When I first got my greasy little hands on the minor pentatonic scale at the ripe old age of 13, it was mayhem in my household. Luckily, I had supportive parents who tolerated my endless noodling of the overplayed, overused sound we all know and love.
I’d go up and down that scale for hours, locating the root note over a classic rock tune and then going into what I can only refer to as “robot mode.” Robot mode is when you rip through a scale pattern with absolutely no emotion or variation—up one and down the next.
Before I go any further, I must stress that this type of guitar playing is totally normal and something every single guitarist must experience. It’s the amount of time you spend in this state of creative purgatory that you have control over, though.
I offer a strategy to help you turn off robot mode and find your voice, and that strategy utilizes what I’ve dubbed “home riffs.” The concept of home riffs is something I came up with when I created Guitar Super System, and it’s proven to be an extremely effective method for beginning to advanced students striving toward goals of improvising fluently on guitar.
The idea is simple: take a memorable three- or four-note melody from the scale you’re using, learn it in multiple octaves and use it when you feel like you’re getting lost in your improvising.
Home riffs are to guitarists what safety nets are to trapeze artists; you can go out on a tightrope, impressing and astounding everyone, but in the back of your mind you always know you have a safe haven to protect you if things get too dicey. If you want to locate and turn off the robot mode switch, consider integrating home riffs into your guitar playing.
Tyler Larson is the founder of the guitar-centric brand Music is Win. His insightful, uncomplicated guitar lessons and gear demonstrations along with entertaining, satirical content about life as a musician receive tens of millions of video views per month across social media. Tyler is also the creator of the extremely popular online guitar learning platform, Guitar Super System. A graduate of Berklee College of Music, Tyler has been teaching guitar for over a decade and operates a production studio in Nashville, TN.