** As featured in issue 47 **
Hi there, guys and welcome back to my column for Issue 47. In the last issue, we looked at how you can develop your ability to play musically and control sub-divisions within your playing. In this issue, we’re going to be taking this a step further by looking at a cool method by which you can practice improvising lines that resolve to a particular place in the bar using any particular sub-division. For today’s lesson, we’ll be dealing with 16th notes exclusively but with a little bit of consideration you’ll be able to adapt the method to any sub-division and phrase length you like.
When I speak to guitar players and ask them what issues they have in their playing, something that often gets cited is a lack of ability to improvise long phrases and have them resolve strongly in the bar. Players often describe a feeling of getting lost, either in terms of fretboard knowledge or in terms of their rhythmic awareness, finding that they lose control of the line and it either just falls apart or doesn’t go where they wanted it to. If you recognise these symptoms in your own playing, then this lesson should help you out!
As mentioned previously, there are two main elements at play when it comes to improvising lines and making them resolve strongly within the bar. The first is dependent on how good your fretboard knowledge is – if you can’t find the notes within the key or scale that you are improvising in fast enough then you will inevitably have problems improvising lines at higher tempos or with faster sub-divisions. The second is your rhythmic control – can you make the line resolve where you want it to?
These elements can only be practised well if you work at the speed that your brain wants to work at rather than the speed your fingers or muscle memory want to work at. This means breaking things down and practicing SLOWLY! Once you develop the methods described in this lesson you can start to develop quicker visualisation and technical thought processes and therefore your brain will be able to work faster and faster to keep up with your fingers and you’ll be more in control.
Let’s work with 16th notes and start to create phrases that last for a whole bar plus the first 16th note of the second bar. In order to achieve this, we need 16 notes in the first bar plus a single note in the second bar, making 17 notes in our phrase. Next we need to pick a harmonic frame work – in the video I pick A Dorian – and start to pick 17 notes out to create our phrase. At this point we want to work without a rhythmic framework, simply picking 17 notes from the scale and creating an interesting sounding phrase. Don’t play a scale or something so complex that you wouldn’t be able to play it at higher tempos – keep it interesting but playable. Now try to create another 17 note phrase, different from the first. Again, don’t worry about playing it in time, just improvise it and take as long as you need to find all 17 notes so that you find the phrase interesting and it was improvised.
At this point keep creating different 17 note phrases – don’t play the same one over and over, since this is not a technique exercise, but a visualisation one to develop your ability to select notes efficiently and improvise phrases with many continuous notes in. When you find that you can do this pretty quickly you are ready to try the same thing in time, utilising the sub-division against a beat or metronome. Repeat the exercise but this time you have the added pressure of the tempo forcing you to pick the next note in time. Now improvise lots of 17 note phrases with the drum beat or metronome. Start slowly and keep increasing the speed over time until you find that you can seamlessly create 17 note phrases without mistakes and control the direction and note choice within the line.
To develop this exercise further you can change the number of notes in the phrase, adding or removing notes to make it more difficult. For example, we could improvise phrases that resolve on the 4th 16 note of bar 2, giving us 16 notes in bar one and four in bar two – a total of 20 notes. You could remove some notes to improvise lines with 14 notes in for example. The choice is up to you, but the more of these you practice, the more options you’ll have whilst improvising and the wider your rhythmic vocabulary. You can of course practise other sub-divisions too, working out how many notes you need to resolve to a particular part of the bar.
You may find that keeping track of 20 notes is pretty tricky – it’s surprisingly hard to keep track of how many notes you’ve played, particularly at higher tempos or sub-divisions. I recommend using a sequencer/DAW to help you here by sequencing the number of notes you need within your phrase on a high hat or snare sound and looping it round and round. For example, with a 20 note phrase you would write out all 20 16th notes on the piano roll or score editor using a hi-hat or snare sound and then leave the rest of the second bar empty and loop the two bars. This way you get to hear the number of notes in your line as a rhythmic phrase that you can speed up and slow down to practise along with, allowing you to know immediately if you get the number of notes wrong. Using the sequencer makes it really easy to add or remove notes from your rhythmic framework so that you can practise efficiently and precisely.
I hope you find this technique useful – there’s not TAB this issue since this is more of a practise concept than a particular line or lick.
Good luck guys and I’ll see you all next time!