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Why learning more scales won’t help you with your improvisation skills?

guitar improvisationLots of guitarists want to improve their improvisation skills.

But most of them are not getting any better at it because they don’t understand how to do that.

Slowly they start to believe that they don’t have what it takes to become good at improvisation. Usually they end up saying that they don’t have enough talent.

But very often the problem is not in the people, but in the method they use.

With poor methods you cannot get great results.

Learning to improvise the wrong way …

Being able to freely improvise on the guitar can be very rewarding and fun activity, but learning to improvise is usually not much fun. And not because improvisation is that difficult (which it can be) but because improvisation is in most cases taught very poorly.

I was taught that I can learn to improvise by learning scales. And since my teacher was more experienced player than I, I believed him.

So I started to learn every scale in every position all over the neck. I learned melodic patterns and sequences. It took a lot of time and patience to do that but the results were poor. When I was trying to improvise over simple chord progression, it sounded as if I was practicing scales. Just terrible.

I knew that something was wrong with that approach, but it took me years to find out what.

I see this problem all over the web these days. Almost every advice on improvisation comes from scales and arpeggios standpoint. In other words, if you want to learn how to improvise, learn more scales and arpeggios and melodic patterns. That’s it. Take this scale, play it over this chord and now you are improvising.

But there is a problem with this approach . . .

Scales are just material from which you can build your musical ideas. It doesn’t matter how many of them you learn, if you don’t know how to use them. Learning something and learning to use something is not the same thing but two separate worlds.

Learning more scales won’t help you with your improvisation skills. You will just end up with more material that you don’t know how to use.

Guitar improvisation the right way…

Here is a simple solution to the improvisation problem. If you want to learn how to improvise on guitar, learn to play simple melodies. Simple melodies are the key to more complex improvisation concepts.

If you don’t know how to play a simple melody over some basic chord progression, how can you learn to play more complex stuff?

Take your favorite song and transcribe the main vocal melody. Learn how to play it on the guitar. Record a chord progression of that song and play the melody over it. Embellish the melody with slides, bends, vibrato etc. Change it rhythmically, add some notes or take some notes out. Change the key, change tempo and change musical style.

Learn how great melodies are constructed. Learn how to emulate them on guitar. Explore how great singers create melodies, learn from other instruments / saxophone, violin, …/ Please just don’t practice another bunch of useless scales.

If you take your time and learn few melodies over different chord progressions, slowly you’ll start to hear simple melodies over any chord progression that you play over. Melodies will create a basic structure upon which you can build more sophisticated ideas. This is where the real improvisation begins …

Photo by: mooney47

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2 Responses to Why learning more scales won’t help you with your improvisation skills?

  1. steve May 9, 2013 at 7:18 pm #

    I do agree but if you get just the sound of the major scale inside your mind and can sing those interval, it will help a great deal with everything.

    To create a new melody I found that you can play a simple melody and add too it or change it and this will create a new one.

    I also do think that learning to play Melodie is the fastest way to learning to play and it make music not mindless hours of scale playing.
    Peace

    • Lukas Kyska May 10, 2013 at 7:32 pm #

      You are right. If you have a vivid aural picture of any scale, it will help you a lot. But people spend way too much time mindlessly playing scales up and down thinking that it is kind of improvisation. Music doesn’t come from fingers, but from mind(heart).

      Thanks for your comment.

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