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Improvising 101 - Lesson
im·pro·vised, im·pro·vis·ing, im·pro·vis·es
1. To invent, compose, or perform with little or no
We've all done it in our every day lives as we adjust to life's unexpected
predicaments. For the beginning guitarists, the entire process of improvising
musically can be somewhat of a mystery. The ability to conjure up melodies,
harmonies and rhythms out of seemingly thin air is the fine art form known as
2. To play or sing (music) extemporaneously, especially by
inventing variations on a melody or creating new melodies in accordance with a
set progression of chords.
3. To make or provide from available
materials: improvised a dinner from what I found in the
Lyle: The lessons in this series are designed for
all guitarists who want to learn this wonderful art form, no matter what skill
level, beginner, intermediate and advanced. Improvising techniques explored in
this series include Theme and Variation, Question and Answer, Random Access,
Compositional Flow, the use of Modes and Arpeggios and more!
Lyle: In this lesson, you'll be practicing the
basics of improvisation (improv) in the key of E minor. Here's a couple of jams
track you can use for this
For starters, you'll need to know where all the E notes are on your fretboard.
Learn to play these against the jam track. Try to be as accurate as you can when
jumping to the next E note.
Lyle: Did you know you could improvise an entire
solo with just one note? Try playing a single E note with different rhythms and
vibrato against one of the jam tracks. Here's an example:
Now try playing all of the E notes on the guitar. You can play them in any order
you want. Here's my example:
Now you'll use notes from the E minor pentatonic scale at the 12th fret. The E
minor pentatonic scale is made up of 5 notes: E - G - A - B - D. They happen to
be the 1-b3-4-5-b7 of the E major scale. Learn this pattern now:
For your next solo, you'll improvise by playing just the E notes from the E
minor pentatonic scale pattern you just learned. Here's an example:
Now you try coming up with your own little solo by just playing these 3 E notes
from the pattern. There are countless ways to arrange the order and rhythms. In
my example in solo 3, I went from low to high to start out. You can try mixing
Lyle: Next you'll use all
the notes of the E minor pentatonic scale to improvise with. In this next
example, I start from the lowest note, E, and climb the entire scale pattern
while I change the rhythms slightly as I near the end of the pattern.
The Blue notes are the highlighted notes, these will be the root notes, in this
TELEDUDE: Lyle, when soloing in E, where else can I solo
as like a bar chord instead of on the 12th fret, I always solo on the 12th fret
in E but I need new places to play on the neck?
Lyle: Teledude, You can use any E minor
pentatonic patterns on the neck. Right now let's focus on this
Lyle: "Variations on a Theme" is another way to
improvise. This next solo is like a backwards variation of solo 4:
Let's look at another theme and variation lick. First you'll learn a simple lick
using just 3 notes from the E minor pentatonic:
Take those same 3 notes and play them in a different order like this example:
Another technique you can use to help improvise with is sometimes called
"Question and Answer". You'll play a simple lick that might have an unresolved
sound to it. If you finish the lick on most any note besides the E, which is the
root note in this case, you'll get that unresolved sound.
this next example you'll play a simple lick 2 times, both times ending on the b3
(G) of the E minor pentatonic scale. This will be your "question" lick. Then you
reverse it for the "answer" part of the lick.
What many guitar players have done over the years is to learn solos lick by lick
from their favorite guitarists. When they go to improvise over their own jams,
they take those licks they have learned and mix them up into their own style.
Let's learn 3 simple licks and then we'll mix them up our own way. Here's lick
1, 2 and 3:
I'm just using the E minor pentatonic because it's easy to work with for these
Lyle: First learn to play these 3 licks together
in order like this:
Here's what it would sound like if we reversed the order of the 3 licks:
You can play these 3 licks in any order with the jam track. Insert or make up a
lick of your own to the 3 licks here and put them together.
ZZ: Can I play
this in the first position as well?
Lyle: Sure. Here's another theme and variation
type of lick.
solo 11, notice that each variation climbs higher in the scale pattern.
For the final exercise, try playing the notes of the E minor pentatonic scale at
random. Here's an example:
We've touched on a few topics here regarding techniques to use when improvising.
They are: theme and variation, question and answer, soloing with just 1 note!,
and playing notes of the scale at random. We'll dive in a little deeper each
lesson and use different musical style like, classical, blues, rock and jazz.
Here's the 5 patterns for the Em pentatonic scale:
ZZ: Is it always good to end a lick on the root note? What other
notes are good?
Lyle: ZZ, ending a riff on the root note is very
safe, but can turn too predictable to the listener after
what other notes are not predictable that sound
Lyle: Any of the other notes will work. Depends
on how YOU want it to sound.
taka: If I wanted it to sound sad, would I end on the
Yes, that's the minor 3rd, and always a darker sound.
7th has a cool sound....
Lyle: I like ALL the notes, even the ones NOT in
Lyle: I'll be covering other examples in the
ZZ: Will you go into other scales like Dorian, Phrygian,
Lyle: Those are modes, we might go there. We are
working on improvising techniques, not modes or scales, but how to improvise
using cool ideas and tricks of the trade. See you at the next
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