Understanding the guitar, finally to improvise

Theory and practice of composition and arranging for classical guitar, discussion of works in progress, etc.
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Composers' Workshop
Theory and practice of composition and arranging for classical guitar, discussion of works in progress, etc.

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bach88s

Understanding the guitar, finally to improvise

Post by bach88s » Fri Jan 10, 2014 9:54 pm

I play classical and classic rock guitar. I only read up to the 7th fret for now and use tabs to cheat so I know what the notes are. I have always played rock guitar by ear. Doing Rush, Skynard, Hendrix etc! I know this is a classical forum so I will keep it to the point. I know many players learn scales for exercise and can read very well, but when it comes to improvising they can't do that. Some don't want to improvise and just learn to site read. No issues, just saying (;

I have always wanted to improvise and read. Especially when soloing on electric. It is a pain to learn a lot of lead guitar note for note, when I can hit the high points and add my own thing in the song instead. I have had quite a few lessons over the years and it is like 99% of the teachers around here don't know how to teach, don't understand really what they are teaching, or can play very well, understand things fully well, but throw too much complicated stuff at you that you get discouraged and quit. At least that was me.

I finally sat down and woodshedded on my electric and am figuring things out. Since Western music is built off the the major scale, I think that would be a great place to start. We know whole, whole, half. Whole, whole, whole, half makes up the steps of a major scale. Like Doe, Rei, Me. So assigning a number to each step is how you get your 5ths and 7ths etc. Or playing the 1st, the 3rd, and the 5th gives you your major chord. Or flatting the 3rd gives you a minor. Or when talking modes, depending on what degree you start the scale in is the mode you will be playing. Ex. Dorian! P.S. I took piano for a year and that helped me come to this point. It is more logically laid out and easier to see on the piano.

Is everyone different or am I all screwed up on this. I am actually figuring out inversions and triads now because I know some rules and the steps in the Western scale. Sometimes I think for me anyways that a couple of lessons here and there are ok, but I seem to do better sitting in a quiet place thinking of this stuff and than applying it. Lastly, classical is so demanding that I love it. I can play a Van Halen lick and people go cool. But if I play some Bach or Sor on the classical they are like that is beautiful and go on and on. I actually like classical playing the best. Thanks

Max Karios

Re: Understanding the guitar, finally to improvise

Post by Max Karios » Sat Jan 11, 2014 1:22 am

There are different kinds of improvisation. I played Irish Trad for a couple of years, using a steel string guitar tuned to DADGAD. As a guitarist in an Irish Trad session, you must be able to improvise an accompaniment when a fiddler or a piper starts an arbitrary tune, otherwise you're not of much use. There are thousands of tunes around, so you can know only a tiny fraction of them. This basically means that you need to find a chord progression to a given melody that you've never heard before.

In Rock and Jazz it is the other way around: you have a given chord progression and need to invent a melody that works with it. That is a different skill. Both types of improvisation can be done in a group of people, however.

Now, if we are talking about classical, things are different again. Improvisation is either just tiny bits of ornamentation or it is a solo performance. In a concerto the orchestra stops completely when the soloist is supposed to play an improvised cadenza. The reason is that in order to get a "classical" sound, you need to stick to the rules of counterpoint. So the restrictions to what you can do go much further than just a background chord progression. Get a book on counterpoint if you don't already have one.

On a solo instrument like guitar you can of course play more than one voice at the same time. The tricky thing on guitar is to navigate the fretboard. I don't know of any literature that would outline a set of excercises for counterpoint improvisation on guitar. That doesn't mean that it cannot be done. The trick is to see the properties of the guitar fretboard not as weaknesses, but as strengths. It is much easier to see intervals on the guitar fretboard than on the piano keyboard, because they look the same in every key. So you can detect direct motion towards a fifth before running into it and avoid fourths if there is no obvious way to resolve them. (Fourths are considered dissonant in 2-part counterpoint.) A constant source of pain is the third between the G and B strings, however.

Fretboard navigation works best with the CAGED system. You should see complete arpeggios and know immediately what is 1, 3, and 5. The notes of the current chord are your orientation points. They are also your targets for melodic lines and should be hit at stressed beats until you feel safe enough to do more adventurous things. Stick to 2 parts and add a third voice only occasionally when you know what you are doing. Try to completely forget about chords every now and then and think only in intervals. For instance, take your lower voice from the root stepwise upwards and invent an upper voice. Knowing to shapes of intervals will allow you to avoid pitfalls. If you land on a dissonance by accident, try to see the closest consonance, which always is only one step away. Often you can make mistakes sound right by repeating them.

It is easier to keep your orientation when thinking in thorough bass terms instead of in chord inversions, i.e. 6-chord instead of first inversion and 6/4-chord instead of second inversion. Sixths are your friends anyway, fifths need constant attention.

