improvisation for a numpty

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racefaceec90racefaceec90 Frets: 1041
have always wanted to be able to make stuff up on guitar and be able to improvise etc but being both rubbish at guitar and not understanding music theory is there a numpty guide anyone could recommend as to getting started with doing it?

to me improvisation is like the holy grail of being a musician (or one of the holy grails at least) but when i try to do it it always sounds bloody awful and i go back to doing bloody awful covers of other peoples music again.

thanks in advance :-)
i like cake :-) here's my youtube channel   https://www.youtube.com/user/racefaceec90 



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  • Winny_PoohWinny_Pooh Frets: 7933
    Lessons may be best if you're struggling.

    But simply put: You find the key, then start off with pentatonic minor/major (min maj are the same box shape just with different root notes you align to the key centre note on your fingerboard) then develop melodies and use phrasing and note choice to make it musical. 


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  • The start would be to pick a bunch of notes within a scale - say the a minor pentatonic. 1-2 strings at a time. Play those notes along to a backing track and listen to how they sound against the music. How do they connect? Does the note need to go up, down, stay on there or move? Use your ear to guide where your hand needs to go. The great players always seem to make the notes they play connect with the chord its being played over.
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  • vizviz Frets: 10788
    edited April 2023
    I’d go with singing a tune along with the chords and seeing if you can play that, or at least some of the notes in it. That way you get proper tunes that work in your head, not just things that your fingers can do.

    Theory can help provide some building blocks and guidelines but nothing trumps a natural flowing tune, which your brain already knows how to do. 
    Roland said: Scales are primarily a tool for categorising knowledge, not a rule for what can or cannot be played.
    Supportact said: [my style is] probably more an accumulation of limitations and bad habits than a 'style'.
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  • LastMantraLastMantra Frets: 3826
    edited April 2023
    Play the notes you use in the covers in a different order. Make up your own parts for the tune.

    Also don't try to play too many notes at first. Let something ring out bit of vibrato and see where it takes you. 
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  • DominicDominic Frets: 16309
    basically what @Winny_Pooh says ......until you get comfortable and then find ways to weave what you are playing over a chord into the next chord and play tunefully over that one.......there are devices/tricks/theory knowledge that tell you how and when to do this but essentially if you can whistle a tune over the chords then just work out how to play it competantly and then embellish it.
    I think it's easier than knowing a melody line and being able to harmonise it beneath the top line without the odd chord sounding strange or 'wrong' 
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  • BillDLBillDL Frets: 8055
    edited April 2023
    Do you have a simple looper pedal or other means to record yourself playing a chord sequence and then play it back so that you can play with it?  If not, I would thoroughly recommend this as a valuable learning tool.  You don't have to pay a huge amount for a fancy Boss looper.  There are simple ones with just a footswitch and volume knob that are modelled on the TC Ditto, like the landlord FX Happy Hour looper from GuitarGuitar or Andertons for £49 or the Big Top Ringmaster looper from PMT for the same price (because it's the same pedal branded as a PMT own brand).  There are other simple ones with brand names like Lekato, Donner, and other more or less unbranded versions of the same thing through Amazon, eBay, etc.  There are other more expensive ones like the Mooer Micro Looper, the TC Ditto, Electro-harmonix on the in-between price range before you get anywhere near the fairly expensive but more versatile ones like Boss, Ditto Plus, etc.  They can all record quite long chord progression loops, have an undo/redo feature, and most have a USB port to copy audio files to or from a computer.

    One of the most useful things you can do to begin playing lead guitar is to try and play the vocal melody of a bunch of songs.  This encourages you to get a feel for playing scales that fit the chord progression well and you will probably find yourself starting to bend or hammer on and off some of the strings to match the vocal inflections.  Without knowing theory or scale patterns you might find yourself jumping around the fretboard or going up and down one or two strings in a linear fashion.  Once you realise how to find the octave of a particular note (i.e. the same note but at the higher or lower pitch), it will help you to start finding the notes you need in closer clusters:


    If you look at the one on the left and imagine an Open E form barre chord (Root 6 chord) being barred across the 2nd fret, you will see that those notes are all the same but at different octaves.  Imagine an Open A form (Root 5) barre chord sitting on top of the 2nd one and you can see those notes within the chord.  For the 3rd one, imagine an Open C chord shape using your 1st and 3rd fingers.

