Scales improvisation

Guitar Tricks Forum > Music Theory > Scales improvisation

jasim.hd

Registered User

Joined: 02/10/17

Posts: 82

Hi, guys! Hope all is well.

The way I understood improvisation with scales: is that you choose the same scale as the root chord being played. For example, if I played the following chords Em, G, D, the root chord is Em and then I should use the Em scale to improvise. Is this accurate? Correct me if I'm wrong, please.

Now, when someone plays the mentioned above group of chords, or when I use an Em backing track, I try to improvise using the Em open scale, but it doesn't feel right; actually the sound is rather wrong and just off!

So, what am I doing wrong?

As always, your opinion is highly appreciated.


Thank you, GT family.

#1

Hi, guys! Hope all is well.

The way I understood improvisation with scales: is that you choose the same scale as the root chord being played. For example, if I played the following chords Em, G, D, the root chord is Em and then I should use the Em scale to improvise. Is this accurate? Correct me if I'm wrong, please.

Now, when someone plays the mentioned above group of chords, or when I use an Em backing track, I try to improvise using the Em open scale, but it doesn't feel right; actually the sound is rather wrong and just off!

So, what am I doing wrong?

As always, your opinion is highly appreciated.


Thank you, GT family.

ChristopherSchlegel

Guitar Tricks Instructor

Joined: 08/09/05

Posts: 7753

Originally Posted by: jasim.hd
The way I understood improvisation with scales: is that you choose the same scale as the root chord being played. For example, if I played the following chords Em, G, D, the root chord is Em and then I should use the Em scale to improvise. Is this accurate? Correct me if I'm wrong, please.

Yes, you've got the basic idea. But there's a little more to it that will help. So, when you say this:

Originally Posted by: jasim.hd

Now, when someone plays the mentioned above group of chords, or when I use an Em backing track, I try to improvise using the Em open scale, but it doesn't feel right; actually the sound is rather wrong and just off!

Improvising, or playing a lead solo, is essentially playing a single note melody while a chord progression is happening. There are 3 thing you have to know & do in order to improvise.

1. Play in key.

2. Target chord tones.

3. Build melodies.

I cover this topic in detail in these tutorials.

Intro to Improvisation for Beginners

https://www.guitartricks.com/tutorial.php?input=876

Intro to Improvisation in a Major Key

https://www.guitartricks.com/tutorial.php?input=483

Intro to Improvisation in a Minor Key

https://www.guitartricks.com/tutorial.php?input=491

I hope to have those updated later this year. I also have these YouTube vids in which I cover some fun aspects of learning to improvise.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8yWHuMaUMDQ

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aqCvk3gFS0c

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CJuh1nj-VM0

Having said all that, here's a brief summary! :)

Step 1, figure out what key you are in. Identify the notes of all chords being used & see what scale they form, or belong it. That's what "key the song is in". That's the meaning of the term "key signature": the scale that contains all or most of the notes in a melody or chord progression.

So, let's look at this chord progression & write out all the notes in all the chords and see if you can build a scale.

E minor: e-g-b

G major: g, b, d

D major: d-f#-a

Now put them in alphabetical order starting with E: e, f#, g, a, b, d.

Notice that is most of an E minor scale (the note C is missing). So, you can say that you can use the E minor scale to make melodies over these chords. However, notice that it's also a D major scale and a G major scale!

D major: d-e-f#-g-a-b (only the note C# is missing).

G major: g-a-b-d-e-f# (only the note C is missing).

So, it could be any of those. Just depends on what sound you want to stress. Do you want to start & end on the E minor chord? Then it's best to use E minor scale, or the key of E minor.

So, now you know what notes to use. But what do you do with them? That's where step 2 comes in. :)

Step 2 is to target chord tones.

You should be aware of what chord is happening at any given time during the progression and target the chord tones of the chord that is happening at the time in the music.

So, obviously you play notes from the E minor scale while the E minor chord is happening. But what might not be so obvious is that you want to rhythmically emphasize the notes e-g-b because those are the notes of the E minor chord.

Here's where it gets interesting! When the G major chord is happening, you still play notes from the E minor scale but emphasize the notes g-b-d (the notes of the G major chord). When the D major chord is happening, you still play notes from the E minor scale, but emphasize the notes d-f#-a (the notes of the D major chord).

Step 3 is to build melodies. Build musical phrases & statements with the key & the chord tones.

