord. When you're playing chord tones over a G7 chord, for example, you're playing most of the G Mixolydian scale; over a G13 chord, you ARE playing the G Mixolydian scale. Only you're not see or playing the notes AS a scale -- no linear 1-2-3-4-5-6-7 approach -- but a melody approach. Of course, if you want to hear a scale sounding line, it's there to be played, but as the old saying goes: "Practice scales and you'll wind up playing scales".

 

That's my take on it. Learn to see the fretboard as one long chord. And remember this: there are really only 3 environments to concern yourself with: Major, minor and dominant. There are details, endless details if you want, to each of those environments, but knowing the basics of three will allow you play along with anything, one chord at a time.

 

If you haven't yet viewed my CAGED video, do: https://www.guitarforbeginners.com/caged_template.html

 

Hope that helps!

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Hey folks. Thanks for all the replies and useful help.  I was doing a little research and found something related to what I was talking about.  There is a guy on youtube named Steve Stine.  He has this technique called the 6 note soloing technique.  I liked it a lot.  I purchased a Schecter Diamond Omen 6 from a guy yesterday for 100 bucks.  He also threw in a padded gig bag and a new set of Ernie Ball strings.  I haven't played Ernie Balls before.  It is in great shape an has the Les Paul type bridge.  I am not a fan of the string through the body style.  I have played it and it sounds great. Solid construction, no nicks, dings, or scratches.  Immaculate shape for a guitar that is 4-5 years old. 

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JanVigne    27

"There is a guy on youtube named Steve Stine.  He has this technique called the 6 note soloing technique.  I liked it a lot."

 

I have no intention of placing a damper on any process which moves you forward in your playing.  However, after watching Stine's video, I have to say "improv" by way of a pattern of six notes is not actually playing nor is it providing the basic knowledge to do so.  

 

As I watched the video it reminded me of the Suzuki Method players I've come across; 

 

 

And while I am a proponent of bio-mechanics in learning an instrument, the various "trick", "magic" and "easy" methods of learning have never exactly given me much hope the student can achieve an end result commensurate with the means.

 

I mentioned patience as a requirement to learning in my first post on this thread and I will rather stick by that for now.  

 

As Kirk says in his lessons on chord tones, the key to playing well is a knowledge of the fretboard which covers the whole of the fretboard, not just six notes played in a pattern.  Pattern playing is similar to playing scales and, if that is your only fall back, it won't take long before your one trick is a worn out, and eventually dead, pony.

 

Going back to my earlier statement regarding learning types, if you are a tactile personality when it comes to learning, absorbing and embedding new data, then patterns will give you a switch which clicks your keys and turns on your way of absorbing new material.   What I am saying is, ... well, what I'm saying is six notes repeated in a pattern do not make a guitarist out of anyone.  No more than learning one blues scale in a box will turn you into another BB King.     

 

If this is your goal, "Just say a friend or a coworker hears I play guitar, and they say let me hear you.  Well, I don't want to play some song they don't even know.", don't put in the effort to learn just songs.  Understand the TAB for any song is simply a sketch of the final product.  If you learn a song played by a guitarist, learn with the intent of discovering how the performer was thinking about their music when they created the song.  What techniques did they employ which made the song their own?  Unless your goal is to play in a tribute band, I am unaware of a demand for anyone playing just the solo of any song.

 

That doesn't mean you shouldn't learn songs.  By all means, learn what others have created before you set out to create on your own.  If you can learn what they knew and apply it to your knowledge of music theory, then you can repeat it at will without parroting the original song.   

 

If your goal is this, "I would like to just pick up and play.  Like improvise, I guess.", being a parrot of a famous player isn't going to get you there.  

 

First, I would say you should get the idea of "Like improvise, I guess" out of your mindset.  Replace it with the idea of creative selection which comes from a fairly complete grasp of the many possibilities.  In other words, again, as Kirk has explained, you should know the fretboard, completely and with the ability to move about freely as your imagination suggests.  That requires time which, therefore, says you must have patience to learn and to deeply embed the knowledge in your hands and in your thinking.  This is the definition of bio-mechanics.  Muscle memory.  Speaking in complete thoughts.   

 

Second, you should not be thinking of "improv" as simply playing up and down the neck.  Not now at least.  It's a great show to see a performer rip through a diagonal pentatonic scale pattern.  That trick plays once a night and then it's pretty much over.  Forget the show and get down to work learning how to actually play. 

