The only way to get really good at improvising guitar solos (aka: improv) is to play a LOT of solos.
I realize that's not a very glamorous answer, but it's the truth. But, where do you start and how?
Something that will help you get off to a great start to making up your guitar leads is to learn at least one scale. The video demonstration of this lesson at the end of the blog uses the A minor scale.
All you have to do is play any of those notes, in any order, as many times as you want, any way you want while playing over a backing track. If you go to YouTube and search for A minor backing track, or C Major backing track, you can solo over those tracks with the A minor scale.
Here are some examples found on YouTube you can use:
Something to help your solos sound more pleasing to the ear is to always listen to resolve. What I mean by that is to listen to how the notes sound when you're playing around the scale, and when one note sounds really nice, let it ring out for a bit.
When you resolve something in music, I look at it like you are going to a note or chord that sounds like what you are playing is now complete, or finished.
A lot of music is about causing tension, then resolving, or releasing that tension. So, when you practice your solos, always listen for notes that sound like there is no tension and hold that note, letting it ring out for a bit.
When practicing over the A minor backing tracks, something you can try is to start on an A note. The locations of the A notes in the scale shown above are the 5th fret on the low E string, 7th fret on the D string, and 5th fret on the high E string.
Hit an A note, then start playing notes around that A note, then come back to the A note and let it ring out for a bit. Because A is the root note of the key it should resolve nicely most of the time.
You can also try this with a C note. The key of A minor and key of C Major are relative. They both share the same 7 notes: A, B, C, D, E, F, and G.
The C notes in the scale shown above are found on the 8th fret of the low E string, 5th fret of the G string, and 8th fret of the high E string.
Once you become comfortable with starting and stopping on either A or C, try using your ear to find notes that sound good against the chords you are playing to, and let them ring out for a bit.
Allowing your notes to breathe will help to create more memorable solos and leads. The Tao De Ching says that "great music spares notes". This is true, because the spaces in between notes are what help give music life.
What I'm getting at is that it's important not to cram in as many notes as possible the entire time you're improvising. I'm guilty of this, as is nearly every guitarist when they first start making up their solos.
It's perfectly fine to play fast lines of notes in a solo, but they will be more memorable when spaced out.
To help get used to this idea, and to help train your ears to know when you just resolved your phrase, play slow. REALLY slow! Let your notes ring out for about a second or more. Really give your ears time to hear just how each note sounds against the chords you are playing over.
After playing slow for a while, and you feel comfortable with this, then you can try incorporating some speedy licks into your solo. Just remember to space them out so they sound more memorable and extra impressive!
Watch the following video for demonstrations of the ideas mentioned in this lesson.
I was asked to do a video on how to master chord progression speed.
First, I want to address this idea of mastering anything on your instrument.
You will never master anything.
I'm serious. You will never master anything, because it is simply not possible.
To master something means you took that thing to its utmost peak of perfection. There is now no possible way to improve.
We can always make improvements on anything we work on. None of us are ever truly masters. So please, I invite you to have this perspective when you learn your instrument and be reasonable with yourself.
Several times I've seen advertisements saying you can master this and that on guitar with some number of tricks and what not. It's all bullshit. It's just a sales gimmick.
Personally, I would steer clear of places that offer this. Why? I do not believe they truly have your best interest at heart. They just want your money.
So, how about we rephrase the initial question.
How can you speed up chord progressions?
The answer is - Metronome!
Yes, the good ol' metronome. Take whatever progression you are trying to speed up and play it slowly to the metronome and gradually increase the speed of the metronome after each successful play through of the progression.
Let's say you are working on going between an Am and C chord. You strum each chord four times then switch.
Start your metronome at 60 bpm. Aim to hit the chord once every time your metronome clicks.
After you can successfully play the progression at least twice through with no mistakes at 60 bpm, bump it up to 65 bpm.
Keep bumping up by 5 bpm each time the progression is done correctly and you will see amazing results.
Now, let's say you are having trouble just switching between two different chords, like going from a G chord to an F chord.
Set your metronome up to 60 bpm again. This time, instead of playing each chord four times, you will only play it once.
Play your G chord on beat one, then, use the time it takes for beats 2, 3, and 4 to go by to get set up for the F chord. Then play the F chord when beat 1 starts again, and then start getting ready for the G chord.
It will look/sound something like this:
G chord (move to the F chord) F chord (move to the G chord)
Click Click Click Click Click Click Click Click
Beat 1 Beat 2 Beat 3 Beat 4 Beat 1 Beat 2 Beat 3 Beat 4
Those clicks represent the sound your metronome makes. The beats underneath show you how to keep count of each beat. The chords above are shown over the beat you play them. The (move to ____ chord) is telling you to start moving to the next chord to be ready to play it when it comes time to strum the next chord.
Basically, you are hitting a chord and not letting it ring out until the next chord needs to be played. Play the first chord, and then start moving those fingers right away so they are in position and ready to play the next chord.
Giving yourself those extra beats in between chords can help give you enough time to switch chords.
So, let's say you have gone between the G and F two times with the method just mentioned. Now, you guessed it, move up the metronome 5 bpm.
The more times you speed up the metronome the smaller the gap between the chords will become. This will gradually train your hand to jump into new chord shapes.
This will all make a lot more sense by watching the following video:
A common thing for new guitar players when learning chords is muting strings that should not be muted.
This happens when the fingers are not on their tips enough. This causes the fingers touch adjacent strings.
When the adjacent string is lightly being touched, that note will not ring out properly. This results in a bad sounding chord.
In order to fix this, you need to learn how to keep your fingers up on their tips. This guitar lesson will show you 3 exercises to help you get your fingers to do what you want them to do.
The first exercise will use two finger chords. All of the Major chords will use your middle finger on the A string, and your index finger on the D string. All of the minor chords will use your ring finger on the A string, and your index on the D string.
When you play this, keep both notes down that make the chord. The tab shows the notes being played one after the next. You want the notes to ring out together.
Playing the chords this way will allow you to hear if anything is being muted. If something is being muted, you can adjust your fingers until the notes are ringing clearly again.
Once you can comfortably play the above chord progression, it's time to add a third finger.
This next exercise will still be using Major and minor chords. Now, the Major chord will have your middle finger on the low E string, ring finger on the A string, and index finger on the D string.
For the minor chords, place your ring finger on the low E string, your pinky on the A string, and your index finger on the D string.
The last progression/exercise will have you stretching your hand a bit more.
You will start with a minor chord this time. Your pinky will be on the A string, your middle finger on the D string, and your index finger on the G string.
The Major chords will have your pinky on the A string, your ring finger on the D string, and your index finger on the G string. The only exception to this is the C chord played in the last bar/measure. You will go back to using your middle finger on the A string and index finger on the D string.
After you can play all three of these exercises/progressions your fingers should be primed and ready to play a lot more chords.
Please share in the comments if this worked for you, or anything else you've tried that's helped.
Check out this video for a demonstration of how to play this lesson:
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John Taylor - guitar and bass instructor for Mile High Shred.