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Author Topic: Improvising over backing tracks  (Read 1136 times)


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Improvising over backing tracks
« on: November 02, 2008, 11:44:05 AM »
Happy belated Halloween,

For those who play lead guitar and sometimes improvise HOW do you do it? Straight forward question. How!? This is the most annoying thing ever, like not even close to not being able to play something off the top of your head, because it isn't even in your head in the first play.

I sit there like a daft badger, with the backing track playing and WILLING myself to do something..
So this is how I do it..

Backing track
Whatever scale. i.e. E minor
Of course, different positions

..and I'm a daft badger.

Any advice would be nice :(
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Re: Improvising over backing tracks
« Reply #1 on: November 02, 2008, 12:14:31 PM »
Personally, for some reason I have a load of bluesy licks ingrained in my playing
I looked at Rob Chappers Jimi licks the other day, and it was just putting a couple of the normal ones I use together... and I don't listen to Jimi at all :?
My only gripe is tending to go to the same few keys.

Just learn a few licks and throw them together, add another each week, and in a year you have 50 odd...


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Re: Improvising over backing tracks
« Reply #2 on: November 02, 2008, 12:17:21 PM »
This is a hard one to answer :(

I think the best advice I can give is "you need to free your mind" from whatever scales, techniques etc you've been learning already (don't worry, you can use them again afterwards once you're "free" :lol:).

I didn't learn any "scales" when I was starting. I recorded miles of 12-bar in E and then started doodling on the top E string on my accoustic. I found all the notes that I felt sounded good, then I used a white crayon to mark every single one of those on the fret board.

You could say I learnt a "scale" this way (it was akin to Dorian mode, but it was pretty much a modified minor pentatonic) - but I learnt it myself, by ear, not from a book or anything. I was always more interested in "speaking" with the guitar than learning anyone else's licks/solos.

You need to be able to shut out "the world" (and the left-hand-side of your own brain) that might say "OMG, what is that awful f-ing racket Jonny is making now.. and he seemed to be getting quite good..." (headphones might help, but of course, you'll still be able to hear it :lol:)

You just gotta start doing it and ignore what you or anyone else thinks - quite quickly you'll find yourself learning little sets of notes or "phrases". All improvisation is a player combining his/her library of favourite tricks/phrases with the odd little bit of inspiration on the night.

And it's not just bluesy stuff, this works for ALL improvisation. Forget the scales for the moment, and look for notes that fit, say something to you. Then come back to the scales, and you'll be miles ahead of someone who didn't bother learning them first :D
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Re: Improvising over backing tracks
« Reply #3 on: November 02, 2008, 12:21:56 PM »
Obviously practicing scales progressions can get monotonous and utterly boring. So, I spent a lot of time playing over songs that I really liked, learning what the artist did, and then doing it myself, but mixing the combinations up a bit. Take a few of your favorite artists and pay attention to what they do. A lot can be learned from that alone.

I spent a lot of time listening to some of the blues legends and, most notably SRV. I learned their chops and licks and then elaborated on them a bit. So often I would watch what they would do and say,"Wow, I didn't know that you could go there at that point", or "I didn't know you could bridge those two progressions together." Once you start putting the pieces together, you will be off! :D

It is worth noting that improvising is a difficult art that even the greatest musicians can struggle with. It's a real challenge to build something that is not just a debacle of notes, but melodic, emotional, and enjoyable to hear. I also remind myself that playing a few well timed and precise notes can say a lot more than just ripping through the scales as fast as you can. Not sure if this helped, but it is kind of how I learned it. :D

Oh yeah, and practice, practice, practice! :lol:
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Re: Improvising over backing tracks
« Reply #4 on: November 02, 2008, 12:30:41 PM »
Stuart Bull does a series of DVDs with the Lick Library on learning to improvise - I found the Learn to Play Your Own Blues Solos a good, basic introduction to improvising - and the others build on that foundation (Stuart Bull's definition of Blues is pentatonic/blues scale - his soloing is pretty)

I also think it helps in the first instance to get some stock licks down so you have a foundation over a set progression to start with.

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Re: Improvising over backing tracks
« Reply #5 on: November 02, 2008, 12:31:50 PM »
I think it was Guitarist magazine? (I don't usually pic up mags) but they had a thing about improv there.

choose two notes, ie A string 7th fret (E) and D string 5th (G). Tap out a beat on your guitar like drums. Recreate the beat with those two notes. Add another note when you feel like it etc.


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Re: Improvising over backing tracks
« Reply #6 on: November 02, 2008, 12:43:15 PM »
I have loads of licks and stuff that I tend to use in every improvisation I ever do :lol: So its not entirely making it up as I go along but its always slightly different sounding.

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Re: Improvising over backing tracks
« Reply #7 on: November 02, 2008, 01:14:35 PM »
You have to start somewhere and blues is a good place to start. For a good example of soloing and great phrasing, a great example of that is Cream's version of Crossroads as the solo is in 3 parts and they all kind pick up where the other left off. The best way to describe phrasing is to use the analogy of talking. That is all improvised and we use words, phrases, punctuation and intonation to make ourselves understood. Certain notes like scale root notes are like full stops and others leave your ear expecting more say like a comma. Clapton used this to great effect in that song. Even if he isn't your bag you can learn a lot from him. you should try and learn the scales in different positions so you can join them together. It is like putting licks together but what lick and when is all part of the job.

I bought a book of this bloke years ago and it really helped. It has ton of licks and some really good explanations of improvising. This was all free on the net last year but now you have to pay a little buts its all good.
« Last Edit: November 02, 2008, 01:20:37 PM by Johnny Mac »
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Re: Improvising over backing tracks
« Reply #8 on: November 02, 2008, 01:16:30 PM »
There's no substitute for knowing where your fingers are, and what sound will be produced from them being in that place, and that's just practicing - scales, blues riffs, jammig to tracks.  It all goes in, and eventually all comes out.  Learning the relationship between chords and scales is important too, as well as learning what scales fit over which chords.

Or just blast away over a pentatonic 4 chord riff!
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Re: Improvising over backing tracks
« Reply #9 on: November 02, 2008, 02:22:58 PM »
get some santana albums, steal some licks, mix it up a little  8)
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