Also, keep in mind that playing the scale in a low register might conflict with the chords no matter what you do because it's in the same sonic space. That's why so many lead solos & meodies are played in higher registers, higher on the fretboard. It gives each part chance to occupy it's own sonic space: chords down low, melodies up high.

The above links will give you lots of actual examples, instruction & exercises on these concepts. Ask more if necessary! Have fun with it!

Christopher Schlegel
Guitar Tricks Instructor

Christopher Schlegel Lesson Directory

#2

Originally Posted by: jasim.hd
The way I understood improvisation with scales: is that you choose the same scale as the root chord being played. For example, if I played the following chords Em, G, D, the root chord is Em and then I should use the Em scale to improvise. Is this accurate? Correct me if I'm wrong, please.

Yes, you've got the basic idea. But there's a little more to it that will help. So, when you say this:

Originally Posted by: jasim.hd

Now, when someone plays the mentioned above group of chords, or when I use an Em backing track, I try to improvise using the Em open scale, but it doesn't feel right; actually the sound is rather wrong and just off!

Improvising, or playing a lead solo, is essentially playing a single note melody while a chord progression is happening. There are 3 thing you have to know & do in order to improvise.

1. Play in key.

2. Target chord tones.

3. Build melodies.

I cover this topic in detail in these tutorials.

Intro to Improvisation for Beginners

https://www.guitartricks.com/tutorial.php?input=876

Intro to Improvisation in a Major Key

https://www.guitartricks.com/tutorial.php?input=483

Intro to Improvisation in a Minor Key

https://www.guitartricks.com/tutorial.php?input=491

I hope to have those updated later this year. I also have these YouTube vids in which I cover some fun aspects of learning to improvise.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8yWHuMaUMDQ

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aqCvk3gFS0c

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CJuh1nj-VM0

Having said all that, here's a brief summary! :)

Step 1, figure out what key you are in. Identify the notes of all chords being used & see what scale they form, or belong it. That's what "key the song is in". That's the meaning of the term "key signature": the scale that contains all or most of the notes in a melody or chord progression.

So, let's look at this chord progression & write out all the notes in all the chords and see if you can build a scale.

E minor: e-g-b

G major: g, b, d

D major: d-f#-a

Now put them in alphabetical order starting with E: e, f#, g, a, b, d.

Notice that is most of an E minor scale (the note C is missing). So, you can say that you can use the E minor scale to make melodies over these chords. However, notice that it's also a D major scale and a G major scale!

D major: d-e-f#-g-a-b (only the note C# is missing).

G major: g-a-b-d-e-f# (only the note C is missing).

So, it could be any of those. Just depends on what sound you want to stress. Do you want to start & end on the E minor chord? Then it's best to use E minor scale, or the key of E minor.

So, now you know what notes to use. But what do you do with them? That's where step 2 comes in. :)

Step 2 is to target chord tones.

You should be aware of what chord is happening at any given time during the progression and target the chord tones of the chord that is happening at the time in the music.

So, obviously you play notes from the E minor scale while the E minor chord is happening. But what might not be so obvious is that you want to rhythmically emphasize the notes e-g-b because those are the notes of the E minor chord.

Here's where it gets interesting! When the G major chord is happening, you still play notes from the E minor scale but emphasize the notes g-b-d (the notes of the G major chord). When the D major chord is happening, you still play notes from the E minor scale, but emphasize the notes d-f#-a (the notes of the D major chord).

Step 3 is to build melodies. Build musical phrases & statements with the key & the chord tones.

Also, keep in mind that playing the scale in a low register might conflict with the chords no matter what you do because it's in the same sonic space. That's why so many lead solos & meodies are played in higher registers, higher on the fretboard. It gives each part chance to occupy it's own sonic space: chords down low, melodies up high.

The above links will give you lots of actual examples, instruction & exercises on these concepts. Ask more if necessary! Have fun with it!

Christopher Schlegel
Guitar Tricks Instructor

Christopher Schlegel Lesson Directory

jasim.hd

Registered User

Joined: 02/10/17

Posts: 82

One more time, Christopher to the rescue, and I couldn't be happier.

Well, first, let me apologize for this late reply, I did see you reply before, but I wanted to read it a couple of more time to let it sink it before I answer.

Thank you, for this amazing and thorough reply, couldn't be happier and the concept can't be any clearer. With that being said, it does look a bit complicated, especially if I wan to improvise on the spot. I mean, at my level, it will take me a while to figure out the chords and then their notes, is it normal?

