Improvisation is a really great part of playing any instrument. It allows the player to take notes from a scale/arpeggio and use them to create their own individual melodies and phrases. Each different player can use exactly the same notes as another, but as you are creating phrases on the spot, each player’s take is bound to be different. This is the magic of improvisation; it allows you to express yourself in a completely free way.

Often this can be a scary thought for anyone who is new to improvisation, but if you follow a few basic guidelines and build your own style from there, you’ll find that you cant go too wrong. The next five lessons aim to show you the basic things you need to know in order to get started.

First, let’s look at a couple of scale positions that can be used effectively for improvisation. The first scale we will look at is the blues scale. Blues is possibly the easiest genre of music to learn how to improvise with, as it follows simple patterns and rhythms.

Take a look at the two positions below with both the TAB and the diagrams. This time, instead of detailing which fingers to use, each note is labelled with it’s note value from the major scale e.g R (root), 3rd, 5th etc….

A Blues Scale – Position 1:

A Blues Scale Position 1

A Blues Scale Position Two:

A Blues Scale - Position Two

In the examples above, the scales have been written out in the key of A. So as you can see from the TAB; if you want to use these scales in the key of A, simply start position one from an A (5th fret, 6th string) and then make sure all the root notes in the remainder of the position one and position two are sitting on A’s. If you need to play in the key of C, simply repeat this process, starting position one from a C and matching all root notes to C.

The reason behind labelling all the notes with note values rather than finger numbers; is that when improvising, the most important thing you need to know, is where the root notes, thirds/flat thirds, and the fifths are. This is because these are the ‘safest’ notes for you to play. If you are playing in any key, as long as you focus your phrases around these notes, your improvisation will always sound correct. In fact, all the notes in the scale will sound ok (as long as you are playing the scale in the correct key), it’s just that the root notes, thirds and fifths will always sound the safest.

With the blues scale you have two extra notes, the b5ths. These are the notes that give the scale its bluesy sound. Try not to linger on the b5th notes for too long, they are better for passing over if you want an extra bluesy sounding phrase.

Below are some examples of blues style phrases created purely from taking notes from position one of the blues scale in the key of A.

easy blues licks

All the phrases are concentrated around the ‘safe’ notes that we previously discussed. To start with try and copy the melody from the recorded examples. Your idea of how they should sound may differ from the examples given. This is fine as it’s completely up to you to make what you will of the notes given. Just make sure that you give the phrases a ‘bluesey’ feel.

Practice tips:

It is essential that you practice these scales slowly at first as this will make it much easier to play each scale smoothly. Playing too fast, too soon will result in your playing being uneven or disjointed.

In addition to playing each scale slowly at first, it is important that you take the lower finger off AS you play the next note! Like playing too fast, taking your fingers off too early will also result in your playing being disjointed.

image credit – infrogmation