January 5

Guitar Improvisation for Beginners

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Guitar improvisation can be a lot of fun. It's essential for jamming with other musicians, and even soloing on guitar. It can also be frustrating if you can't seem to find the right notes. Guitar players like Hendrix or Clapton make it seem really easy and fly all over the fretboard. But in practice it's not quite so easy! I learned "boxes" (segments of scales) which was supposed to be helpful, but I never felt like it connected and I couldn't move around the neck. 

Here's the good news though: guitar players like Hendrix and Clapton started right where you did. And just like any other skill, improvisation on guitar can be learned. So let's try an experiment. I want you to forget everything you know about guitar improvisation and soloing and adopt what I call a beginner's mind. I'm going to show you how to begin improvising in three stages.

Stage 1: "Establish the Playing Field"

We're going to start with six notes.

Pentatonic Scale Movable G Minor

The numbers on the dots are the fingers you should use to play the notes. Start by playing the 1st string 8th fret, then descend all the way down the notes. Get a feel for these notes, play this pattern a few times. Next, play these to the backing track in the video at 4:34. Play them in any order you want to. You can play them up and down, or any combination you want. Experiment with this and remember this is only stage 1.

Stage 2: G, C, and D Chords

I hope you had fun with that. Even if you just used those notes up and down it still sounds musical. But we can make it sound even better.

The chords I used in that backing track were G, G7, and D7. The next stage in improvising on guitar is finding the chord's root notes in the scale and landing on them with the chord. For example, if you're playing over a G chord you would start or end on the G note. When I play the C chord, you'd play a C note, and when I play a D chord you'd play a D note. Here are where those notes are in this scale "box".

Pentatonic Scale Movable G Minor

Now, you don't have to play just those notes. You want to play other notes then just the root. But starting or ending your phrases on those notes sounds the most natural. 

To practice this phase, go back to the backing track and try this out. The chord progression is G-C-G-D. Try starting and ending on the root notes for each chord, and play some notes in between. Experiment with how you start and end the phrases. Does it sound better ending on a root note? 

Stage 3: "Expanding the Playing Field"

The 3rd and final stage is to expand this scale a little. By the way, you've been playing in the G minor Pentatonic scale. We wont go into the theory of the scale in this lesson, but keep it in mind. Let's take the same notes and expand on it a bit.

Pentatonic Scale Movable G Minor

This gives you a full two octaves to play with. So the final stage is to expand the first "box". When good improvisors play, they move all over the fretboard. So little by little you would add to the scale and get familiar with it everywhere on the neck. Go back to the backing track and add these two new notes to your playing. 

How to "Jazz-Up" Your Guitar Improvisation

There are other things you can do so spice things up. Try to hold some notes longer than others. Instead of playing steady quarter notes, try to hold some notes twice as long. You can also try to add notes in between the scale notes. On the 2nd string, try playing the 6th, 7th, and 8th frets together. Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn't, so experiment and see what sounds good to you. 

The more you play the better feel you'll have for what works and what doesn't. So have fun with this and keep on experimenting!


Thanks for joining me today for this guitar improvisation lesson. Leave me a comment and let me know how you enjoyed this lesson. If you did, head over to my YouTube channel and subscribe. I release uplifting and practical lessons like this all the time.

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Guitar Improvisation for Beginners
How to Improvise on Guitar
Want to Learn to Improvise on Guitar
Tomas Michaud

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