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Unread 06-22-2012, 02:57 PM   #1
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HOw To Improvisie

I really dont know how to learn how to improvise, how should i work on it?

I have practiced improvise a while, but it doesnt seem like i am getting any better with i am doin.
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Unread 06-22-2012, 03:13 PM   #2
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As someone who's currently forging his way into the land of improv, I have some things that helped me a lot!

The first thing I'd recommend is learning a wide range of arpeggios and scales (modes count here as well). You don't need to be an arpeggio dictionary, but it's good to know- especially for playing changes.
You also want to be familiar with all of the notes- how they sound together, what intervals work well, how notes relate in terms of a full band/backing track. Some stuff that sounds great on its own can sound terrible with a backing, and vice versa.

Once you've got that down, it's just a matter of practise. Improvising is like conversation, or reading body language. The more you do it, the better you get.
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Unread 06-22-2012, 03:14 PM   #3
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Learn the minor pentatonic in all 5 positions.

Learn the major pentatonic.

Learn how the roots are changed between the two.

Add the flat fifth.

Learn "target notes" to hit over the chord progression.

Make it a point to learn one lick every day, and how to put it in any key.

Start connecting licks.

Improvise with them.
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Intervals aren't the shortcut, they are The Way.
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Unread 06-22-2012, 05:06 PM   #4
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Studying music theory is the single most significant thing you can do to improve your improvisations. Don't study positions, don't study fretboard patterns, study the notes themselves and how they work in context and then apply that knowledge to the fretboard.
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Unread 06-24-2012, 06:54 AM   #5
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Agreed. Learn theory, learn to write music, analyse it to see what's going on and as guidance on how to replicate or improve it. Do this lots and you'll become more fluent at it. Improv is just on the spot composition.

Something which should help is simply to take a song you know and write a new melody for it. Not a solo but a melody in the same sort of style of the original melody. Analyse what's going on in the original and try to replicate it then write another which does the opposite, stylistically and contrasts. Do this and implement what you learn into what you do when improvising so you play with musical substance, not just a patchwork of licks which happen to be in key.
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Unread 06-24-2012, 08:22 AM   #6
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Improvisation and composition are one in the same, and composition is merely making music. You're not going to be Coltrane overnight, but you can learn some habits that will lead you there. First off, start out simple. Choose three notes, any three notes, and see how many different sounds you can make with them. Make a melody, do some trills, play them fast, play them slow, whatever. I know this is almost too simple, but bear with me - you want to milk those three notes for all they're worth. What this does is teach you the art of limitation. When you learn to stick to a small set of materials, you also learn how to draw out the good stuff in those materials, and it's ultimately more rewarding to think "this is stupid" and work it over until you find something good than it is to think "this is stupid" and move on to the next thing without second thought.

Next, you'll want to move up a little. Find a scale, any scale, then work with the same sort of limitation: maybe play around with a tetrachord (the first four notes of a scale) or a pentachord (the first five notes of a scale) and construct a loose framework off which to build. Here's an example of something you could do:



So, we're sticking with a D phrygian pentachord (D Eb F G A), and let's make the improv five phrases in length. Each phrase has to end on a certain note that I've predetermined. You can see the order of these notes under "Cadence Pattern". The first phrase will end on D, the second will end on G, the third will end on F, the fourth will end on A, and the final one will end on D. If you look at the improvised melody, you see that first measure ends on D, the second measure ends on G, and the third measure ends on F. I took two measures before ending on the A, because why not. At this stage, you needn't worry about how long a phrase is, or what the meter is, or anything else. Just feel out the space until you're ready to move on to the next note in the cadence pattern. Then, my last measure comes back down to D, as per the order I came up with. I've also added the rule that each phrase begins on the last note of the prior phrase.

This is a small and crappy improvisation that I came up with in a few seconds - I challenge you to spend some time doing the same thing and come up with something better. As you progress in your playing, you'll find that you can construct melodies more readily and that you can move around the rest of the scale more fluidly. After a while, you can change those single notes in the cadence pattern to chords and keep building up in that manner. Don't forget rhythm while you're doing this kind of thing, either. Maybe you want to use dotted rhythms more, or try swinging your melody. Anything goes, so throw it in. Or perhaps you want to familiarize yourself with a new meter. No matter, just add that meter to your framework. This is an exercise designed to give you a musical playground, where you can experiment with new ideas without feeling that you have to be able to solo over some crazy bebop changes before the school talent show or whatever.



