Jump to content
marinoFret

Improvising vs. Learning songs

Recommended Posts

marinoFret    0

Two months ago I discovered "Improvising":dunno:.

When I first tried to improvise something with minor pentatonic scale, it sounded dull:drool: and stupid. As the time was passing, I was getting better and better:smilinguitar:......

Here's my problem:

I like improvising so much that everything I play is improvised, I improvise all the time! I stopped focusing on learning songs.

Is this wrong?!:guitarguy:

My father complains me that I don't learn songs..... but I like the improvising better. My mother really likes my songs (I mean what I improvise while I'm playing in the living room)...

Should I focus on making my own songs, or on learning songs?

Thanks for help!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
solidwalnut    5
Two months ago I discovered "Improvising":dunno:.

When I first tried to improvise something with minor pentatonic scale, it sounded dull:drool: and stupid. As the time was passing, I was getting better and better:smilinguitar:......

Here's my problem:

I like improvising so much that everything I play is improvised, I improvise all the time! I stopped focusing on learning songs.

Is this wrong?!:guitarguy:

My father complains me that I don't learn songs..... but I like the improvising better. My mother really likes my songs (I mean what I improvise while I'm playing in the living room)...

Should I focus on making my own songs, or on learning songs?

Thanks for help!

Marinofret--

There's nothing wrong with choosing to only improvise. However you decide, you will begin to make a mark on your styles.

You're going to get a whole range of opinions with this. But let me just briefly tell you my story:

I began learning and am very good today at learning songs. I have been in the position of needing to learn songs overnight.

But the key is that even though I have been heavily into learning songs, it takes improvisation to pull it off most of the time because often there's just not enough time or effort wanted to play the song 'exact'. So I learn the basics of the song, the main riffs, whatever else is important to the song, and then go from there. People love it.

But here's the downside to only learning songs all the time: my improvisational skills have suffered.

So the best answer is to do both. Just like anything else in life, balance is really the key.

On the other side of the coin are players like Kirk, who are masters at improv. He also can know basically what to play quickly because he enhances his improv skills by his knowledge of how the basic song is constructed (sorry Kirk. I could be totally wrong. Please correct me). So either way works.

Steve

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Kirk Lorange    128
Marinofret--

On the other side of the coin are players like Kirk, who are masters at improv. He also can know basically what to play quickly because he enhances his improv skills by his knowledge of how the basic song is constructed (sorry Kirk. I could be totally wrong. Please correct me).

You got it pretty much right, Steve. Improvising isn't pure invention ... it's more like playing with the bits and pieces that you already know are 'right'. I break it down to knowing first of all the key -- that sets the scene and lets me know what to expect -- but more importantly the 'chord of the moment' which lets me know what I can and can't do right NOW. Music is a bit like life itself ... there is only ever NOW, so if you can get it right, you've got it all right. That mindset applies whether I'm playing along to a piece or just solo invention. There's always a 'chord of the moment' happening whether you hear it or not.

I know what you mean marinofret ... once you do start dabbling with improvisation, it's difficult to buckle down and get whole tunes learned and practiced up. It seems almost meaningless to do so ... why try and freeze a piece of music into just one arrangement when it can be played in so many other ways? I wouldn't worry about it ... if that's what you're enjoying doing right now, keep on doing it.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
LeeB    0

I read recently that David Gilmour considers his Improvising to be "structured".. not just noodling around in a scale(s). He said this influence came from The Beatles.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
eddiez152    129

Boy that leads me to an interesting senerio.

One song - Mr.Bojangles. Assorted artists. Nitty Gritty Dirt Band - John Denver - Neil Diamond - Kirks version - Mine, and many others for sure.

On the keyboard I tend to play to the note. On the guitar, what ever it takes to make it "a tune sound alike". In all what ever makes you feel good.

eddiez152

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Chris C    0

Here's my problem:

I like improvising so much that everything I play is improvised, I improvise all the time! I stopped focusing on learning songs.

I'm pretty similar. I really enjoy just improvising and noodling about. The danger though is that I can neglect skills that I probably will need at some stage - at least, that's the way I see it.

To take an example - timing. Many new players hate metronomes or anything that seems to force you to play in a rigid and 'rule bound' way. But if we simply avoid the issue it's going to be hard to ever play with other people. So I'm trying to get into the habit of using a drum track some of the time (or even the hated metronome, now and again) and at least adding some structure to my improvising.

