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Thread: how the **** do you improvise?

  1. #1
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Mar 2007

    how the **** do you improvise?

    i understand the whole theory behind chords and scales and progression crap, but i cant make anything tasteful out of it all. it sounds like meandering crap
    how do you go about improvising?

    thanks a lot for any advice.

  2. #2
    realizing dreams
    Join Date
    Oct 2005
    Just try hearing a nice melodie over a chord progression and then analize it, play it in different positions etc...also analize your favorite pieces...short answer, I'm tired...and use the search function
    Last edited by Padawan; 03-19-2007 at 02:35 AM.

  3. #3
    chewing bubble gum Chim_Chim's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2002
    I doubt you know the whole theory.There's always more to learn.But theory is only one piece of the puzzle.Theory doesn't tell you how theory is used in real life music.You need many different real life examples from many different real life styles of music to start to get a handle on how different styles use theory or sort of just make their own road and go off road.Theory at one point in time may have been more akin to a roadmap or a even a road but in the modern era there's alot more driving off road and charting new territory and so the only way to learn that is through real study of modern styles to see where the new language was invented.This doesn't necessarilly have to be a difficult task as much of it involves basic styles.If you are more ambitious then there are more advanced styles to study but first learn from all of the easy stuff.Better to tackle the mole hills before trying to tackle the mountains.
    Some days I seem to do OK. Other days I feel like just shoving an M-80 right up my guitar's butt.

  4. #4
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Feb 2005
    One excellent advice is to maintain a strong and steady rhythmical approach. Even if you choose a selection of random notes, there is always a certain probability that it will sound allright. I was never the master improviser, definitely not with exotic scales, but I was able to pull of a few phrases on the fly using the Pentatonic minor scale. I think the reasons for this were that I had been listening to a lot of classic rock music - which I enjoyed greatly - so I had an idea of the sound in mind, as well as practicing the Pentatonic minor scale intensely and eventually I learned more in-depth chord/scale theory (I was able to improvise to a certain extent before I knew much theory at all, however).

    You could start by picking one scale, record a chord progression, and play any note which fits within the chosen scale. It may sound boring as you start out, but you'll develop your style as you move on. Just get to know the scale first, and take it from there.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Dec 2006
    London, England
    What sort of music/style are you trying to improvise? If you’re talking about Jazz or Shred then I have nothing to say.

    But if you’re talking about blues or blues-based rock, then I think it’s essential to learn at least a few classic solos note-for-note. That may not sound like “improvisation”, but in fact imho so-called “improvisation” usually relies quite heavily on already having a pretty solid foundation of thoroughly learned licks & phrases - the “improvisation” comes from using those licks & phrases and making your own variations, eg by playing only fragments of the lick, or by altering some of the notes, or by altering the timing between some notes.

    In other words, improvisation isn’t entirely random. It’s not just playing random notes from within the scale/key. Instead, “improvisation” usually relies on adapting various well known licks & phrases.

    Imho. the classic example is the early 1960’s material from Clapton. That influenced a whole generation of players. Those licks are mostly from the pentatonic scales, & in Clapton’s case they were mostly spiced up by frequently combining both major & minor pentatonic scales & also using the blue notes (b5) all within the same lick. Hideaway is the classic example and is a “must know” song for serious blues players…learning that will give you dozens of classic blues licks & a gold-mine of ideas for your own improvisation. 2-cents & YMMV of course.


  6. #6
    Artistically Bankrupt
    Join Date
    Oct 2006
    Crossroads touched on a salient point.

    If improvisation does not rely heavily on pre-memorized phrasings and licks, then it is pretty remarkable how many people who play *insert genre here* have such amazingly similar off-the-cuff inspiration. Beats the Hell out of the odds, really.

    Of course the fact that we can identify style means that we know there were specific influences and that there are commonly used riffs/licks involved. We all like to imagine that improv is purely melody-from-whole-cloth, but that is an absurdity.
    "If a child learns which is jay and which is sparrow, he'll no longer see birds nor hear them sing."