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Unread 06-24-2012, 08:53 PM   #7
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Also listen to some great jazz and fusion!
One person who is known for his great sense of phrasing and melody is Scott Henderson. He put out a killer instructional video called "Jazz Rock Mastery". Its old and a bit dated but the concepts are there and his teaching skills are great!
Also immerse yourself in some great improv with: Tribal Tech, Allan Holdsworth, Greg Howe, Brett Garsed, Jeff Beck, Mahavishnu Orchestra.
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Unread 06-24-2012, 10:31 PM   #8
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I agree with all of the above, learning scales and modes is important. One thing that helped me a lot though was setting my guitar down and listening to music, whether it's yours or pretty much anything, and come up with a melody line in your head. Just something that you can hum to yourself that you think would fit, then try to translate that to the fret board. Figure out how to play what you just hummed. This is where scales and modes help a lot because you can get an idea of where to go instead of guessing what fret comes next, or doing a lot of trial and error.
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Unread 06-24-2012, 10:40 PM   #9
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I agree theory is important, but I really urge the guy to learn a bag of licks. Theory is more "why does this make sense" and having a bunch of licks under your belt will have you saying interesting things, even if you don't completely understand why it's interesting.

I'd also listen to some jazz horn players, and learn to mimic the "breathing" space in between your improvising.
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Intervals aren't the shortcut, they are The Way.
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Unread 06-25-2012, 06:33 AM   #10
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another thing i would recomend is to hum a melody, and then try and play it on the fretboard, it will improve your ear, get you used to where each note is and teach you how melodys work.
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Unread 06-25-2012, 11:54 AM   #11
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another thing i would recomend is to hum a melody, and then try and play it on the fretboard, it will improve your ear, get you used to where each note is and teach you how melodys work.
Better yet, just do ear training. musictheory.net
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Unread 06-25-2012, 11:56 AM   #12
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Better yet, just do ear training. musictheory.net
yup thats good aswell, but it wont get you applying what you know. probably best to do both at the same time.
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Unread 06-25-2012, 01:05 PM   #13
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Absolutely. Perhaps I should have elaborated: make up a melody in your head, work on playing it at the fretboard, but do some interval recognition exercises so that it becomes easier to do that.
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Unread 06-25-2012, 06:02 PM   #14
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I agree theory is important, but I really urge the guy to learn a bag of licks. Theory is more "why does this make sense" and having a bunch of licks under your belt will have you saying interesting things, even if you don't completely understand why it's interesting.

I'd also listen to some jazz horn players, and learn to mimic the "breathing" space in between your improvising.
Knowing some licks just gives you those licks, boxing you in and limiting your expressive capabilities. The more licks you know the less boxed in you are, but there's a time investment there that you can't recover. Knowing theory helps you generate lines on the fly. I can't condone spending extra time on a temporary option when there's so much a musician can work on that will bring more lasting benefits.

Your second suggestion is a very good one though, and I'd suggest transcribing those same lines as part of one's studies.
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Unread 06-25-2012, 08:31 PM   #15
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I totally agree with ear training to recognize what exactly is making that harmony/melody you're listening to or hear in your head. Really learning your intervals by ear/applying them to the fretboard will get you further than trying to memorize scale/mode patterns.

It'll also help you with composition when you can make any chord/melody in any position without having to flip through some book/chart.
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Unread 06-25-2012, 09:07 PM   #16
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Originally Posted by InfinityCollision View Post
Knowing some licks just gives you those licks, boxing you in and limiting your expressive capabilities. The more licks you know the less boxed in you are, but there's a time investment there that you can't recover. Knowing theory helps you generate lines on the fly. I can't condone spending extra time on a temporary option when there's so much a musician can work on that will bring more lasting benefits.

Your second suggestion is a very good one though, and I'd suggest transcribing those same lines as part of one's studies.
I completely disagree. Approach guitar like you approach language. In the beginning, you're just mimicking people, learning to form words, and trying to say them correctly. Slowly, you learn to use those words in context to express ideas. You then start studying grammar in school, and you begin to put everything together, and further evolve your ideas and different ways express them.

When you sit down and learn a lick, and absorb it, and put it in any key, it's now part of your music vocabulary. The more you have, the more things you can say. The more licks you absorb, the more experience you're getting with saying interesting things on your instrument. This absolutely is NOT time wasted.

When it comes time to learn theory (which I think is a good idea), you can take your whole library of ideas, and further expand upon them. Take a simple major lick you may have, and flat the 7th to give it a Mixolydian sound. Or raise the 4th for a Lydian sound. You can start to form your own style, and explore even more possibilities.



