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Thread: Is there a method?

  1. #1
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    Is there a method?

    Is there a method to working solos out on the fly? I have seen players break down a guitar solo and it seems they let the chords become the leader.
    It has been a while since my last lesson, but a lesson I had once where the teacher was giving me an analization of the scales that the guitar player chose over the chords, kind of like chords pointed to it.
    When a professional guitarist is deciding about the solo scale choice, what is going on in his brain. I don't believe they are always improvising and get lucky. Isn't there an approach?

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    Quote Originally Posted by bhindblueeyes View Post
    ... the teacher was giving me an analization
    Dude that's bad - you should never let anyone analize you!!


    But seriously, once you have ben playing (even just jamming with people) for long enough you'll get a number of chops down. You should know what key they are in and therefore which chords they will work over in that given key... the rest of it (from my experience) is ear work - once you are comfortable around the neck your ear will tell you where to go if you aren't sure of the scale/chord that is coming up and you just have to take your time and feel it.
    If you really want to play a billion notes per second then practice your chops but if you are content to play tasty soloes with feel then work on your ear, play to/over everything you possibly can - all styles and speeds... it'll come.

  3. #3
    bitter old fool Jed's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bhindblueeyes View Post
    When a professional guitarist is deciding about the solo scale choice, what is going on in his brain. I don't believe they are always improvising and get lucky. Isn't there an approach?
    Pro guitarists generally think in terms of chords rather than scales, . . so if you know the chords to the song, . . . and you know your chord spellings, . . . and you know what the chords look like in all positions of the neck - then there's no luck involved, . . . it's just craftsmanship.

    Is there an approach? Sure is!

    Work out all the various was you can play any chord in every position . . as either an arpeggio or as a voicing . . the more you commit to memory the easier everything becomes.

    cheers,

    PS: A fast way to learn to play by ear is to study the same stuff - kill two birds with one stone!

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    i think the best guitarists never concern themselves with what the chord is while they are playing. to them it doesn't matter. they also never consider the scales they are using. that doesn't matter either.

    none of the theory is ever a reason to select something to play.


    but, there are chords in a tune. this is true. and those sound a certain way. and that along with other musical things like tempo and rhythm and voicings and all that, will make a musician feel like playing something, and then they play it.

    the chords and all that is what they practiced so that their minds could imagine any sound and they could play it.

    you should be able to hear any kind of lick, and immediately repeat it. you shouldn't need to ask, well what chord is that? or what scale should i use? just hear the sound and repeat the sound. with your voice this should always be pretty easy. with a guitar or other instrument it is not so easy. so you practice scales and all sorts of things, so that it makes it easier for you to accomplish this.

    they are not reasons for doing stuff. just names of things, and patterns so you can play whatever comes to mind.

    in improvising you have very little time to consider scale and chord choice and imagine how all will sound.

    the good improvisers only think exactly what you hear like 2ms earlier or something. which seems instantaneous to them. the sounds out of the instruments are their thoughts. directly. the same as when you speak you do not consider multiple things first, you just speak as your thoughts are thinking. it's the same thing. they just think what they play. i know sometimes somehow i have time to change my mind, and i don't quite understand how that can really be possible, and that can sometimes result in mistakes. but i guarantee you, the best improvisers, know the chords and the scales and stuff, and don't think at all about any of those things while they are playing.

    a scale is not music, it is not a sound on its own even, sure it has a flavour, but there are endless permutations that are possible when you take timing into account for any give scale. you can't decide to first play a scale over a chord, this is not precise information. it will give you a set of limited notes that you could play and have it sound good. but good soloing must be with intent, not so much narrowing down the possible options so anything you do will be ok.

    first the sound the sound is what, the imagining is what. and yes what you imagine can change and become more complex and include more things as you practice. the theory is just the how.

    never the what. you could be making a recipe, all ingredients in it are common and well studied and showup with combinations of all sorts of things in all sorts of recipes. let's say you're building it and almost complete. you wouldn't look at all existing recipes and combinations to find something that will work well. perhaps had you tried all these recipes and knew all their flavours you might have a great idea. a great idea because you imagine the flavour, and then know how to get it. or you might just taste the recipe so far, and realize, oh that needs sugar. you didn't figure out you needed sugar because other recipes use sugar or anything. you jsut know what sugar tastes like and how it affects recipes, and you know how your recipe tastes, so you know you want to add sweetness to it, so sugar.

