The Woodshed

How do you guys improvise based off the chord and not the key

1

I’m a guitarist who has been playing for quite a while but only has fundamental music theory. From what I gather (and I could be wrong about this), when really good players solo, they don’t just figure out the key of a song and play in that mode, they will pick their notes on a chord by chord basis (whilst keeping the key in mind). So maybe the key is C, but a G will come up and they think an F# would go well over it so they throw that in there. How do you guys decide if that F# will be a flop or actually sound good? And if you are playing over a progression without explicitly being told the chords, is there a way to decipher that easily while playing over the progression? When I improvise, I try to throw in notes outside the key but unless it’s a jazz track it does not seem to be worth it most of the time as the notes rarely come out better than if I had just stuck to the scale of the key.

2

I don't think there's a 'right' way. I have no formal music theory, but playing along with records and trial and error was how I learned to play, and still forms my approach. Incremental improvements over many years (the really good players don't take that long, but I'm not one of those) have given me a repertoire of approaches which are second nature (that is, I couldn't satisfactorily explain them). I've been trying to learn more jazz-type 'inside' chords lately, as that's not where I started (wish I had) and that is interesting because I can now throw away another load of 'rules' I had limited myself with. I think you've got to find the answer on the fretboard, but any other learning will help. But eventually you have to trust your ears.

Although impressive in the sense of skill and dexterity, 'improvisation' which is built to a formula quickly becomes tedious to my ears.

3

"Improvising off the chord".... I think you are talking about the CAGED system? Other people have other names for it too....

These videos with Guthrie Trapp, even tho not "formal lessons", are some of the easiest-to-grasp lessons on CAGED I have found. Maybe it's just me, but there's something about the way Guthrie explains it that really connected with me (altho it's not a difficult concept).

4

-Figure out scales and how they apply to the chords. Also is a big help to understand a chord chart - i.e. how the chords apply to each other.

-Learn your arpeggios in different positions. If you're going to solo over a chord pattern, sit down and figure out the arpeggios for every chord in the tune, without a beat or tempo or metronome. Once you have that in your fingers, do the same to a set tempo.

-Learn which notes you can use to connect arpeggios and play with them : scale notes, chromatic notes (you can approach every scale or chord tone from a half step up or down as long as you land on the chord tone on the right beat, and you can connect chord notes chromatically, etc..)

-All of this is probably going to sound like stale exercises if you don't apply all this to music -----> figure out melodies, riffs, licks and patterns off of records, and try to figure out what's happening. Having music show you how things click and how the theory applies to music is the best shortcut, and will have the penny dropping several times per solo/line.

-Making your way to the chord grid of a tune using arpeggios as your starting point is enough of an assignment at first, before you start figuring out chord substitions. (---> playing different chords over the chord progression than "the ones that are on paper")

5

Use a chord wheel and look for 2-5's while you are looking at your sheet music. Say a song is in Fmajor, but all of the sudden there are a few measures of C and F chords, then it may sound pleasing to solo over the Bmajor scale or the 1 of C and F, then you'll get an ear for when it's appropriate to head back to the Fmajor scale. I'd use a Looper pedal. Lay down the chord track, then have fun dropping various other scales over different sections of the song and just experiment and HAVE FUN!

6

I like the idea of "tension and release". Going between the chord's notes builds tension, then hitting the note gives a release to that tension.

Basically, I try to play the notes that sound "right".

7

Each post in this thread is great and provides the foundation/science/structure of the solo. In the beginning, I stumbled my way into what Ruger posted. This opened the door to all of WB's well structured points. For songs when I play swing, Wabash Slim's input is is really the cherry on top.

All of this will make sense of the musical ideas in your head. Proficiency in the all of the above approaches will allow you to inject your imagination. For me, what once seemed like "guess-work improvisation", turned into formulas that really meant something that I understood. My approach then had a "science" to it allowing me to play rhythm through a song and then switching to a solo.

My confidence grew, my approach expanded and my attack with the picking hand varied by adding and "easing up" on bends and technique. I then discovered my signature sound, which of course allowed my influences (Dicky Betts, T-Bone Walker, Stevie Ray, Johnny Winter, Albert Collins, and many others) to open the door to what I feel is my signature sound.

It takes time and practice but if you stick to it, the little gains that you notice will open up avenues that open up other avenues to your music making ability and allow you to play based on understanding the method vs. memorizing how the artists you listen to do it.

Even when my playing is "spot on" I know that there is a ton of room to expand, learn, and play yet to come. The key is sticking to it.

8

Ed King said his solos were based on chord inversions (whatever they are).

9

Mine are all based on chord aversions. Maybe that's my issue.

10

I've spent years developing my signature sound. So why is it an indecipherable sprawl?