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Intervals aren't the shortcut, they are The Way.
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Unread 06-25-2012, 10:28 PM   #17
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I completely disagree. Approach guitar like you approach language. In the beginning, you're just mimicking people, learning to form words, and trying to say them correctly. Slowly, you learn to use those words in context to express ideas. You then start studying grammar in school, and you begin to put everything together, and further evolve your ideas and different ways express them.

When you sit down and learn a lick, and absorb it, and put it in any key, it's now part of your music vocabulary. The more you have, the more things you can say. The more licks you absorb, the more experience you're getting with saying interesting things on your instrument. This absolutely is NOT time wasted.

When it comes time to learn theory (which I think is a good idea), you can take your whole library of ideas, and further expand upon them. Take a simple major lick you may have, and flat the 7th to give it a Mixolydian sound. Or raise the 4th for a Lydian sound. You can start to form your own style, and explore even more possibilities.
I think our disagreement stems from how we each approach improvisation. You, as I understand it, see licks as the building blocks of your improvisations ("words" in an improvised sentence). You string them together, maybe changing them slightly from time to time. To me, this is a limited method of improvisation that I seek to avoid in favor of true spontaniety, or at least as close as I can achieve. My "words" would thus be small sets of harmonic groupings. While that may seem like semantics, there is a key difference: harmonic groupings have no rhythmic or stylistic properties of their own, they are simply a collection of notes. The manner and order in which I apply them is, ideally, decided only when playing. They're (probably) also smaller. Granted I still need a lot of work to do it as well as I'd like, but I'm getting there

To that end, I believe we'll have to agree to disagree.
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Unread 06-25-2012, 10:45 PM   #18
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I think our disagreement stems from how we each approach improvisation. You, as I understand it, see licks as the building blocks of your improvisations ("words" in an improvised sentence). You string them together, maybe changing them slightly from time to time. To me, this is a limited method of improvisation that I seek to avoid in favor of true spontaniety, or at least as close as I can achieve. My "words" would thus be small sets of harmonic groupings. While that may seem like semantics, there is a key difference: harmonic groupings have no rhythmic or stylistic properties of their own, they are simply a collection of notes. The manner and order in which I apply them is, ideally, decided only when playing. Granted I still need a lot of work to do it well, but I'm getting there

To that end, I believe we'll have to agree to disagree.
You seem to be under the impression that there is only one way to play and/or apply a lick (which, in reality, is simply a small musical idea). One lick can be played dozens of completely different ways from changing note groupings/sequences, rhythms, keys, and added techniques (bend, tap, etc). In reality, that's all it is: small set of harmonic groupings. Take an idea and change it up --make it your own. I can't tell you how many times I've heard a phrase by an artist and became so inspired that I learned it, and it eventually morphed into something that really doesn't resemble it at all anymore. I mean, we really are simply talking about semantics with this whole idea.

I don't really disagree with anything you, or anybody else has said. The great thing about guitar is that everybody approaches it differently. I wouldn't go around telling anybody that their method is a time-waster, though.



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Unread 06-25-2012, 11:14 PM   #19
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You seem to be under the impression that there is only one way to play and/or apply a lick (which, in reality, is simply a small musical idea).
"Lick" to me implies additional information beyond harmonic grouping. If you're simply talking about a harmonic group when you refer to a lick then we truly have been arguing over nothing, and I may well be in error in what I consider a lick.

Quote:
I wouldn't go around telling anybody that their method is a time-waster, though.
I realize that discussing the merits of two approaches is something that will frequently spark disagreement but ultimately I can only think "Why not?" Time is a limited resource and we all seek to grow as musicians. If there is a better way, I would seek that way. Hopefully somebody, be it those involved in the discussion or a silent reader, will benefit from the discussion. If not, oh well.
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Unread 06-25-2012, 11:46 PM   #20
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There really is no better way. It all has to do with how each individual processes information, and in that we're all different. I speak from my own experience that I actually tried to learn music theory when I first started playing guitar. I couldn't stay focused, because nothing made sense and it was boring trying to memorize all the rules. I was actually surrounded by music snobs who told me to not be one of those "pentatonic douchebags" when playing guitar.

I spent many years playing guitar, learning songs, and unknowingly training my ear with all the information I was able to digest in that time. When I sat down to learn theory again, it was much easier to connect the dots, apply what I knew in my head, but couldn't explain in words. It helped me take my playing to the next level.

