Casey Saulpaugh and Steve Newbrough
Improvising music is a fantastic neural challenge. It requires the performer to instantly taking into account what notes will sound the best with the harmonies and rhythms of the tune. A performer can get started by improvising over music with minimal harmonic change, any typical pop song will work.
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 burns. Whether a player wants to dabble in improvisation, or advance on a deeper level, learning improvisation can go a long way for the player.
For instance, since improvisation is a form of music composition, this is an excellent skill for song writers. Developing a knowledge of common and uncommon chord progressions, the songwriter can create a more interesting sonic palate. When a knowledge of how melodic tones can ride on top of those harmonies is also present the performer has an even better chance of writing successful songs.
An extensive 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 give your listeners something fresh for their ear drums.
In general, classical musicians are famous for being sub-par improvisers but this is not a universal truth and by no means an inescapable fate.
Classical musicians can learn improv too! Even if they don't improvise publicly the knowledge and practice of it can allow them to perform their composed music with greater life and spontaneity.
There are concepts, ideas, and approaches that can provide a solid foundation for advancing with improvisation. Some of these concepts include harmonic language, phrase structure, and rhythmic awareness.
Strengthening one’s improvisational skills can help guitarists and other musicians better understand music theory in an intuitive way, which can encourage making, performing, writing, and arranging music.
Improv can help strengthen players’ ears, making it easier to play what they hear in their head, as well as what they’re hearing around them. 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 many would also agree that it can be intimidating, tedious on a “slow” day, and just downright frustrating.
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 firm grasp of harmonic language opens gateways to making, performing, writing, and arranging music. So put on those work boots, grab your shovel, and dig into improvisation.
Grasping improvisational concepts can augment a player’s compositional 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.
Develop those ears!
Many guitar players love the idea of being able to hear anything and instantly reproduce it on his or her guitar. Believe it or not, this is a skill that can be developed. Discovering more facets of improvisation can build a player’s musical vocabulary, and help when translating this through their instrument. 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.
Break the Practice Mold
Have you ever felt like what you are practicing is stale? Do you feel 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. For instance, do you need to practice scales?
Instead of just playing them up and down, compose a melody with the notes of the scale! Then, adjust the dynamics, play a crescendo, play a decrescendo, adjust the timbre play bright tones and then dark tones. Play your melody staccato and then legato.
If you are feeling particulary advanced, harmonize your melody. This is now what you call a chord-melody.
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… this is exciting but can also be a relief. Nothing is more refreshing than breaking new ground in the woodshed, 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.
Life has 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.
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.
Video Guitar Glossary will be posting courses on improvisation very soon! Join our mailing list find out when they will be released!