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Guitar Lesson For Rock and Blues Guitar Improvisation

May 1, 2008
Have you ever wanted to go to a music store and get a book that had the best information on how to play guitar, explained in ways that were easy to understand and made sense, and not know which book to buy? Ever go out and get that book, only to discover that it had a bunch of information that you didn't need and didn't make a good deal of sense after all? Ever wonder whether the "get chops quick" guitar methods so prevalent on the Internet today are really ripoffs? Well, no need for further frustration, help is here.

I've been playing guitar for quite some time and understand these situations as I have been there. I used to inquire how the great rock and blues guitarists acquired what they learned in order to play the way they play. I was interested to understand: What was their secret? What is the key that unfastened all that outstanding playing and all that musicianship, and what is the easiest and most harmless way for me to begin to approach that level? It is my goal in this article to begin to provide answers to these questions. That way, you will not have to pilot the same musical labyrinth that I did. These answers should, in effect, help make your musical experience that much more enjoyable. Incidentally, in spite of all the struggles, I still play music fervently and haven't quit playing even when it became difficult, a testimony to the power of music.

As many of you have, I've gone into music stores and on the Web looking for the best and most helpful books and methods to buy for the musical arenas I wanted to pursue. This is important of course because these books and methods are expensive (especially these days) and a budding guitar player shouldn't have to go out and buy every book on guitar that's out there. I've also noticed that there are quite a few guitar books that start off by throwing tons of scales at the student without ever even explaining clearly why all these scales need to be learned in the first place, or worse, how the scales should be used or which chords to play the scales over and why the scales sound good over a particular chord or series of chord changes (as opposed to sounding terrible). In contrast, we'll begin the subject of learning to improvise lead guitar for rock and blues (while including concepts applicable to all guitar styles) with a very simple approach

Step 1: Learning The Names of The Individual Notes On The Fretboard

This is vital because in the art of improvisation, one has to know where one is on the fretboard at all times, regardless of what type of music is being played or improvised. Without knowing all the notes on the fretboard, it becomes easy to get lost and fall behind on the tune (while the chord changes the other musicians in the band are playing just roll on by). The natural shortcut, or the easy way out, is to only learn some of the notes on the fretboard. This approach will have at least two undesirable results: (A) the limited ability of only being able to improvise in certain keys (like A and E), and/or, (B) the limited ability of only being able to improvise on certain areas of the guitar neck. Jamming with other musicians and having these types of situations arise tends to lead to a good deal of embarrassment.

For beginners, there are three types of notes in music: Natural, Sharp, and Flat. So for example, the note G on the 6th string 3rd fret is also called G Natural. A note that is sharp is always one fret or one half-step higher; a note that is flat is always one fret or one half-step lower. Thus, G Sharp would be on the 6th string 4th fret; G Flat would be on the 6th string 2nd fret. Since A is the next natural note up from G, this means that G Sharp and A Flat are exactly the same note. This can be confusing at the start until an understanding of keys and key structure comes into focus later on.

I realize that the prospect of having to learn every note on the guitar neck can cause feelings of dread and uneasiness; indeed, it may take some time to accomplish this task. Learning the notes on the guitar academically is one thing, but getting that knowledge to work instantaneously under your fingers while improvising is something else. Easy and instinctive methods of learning the notes on guitar do exist, however. One method to begin with is to learn the basic open string chords common in every chord book (like A Major, E Major, and D Major) and take these movable chord forms (often called "bar chords") up the guitar neck, simultaneously being conscious of the roots in those chord forms. Another helpful tip is to realize that any note played on the guitar twelve frets higher is going to have exactly the same name. So for example, the note on the 1st string 1st fret and the note on the 1st string 13th fret are both going to have the same name (in this case, the note F). Thus, all the guitarist has to do is to learn the notes of the open strings and the first eleven frets and then practice playing simple chords and note patterns in both the lower area (open to 11th fret) and the upper area (12th fret and above) of the guitar neck.

This simple approach outlined here is conceptually simple, but not easy. Good things sometimes take time. It takes a few more words and a bit more effort to explain concepts clearly. My hope is that the information in this article will help make your musical experience less mysterious and more enjoyable, and that the next time you go into a music store or on the Web looking for guitar books and methods, you'll know exactly what to look for.
About the Author
Blues Guitarist Resource.
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