So, yeah, there may be somebody out there (not even the TS, necessarily) that has been trying to grow as a player, but has felt stunted for years, and just "learning music theory" hasn't helped them. Maybe they can read from my experience, and try another possible solution that worked for somebody like them.

The more possible ways to approach the guitar, the better. Time is only wasted when you aren't pursuing any of them.



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Unread 06-26-2012, 04:42 AM   #21
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I think the problem is often that people learn theory in the way you described there, where learning rules is the sole practise, rather than learning how this affects their music, its applications, the positive effects of limitations. I agree with collision, in that learning theory expressively gives you options to expand your vocabulary based on the concepts you understand, rather than needing to be given a new phrase to review. I also view licks as the whole package of pitch and rhythm. The discussion based on that misalignment of views seems to have stagnated but I think it's much more beneficial to learn a lick, learn to figure out why it works and replicate it. Apply theory right away to real music and it will be expressive, as though teaching someone "bicycle" and it's colour and comparing to a bicycle of a different colour, rather than just stamping the phrase "red Specialized Rockhopper bicycle"and them trying to wrench that phrase apart when they encounter other bicycles. Slightly tenuous example but I hope it makes sense.
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Unread 06-26-2012, 05:31 AM   #22
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Knowing some licks just gives you those licks, boxing you in and limiting your expressive capabilities. The more licks you know the less boxed in you are, but there's a time investment there that you can't recover. Knowing theory helps you generate lines on the fly. I can't condone spending extra time on a temporary option when there's so much a musician can work on that will bring more lasting benefits.

Your second suggestion is a very good one though, and I'd suggest transcribing those same lines as part of one's studies.
You can always learn the theory later, figure out why the licks work in a given context and then expand your use of said lick(s). There's no right or wrong way. In the long term you'll know both theory and licks if you persevere.


Edit: Solodini, you's a ... Or a mind reader
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Unread 06-26-2012, 07:21 AM   #23
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I'll tell you, even today, I still learn licks to help my improvisation. Earlier this year I was playing in a country-themed musical (9-to-5, ugh, I still can't get some of those songs out of my head). There were a lot of sections for free soloing, comping, or lick-breaks where I had to make stuff up on the fly. The problem was, I wasn't (still aren't, really) a country guitarist. I actually bought a Lick Library Albert Lee Quick Licks DVD just to give me some tools to play with when the time came. I already knew theory, but taking that DVD and learning those licks expanded my vocabulary, and when the time came, I was able to improvise in the actual style, and sound like a country guitarist.
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Unread 06-27-2012, 09:15 AM   #24
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Lots and lots of great stuff in here, don't think it's necessary for me to paraphrase the almighty SchecterWhore and Solodini.. ^^ but there's some general tips I'd like to add.

First of all, play fewer notes. Guitarists often just play scales, descending or ascending in seconds (the intervals, IOW minor seconds and major seconds). Throw in more thirds, fifths, sixths and sevens. Don't play sixteenth notes every time, add some rests on melodically strong notes (especially thirds and fifths). Repeat melodic patterns. Also, play fewer notes! I often find licks that contain 5 notes (in different octaves and sequences) are much, much tastier than notes that use 7 notes (so most likely every note in the entire scale).
And my favourite piece of advice of all, play with your eyes closed. Sure, it takes time to get used to this (you'll probably hit the wrong note a couple of times, or as I like to call this, approach the right note chromatically - in any of the major scale's modes, you're never more than a half step away from a diatonic note), but it forces you to use your ear, which, as it turns out, the audience is also using.
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Unread 06-27-2012, 11:52 AM   #25
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Originally Posted by SchecterWhore View Post
Improvisation and composition are one in the same, and composition is merely making music. You're not going to be Coltrane overnight, but you can learn some habits that will lead you there. First off, start out simple. Choose three notes, any three notes, and see how many different sounds you can make with them. Make a melody, do some trills, play them fast, play them slow, whatever. I know this is almost too simple, but bear with me - you want to milk those three notes for all they're worth. What this does is teach you the art of limitation. When you learn to stick to a small set of materials, you also learn how to draw out the good stuff in those materials, and it's ultimately more rewarding to think "this is stupid" and work it over until you find something good than it is to think "this is stupid" and move on to the next thing without second thought
That's good advice. I tend to do something similar wiith just playing on one string, which gives you all the notes but takes away any finger patterns you might be used to.
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