Thinking ahead (or hearing ahead) while playing lead

Discussion in 'Playing and Technique' started by mcmurray, Nov 28, 2017.


  1. mcmurray

    mcmurray Member

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    I've noticed one thing in common with a lot of my favourite players, which is their ability to hear ahead and construct (seemingly on the spot) a cohesive lead line which spans multiple bars and has a clear beginning, middle, and end.

    When I'm improvising I find it very difficult to hear ahead to know where I'm going, so a lot of the time what I end up with sounds like noodling with no real direction.

    Anyone have any tips on how I can improve in this area? (for the sake of argument lets say I'm playing over a simple repeating vamp or riff with no complex chords or harmonies)
     
    Last edited: Nov 29, 2017
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  2. Tag

    Tag Gold Supporting Member

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    Learn a ton of licks, melodic lines, and melodies. There is no short cut, and there is no other way. Anyone who you hear who is improvising well did the same thing. It is EXACTLY like speaking. You know a lot of words and phrases to get your thoughts out, and you did that by copying your parents and everyone around you. If you learn a new word now, you have to kind of think about it to use it and its awkward for a while, then, without realizing it, you dont think about it anymore and it just comes out! Just learning new words does not work! You can learn 10 new words and their meanings, and it does you no real good until you start actually using and internalizing them. Same with musical phrases.

    Sit down with a slowdowner if you need to, and learn LOTS of blues licks and lines. Dont get frustrated, and realize it takes time. You need a recorder to put down chords to play over and simple backing tracks. DO NOT PRACTICE SCALES MUCH!!! Practice phrases, lines, licks and ideas, and connect them in different ways. Give yourself a year practicing every day for at least an hour like this. Record and listen back to yourself and be VERY critical and hard on yourself. Practice your weak spots, don't keep playing your strengths. There you have it!! Now go get em!! :)
     
    Last edited: Nov 29, 2017
  3. mcmurray

    mcmurray Member

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    Thanks for this, very well put. I'll do it, I just wish I had this advice when I was younger!
     
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  4. Tag

    Tag Gold Supporting Member

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    Im 58 and still working at it! No matter where you are, you will rarely be satisfied or happy with your playing. Its a constant moving target. If a guy like Wes Montgomery said he could barely listen to himself play, where does that leave the rest of us?? Thats coming from one of the best pure improvisors to ever play guitar!!!! :eek:
     
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  5. JustABluesGuy

    JustABluesGuy Member

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    I was going to suggest working on chord progressions until you mentioned vamps.

    Obviously, knowing exactly where the progression is going makes coherent solo lines a lot easier. The best lead players also tend to be great rhythm players.

    With vamps it is harder, because it is all on you.
     
  6. Sascha Franck

    Sascha Franck Member

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    You can tackle the thing in two ways:

    1) Chose a starting note and go from there. See where it takes you.

    2) Chose a target note and slowly expand the amount of notes to get you there. Start with just one note before the target note. Then two. Then three. Etc. At one point in time you'll be able to play a little pattern as a pickup for that target note.

    Ideally, at some point, 1 and 2 will connect in your head.
     
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  7. Joe Boy

    Joe Boy Member

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    Also, stay centered around the key chord. Don't be in a hurry. Save your best speedy riffs for special accent points.

    One thing you could do while just watching tv, etc....build a three chord melody, then build a cool sounding riff or fill around that and then find three different places on your guitar to play those riffs. Their the same notes but they will sound different.
     
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  8. JimGtr

    JimGtr Gold Supporting Member

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    Constructing a solo on the fly is a form of composition. I call it spontaneous composition (not to be confused with spontaneous decomposition LOL).

    So my suggestion, as counter-intuitive as it may sound at first, is to record a vamp and work out a solo over it. Not improvise, but actually compose it. By taking the improvisational aspect out of the process you can concentrate of on the compositional aspects. I could go on way too long about different things you can try but for example you can start easy then build to a crescendo. Do it over 8 bars, and then do a version over 16. Then try constructing a beginning, middle and end. Etc.

