How to Improvise with Chord Sequences - Online Guitar Lessons

How to Improvise with Chord Sequences

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This lesson we will look at some phrases that link the positions of the pentatonic minor together and also take a more active look into transposing the scale into different keys. So far we have based the learning of the pentatonic minor scale in the key of A minor. To challenge you with moving these scales into different keys, this lesson will be based in the key of G minor. It really is important that you push yourself to learn how to move scales into different keys. If you neglect this you’ll soon get stuck into only being able to play in one key. Transposing scales is not as hard as it may seem, it just takes time and practice.

If you take a look at the notes diagram you should be able to see that G is two frets, a full tone, lower than A. You may already know this without having to look at the notes diagram. In practical terms, this means that all you have to do is move each shape down two frets, and you will then be playing the pentatonic minor scale in the key of G minor, and no longer in A minor.

Just to confirm, below is a list of each position and where it should start on the guitar:

  • Position 1: 3rd Fret
  • Position 2: 6th Fret
  • Position 3: 8th Fret
  • Position 4: 10th Fret
  • Position 5: 13th Fret

The first thing you need to do is go through all the positions and make sure you are happy with were they are positioned. Remember to think about where the root notes are positioned within each shape.

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Later in the lesson we will be moving the scale into other keys, but G minor will remain the ‘base’ key so it’s important you know where to go back to. Another reason you need to be very confident with the main key of a song is that, when improvising, it will always sound best if you change scales with the chords. But the key scale, in this case G pentatonic minor, will always work as long as the band behind you stay in the same key. So by being ultra confident with where, in this case G pentatonic minor, the key scale is positioned, you will always have a safe ground to return to.

Let’s take a look at some phrases in the key of G minor. Above each TAB example, you are shown what positions the phrases are taken from.

Taken from positions one and two:

Improvisation TAB

Taken from position two:

Improvisation Phrase TAB

Taken from positions two and three:

improvisation phrase 3

Taken from position four:

Guitar Improvisation phrase 4

Taken from positions four and five:

Below is a standard twelve bar blues in G. To improvise over this we are going to use the G pentatonic minor scale. However, unlike before, this time when we reach a chord change, you are going to transpose the scale into the appropriate key. As you can see below, the chords in this sequence are; G7, C7 and D7. That means that you need to know how to play the minor pentatonic in the key of G minor, C minor and D minor.

12 Bar Blues in G

 

Try initially using only two positions. You may find that learning how to transpose all five positions may be a bit much to start with. Once you have worked out where to put the scales for each chord, the main thing you need to be thinking of is the root notes. Where are the root notes in the positions? Where’s the nearest root note to me now? Knowing the answers to these questions will give you a much better, controlled approach to your improvising.

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So, when moving scales from one key to another, and then back again, the two main things you need to think about are:

  • Where is the shape on the neck?
  • Where are the root notes?

To get you started, below are some phrases that change from one key in the above sequence to another. Again, each TAB is labelled with the positions and the keys the phrases are taken from.

image credit – sidewalk flying

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