Guitar Improvisation Techniques

Author: Robin Stone   •   Course Code: OGUIT-420

Many guitarists learn to solo by co-opting the technical licks and riffs from their favorite players into their own playing, while adding in their own personal feel and emotion. The result of this approach is that guitarists end up knowing how to improvise in a particular style, but lack the technical understanding of why these solos work. Guitar Improvisation Techniques is designed to help guitarists who may have learned the technical aspects of playing, but lack the theoretical application of the musical elements that make up a strong solo. Through video, audio, diagrams, and discussions, the course explores the technical aspects of what makes a successful solo – from scales and arpeggios and new ways to practice them, to applying them to an improvisational context.

You will learn how to identify various modal progressions and their characteristics, and how to play and think within a diatonic framework as a means of organizing your musical vocabulary. You will listen to solos from artists such as David Gilmour (Pink Floyd), Pete Townsend (The Who), Joe Walsh (The Eagles), Robby Krieger (The Doors), Duane Allman (The Allman Brothers), Keith Richards (The Rolling Stones), Steve Clark (Def Leppard), Stevie Ray Vaughn, Eric Clapton, and John Mayer, identify the techniques in the solos that make them effective, and learn how to apply those concepts to your own playing. The course also explores tone, phrasing, theme, variation and other improvisational techniques. The goal of the course is to better equip you with a harmonic understanding of the elements of a solo that you can then implement into your own playing regardless of style.

By the end of the course, you will be able to:

  • Improvise using pentatonic scales, arpeggios, and modes over various types of chords and chord progressions
  • Construct solos more logically and methodically
  • Develop your own unique style of improvisation
  • Have a better understanding of chord scale relationships

Lesson 1: The Pentatonic Scale

  • The Five Basic Fingerings of the Pentatonic Scale Forms
  • A Brief Explanation of the Pentatonic Scale
  • Organizing the Five Scales for Improvising
  • Playing Pentatonic Scales in Multiple Keys
  • Tonal and Rhythmic Considerations

Lesson 2: Basic Concepts for Improvising with Pentatonic Scales

  • Moving between Different Positions of the Pentatonic Scale
  • Learning the Same Melodies and Riffs in Each of the Five Fingerings
  • Using Riffs and Licks to Make a Statement
  • The Concepts of Theme and Variation in Improvisation

Lesson 3: Pentatonic Scales of a Different Color

  • Similarities and Differences: Major-Ionian Scale and the Major Pentatonic Scale
  • Major Pentatonic Scale Variations
  • The Melodic Minor Scale and Kumoi Pentatonic Scale
  • The Harmonic Minor Scale and Hirajoshi Pentatonic Scale

Lesson 4: How to Improvise over Blues Progressions

  • Basic Overview of a 12-Bar Blues Progression
  • Using Pentatonic Scales and Modes over a Blues Progression
  • How to Use Modes over a Blues Progression
  • The Importance of the Tritone in Improvisation

Lesson 5: Major Scales and Their Modes

  • The Major Scale Formula
  • Constructing the Major Scale on the Fretboard
  • Positional and Three-Note-Per-String Fingerings
  • The Modes Defined
  • The Three Major ModesThe Three Minor Modes

Lesson 6: The Major Modes: Ionian and Aeolian

  • The Ionian Mode
  • The Characteristic Notes of the Ionian Scale
  • The C Major Pentatonic and Modal Scales
  • Tone Production and Techniques
  • The Aeolian Mode
  • The A Aeolian Scale Fingerings

Lesson 7: The Lydian and Dorian Modes

  • The Lydian Mode
  • Characteristic Notes for the Lydian Scale
  • The Dorian Mode
  • Characteristic Notes for the Dorian Scale

Lesson 8: The Mixolydian and Phrygian Modes

  • The Mixolydian Mode
  • Characteristic Notes of the Mixolydian Scale
  • The Phrygian Mode
  • Characteristic Notes for the Phrygian Scale

