Improvisation Blog

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When I was in my teens I would jam along with tracks for hours. Some favourite artists were: Jeff Beck, Deep Purple (Ritchie Blackmore), Santana and Pink Floyd.

I learned the solos by ear, and some of my favourites verbatim. There were no TABs available back then and no Youtube videos showing the solo note for note. Knowing basic Pentatonic and Blues scales in the common keys (E A D G and C) and some Major and Minor scales in common positions helped, as I had a template to work out the solos from. All of the solos with the exception of  some of Jeff Beck's did not deviate from these basic scales.

My improvising skills were progressing, but not enough to go to the next level, i.e. Jazz Fusion using complex chord changes etc.  Jamming, transcribing and doodling was not going to do it alone.

I decided to work deliberately on improvisation skills, for example learning a Dorian Scale in multiple positions and then improvising over a Dm type groove (usually  recording myself playing a rhythm part). Of course it was necessary to practice this in other keys, so I would make a chord progression using only minor 7th chords, i.e. Dm7 (x4 bars) Fm7 (x4 bars) Em7 (x4 bars) Ebm7 (x4 bars) etc. This made it possible to explore diferent keys and not be limited to common positions.

Doing this in Major (Ionian), 7th (Mixolydian) and Minor  (Dorian and Aeolian) scales in differing keys enabled a more thorough veiw of the guitar neck and of course the notes in many positions both physically and theoretically. It goes without saying that studying reading music before hand gave a huge advantage because I knew where the notes were, and what they are called, and studying theory of music added a clearer view of things generally.

Of course there is far more to improvising than just scales, and there are many more tools and techniques that I teach my advanced students. I think that jamming, transcribing and doodling are of course very useful activitys, but deliberate study of  improvisation and relevant theory needs to be included to make serious improvement.