How to Improve Your Guitar Improv

There's barely any other experience that can compare to the joy of learning how to play guitar. All those songs that you love and adore – you can now easily play them all you want. Even some of those more complicated pieces are at your disposal with an abundance of guitar tabs online that are available these days. But the real joy comes when you're able to make your own music. Especially if you can improvise and, right there on the spot, come up with some great solos. However, this is way more complicated than one would think.

Some may say that improvisation is not that hard and that you can play random stuff and that it would sound like jazz or something. While playing random stuff could technically fall into the category of improvisation, things are most often way more complex than that. You might find yourself trying to improvise, but whatever you come up with does not sound the way it's supposed to. Don't worry – every guitar player faced this same issue at some point. We figured we could do this brief guide and help you improve your guitar improv skills.

Learn music theory

There is absolutely no better way to start working on your improvisation skills than learning at least some basic music theory rules. Yes, you're probably bombarded all the time about how important this is. Some might say that music theory is obsolete as some of the biggest guitar legends improvised without really getting into it too much. However, most of those guitar legends actually have their theory knowledge sorted out and have implemented it in their music.

It's a very long process and you might feel like you don't completely understand why you need all these things. But after months of studying and practicing, you'll notice that you're slowly beginning to implement this new knowledge in your music. As time goes by, you'll be able to rely on these rules while improvising in literally any genre.

Don't look at music theory as a set of some boring rules that will make your music predictable. It's more of a tool that will help you express yourself better. Kind of like technique.

Start learning music by ear

With the abundance of tabs and sheet music available online, learning new songs has never been easier. However, contrary to popular opinions, learning music through tabs might not always be that good for you. By using this simplified numerical system, you're approaching music mechanically. You'll remember things as fret numbers instead of actual notes.

In order to get a full grasp and understanding of music, you should always try and learn it by ear. This way, you're fully connecting what you're hearing in your head and what your hands are doing on your instrument. And this is of great importance if you want to become a quality guitar player who's capable of delivering good improvised lead sections.

Combined with your knowledge of music theory, new horizons will open up and you'll be able to do things previously thought impossible.

Explore your fretboard

Things would be much easier if you would know where each note is located on your fretboard at any given moment. Aside from all the scales and modes in one position, try practicing 3-notes-per-string and 4-notes-per-string patterns. While getting a hang of this, you'll slowly get a better understanding of each scale and how all the notes are distributed on the fingerboard. There won't be those awkward-sounding moments when you accidentally hot on a wrong note.

Keep track of what's going on

Whether you're playing with a band or over a backing track, it's extremely important to know what's going on in the background. Knowing and fully understanding a chord progression will help you pick the best notes and you'll be able to express yourself better in the given situation. This is something you'll have a better understanding of after covering all the music theory basics.

And you should also keep track of the rhythm. You can easily get lost if you drift away without knowing or feeling where you are in this musical piece at any given moment. Counting should come naturally for you if you want to improvise. This requires a lot of patience and exercise.

Feel the style that you're playing

Since improvisation is an expressive craft, sort of like a language on its own, "feeling" the music that you're playing is also important. For instance, you can't really add a death metal-style solo in a blues piece. Well, you can, but there'll be disappointed people in the audience. This is why you should be fully aware of the style that you're playing in, along with all of its rules.

Of course, experimentation is always welcome, but even an experimental cross-genre solo will sound better if you know the rules of the music style that you're performing.

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