Flynn Amps and the value of enthusiasmK is for Knopfler, MarkM is for Modes

I is for improvisation
September 8, 2013

Hello everyone.

Sorry it’s taken me so long to get to ‘I’.  I think that improvisation is perhaps the most scary thing for most beginners. I have very few students who pick it up right away and the vast majority struggle to play things without at least some kind of boundaries to think about. With that in mind I generally start people off with a couple of very basic scale shapes. Starting off with the pentatonic and moving on to major and perhaps minor too if they’re using the first two usefully.

I also find that chucking people in a little bit can help. I like to set a couple of rules for each jam session during a lesson and I follow the idea of the power of three for these rules. People like choice but not too much choice, and things like “only use the higher three strings” or “try and stick to three note phrases ” helps to stop the budding Hendrix from becoming overwhelmed with the sheer amount of choice the guitar offers.

Once the student is comfortable with these basic ideas, we introduce techniques such as bending and slurs into proceedings. While these may not be unknown to the player, as they may have featured in songs that they have already learnt, it’s one thing to know there’s a slide coming up and put it in the song and quite another to plan for one in your own solo on top of note choice and rhythm and then execute it.

Speaking of rhythm, it’s often said that the notes you don’t play are just as important as the ones you do, if not more so! I try to get my pupils to think in terms of speech. I find the best, most memorable solos sound like someone singing. Albeit someone singing very fast sometimes! Many of my students don’t have the confidence to sing out solos as practice but 99% of them have no trouble talking to me so I ask them to think of how they phrased the last question they asked and put notes to it. I find this is a speedily effective way of introducing thinking about rhythm as well as pitch.

For more advanced students there’s a whole raft of things out there such as tapping, sweep and economy picking and theory such as modes and arpeggios that can be applied to solos. Picking which is a favourite and working on it is the trick, trying to master everything at once is almost always going to lead to being a jack of all trades and not fully understanding any of them. One of my preferred avenues here is to take the humble pentatonic and work at it being not just a one or two box scale but extending it all over the finger board in as many keys as possible. Soon changes people’s views of it, I can tell you!

Any ideas for “J”?