> I've been playing for several years now and I still cannot improvise.
> I can only play tunes I have learned and add a little of my own sound
> (but not much).
> Does it get any better or easier? Am I the only one with this
On the subject of improvisation in general, a little music theory tends to
help. I'm speaking specifically about the guitar, but I think it can be
applied to any instrument. The question (rather, it's really a feeling)
that most crosses my mind when trying to improvise is "Is the music moving
forward, or about to come to a stop?"
If moving forward, then I'll play "forward-moving" notes; not the tonic, but
IV or V, or little licks ending up on IV or V. By "ending up on," I mean
"landing the beat on." The note you land on and/or hold at the beginning
of the next measure seems to be the most important note; should it create
tension (movement), or a feeling of rest?
If the music is moving to a close, I'll "dance around tonic", such as 3-2-7,
then resolve to 1 on the first beat of the next measure, or land on the 2
briefly before stepping down to rest on 1. Alternatively, if
you know that harmonically the tune resolves, you could play the dominant (V)
to harmonize with the I chord while still leaving yourself free to jump around
the scale in the next measure.
If you've never had any theory, here's some brief explanations: the numbers
I'm using represent scale degrees, i.e., in the key of C, C would be tonic
(1 or I), D=2, E=3, ..., B=7.) Notes that generate a strong feeling of
movement toward the tonic are the 5, 7, and 2, possibly the 4. All of this
must of course be taken in relation to the harmonic happenings underneath
your improvisation. Over a I chord, a 1, 3, or 5 could sound restful, but
over a V chord, most things will sound like they're pulling towards the tonic;
you can enhance this by melodically playing notes that pull towards tonic.
I think that this is a middle level of improvisation. I once asked someone
how to improvise, and he gave me 3 general answers:
(1) Memorize certain licks, and play when you think appropriate, combining
them together and embellishing them, etc.
(2) Hear where you are and where you want to go, then think "up," "down,"
or "stay" to decide where to move your improvisation line.
(3) Hear what you want to play in your head, then play it. (This is, of
course, the ultimate.)
Another comment I read somewhere was some good advice -- to improvise,
you have to want to say something. As with writing, knowing words and
grammar isn't enough to write poetry. You have to be inspired to create
something, to make a coherent statement. It sounds like good
advice to me. (Not that I can do it!)
A very fascinating topic, improvisation. Anyone else have any comments?
P.S. I've read over this letter several times before sending it out, and
realize that to those with no theory, it's probably incomprehensible.
Heck, it's pretty incomprehensible to me.
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