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Finding my voice - on the guitar

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KirkD
(@kirkd)
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Joined: 16 years ago
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Topic starter  

I've been taking lessons for a little more than two years and I'm progressing OK - probably not as fast as I would like, but...

My instructor will often have me solo while he plays a chord progression or a backing track. I find myself falling into the same old patterns, which are very boring, and I have a very hard time improvising something new. I usually play in a pentatonic minor or major (or both) scale, and I don't have too much problem knowing which notes to play, or more accurately where my fingers belong in each pattern. Unfortunately, my solos are very stiff, uninteresting, and simple.

How do I get over this new hurdle? Is this a matter of repertoire and I should work to expand my riff dictionary such that I have a larger pool to draw from?

Any advice is greatly appreciated.

-Kirk


   
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dogbite
(@dogbite)
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we all are or have been in the exact situation you find yourself.
one thing i did to 'liven' up my repertory is to incorporate harmonized notes. I play two notes or double stops.
sometimes I hold one note while bending the other.
I discovered this by listening and playing along to early rock, early country/western or post WW11 cowboy swing.
I would play one note then search for it's harmonic companion then walk it up and down the neck.
it open some doors to new ideas. so instead of playing only single note pents I throw in a double.

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Ande
 Ande
(@ande)
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I'm in the same spot. I can play what I can play, but left to my own, I often wind up playing about the same sounds in different scenarios.

Another thing that can help is learning from the masters. Some of the old-hands say you shouldn't play other people's solos- probably true in a concert. But I think you learn a lot of new stuff, and break out of your box in many ways, if you LEARN other people's solos. Note for note. Gets some new patterns into your fingers.

Learn SRV. Learn Gary Moore. David Gilmour. Whoever- but I'm finding that regularly playing a variety of other people's sounds is giving me more options for my sounds.

Best,
Ande


   
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KirkD
(@kirkd)
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Joined: 16 years ago
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Topic starter  

Thanks for the ideas, guys.

I have an issue of Guitar Techniques that has 50 Blues Licks grouped by style - Howling Wolf, Eric Clapton, BB King, Albert King, etc. I have another issue that has 50 rock licks broken down into different pentatonic positions. I should study those and use them as a stepping stone into finding my own, right?

-Kirk


   
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aleholder
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Kirk, that sounds like a good plan. Enjoy! :D


   
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NoteBoat
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I'll throw out a few more tips... mix & match as needed.

1. Practice with a limited rhythm figure. Come up with a pattern, like quarter - two eighths (or whatever). Play whatever you like, but always in that rhythm. You'll come up with a lot of short figures. Write down your favorites.

2. Practice with limited notes. When I took improvisation lessons, at the first lesson my teacher had me solo over a blues progression using only F notes. I could use any rhythm, and play F in any octave, but nothing else. And I had to do FIVE choruses.

3. Keep a straight rhythm all the way through. Do five choruses with nothing but eighth notes - no rests, and no longer or shorter notes.

4. Start with a note that's not in key. See how you can resolve it. Then try it again (and again and again), using different resolutions each time.

Now that you've warmed up with one or more of those...

5. Take a short phrase - your own or someone else's - of no more than two measures. You might start with one of just two beats. Memorize it. Now put it in the MIDDLE of a longer phrase - improvise your way into the start of it, and improvise your way to a resolution afterwards.

6. Take a phrase and play the notes exactly - but with a different rhythm. Try several times in a row, using a different rhythm each time.

7. Take a phrase and alter ONE note - sharp it or flat it. See how it changes the sound. Then change a different note. Repeat until you've explored them all.

8. Hold one note for several beats - preferably not a chord tone. Now resolve it. (Make sure you do this over a backing track, so you can hear the tension against an underlying harmony)

9. Write out a phrase. Then play it backwards.

10. If you can read standard notation, write out a phrase. Now flip the page upside down and play it. (It's best to do this one only in the key of C major)

11. Get a book on music composition and read it. "Composing Music" by William Russo is good. So is "Music Composition" by Reginald Smith Brindle. Improvisation is basically composing on the fly... the more you know about composition techniques, the more you'll have to experiment with.

