The idea of improvising can sound elusive, challenging, and baffling…especially for players picking up the guitar for the first time. But in reality, we do it all the time in our day-to-day lives. True improvisation may seem mysterious on the guitar, but if players can do it while navigating the hurdles of life, they can certainly do it through their axes as well. Musicians can improvise on many different levels: from playing a couple notes spontaneously that weren’t in the original melody, to burning through complex changes in a bebop tune that is so fast it singes. Whether a player wants to dabble in improvisation, or advance on a deeper level, learning improvisation can go a long ways for the player.
There are concepts, ideas, and approaches that can provide a solid foundation for advancing with improvisation. Strengthening one’s improvisational skills can help guitarists better understand music theory in an intuitive way, which can truly encourage making, performing, writing, and arranging music. Improv can help strengthen players’ ears, making it easier to play what you hear in your head, as well as what you’re hearing around you. Furthermore, this art form can broaden a player’s harmonic abilities and break ground for accompanying other instruments. Diving deeper into improvisation can help a player realize imaginative concepts and stumble into new playing ground.
Theory This, Theory That
Most musicians would agree that music theory is a beneficial knowledge that can strengthen a player’s abilities. And most would also agree that it can be intimidating, tedious on a “slow” day, and just downright frustrating. However, learning improvisation can help make music theory more understandable, more practical, and more enjoyable. Improv can make a player roll up their sleeves and get down and dirty; understanding that the theory behind things can be related to organically, and allow making music to become more wholesome. A truer grasp of improvisation opens gateways to making, performing, writing, and arranging music. So roll up those sleeves, get down and dirty, and dig into improvisation.
Ears of Platinum
If people can get platinum teeth, who says guitar players can’t get platinum ears? What I mean by this is that every guitar player loves the idea of being able to hear anything and instantly reproduce it on his or her guitar. And this is possible. A deeper understanding of improvisation, and the application of it, can strengthen a player’s ears and their ability to reproduce what they hear in their mind. If a player can sing something, then with practice and determination they can also voice this through their guitar. Discovering more facets of improvisation can build a player’s musical arsenal in their ears, and help when translating this through their instrument. Do you feel that? Yes, your ears are turning platinum.
Watch Out Monk!
Grasping improvisational concepts can definitely augment a player’s harmonic capabilities. A deeper understanding of harmony allows players to relate more to melodies, ride out the rhythm of the changes, and become more perceptive in the overall musical picture. Thelonious Monk was a harmonic beast, and we can all respect that on some level; his improvisational skills were a catalyst to his harmonic talent.
A genuine awareness of chords and progressions can allow creating music, performing it, and arranging it to be much more gratifying. Everyone loves a good song, and listeners often initially gravitate to the harmonic and melodic qualities of the song. Throw in some inspirational creativity in the form of improvisation, and listeners have no choice but to listen with astonishment. Envelop yourself with more improvisation: Monk would be proud.
Break the Practice Mold
Working on improvisation can make practicing delectable...ever felt like what you are practicing is stale, like you’ve hit a brick wall and are just repeating yourself? Well, focusing on developing improvisational skills can give a player new ideas and notions to develop in the practice room. Learning how to improvise, especially to an advanced degree, gives players a lifetime of things to work on. This can keep things fresh and interesting when working on new material, and old material too. A player may have new angles to approach a song that they’ve been playing for years…and this can be a relief. Nothing is more refreshing than breaking new ground in the practice room, and allowing one’s self more freedom for expression. No more sour practice routines: throw out that spoiled milk and enjoy the taste of improvisation.
Music and life have all kinds of bumps in the road, and how a person handles them says a lot about their character. Most of the time, these bumps come out of nowhere; one just does the best with what they’ve got at the time and plows through. The same holds true for improvisation: it is a creative journey where a player uses skills that they have, and discovers talents that they never knew they had. The more you improvise, the more you grow…as a player and a human. Enjoy the adventure and push boundaries with your notes…the world will be a better place because of it.
For more on learning improvisation, and spontaneous concepts that can open new doors, check out our complete course: Fundamentals of Advanced Improv