Another thing I do is to have a dozen or so simple songs in my working folder. When I sit down I work through them as close to "as written" as possible. One verse, or whatever, is usually all I manage before I start messing around, changing the tempo, experimenting with what else I can do with that chord progression, adding another chord to see what happens, and so on. But at least I'm still working on (and improving) those songs as I go.

I'm hoping to develop both sides - the freedom and creativity of improvising, and the structure and discipline of learning 'by the book'. I have a sneaking suspicion that if I just improvise too much I will start kidding myself that I'm better than I really am. I'm sure that learning set songs and exercises will be useful, and I also feel that it gives me a 'reality check' too. :)

Good luck with whichever path you choose. It's all good.

Cheers,

Chris

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
marinoFret    0
I really enjoy just improvising and noodling about.

When I improvise, I try not to just noodle around. :smilinguitar:

I try to add chords (power chords, major or minor, sometimes only intervals: root + 3rd, root + b3rd, ...) in my improvisation, especially when I don't have a backing track.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
marinoFret    0
I know what you mean marinofret ... once you do start dabbling with improvisation, it's difficult to buckle down and get whole tunes learned and practiced up. It seems almost meaningless to do so ... why try and freeze a piece of music into just one arrangement when it can be played in so many other ways? I wouldn't worry about it ... if that's what you're enjoying doing right now, keep on doing it.

Thanks, it means me a lot, especially when I hear it from you.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
jon_stggt    0
more importantly the 'chord of the moment' which lets me know what I can and can't do right NOW. Music is a bit like life itself ... there is only ever NOW,

Kirk not only are you a bringer of music, you speak the words of a truly spiritually enlightened Being. Often, or should I say always when playing guitar, my mind is projecting, where am I going next! Now to be present in the eternity of every moment... Now that could really change my guitar playing. Taking on more of a feeling than a thinking.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Chris C    0
When I improvise, I try not to just noodle around. :smilinguitar:

I try to add chords (power chords, major or minor, sometimes only intervals: root + 3rd, root + b3rd, ...) in my improvisation, especially when I don't have a backing track.

Me too. :)

Improvising is what I love, and I know that I'm terrible at plodding through set lessons, so I try to work with what my natural style and strengths seem to be. So - like you - I try to add a bit of underlying method to my 'noodling'. So I might jot down a bunch of chords in a certain key and slowly add extras, and variations and so on. And sometimes I just let the fingers choose - make a few 'wrong' decisions, and so on. See what comes out of it. :eek:

I still have a sheet of paper that an experienced guitar player gave me, with some reasonably basic chords on, and I still often use it as a starting point to warm up with.

It just says:


  • A - D - E7 - (Key of A)
    D - G - A7 - (Key of D)
    G - C - D7 - (Key of G)
    C - F - G7 - (Key of C)
    E - A - B7 - (Key of E)
    Am - Dm - E7 - (Key of Am)
    Em - Am - B7 - (Key of Em)

Of course, there are zillions of other chord possibilities in each key (and lots more keys) but I've had many happy hours just noodling through that list. Changing the order, the strumming and tempo, adding and changing chords, etc. And along the way you 'discover' quite a few familiar songs too. :)

Cheers,

Chris

PS Your English is excellent. I wish I had a half way decent second language....

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Kirk Lorange    128
... you speak the words of a truly spiritually enlightened Being ...

Thanks, jon, but I think that may be taking it a bit too far ... I know if Clancy reads this she'll have a quiet smile to herself. :winkthumb:

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
krissovo    0

Strangely enough I have been going through a similar phase, just messing about mostly over blues and more recently in a classic rock style. So much I neglected a lot but what I think happened to me is that during this phase I actually listened to music and tried to feel it. So i listened to the rhythm, the beat and the sound and I think it has made me focus more so I play with more feeling......not a bad thing!

The result.....well tonight I have almost nailed my favorite Rory Gallagher song down in no time at all. Seriously I could play after 2 hours "Bad Penny" to reasonable pub player standard, including the Solo and the 4 different riffs that he plays. If i tried this before my improv phase.....NO CHANCE.

Keep going with what makes you happy, once you find something that you want to do a cover of you will be much better for it. As long as you keep pushing yourself further and do not stagnate then no harm done.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
marinoFret    0

PS Your English is excellent. I wish I had a half way decent second language....

Thanks! :yeahhh:

I'm always worried that you are not going to understand what I want to say...:dunno:

...but now I see that you do understand me!

PS I always use a spell checker.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
solidwalnut    5

Should I focus on making my own songs, or on learning songs?

