Skip to main content

Speeding Down the Highway of Improvisation

As you depart on the highway of improvisation in search of your own voice on the guitar, the journey can be daunting. No matter what you do, it always seems you run into the same roadblocks over and over again.

These traps vary from guitar player to guitar player, but generally consist of getting stuck in a scalar, robotic style of playing. In other words, it sounds like you’re just playing scales, not music.

While this type of guitar playing is basically unavoidable in the beginning phases of learning to improvise, it doesn’t have to be your status quo. What’s more, you already have the tools to execute the concept of this lesson, which is using octaves to deviate from these scale boxes in a fluid, cohesive way.

The first step to putting this idea into action is choosing a simple lick in a scale of your choosing. It should only be a few notes, to keep things simple as you integrate this strategy. Once you have a tasty lick under your fingers, you’ll then want to discover those same notes everywhere on the guitar neck, played in the same way.

As you move from position to position, you should think of your fretboard as a map. Octaves are the beginning and end points on each little trip, but there are other notes along the way where you can stop for a bite to eat, hit the head, or take a break. You don’t necessarily have to stop at these rest areas along the way, but just keep in mind where they are–you’ll need them at some point.

As you get more comfortable locating these octaves in a musical context, you’ll notice your phrasing begin to develop, and all of the sudden these destinations are sounding more and more musical. Pair that notion with a few additional bridge notes from neighboring scale positions, and you’ve just shifted gears from robot to rock star.

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.