And don't worry about the speed of your progress - just keep experimenting, and try to do something new each time you play, even if it's only one new phrase. Music is a language, and the building blocks are scales, arpeggios, and melodic phrases - you're building your vocabulary. Great novelists all started out writing stuff like "See my dog Spot. He's a good dog. I like him a lot." You're doing the same thing - it takes years to build your vocabulary enough to say things that are truly original.

Guitar teacher offering lessons in Plainfield IL


   
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KirkD
(@kirkd)
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Topic starter  

NoteBoat -

Wow! That is quite a list. I'll certainly start integrating those ideas into my practice. Thanks!!!


   
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colin rp
(@colin-rp)
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Joined: 18 years ago
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Call and response. Sing out a melody and then try repeat what you just sang on the guitar. Especially if you have someone playing the chord progression.


   
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wkriski
(@wkriski)
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Some great tips there. Everyone seems to end up with their own voice over time, even if you learn tons of solos note for note, but patience is important.

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MrJonesey
(@mrjonesey)
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A lot of great ideas here...here is something I do when I'm in a similar rut (it's inevitable).

Play the same notes and licks, but play them different. Hold notes longer, mute some of the notes (palm or fret hand), switch the pick-up position to change the sound, or play the same riff but play every other note twice. Just try the same thing, but make it sound different.

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bobblehat
(@bobblehat)
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In addition to all the great advice above,,I would also recommend playing around with different sounds and effects.eg delays,tremelo,chorus etc.
I have found that it forces you to think more about what your playing.eg a typical blues solo doesn't work with a ping pong delay,but a 2 or 3 note riff/phrase can sound incredible.

I was rehearsing a new song last week and soon realised I was playing the solo from a song I wrote about 3 years ago!So I know where your coming from.

Hope that makes sense.

Bob.

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Dylan Schwartz
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There's so much great advice here that I'm hesitant to add anything! :D

That said, here's my take [as a music teacher and performer]:

You've only been playing 2 years. Don't worry too much about finding your own voice. That piece will come very naturally with time.

Right now is the time to get your chops and theory together. Can you play the following scales in any key in 5 different positions on the neck?:

Major
Pentatonic Minor
Blues Minor
Natural Minor
Dorian
Lydian
Mixolydian

Can you play the following triads in three positions on every string group?:

Major
Minor
Diminished

Can you play the following arpeggios in AT LEAST 2 positions in every key?:

Major
Minor
Diminished
Dominant 7
Minor 7
Major 7

Do you have all of your key signatures memorized? Can you identify every note on the fretboard with struggle? Can you play 16th notes through your scales at 108 BPM or faster?

If not, go do that. This "personal voice" thing will happen. You can't avoid it if you're playing from the heart! For now, clear out all of the roadblocks between your inner expression and your fingers.

Oh yeah, and steal as many licks as possible from your heros. :mrgreen:

Hope it helps.

-Dylan

Chicago Guitar Teacher
blog.stillstrings.com
http://www.myspace.com/buddhajones

Chicago Guitar, Bass, and Improvisation Teacher
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Jbeckforever
(@jbeckforever)
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I would say don't worry too much what your solos sound like for now. Take it really really slow if you have to. Remember when playing a solo, don't try so hard to make it sound good, because it usually won't. Try and express something, maybe how the chord progression is making you feel. And again, go really slow. Its ok if it doesnt sound good, be really conscious about what your doing and what sounds cool to you. Take the time to sustain notes while you think of something else to do. Think of what you know, and what you can do with it. Maybe a flurry of little, quick bends on one fret, then a slide to a lower position, and a sudden cut off of the note. You really gotta force yourself to think, and EXPRESS SOMETHING


   
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Pauly Boi
(@pauly-boi)
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Joined: 13 years ago
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I am stuck in the same exact place you are...i ve been playing for about two years and all my licks are alright but i need to "loosen up" a little... The best advice i have been given is "find someone to play with" so thats the advice i give you...and it works


   
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Wattsiepoops
(@wattsiepoops)
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post WW11 cowboy swing.

How did i miss the last 9 world wars.

David Watts
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