Like I said before, I don't have much experience in learning solely by improvising. But I do see a potential problem only learning by improvising (and don't get me wrong, I have a short attention span, and I love to just 'go off' and play what I want, and I do). And that is that it's possible that you might not want to learn or understand what kinds of techniques that are out there that are 'successful'. This is a great way to gain understanding and a great way to guage how you're progressing. There's always room for both.

I think there's a difference between 'making my own songs' / noodling with stuff and learning how to improvise a la Plane Talk.

But you'll figure it all out! You've got some great help from here.

Steve

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest BuddyManx   
Guest BuddyManx

I tend to flip- flop. I'll go hard at improvising for a week or two then feel I need a bit of structure and go back to learning songs. When I'm learning songs I try to do 2-3 of the same kind (ie flatpicking, or alternating bass fingerstyle or whatever)in quick succession. Thereare real lessons to be learned in pulling apart pieces that you know work and finding what makes tham tick. If I do just improv stuff I find I gradually get into a rut.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Hey    0
I tend to flip- flop. I'll go hard at improvising for a week or two then feel I need a bit of structure and go back to learning songs. When I'm learning songs I try to do 2-3 of the same kind (ie flatpicking, or alternating bass fingerstyle or whatever)in quick succession. Thereare real lessons to be learned in pulling apart pieces that you know work and finding what makes tham tick. If I do just improv stuff I find I gradually get into a rut.

When you practise, you dont need to do one at a time. For example, when I practise, it goes something like this:

Play a couple songs that use all of my fingers to warm up my fingers(bare fingered)

Play some scales up the neck to practise accrasy(with pick)

Practise songs(with finger picks)

Learn new songs/scales

Then maybe make up some or practise some slide or just play more songs for fun...

Im not seeing really your problem here, I mean the way I see it, just practise both. And dont just study one thing one week, then do something different the next, try to mix it up more. Like when you practise, do some strummings songs, some picking songs, some improvising stuff and maybe some slide if you do slide. Practise with finger picks, with out, with a pick, etc. Because when you perform, you want to have a variety when you play, keeps people intersted.

Also remember, when you learn a song/scale, try to practis at it LEAST every other day, so it just wont fade away from you so you wont just keep learning songs and forgetting songs. Try to get them down and keep them down if you know what I mean.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
GT    0

Well, i think you should try both if you are a beginner. But if you ask me i really would start with a song already created to practice over it. This will give you CONFIDENCE on your playing and an structured solid playing. This should be done ONLY when you are fully studied the theory lessons :) After this, as Kirk said, youll gonna have tons of those little bits of LICKS on your guitar playing, and then with the proper skills you can walk down to the valley of improvisation with a more stronger arsenal.

Do both but playing covers gonna give you an standard reference point of were you are now on the guitar world.... Are you still with the "Smell like teen spirit solo"? Have you jumped to Metallica┬┤s "Nothing Else Matter┬┤s" solo or are you still on the "Stairway to Heaven" period? :laughingg:

Something like that :)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Chris C    0

The more I think about this, the more I keep coming back to one thing - it actually doesn't matter much what route you take just so long as you keep going.

Ask 20 guitarists what precise order they learned in, and how they went about studying and practice, and you'll get 20 different answers.

But ask 20 people who gave up playing why they stopped and mostly you'll find that it was for the same reason - their motivation to keep going just dried up.

So I have no rules or timetables about what I must do each day, or for how long. I have only one rule - keep playing, and keep enjoying it. And if that means 5 hours of improvising for every 1 hour of more rigidly structured work, then so be it. My ears tell me it's working. And that's all that matters to me. :)

Cheers,

Chris

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Ledhead V-2    0

I practice both learning songs and improvising equally. I'll spend some time adding a few more chords or notes to the tune I'm currently attempting to get down and for a change of pace I'll alternate and give a go at making up my own riffs. Problem is, when I think I've got a nice little riff or solo worked out, it never seems to sound rock-like, which is what I'm aiming for -- they always seem to wind up sounding really cornball, "Jimmy Crack Corn"-ish if you will. Anyone here know what I'm talking about, or do y'all think ol' Led's been bending his elbow before posting? Any advice on working out riffs, however short, that have a distict rock or blues feel to them? All input appreciated...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Chris C    0
Problem is, when I think I've got a nice little riff or solo worked out, it never seems to sound rock-like, which is what I'm aiming for -- they always seem to wind up sounding really cornball, "Jimmy Crack Corn"-ish if you will.

