How to Create Lots of Material for Improvisation
Essential skills you need to know
Every guitarist wants to learn to solo effectively. Listen to guys like Jimmy Page, Angus Young, or Paul Gilbert.They can make it sound so EASY! And, it can be! Improvising on the fly in a band setting is one of the most important skills you can have in your toolkit as a musician. Playing around, and in front of others, and being in a social setting is an important factor in examining what works, what doesn’t, and how to improve. But, before you can do that, you need material in which to play!
Common Issues with Improvisation:
You want to learn how to write exciting solos but don’t know where to start. You already have your trusty go-to licks, and you can play them in every key, or most of them. You may have issues executing them quickly. You struggle to find your licks fast enough, or lose accuracy when trying to grab at them. Or, the licks you have don’t sound good over what’s happening in the music. It doesn’t make sense, sounds strange, or not saying what it is you really want to say.
Other common issues I hear often from students are:
- “My licks all sound the same”
- “I’m not sure what scale to play”
- “I don’t really know what to do”
- “I don’t know how to start”
- “I know how to start, but I get lost”
- “I’ve hit a wall”
- “How do you make lines that connect”
Understand your goals:
The most important step to understand is what it is exactly you are trying to achieve. For the purpose of this article, our goal will be:
Create 10 lines/licks that can then be further treated to create endless variations
When practicing this, nothing else should be addressed, edited, or judged. You are only trying to create base level ideas to further refine and edit later. Yes, later! You are only to practice creating material for improvisation. Other concepts can be addressed before and after this particular session.
Simplify The Problem:
To create your ideas, pick a chord you know very well, and record yourself playing it for 5 minutes, in time. Tempo can be any speed you choose, along with tone. Just keep in mind the purpose for doing this.
After you have created your custom “backing track”. Record yourself improvising over it for 5 minutes. Do not stop to correct, do not edit, to not try to play the same line more than once. Just play, without judgement, and without editing.
Examine your Playing:
With your finished recording, you have “raw” materials for improvisation. Now, listen back to your recording, and find fragments of ideas you like (you will be surprised!) that you played while improvising. Try to find at least ten. Students find just simply writing down the “time code” of where each lick is, helps finding them again and again.
You have your ideas marked, now you need to transcribe them yourself. You can write them out (I highly advise writing everything out), or use tab, or just chart it own any way that will be legible over time. Don’t count on your memory. In a month, you simply will not remember this with as much detail as you do at this moment. It must be written down, and written down with as much accuracy as you can manage. Make numbers 1 through 10, and write out each one.
Practice Each of These Licks:
- Pop your practice recording back on, and fire away with playing each of these 10 licks. While playing these, focus on accuracy, making them sound very clean and with exactly the same phrasing each and every time.
- Repeat the process, this time adding variations on your licks, with bends, vibrato, slides, hammer on’s, pull-offs, diminution, augmentation, inversion, enclosures, etc.
After doing this, you will have literally thousands of melodic ideas. So many, that it’s almost hard to believe you could get so much from only 10 licks you improvised, and probably didn’t even really like.
Play In Real World Situations:
Below are some examples that I recorded, and transcribed, using just A minor, played in quarter notes, as a backing track. I then went back, listened to the recording, and came up with these 10. You can create your own in any key, any scale, over any chord.
Advantages of Practicing This Way:
- You are examining your own playing, and refining it. You are not re-using your well worn licks
- Creating a body of work you can revisit, and edit
- Anytime you are playing, you know you have put the time in to play lots of material freely, and without struggling to draw out ideas
Where To Go From Here:
- Devote practice time to developing ideas based on the chord changes typical to the music you like
- Listen to players you like, carefully paying attention to note choices when and if the chords or key changes
- Limit your lick creation to uncomfortable positions on the neck where you struggle to “find” notes when improvising
- Create more lines by improvising over chord changes that are NOT typical
Thanks for reading! If you have any questions, feel free to comment, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org!