Are you new to improvising and want to sound like a pro straight away? Are you tired of your improvisation sounding like a bunch of disconnected licks thrown together? Do you ever listen to your favorite players solo and wonder how they make everything sound so fluent and cohesive? If so then this article has a solution for you.
A common problem that many guitarists face when they first learn how to improvise is having a large repertoire of licks and ideas and no way to tie them together into a cohesive sounding solo. The road to becoming a great improviser can be a long and hard journey filled with lots of frustration, or it can be a quick and easy process if we learn some simple concepts and know how to apply them. Too often guitar players invest hours upon hours learning their favorite licks and building up technique but just can’t get it to sound like music. If this sounds like you, chances are you’re coming at improvisation from the wrong angle and just by changing the way you think, can get you massive results almost instantaneously.
So what is this top secret easy trick that all the experts are using and don’t want you to know? The answer… Motifs. We don’t want to think about how to connect multiple licks together on the fly, we want to focus on how use one idea (our motif) to create multiple licks that are cohesive and flow into each other one after the other.
By definition a motif is a short simple musical idea that is often repeated to form a pattern. Motifs can be melodic, intervalic, rhythmic or feature a specific technique or articulation. In this lesson we will be focusing on Rhythmic motifs by taking a short rhythm and applying the notes of our pentatonic scale to this rhythm to get some simple yet very effective licks.
I’ve created a simple blues riff for you in the key of A and all you need to do is substitute notes from the minor pentatonic scale over the open string notes. Doing this will create a sense of familiarity with the listener as their ear can hear a common theme (the rhythm) repeated in each idea. This will not only draw in the listener by sparking their interest but will make each of your ideas cohesive within the solo and make your licks sound very musical regardless of their simplicity.
To begin this lesson you need to learn the blues riff in exercise #1. You will also need to know your A Minor Pentatonic Scale ( Ex 2). Once you can play the riff fluently you can start to add the pentatonic scale to the riff 4 notes at a time. With each repetition of the riff you can focus on different notes of the pentatonic scale as indicated in Ex 3.
Once you can play up and down the minor pentatonic scale without breaking rhythm its times to get creative and start changing up the order of the notes as seen in Ex 4. A great idea is to stick to only two strings and see how many different ways you can combine and articulate the notes. Once you have used up all of your ideas, you can move to a new group of strings or even a new shape of the minor pentatonic scale.
Where to from here?
When it comes to improvisation on the guitar it isn’t so much about what your fingers are capable of playing as much as to what ideas your imagination can come up with. Using rhythmic motifs is a very simple way for you to connect a number of different licks or ideas together with a repeated rhythm. As you develop this skill and build a repertoire of motifs you will able to create new licks and connect ideas that will impress listeners and make your solos just as good if not better than the pros.
In Part 2 we will be expanding on the ideas presented here as well as learning a new motif.
About the Author
Michael Gumley is a professional guitar teacher and owner of Melbourne Guitar Academy. He plays regularly in his band Hybrid Nightmares and is an endorser of Ormsby Guitars, Ernie Ball Strings, Blackstar Amps and Line 6 FX. If you want to take your guitar playing to the next level Michael is the teacher for you. Sign up for the best guitar lessons in Melbourne and improve your playing right away!
If you have any questions or would like tab and audio files email Michael at MelbourneGuitarAcademy@gmail.com