How To Improve?

Discussion in 'Guitar Lessons' started by WholeLottaIzzy, Nov 3, 2014.

  1. WholeLottaIzzy

    WholeLottaIzzy Senior Member

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    When I play live, it's in a band setting at a jam session, so everything is improvised. I would like to be in a cover band too, but my main area I want to excel at is improvisation. All my favourite guitarists improvise solos live and do a fantastic job.

    So, scales, licks etc. I know the minor pentatonic in all positions, I know how to use the relative minor. I always listen to a lot of music. But lately when listening to music, I've been listening out for cool licks and phrases I can steal. If I find one, I work it out by ear. I'm alright at working things out by ear, I've come on a long way in the last year and a half. Still got a way to go though.

    Here's the deal. I know my basic scales, I have an okay ear, I have a bunch of licks I like, but my improvisation still sucks. Well, not sucks, but it leaves a lot to be desired. When improvising, I can place the right notes over the chords so it sounds like I know where I am with the music. It generally sounds in place. However, I tend to struggle with what to say when improvising. I know my licks and scales. But I have nothing in my head that I want to say. I'm sure if I heard something in my head, I'll be able to translate it fairly closely to my guitar playing. But there's rarely anything there. When there is, it's awesome and that's when I tend to get compliments on my playing. But when there's not, it feels as though it's notes for notes sake.

    I try to not over play. I can't play fast anyway so there's no harm in me just blasting through scales mindlessly. I try to leave space in my playing. It's a really annoying wall in my playing that's stopping me from taking my guitar playing to the next step. As soon as I can overcome this, I will be a better guitarist and better musician.
     
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  2. jsa61

    jsa61 Senior Member

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    I'm certainly not at master at improv, but that is usually what I do when it comes to solos. What works for me is I learn the melody of the song. Play along with the vocals and try to copy what is being sung, then expand on that with licks like you were playing fills while the vocals were being sung. I guess it really depends on the song, but this usually works for me when I can't come up with just licks.
     
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  3. SteveC

    SteveC Village Elder V.I.P. Member

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    I can't add anything more than your solution to the problem. Keep looking. That's not sarcasm. That's the holy grail!!! And, for many of us, it a journey with no destination. Yet, it has a direction. Find that.

    You do have something in your head that you want to say!!!
     
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  4. WholeLottaIzzy

    WholeLottaIzzy Senior Member

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    I'm not sure I understand. Is this a problem most people face? And to overcome it, I just keep playing? I hate those kind of solutions. Is there not a way I can practice it? I guess I could sing along to my playing. That might help.
     
  5. SteveC

    SteveC Village Elder V.I.P. Member

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    I don't know if most people struggle with getting thoughts created in their head - actually hearing them in their minds - then transferring those thoughts to playing music on an instrument, but some people do. I am one of them.

    Just "keep on playing" is the primary exercise, yea. But, mindlessly noodling alone won't get you where you want to be. Assuming that you have the chops to do it, singing along with your improv is a good way to hear in your head what your fingers are about to produce.

    The goal is to turn that process around! Let your fingers play along to what your hear in your head. To do that, you first have to hear something. (I know, obvious… right?)

    It's harder than it sounds - at least for me. Some people can do it naturally. Others need to work hard to be able to do it. If you're riding along with me in that last car… Then, you're not going to like the answer to the following:

    How do you get to Carnegie Hall?
     
  6. SexyGibson

    SexyGibson Senior Member

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    Theres just no good way to learn how to improvise. I would say learn ALOT of licks and then improvise on those licks to make them your own.
     
  7. VictorB

    VictorB Formerly LZF Super Mod

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    Improvising....

    Start by doing it over one chord, when you're sick of it, do it over a 2 chord progression... Then 3.

    Or you could jam to a 12 bar blues backing track.

    Possibilities are endless, BUT, there's no substitute for playing in a live situation. At some point you'll have to try this with other musicians.
     