    The black dots and circles are the root notes for these particular chord shapes, so if you were to imagine the blue line (the barre) as being the nut, the root note for the first chord shape is E, for the 2nd one it is A, and for the 3rd one it is C.  Simple chords like this are based on the 1st, 3rd, and 5th notes from the Major scale in that key.  Again ignoring the extra frets and taking the blue lines to be the nut, the red dots in the diagrams are the 3rd and 5th notes from the E, A, and C major scales.  These are the building blocks of chords.  Imagine changing each of the shapes in the first two diagrams to a Minor chord and you will then know which of the red dots is the 3rd note of the scale, because it will be the one that has to be moved down by one half step (a semitone) to turn it into a Minor chord.

    A Suspended 4th (sus4) chord is one where the 4th note of the parent scale is substituted over the 3rd note.
    A 7th chord is one where the flattened 7th note (lowered by one semitone or half-tone from the actual 7th note of the scale) of the parent scale is played over the 5th note or in addition to it.
    A 6th chord is one where the 6th note of the parent scale is added to the chord.
    These are some of the notes you might encounter that flavour a scale and dictate the choice of notes while playing a melody or lead line over them, and you can sometimes bend a string into that note, or down from it, or use it as a passing tone while sliding through it en route to another note.

    To progress further and be able to see how different scale patterns fit over known chord shapes you really need to learn:

    (a) how to play the basic chord shapes in different places up the neck and know where the root, 3rd and 5th notes of those chords are.
    (b) learn some scale shapes and try to see the chord shapes underneath them that are made up from certain notes of the same scale, OR be able to play an arpeggio of chord notes and be able to fill in other notes from the scale on which the chord is based.
    (c) learn and discover what scale shapes (and in what key) can be safely played over most of the chords in a progression, and what notes do not sound good and need to be changed.

    To do this you will definitely make more a lot more progress if you undertake a structured learning course, and there are plenty of free and paid-for ones on YouTube.  You will certainly be able to twiddle and widdle away doing fast repetitive 2 or 3 string licks that sound OK over a chord progression once you find where to play them, but to play with any fluidity in a more meaningful way it is usually best to learn some theory so you know where you can go, why you can go there, and what notes to emphasise when you get there.
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  • racefaceec90racefaceec90 Frets: 1041
    thank you for the replies 

    i have tried to learn music theory but it always goes in one ear and out the other when i try to read up on it (i get really despondent/annoyed with myself when this happens as i really want to be able to start to understand it/get it but i have musical dyslexia it seems how i describe it). 

    i do intend to try to learn some improvisation for sure as i really want to be able to do it (not just solo's either) i will just have to keep on banging my stupid head against a wall until some of it starts to click.

    i would definitely be happy to take some lessons also just have to find a good tutor in devizes as no car unfortunately. someone who could explain music theory in simple terms and have the patience of a saint :-)

     
    i like cake :-) here's my youtube channel   https://www.youtube.com/user/racefaceec90 



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  • I teach online if you're interested. I do 5 lessons weekly online with good results.
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  • EvoEvo Frets: 319
    @racefaceec90 ;

    As a teacher, I can share some of the biggest hurdles I notice people facing and hopefully one or two of them may help you and/or somebody else quietly reading this and hoping to find some answers.

     Phrasing.

    Far too many players feel the pressure to endlessly sputter out notes without any real consideration for the listener's attention span. Approach your improvisation the same way you approach speaking, if you delivered your thoughts in one endless stream of words without any form of pausing or punctuation or indication of the important points then very quickly things would start to sound very odd and eyes would begin to glaze over whilst people lost track of what you were talking about at the beginning of your sentence way back when you began the conversation and your point would be much more memorable if you took your time and considered your.........hopefully you get the idea. Play a phrase, then leave a space for your audience to register what they just heard. Then play another phrase, rinse and repeat. If you don't leave the gaps then people lose interest. 

    Punctuation!

    This ties in with my previous point, in order to avoid the "endless stream of meandering notes" that sound like you have no idea what you're doing, Start your phrases confidently with a "capital letter", something to grab the listener's attention. It doesn't need to be fast, complicated, or even particularly interesting...but it does need to be played loudly, proudly, and confidently. Likewise, finish your phrases with a "full stop". This is probably one of the most common faults I find when listening to people wanting to improve their improvisation, they don't know when to stop and finish their phrase. Players all too often will come out with a great line....then completely ruin in because they don't know what to do next and they just sort of plod their way through the scale again. If you don't know what to play, then wait until you do! Have the confidence to leave a space in your solo, because playing nothing is ALWAYS a better option than playing something when you don't know what you're doing. 

    Less is more!

