A recent lesson with a student prompted the broad question as to what to practice in terms of building a complete vocabulary for improvising. We listed some of the categories of study that are essentials from the ground up: Arpeggios and available tensions on each individual chord.
- Chord scales from the root of each chord.
- Common tones (including available tensions) that sustain throughout 2 or more chords.
- II – V , or II – V – I progressions to locate key areas and general tonal centers. *
- Hearing phrases that cross the bar rhythmically or melodically.
- “Inside” and “outside” pentatonic scales.
- Altered scales specifically on dominant seventh chords.
- Call and response ideas i.e. striving to play “conversationally”.
These are only a few ideas and approaches used in thinking about improvisation and how to approach a solo. Many players might use some, all, or none of these approaches in any one solo, shifting back and forth to whatever is most effective to be “in the moment”. No one approach or idea is best all the time and start by recognizing some of these things when listening to your favorite players.
- Begin to look at all things musical in more than one way (especially on the guitar).
- Strive to give your improvisations a conversational quality.
- Always let your ear be the judge as to what sounds best.
- Experience and patience!
* Expanded Key Center – By combining these techniques it is possible to think of many groups of chords as one key area (effective on fast tempos) keeping in mind characteristic leading tones, common tones, and thinking very chromatically. This approach may only work in part of a tune but can give your solos a feeling of being the most “free”.
Just some general food for thought….
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