 

I (mostly) agree with Kirk when it comes to playing chord tones.  Whatever notes you are going to play as embellishment, they can most commonly be found in the chords themself.  

 

You have a chord in front of you and you need/want to embellish that chord to make it more than a simple triad of notes.  

 

(Keeping in mind my concept of the three distinct learning types, each player will need to adjust how they go about the development/exploration/learning process for themself.)

 

I would begin a student with the intention of actually learning how to play well with the simplest of tools.  I would do that because I, personally, strongly believe playing simply yet expressively is the most elegant task for any musician.  It is not about ripping through a solo or repeating and repeating a pattern, it is about expressing an idea.  Communicate an idea to your listener, and you will gain their attention.  Think about how you communicate in your speaking and translate those same methods into your playing.  

 

Louder/softer, faster/slower, up on a question/down on a statement, pause for effect/repeat for emphasis.  And so on.  

 

To start, I would have you break the fretboard down into chunks.  Say, three, four or five frets at the most. First position to fifth and no more - at first.  Look at the chords as they exist in the song.  Stick with a simple I-IV-V at first.  Plenty of songs built around nothing more than that.   

 

Strum the I chord and then embellish it.  Play with it, tickle it and dig into it, just limit yourself to those initial three chord tones at first.  That's it, simply play more into the chord.  Limit your first attempts to no more than the chord's triad notes, the basic chord tones Kirk mentions.  How can you make those three notes more interesting?  Watch Kirk's demonstration here;

    Watch the four note solo I mentioned in a prior post.  What are the techniques - not tricks - used by the players to catch the listener's ear?  Learn them and employ them.  Most of all, perfect them.  Bends, hammer ons, vibrato, slides and so forth create the "solo" or the licks you will want to embed in your musical memory.  

 

See how much you can do with just three notes.  Mostly, play with emotion guiding you.  

 

Most important, stick to no more than four or five frets for this.  Play the I, the IV and the V chords this way.  Learn how to move between the chords with your three notes.  Then practice nothing more than that for the next however long it takes for this to become second nature to you.  If that takes two weeks or two months, be patient and work at learning the sounds which create the interest.

 

Once you truly feel you have his much in your musical memory bank, add a note.  Say, a blue note and now you will practice playing the I-IV-V with four notes while remaining in the same five fret space.  Don't try more than four notes.  Keep the idea of playing simply yet effectively.

 

One of my favorite stories regarding guitarists goes a bit like this (true or not) ... Chet Atkins is at the height of his fame and plays a concert in a town where an aspiring young player wants to meet and impress him.  After the show, the player goes backstage and, when he introduces himself to Atkins, says, "I've been playing for awhile now and I know more than 200 chords."  Atkins, smiles and says, "I know three chords and I made a million dollars last year playing just them."

 

Of course, Atkins knew more than three chords but I like the story as it points out the importance of playing simply.  Maybe Atkins was referring to a simple I-IV-V progression.  The point being he knew how to take the simplest idea and embellish it to the level of greatness.  

 

John Lee Hooker has numerous songs with only one chord.  He too made millions and had legions of fans - some rather famous players among them.  

 

Do not fall into the trap of thinking you must cover the entire fretboard to impress someone.  Do not play patterns.  Play simply but with intent and imagination.

 

Don't be afraid to fail, to hit the wrong note.  Learn how to make the wrong note sound right in the context of your playing.   

 

Once you've achieved proficiency with four notes and five frets, expand a bit more.  Add another chord tone, say, a flatted seventh.  Or another melody note.  Repeat the exercise now with five notes available to you.  Play double stops only for awhile.   

 

Once you've played and played and played some more, until you can do this much in your sleep, move your fret limit to another set.  

 

Let's say now you can play the same song but remain between the third and the seventh fret.  You already know the notes and the sounds on the lower half of that group.  But it's unlikely you know the chord shapes on those frets. 

 

This is what you learn next by beginning again with three chord tones played strictly between the third and the seventh frets.  Play until you can make music within those boundaries.  Rely on the CAGED method for your ideas.  Where do your fingers have to go to play just the melody?  How many songs can you think of which can be played only between the first and the seventh fret and still be compelling?  Where must your fingers go for double stops within these boundaries?

 

Once you've achieved your goals within the third and seventh frets, go back and open up the first and second frets to your playing.  Now you have more space and more options.  What can you do now with only three chord tones?  What can you do with four?  Just explore the options available.    

