** As featured in issue 29 **
Hi guys and welcome back to my guitar lesson column for Guitar Interactive Issue 29. We’re going to be shifting focus for the next few lessons and change our studies from Harmony to Time Feel based pursuits. In the previous few guitar lessons, things have been pretty complex so let’s bring things back down to a more approachable level before we dive into some more involved time based guitar improvisation ideas later down the line.
For this issue we’re going to be looking at our perception of time whilst improvising, something that many guitar players don’t even think about whilst practicing. Many players think that your best bet for learning to improvise is to just…improvise more, without really ever breaking down the elements that make up great improvisations into their constituent parts and practicing them individually. Great improvisers have superb technique, tone, time feel and harmonic knowledge and by looking at these elements separately you can gain a much better understanding of and ability with improvising.
For our time based studies we’re going to be starting with a simple idea based around becoming familiar with improvising within a specific, set period of time, followed by playing a set riff. The riff will last for exactly one bar and can be played as many times as we specify before being followed by a specific number of bars of improvisation, before returning to the riff in the correct place. This practice method ensures that you are able to improvise for a specific number of beats without losing your place within the bar. The exercise can be made as simple or complex as you like depending on your ability level, for example you could play the riff for three bars and improvise for one bar, or play the riff for two bars and improvise for two bars. If you shorten the riff you could even play the riff for a bar and a half followed by two and half bars of improvisation for example. Whilst practicing these ideas I recommend the use of a metronome or drum machine. The metronome is useful as it only tells you where the 1/4 note pulse is whereas the drum machine or even better, drum loops played by a real drummer, give you more of the ‘feel’ and fill in the 8th or 16th note pulse, depending on the rhythm chosen. Both have their advantages and I recommend you use them equally.
This exercise is great for helping you to figure out if there are any issues with your ability to perceive musical lengths of time within an improvisational framework and should be practiced at many different tempos and within as many different stylistic time feels as you deem necessary. On the accompanying video I take a medium tempo riff and demonstrate improvising for one, two and three bars within the framework of that riff. After this I might increase or decrease the tempo or change the riff completely, perhaps working with a swing time feel or another time signature to produce a more challenging scenario. The options are pretty vast here and are only limited by your imagination. These kind of limitation exercises are really great for working on specific elements of improvisation and can be extended into other areas of your practice. For example, if you are a Jazz player you could practice comping for a bar and a half followed by a bar and a half of improvisation or practice improvising for a set number of beats for every four bars section of a tune, changing which part of the four bar section you start on each time.
We’ll be developing this more over the coming issues but in the meantime I suggest checking out the playing of Wayne Krantz and Adam Rogers for some really cool rhythmic devices and incredible time feel. These guys are as free rhythmically as they are harmonically and that’s an amazing place to be. In the next issue we’ll be dealing with ways to develop your internal metronome and improve this ‘sense’ of time even further. Until then, good luck and keep practicing!