Improvisation is a Myth
That’s quite a bold statement. Give it some thought though and you’ll probably come to the same conclusion; that being put on the spot and coming out with something incredible can only be achieved through years of hard graft.
Think about anyone who can improvise brilliantly. Take all the great comedians for example, and their ability to deal with heckles. On the spot wit, or a library of well-rehearsed responses that can be pulled out the hat when the situation requires?
It’s no different when it comes to improvisation on the guitar. Being able to pull out a solo at a moment’s notice requires an intricate knowledge of the situation. Starting with understanding what key you’re in, the scales you can tuck into, and of course the ability to melodically fit into whatever track you find yourself playing to.
Building a natural ‘sense’ of where to go takes years of development and commitment to the cause.
Here’s a brilliant quote from the amazing Steve Vai:
“All musicians practice ear training constantly, whether or not they are cognizant of it. If, when listening to a piece of music, a musician is envisioning how to play it or is trying to play along, that musician is using his or her ‘ear’ – the understanding and recognition of musical elements – for guidance.”
So, whether you realise it or not – as your time playing increases, so too does your natural ability to adjust to each and every playing situation.
If you’re new to playing live and dream of being able to rip out a banging solo on a whim, it’s really not all that hard if you focus on the right things. Like every other aspect of playing the guitar – it boils down to practice, practice, practice.
So what can you do to start preparing for being an improvisation genius? Here’s a few of our favourite tips:
- Learn your scales – it sounds boring and dull, but the more you understand about the relationship between notes and the key you’re playing in, the better you’ll be and knowing what notes you have at your disposal.
- Learn some licks – having a library of practiced licks ready for action is no bad thing. Even if you never call on them, simply sitting down and practicing how to take a scale and string it into a cool sounding lick is exactly the practice you need.
- Use backing tracks – getting used to being put on the spot without a pub full of people staring at you is a far more preferable place to start for most. Search the web, buy a CD or program your own, there are loads of ways to get hold of backing tracks for all genres.
- Make some friends – the next natural step from backing tracks. If you know a bunch of musicians who are up for a bit of a laugh, suggest having a bit of a jam. No harm in making a fool of oneself among friends.
- Be brave – at some point, you’re going to have to take the leap and get put on the spot in-front of an expectant crowd. Don’t be afraid dying on your arse, we’ve all done it and its part of the experience. Be brave, get out there, and you’ll get better a whole lot quicker.
- Put the hours in – above all, you have to be committed. We’re all still learning, and never forget that if it was easy, everyone would be doing it!
So there you go – is improvisation just about being naturally brilliant, or is it really the end result of years of hard work?