One of the many lessons that I teach to my private guitar students is something I call “applied technique.” The idea is to take a repeatable riff and solo over it using different sets of constraints. For example, the student will solo at a specific tempo for 3 minutes playing straight 8th notes and nothing else. Then the student will do the same thing playing triplets or 16th notes. As the student gets more experienced in this, the tempos will slightly increase. It forces the student to be creative, and pushes them to develop the ability to think when soloing, instead of just regurgitating their favorite cliché licks. As the student practices variations of this technique, they will find that over time, several things will happen:
- The student improves their melody writing.
- The student gets more conformable with the fret board.
- The student develops their improvisation skills.
- The student learns how to apply varying techniques while soloing.
I have found over time that of all the things that I teach, this tends to be one of the most valuable lessons as it both fun and challenging. So, I have decided to put together an “applied technique” regiment for you to work on. We are going to use the same jam track for this. To keep it simple, the riff is going to be from the solo section of the song “free bird.” We are going to be in the key of G major (you will solo in e minor). I included some very short examples of each section of myself doing a quick 1 take improvisation as a basic example for you so you can get the idea of what you should be doing.
We are going to start out simple. You are constrained to using 1 note: E (12th fret of the high e string). The point of this round is to force you to think about rhythm and how to make your solo interesting by using varied rhythms. I will do a short demonstration first.
Now that you are a master of one note soloing, let us slightly expand on that idea. You are now allowed to use only 3 notes. We are going to stick to the E minor pentatonic scale to keep it simple. You are allowed to use the 12th fret on the B string (B), the 15th fret on the B string (D), and the 12th fret on the high E string (E). Again, since you are limited in note choice, you will be forced to make your solo interesting by using rhythm as your main weapon. Keep in mind that you can use bends, tapping, or anything else you see fit that only uses those 3 notes in that octave. Again, I will do a short demonstration first.
In this round, we are going to limit ourselves to the E minor pentatonic scale and you must play straight 8 notes. Remember, you cannot play anything but 8th notes. Since rhythm is your constraint, you must find ways to make your solo interesting by creating melodies and using good note choice. Some ideas you might want to consider trying when you solo that will help you make melodies: pedal points, open string licks, and sequencing. Alright, I guess I am up first again.
Now that you have tried using 8th notes, try using the same rules as the last round but with only triplets.
Now that you are starting to get the hang of this, try setting up your own constraints or creating your own progressions. The beauty of this is that you can make this exercise really easy or super complex depending on what you are soloing over and at what tempo you are doing so. For starters, a good idea is to take a riff like the jam track I provided and record it at different tempos. Playing at faster tempos can be really hard for you at first, especially when you are constraining yourself to playing 16th notes or faster. As you get more comfortable with this kind of soloing, you can increase the tempos and it will help you improve your techniques. You will find that if you practice this type of soloing everyday, you will greatly improve your guitar playing. The goal is to help you apply various techniques with ease so you can think about your improvisation, not what your hands are doing. There are so many different variations that you can do to make this exercise either harder or easier. It is your job to push yourself to advance.
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