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Guitar Lesson - Melodic Improvisation - Example No 8.

Guitar Lesson by Kirk Lorange

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Melodic Improvisation - Example No 8 - The Lesson Explained.

Here is the last of the Melodic Improvisations.

Same progression, same mindset: create lines from chord tones for each of the three chords in the progression. When you can see the fretboard as an array of chord tones for whatever chord is in play, this is a piece of cake. There is literally no limit to the number of paths through the matrices of 'right notes' and no limit to the way you can insert them into the time line. The only limits are our taste, dexterity and imagination. The short-cut to seeing your fretboard as an array of chord tones (as if you didn't know it already) is my Book/DVD/SlideRule/Forum package called PlaneTalk. Check it out here.

I urge you again to have a look at the other 7 from this series, play around with them all, take the time to compare them all and do try to come up with some of your own. I think the hardest aspect of that will be the timing, the 'feel', the musicality. For that my best is something I've been suggesting for a long time now, and it's this: Let Your Fingers Dance. That truly is the best way I can put it. Imagine your fingers to be the legs of Gene Kelly or Fred Astaire and the fretboard the dance floor. Sounds silly, I know, but 'feel' is a very difficult thing to describe let alone teach. It has to do with loud/soft; bright/dull; early/late; light/heavy ... dynamics in an other word. An old friend of mine believes that the force of gravity comes into it and, strange as that sounds, I know what he means.

These lessons are hopefully going to help you see the fretboard as one big long array of chord tones, a matrix of 'good' notes from which melody emerges with ease. Remember that ALL chord tones are the 'good' notes and that all are equally usable. The trick is being able to see that matrix shifting around as each new chord comes into play. You can have a wonderful time coming up with your way of 'seeing' it all down there on the fretboard ... or you can save yourself many years and learn the fool-proof way I came up with years ago and turned into my PlaneTalk Package.

All these improvisations are played over the chord progression that you hopefully learned in this lesson. If you haven't yet heard that, check it out here.

See the other Improvisation Lessons here.

All these Melodic Improvisation lessons are looking at one pass through the progression. I have tried to keep them fairly simple but musical. There are a couple of things I want you to take away from these:

First is the fact that I was at no point thinking 'scale' or 'mode' for these melodic excursions. This is the other approach to building lines, one where build lines around chord tones -- the 'good' notes -- rather than the scale, which consists of many notes that are not so good.

Second is the fact that I'm using the whole fretboard, I'm not confined to any one position or box or pattern. I realize that 99% of tutorials tell you that you must know all your scales and modes to do this kind of thing but I'm here to tell you that you don't. I'm going to stick my neck out and say that approaching melodic improvisation from scales and modes will actually impede your progress. I have a saying: Melody Loves Chord Tones ... so, know your chords. Forget about scale for a while.

Have fun with this. It's very short. Take the time to learn it, to feel it, to inject some soul and heart into how you play it. There are another 8 of these on the way, all different but all similar.


I took that little backing track lesson and copy pasted it 12 times in a time line in my recording software. I then overdubbed 12 examples of melodic improvisation over all 12, all first take, all in a row. I have turned 8 of them into mini lessons showing how easy it is (with practice!) to keep coming up with new paths through any old chord progression. This video above shows example 1.

I won't go into any great detail with these examples, but I can tell you all of them follow the same principle: I follow the changes and create lines that fit those changes. In these examples, the progression is that of the blues standard 'Key to the Highway'. It's an eight bar blues (Yes! Eight only) that goes:

| I - - - | V - - - | IV - - - | - - - - | I - - - | V - - - | I - IV - | I - V - | I - - - |

Don't worry too much about that momentary diminished chord you'll see in the tab/video.

We're in the key of G, so that translates to:

| G - - - | D - - - | C - - - | - - - - | G - - - | D - - - | G - C - | G - D - | G - - - |

Being the blues, we can add some detail:

| G - - - | D7 - - - | C9 - - - | - - - - | G - - - | D7 - - - | G - C - | G - D7 - | G - - - |

You can in fact view that G as a dom7th chord too. In the blues, they're all 7ths.

So the mindset here has nothing to do with scales, directly at least. Naturally, any melody line can be broken down into a scale or more, or a mode ... or a fretboard 'box'. But that's not what I'm thinking or what I'm seeing down there on the fretboard. When I look down, I see an array of 'good notes', a 'matrix of rightness'. I see all the notes that are in the chord of the moment. They're all good, strong notes, they have to be since they're already in the chord you hear. They are my main notes. They glue the melody lines to the chord progression. I can, and do, use other notes as stepping stones to get from one chord tone to another if I want, but they are secondary and they don't fall on the important beats of the piece. They're 'passing tones', not 'anchor tones'.

As you watch the other examples, you'll see similarities in many of the passages. That's natural since it's the same progression and it's always the blues, and I'm the player. I have certain preferences, limitations, taste and dexterity and so they will all sound similar.

The main thing to take away from these examples is that the whole fretboard is there for you to use. Playing in boxes, or even positions, I would find very boring and limiting. There are so many ways to play the exact same lines/chords/riffs/licks on a fretboard that it seems wrong to limit yourself to using just one. If you study these, you will see that I often use 2 or 3 positions for the same notes. The evolving lines lead you to play, say a C note in a line, in one position at the beginning of the line and switch to another string/position for the same C at the end of the line. But you can only have that freedom once you can see the whole fretboard as 'the chord'.

That, of course, is the trick. If you can look down at any moment in a piece of music and instantly see all the good notes, then making melody becomes more of a 'join the dots' exercise that anything else. You can let your finger dance across the fretboard landing on those notes, from time to time skipping over some 'in between' notes, following each matrix as the chords change, and you will always be right on the money. It takes a lot of practice, of course, but you don't need to have a brain full of modes and scales and boxes and theory. Just one very simple visual technique is all that's required. And, of course, you need to know the chords in the progression. To call yourself a proficient musician you need to know that anyway, so that's a given.

Study this and the other examples and see if you can figure out the shorthand way of tracking it all. I spent the first fifteen years of my playing trying to find that one 'constant' that I could use to guide me. It's not an easy task. If you decide that you'd rather not spend the time, there is a simple solution: >> Order my PlaneTalk Package!

Guitar Lesson by Kirk Lorange

Kirk LorangeAs well as putting together these free guitar lessons, I am also the author of PlaneTalk - The Truly Totally Different Guitar Instruction Package, which teaches a mindset, a way of thinking about music and a way of tracking it all on the guitar fretboard. Yes, there IS a constant down there in the maze of strings and fret wire, a landmark that points to everything at all times. I call it The Easiest Yet Most Powerful Guitar Lesson You Will Ever Learn and many testimonials at my site will back up that rather superlative description. If your goal as a guitar player is to be able to truly PLAY the guitar, not just learn by rote; to be able to invent on the fly, not memorize every note; to be able to see the WHOLE fretboard as friendly, familiar territory, not just the first 5 frets and to do it all without thinking about all those scales and modes, then you should read more here.

Melodic Improvisation - Example No 8 - The TAB and Backing Track.


Backing Track