11

For what it’s worth, the best thing I ever did was to learn all of the notes on the neck. KNOW where every G note is, where every Bb is, where every whatever is. It helps you navigate. Learning that the fretboard starts over notewise at the 12th cuts the confusion in half.

12

Well this a good question, but it has not really been answered yet.

One way to go is to play the notes that are in that key and think of of tone centers that reflect the chord changes. Licks that reflect the I chord, the V chord chord or other chords in that are in that key.

The other way to go is to play the notes for the I chord that's in the associated modal key.

They both get to the same place. But there are some hazards. For example:

If you're playing a blues tune in A, the scales played are usually Amin.

Good Luck! Lee

13

I remember having a breakthrough early on after learning chord inversions up the neck, which led to arpeggios within those shapes.

14

From time to time, I delude myself into thinking that I should study the likes of Django and Charlie Christian. Then I open a beer and go back to listening to Link Wray play two chords for a half hour.

But once, in my frustration, I emailed a fellah who I'd bought a course of lessons from with this...so over a chord, it appears I have the option of playing an arpeggio, a chromatic run, a diminished arpeggio, passing notes etc etc....kinda like saying I can play any damn note anytime anywhere and it'll be relevant. But it sounds like music when Charlie plays it and sounds sh@t when I play it. I was amazed that he replied and did try and help. But my beer had been opened by then and I'd gone back to listening to the Batman theme

15

Na-na-na-na, na-na-na-na
Na-na-na-na, na-na-na-na
Batman!

I'm witchu, Vince. They don't writem like that anymore, nosir.

16

I've spent years developing my signature sound. So why is it an indecipherable sprawl?

– Proteus

Failing grades in musical penmanship, perhaps?

17

Link Wray.......: I wanted to be Chet Atkins, I wanted to be Tal Farlow, I wanted to be those cats, jazz cats. Like I told Frank Zappa, 'It took me a long time to learn my guitar.' He said, 'Well, Link, it came to me quite easily.' 'That's because you got a brain, I don't have one.'

18

From time to time, I delude myself into thinking that I should study the likes of Django and Charlie Christian. Then I open a beer and go back to listening to Link Wray play two chords for a half hour.

But once, in my frustration, I emailed a fellah who I'd bought a course of lessons from with this...so over a chord, it appears I have the option of playing an arpeggio, a chromatic run, a diminished arpeggio, passing notes etc etc....kinda like saying I can play any damn note anytime anywhere and it'll be relevant. But it sounds like music when Charlie plays it and sounds sh@t when I play it. I was amazed that he replied and did try and help. But my beer had been opened by then and I'd gone back to listening to the Batman theme

– Vince_Ray

Ha Ha Ray, you just described my approach to the same players. There is a "science" in it somewhere but my theories/approach to it turn into an ugly experiment and out comes the beer!

Actually I have a decent understanding of what they're doing but it is outside of my comfort zone. This is why I am starting to play more swing.....easier than Charlie Christian but a few "comfortable" steps outside my comfort zone. Honestly, I just need to listen to them more and study it vs. my trying to dive with guns blazing in thinking I will create good music.

Well, my approach is diving head first into the shallow end of the pool.....OUCH I need to bring the discipline that got to play how I do today if I want to build and improve.

I still won't give up the beer though!

19

Isolate 2 , 5 ,1 chords and play over them Dmin 7 ,G7 ,Cmaj 7 in C.

Mostly the altered notes n substitutions fall on the 5 chord

Autumn Leaves is a good tune to start with,it starts w a major 2,51 then a minor one. This might help https://www.irealb.com/foru...

20

Play what you hear in your head, and don't think.

21

So maybe the key is C, but a G will come up and they think an F# would go well over it so they throw that in there. How do you guys decide if that F# will be a flop or actually sound good?

In the key of C, G will be a dominant chord, i. e. a G7. Thus an F (the diminished seventh) will sound perfect. The chord tones are G, B, D and F. Since it's a dominant chord, altered notes are also possible and can lead to interesting, more dissonant sounds, as someone already pointed out. It's all about how you lead into them and what you choose to play after. You can view theory as a help, a shortcut, to find out things to experiment with which you wouldn't necessarily think of otherwise. But in the end it's up to you to decide what you think sounds good.

22

Play what you hear in your head, and don't think.

– Billy Zoom

That really is the short version of the answer.

However, it requires a VERY LONG period of everything else in this thread, to reach that point.

23

Play what you hear in your head, and don't think.

– Billy Zoom

That's the part that comes easier for some, than others.

25

How do you guys decide if that F# will be a flop or actually sound good?

I should add, the F# is going to clash with the chord tone F in the G7 and therefore be something of a flop.


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