How To Never Run Out Of Ideas When Improvising
Do you struggle to come up with new ideas when improvising? Do you always play the same three licks over and over? Are you all out of things to play after 30 seconds?
A common problem when practicing improvising is running out of ideas to play. Most guitarists have a few licks as their go to ideas which they can pull out of the hat at a moment's notice but once they’ve played them they are stumped and can’t come up with anything on the spot. Master improvisers are renowned for their ability to create and connect a never ending series of ideas for as long as they need to, going into minutes or even hours of playing as they bring forth all of the ideas that they’ve accumulated over their playing career.
When it comes to improvising the common misconception is you need to learn more stuff and by having more licks, scales and tricks you can put them into practice. In reality improvising is a mental game and it’s all about your ability to think of different ideas on the spot, even if you can’t yet play them or haven't prepared any licks to carry them out. What actually happens when you’re put under pressure is you resort to your comfort licks, those things you’ve done a million times and you play them until you’ve exhausted the idea. Great improvisers are able to put ideas together quickly without thinking (or at least what appears to be without thinking) when in actual fact they have rehearsed their ideas of days, months, weeks and years to get them right before they come out in improvising.
One way to avoid overwhelm or a lack of ideas is to plan out which techniques and improvisational concepts you would like to use and then play for a minute on each idea. That way when you have exhausted all you can think of you switch to a new limitation and can continue on with fresh ideas. I would highly recommend writing out a list and using a timer to do this at first. You can go into as much or as little detail as you would like and the more specific you are in your limitations, the easier you will find it.
Below is a list of ideas and limitations you can put on yourself to assist in your improvisation. You can even go as far as to combine the two.
Whammy Bar Tricks
Using a specific number of notes
Using a specific rhythm
Using combinations of long & short notes
Staying on only 1 string.
Using a two string pairing.
Using a specific area of the guitar
Playing two notes at the same time.
Avoiding adjacent strings
Playing ascending lines
Playing descending lines
You should print out the list above and cut each item with a pair of scissors. Put all of the pieces of paper face down on a table and then turn 1 over for every minute you're backing track goes for. You will then start improvising for 1 minute using the technique or limitation that you turned over. After each minute move onto a new idea. This might seem like a really tricky concept at first but I guarantee you the many great improvisers are doing this in their head on the fly. With a bit of practice you’ll be able to do the same.
About The Author
Michael Gumley is a guitarist, composer and teacher from Melbourne, Australia. He has helped countless students improve their improvisational skills through the introduction of very simple concepts that anyone can master. If you’re not happy with your solos try Electric Guitar Lessons in Melbourne with Michael so he can share with you the secrets of successful improvisers. What are you waiting for? Improve your playing now!