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How to Improvise One Note at a Time

Updated on July 14, 2015

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Soloing Concepts

This article is aimed primarily at guitarists but the principles can be applied to any instrument.

Rhythm is the driving force behind most melodies whether it be an improvised solo or predetermined/composed part of the song. It's very important to learn the idiomatic rhythms of the the styles you choose to improvise on. Blues as an overall music is great because there are so many grooves that are used.

To get started improvising I always suggest working with a single pitch so as to better focus on the extremely important rhythmic and phrasing aspects of learning how to solo.You then will start adding in more notes to create melodies.

The following is a list of the many things one should take into consideration when beginning to learn how to improvise.

Where in the measure you hit the note

  • beats 1,2,3 or 4
  • downbeat, or upbeat

How long you hold the note

  • short
  • sustain
  • when you stop the note

How many times you hit the note

  • syncopation (accenting the upbeats)
  • combinations of long, short, upbeat, downbeat

Subdivision of the notes

  • whole
  • half
  • quarter
  • eighth
  • sixteenth and beyond
  • triplets

Rests

  • air is note!
  • how long you rest
  • the space between the notes

Dynamics

  • loud
  • soft
  • crescendo (gradually get louder)
  • decrescendo (gradually get softer)

Articulations

  • staccato (abrupt attack, no sustain)
  • legato (smooth attack, each note rings to the next)
  • pick sounds (the way you attack the string)
  • finger sounds (the way you attack the string)
  • vibrato
  • slide to or from note

Adding More Notes

  • all of the one note techniques
  • sliding between notes
  • bending
  • hammer on
  • pull off
  • various bend-slide-hammer-pull combinations
  • sequential patterns
  • intervallic patterns

Listening Suggestions

  • BB King (pretty much anything)
  • Miles Davis (So What)
  • Count Basie
  • Albert King

Two Measure Phrases

The best way to tie everything together is by using the measure phrase technique.

Check out this YouTube lesson.

Lesson on Two Measure Phrasing

These are a few things to think about when listening to other great soloists. You should work on each of them until they are 2nd nature, It will get to a point where they automatically become a part of your playing without thinking about it. Learning other people's solos or at least parts of them that you like is good practice.

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