    It's perfectly possible to play a stunning improvisation using just four or five notes on a couple of strings, you don't need to be darting around the fretboard showing off your three octave scale positions...I've been a professional guitarist for nearly 20 years gigging all over the country, and 9 times out of 10 I'll improvise using a pentatonic. Not because it's easy, or because I'm worried about messing up, but because it sounds great! Sure, every now and then I'll squeeze in something a little over the top for my own enjoyment, but to me that isn't good improvising, it's showing off. Plain and simple. So if you want to focus on good improvising then start by keeping things simple. Once you have your good foundations down, then adding in the odd flourish comes much easier rather than starting with the flourish and hoping for the best on everything else. 

    Hopefully this helps someone, if anyone wants to chat any more about this then just shoot me a message. 

    All the best!

    Evo
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  • allenallen Frets: 777
    What style of music interests you? Blues? Rock? Pop? Jazz? etc.

    Are you interested in improvising chords to a melody? or 'soloing' over a backing track? or something else?

    Is there a youtube video of a player that you would like to be like?
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  • racefaceec90racefaceec90 Frets: 1041
    edited April 2023
    thanks to you all for the replies.

    i will definitely try and follow what you have recommended to start to learn improvising and i will also try to find a teacher at some point also for some lessons (unfortunately i cannot do lessons atm but def for the future).

    i have 3 guitarists (well more actually) that i love and wish i could play like steve rothery, david gilmour and alex lifeson especially (also love robin guthrie).

    my favourite music is textural soundscape ethereal  guitar which all the above guitarists can do. i also love other forms of music too and would love to be able to just improv jazz etc but i am nowhere near good enough for that (in both my guitar playing and theory/lack of skill in both areas big time lol).

    the annoying thing also is that i have some good effects too a boss gt-1, mooer ocean machine devin townsend pedal and a fender mustang lt-25,guitar rig 6 and  an ebow also.  which can all do that style of sound but i just don't have a clue how to use them properly (again musical numpty coming to the fore). i also have 2 great guitars harley benton fusion iii hss and a new prs se standard 24-08 that i have just got so absolutely no excuses as to my equipment lacking (er so to speak). 

    i will never be a technical player as i just cannot play fast and i have tried believe me over the years (have been trying to play for over 20 odd years now). i love some shread guitar and wish i could play like that but i know i will never be able to. but i know that with enough practice i could  try to play like my favourite guitarists and to make my own stuff up is my ultimate dream (especially improvising).

    i can play a few rush covers and nothing else matters by metallica and a few bits and pieces from various music i like also but am definitely way below the guitar ability level that i should be for the amount of time put in over the years.
    i like cake :-) here's my youtube channel   https://www.youtube.com/user/racefaceec90 



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  • GuyBodenGuyBoden Frets: 790
    Improv sounds better if you play each chord's notes on the down beats.

    You can then play almost any other notes in between the chord's notes on the down beats and it will probably sound good.

    This is seemingly simple advice, but it will improve your playing dramatically.

    "Music makes the rules, music is not made from the rules."
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  • ditchboyditchboy Frets: 318
    I love playing but can’t get my head around theory. I just find it so boring but I know it’s holding me back. 
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  • guitarjack66guitarjack66 Frets: 2028
    edited April 2023
    Evo said:
    @racefaceec90 ;;

    As a teacher, I can share some of the biggest hurdles I notice people facing and hopefully one or two of them may help you and/or somebody else quietly reading this and hoping to find some answers.

     Phrasing.

    Far too many players feel the pressure to endlessly sputter out notes without any real consideration for the listener's attention span. Approach your improvisation the same way you approach speaking, if you delivered your thoughts in one endless stream of words without any form of pausing or punctuation or indication of the important points then very quickly things would start to sound very odd and eyes would begin to glaze over whilst people lost track of what you were talking about at the beginning of your sentence way back when you began the conversation and your point would be much more memorable if you took your time and considered your.........hopefully you get the idea. Play a phrase, then leave a space for your audience to register what they just heard. Then play another phrase, rinse and repeat. If you don't leave the gaps then people lose interest. 

    Punctuation!

    This ties in with my previous point, in order to avoid the "endless stream of meandering notes" that sound like you have no idea what you're doing, Start your phrases confidently with a "capital letter", something to grab the listener's attention. It doesn't need to be fast, complicated, or even particularly interesting...but it does need to be played loudly, proudly, and confidently. Likewise, finish your phrases with a "full stop". This is probably one of the most common faults I find when listening to people wanting to improve their improvisation, they don't know when to stop and finish their phrase. Players all too often will come out with a great line....then completely ruin in because they don't know what to do next and they just sort of plod their way through the scale again. If you don't know what to play, then wait until you do! Have the confidence to leave a space in your solo, because playing nothing is ALWAYS a better option than playing something when you don't know what you're doing. 

