I recently received a question via one of our teachers asking about improvisation. Here is my answer.
Improv is always a good question. I think the best quote I ever heard was from Miles Davis. “There are no wrong notes”. I usually tell students we improvise everyday. Whenever we have a conversation we don’t usually read from scripts. Our conversations are completely improvised. We use a common language (keys, scales etc.) and we use familiar phrases and we mimic our peers. There really is no good or bad improvisation. It just depends on what you like. I can say that I heard a great guitar solo but it could be great for one of two reasons. 1. It may be technically well executed and/or 2. It may appeal to my musical taste.
You do need technical ability
In saying all that there is no mistaking a guitarist who lacks technical skill trying to pull off a difficult solo. It would be like me trying to recite Shakespeare on a London stage. My lack of skill would be obvious. The trick is to keep developing the technical skills which is what the G4 Guitar Method is all about while listening to your favourite players, learning their coolest solos and then letting your own style flow through. This is best achieved by jamming with as many musicians as possible. Like a good conversationalist who frequents social events a good guitarist will regularly attend jam sessions.
What do you want to say?
The way to develop your improvisational skills is much like language. In language its best to read with a dictionary on hand. In music you should listen and then try to analyse what you hear then play it back. The more you listen the more you will come to know what you like. This will also give your technical practice more meaning. Many students who feel stuck with improvisation simply don’t know what they are looking for. When we improvise like when we speak we need to have something to say. When I first heard Stevie Ray Vaughn as a teen I knew he had something special. There was so much energy behind his guitar playing and although the songs were structure he improvised the guitar licks and solos for the most part. I didn’t necessarily want to be SRV but I was inspired by his energy injected into every note he played. He wasn’t just playing notes he was speaking through his guitar.