Saturday, 21 September 2013

Confession #35 - Repeat & Vary! (Improvisation 1)

When I was doing lessons, my teacher would sometimes say "Let's Jam!" and start playing some rhythm guitar and let me lay down some lead lines.  Frankly, this terrified me.  My teacher was super-cool, but I always felt some self-imposed pressure to fill the space and to create some interesting lead lines.  Filling the space was easy.  Creating interesting lines, not so much.  So this usually resulted in me wandering up and down a pentatonic or major scale in a steady stream of eight notes.  Really boring stuff !!!


True improvisation is the spontaneous creation of music, which sounds like a very wide-open mandate and thus makes improvisation very intimidating.  There are simply so many choices you can make that it is easy to become paralyzed.  However, there are a variety of techniques that you can use to make the task less daunting and the resulting music more interesting.

Most of us are never going to find ourselves on stage having to improvise a solo.  We'll be much more likely to apply these techniques in one of two situations:
  • we're jamming with our friends and thus are free to experiment, or
  • we're on our own and trying to come up with some riffs or licks, or a solo


The first improvisation technique we'll cover is what I call "repeat and vary".  Your noodling around and have come up with something interesting.  Play it again and change it slightly!  Add a note, or drop one.  Play two 16th notes in place of one 8th note!  There are lots of options!

Am Pentatonic Lick #1

Here's an example of this technique.  The first measure below defines a musical phrase.  The second measure repeats the phrase but omits the G on the "and" of beat 2.  This results in two changes:
  • the stream of notes changes, and
  • the phrase finishes on the "and" of beat 3 instead of on beat 4

Am Pentatonic Lick #1
(Click to Enlarge)

Note the tempo indicator.  It's telling you to play with a shuffle rhythm.  If you aren't sure what a shuffle rhythm is, think of a typical blues tune.  The bass sounds something like this:

    Bump ba Bump ba Bump ba Bump
    1    &  2    &  3    &  4

Although its counted as an 8th note rhythm, the first 8th note is held a bit longer, and the second is shortened.

Am Pentatonic Extended Box

In case you are wondering, the notes in Am Pentatonic Lick #1 are taken from the Am pentatonic extended box, as shown below:

Am Pentatonic Scale with Extended Box
(Click to Enlarge)


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