Are you an improviser or a memorizer?


And does your audience care one way or the other?

For some reason I can only remember about the first 3 or 4 bars of a solo and from there it's all just improvised. Meanwhile, I know guys that can play solos note-for-note, but couldn't just jam in G minor if he had to.

So which are you?


Silver Supporting Member
Good question - I know I'm a memorizer; I absolutely stink in a jam situation. Truth be told, I'm not so great in a cover situation either, but I'm working on it.


Absolutely an improviser. I can come up with lyrics (that sound good and make sense) on the spot to most any riff and never have a problem with writers block when it comes to coming up with a new riff. Now, getting me to repeat a performance exactly the same two times in a row.... that's a Herculean feat. Not to mention I can't memorize anyone else's lyrics, even to songs I've been singing along with on the radio for over a 1/4 century.


Silver Supporting Member
I find that it's more fun to improvise and make up my own stuff. But, if I need to memorize what someone else has played, I will do that. Sometimes we will totally change a song, and the original solo no longer works. Then it is fun to come up something that does. I remember doing this years ago with "Ramblin' Man". We changed to a slower blues tune. Got a lot of good comments from it.


Silver Supporting Member
A wise person once said improvising is playing what you remember.

I take it as one develops a practice regimen, internalizes a collection of relevant ideas, and in the moment of performance tries to establish a stream of consciousness which hopefully results in something musical.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.


Silver Supporting Member
I assume this only applies to guys in cover bands??

Why would you assume that? In the early days of R&B, audiences expected soloists to reproduce the solos on their hits note for note, even though those solos were mainly improvised in the recording studio. It's also clear that many improvised solos contain licks learned note for note from other people's recordings. So improvised solos can contain learned parts.

My own solos are about 90% improvised and 10% premeditated. Some of the worked out bits contain borrowed phrases. The borrowed phrases sooner or later get altered and worked into my general repertoire of licks.


"jumping the valence"
I do both but my preference is to improvise, to me that's the essence of making REAL music.


Silver Supporting Member
I do both, but I'm much more comfortable improvising. On something with a distinctive solo, I'll try to keep it as close as I can to the original, but I'm not afraid to throw my own thing in.


Senior Member
I've always loved, as Van Halen put it, "falling down the stairs and landing on you feet."

I don't do covers, but it's hard for me to play the same solo twice, or the same song the same.

When my singer and I did our first album, I hadn't heard much of it prior to the studio, and I enjoyed it, hearing something, reacting to it, getting some raw emotion without over thinking. On the songs it didn't work, I didn't mind going home and putting some work in. Once in a while I will script a solo or part, really put some time into it, other times I'll just let it rip and see what happens.

I also like those nuances in rhythm work, where you play inversions or half a chord, whatever, to make it less repetitive.

I think it is my hatred of covers that started this. Even when I was first learning, I would always try to make up my own solos to AC/DC, Van Halen, Metallica whatever. I just got bored really quickly and never saw a reason to learn other people's works word for word. Being well versed in famous bands' guitar parts means you're also well versed in cliches, which I believe kills creativity.


Silver Supporting Member
I do both... And I do both for covers AND originals (kinda stupid not to realize the question applies to both IMHO... Looks like another weak attempt at getting a dig in on cover bands).

It just depends on the song and whether or not there's a written solo.


Platinum Supporting Member
I started guitar seriously about 1 1/2 years ago. I had kinda dabbled for 20 years dinking with chords etc. Never got far. I tried to cover with youtube lessons about three years ago and while looking at a piece of gear from a CL advertiser I ran into a serious pro musician. I didn't want to try out the item he was selling because I was embarrassed for him to hear me. He insisted, however, and after about two minutes I had stopped and he said, I know someone you should meet. It was a local pro player who loves to teach. A month later he started helping me to try to develop my chops and I count that as when I started playing guitar. Sadly, at 56, it doesn't come easy, and I never seem to have enough time. But there are several appendages I would give to be able to improvise without it sounding like, ahem, well poor. I am improving and take pleasure in the journey cause I may never in this lifetime arrive. :)

Right now, I'm neither as to the original question, but give me five more years and I hope to be firmly in the improvisation camp. It's still new enough to me, though, that if I could play famous solos note for note I would be thrilled.
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Both. I like solos to have structure and melody and add something to the song. I usually work out solos by improvising over the rhythm tracks but once I get something I like, I stick pretty close to it. Playing live there are always some variations.

On some songs, though, I figure out how to get in and how to get out and everything else in between is just winging it.


I only improvise on original music now. I love it. I like the VH "falling down the stairs ..." comparison from the post above. (Maybe I'd add, "and not spilling your drink"). And like some other posters have mentioned, I rarely can play the same thing twice.

When l first started playing in the 80s I didn't really have any speed to speak of so usually I learned those Ratt and Dio solos as best I could and then added my own bits over the parts I wasn't talented enough to do on my own. In a way it gave me an advantage because I applied the theory I was learning in my guitar lessons to real life situations. The other guitarist in my band at the time did note for note solos and couldn't improvise at all. Consequently if he messed up the note for note solo he was totally lost.


I do both. I play in cover bands and I think there's a fairly clear distinction between solos that are sort of free form and have lots of room for improv and solos (or I usually call these "lead breaks" actually) that pretty much should be played close to note for note. I have a personal preference for the latter frankly. I just feel like they are usually more fun and just "cooler sounding" but I suspect that arises from my general tastes in music. I'm not much of a blues guy...


I'm an improvisor, whether it's one of my own blues or a blues I'm covering. I try best I can to think in terms of a solo telling a story melodiously, but I'm firmly in the improvisation camp.


I think a distinction needs to be made between cover and original bands-if you're in an original band, you're kind of quoting yourself anyway and any time you go off on a tangent during a solo, it's still going to sound kind of similar since it's the same player unless he intentionally goes in a different direction. I always loved that Jimmy Page played the solos differently, but it's still Page. On the other hand, if a player in a cover band doesn't know the original solo and improvises the whole thing, it totally depends on how good that player is. It could be brilliant or it could be a disaster.

In a cover band, it really depends a lot on the song-is it a distinctive memorable solo that's reletively short? You probably want to stick to the original or pretty close to it. Is it the Elizebeth Reed? Feel free to improvise. Learning a 4 minute solo note for note is very tedious and remembering it without getting lost nearly impossible for me, I'd just remember some of the key parts and do my best playing in that style. I love to jam anyway.

I don't like listening to someone who obviously doesn't know the solo and can't really convincingly play in the same style-kind of pointless noodling during an SRV solo for instance. I guess that depends a lot on the player's skill level though-if he's good enough to pull it off, his noodling might be really good, so there's a fine line.

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