Lesson 9: Triads and Triad Arpeggios

  • Constructing Triads on the Guitar
  • Playing Triads Vertically on the Fingerboard
  • Triad Arpeggios
  • The Three Basic Triad Arpeggio Fingerings in Two Octaves
  • Diatonic Triads and Arpeggios
  • Using Diatonic Triad Arpeggio Ideas for Improvisation

Lesson 10: Seventh Chord Arpeggios

  • What Are Seventh Chords?
  • Diatonic Seventh Chords and Their Inversions
  • Improvising with Seventh Arpeggios
  • Playing over Blues with 7th Arpeggios
  • Understanding Guide Tones
  • The Importance of Learning the Location of the Guide Tones within Seventh Chord Forms

Lesson 11: Tensions and Upper Structure Arpeggios

  • What Are Tensions?
  • Identifying Tensions with the Characteristic Notes of the Modes
  • Upper Structure Arpeggios
  • Upper Structure Seventh Chord Arpeggios for Major 7th Chords
  • Upper Structure Seventh Chord Arpeggios for Minor 7th Chords
  • Upper Structure Seventh Chord Arpeggios for Dominant 7th Chords

Lesson 12: Putting It All Together

  • Stevie Ray Vaughn's "Riviera Paradise"
  • The Intro
  • Chord Scale Analysis of the ProgressionUsing Pentatonic Scales on the Progression
  • Using Arpeggios on the Progression
  • Analysis of Stevie Ray Vaughn's Solo

Robin Stone

Author & Instructor

Robin Stone is an associate professor in the Guitar department at Berklee College of music. While she teaches many styles of music, she concentrates on the history and playing styles of classic rock guitarists, including Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, and the Allman Brothers. She has taught at Berklee since 1990, when she became the second woman ever hired by the Guitar department.

Stone is the managing editor and Web designer of the Guitar department's online newsletter, "Open Position," which showcases the many talents of the faculty and provides an insider's look into the work being done in the school's largest department. She contributes articles under the title "String Theory," exploring harmonic concepts for guitarists. In 1993, she composed a piece entitled "Adagio for Oboe and String Orchestra," which was released on the MMC label. In 1996, she was awarded the Japan Foundation's Uchida Fellowship, allowing her to live in Roppongi, Tokyo, to study the traditional Japanese instrument, the Koto.

Stone received her bachelor's degree in professional music from Berklee in 1983. She graduated with academic honors and is a member of the Phi Kappa Lambda music honors society. She received her Master's degree in jazz studies from New England Conservatory in 1988, where she studied composition with William Thomas McKinley and George Russell.

Prerequisites

Completion of Guitar Chords 201: Chord Melody and Inversions or equivalent knowledge and experience is required. Students should have:

  • Basic playing experience and an understanding of pentatonic scales, major scales/modes, triads, and seventh chords
  • Basic music theory is also helpful but not essential

Required Textbooks

None required


Software Requirements

A recording tool is provided within the course that will allow students to record videos of themselves playing for assignment submission. Alternatively, students can use a digital camera, smartphone, or tablet to record assignments.

Mac Users

  • OS X 10.9 Mavericks or higher (click here for system requirements)
  • Latest version of Google Chrome

Windows Users

  • Windows 7 or higher (click here for system requirements)
  • Latest version of Google Chrome

Hardware Requirements

  • Electric or acoustic electric guitar with a basic amp chord and a 1/4 to 1/8 adapter for recording directly into the computer
  • For acoustic guitars with no pickups: a microphone with a 1/4 to 1/8 adapter for recording directly into the computer
  • A printer is recommended, so that you can print out music examples used in the course
  • A built-in microphone or an external microphone plugged directly into your computer (via built in ports or an external audio interface)
  • 2 GB RAM (4 GB recommended)
  • 500 MB hard drive space
  • Speakers or headphones
  • Webcam
  • Internet connection with at least 4 Mbps download speed (http://www.speedtest.net to verify or download the Speedtest by Ookla app from your mobile app store)

Comments

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  • Level
  • Duration
    12 weeks
  • 3-Credit Tuition
    $1,179
  • or
  • Non-Credit Tuition
    $1,028

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