Guitar - General/Guitar Improvisation

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Question
Hi,
I'm an intermediate guitar player and feel like I'm stuck in a rut regarding improvistion. I've learned the scales (Major Scale, Minor Scales (Melodic/Harmonic) and Pentatnoic) but seem to only be able to improvise using the pentatonic scale.

Any tips for improvisation other than using scales?

Gil

Answer
It helps to look at it for what it is, then determine how you want to go about performing it. Improvising is essentially a process of composing music on the spot. You can just go for it or you can analyze the process. You can also do both, which is more likely to lead to ideal results.

From one perspective, it can be approached without becoming bogged down by the inner workings, in other words, to just let it happen. That might also be easier said than done. Then again, with a lot of practice, even the most unpleasant sounds could eventually evolve into some interesting music, if that's your intention.

From another perspective, improvisation can be approached by digging into the elements, gaining an understanding of how every aspect of the process works, then take it one step at a time. With this approach, take a deeper look at the options available to you and commit them to memory, gradually becoming more familiar and comfortable with each step until you can combine them and transition from the mechanics to a natural flow of musical expression.

Experiment with different ways of applying rhythm, tempo, dynamics, and tone. Don't worry about pitches right now, just pick one note, like the 1st scale degree. Focus on one element at a time, then combine them.

Introduce another note, like the 4th or 5th, the 3rd or 7th, or the 2nd or 6th, but for the time being only focus on two notes. If you can practice on top of a backing track with bass, then listen for the relationship between what the bass plays and what you play. Gradually introduce more notes. Mix things up a bit. Remember to include variations in rhythm and dynamics, as well as other elements.

At some point, you will become more comfortable with the process of developing ideas for melodies. As you become more familiar with the way the notes you play interact with other instruments, you can begin exploring harmonies. You can also perform two or more notes simultaneously to pull off the effect alone.

An important part of this process is understanding the form, or structure of the music that you will be performing. The different sections, from beginning to end. Consider what you'd like to do during each section. Be sure to listen to other instruments if performing with others. Always listen.

Also, study up on the tonalities, the keys, the changes (chord progressions), the main melody or melodies that might already exist within a song or piece of music. Use ideas already applied elsewhere and develop them. Think theme and variations. If you come up with a great idea, consider repeating it, temporarily modulating it, reversing it, inverting it, expanding or diminishing the rhythmic value, altering the rhythmic style, slowing it down or speeding it up, extending it or focusing on only a fragment of it, inserting pauses between notes or sustaining certain notes, altering the articulation, playing with the dynamics through gradual or sudden and exaggerated changes. The list goes on. The possibilities are endless.

If it is easy to feel overwhelmed by the options, start with the elements that you enjoy the most.

Keep it simple.

It will develop.

Best of luck!  

Guitar - General

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