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Improv Roadmap
  • When improvising with a band, do you have a roadmap for your solo? After playing indie rock for awhile, I've been playing what I call retro instrumentals and was looking for guidance on crafting a good improvised solo. Does your approach differ for a 1 chord vamp vs. a few blues choruses? I'm trying to minimize meandering and directionless noodling and maximize interesting/exciting ideas. Any tips would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!
  • Hi telemjl! I would definitely recommend checking out some Jim's lessons. I know that in the age of YouTube it's easy to get free educational material, but Jim's lessons are truly great and an excellent value. I am sure others will chime in, but most if not all of Jim's lessons tackle his approach to improv. I recommend his Arpeggios As Exercises lesson as well as his lesson Django lesson, Nuages.
  • Thanks GG3. I have taken a number of Campilongo lessons (arpeggios as exercises, rockabilly jazz, practice, pan handle rag, night rider) and have absolutely loved them...completely agree on their greatness. What I am looking for is how to apply the concepts from those lessons to create compelling solos. Especially with improvisations that go beyond 8 or 12 bars, I am looking for ideas on how to structure compelling solos, build intensity, and leave room for a dismount (love that saying). For example, the solo on Twister...if that was an improvisation (versus composed solo)...wow! Compelling from beginning to end.
  • Tele- and GG thanks for the posts, the gracious words and for buying my lessons. I really appreciate it.

    The studio version of "Twister" from Heavy was a worked out solo - at the time I needed to get in the studio not waste any time & I was still insecure about improvising with the tape rolling ... but my priority was I wanted a "perfect" solo.

    Anyway- my advice to you is to compose your own solos. Try writing a new solo for Twister, or simply a blues solo, anything you like. As you observe many great solos have a compositional arc - you can practice this by composing your own solos. This will solidify your ideas from your own discriminate viewpoint and your soloing might be more melodic, eventful and hopefully more "you". But practice improvising too - you don't want to be playing worked out stuff for the wrong reasons... insecurity, vanity, pride... because an improvised solo can be more personal and to me- more rewarding. I liken it to meeting someone - sure you might say "Hi, How are you?" and start talking about the weather etc but one wouldn't have a totally scripted conversation. This wouldn't allow folks to get to know each other and in some ways it's phony. And after a while, the same solo every night bores the band...

    But all that said, practice composing solos and your own voice will emerge and you'll practice telling a story. And try not to be too hard on yourself- have fun and give yourself some time.

    As far as a few "compositional" solos I hear with awe & joy that combine *improvisation* and melodic storytelling, these links below came to mind (gosh, there are thousands!).. Then there's crafted solos from the guitarists in the Cars and Boston and Eagles and Journey... excellent craftsmanship!

    John McLaughlin's "On the Way Home to Earth" starting at 2:30 ...

    Roy Buchanan "Pete's Blues"

    Johnny Smith "Moonlight in Vermont"

    Jimmie Rivers "Jimmies Blues" (1:42)
  • I am nowhere close to being a great soloist. I will say that taking Jim's lessons have helped a lot to improve my solo vocabulary. Not just notes and phrasing but also space. I think a lot of people when they get a chance to solo go overboard trying to play too many notes. Jim's solos have a lot of space and texture in them.

    As for improvising, like anything it takes practise. I am in a band (duet actually) where most everything we do it improvised. What I've been doing to practise is playing a phrase into a looper and then playing around overtop of it for as long as I can sustain my own interest. Usually I have a solo phrase that I keep morphing on. Sometimes it is a snippet from some of Jim's lessons. Record it and then listen back. You'll get a good idea what works. Don't be afraid to make mistakes or clams. Sometimes those work out in surprisingly good ways. Don't treat any of it as precious. Have fun!!!!

  • Thanks Jim and awp, you both provided great advice. A few years ago when I started playing more improvised music, I did indeed write out my own solos and started to get a good feel for what I liked and didn't like. But I was never able to remember any of it when I played a gig...it all went straight out the window. But at least I knew what I was striving for. But with your advice and in taking Jim's courses and figuring our what to incorporate into my own playing, I took on the exercise of writing my own solos again. This time around I found that a simple structure vs. detailed note-for-note ideas gave me freedom and cohesion all at the same time. For example, in a 12 bar blues I found that this works (for me) - Bars 1-4 I improvise a melody with the blues or mixolydian scale (maybe throw a ii-V into bar 3). Bars 5-6 - do something with double-stops or let bar 5 breath and in bar 6 use the #diminished. Bar 7-8 play a blues based repeating phrase. Bars 9-10 use arpeggios to outline the changes, Bars 11-12 dismount or iii-VI-ii-V into the next chorus. Of course I try to maintain some type of harmonic or rhythmic motif to tie it all together and follow the changes throughout. Its a loose formula that I will try and stick with for a while...see where it leads me. And as a side note...I take comfort knowing that Twister was composed as a perfect solo...because it is.
  • "That I've been doing to practise is playing a phrase into a looper and then playing around overtop of it for as long as I can sustain my own interest. Don't be afraid to make mistakes or clams. Sometimes those work out in surprisingly good ways. Don't treat any of it as precious. Have fun!!!!"

    Amazingly good advice. When trying to grow as a composer (because that IS what you are doing- composing melodies), mistakes can be your best friend... don't make a conscious attempt to resolve to the chord tones for example.... sometimes "mistakes" aren't actually mistakes, they are YOUR identity, YOUR style. But the only way to discover it is to do it- explore, take risks, and yes: have fun.
  • Another vote for the looper. I owned one for a couple of years before I ever really used it, but once I spent 3 minutes learning how to operate it, it became an integral part of my practice routine. Learning a new song? I can comp the rhythm, then layer the melody, then workout over the changes, then try to actually solo. And all the while, it sounds like music, which makes it so much easier to practice.
    Also, I noticed the list of lessons already purchased, but I would also recommend Playing the Blues: Nailing the Changes if you haven't gone thru it already.
    "I'm trying to minimize meandering and directionless noodling and maximize interesting/exciting ideas."
    It will help with this. Especially when combined with the Arpeggios as Lessons which you've already covered.
  • Thanks morroben. Since beginning my educational journey by Jim Campilongo, I too have used a looper - it has now become an invaluable tool. I also purchased and have been working through the Nailing the Changes lesson - thank you for the advice! As with all the Campilongo lessons I have taken - the concepts are simple, and yet Jim communicates them much better than anyone/anything I've found in my 30 years of playing. And the community of advisers assembled on this forum are fantastic!

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