The Art of Improvising on the Guitar

articles by Stefan Joubert


The Art of Improvising on the Guitar

Article by Stefan Joubert (All rights reserved)

When last did you feel 100% satisfied with your guitar improvisation?

You probably struggle to express your inner emotions properly on the guitar and at times you probably feel like you are not exactly right on the money. (That’s an expression for playing the right notes at the right time…)

There are a number of pertinent reasons for your performance to date. There are also methods to improve your guitar improvisation.

In this article, I will expound on the subject give you a few guidelines to improve your guitar improvisation.

The first step towards true guitar improvement is to stop and think about what you are currently doing, then re-think your strategy.

The best place to start is in your private guitar practise room.

EXERCISE ONE: Limit yourself to drastically improve your improvisation skills and knowledge

Let’s practice the following over a backing track: 1 b3 5 7 on string group 123 in B minor across the guitar neck.

By limiting the possibilities (degrees and string group) we are essentially expanding possibilities and forcing our minds to RETHINK the status quo and do things differently!

By limiting yourself on the fretboard, we are essentially opening doors for new creation and new possibilities.

If I told you to improvise in B Minor with the harmonic minor scale, you will probably play the notes that you are conditioned to play.

On the other hand if I told you to improvise in B minor using the harmonic minor on strings 1;3 ONLY, you will MOST certainly improve your guitar knowledge and guitar road maps.

So limiting yourself during your practice sessions is the first step towards creating new guitar creativity in your improvisation.

EXERCISE TWO: Improve your guitar improvisation by adding additional notes to the pentatonic scale (such as the 2nd or 6th)

Instead of going full on into modal playing, I often recommend adding the 2nd (9th) or 6th (13th) degrees to the pentatonic boxes.

By doing this you enhance the pentatonic scale and express emotions not found with in the realm of the standard minor pentatonic scale.

PENTATONIC MODIFICATION #1 – Let’s add the 2nd (or Tension 9) to create a nostalgic sound – a sense of longing…

(Is very difficult to explain how a certain degree feels with words. Music is a mystical experience and almost spiritual. It’s beyond human vocabulary but I will try to explain it!)

A Minor Pentatonic Scale With Added 9th


PENTATONIC MODIFICATION #2 – Let’s add the 6th (or Tension 13) to create a sweet, warm feeling. it’s a note often associated with the Dorian or Mixolydian mode. Both these modes have a particularly sweet flavour to them.

Some music theorists go as far as saying that a minor scale is determined largely by whether the scale has a minor 6th or a major 6th degree and not by whether it’s got a major or minor 3rd.

I’m not saying that I agree or disagree with them, but I merely giving you an opportunity to think about these things.

A minor pentatonic add 13th

EXERCISE THREE: Listen to great singers and imitate the human voice on the guitar!

As a guitarist you’ve got to learn how to make your guitar sing!

All instruments eventually imitate the human voice and performing a great guitar solo is no different!

If you listen to Shawn Lane’s improvisation on “Once upon a time in the West” you will get a pretty good feeling for what I am talking about!

Shawn Lane’s guitar playing most definitely sings!

I would also recommend listening to great blues singers and imitate their phrasing on your instrument.

A great singer is often able to touch the very fibre of human emotion, and that’s exactly what you have to do too!

EXERCISE FOUR: Transcribe and analyse guitar solos that you love – even if it’s only a short excerpt

For every hour you spend on transcribing a solo, you can count 10 hours towards guitar improvement in terms of your improvisation and soloing skills.

If you would like to learn how to play jazz guitar for example, get a copy of Wes Montgomery’s guitar work and lock yourself in a room (for hours) and start transcribing his solos!

Transcribing guitar solos is really the key to developing the ability to create your own amazing guitar solos.

Here’s an important tip in your transcription endeavours: start out by transcribing a short excerpt only. (If you are faithful in little, you’ll be faithful in much!)

It’s not enough to transcribe the notes. You also need to analyse the degrees of the notes against the UNDERLYING harmony.

By studying the improvisational techniques of your favourite guitarists you will GREATLY increase your own ability to improvise greater solos!

Final Conclusion – Great Improvisation Is a Combination of Knowledge, Skill And Creativity

Learning how to improvise properly will take a lot of time. You’ve got to have the right combination of knowledge, skill and creativity.

If you’re just starting out, I would recommend getting your head around the pentatonic scale.

If you are more advanced, try adding notes to the pentatonic scale and improvise with the added tensions.


Stefan Joubert
If you really want to make a radical difference to guitar journey, join my online correspondence guitar lessons today.

Have fun playing the guitar, and remember not to judge the day by how well you ‘feel’ you are playing (your harvest), but rather by the effort (seeds) you put into your guitar playing! (your field)

Try and apply one of the methods above immediately on the guitar and send me a mail to let me know how you getting along: stefan@stefanjoubertguitarschool.com

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