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  8. WholeLottaIzzy

    WholeLottaIzzy Senior Member

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    I've been going to jam sessions for around three years at least. I always improvise solos on the fly there. There's only around two songs I actually decide to play the original solo. I also play along with backing tracks a lot. I try to vary the styles but they're mostly twelve bar or simple chord progressions.

    I knew it'd be like this. Just gotta keep on doing what I'm doing. Am looking at starting guitar lessons again soon. Can't wait for that.
     
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  9. mudfinger

    mudfinger Thanks for the memories! V.I.P. Member

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    Sound to me like you're doing just fine with the instrument. You're looking for something to say when you play it.

    Time to start training your mind. The first step in that direction is turn yourself into a sort of jukebox; play songs you like in your head. Many people only hear certain parts; the lead vocal, maybe the drums, a bit of the solo. A musician, however, must be able to hear the whole arrangement in his head. Have you gotten that far, already?
     
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  10. Angus

    Angus Senior Member

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    What if you......

    recorded a bit of backing or grabbed a backing track, and composed an "improvisation" note by note, perhaps basing it around one distinct lick that you come back to, but make it like a story with a definite beginning, middle and end, and make sure you really like the finished product.

    Learn it well, and then try stretching it out, and changing the central lick to a different one.

    I don't have the chops to lecture on the subject, but isn't it kind of like learning to talk, you practice a lot of phrases so that you can string them together without thinking much about it, becoming more and more fluent with practice?

    and listen to this: ;)

    [ame=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZAvBRkpwV5Y]Fleetwood Mac "Rattlesnake Shake" Live at Boston Tea Party - YouTube[/ame]
     
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  11. WholeLottaIzzy

    WholeLottaIzzy Senior Member

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    What, hearing different parts of a song in your head? As in coming up with not just a good riff, but the chords behind it, bass line, drums, rhythm etc? Yeah i quite often hear that. But I don't write riffs or music as I have never had a long term band.
     
  12. mudfinger

    mudfinger Thanks for the memories! V.I.P. Member

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    Even simpler, just playing songs by other people that you know and like. For example, you should be able to sit in a quiet room and play Stairway To Heaven from top to tail in your head.
     
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  13. Wraptail

    Wraptail MLP Vendor

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    I started "practicing" with just a metronome a few months ago to kinda get myself back into playing shape. An unexpected surprise occured- I was improvising, and it's been loads of fun. You're forced to come up with cool stuff and play it in time because there's nothing else to carry the weight.

    I highly recommend doing that, no matter where you're at.
     
  14. WholeLottaIzzy

    WholeLottaIzzy Senior Member

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    I'll give it a go tomorrow, thanks. Just waiting to hear back on guitar lessons. I used to have guitar lessons after a year of playing. Did them on and off for maybe two years then stopped. Carried on playing though. Now, I've been playing nearly seven years and really can't wait to start them again. I've found a very experienced teacher locally who caters to my needs. My old guitar teacher just gave me worksheets and practices, which worked for me at the time as I needed to get the basics firmly down. But now, I know where I want my playing to go, so it's nice to be able to have freedom in what I want to learn.
     
  15. Fred

    Fred Premium Member

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    Just get away from the guitar for awhile and start thinking guitar. Sometimes we get so involved in playing we forget to think.
     
  16. tzd

    tzd Senior Member

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    A few things that my guitar teacher taught me:

    1. In addition to learning to play in scales, learn also to play the arpeggios of each chord of the key that you are in.

    2. Learn to play the melody (the vocal part) of songs on your guitar. Didn't make sense to me at first - how boring will it sound playing the notes of the singer, I thought. But after doing it for some time, I learn to apply all the different techniques that you can do with the guitar - vibrato, bends, hammer-ons, pull-offs, slides, pinch harmonics etc - when playing the melody, that will make the melody sound good, like your guitar finding its own voice.

    Like you I still have ways to go, but the above two points helped me a lot.
     
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  17. huw

    huw V.I.P. Member

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    You're looking at it backwards (IMHO).