    in music you hear the sounds and know what you want to add to it. this might be a tune you heard before, a little tribute, or an arpeggio, or some lick that's completely brand new and that uses some notes of a major scale and some from a blues scale. but you don't go about it: " ok i have chord x so i'll play some of scale A and some of scale B"

    you go about it, ok this is sounding like this, and what i feel like playing right now is exactly this, in this moment, not thinking so much about the future, and all the training you did with scales and arpeggios and all that, will let you play exactly what you are thinking.

    but they will never dictate how you play, and you never choose which scales to play in advance. you just play as you feel. full soul. full honesty. what scale it is or what chord is playing, or any of that stuff doesn't matter at all. what matters is what you are hearing, what you know is coming next, and what sound you feel like hearing or how you want to dance in that moment.

    the ideas precede the theory. idea first, theory to show you how to produce that into sound. the ideas come from... well i don't know. where do ideas come from?

    they just come to you.

  5. #5
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    I would like to think more in terms of chords than scales like what was mentioned earlier. I use scales alot but I definately feel something is missing when I approach solos. Should I set the scales down for a while and get more into arpeggios to train myself to think more on chords than scales?

  6. #6
    bitter old fool Jed's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bhindblueeyes View Post
    I would like to think more in terms of chords than scales like what was mentioned earlier. I use scales alot but I definately feel something is missing when I approach solos. Should I set the scales down for a while and get more into arpeggios to train myself to think more on chords than scales?
    Most of modern music is just more variations on a theme. If you want to take the guess work out of your playing - learn to think in terms of chords and you'll quickly see that there's nothing confusing about it. When I say learn to think in terms of chords - it starts with learning the arpeggios - all of them, and learning tons and tons of voicings. You won't just play chord tones, but knowing the chords and knowing the sounds of the various scale tones relative to the chords will provide for you a hand rail that you can grab when you need it. It doesn't mean that you can't play by ear w/ reckless abandon, it does mean that you'll learn how, what and why things sound the way they do.

    Once you understand things in terms of chords, you'll see all that "just play by ear" **** for what it is. It's not playing by ear, it's repeating things that the guitarist has practiced over and over again hundreds of times in practice. You practice to build a vocabulary, then when you improv - you use that vocabulary - one bit here, another bit there, something similar but a little different over there - but it's all stuff that you've practiced at some point in time. The purpose of theory is so that you'll be able to translate your vocabulary into any key at any time. It does no good to be able to play the **** our of G major when the band's singer likes to sing in Bb major.

    I went to an audition a while back, this band doesn't play off charts and doesn't have the music notated anywhere. The other guitarist didn't always know the names of the chords he was playing (self-taught). So i was left sorting everything out in real time - as they played - me playing rhythm and trading solos with the other guitarist. I was able to figure out what the chords where just by listening (after having spent maybe a thousand hours working on chords as arps and voicings).

    I went in cold not having had time to listen to much of their stuff in advance. But since all modern music is pretty similar, I was able to work things out on the fly - play the rhythm parts and/or improv - very much aware of the chords as I heard them. I was pleased to having been able to play without having to slow them down to show me the parts. They were impressed enough to offer me the gig on the spot and cancel the rest of their auditions.

    So is it valuable to study chords and arps? I think so!

    cheers,
    Last edited by Jed; 02-28-2010 at 07:03 AM.

  7. #7
    Registered User Malcolm's Avatar
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    This video and the text that appear on the screen, as he is playing, boils it down nicely.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r0iZ1j00wSU
    Is there a method, well yes, but, let's call it certain tried and true things that will insure our improv will sound good.

    1. Pick a key - he is using the key of C. All white notes. OK to play out, but know you are out and know the way back in.
    2. He uses phrases - notice what is said about two notes close together then a leap of at least a 3rd. String of notes with no breathing room is boring.
    3. Pentatonic runs add value and are safe. If you use the chord's pentatonic and change with the chord changes you will always have 3 chord tones and 2 safe passing notes to gather your melody notes from.
    4. Melody, can not get around melody. Draw from your store of melodic phrases - licks - and weave them into your improvisation.