Another thing, a friend of mine, how's pretty good at improvisation, has no clue about tones or names or theory or anything. I mean yes I know some people are genuinely born with the gift, but I'd be lying to you if I said I'm not a bit jealous.

I'll watch the links you've given me (thanks for that as well) and hopefully this will develop my skills.

Again and again, thank you so much for all your help, it is really appreciated. :)

#3

One more time, Christopher to the rescue, and I couldn't be happier.

Well, first, let me apologize for this late reply, I did see you reply before, but I wanted to read it a couple of more time to let it sink it before I answer.

Thank you, for this amazing and thorough reply, couldn't be happier and the concept can't be any clearer. With that being said, it does look a bit complicated, especially if I wan to improvise on the spot. I mean, at my level, it will take me a while to figure out the chords and then their notes, is it normal?

Another thing, a friend of mine, how's pretty good at improvisation, has no clue about tones or names or theory or anything. I mean yes I know some people are genuinely born with the gift, but I'd be lying to you if I said I'm not a bit jealous.

I'll watch the links you've given me (thanks for that as well) and hopefully this will develop my skills.

Again and again, thank you so much for all your help, it is really appreciated. :)

ChristopherSchlegel

Guitar Tricks Instructor

Joined: 08/09/05

Posts: 7753

Glad you enjoyed my reply!

Originally Posted by: jasim.hd

With that being said, it does look a bit complicated, especially if I wan to improvise on the spot. I mean, at my level, it will take me a while to figure out the chords and then their notes, is it normal?

Yes, very normal. Until you have a certain level of skill & dexterity it's hard to just wing it. At any skill level you can only improvise what you actually know & can play.

After all, improvising (rhythm or lead) is only on the spot rearranging pieces & parts of what you can already play.

Originally Posted by: jasim.hd

Another thing, a friend of mine, how's pretty good at improvisation, has no clue about tones or names or theory or anything. I mean yes I know some people are genuinely born with the gift, but I'd be lying to you if I said I'm not a bit jealous.

People that "don't know any theory", but can still play well, have figured out that "certain fretboard patterns make certain sounds" & they've practiced those motions enough to be able to play them in time with music.

So, they do actually understand some music theory, but might not know the technical term for the concept. It's like a person that can speak well, but not read or write. For example, I know blues guys that can shred the heck out of one pentatonic box & hit all the right notes during a 12 bar blues. They sound great! But they don't know what the scale degrees are called, or what it means if I say they are "targeting chord tones."

As long as they stay in their comfort zone all is good. Now if you asked them to play on a jazz standard where you have know how to changes keys & modulate quickly & use more than one pentatonic box in one position they are lost. But that's just because they don't have experience with how to adjust to different fretboard patterns.

Make sense?

It's a lot to learn & do, but really it just comes down to practice, trial & error. People can learn to improvise without taking lessons. But ultimately they have in some manner do the things I outlined. You can do it all yourself by trial & error & listening & copying other players. Or you take my lessons. I encourage you to do both. They all lead to the same thing. Improvising music on the guitar.

Best of success with it!

Christopher Schlegel
Guitar Tricks Instructor

Christopher Schlegel Lesson Directory

#4

Glad you enjoyed my reply!

Originally Posted by: jasim.hd

With that being said, it does look a bit complicated, especially if I wan to improvise on the spot. I mean, at my level, it will take me a while to figure out the chords and then their notes, is it normal?

Yes, very normal. Until you have a certain level of skill & dexterity it's hard to just wing it. At any skill level you can only improvise what you actually know & can play.

After all, improvising (rhythm or lead) is only on the spot rearranging pieces & parts of what you can already play.

Originally Posted by: jasim.hd

Another thing, a friend of mine, how's pretty good at improvisation, has no clue about tones or names or theory or anything. I mean yes I know some people are genuinely born with the gift, but I'd be lying to you if I said I'm not a bit jealous.

People that "don't know any theory", but can still play well, have figured out that "certain fretboard patterns make certain sounds" & they've practiced those motions enough to be able to play them in time with music.

So, they do actually understand some music theory, but might not know the technical term for the concept. It's like a person that can speak well, but not read or write. For example, I know blues guys that can shred the heck out of one pentatonic box & hit all the right notes during a 12 bar blues. They sound great! But they don't know what the scale degrees are called, or what it means if I say they are "targeting chord tones."

