Guitar Rock Improvisation Thoughts, Tricks, Concepts and Techniques, 3rd Episode.
Time flies: we’re already on the 3rd episode of this 13 blog series of rock guitar improvisation ideas.
This is a continuation from:
“it’s not about which notes you play… it’s about how you play them.”
This is so important, this should have its own place here.
Another way of saying this is that you should focus as much (if not more) on the “how”, as you focus on the “which/what” (notes you choose to play).
You’re telling a story, not just reciting a couple of sounds of your choosing.
Sure; note choices are important. There is something to be said about playing interesting-sounding note groupings against the chords.
However: there is also an expression factor involved in soloing, that gets easily overlooked when one is too involved with figuring out where to place the fingers, and what the scale shape looks like, etc.
This automatically improves, the more you have your fingerings, your theory, and your fretboard mastered.
After all: the lesser you have to think about the technicalities and specifics of scales and fingerings, the more of your brainpower opens up for creativity and expressiveness.
The questions one then ponders are:
- What do you want to say with the notes?
- How do you want to say it?
- What emotion are you trying to evoke?
- What do you want people to feel?
- How do you want to touch people?
- What do you want to communicate?
- How do you do this?
In other words: how are you going to “express” these notes you chose to play.
Expression: bending, sliding, hammer-ons, tremolo picking, loud, scream, whisper, play behind the beat, placement, the energy behind the notes, the sound of your guitar… and so on.
Pick notes on different locations on the string.
This creates different timbres.
It’s like you’re letting your guitar speak with different voices.
It’s amazing how this improvisation tool sounds so good, yet this is so seldom used.
Picking a string right at the bridge creates an entirely different timbre and sound, than picking that string over the fretboard or pick-ups.
The only guitar players I can think of off of the top of my head, who use this technique as part of their style, are Eric Johnson and Guthrie Govan.
So there you have a great technique that really can set you apart from the pack.
All you need to do is use it. 🙂
Important cool technique: Start every new phrase you play, with the ending of the previous play.
I might already have covered this in greater detail in a blog a couple of years ago.
Applying this improv concept, you are starting your next musical phrase, copying the last couple of notes and rhythms verbatim of your previous phrase, followed by a couple of new notes added.
When you do this, all your phrases in your solo sound connected.
This connectedness also creates a sense of direction.
It feels like your solo is going somewhere and saying something.
Moreover: a great perk to this concept, is that it buys you time to really craft your solo, as you don’t have to keep reinventing the wheel phrase after phrase.
You’re using what you just played, as a starting point to play your next melody.
As such, you’re less likely to deplete your flow of ideas.
This only really works though and only sounds right, if:
- You borrow enough melodic and rhythmic material from your prior phrase. You don’t get the sound that this concept creates if you only repeat your last or last 2 notes from the previous phrase
- Your phrases are melodically and rhythmically “striking” (memorable).
This sound this soloing technique creates gets lost in phrases with too many long sustained notes or uninteresting rhythms.
- You’re diligent in playing the material you borrow from the prior phrase, EXACTLY as you played it before. This soloing concept doesn’t work, if you can’t refrain from altering the borrowed material
This will all make more sense when you hear it applied in the below video.
Make sure you go beyond only playing pentatonic phrases.
The pentatonic scale is one of the most widely used scales in rock improvisation.
Playing scales with fewer notes always is a safe bet against mistakes.
The lesser notes you play: the lesser the likelihood that you’ll play a “wrong” note. (If there is such a thing)
Another trait of music played using a 5-note scale, it that it sounds more open (lesser notes) than if a 7-note scale were used.
Compare it to a painting with visual colors.
The painting that is created with 5 colors, will look more open, less dense, and less busy than the painting with 7 colors.
Each scale is a color palette (of x number of aural colors you can paint a song or solo with).
The more notes in the scale, the richer, denser, but also the more colorful the solo will sound.
And that is exactly why it’s good to experiment using the 2 extra notes.
If you’re a guitarist who is heavily based in pentatonic: experiment adding the 2 extra notes in your solo.
It will make your solo more colorful.
A great example.
Sure you could solo with an A minor pentatonic (notes are: A C D E G ) over following chord progression:
|| C | Am | Dm | G ||
And it would totally work great.
BUT… it sounds so sweet when you hit an F note over the Dm chord, or when you play a B note over the G chord (or the Am chord).
It all depends on what kind of sound you want to create in your solo of course.
Just be aware that, if all you ever use is pentatonic, that you’re missing out on many other cool sounds, textures, and colors.
If you added notes or explored other scale options, you’d be expanding your color palette and melodic possibilities.
This is a technique of attacking the string a certain way, creating a certain “pinched note” effect.
The more different ways you know how to pick a note, the more expressive your solo will get.
The technique is exactly what you would do if you were to pick a pinch harmonic.
You push your thumb down towards the ground, pick angled: side of the thumb touching the string a fraction of a second after the pick attack.
The only difference between this, and pinch harmonics, is that it doesn’t actually produce a harmonic after the attack. (Or the harmonic is too weak to overpower the volume of the note you played).
So in a way: it’s like a badly played pinch harmonic.
Important: You can only do this with a clean guitar sound. It doesn’t work with overdrive or distortion.
With a really good overdrive or distortion pedal: you will hear pinch harmonics.
Explanations like this, typically make more sense when you hear or see it applied in a video.
Check the following video to hear how all the above works.
Keep working on the ideas discussed in the previous 2 blogs if they aren’t ingrained in your soloing just yet.
Meanwhile: the new techniques discussed above will add more power to your rock guitar solos.
Hit me up anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions, or if you would like to book a lesson.
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That is why people take lessons: way better results and progress, much more complete information, exposed to way more creative ideas than you can get from a blog or YouTube video.
There is only so much that self-study can accomplish.
If you want to see amazing results and progress in your guitar playing, buy your first lesson here and get started ASAP.
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