    Chord tones. Yes. For the melody and the chord used under it to harmonize (sound good) they both should share some of the same notes. It's a chicken or egg thing. Chords first works for me. Think of it this way. What are the other members of the band doing while you have the lead break. They revert to the established chord progression and play chord accompaniment for your solo. Makes since you draw your notes from the chords they are playing. You have two choices; 1) play the established tune or 2) play notes that will sound good with what the other members of the band are doing.

    If there is "A method" it's you gotta improvise a bunch to learn how to improvise. Practice making melodic phrases - just use the good notes, i.e. stay in key and be creative.

    A bass analogy. Most, check that, let's say a lot of bassist end up winging a bass line, i.e. improvising a bass line on the fly for the rest of the band to play over. As long as they stay in key and gather their notes from the chord tones and or scale the song is using --- the beat and the groove become the important thing. The actual notes - if in key - do not have to be that exact as all notes within a specific scale/key will sound OK with each other. Roots, 3's, 5's and 7's worked into a beat/groove hold the band together. My point. More to improvising than just hitting good notes. Course that's step one. A'h yes, technique..... I knew there was something else.
    http://www.studybass.com/lessons/rhythm/about-rhythm/


    Go have fun.
    Last edited by Malcolm; 03-01-2010 at 12:48 PM.

  8. #8
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    That Metal Method guy ( Doug Marks? ) had a great book that was full of short licks that you can memorize and use to learn and expand on them and do variations. Thats a great way to learn. Ive been wondering if its better to not know theory at all to improvise fully freely. Too late now. I already know theory.
    Last edited by AndyPollow; 03-04-2010 at 07:34 PM.

  9. #9
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    knowing theory doesn't mean you can't improvise freely. theory is just the names of stuff. you can use it as directions of what to do, but this will lead to a disconnected less soulful kind of music.

    it is best to do both. know all your theory, and then forget it all and just play as you are inspired with full feeling.

    a computer plays with full theory and no feel. they can get quite good at it too even today, with swing and all sorts of stuff. but it's still not the same. that little extra "soul" is what makes or breaks a great improv in my book. it should be totally honest. totally you, not what theory tells you to do. but theory will help you know your instrument so well that any thought you make can be played immediately on your instrument which is also what you need for full honesty.

  10. #10
    bitter old fool Jed's Avatar
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    I read this the other day and thought it was a great definition / explanation of what theory is and why it's valuable.

    http://www.jsguitarforum.com/forum/s...04&postcount=2

  11. #11
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    ya, i totally agree with that guy.

  12. #12
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    IMO, knowing the chords and scales does one thing.. it gives you the base of notes that will work over what you are playing. thats it. your creativity has to sit on top of that. creativity has nothing to do with the scales or chords but you want your creativity to fit the with the people you are playing with 100% of the time so it is essential. it is your base.

    also IMO the classical (not as in classical music) way of learning is the best. learning the notes of the guitar over the fretboard does many things, including, playing with the chord of the moment, seeing the fretboard not as a series of patterns and boxes but as the smallest unit (octave to octave) and allowing easy use and memorisation of any scale through just the degrees. there are so many more reasons i could state for learning the notes but if you are serious you will research them.

    learning the note names isn't done just for the hell of it, there are real practical reasons why. you kill many birds with the one stone if you do.

  13. #13
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    It is my philosophy that If you want to play like the greats. You need to be able to play what the greats played.

    In other words. Transcribe everything you hear that you like. Learn it backwards. If there are tricky bits or licks and phrases that stand out to you in a positive way. Spend extra time breaking it down. Learn it in various positions, various keys ect... fast / slow.. alter the timing.

    For me this is the most important aspect to building a practical musical vocabulary, for improvisation. Once you put sufficient effort into absorbing a new musical idea it will soak into your playing.

    So that is part 1 of 'the secret of being a great improviser'. Historically great players had no other way to learn than to copy the players of their time. Copy/Paste/Deconstruct/Invent.....