    When you come up with some solos that you like then you can use the things you did as ideas for improvisation. So next, change the chord progression and tempo, but this time improvise a solo using some of the concepts you came up with. If it didn't come out as good as you'd like, work out some ideas on this one. See what was different.

    Do this a few times and you'll be on your way.
     
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  9. SuperSilverHaze

    SuperSilverHaze Member

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    tag pretty much nailed it.
     
  10. newb3fan

    newb3fan Member

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    The related advice TAG gave me in a different thread about a related topic was "give yourself at least a year" before self-evaluating how you've progressed. So that's exactly what I'm doing. I'm learning lines by playing jazz standard melodies and learning and practicing other ii-V lines. In the month of December it's Donna Lee, by Charlie Parker. This melody is so full of amazing stuff it's incredible. Now mind you i'm playing it at half speed.....
     
  11. mcknigs

    mcknigs Supporting Member

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    To me, a good solo is a good melody -- be it a a variation on the original melody of the song, or something very different -- over the changes of the song. When trying to come up with melodies, I've found it helpful to sing them rather than play them on guitar -- there being a more direct connection from the brain to the voice than to the guitar. You can record the changes and practice soloing vocally over them. You might want to record them so you can go back and evaluate them afterward.

    At the same time, work on playing by ear so that you can play melodies that come into your head, whatever they are -- Beethoven, Beatles, old folk songs...

    When you get to the point where your mind is coming up with good melodies, and your ear is good enough that you can play those melodies on the fly as well as you can sing them on the fly, then you'll have the ability to play melodic solos that are good compositions, start to finish.

    That's what worked for me, anyway.
     
  12. ripgtr

    ripgtr Member

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    One of the things I do (and I improve a lot, even on stage) is exactly what you say, seeing ahead. But, how do you get from here to there? My jazz teacher used to describe it as a trip. You are going from point A to point B. But you don't have to stay on the freeway, you can go down the country roads, or through town. Heck, you can even go off road and get all muddy, as long as you end up where you want to be.

    So, how do you do that? If you were driving, you would need a map,, unless you know the roads in your head. It is kind of like that.

    So, how to you get from A to B? You are not going to sit down and just improve it and pull it off, unless you have done it a million times - the way to do it is super slow. Try something and see if you can build a decent solo, note for note, even is just a few bars. And go over it. And over it. And over it. Start slow, really slow, and gradually speed it up. Then, take that and change it a bit, and try that. Over and over. If you have a hard time coming up with something, find something you like that does it, slow it down and get it exactly, note for note. Then look at it, what are they doing? Then mess with it, try it a bit differently. As has been said, building up a large group of licks and then messing with them so you have lots of options is a big part of it. Then play them until you can do it without thinking about it.

    The reason someone can improvise those kind of things is simple repetition. I look at the neck, I know I need to go from I chord to a IV chord. I know where I am on the neck. I see lots of options, what will and won't work, depending on the style, speed, tone, etc. The reason? I've done it a million times. Probably literally, a million times. I get a new idea (or steal it) and work in it really slow, til it is ingrained.
     
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  13. ripgtr

    ripgtr Member

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    Not counter intuitive at all, that is exactly it. You can't improvise something without learning that skill.
    I think after a while, the thought that used to be "let's see, I Could do this, and then this, that might work" and took 10 minutes to figure out becomes "oh this, and I can do that this way" almost instantly, because of the work.
     
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  14. dewey decibel

    dewey decibel Member

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    Well there's your problem. Those moving chord changes are what gives your line movement, a place to go to and a place to resolve from. A destination. Several had mentioned "from A to B", well, this is how you drive the car. Someone may be playing over a static Amin but they're often thinking about all different kinds of movement;

    Amin D7
    E7 Amin
    Amin Bmin
    Amin Bbmin
    Amin C7 B7 Bb7
    Amin Bb13 Ebmaj9 Ab13, etc.
     