    Improvisation is like the cherry on top of the cake, but you need to have a cake there in the first place. Work on some real songs. If you have a song, then when it comes to the solo you have something to build on. If you don't have a song, you can end up just wanking over a backing track.

    Well, yeah. Scales aren't music. They're fine for giving you a basic orientation as to where notes are on the fretboard, but the danger is that you end up just playing scales, not playing music.

    You need something else : songs.

    Like Muddy & tzd have said, try playing the other, non-guitar, parts to songs. Learn the melody. Learn the bass line. Learn the chords. Learn the horn parts, the keys etc. [edit - just to be clear - I mean for you to play these parts on the guitar! ;) ]See how they all fit together, and see how playing something that wasn't written on a guitar pushes your fingers into different places. See how a memorable melody doesn't have to use many notes, and doesn't have to fill all the available space.

    If you do all that, then when you finally get around to playing a solo on a song, you will have unconsciously been training your ear as to which notes have been making the sounds that make the song, and that will give you a better chance of not sucking.

    :)
     
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  18. WholeLottaIzzy

    WholeLottaIzzy Senior Member

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    Thanks guys. I had a jam session on Sunday. Despite being somewhat confident on my guitar, as I said, I've been playing nearly seven years, I got up there and sucked. If I'm at home, I play well. But in a live setting, I forget all my licks and I just suck. I think I need a band. I know I need a band. That would help me loads.
     
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  19. WholeLottaIzzy

    WholeLottaIzzy Senior Member

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    I need to listen more. I've had a number of revelations on my playing last few weeks. They are things you hear everywhere. I've heard them before but never acted on them. One example is changing where you pick dramatically changes the tone. I've known this forever but never really tried it. Now, I've realised how much of an effect it actually has. So I'm trying to incorporate it into my playing.

    I had another revelation today. Just a simple thing everyone has heard. Building a solo around one lick. Limiting yourself. I took a single Paul Kossoff lick and built a solo around the notes used in that one lick. I didn't use a single other note. I probably did some of my best improvising with that. It's amazing. Everything seemed to make so much more sense in the solo and it didn't sound like scales. It sounded musical and like I was actually saying something. I got so much milage out of four notes. I didn't think I could do so much with so little.

    You'd think after seven years of playing, I would have realised this by now. This is good. Everything is starting to come together. This time next year, I'm going to be twice the guitarist I am now. I've always known I can be a really good guitarist. I've always been very ambitious. I know exactly what kind of guitarist I want to be and it's exciting that I can see I'm getting closer. Don't get me wrong, I've still got a long way to go, but I can see progress.
     
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  20. JonR

    JonR Senior Member

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    That's one of the best lessons you can learn!
    The more you limit your choice of notes, the more you're forced to be creative in other areas - and they tend to be the most important areas for communicating stuff musically: rhythm, timing, dynamics, tone, etc.
    Listeners respond better too, because they can hear how you're thinking, instead of being blinded with scales or shredding.
    You repeat something simple, to establish an idea; then you develop it, little by little.
    As you've found, it doesn't even have to be your own idea you start with. But what you do with it, where you take it, is something no one else would do.

    And you should find that the space between the notes says as much as the notes do. Any time you find yourself playing without pauses, pretend you're a horn player - you have to take a breath before every phrase, and you can't play anything for longer than you can hold that breath (or exhale it). Another cool thing is to not play the next note you were going to play. Think of something else. Leave a longer gap before the next phrase than you were going to. All this minimalism makes people listen harder, creates suspense.
    It never looks like you've run out of ideas; it always looks as if you're thinking really deeply about what to play next.;)

    No excuses for posting - yet again - my favourite all-time masterclass in phrasing:
    [ame=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bfoDms7i1WU]BUDDY GUY - FIRST TIME I MET THE BLUES - LIVE 1970 - YouTube[/ame]
    - dynamics, space, expressive articulation, stretching time... it's all there. Listen to what he does with one note from 1:14...
    (In fact he's storing up the killer solo for the final chorus...)
     
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