Today is Fat Tuesday, a day dedicated to celebrations, costumes, pancakes and, well, going a little bit crazy. And just like Mardi Gras is all about standing out from the crowd, many musicians can get that same rush when they have the opportunity to solo – anything from an awesome riff on the lead guitar to a flashy improvised solo in your jazz band. All eyes are on you, and it’s your chance to really express yourself as a musician – not to mention show off a little!
Before you put on that metaphorical feather-adorned headpiece, as you could say, you’ll need to take a few steps to prepare. Although it may seem like improvising is just about freedom and “feeling the moment,” there are specific things you need to know before trying your hand at it. Here, Ultimate-guitar.com has some great tips for improvisation that are helpful for any instrument:
1. Be Fluent in your Scales
Since improvised solos are based heavily around scales, it is obviously a good idea to know your scales inside and out. The scales that you need to know are largely based on what style of music you’re improvising. But it is a good idea to know the basic major and minor scales, as well as the major and minor pentatonic, no matter what your genre is, as those four scales are universal in music.
When improvising, you shouldn’t have to be thinking about what note comes next. This is probably the main cause of “improvisation freeze-up,” or when instrumentalists don’t know their scales fluently enough, causing them to blank in the middle of their solo.
2. Understand Scale Modes
This is kind of the same thing as being fluent in scales. It’s a good skill to understand scales modes and be able to utilize different modes in one solo. Practice switching between modes, and find combinations that you like. Scale modes aren’t extremely crucial to improvising a good solo, but being able to utilize modes is what can separate the “good” soloists from the “great” soloists.
3. Know Your Key!
This one is probably the most obvious, and very little needs to be explained. You’d be surprised how many people just start ripping a solo in any key they choose! Also, be sure that if there is a key change, you know it’s coming.
4. Know your Genre and Mood
As far as genre goes, you should use a scale that is often used in that genre. Examine solos by other artists of your genre to get an idea of what kind of scales are used (but don’t steal their solos!). Pay attention to the techniques used in that genre, as well. If you’re doing a heavy metal improvisation, feel free to throw some sweeps in. If you’re doing a blues solo, add some bends and double-stops. Just listening to music can help you improve in this category, as it will give you an idea of how “this genre” differs from “that genre” in playing.
You should also understand the mood that is set. If the band is playing a slow and sad accompaniment, you will probably match it with a minor scales. If the band is playing fast and joyously, you would probably match it with a major scale. It also helps if you put yourself in that mindset. Whatever mood it is, just get into it!
5. Don’t Think Too Hard!
Yes, when you are improvising a solo it is possible to think too hard. Another major cause of “improvisation freeze-up” is when the musician starts to think, “What note would sound the best next?” A main part of improvisation is just going for it. You need to realize you probably won’t have the most melodic solo, especially during your early attempts at improvisation. But if you know your scales well enough, you can guarantee yourself that you won’t go out of key, and you can just let your fingers do all the thinking. Be bold, and trust yourself! If you mess up, keep going! If you stop when you mess up, it will just make your mistake a million times more obvious.
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