Find out what creates the typical sound of your favourite composer. For instance, Bach likes to put the seventh of a dominant chord into the bass and always resolves this to the target chord in its first inversion (6-chord). He also likes sequences of three decending thirds, like C - A - F - D -- B - G - E - C -- A - F - D - B.

Well, that should be enough to get started. Improvisation is a big topic and basically about experimentation on what works and what doesn't.

bach88s

Re: Understanding the guitar, finally to improvise

Post by bach88s » Sat Jan 11, 2014 4:33 am

Max Karios wrote:There are different kinds of improvisation. I played Irish Trad for a couple of years, using a steel string guitar tuned to DADGAD. As a guitarist in an Irish Trad session, you must be able to improvise an accompaniment when a fiddler or a piper starts an arbitrary tune, otherwise you're not of much use. There are thousands of tunes around, so you can know only a tiny fraction of them. This basically means that you need to find a chord progression to a given melody that you've never heard before.

In Rock and Jazz it is the other way around: you have a given chord progression and need to invent a melody that works with it. That is a different skill. Both types of improvisation can be done in a group of people, however.

Now, if we are talking about classical, things are different again. Improvisation is either just tiny bits of ornamentation or it is a solo performance. In a concerto the orchestra stops completely when the soloist is supposed to play an improvised cadenza. The reason is that in order to get a "classical" sound, you need to stick to the rules of counterpoint. So the restrictions to what you can do go much further than just a background chord progression. Get a book on counterpoint if you don't already have one.

On a solo instrument like guitar you can of course play more than one voice at the same time. The tricky thing on guitar is to navigate the fretboard. I don't know of any literature that would outline a set of excercises for counterpoint improvisation on guitar. That doesn't mean that it cannot be done. The trick is to see the properties of the guitar fretboard not as weaknesses, but as strengths. It is much easier to see intervals on the guitar fretboard than on the piano keyboard, because they look the same in every key. So you can detect direct motion towards a fifth before running into it and avoid fourths if there is no obvious way to resolve them. (Fourths are considered dissonant in 2-part counterpoint.) A constant source of pain is the third between the G and B strings, however.

Fretboard navigation works best with the CAGED system. You should see complete arpeggios and know immediately what is 1, 3, and 5. The notes of the current chord are your orientation points. They are also your targets for melodic lines and should be hit at stressed beats until you feel safe enough to do more adventurous things. Stick to 2 parts and add a third voice only occasionally when you know what you are doing. Try to completely forget about chords every now and then and think only in intervals. For instance, take your lower voice from the root stepwise upwards and invent an upper voice. Knowing to shapes of intervals will allow you to avoid pitfalls. If you land on a dissonance by accident, try to see the closest consonance, which always is only one step away. Often you can make mistakes sound right by repeating them.

It is easier to keep your orientation when thinking in thorough bass terms instead of in chord inversions, i.e. 6-chord instead of first inversion and 6/4-chord instead of second inversion. Sixths are your friends anyway, fifths need constant attention.

Find out what creates the typical sound of your favourite composer. For instance, Bach likes to put the seventh of a dominant chord into the bass and always resolves this to the target chord in its first inversion (6-chord). He also likes sequences of three decending thirds, like C - A - F - D -- B - G - E - C -- A - F - D - B.

Well, that should be enough to get started. Improvisation is a big topic and basically about experimentation on what works and what doesn't.
Wow! You just blew my mind with so much stuff! I appreciate your input. I know the CAGED system and am working my minor pentatonics right now using it. But I know what you mean and am as well working arpeggios out of these shapes. I understand intervals are simply the distance between notes. Like I just played a F major power chord on my guitar. But many times in rock the top two strings are played for a power chord. Or using intervals I could say I played a F5 chord. Since the F or root is played and the second note or the 5th is a G.

It will have to be baby steps for me but I will chisel away at it. I do like jazz a lot because of the dissonant notes and many chord voicings etc. Thanks So Much :D

jeff_hatcher

Re: Understanding the guitar, finally to improvise

Post by jeff_hatcher » Sat Jan 11, 2014 1:20 pm

I've been working through some of this by reading "Melody and Harmony for Guitarists“ by John Duarte. This book discusses musicial theory as it applies to classical guitar. He uses many excerpts from classical guitar pieces to show you "what's going on behind the scenes", theory wise.

Mel Bay's "Complete Fingerstyle Jazz Guitar Book" is useful, as it combines exercises for fingerstyle guitar with a nice helping of Jazz theory. Section two goes into harmonizing a melody with different intervals, and these exercises are good training for interval recognition on the guitar, as well as getting a feel for how they're used.

Hal Leanard's "Jazz Guitar" and "Arpeggio Finder" are also good references.

bach88s

Re: Understanding the guitar, finally to improvise

Post by bach88s » Sat Jan 11, 2014 6:46 pm

Thanks very much. The more I understand it the more I like it. Thank You

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