5 Tips to Help You Improvise

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5 Tips to Help You Improvise

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Jack Gration’s 5 tips to help you improvise.

(Forward by Neil Santos)

My favorite thing to do on the guitar is improvise. Coming up with a guitar solo in the moment is an exciting and rewarding experience and it’s one of the great passions of my life.

I’ve heard Eddie Van Halen describe his improvisational style as,”Falling down a flight of stairs and trying to land on my feet.” This approach makes for some epic moments when you’re “on” and some devastating failures when you’re are not.

Other players take a more methodical approach, choosing each note for it’s melodic and psychological effects.

I’m of the opinion that a sweet spot lies somewhere between these two worlds. A thoughout approach with just enough uncertainty to keep the player and audience guessing as to which note is coming next.

After you’ve grasped playing chords and songs what do you learn? My suggestion would be to start improvising and find your own voice on the instrument. Make it your own.

I’m not alone in my passion for creating music in the moment. Jack Gration of playguitarscalesnow.com is another player who has an obsession for guitar improvisation and has given the topic a lot of thought. In this guest post he shares his 5 tips to help you improvise.

Take it away Jack.


Once you know a bit about guitar scales and which ones work with which musical key it’s time to start using them to make music. The easiest and quickest way to do this is to start improvising.

Below are 5 tips to help you improvise with guitar scales.

1. Get a good backing track to improvise over


The first thing you need is something to improvise over. This could be another guitarist but when your practicing improvisation the best thing to use is a backing track. There are plenty of backing tracks out there on the internet. Some are free and some you will have to pay for. There are a lot of really good YouTube backing tracks for you to use, you just need to search for them.

Below is an example of blues one you could use to improvise over. It also tells you what chords are being played which will really help you with second tip.

2. Use arpeggios


When improvising over guitar scale patterns it can be difficult to know which notes you should be playing, but using arpeggios will help you with that.

Arpeggio literally means broken chord and to play an arpeggio you play each note of a chord individually. For example the first chord on the backing track above is Am. So, when that chord is being played you would play just the notes of Am which are A, C and E. Playing the notes in a chord while that chord is being played will always sound good.

You can start by playing the notes in order and then mixing them up to make different melodies. Once you are happy playing the different arpeggios you can try adding in different notes from the scale to make your improvising sound more interesting.

3. “Borrow” from other guitar solos


Guitarists will steal or “borrow” from other guitarist all the time. This is not a bad thing and in fact using other people’s ideas in your playing will definitely make you a better guitarists. We are all influenced by music that has come before us and it’s natural to re-use their ideas.

To help you with your improvising learn phrases and licks that you like from other famous guitar solos and then start to use them in your improvising. Don’t play the whole solo just little bits that you like and then try and add your own ideas to them.

To help you the video below has 35 blues guitar licks that you could use, some would even be suitable for the backing track above.

Good artists copy, great artists steal.

~ Pablo Picasso

4. Keep it simple (and melodic)


If you’ve been practicing playing your guitar scales and can play them at speed it can be really tempting to start improving by playing lots of notes really quickly. Unfortunately when you do this your improvising can start to sound more like a technical exercise than a guitar solo.

With a lot of improvising less is definitely more. You should focus on trying to play some sort of melody or tune, this is what people will remember. Two or three notes played at the right time with feeling can be a millions time more effective than racing up and down your guitar scales.

5. Keep going


The trick to getting good at anything including improvising is practice. Starting to improvise can be one of the hardest things to do because nearly everyone’s first few attempts at it sound terrible. But if you stick with it you will get better.

Start by following the tips above and just keep practicing. If you come up with a little phrase or lick that you like keep practicing till it’s perfect. Then try moving it in to another lick and then another lick etc.

Try using these 5 tips and with a bit of dedication and practice you’ll improve your improvisation skills and soon you’ll be able to improvise over guitar scales like a pro.