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Calling all Improv and Jam gurus

Discussion in 'Playing and Technique' started by Tone, Apr 2, 2005.

  1. Tone

    Tone Member

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    Anyone got advice for getting better at improvising and jamming? I got a bunch of backing tracks and put them on a CD to practice a while ago. I dunno what it is, but my improvising just does'nt sound exciting, fresh, or seem to go anywhere. :) Anyone got advice? Sounds more like I'm practicing scales I guess. Help me to be a great improviser! :)

    Thanks!:dude
     
  2. y2stevo

    y2stevo Member

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    Hey man

    THe Best most almighty great thing that will undoubtedly and sytmatically improve your Improvising hands down,is getting a good teacher.Theres no substitute in the world better than being able to have a one on one lesson once a week with a guy who knows what he's doing and who can teach..You wont know yourself after it:dude
     
  3. Scumback Speakers

    Scumback Speakers Gold Supporting Member

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    And beyond that, playing with better players will allow you to absorb other ideas, or learn things you didn't know before. A few really good players showed up at the blues jam the other nite, and they set a higher standard than I normally hear there. When we were trading solos it seemed to me that I had kicked it up a notch to be at this level, and the folks at the jam noticed the same "elevated level" in my playing after I got off stage (judging by the comments from quite a few)...

    The moral of the story is that I tend to play better with better players. It just happens (well, if you're diligent) naturally, so whether it's a teacher once a week, or a jam with others, you can learn and expand your skills by playing with others at or a level or two above your present skill level.

    No one was Clapton, Hendrix, Page or Beck without practice. And after the other nite's jam, I realized that I still had a few licks in me that I forgot...but I also realized that I needed to brush up on a few things, too.

    You never get it down totally, but hey, that's the best part! Learning! If I'd mastered this guitar playing thing, I'd probably get bored and move on to owning a yogurt shop.
     
  4. rh

    rh Robo Sapien Noise Maker Gold Supporting Member

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    If you've got backing tracks, listen to them a few times without playing along. What sort of things to you imagine hearing when you do this? Does it remind you of anything you've heard? ('No' is the best possible answer to that last question, although don't be disappointed if you imagine something like someone else would play.)

    The distance between what you hear and what you can play will tell you what to practice next.

    Myself, I am utterly dependent on having a musical idea in mind before I start playing, or take my turn in a jam or my solo at a rehearsal or gig. I'm 100% screwed otherwise, because I've deliberately abandoned building and or maintaining any sort of lick bag. I have specific things I practice, and will do the odd bit of transcribing here and there, but acquiring licks aren't on my menu. I'm not saying I recommend this approach for anybody else, but it's what is important to me in music and I've decided to live or die by it.

    If you try and you don't imagine anything, then maybe you're tired, or maybe you're bored. Not all music is going to speak to you, and if you're drawing a blank maybe it's time to put on a different backing track.
     
  5. Kappy

    Kappy Member

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    Why not tell us some about the backing tracks? What chord progressions, what tempos, what kinda' feel?

    Also, you might define what a "great improviser" is to you so we can make informed recommendations about how you can get where you want to go with this.
     
  6. rwe333

    rwe333 Supporting Member

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    Learn more theory, play w/ others as much as you can (in addition to the excellent advice already noted).
     
  7. Tone

    Tone Member

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    Majority of the tracks are blues or rock based, and at slow to medium tempos. Not sure about some of the chord progressions because I either can't figure them out yet, or are not listed when you download them. Some are basic l, lV, V blues progressions. I can't really describe the feel, but it's nothing that really jumps out and grabs you. Good enough for practice though.

    I see a great improviser as anyone who can play spontaneously and with feeling, no matter what is going on with the rhythm, and make things fit and sound good. Also guys who can play a solo differently everytime, and you'll not know which one is better than the other.

