Guitar Rock Improvisation Thoughts, Tricks, Concepts and Techniques, 2nd Episode.
This is the 2nd installment in a series of 13 blogs, that will cover different approaches, techniques, and tips to improve your rock guitar improvisation.
It’s a continuation of last week’s
Focus on shorter phrases.
I put this on the list here, because it is a great technique to create tasteful soloing.
When I say “tasteful soloing”, I am referring to the phrasing of guys like Mark Knopfler, Chris Rea, David Gilmour, or Joe Walsh.
There is nothing wrong with playing long lines. As a matter of fact: certain improvisation techniques (i.e. string skip soloing), don’t work as well with shorter phrases.
However: it’s a limitation in your playing if long phrases are all you play in every solo all the time.
And that is interestingly enough, what most guitar students do in their first 2-3 years of playing.
Most guitar students, in their first years of soloing, tend to play nothing but long melody lines.
Focusing on playing shorter phrases instead, gives your solo more direction.
It makes it sound more like you’re telling a story, with short sentences and punctuation (pauses) in between.
The shorter phrases also give you more time to think (as you’re playing less), which greatly improves the quality of the melodies you come up with.
If you know that you’re one of these guitarists who tend to play long lines: spend some time on the above, and see how it affects your soloing.
Play 1-note rhythmic patterns every couple of phrases.
Your sole focus should not just be on melody notes when you improvise.
Part of what makes a melody is interesting is what you do with the placements and duration of the notes.
That taken into account: it is equally important that you make your phrases rhythmically interesting.
But you don’t necessarily need to play multiple notes in every phrase.
Sometimes you could have a 1-note phrase, where your whole focus is on playing rhythmic phrases on that one note.
You then basically playing rhythms, using that one note as your sound you create the rhythms with.
This is one of the many great techniques you can use to build tension in a solo.
Imagine seeing a show, where the guitarist plays 1 note a couple of times in a row. Then there’s a pause, and then the plays another rhythmic pattern on that same note again. After a couple more rhythmic phrases like this on that one note, you start to wonder what he is going to do next.
When then after a couple of rhythmic phrases on that note, he goes off into a melodic flurry of notes, it quite literally feels like a relief and a release.
A “double stop” is the name for the technique where you hit 2 notes simultaneously.
The 2 notes could be any interval, but the most common intervals used for this in rock guitar improv, are 3rds, 4ths, 5ths, and 6ths.
Of all these: the 4th is prob the most used interval for double stops.
You’re basically adding some harmony to your solo.
In doing so, you’re also enriching your improvisation with more colors and textures, beyond the single scale notes.
Usually, guitar students who are put on the spot, invariable solo playing single-note phrases only.
Adding double stops: suddenly brings the soloing to a whole other level.
You could play phrases that only consist of double stops, or play phrases that combine both double stop and single notes.
You probably want to practice both.
Dynamics 1: Phrase by Phrase
I know I touched upon dynamics before in prior blogs.
This is such an incredibly important concept because it is like voice inflection in storytelling.
The use (or lack thereof) of dynamics, makes all the difference between a story sounding boring or, colorful, tense, and interesting.
Applying dynamics merely takes awareness and sensitivity/control in your picking hand.
It should probably be used way more often in solos.
I feel it is underused by most guitar players, who probably don’t even think of it in the heat of the moment during their on-stage performances.
The easier way to apply dynamics is on a phrase by phrase basis.
You play different phrases at different volumes.
It requires less picking hand sensitivity and awareness than note-by-note dynamics, which we’ll cover next.
- Play loud phrases, quiet phrases.
- Let your guitar whisper quietly, and scream super loudly, and everything in between.
- Exaggerate: play phrases so quietly it forces your listeners to really have to listen, to phrases so loud that they jolt back in utter surprise.
Dynamics 2: Play Every Note Like It’s The Most Important Note Ever.
This is the next level of picking hand awareness and sensitivity.
You are no longer just playing a couple of notes loud, a couple of notes soft: you are giving every single note its own dynamic, expression, and personality.
Great example: the main melody to Andy Timmons’ “Ghost of You”. Every note is picked with its own intensity, making the melody very expressive, giving it a ton of personality.
It’s really like telling a story, where you whisper to draw attention, then raise your voice to create tension.
The voice inflection adds a visual and mental picture to the words. (In this case: “the notes”)
It’s like you see grandma being eaten by the wolf with your own eyes. 🙂
- Make every individual note count by giving every note its own volume
- Accent certain notes in phrases.
- Important point you will hear me repeat often: “It’s not about which notes you play, it’s about how you play them.”
- The notes nobody can hear, are important too. Play them! These notes affect the timing and feel of everything else you play in that phrase.
- Really exaggerate this. Go over the top.
I’m serious: every time I explain dynamics to a guitar student, they end up soloing right after with little or no volume difference between the notes.
It’s almost as if they can’t imagine they’re allowed to play notes that aren’t audible or that super loud.
Here’s a video showcasing all the above.
This concludes the 2nd installment in this series on rock improvisation.
Applying the above really important concepts in your rock solos will raise the quality of your playing up many levels.
As I touched upon in last week’s blog: practice each of the above concepts as 2-minute sessions over a backing track.
Do so every day, till the concepts become part of your style and musical personality.
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