Would it surprise you if I said that you are a master of improvisation? You can already improvise with great fluidity, effortlessness and skill. You have the skill to think of unlimited ideas and express them in a way that is uniquely you.
At this point, you might be thinking that I’ve totally lost the plot…especially if you’re brand new to guitar improvisation! But no, I can promise you that I am perfectly sane (Well at least I think I am!). I also promise you that you’ll see what I mean when I ask you this question…
When you woke up this morning did you write down and rehearse absolutely everything that you were going to say today?
I’ll take a guess that you probably answered “No”. Why not? The answer is simple…
You know how to improvise. You have the ability to talk and communicate with other people in a way that is very flexible and spontaneous. You have the ability to think of an idea and then say it almost instantly.
Sure, there might be times when you might rehearse what you’re going to say ahead of time, like when you have to give a formal speech. But for the most part, a great deal of your day-to-day talking with other people will be improvised.
So how does this relate to improvisation on guitar? Let’s take a closer look now…
Learn The Language And Improve Your Guitar Improvisation
The reason why you can improvise when you talk to other people is simply that you learnt the language so well that it now is instinctual. You don’t have to think about the rules and intricacies of the language when you talk. You just need to think of the ideas that you want to convey.
But was it always so easy? Of course not! You learnt the language gradually over a very long period of time.
It works the same for guitar. The only reason why someone can’t improvise fluently on guitar is that they haven’t learnt the language well enough.
For Example: Let’s say that you’d like to be able to improvise amazing blues guitar solos. If you only know a few blues licks, then how well do you know the blues language? If you haven’t learnt the 12-bar blues form to the point where it is totally instinctual, then how well do you know the blues language?
I know this might seem obvious. But some of the guitarists who start lessons with me haven’t thought about how learning to improvise on guitar is a heck of a lot like learning to speak a new language.
Benefits Of This Analogy
OK. We’ve talked a little bit about how learning to improvise on guitar is very similar to the process of learning a new language. But what are the actual benefits of making this comparison? Here are a few…
Benefit 1: You’ll Avoid Focusing On Tips and Tricks
I must admit that I inwardly groan every time a student asks me for a few tips or tricks to make them a better improviser. I can understand the reason why they’re asking. After all, it’s human nature to look for shortcuts. But when you think about it, it doesn’t really make sense. It’s a bit like going to a Spanish tutor and saying you want a few tips or tricks to speak fluent Spanish. The tutor would probably look at you like you’re crazy!
Benefit 2: You’ll Be More Realistic With Your Expectations
Often guitarists are very unrealistic with their expectations of how fast they should be progressing with their improvisation. And because they’re being unrealistic, they beat themselves up and think that they lack the talent.
This, of course, is just not true. They don’t lack talent. They just need to be more patient. Learning to speak any new language is a very long-term project for most people, especially if you only have a small amount of time each day to practice.
Benefit 3: You’ll Get Some Insight Into What You Need To Practice
Here’s an example. Many guitarists I teach are often frustrated that when they solo it just sounds like they are playing scales. When they mention this frustration to me, I like to say that a scale is like an alphabet. If all you did when learning a new language was memorise the alphabet, then how fluent would you be? You wouldn’t be fluent at all!
In order to become fluent in a language, you need to develop a vocabulary. So what these students need to start doing is learning licks, melodic patterns and melodic ideas that use the scale.
Benefit 4: You’ll Take “The Boring Stuff” Seriously
Let’s face it. There are some aspects of learning any language that are tedious and repetitive. But if you skip the boring stuff it’s going to make learning that language challenging, or even impossible.
And it’s the same with guitar. For example, Some of my students quit practising guitar licks well before they have mastered them. And I can certainly relate to and understand this. The repetition needed to totally master licks can be incredibly boring to some people. But this repetition is also necessary. If you don’t get the lick to the point where you can play it without any conscious thought, then it won’t help your improvisation a great deal.
It’s Thinking Time!
I’d like for you to take a few minutes to think about this guitar improvisation and language analogy. Once you’ve done that, I invite you to think about and answer these questions…
- What are some important things that you’d need to do to speak a new language? And how does that relate to learning how to improve your guitar improvisation?
- What would a word be in guitar improvisation? What about a sentence?
- Why is transcribing (i.e. working licks and solos out by ear) a critical part of improving your guitar improvisation?
- Why is listening to excellent improvisers a vital part of learning guitar improvisation?
- Would it be possible to learn to speak a new language fluently without daily practice? Would the answer be the same for learning to improvise on guitar? Why?
That’s all for now. Hopefully, I’ve given you some food for thought. I encourage you to regularly think about the comparison between guitar improvisation and learning a new language. It will give you many insights as you work towards improvising in the style of music that you love!
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