    Thanks for the tips so far guys!:dude
     
  8. littlemoon

    littlemoon Member

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    I like to practice over backing tracks by imagining what a vocalist might sing over the track, and playing exactly that. It helps me focus on melodic development of my solos.

    littlemoon
     
  9. y2stevo

    y2stevo Member

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    The Best advice my teacher ever gave me on Improvising is, Limit yourself.e.g. Limit yourself to say one string, or limit yourself to playing say the 5th to 7th frets on the D and G strings and your not allowed bend.limit yourself to only playing pre-bends, etc...IMO it's JUST the same as trying to get your chromatic scales up to speed or practising a new techniqe, You Gotta start off slow. I think thats the biggest mistake and the thing that makes starting beginning to learn to improvise scary and daunting, is that you gotta take these things in small doses, baby steps. Don't initially try to use every note on the board to try and improv because it just makes it much harder.
    I found when starting tat just taking a couple of note and playing through a backing track 4 or 5 times that i was able to play much better than I was after a week of jumping into the deep end with trying to use every bit of the fretboard.

    Hope that helps :dude

    y2stevo
     
  10. bobbymack

    bobbymack Supporting Member

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    Definitely playing with other people who you are comfortable with is a good place to jump off. Then, LISTEN to what the other players are doing, and REACT to some of it. Let yourself go, don't overthink, and LISTEN....
     
  11. meterman

    meterman Member

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    All great advice! I'll add one thing, when I get in a rut just playing stock licks I'll try singing a phrase and then playing it, or better yet singing a phrase and playing it simultaneously. Not playing a lick and singing it, the other way around....they say the voice is the purest instrument, it's definitely the one with the most direct connection to the brain and I find that when I do this I come up with melodies, intervals, etc. that I might not otherwise play. Doesn't always sound pretty :D but it works!
     
  12. Guinness Lad

    Guinness Lad Silver Supporting Member

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    If you have a drum machine use that instead of your prerecorded tracks for awhile. Good drum machines can have 50+ preset patterns, everything from straight 8ths to samba. Pick up out a pattern, set a tempo and play along with just the pattern. Play in one key with one basic tonality, don't switch from minor to major or do key changes. Your playing, if your listening should naturally fall in line with the drum patterns. The drum patterns have natural breaks and points of emphasis that will make you play a certain way over it. You will find some patterns are very easy to play over and others are much more difficult, practice the ones that give you trouble. Play in time, your 8th notes (could be any value) should equal or should I say be in time with the drum patterns.
     
  13. mlynn02

    mlynn02 Member

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    these are all really good ideas! one thing i always fall back on is just doing "guitar karaoke". basically put on a cd of a guitar player you like and do "call and response" with each lick. or try to feed off of the recorded lines as if you were on stage with the band. aside from being a lot of fun, i find that the more i "visualize" and let myself get swept up in it, the more inspired i feel and the more natural my playing becomes. i think this really helps with the ear training and timing in ways that backing tracks can't.
     
  14. Yossi

    Yossi Member

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    +1 on the drum machine.

    I recently purchased the Boss DR-Rhythm 880.
    With 500 presets, bass & drums.
    Easy to change the tempo & Key
    Programmable everything else (haven't done that yet)

    It tells you the key the bass is in and the chords in real time.

    By FAR the best practice tool that I've found.

    It has great sounds and when I am playing with a bass player I simply pick the drums and turn the volume down on the bass.

    I think it's great.

    Yossi
     
  15. bobbymack

    bobbymack Supporting Member

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    The new Fender G-DEC is a cool little practice amp too.

    Has most of what the Boss unit has, 50 rhythm presets, plus a built in tuner, cd player input, and a phrase sampler...
     
  16. rotren

    rotren Member

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    Phrasing. Check out Scott Henderson's Melodic Phrasing - that taught me the most in terms of improvising.

    Try this - use a lick or phrase you already know, then play it with a few different notes, then change the rhytmic phrasing. You need a background groove to do this, or at least some rhytm track. You can try that phrase also over different chords and try and see how the notes relate to the specific chord or chords you're playing over.
     
  17. Tone

    Tone Member

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    That's exactly what I was doing! I would set out to practice a certain scale in a certain key and immediately just tried to use every single note within the scale patterns up and down the neck, sideways, diagnally, etc. :) I gotta cut that crap out, and try to limit like you suggested.:dude
     
  18. raz

    raz Member

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    You've gotten lots of good advice here. Here are some things I've been doing lately:

    * Copy solos from great players and then shoehorn them into different songs and backing tracks. I transpose them as necessary and alter the note values as necessary to fit the new harmonic context, but I'm careful to force all the notes in and make them work.

