Aug 13, 2008

The Secrets To Improvising Pt. 1

I frequent a lot of internet guitar sites, and am quite a fan of guitar forums, particularly the lessons or musical education sections. I really enjoy helping people with their musical roadblocks, but I've been seriously bothered because one of the most common questions that I see, is "how do I get better at improvising?".

Improvisational playing is my ultimate passion. In fact, almost 99% of the time, when I am recording a guitar solo, even if it is a solo that is challenging on a technical level, like a heavy metal guitar solo, I always improvise it and use the first take. I occasionally construct a solo from scratch, but I have always felt more comfortable doing it by the seat of my pants.

So its not just me, this is something that plagues people. Unfortunately everyone is being spoon-fed, some really awful advice. I can solo over anything, and I'm not trying to sound arrogant, but its my specialty. Some guys strive to be the fastest player on earth, I strive to be the most diverse.

If you are questioning my skills, then you might want to check out the My Music tab at the top of this page, where you will find a video entitled A Sleek Black Cat, which is an improvisation. Its not my best work, but it was still fun to play.

So that all being said, here's how I do it.

Scales and Modes
Scales and modes are NOT the secret to learning the art of improvisational playing or even learning how to solo. This is something that newer guitarists are going to have to learn one way or another. Better now than later, when it becomes more difficult. Modes are fantastic for introducing foreign sounds to a "green" ear, if you will. They are also excellent as exercises, and make great ear training tools, but they are not the on secret by far. They do help, but don't put all of your eggs in one basket.

The Real Secret
Imagine that for some reason, you didn't know, nor could identify a single note on the fretboard. When I say that, I mean by name. Lets also say that you had never even heard of a fret before, and how no idea what it was. Could you still be able to shred guitar with the best of them? of course, and why is that? what is the real secret?

The Binaural Library
When I first started playing guitar, I knew quite a few obscure chords and passages, but I did not know them by name. I even knew the G chord formation, but I did not know that was what it was called. I did not know a single scale or mode for 2-3 years, and yet I could solo over anything. How? because I had trained my ear. You don't need to know anything. The only thing that you do need to do is build your binaural library. Can I define that? certainly. You should be able to look at any fret on the fretboard of your guitar, and immediately know what its going to sound like, or at least be able to give a ball park guess.

Musical Landmarks
Here's a great approach that can help you get started. Work on finding the octaves of all of the notes. It just takes a few minutes to figure out, and a little at a time. These octaves will act as your fretboard road map. If you are soloing over a G chord, and you feel like you are starting to go out of key, or feel yourself getting lost, your safe zone will always be any G note. Again, even if you don't know the notes by name, with a little training, your ears can certainly find them by sound. The notes in between your root note and your octave are your canvas.

You don't have to have the most amazing technique to enjoy or create great music. It does help, however, if you can play somewhat fast guitar licks. I say this for you. Its not like anyone else really cares whether or not you are playing something fast or not, but unlocking a little bit of speed does help elevate your playing so that you can actually play the passages that you hear in your head. Don't make speed development or any one technique your main mission, but a little here and there and you'll get it.

That's all for now. Tomorrow will be part part 2, and I'll actually slow things down and demonstrate the process of improvising, by way of a nice, new video. I can't really show you this stuff through text, but everything that I have said above stands absolutely true, and I will definitely be quoting it tomorrow in the video. Stay tuned for that, because I'll show you some other secrets. If you think that improvising is just for Jazz musicians, then you are way off. If you are interested in creating your own amazing guitar solos, then I'm showing you how to get started. Have an awesome day and keep jammin'!

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