As long as they stay in their comfort zone all is good. Now if you asked them to play on a jazz standard where you have know how to changes keys & modulate quickly & use more than one pentatonic box in one position they are lost. But that's just because they don't have experience with how to adjust to different fretboard patterns.

Make sense?

It's a lot to learn & do, but really it just comes down to practice, trial & error. People can learn to improvise without taking lessons. But ultimately they have in some manner do the things I outlined. You can do it all yourself by trial & error & listening & copying other players. Or you take my lessons. I encourage you to do both. They all lead to the same thing. Improvising music on the guitar.

Best of success with it!

Christopher Schlegel
Guitar Tricks Instructor

Christopher Schlegel Lesson Directory

jasim.hd

Registered User

Joined: 02/10/17

Posts: 82

Thank you so much, Christopher. Makes perfect sense. For me, I do both, and I like lessons and I'm getting deeper into the music theory as I'd like to know how to build and have a solid base.

I'll definitely be back with more questions, stay tuned. :D

Thank you for all your help. :)

#5

Thank you so much, Christopher. Makes perfect sense. For me, I do both, and I like lessons and I'm getting deeper into the music theory as I'd like to know how to build and have a solid base.

I'll definitely be back with more questions, stay tuned. :D

Thank you for all your help. :)

maggior

Registered User

Joined: 01/27/13

Posts: 1723

Christopher has come to many of our rescues :).

You are right that it all does sound rather complicated. What I think happens is that as you do all of the learning and practice that Christopher talks about, the sounds get in your ears (your head) and you develop a sense of what you are doing on the fretbaord to attain those sounds. In the rock genre, if you listen to a lot of solos by a particular player, often you'll hear repeated phrases and licks. They make up the player's style in part. They've figured out how to manipulate that library of licks and phrases and play them in different ways to make them interesting and not sound the same.

I'm working on some David Gilmour stuff and it amazes me how he resuses stuff, yet it sounds so different and fresh each time.

When somebody is improvising, they are not thinking of every note they are going to play. Things are happening too quickly for that. They may identify some signposts along the way...chord changes and stuff, overall key...but it's all high level.

Once upon a time, I thought of this stuff as coming from nowhere. Experienced players I know describe it to me this way too...it was like it was magic! Perhaps they were having one over on me LOL! Sure you will have moments of spontaneous inspiration, but it's all in there somewhere!

Go here to check out some of my playing
Go here to check out some of my duo's work

#6

Christopher has come to many of our rescues :).

You are right that it all does sound rather complicated. What I think happens is that as you do all of the learning and practice that Christopher talks about, the sounds get in your ears (your head) and you develop a sense of what you are doing on the fretbaord to attain those sounds. In the rock genre, if you listen to a lot of solos by a particular player, often you'll hear repeated phrases and licks. They make up the player's style in part. They've figured out how to manipulate that library of licks and phrases and play them in different ways to make them interesting and not sound the same.

I'm working on some David Gilmour stuff and it amazes me how he resuses stuff, yet it sounds so different and fresh each time.

When somebody is improvising, they are not thinking of every note they are going to play. Things are happening too quickly for that. They may identify some signposts along the way...chord changes and stuff, overall key...but it's all high level.

Once upon a time, I thought of this stuff as coming from nowhere. Experienced players I know describe it to me this way too...it was like it was magic! Perhaps they were having one over on me LOL! Sure you will have moments of spontaneous inspiration, but it's all in there somewhere!

Go here to check out some of my playing
Go here to check out some of my duo's work

jasim.hd

Registered User

Joined: 02/10/17

Posts: 82

Originally Posted by: maggior

Christopher has come to many of our rescues :).

You are right that it all does sound rather complicated. What I think happens is that as you do all of the learning and practice that Christopher talks about, the sounds get in your ears (your head) and you develop a sense of what you are doing on the fretbaord to attain those sounds. In the rock genre, if you listen to a lot of solos by a particular player, often you'll hear repeated phrases and licks. They make up the player's style in part. They've figured out how to manipulate that library of licks and phrases and play them in different ways to make them interesting and not sound the same.

I'm working on some David Gilmour stuff and it amazes me how he resuses stuff, yet it sounds so different and fresh each time.

When somebody is improvising, they are not thinking of every note they are going to play. Things are happening too quickly for that. They may identify some signposts along the way...chord changes and stuff, overall key...but it's all high level.