:) :)

Great description! I think that most of us have had a dose of "Jimmy Crack Corn Syndrome at some time or another... Nothing wrong with the melody really, except that you can just hear you old auntie saying "That's a nice tune dear.. " or imagine it turning up on some easy listening compilation. :eek:

I believe that there is a known set of steps that you need to go through which involves shooting a man in Memphis, having your Baby do you wrong, walking the lonesome railroad tracks, drinking a lot of bad moonshine whisky, and so on. But it's a slow process.

My guess is that a quicker way is to take the same notes and play around with the timing and the attack and punch you give various sections. I'd reckon that somebody like Kirk could take the same tune and make it sound very different just by changing the playing style.

Effects can also help put you in the right mood to swing it, rock it or whatever. I once recorded a classically trained friend playing a very precise and quite intricate version of "Danny Boy" and then we spent a happy half hour putting it through various effects channels in the mixer. Amazing how different it could end up sounding.

A good exercise might be to take one simple tune and see how many different ways you can play it. Take something as easy and ingrained as Twinkle Twinkle Little Star (or whatever simple song you know well) and improvise with it - rock it up, do a reggae version, a Country version, etc. Blow it up into classical version (Mozart used the Twinkle Twinkle melody), just muck around until you get a feel for what it is that makes something sound bluesy or countryish or whatever. I think it's probably in the swing and rhythm more than the notes themselves, but then I'm no expert. I might just try it though and see if I can make something sound completely different just by the way it's played.

What do others here think makes the difference???

Cheers,

Chris

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Ledhead V-2    0
:) :)

Great description! I think that most of us have had a dose of "Jimmy Crack Corn Syndrome at some time or another... Nothing wrong with the melody really, except that you can just hear you old auntie saying "That's a nice tune dear.. " or imagine it turning up on some easy listening compilation. :eek:

I believe that there is a known set of steps that you need to go through which involves shooting a man in Memphis, having your Baby do you wrong, walking the lonesome railroad tracks, drinking a lot of bad moonshine whisky, and so on. But it's a slow process.

My guess is that a quicker way is to take the same notes and play around with the timing and the attack and punch you give various sections. I'd reckon that somebody like Kirk could take the same tune and make it sound very different just by changing the playing style.

Effects can also help put you in the right mood to swing it, rock it or whatever. I once recorded a classically trained friend playing a very precise and quite intricate version of "Danny Boy" and then we spent a happy half hour putting it through various effects channels in the mixer. Amazing how different it could end up sounding.

A good exercise might be to take one simple tune and see how many different ways you can play it. Take something as easy and ingrained as Twinkle Twinkle Little Star (or whatever simple song you know well) and improvise with it - rock it up, do a reggae version, a Country version, etc. Blow it up into classical version (Mozart used the Twinkle Twinkle melody), just muck around until you get a feel for what it is that makes something sound bluesy or countryish or whatever. I think it's probably in the swing and rhythm more than the notes themselves, but then I'm no expert. I might just try it though and see if I can make something sound completely different just by the way it's played.

What do others here think makes the difference???

Cheers,

Chris

Bingo! Exactly what I'm talking about: my licks come out sounding like something my dear old auntie (my dear old dead auntie) would think are..."nice, not like that god-awful rock 'n' roll nonsense all these hooligans play today." And I really don't feel like taking the Eric Clapton "I-had-to-get-myself-hooked-on-heroin-to-really-learn-the-blues" route to learning either. I have no illusions of becoming the next SRV or Buddy Guy, I'd just like to learn how to improvise a few relatively easy riffs and short solos -- nothing killer that's going to knock everyone's socks off necessarily.

Your advice about timing and giving punch to notes is precisely what I've been giving more attention to just lately -- rather than trying to pick a bunch of no-flavor notes as fast as I can. I've been trying to incorporate bends, pull-ons and -offs, slides, vibrato, etc. more into my improvisions. Although I really don't have much access to any effects mixers or such (I own a starter Epiphone LP Jr. and a 15-watt Marshall practice amp) -- not even a wah pedal as of yet -- I will take the advice you offered and see if that won't help to add some pepper to my sorry solos.

Hey! Who knows...maybe if all this bums me out enough, I'll really get the blues and I'll wind up playing like Muddy Waters and Leadbelly in no time flat!...wutcha think?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
solidwalnut    5

Hey! Who knows...maybe if all this bums me out enough, I'll really get the blues and I'll wind up playing like Muddy Waters and Leadbelly in no time flat!...wutcha think?

Hehe, exactly what's needed for great songwriters.

Along the same lines as what Chris is talking about, it's pretty important to feel the groove of the song and play within the rhythm and emphasis of the groove.

Steve

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now


  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×