  7. #7
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Nov 2006
    agree with Crossroads. the best way to learn music and theory for me is to play what I listen to. For me rock and Metal, but the whole point is, and I'll use this example, Metallica's fade to black intro in G, I got the tabs to the song, recorded on a standard tape player me playin the acoustic intro. then I replay it and put the electric guitar solo against the recorded intro acoustic, by doin this I was able to carefully study what Kirk was doin over these chords, and after only about 2 hours of playin his exact version over and over, i started to memorize all the notes, and started playin different notes out of order from the original, wow it helps

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Dec 2006
    London, England
    Well, that famous unison bend lick from Johnny B. Goode must have appeared in the repertoire of almost every rock & blues guitarist ever since Chuck Berry recorded it waaaay back in 1956! It’s a good one though,.. lol!



  9. #9
    Communication Breakdown
    Join Date
    Mar 2007
    egypt, cairo
    ok, look, i dont know music theory, i barely know any scales, all i got down was the shape of the scales. yet, i improvise alot, actually, thats all i do, and its oing to change soon cuzz im not getting anywhere, but basically, all you need to do to improvise is to just let it come by ear and whatever you feel, just make sure you know that shape, and youll be hitting the right notes, thats what i do.

  10. #10
    Detroit VidKid's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2004
    FWIW, starting improv is tough. Old Brit blues stuff is always a good starting point for acquiring tasteful pents and stock licks. Slowing down licks with software like Transcribe helps the process and is good ear training. Memorization of entire solos with proper phrasing is a must.

    Next you may want to move on to Dorian mode which adds the 6th and 9th. Try to avoid obvious stepwise motion by first learning your basic arp extentions like mi7, mi9 then add the mi6 and sus(4th) arps, These will get your playing more away from blues/pents and leaning towards shredding and jazz. Learn the various cliché diatonic digital patterns like 1,2,3,4…2,3,4,5…1,3,5…2,4,6… There’s tons of pattern books available. They’re boring to learn, but helps develop technique and your sweeps. Work on the Goal Tone concept by thinking basic triad notes to start/end, other than the root. (3rd,5th,6th,9th ect.)

    If you know theory, you can use diatonic arps over basic Am Dorian Ex .Gma7, Bm7, Cmaj7, D7, Em7, F#dim Use upper/lower neighbor tones for each scale tone will also add interest. Learn the diatonic internals on each scale tone 3rd,4th,5th,6th,7th, octaves. There’s tons more material to learn in this area, but you get the idea.

    Start to begin to think in terms of phrasing over technique. This level of playing is usually overlooked by some players, but is the key to developing a style.
    Practice phrasing by controlling the lengths of each phrase.
    The 3 cats are short (1-4 beats), med (5-12 beats) long (12+) The goal is to become familiar with playing consecutive phrases by varying the 3 cats.

    1 short , 1 med
    1 short, 1 long
    1 long, 2 short
    2 short, 1 long

    Density and Range. Vary the amount of notes with each phrase with either lots or fewer/more notes in a tight range, then play next phrase with fewer/more notes in a wider range.

    Use accents, dynamics, syncopation, swing 8ths, motives etc.

    Learn the various minor modes and Harmonic #1, Jazz minor over a static minor chord. Obviously you have to start moving the tonal center and work on cadences that use another set of alt scales like Super Locrian, Harmonic #5, and symmetrical scales like WT, Diminished, Tritone, Augmented etc.

    You have to begin to think in terms of theory, chords, triads, goal tones etc. than just the basic stuff you have been repeating over the last 3-4 years or so. Learn something new... and you have to build slowly with simple chord progressions. Jamey Aebersold books might help. You can learn to play from just recordings, but theory should help unlock basic concepts and you seem to have a good start. Just need some improv tools.

    Obviously, this is just a small sample of things you may want to work on. It’s best to have some sort of structured practice scheduled for each section. It’s slow at first and it takes time and a conscious effort to develop more advance concepts into your playing. A good instructor, college courses, video, jazz/pattern books will help also. I’m sure other members will add to this list and offer better advice. There are tons of posts on IBM which cover this material also.

    I hope this helps,
    Last edited by VidKid; 03-26-2007 at 05:17 AM.
    Yesterday's dissonance is today's consonance, while today's atonal is tomorrow's consonance-Liebman

  11. #11
    Registered User Revenant's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2006
    What vidkid said: the 3rds and especially 5ths are good to land on. Think chord tones and land on the chord tones of the chord you're currently backed by. Passing tones add flavour too: squeeze in the notes between strong intervals and you sound original. As long as you start and land on strong intervals, you can do most anything inbetween.
    The Young Apprentice

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