Improvising on guitar can feel like a daunting task to many beginners who want to be able to play guitar effectively. In actuality, anyone can learn this simple skill. It may not seem simple, but trust me, it is and will be easy to learn. All you need to do is be a little patient, and follow some tips that can help you understand how to improvise on guitar.
You have to remember that there is no magic trick. And even though guitar improvisation is essentially pretty simple, doing it musically and at a high level requires a lot of practice and work. So in this post, we’ll go over what I think is the most efficient way of reaching a decent level of guitar improvisation.
When you are first starting out, it’s best to already have basic control over playing the guitar. You need to be able to fret well, play hammer-ons and pull-offs, bend on command, and slide. These are the basic techniques you’ll need to know that are required when trying to improvise.
It’s important to state that these techniques are not important because they’re going to help you find interesting or exciting notes to play. They are important because they add “soul” to an otherwise robotic series of notes.
If you don’t know or understand those terms, I suggest you find them and learn them well or you’ll have a really hard time trying to learn too many things at once. After you have learned to successfully perform these techniques, you should move on to the next step.
When you have finally learned and mastered most of those techniques, you are ready to begin training. The first thing you’ll want to do is learn guitar scales. A scale is a series of pitches that create a certain effect or sound usually within an octave. The most common scales to learn for the beginning improvisationist are the pentatonic minor and pentatonic blues scales. The reason being is these scales form specific, easy-to-remember patterns around the fretboard. If you don’t know what pentatonic means, it means “five tones” which is how many notes are in the scale. There are five different notes total in the scale. Once you learn each scale in at least one key, move on to the next section
Now that you know at least one key for both the pentatonic minor and pentatonic blues scales, you’ll need to learn some chords that are from the key you have chosen. If you learned the A pentatonic minor or blues scale, then you need to learn the A7 chord. Near the nut of the guitar, locate the notes A, C#, E, and G. This A7 chord will fit perfectly with either scale in the key of A. That, of course, is just my personal taste. If you found it “too spicy” for your taste, just play Am7 instead (A, C, E, G).
How to Improvise on Guitar With Another Player
It might not suit you right from the get-go, but guitar improvisation is meant to happen with other players. Playing with other players will improve your improv instincts in a way you can never achieve by playing alone at home. Additionally, jam sessions are hands-down the most fun you’ll ever have with your guitar.
If you have a guitarist friend, go get them now. Have them play the A7 chord with whatever rhythm they want, but just keep playing that chord. Now just play up and down the scales that you learned and notice how it sounds nice whenever you play certain notes. Now try some random variations of the scale going up and down.
Make the A note your home base for when you want to finish a phrase. It will give it that sense of cadence, or sense of completeness. Now, keep trying different variations and keep practicing making phrases, or little sections of music compositions that you create.
How to Improvise on Guitar Accompanying yourself
Honestly, I think it’s a lot easier to improvise on guitar by yourself when you’re just starting. If you don’t have the benefit of a friend with a guitar or you only have one guitar in your possession, try to record your guitar (either electric or acoustic) playing the A7 chord and make a loop with Audacity. On Audacity, when you play it back, hold Shift and it will loop the track over and over giving you unlimited time to practice your improvisation skills.
Improvise On Guitar Using Loops and Samples
If recording yourself is not an option, then search online for some samples of music or backing tracks in the key of the scales you learned. If you’re extremely lucky you can find some recordings online of the 7 chord of the key you’re playing in. Whatever you can find, try it out. And once you get good with the pentatonic scales, look up all-guitar-chords.com/scales for more scales. This website has a list of different scales to practice your newfound improv skills.
Now you know the basics of how to improvise on guitar. Keep practicing and improving, and with time you’ll find that you repeat yourself a lot less. This is a good time to learn some cool and interesting licks to add to your jam sessions. Remember, the more variety you have in your musical tastes, the more educated you will become, musically anyway.
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