To be a great guitar improviser, you’ll need to play ideas that:
– Integrate smoothly with other musical ideas in your solo
– Express everything you want them to express
Many guitarists can’t improvise well because they only try to play fast rather than play with excellent musical phrasing… Generally, their fingers move so fast that their brain can’t follow. This makes it very difficult to think creatively during a solo, and the music suffers as a whole.
Here is a major secret that most guitar players are unaware of:
Simply thinking faster will not make you better at improvising. Instead, you need to think about these things:
1. Finding ways to get more time to think during your solos. (you can do this while playing fast too)
2. Greatly reduce the number of things you have to think about as you improvise. This way you can clearly express yourself while making better musical choices.
These five tips will help strengthen your improvisation skills:
Guitar Improvising Tip One. Prepare For Success
A lot of guitar players take too long to start thinking about what to play next. They often wait until the very last moment (usually on the last note of the lick they are playing). This doesn’t give you much time to think about what to play next. It’s much better to think about this at an earlier moment.
Here’s an example: If you improvise a lick that is six notes long (Phrase A), do NOT wait until note 5 or 6 to think about what you want to play next (Phrase B). You should start thinking about what to play in the next phrase as soon as you start playing the first one (Phrase A)
Begin playing Phrase A on autopilot and start focusing your thoughts on what you want to play in Phrase B.
Guitar Improvising Tip Two. Utilize Silence
Need more time to think about what should come next in your solo? Simply allow for a few seconds of silence to pass between your licks. That’s right. Just stop playing entirely for a few moments.
Guitar solos are not made up of notes 100% of the time. To improvise well, you need to use a sense of balance. This applies to consonance/dissonance, tension/release/ loud/soft, sound/no sound, etc. This is what will help you express different emotions and get your listeners to connect with your playing.
Silence is an extremely powerful tool for your guitar solos, because people expect to hear something in your solos… but when they hear nothing, they are caught off guard and tension is built.
Warning: This approach can be easily overused (rendering it ineffective), so make sure that you do not insert too much silence by using good general balance in your phrasing.
Guitar Improvising Tip Three. Know How To Practice To Become A Better Improviser
To get better at improvising, you need to practice it… not just solo mindlessly over backing tracks.
To do this, come up with particular goals that you want to achieve with your practice time. The goals you choose will be based on your personal lead guitar playing skill level. An excellent guitar teacher helps you pinpoint any issues in your playing so you can achieve your musical goals and improvise at a high level.
For instance, these are a few improvising goals:
– Work on improvising while using the third, fourth and fifth positions of the Melodic minor scale.
– Create 25 – 30 different variations while soloing over a backing track within just a few minutes’ time.
– Start and end the phrases of your licks on consonant notes (these are notes within the chord you are soloing over).
– Master a particular type of non-chord tone and start making guitar licks that use it. (Example: passing tones.)
To get better at improvising, your musical goals have to be very specific. You need to know as soon as you’ve achieved your goal, and the more specific you can be about your goal, the quicker you will be able to achieve it.
Guitar Improvising Tip Four. Get More Value From Each Phrase
A lot of guitarists play a phrase one time and then immediately move onto something else. They repeat this approach throughout the entire solo. This is very challenging for your brain. It also makes playing guitar with a lot of emotion very difficult.
Here is what to do instead: Make tons of variations of every guitar lick you improvise. This increases the amount of time you have to think about the next lick, helps you play each guitar lick with much better phrasing possible and forces you to play with more creativity.
Use these ideas to think of different guitar phrasing variations:
– Repeat the phrase many times while using new rhythms each time (have all the pitches stay the same).
– Repeat the phrase and change the pitches only (while keeping the rhythm the same).
– Change the rhythm for some of the pitches but not others.
– Use vibrato in different ways.
– Use new phrasing ornaments such as slides, hammer-ons or pull-offs.
– Use scale sequencing. This requires solid fretboard visualization skills.
Guitar Improvising Tip Five. Take-In The Backing Track Before Playing
Before you begin improvising over a backing track, let it play for a few moments. This will help you because:
1. You get a good feel for how fast the chords of the song/track are changing, which chords are being used and how the music feels in general. This gets you ready so you can make good musical choices during your improvisation.
2. The listener generally wants to hear a little bit of the backing track too before the solo begins.
This is a basic tip, but it will help you improvise much better.
Use the tips I’ve discussed here to quickly improve your lead guitar playing and reach your improvising goals.