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Techniques to Improve Improvisation On Guitar [3 of 3]

Today we're going to wrap up our 3 part series on how to improvise on guitar. In the first lesson, I taught you how to play a Blues scale. In the second lesson, we took that Blues scale and learned some practical ways to improvise guitar solos. 

In this guitar lesson, I want to cover a range of techniques (and what I can devices) to help you start crafting some great sounding lead parts and solos. We're covering a lot in this lesson, so read the entire post and go back and pick one or two of the techniques to integrate into your playing today.

Make sure to check out Part 1 and Part 2 of this series to get the most out of this lesson!

Techniques To Improve Guitar Improvisation

As a short recap, improvising is one of the fundamental ways to jam on guitar with other musicians. It's more than just solos. Improvising on guitar could be writing licks and lead melodies. It's also just a fun way to play and practice guitar.

By using a few techniques you can vastly spice up your licks and riffs. Be sure to watch the video to see and hear each technique in action.

Technique #1 - Sliding

Sliding is a technique that is pretty much what it sounds like. You pick one note then slide your finger up to another note. You only pick once. The trick is to keep the fretting pressure consistent, and use your wrist/forearm to physically move your hand up (or down) the neck.

Technique #2 - Vibrato

Vibrato is a really great technique, and probably the hardest on this list to master. Just like vocalists add vibrato to their voice when they hold a note, guitarists do as well. When using vibrato you want to make sure you're not bending the string too much. 

The action will come mostly from your wrist and forearm. Play a note, rotate your wrist forward and backwards to get the vibrato. This one takes time so don't worry if it doesn't come naturally to you!

Technique #3 - Hammer Ons

Hammer ons are closely related to the next technique, pull offs, because they're often used together. To do a hammer on, start by picking a note and while it's still ringing, then fret another note with another finger.

Play the 3rd fret on the 3rd string with your index finger. Then while the note is still ringing play the 5th fret on the same string with your middle finger. You'll have to "hammer" it down hard enough to play the note without picking it.

Technique #4 - Pull Offs

Pull offs are the opposite of hammer ons. Take the hammer on example and reverse it. Play the 5th fret of the 3rd string with your ring finger. Make sure your index finger is fretting the 3rd fret of the same string at the same time. Play the note and pull your ring finger down towards the floor, making sure your index finger is still fretted. 

With pull offs and hammer ons, finding the right amount of motion (not too small, not too exaggerated) is the secret to playing them well.

Technique #5 - Bends

Bends are pretty hard to do on acoustic guitars because of the string tension. Most guitarists fret the note with their ring finger, and use their index and middle fingers as support for the bend. Practically, that means if your ring finger is playing the 5th fret on the 3rd string, your index and middle fingers are also fretting the string right behind it. This gives you more strength to your bends.

The action comes mostly from your wrist since it gives you more leverage. You'll rotate your wrist (palm towards the ceiling) while pushing the string up slightly with your fingers.

Like vibrato, this takes a while to master. 

Combining Techniques

You can combine techniques to create some really cool effects. Hammer ons and pull offs are used together all the time. You can add vibrato to your bend. Slide up to a note and use a pull off to get back to the first note. I'll show you examples in the video, but keep this in mind and try it out once you get familiar with the techniques. 

Devices For Better Licks And Leads

These devices are more or less bigger concepts for creating leads and solos. They're concepts that can take your leads to the next level. 

Follow Chord Changes

Admittedly, this takes some music theory knowledge to get really good at. But the basics are pretty straight forward. If you're playing over a G chord, aim for a G note. If the song moves to a C chord next, try to land on the C note at the same time (the first beat of the measure).

Try to play these notes higher up on the fretboard, or on a higher string. Playing a G note over G sounds good, and better than playing an A note over a G chord (for example). 

Leave Space Between Notes

Miles Davis is credited as saying "It's the notes you don't play that matter". There are a number of ways to use this idea, but let's keep it simple. Let some notes ring out longer than the rest. Instead of playing notes on every beat, let a note ring out for 2 beats. Or 3. 

Milk One Note For All It's Worth

You can listen to players like Santana play a single note for a couple measures (or more!), milking every possible thing he can from it. With bends, vibrato, different timings. This is where feel comes in, you feel the note and the solo.

This is harder to do on acoustic, but the same principles apply just as they do with electric guitar.

Use Repeating Rhythmic Patterns

Themes and motifs in solos and songs bring cohesion. An easy way to do that is to use the same rhythm with a different set of notes. Play a series of notes with a rhythm, pause, then use that same rhythm to play the next series of notes.

Call And Response

Think about Dueling Banjos. One banjo "calls" with a lick, and the other one "responds" with a different lick. You can do this by yourself in your solos. 

Using These Techniques and Devices To Improvise On Guitar

We sure did cover a lot today didn't we? Here's the secret to all of this: learn a little bit at a time. Pick two techniques you want to work on today and skip to those parts in the video. Then tomorrow add another technique. There's always going to be a lot to learn on guitar, but remember that the journey is a long one so pace yourself. 

As you're learning the techniques and playing leads over backing tracks, try to incorporate one of the devices. Over time, and with practice, the techniques and devices will become second nature. You wont have to think about them very much, if at all.

I'll leave you with the backing track and one more note. If you want to know where you should be spending your time learning guitar, and want a structured lesson plan to help you progress faster, get your personalized guitar success plan here. You'll answer a few questions and I'll send you a personalized report on how to maximize your guitar playing.

I hope to see you again soon, bye for now.

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