    Less is more!

    It's perfectly possible to play a stunning improvisation using just four or five notes on a couple of strings, you don't need to be darting around the fretboard showing off your three octave scale positions...I've been a professional guitarist for nearly 20 years gigging all over the country, and 9 times out of 10 I'll improvise using a pentatonic. Not because it's easy, or because I'm worried about messing up, but because it sounds great! Sure, every now and then I'll squeeze in something a little over the top for my own enjoyment, but to me that isn't good improvising, it's showing off. Plain and simple. So if you want to focus on good improvising then start by keeping things simple. Once you have your good foundations down, then adding in the odd flourish comes much easier rather than starting with the flourish and hoping for the best on everything else. 

    Hopefully this helps someone, if anyone wants to chat any more about this then just shoot me a message. 

    All the best!

    Evo
    I have no idea what you mean,musically speaking,under your heading of 'Punctuation.' One thing I will say is that a lot of the time in music the 'flowery' language tends to cover up the simplicity of what a musical person is actually trying to say. Like medical people who use textbook terms over familiar ones. ( This is now changing a lot nowadays though,for the better.) If you are from a musical background I think you can often forget how strange this is to non musical people and it can cause the dreaded 'brain fog' or Homer Simpson 'glazed' look. Simplicity is key,I believe.

    PS. This wasn't all aimed at you @Evo, I just wanted to make a point that maybe raceface found this a problem too,and ran with it?
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  • BarneyBarney Frets: 621
    I would use pentatonic to start with and work on 2 strings at a time focussing on good phrasing altering timing ect to a backing track ....them move onto the next 2 and do the same ....then work on 3 ect ...main thing is when you play the notes try and sing them as well..after a while of limiting yourself you will be able to sing the notes as you play them in different combinations ...but it needs to be where you are in control of your ideas not the guitar ...that will get you there 
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  • GuyBodenGuyBoden Frets: 790
    GuyBoden said:
    Improv sounds better if you play each chord's notes on the down beats.

    You can then play almost any other notes in between the chord's notes on the down beats and it will probably sound good.

    This is seemingly simple advice, but it will improve your playing dramatically.


    Learn to play the chord tones on the down beats. It will outline the harmony and sound good.
    "Music makes the rules, music is not made from the rules."
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  • BlueStratBlueStrat Frets: 968
    edited April 2023
    Passing on some advice I was given - take a solo you like and steal a little two or three note phrase, then experiment with that little piece working in slides, hammer and pull offs. Add little pauses in time with the feel of the backing track. 
    Make the most you can from a simple phrase and you’ll soon be able to build from there. 
    Best of luck!
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  • TeetonetalTeetonetal Frets: 7848
    viz said:
    I’d go with singing a tune along with the chords and seeing if you can play that, or at least some of the notes in it. That way you get proper tunes that work in your head, not just things that your fingers can do.

    Theory can help provide some building blocks and guidelines but nothing trumps a natural flowing tune, which your brain already knows how to do. 
    Absolutely this.

    So many people improvise based on patterns rather than melody. You want to get the tune in your head out through your fingers.

    Buy a looper. Record a simple chord sequence. Get a melody in your head. Work out how to play it.

    Licks & scales are great for expanding your voice, or for putting in fast "set pieces" but the stronger the connection between the voice in your head and your fingers, the better.

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  • stickyfiddlestickyfiddle Frets: 28025
    Melody melody melody!! Everything that @Viz and @Teetonetal said is 100% correct and the while advice given by all the others will lead to playing that technically works, it will usually lead to extremely boring guitar playing. Though what @Dominic says about patterns is spot on and that will help you in translating what's in your head to your fingers. But you have to get it in your head first. 

    The route to success is playing extremely simple things first. Start with nursery rhymes because you already know them. Work out how to play 3 Blind Mice, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and Happy Birthday. Then maybe simple guitar melodies - Oasis' Live Forever is a great example. 

    The looper is a good suggestion for the next step. You can make an interesting improvised melody with 3 notes. Heck I could probably do it with 1 or 2, at least for a few bars. Start there then add more. 



    The Assumptions - UAE party band for all your rock & soul desires
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  • EvoEvo Frets: 319
    I have no idea what you mean,musically speaking,under your heading of 'Punctuation.' 
    I'm basically referring to having definite, audible, and intentional starts AND ends to the phrases within your improvisation.

    Sorry if that wasn't clear


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