 

Then move the goal posts once more to the fifth through the ninth or tenth and begin again from the beginning.  Take small bites and chew them completely.  If the five through ninth fret is confusing, step back to just the fourth through the seventh or so.  

 

Once you've reached the point where you've opened up the entire fretboard to your imagination, you can play with the confidence of someone who truly knows the fretboard.  This will take time and patience.

 

Unfortunately, you still only know the fretboard in, say, the key of C.  Now you must go back and start again in another key.  Take one of the triad notes from the key of C (E or G) and begin again with that as your I chord.  Pay attention to the notes which begin and end a group effectively.   

 

This is where patience is a virtue.  You can't cheat or you will be cheating yourself.  You can't cut corners or you will be limiting your ability to "just play".  There is really no substitute I can think of that gives you more capacity to play than taking things slowly and chewing one (small) bite at a time.  

 

 

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I watched the video from the post above.  The only thing is, I don't play with my right hand that way.  I pick.  There is no way I can get my fingers to do that.  Well, my amp will be here tomorrow. I can't wait because practicing on the electric with very little sound is making me think I suck more than I already do.  I am trying to play some slow to steady speed improvised blues solos in A minor over blues backing tracks. I think I suck really bad. I mean just terrible.  Maybe, I am reaching too far too soon.  I have played and practiced songs, solos, intros in the past, and a lot is coming back to me.  The thing is I know very, very little about theory. I don't have a great ear to hear pitch and chord change.  If I play Manic Depression, Sweet Child O' Mine, Sunshine of Your Love, More Than A Feeling, etc. I know what song it is, and people that hear me play it do too.  Is it perfect?  No, but it is decent.  But like I said, I want to do more than play a recorded song from someone famous. I am using backing tracks that aren't too fast.  I have played 3 note solos.  I have played the A minor pentatonic scale starting on the 5th fret and moved down to the other section.  Any other suggestions or ideas? 

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I think RB nailed it early on with the lap time and you can do a lot with the minor pentatonic scale. If you just learn two or three of the positions, it will get you pretty far in rock and blues and it's not that hard to make muscle memory. There's a reason there are so many 12 year old blues prodigies.

 

If you want to get beyond that and be able to play over any style of music, I believe you're going to have to actually take the time to learn guitar and some theory so you know what's going and at least what chords you're playing over. I improved a lot when I learned even the basics of  building a chord and then CAGED method which isn't too far of a stretch from what from what Kirk teaches although just different enough that when I learned Kirks method it simplified things and made it a little easier to see the fret board as a whole.

 

If any of this was already mentioned I apologize. I tried to read some of the post but fell asleep about 30 lines in. 

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JanVigne    27

"I watched the video from the post above.  The only thing is, I don't play with my right hand that way.  I pick.  There is no way I can get my fingers to do that."

 

You mean, you watched Kirk's video?   If so, there is no "only thing is" about it.  It has nothing to do with using fingers or picks.  It's about note selection.  Did you not understand that?  

 

 

 

"I am trying to play some slow to steady speed improvised blues solos in A minor over blues backing tracks."

 

The A minor pentatonic is the relative minor to C Major.  If you don't know what "relative minor" means, use a search engine.  You'll get a greater contrast of tones in your playing when you pair the tones of the relative minor with the tones of the Major chord.  Not that many popular songs written in A minor.  Lots of songs written in C Major.

 

BTW, I thought you were going to go with the youtube video guy's suggestion.  What happened to that plan?     

 

 

"Maybe, I am reaching too far too soon."

 

 

Sort of sounds like you just want all this to simply fall in your lap - right now.

 

 

 

"The thing is I know very, very little about theory."

 

 

One sure way to remedy that problem.

 

 

"I don't have a great ear to hear pitch and chord change."

 

 

A sure way to deal with that also.

 

 

"I have played the A minor pentatonic scale starting on the 5th fret and moved down to the other section.  Any other suggestions or ideas?"

 

 

So, you've played one pentatonic scale box in fifth position and, what? you think you've got this soloing thing down at the fifth fret?  What if the song is in the key of, say, G Major? 

 

You received several suggestions in this thread,  You seem to have ignored them.

 

What's the problem with trying one of our suggestions? 

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JanVigne    27

"If any of this was already mentioned I apologize. I tried to read some of the post but fell asleep about 30 lines in."

 

 

No problem, a lot of this stuff just takes more than two minutes. 