    Just memorizing a Scott Henderson solo won't teach you a huge amount; it's good dexterity exercise and it does force you to learn how he moves his fingers. But it doesn't expand your improvisational ability.

    But forcing it into another progression will really drive concepts home. I find when I do this, I start to 'feel' the artist's phrasing and hear the harmonic possibilities in the licks. In the process of modifying the solo to fit I find new licks or new takes on licks that speak to me and become part of my bag of tricks. Finally, it breaks me out of the habit of playing the same old lick everytime a particular change comes along.

    * Switch solos around in a particular artist's repertoire. At a jam session this week we played SRV's version of "Texas Flood", but instead of playing the right solos, I plugged in the solos for "Pride and Joy". It was a mess at first, but as I adapted I began to find some cool things. It definitely messed with my head, and THAT's how you get to be a better improviser.

    * Do drills with odd divisions of measures. A Zappa interview inspired this. Most guitarists end up working in even divisions of 4, 8, 16, etc. Zappa's phrases often had fives, sevens and nines. I wanted to learn to do this so I put on a 4/4 click, sloooow, and then I make up a phrase with a strange number of notes. Once I get it down, I work at getting it faster and faster. I'm just beginning at this, so it sounds like crap so far, but I'm learning.

    R
    A
    Z
     
  19. Tone

    Tone Member

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    How long before you guys got pretty proficient at improvising? Also, anyone wanna share what type of practice routine they did to get where they're at, improvising? :)

    Thanks!
     
  20. raz

    raz Member

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    Within weeks of being taught the CAGED system. I spent three weeks practicing the pentatonic forms and that got me to where I could improvise; poorly, but improvisation it was.

    Knowing where to put your fingers is a quarter of the battle. Knowing HOW to put your fingers (phrasing) is another quarter. Knowing WHEN (theory) is the other half. And it's a never-ending battle.

    Copying the work of other players is the old standby method of learning. It's a game; and you do it because it's fun, challenging, and there's an immediate reward of pride and satisfaction when you finally figure out a part. Studying scales, arpeggios, finger exercises, and ear training are all very good things to do, and they complement studying the work of other players.

    But I err on the side of spending time copying other players, because it forces me to make my fingers work in ways that are alien to me, it forces me to understand different points of view, and it teaches about phrasing and note selection in a way that scales and arpeggios won't.

    When copying others, I tend to focus in on players rather than individual songs. The goal is to figure out how they played and what defined their style. I look for the riffs that they used repeatedly and that tells me what they relied on. Then I'll practice those riffs against other songs and see where they fit. Then, at jams and rehearsals, I'll take a couple of my riffs-o-the-week and force them into various takes.


    I started with Clapton because I seemed to pick his stuff up very instinctively. That led to Freddy King, who to my ear is the biggest influence on Clapton. Then I spent a bunch of time on Buddy Guy and John Fogerty because both are excellent, in their own ways, of doing a lot with a little. I've spent the past couple of years pretty heavily with Hendrix, SRV, Van Halen and Chuck Berry because I'm playing most often in a 3-piece environment and need to fill space...and these guys are the masters at it. I spend time with Eric Johnson now and again, but I still haven't gotten to the point where I'm ready to really tackle his bag of tricks.

    A final thought: you can't make progress as an improviser in your bedroom. You have to be out playing with people in an environment where you're intimidated and having to think on your feet and track what the rest of the band is doing. You have to go out and suck before you can improve. You won't know what you've learned or what you're capable of until you're under the gun and in over your head. It's tough, and it's scary, but there's just no way around it. This is why great players are usually formed early, because it's those 12-year-old garage band players who are too stupid to know they suck. So they suck away and become great players. But you don't have to be young OR old to get good. Young or old, you just have to be ready and willing to stink.

    Last Monday night at a jam we were working on some new covers, pulling songs out of our backsides and trying to play them from memory, and basically sounding like crap. Then a bunch of people wandered into the rehearsal space, and the level of play went up 100%. One of those, "oh s**t!" moments. When there's no audience, there's no pressure to reach deeper and focus.

    R
    A
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