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  15. ripgtr

    ripgtr Member

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    Yea, I do a lot of "imaginary" changes. From doing some jazz study, I an look at an A7/D7 a couple different ways.

    See it as Am/D7 (since we like pentatonic or dorian so much is our music, even over major chords). That is the ii/V of the key of G. So, play it that way. And you can add in all the fun stuff, like the 7b9 over the virtual V, etc.
    See it as the A7 dominant resolving to the new key of D and that gives you the 7b9 over the A chord,
    Etc Etc

    A fun thing I do, I use what my theory teacher called "back cycling" - going back through the circle of 5ths. Bebop guys do this, and if you check Parker stuff, the actual chords are back through the circle of 5ths. So, you have a A chord, turn that into a ii/V, as above. then go back 2 more steps on the circle. iii/IV, ii/V. Make those 5 chords altered chords and the fun goes on forever. I worked on that one for years, and I use it all the time. And I am not a jazz player by trade, I use this in country and blues and rock stuff all the time. A LOT of the ii/V stuff, more than the back cycling, but I use that as well.

    OP, That being said, I am not sure that the above is critical to making a good solo (though it sure is fun). You can play a pentatonic over an A7 and make it work if you look at it like telling a story. Create a little drama, a little tension, then some release. Ever notice that, in an action movie, after a big, tense scene, they often do something funny or romantic to release the tension? Same thing. A solo isn't just a bunch of notes ,the same as lyrics aren't just a bunch of words. A lot of where you are going depends on the melody, be it the melody of the vocal part or the melody in your head.
     
  16. Lucidology

    Lucidology Supporting Member

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    Stand in front of a mirror with guitar in hands ...
    Put on a track.
    Just start playing wherever your fingers take you by moving up and down the fretboard.
    Just in watching them move alone you should start hearing yourself forming phrases.
    Allow your intuition to be your guide. You'll be surprised at how it will support your soloing ....
     
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  17. mcmurray

    mcmurray Member

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    Thanks for all the suggestions guys.

    I guess I've always known this, without actually realising it. Very true.

    Another thing that's quite obvious only after I've been told, will be paying attention to this in the future.

    I'll keep this in mind, sounds like a great plan.

    My ear is actually very solid when it comes to pitch recognition (getting drilled with solfege during childhood piano lessons paid off), but I've come to realise that my rhythm recognition needs a lot of work before I can play back anything I hear on the fly. I'm working hard to improve this area now.
     
  18. mcmurray

    mcmurray Member

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    This is the sort of thing I was thinking of when I wrote playing over a simple repeating vamp or riff with no complex chords or harmonies:



    It's certainly far removed from Jazz and the changes certainly don't sound like they contain 7th or extended chords, I'm not sure if the guitarist would have been thinking about this type of thing when playing however if I'm mistaken I'd love to know :)
     
  19. russ6100

    russ6100 Member

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    To me, this sounds like the key.

    It's not so much "hearing ahead" but more about what to expect in terms of what a 4 bar or 8 bar phrase feels like. A lack of awareness in this area is the reason some players might lose their way, or be left hanging in the wind.

    Before you can craft coherent phrases, you'll need to be able to feel where you are in relation to the length of stock 4 and 8 bar musical passages.

    Another reason to actually compose a few solos, as was said earlier.

    And take a listen to solos you like, paying attention to these kinds of considerations. Figure out why they sound good.
     
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  20. ivers

    ivers Member

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    For me, this example gives a lot of ideas about creating changes and interests through dynamics in touch/picking, differences in gain, and techniques like volume swells, while having a quite small palette harmonically and melodically. His note choice is good obviously, but without all those other things regarding dynamics in sound/volume etc, it could easily fall flat quite fast.

    Maybe you can try to practice this, with some simple ideas – not worrying so much about the notes doing very much – and just create variety through dynamics?
     
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