Once upon a time, I thought of this stuff as coming from nowhere. Experienced players I know describe it to me this way too...it was like it was magic! Perhaps they were having one over on me LOL! Sure you will have moments of spontaneous inspiration, but it's all in there somewhere!

You're absolutely right, and thank you so much for the tips.

I kind of knew that it would become as this, more of naturally, but I needed to get the basics, strong building blocks would help. And you're absolutely correct, mostly when I try to improvise, I find myself reusing some licks by different artists and try to some how change a bit. Very challenging I admit, but with more solid training and understating, I'll be ready for it.

Gilmour is one of my favourite, I once read a quote about him that he (Gilmour) gets out of one note more than a whole careers for other musicians. LOL! When he starts to play it's like the guitar suddenly had a soul!

#7

Originally Posted by: maggior

Christopher has come to many of our rescues :).

You are right that it all does sound rather complicated. What I think happens is that as you do all of the learning and practice that Christopher talks about, the sounds get in your ears (your head) and you develop a sense of what you are doing on the fretbaord to attain those sounds. In the rock genre, if you listen to a lot of solos by a particular player, often you'll hear repeated phrases and licks. They make up the player's style in part. They've figured out how to manipulate that library of licks and phrases and play them in different ways to make them interesting and not sound the same.

I'm working on some David Gilmour stuff and it amazes me how he resuses stuff, yet it sounds so different and fresh each time.

When somebody is improvising, they are not thinking of every note they are going to play. Things are happening too quickly for that. They may identify some signposts along the way...chord changes and stuff, overall key...but it's all high level.

Once upon a time, I thought of this stuff as coming from nowhere. Experienced players I know describe it to me this way too...it was like it was magic! Perhaps they were having one over on me LOL! Sure you will have moments of spontaneous inspiration, but it's all in there somewhere!

You're absolutely right, and thank you so much for the tips.

I kind of knew that it would become as this, more of naturally, but I needed to get the basics, strong building blocks would help. And you're absolutely correct, mostly when I try to improvise, I find myself reusing some licks by different artists and try to some how change a bit. Very challenging I admit, but with more solid training and understating, I'll be ready for it.

Gilmour is one of my favourite, I once read a quote about him that he (Gilmour) gets out of one note more than a whole careers for other musicians. LOL! When he starts to play it's like the guitar suddenly had a soul!

lanegreyy59

Registered User

Joined: 11/15/20

Posts: 3

I WAS WORKING WTH CHRIS SHEGAL THROUGH THE KEY OF C ON IMPROVISATION AND NOW CANT EVEN FIND THE LESSON ... I STUMBLED UP ON HIM WITH A MAJOR BUT WITH NO CONSISTENSY , HOW CAN I ADVANCE PLEASE ADVISE

#8

I WAS WORKING WTH CHRIS SHEGAL THROUGH THE KEY OF C ON IMPROVISATION AND NOW CANT EVEN FIND THE LESSON ... I STUMBLED UP ON HIM WITH A MAJOR BUT WITH NO CONSISTENSY , HOW CAN I ADVANCE PLEASE ADVISE

ChristopherSchlegel

Guitar Tricks Instructor

Joined: 08/09/05

Posts: 7753

Originally Posted by: lanegreyy59

I WAS WORKING WTH CHRIS SHEGAL THROUGH THE KEY OF C ON IMPROVISATION AND NOW CANT EVEN FIND THE LESSON ... I STUMBLED UP ON HIM WITH A MAJOR BUT WITH NO CONSISTENSY , HOW CAN I ADVANCE PLEASE ADVISE

Hey, there! This is a link to my collection of tutorials on improvisation.

https://www.guitartricks.com/collection/learning-to-improvise

Hope that helps!

Christopher Schlegel
Guitar Tricks Instructor

Christopher Schlegel Lesson Directory

#9

Originally Posted by: lanegreyy59

I WAS WORKING WTH CHRIS SHEGAL THROUGH THE KEY OF C ON IMPROVISATION AND NOW CANT EVEN FIND THE LESSON ... I STUMBLED UP ON HIM WITH A MAJOR BUT WITH NO CONSISTENSY , HOW CAN I ADVANCE PLEASE ADVISE

Hey, there! This is a link to my collection of tutorials on improvisation.

https://www.guitartricks.com/collection/learning-to-improvise

Hope that helps!

Christopher Schlegel
Guitar Tricks Instructor

Christopher Schlegel Lesson Directory