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No, didn't mean it that way. I am doing some research. I have read all the suggestions. I take all advice seriously. As far as wanting it to fall in my lap.. No way. I am really practicing. I am playing notes that I think would sound okay. And I feel they suck. I bet any of you here could play the same notes on the same backing track and it would sound awesome. Like knowing that the A minor and C major are related. I don't know that stuff. I don't have the ear to know what goes together. Does one need to have a good ear for music theory? If I came across wrong, that wasn't the intention. 

 

Edited by collegefbfan

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JanVigne    27

"Does one need to have a good ear for music theory?"

 

 

No, music theory exists only on paper or being taught verbally as a lesson plan.  Since most of Western music theory is based in mathematics developed by the Greeks over 2,500 years ago, you would no more have an ear for music theory than you would have an ear for, say, the fact two times two equals four.  

 

To put it another way; you learn theory but you play music.  

 

Western music theory gives you 12 notes separated by divisions ruled by mathematical limits which state an octave is any doubling or halving of any frequency.  You could argue that music theory says no more than that.  Theory dictates the division of those frequencies (pitch) into scales which terminate an octave's distance apart.  Which scale you select, how you arrange the notes within any scale to become a song and what you do with those notes is not really the business of theory.  

 

Music theory also describes the time element of music.  Time is something you cannot easily define or confine.  Time in music theory can last as little as one note, or no notes, or as much as an infinite repetition of either.    

 

Theory has no rule for, say, a bent string or a slide between two notes.  

 

When the music we call "the blues" became a more mainstream genre in the 20th century, music theorists and music critics attempted to describe the music they heard by way of traditional music theory.  They failed miserably, as theory has no rules for the emotion of the blues which is largely contained in between the notes.  Western music theory has no rules for such things so "the blues" became an academic exercise for intellectuals.  Meanwhile, on the streets and in the clubs, musicians simply played "the blues".  

 

There is a lot that happens in music that cannot be put in the pages of a book.  To compensate for this fact, musicians have developed their own vocabulary to describe most of that "in between the notes" stuff.  "Chord tones" is an example of this.  Theory doesn't exactly describe or define "tone".  Musicians spend their life creating, thinking about and manipulating tones.  

 

 

You can develop your ear for the workings of music just as you can learn theory.  But you must develop a plan for doing so and you must be patient.  

 

Going about this in a scattershot way tends to waste a lot of time.  One of the greatest problems with self teaching is, as I said back in my first post, you don't know what you don't know which means you don't know what you need to learn.  Moreover, you don't have the ability to develop a plan that makes your time most productive.  

 

You began this thread eight days ago.  How far along in learning to play well do you think you should be in eight days?  

 

You need to learn some rules.  You need to develop some techniques.  That all takes time.

 

Just learning to "play songs" and intros doesn't give you those rules and doesn't develop the techniques.  Like the Suzuki student, you can play the notes but you can't explain how, or why, you played those notes.  

 

There's nothing we can say that can replace the amount of dedicated time it requires to learn how to play well.  

 

You had originally asked, "What is the easiest way to improvise?  Or create your own stuff?  Like solos, or just picking up the guitar and playing just to play?"

 

Unfortunately, there is no "easiest way".  If there were, more people would continue to do this and they would practice a bit and they would develop the skills required to play well.  But it just ain't that easy.  It may be easier for some folks than others, just as learning to how to prepare a four course meal or paint a portrait or do woodworking comes more easily to some than to others.  In the end, it all takes some amount of interest in learning the rules, some dedication to perfecting the techniques and the desire to put in the time required to do it well.

 

Picking up the guitar and "playing just to play" typically doesn't mean you sit and doodle out pentatonic scales for hours.  It means you play with some knowledge of what you can achieve and then you set out to get from point A to point B.  

 

You learn the fretboard (from the first fret to the twelfth in most cases) and it becomes your way to express ideas.  Just as writing a good story means you use the keyboard of your computer.  You may not use all the letters, telling a good story is not about using all the letters, but they are there and available to you for your use.  You know how to put them together when you want to use them  to make a good story.  Music is a language and you have to learn how to speak and to tell stories with your guitar.   

 

I don't think there's a better way I can put it.  Others may say it differently but the idea is the same.  Just as the first response to your op suggested, you gotta put in the time.  "The time" comes down to the learning, the practicing and then the doing.  

 

And you first need to develop a plan to get you there.

 

What's your plan?  We can't make one for you.  We can only suggest.

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