The Biggest Myth About Guitar Improvisation

OK…for this article we're going to do a little experiment. You ready? Yeah? Awesome! So here's what I'd like you to do…

Step One: Choose A Language

Please choose a language that you've never spoken before. (For this experiment I'm going to use Portuguese…but you are free to use any language as long as you can't speak it). No cheating…it HAS to be a language you've never studied.

Step Two: Relaxation

I'd like you to get into an incredibly relaxed state. Close your eyes and do some deep breathing.

If you're a religious person, then you may also want to do some praying to the relevant deity. If you're really into New Age stuff, then maybe get out your crystals, drink some flower essences and start swinging some pendulums. If you're a Satanist, then start drinking goats blood and chanting to the Dark Lord.

You get the idea. Whatever belief system you have, do whatever it takes to get into a relaxed, receptive and creative mood. Take about 30 minutes to do this step.

All done? Cool. Now you're ready for the final step…

Step Three: Improvisation

Start speaking the language you selected in a fluid, natural and improvised manner. Pretend you are talking to a stranger and are having a spontaneous conversation. Do this for around 15 minutes. Some topics of conversation might include things like…

  • What you had for breakfast this morning.
  • Why your ex-partner has more baggage than Heathrow Airport just before a long-weekend.
  • The current state of the world's economic situation.

So, how did you go? From a scale of 1 to 10, how fluidly would you say that you were speaking that language? (10 is the most fluid).

I'm guessing it didn't go too well. For most people it doesn't. (It certainly didn't go well for me!). Now here's an interesting question for you (if you couldn't do it)…

Why couldn't you do it?

And here's another question for you…

What specific things would you need to do to in order to speak that language fluently?

And here's one final question…

How does all this relate to electric guitar improvisation?

Hmmm. It's an interesting thing to think about. And it also leads nicely into the biggest myth about electric guitar improvisation…

The Biggest Myth About Electric Guitar Improvisation

Myth: "Awesome improvisation is the result of some mystical, magical event that only happens to the most talented guitarists when all the planets are aligned at the same time as a total eclipse of the sun is happening".

Well, maybe this is a tad exaggerated. But I've had plenty of students believe that the reason why they couldn't improvise fluently was because of some form of "writer's block". In 100% of all cases, that wasn't the reason. The truth is, they had never taken the time to internalize enough of the language of the style of music they wanted to improvise in. (Their vocabulary wasn't big enough).

So now we know what improvisation isn't. Let's now take a look at a good definition…

A Good Definition For Improvisation

I was reading The Bebop Bible by jazz guitarist Les Wise a while back, and he has a fantastic definition of what improvisation is…

Improvisation: "It is spontaneous reorganization. To put in other words "the rearrangement of something that already exists".

So if you aren't yet improvising with the level of fluidity you would like, please ask yourself the following questions…

  • How many scales have I truly internalized?
  • How many arpeggios have I truly internalized?
  • How many licks have I truly internalized?
  • How many melodic motifs have I truly internalized?
  • How many rhythmic motifs have I truly internalized?
  • How many guitar solos, licks and other musical ideas have I transcribed from CDs by ear?
  • Have I developed enough technique to allow me to execute musical ideas in a
    fluid and natural way?

And to finish off, here's one final question…

How can you spontaneously reorganize things that you've never internalized?


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