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Unread 04-11-2012, 07:57 PM   #1
Wiz
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Resources/methods for slowly learning how to improvise step by step?

Hello folks,

in the recent years I've ended up with very little time to dedicate to the guitar, maybe 30-60 minutes a day, if I try hard, and I realized that I need to be very conscientious about how I use that time. I've always liked learning covers of songs by my favorite bands, however I later realized that what I really wanted to do was to be able to comfortably improvise anything I want while playing with other people. I am a lot more fulfilled by that creative process than by virtually anything else I've done on the guitar. I also feel that knowing improvisation well will one day get me a lot closer to being able to write interesting music.

It's been years since I seriously dedicated myself to the instrument, since I had an instructor and a solid regimen. I'd like to know if there's a method, a course, a book or an approach out there that can help me slowly but steadily build my improvisational / music theory skills to the point where I am comfortable jamming with other people in a lot of different styles. It has to be really incremental, where I get a super-firm grasp of basic concepts and then build on top of those. Ideally it'd also be something I can handle on my own without needing an instructor. There's a lot of material out there on the web, I'm sure I can find something about just about anything.

My improvisational models would be bands like Liquid Tension Experiment (Petrucci <3), Bozzio Levin Stevens, Guthrie Govan, Paul Metheny and so on. I don't really care about shredding and being ultra fast, I know it's a lot of work that's more on the mechanical side of things, and in the past I've often burned out by focusing too much on speed and missing out the fun of jamming. I'm happy with postponing speed for as long as necessary in favor of tasteful phrasing, and learning what to play and when to play it.

Any recommendations? I'm really hoping there's a way for me to make this happen. I've really missed the guitar for a long time and it's a relationship I'm hoping to be able to rekindle once again.

Thanks!
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Unread 04-11-2012, 11:37 PM   #2
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Start in the beginning, learn scales, and know the fretboard.

My college teacher taught me a trick I used to play in complete harmonic minor (preference) we decided to move it to pentatonic (the best starting point you will need). Once you get the pentatonic down in all it's positions in all different keys. Start playing to jam tracks. (there are loads online) With these tracks just run down the scale to begin with to hear how each note sounds and see if you can identify the root note of each chord, some notes will sound off in there, but that's because it'll not resolve there. Once you got the hear to know what sounds ok in which spots, start improvising round the scale in short sentences, music is ofcourse a language, and needs phrasing. This helped me alot. Hope this helps!

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Unread 04-12-2012, 02:27 AM   #3
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I'd like to add something to that. Learn things by ear! Doesn't have to be everything, don't have to start by learning a Shawn Lane solo by ear or anything, but it's a VERY useful skill. Imagine being able to play all those melodies you have in your head..
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Unread 04-12-2012, 02:55 AM   #4
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Have a go at the free sample chapters of my book at the link in my sig. It focuses on simple, creative uses of theory, step by step, and teaches you how to work out what sorts of intervals and melodic fragments you like, what sorts of simple rhythmic variations you like and how to work with harmony. There's also some work on learning to find notes on the fingerboard, so if you combine all if this, you can improve your ability to write interesting lines while improvising. If you have any difficulty with it then you can reach me here or at the Facebook page and I can answer any questions which may arise.

I agree that learning things by ear is also useful, as is jamming with backing tracks, just remember to analyse the bits of your improvisation which you like, to understand what you played so you can better use your experience in future and do so on demand.

I hope this helps. Let me know if I can help any further.


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Unread 04-12-2012, 04:06 AM   #5
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Improvisation is something that occurs worldwide, in every musical culture, so participation in improvisation can't be too difficult (or else it wouldn't happen). Of course, some music cultures have highly sophisticated systems of improvisation, and thus require a great deal of initiation, but they all have one thing in common: improvisation happens on some sort of framework. This framework can be very sparse, or incredibly intricate. The sparse ones are easy to deal with: improvise a fixed pitch system without having to deal with rhythm, or deal with specific rhythmic ideas without worrying about pitch. Work with that for a bit, then combine the two.

If I can provide a general axiom for improvisation, it's this: learn stuff, then try to do something with the stuff that you learn. If you're interested in the lydian mode, set aside a bit of time to work out what's going on in the lydian mode in your own terms. If you're interested in a certain meter, let's say 9, then work on writing and playing in 9. And, hey, you were just messing around with the lydian scale, so you can do some lydian thing in 9 now. Learn about chords, do the same thing. Learn about phrase lengths, forms, dynamics, ranges, techniques, do the same thing. You want to be able to read these concepts on paper to put it into your brain, then take what's in your brain and put it in your hands so you can get it into your ear, putting it back into your brain so that you can put it on paper, have it in your ear, then put it back in your hands.

...

Or, if I didn't want to sound like a homeless person: the end-goal is to connect all parts of your body to the music, and you do that by feeding music from one part to the other. You've indicated that you don't have much time to spend with your guitar, but as with most things, it's about quality rather than quantity. If you can put yourself in the zone for half an hour every other day to wrap your head around an idea, learn how to hear it, learn how to feel and play it, then you'll build a bond with your instrument and find ways to make it say what you want to say. If you really want to jump-start your playing, joining a band is a good idea. You can find some instructional resources that are very specific when it comes to teaching improvisation, but I believe that what I've said is a good general model for learning music on a personal level.
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Unread 04-12-2012, 12:03 PM   #6
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