The Thrill of Guitar Improvisation

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Making Your Music Unique

Originally rooted in the Jazz tradition, improvisation has taken an important role in most forms of popular music, including country, rock, blues, pop, funk, rhythm and blues, and flamenco. It is a major creative force in music — and you can master it. What is improvisation, and how does it fit in with the music you love? This article will explore all of that and more.

What is improvisation?

In the context of this discussion, “to improvise” means to compose, play, recite, or sing (verse, music, etc.) on the spur of the moment. Simply put, in music, improvisation is creating a new combination of notes out of nothing.

Well, not EXACTLY nothing. In order for an improvisation to work (and this also applies to other forms of improvisation in the performing arts), there usually has to be some type of framework imposed for it to work on a satisfying level. When working an improv into a song, one must be mindful of the chord progressions and define what notes can be played within each chord.

The best way to master this is to practice and practice a lot. At the same time, it is good to balance that with a bit of experimentation. Eventually, improvisation can become second nature to you.

Great improvisational guitarists

Many of the world’s most renowned guitarists are known for improvising, mostly during solos. If you were to see one of the great guitarists live, chances are a solo they play on a song you love is going to sound quite different than what you may have heard on the recording of the same song. (Of course, the solo you remember from the recording was likely just the best solo chosen from several improvisations.)

Some of the great improvisational guitarists include Jerry Garcia, Eric Clapton, BB King, Carlos Santana, Prince, Jimi Hendrix, David Gilmour, Slash, Ritchie Blackmore, Randy Rhoads, Edward Van Halen, Jeff Beck, and Trey Anastasio — to name just a few.
Backing tracks: a great way to learn improvisation

You don’t have to wait until you are onstage to learn improvisation. Backing tracks are a fantastic way to learn. As the name implies, these are recordings featuring an entire band playing, minus the guitar solos. There are countless such tracks available, offering a wide range of songs and genres to choose from. Many you may find in stock at your local music store.

One of the best sources for such backing tracks is YouTube. You would be amazed at how many backing tracks are available there. A search for “Grateful Dead backing tracks for guitar,” for example, brought up 11,000 results. Not a bad way to explore the music of one of rock’s most improvisational bands. You can enter keys and styles into the search to help narrow things down.

Another great source for backing tracks is, where you can find over 13,000 backing tracks. You can narrow it down by artist and song, or find jam tracks. All of these are completely free of charge.


Hopefully this article will have inspired you to learn and play with improvisation. Give it a try!

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