Don’t fear improvisation is near. Part 2

So, back to my blog with the dumb title about improvisation! ….Since we last spoke I’ll assume that you found yourself a backing track and started having a go at tying simple melodic and musical ideas together to make beautiful sounds on your axe! If you did that for a while and found that, like so many people before you, you started running out of ideas and repeating yourself, then here’s some ideas to take it to the next level.


Learning guitar solos.

So here’s the best place to start, learning other people’s guitar solos. Like so many other pursuits in life one of the best ways to improve is to learn from the best. The great writers of the world didn’t write their first book without having read the classic novels from the past, just like great songwriters all learnt how to play the songs of others before writing their own. In short, to build your own musical sentences you need the musical vocabulary to do so.

Learning by ear.

This can be a tough ask if you’re just starting out. Trying to imitate and find the exact pitch of the notes of a solo can seem like a task that’s beyond difficult for a lot of students, especially if they don’t have a naturally good ear to begin with. But, if you have the key of the song or knowledge of what scale is being used you may be able to pick up a little lick here or there.

Learning from transcription

There are generally a few solos I refer students to when they are learning how to improvise. The sheet music or transcriptions can be found all over the place, the internet is obviously a treasure trove of lessons, a Google search too will lead to books to buy, which is generally my preferred method as the internet is awash with incorrectly transcribed music. ‘Sultans Of Swing’, ‘Shook Me All Night are great for rock, ‘Texas Flood’ by Stevie Ray Vaughn for blues, anything from the Miles Davis ‘Kind Of Blue’ album is great for jazz and incidentally has no guitar on the whole album, which leads me to my final point. It doesn’t need to be guitar solo, feel free to learn a solo from any other instrument, saxophone, trumpet or piano, it makes things interesting and in the long run will help develop a more unique sound and ‘voice’ to your playing.

Ok, as I write this I’m thinking that possibly a third instalment needs to be written on this subject……mmm. Chat soon.


Don’t fear cause improvisation is near.

Dave Gilmour Guitar improvising guitar lessons

Improvisation, when first attempted can seem like a daunting task, but it doesn’t need to be. The best piece of advice I was ever given when I first started attempting solos during my guitar lessons was to adopt the KISS principle, that is, keep it simple stupid.

Many of what are to considered to be classic guitar solos of the last 40 years are often a simple collection of note and lick ideas played in varying combinations over simple chord progressions, think ‘Sunshine Of Your Love’ by Clapton or more recently ‘Gravity’ by John Mayer.

There are a variety of ways to begin the ongoing and never ending learning process of improvising. My suggestion is to start by using a backing track that consists of maybe two or three chords. A simple ’12 bar blues’ backing from YouTube will work well, as would a two-chord vamp, say a D minor to G7. I’ll assume in writing this that anyone reading and wanting to attempt improvisation has at least the Pentatonic minor scale under their belt, or the first major scale shape. If it’s a Dminor to G7 chord the C major shape will work well, if it’s a blues in G, a G pentatonic scale will work nicely.

The thing to remember when starting out here is that there is no need to play a complicated series of passages to make beautiful music, in fact the opposite is true. Playing a simple lick idea of only two notes, on the same string, can actually sound incredibly soulful and pleasing to the listener. It really is as simple as that, hit play on the backing track, find two to three notes that sound ‘sweet’ over the chords and be as creative as you can.

The real challenge with improvisation is in discovering the music that you can hear and feel inside you and producing that on the fretboard. Don’t be afraid to close your eyes when you first start, it can actually help focus your attention on the music you’re making.

More on improvising next week, and possibly the week after and possibly the week after that. So much to talk about with this subject.

And a little more about practice, in between guitar lessons!

Guitarist performing

So how’s that guitar practice going? If you find you’re 6-12 months into playing and have realised that you’ve found your calling in life and you’re destiny lies in at the very least being a bedroom rock star or at the most one day filling stadiums with your god given brilliance, then I recommend you begin to develop a bit of a routine when practising. Don’t be afraid to go as far as to write down all bases that you want to touch on for that session.

The obvious place to start is to tune up…….or not. If you feel you better express yourself on out of tune guitar then don’t let me stop you, you may need to break that habit down the track though. Secondly, I strongly recommend doing 10 – 15 minutes of finger exercises, here’s a little ink to a great beginner finger exercise I put up on YouTube Doing this does tend be a great preparation in that it will make whatever you’re practising thereafter a lot easier, kind of like a professional sportsperson having a short jog before competing. Practicing with a metronome is also strongly recommended particularly when doing your finger exercises, I could and possibly will write a whole 129 page blog on why a metronome is important!

The next part, the ‘guts’ of your practice routine is what you really want to do most, or improve most at. If you’re wanting to improve your soloing then probably best to work on your scales, or a guitar solo that you’re trying to nail. Or if you’re really wanting to work on your rhythm playing spend your time strumming away on that. This part of the practise is usually what I enjoy most.

In my teens, particularly on weekends, I would practise sometimes ten hours a day, just walking around the house with my guitar in my hands…all day long (admittedly I had no life outside of guitar) I did learn though that practise really does make perfect and there’s no short cuts or substitutes for hard work, so go on, get woodshedding!!

Until next week, keep practicing and of course, never give up!

Best approaches for a beginner to practicing.

One piece of advice I give to all my students, whether they ask me or not, is how best to approach to practicing at home in between weekly lessons. I’ve learnt that from years and years of practise myself and also feedback from hundreds of students, that when you’re starting out don’t treat guitar practise like you would treat going to the gym, that is in one hour chunks that you have to take out of your day that are a kind of inconvenience to you, but rather in brief 5 -20 minute spurts across your day, much like reading a book or browsing the internet. To look at it another way, you don’t want guitar practise to be a chore that requires motivation and willpower. You really want it to be enjoyable experience that actually becomes a healthy low-level addiction where you always kind of look forward to picking up the instrument and noodling around on it.

Here’s an approach that I suggest you do to avoid general practice malaise! When arriving home from your lesson don’t place your guitar in a cupboard or under your bed, but rather keep the guitar sitting out in a room that you spend most of your time in, let’s say the lounge room. That way there will be more of a tendency to pick it up and noodle around on it while you’re watching TV, or reading a book or doing whatever. Even if you only pick it up for 5-10 minutes at a time, when done a few times per day/night that can add up to 15 – 30 minutes practice per day, multiply that by 5-7 times a week and it adds up to a very sufficient week of practice indeed.

Let me know how you go with that approach guys! More blogs in the works!…chat soon.