    One can go along way by this method alone. However, Studying chord scale relationships.. Inversions Voicing's Transposition ect.. all has its place when it comes to developing a deeper understanding of what it is that you have just Transcribed.

    There is no 'luck' involved at all. You will likely get the best results if you begin by learning how certain tones of different scales relate to chords. After a while you will start to see or simply know intuitively when to hit certain notes on your instrument to create desired effects. This comes with experience and persistence. So never give up. If you work on something consistently for long enough you will eventually get very good at it. Depending on what it is... The time required could be anywhere from 5 mins a day for 5 days to 5 hours a day for 5 years.

    You will hit walls. Find yourself asking questions that you cannot answer. Solutions to this are spending time with more experienced players and or persisting. Both will yeild results eventually.

    As for ' what is going on inside a professionals head ' .... well, in most cases its probably more along the lines of " gee that chick in the back row is a hotty " than " Gb F D E "

    Once upon a time I thought these great improvisers must have super powered brains to be able to play over something like Giant Steps at such blistering speeds. " how on earth can they be following the chord changes that fast "... Now, its clear to me that they are not thinking about the chord changes at all. They simply practised scales and melodies and of course, that tune, enough that they can get up on stage and just PLAY! Forgetting everything they were practising and just going with the intuitive approach.

    If you play a C maj scale over a C bass line enough. You will get to the point where you can improvise competently without thinking about the notes or the shapes of that chord.

    Now.. Apply that to every possible chord and combination of chord progressions Then you are home free !

    ps- sorry for the rant.

  14. #14
    IbreatheMusic Author ChrisJ's Avatar
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    There is basically two approaches to soloing and most good improvisers meet somewhere between the two. Whether you know theory or not, doesn't change anything. Theory is like grammar to a language, you don't necessarily have to know it to make an articulate statement, but it sure will give you options and ways to categorize concepts.

    Anyways, let's start with what I would call the classical system. First you'll have to understand that chords come from a key, and a "key" is really another way of saying scale, and western music is for the most part based on the major scale. You can't get away from it really. The seven note major scale produces chords. Some French guys figured it out 700 years ago that if you stack every other note, you get a triad.

    C major: C-D-E-F-G-A-B, and if you take the first, 3rd and 5th note you get a C-E-G chord. This is a C chord. All the chords look like this:

    C-Dmin-Emin-F-G-Amin-Bdim

    Think of Pachabel's Cannon or Let it Be, we've been making music from this system for centuries. Anyways, if you make a progression from these chords you can play a C major scale over the progression and it will work (somewhat).

    More here: http://chrisjuergensen.com/the_major_scale.htm

    There are a few more things that need to be paid attention to if you want the solo to be decent:

    1. You have to play chord tones on the strong beats a majority of the time. In other words, if your first chord is the C chord, it is best to start on a C, E or G note, The other notes work fine on the off beats. More here: http://chrisjuergensen.com/chord_tones.htm

    2. You need a motif of some sort. A motif is generally something that repeats rhythmically. For example's sake, maybe three quarter notes followed by four 16th notes, repeated for a few bars at a time.

    3. Presentation skills. You need a voice, meaning you have to play the notes like you mean it. Bending, vibrato, sliding for example.

    4. A story line. The solo should build and resolve. Tension/release.

    Some musicians will improvise with more emphasis on arpeggios. This is fine too and is all chord tones so you have no possibility of playing a note that doesn't work as long as you are lining up the arpeggios to the proper chords.

    More here: http://chrisjuergensen.com/arpeggios.htm

    As I said, the best soloists meet in the middle and should be skilled at both approaches. Both have strong and weak points.

    This is what I call the classic approach to improv but Blues also plays a very large part in popular music. Blues is somewhat based on the same system, meaning it is based on the diatonic system but it takes the 1st, 4th and 5th chord and makes them dominant. The seven note scale is not the main tool for improv, the major and minor pentatonic scales are. More here: http://chrisjuergensen.com/playing_the_blues.htm

    Generally modern solos are for the most part a combination of these three points (scales, arpeggios and blues). Depending on the genre, one is usually dominant over the other two but one without the other two is pretty boring.

  15. #15
    JazzNerd gersdal's Avatar
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    Great info Chris, Thanks!

    Gerhard

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