Learn How To Improvise on the Guitar for Better Playing

Learn How To Improvise on the Guitar for Better Playing

In today’s lesson, you are going to learn how to improvise on the guitar for the better playing of your instrument.  Improvise is a word that seems a bit intimidating.  Making stuff up on the spot!

But it doesn’t have to be if you know a few simple tricks to help you get going.  Once you get these down, improvising on the guitar will become fun.  Just like an artist painting on a blank canvas.

No matter if you play rhythm guitar, lead guitar or just want to improve your songwriting, Learning how to improvise should be part of your guitar study.


Improvise playing rhythm guitar

Improvising is usually associated with play lead guitar (and we will get to that later in these lessons) but it can also be very important when it comes to playing rhythms as well.

improvise with rhythm guitar

The best way to improvise when it comes to playing rhythm guitar is to learn your 12 keys.  Learn the chords that are associated with them.  Like for instance, all the notes in the C major scale.  Know which notes create major and minor chords, you’ve got half the battle won.

Then it’s just a matter of being able to move between them to produce great sounding chord progressions.  This will make you sound like a champ every time because the chords will all sound in harmony with each other.


Study and practice

Of course, to be able to do this you must study and practice your chords and the musical keys they come out of.  This is the science of playing great rhythm guitar.  Knowing your guitar chords.  Being able to determine if they are major or minor.  Having the ability to add embellishments to these chords to produce different shades of emotion.

Many people overlook rhythm guitar playing.  They don’t realize how important it is.  They just see all the flash that the lead guitar player brings. Study your guitar chords and learn to improvise playing rhythm.


Improvise playing guitar solos

This is what learning to improvise is mostly associated with.  Playing lead guitar.  Playing guitar solos.  Blazing up and down the fretboard and every note sounding great!

This can be done in the same fashion as playing rhythm guitar.  Except instead of studying chords, you study scales.  And the best place to start playing guitar solos with scales is the pentatonic scale.

This is a simple selection of notes that work very well in all kinds of styles of music.  Blues, Rock, Pop, Country, Jazz, etc.  They also line up in such a way on the guitar fretboard that allows them to be easily learned and memorized.

A minor pentatonic scale

Here is the A minor pentatonic scale.  The most common scale to play when learning to improvise on the guitar.  This scale is so popular that just about every lead guitar player uses it somewhere in their music.

Study this scale diagram.  Look at how the notes line up.  Like in a box.  That is why it is sometimes called a box pattern.  Because of the way the notes line up.  As you can see, they span 4 frets on the Low E, B, and High E strings, and only span 3 frets on the A, D, & G strings.

This makes it a very simple scale to learn and use for playing guitar solos.  It can be played anywhere n the fretboard, and if you learn to play it in the right spot, you’ll sound great every time.  Cool huh?


Playing over rhythm

Now if you are going to improvise guitar solos, you need to have a good understanding of rhythm.  Because you’re going to be taking off and coming back in and you need to know where your at in order to stay “in-time” with the music.    Very important to learn!

The best place to start is with the 12 bar blues progression.  This is a rhythm of three notes and played in hundreds of songs. In fact, once you learn and hear it, you’ll say “that’s a 12 bar blues rhythm”.  A rhythm pattern that is is not just used in blues, but also used in Pop and Rock music as well.

Jimmy page in concert

Usually, when people are looking into learning to improvise, they know rhythm already and want to take your playing to the next level.  I figure you’re the same.  If you need help improving your rhythm, I recommend you work on that first as it will help you when you go to improvise.


Know where the guitar chords are

Know where the guitar chords are in the rhythm, you can time your improvising to compliment them.  When the chord progression goes up, you can also match it.  If the chords go down, you can do the same.  This is a great way to compliment the chords.

You can either improvise over the chord progression by just knowing what key to play in and if you are in the right location, you will sound fine.  At least in key anyway.

Familiarise yourself with the chord progression (what chords are being used and where) and change with the chords.  This is where the pentatonic scale comes in very handy.  It allows you to easily match your solo to the chords being played underneath.


Learn all five scale patterns

One of the reasons why lead guitar players can play all over the fretboard and stay in the key is because they know all five scale patterns.  These five scale patterns span the entire fretboard and connect together like puzzle pieces.

Guitar Tricks Free Trial

It is very common to learn just the first one (the one I presented earlier) but in order to expand your playability, you want to learn all five of them.   By learning all five of them, and learning to connect them together, you’ll be able to play anywhere you choose on the fretboard and sound good every time.

Pentatonic scale pattern #2

Major pentatonic scale

This scale pattern is the major pentatonic scale.  You use it over chord progressions that are written in a major key.  But can also be used for minor keys if played in the correct spot.  Play this scale after the first one shown earlier.

Pentatonic scale pattern #3

Minor Pentatonic Scale box pattern 3

This is the next pattern in the sequence.  As you can see it is a bit different in the fact that a couple of notes step out of the box.  It is this “stepping out” that gives this scale its character. Played right after scale pattern #2.

Pentatonic scale pattern #4

A minor Pentatonic Scale 4th position

This is a great scale because of the way the notes line up, they allow you to play an arpeggio.  This is a very common technique in playing guitar solos.  Once again, it is the way the notes line up in this box pattern that gives this scale its character.

Pentatonic scale pattern #5

A minor pentatonic scale 5th position

This is the last one in the sequence of five scales.  As you can see, the notes line up quite easy to learn and play.  Almost opposite to pattern #1.  This scale has nice unique qualities to it as well because of the way the notes line up.  Learn al five scales and you’ll be able to play all over the fretboard.

Lesson conclusion

Learning to improvise is a process of daily study and practice.  You must work at it daily in order to get good at it.  No matter if it is for rhythm guitar playing, or lead guitar playing.  You must dedicate yourself to the craft.

And if you take the suggestions I have taught in this lesson, you will be well on your way to getting better in both areas.  If more help is needed I recommend you check out my guitar method books.

Dwayne Jenkins Guitar Method Books

Learn easily with these books.  They are all taught in a simple step-by-step format that will get you playing and understanding musical concepts quickly.  If you need help with your rhythm playing, I recommend Rhythm Guitar Alchemy.  This book will teach you the science of chord construction and playing rhythm.

Need help with your guitar solos?  Check out Lead Guitar Wizardry vol 1.  This book will show you what you can do with the pentatonic scales and how to use them to play jaw-dropping guitar solos.  All in an easy step-by-step method that anyone can learn from.

No matter where your at in your guitar learning, these books can help.  Available on Amazon in both print and Kindle as well as available in my eBay store.  Where if purchased here, you’ll receive a “signed to you personally” author copy.

Keep practicing, and until our next lesson, take care.

Sincerely, Dwayne

Dwayne Jenkins