How To Start Improvising On The Guitar
Have you always dreamt of improvising but you feel it is out of your reach right now?
Have you tried improvising but your melodies don’t sound good?
Do you feel overwhelmed by all of the knwoledge and skills you need to acquire in order to improvise on the guitar?
I can relate to that. I’ve met a lot of people with simliar problems regarding their improvisation. I also struggled with the same issues myself when I was starting out. However, I found that most of the time we massively overcomplicate things, especially when wanting to start something new. What do I mean by that? Specifically for the subject of this article:
YOU CAN START IMPROVISING RIGHT NOW BECAUSE IT IS EASY AND I WILL SHOW YOU HOW TO DO IT 😉
OK, I need to explain some theory first, but don’t worry – it won’t take long and I’ll try my best to make it interesting for you 😉 Let’s start:
What do you need to start improvising?
- You need a backing track
- You need to know which scale to use so that the notes you play will fit this backing track
- You need to have minimum technique in order to be able to actually play these notes on your guitar
Now, I know you would like to improvise great solos like your favourite guitar player – that will require a little bit (ok, a lot…) more time and effort from your side. But we can make a first step towards this goal today. It won’t be so complex and it won’t sound like a pro would play it… but it will sound like music – and that is more than enough to start with.
So, back to the topic:
The Backing Track
The simplest way to get a backing track is to find it on the internet. Simply go to YouTube, type: “Backing Track Em” and you will get a nice piece of music in a key of Em. The key is important here, because based on that you will choose a scale that you will use for improvising.
Another way to get a backing is to record it yourself. It doesn’t need to be a great sounding record with bass, drums, keyboards etc. Simple open chords are good. In fact – even if you record yourself (using your smartphone or whatever) playing only ONE CHORD for about 1-2 minutes, it will also work for you as a backing track.
If you want to record a backing track yourself (which will be also a good rhythm guitar exercise for you), here is an easy chord progression in a key of Em you can use:
Em C G D
Record yourself playing it about 8 or 16 times in a row, so that you can improvise over it later.
There are several scales that will fit a backing track in the key of Em. If you want to know them, you need to study your scales – I won’t go into details about it right now, becuase it is not a point of this article. If you need that knowledge, the fastest and easiest way to acquire is to contact a guitar teacher in your area – he (or she) will teach you scales in the right order and show you how to use them to make music.
The scale we will use in our example is E Minor Pentatonic. Notice that the key of the scale fits the key of the backing track. That is the easiest way to tell if the scale is good for the backing track you want to improvise over.
The notes in E Minor Pentatonic are: E G A B D
Now, in order to start improvising you don’t even need to learn the full scale on the guitar. Of course, it is good to learn the full scale because you will have more options to choose from… but remember that our goal is to START IMPROVISING NOW. That’s why we will play this scale on only ONE STRING – so that it’s easy for you.
Let’s choose the high E string (the 1st one). In order to play the Em pentatonic scale on that string, all you need to do is find the notes from that scale on that string. Here they are:
What you need to do right now, before you start playing over your backing track, is to get these notes memorised. Just play them over few times until you can remember where they are.
The Physical Skills
Do you know how to hold the guitar (moreover)? Do you know how to fret the notes on the fretboard? Do you know how to pick (or fingerpick) the notes by your picking hand?
If yes – you have all the skills required to start improvising.
That’s it. Next! 🙂
Now the most fun part comes.
Once you recorded you backing track (or got it from the internet – just make sure it’s in a key of Em) and memorised your scale on the high E string, you can start improvising. How to do it? Just play the backing track and improvise melodies over it using only the notes of the scale you just learned (the order of these notes is up to your creativity). That’s it. Easy 🙂
Try this out and see where you can get it. There are more possibilities with those few notes than you may expect at first… and the best thing about all if this is that now, after you started improvising, you can start exploring this topic and get better at this – there’s really a lot you can learn about how to get your solos to sound amazing.
Piotr is guitar teacher and an owner of guitar school Lekcje Gitary Ostrołęka in Poland. If you have question to him regarding this article, you can contact him by visiting his website www.LekcjeGitaryOstroleka.pl or e-mailing him at: Piotr@LekcjeGitaryOstroleka.pl