My Guitar Training Journal: Learn to improvise a melody

Hands playing a guitar with tires in the background
Photo by Holger Wirth. Licensed as (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Improvising a melody builds towards my long-range goal of being able to play with other musicians. I’m trying to keep my guitar instructor focused on helping me to¬†improvise songs.

He’s a great instructor. Students swarm to him because he is excellent. Each week, I have to remind him of where we left off in last weeks lesson. It doesn’t bother me that he has no real lesson plan, because I like being in charge of that.

By the end of the lesson, he has heard my playing and prescribed techniques for me to use in my practice.

I’m trying to learn to improvise a melody. The latest song that we worked on was “The House of the Rising Sun.” He threw me in the water to teach me to swim. He played the rhythm section and told me to play the melody to “The House of the Rising Sun” by just using one of the scale patterns that I memorized. The trick was to get the melody from my head to the strings. It didn’t work very well. So he played a different rhythmic chord progression and asked me to make up a melody based on the same scale pattern. That worked a little better.

All my life I’ve been listening to music as a consumer. Now I want to listen to music as a musician. In my last lesson, Pete taught me to hear the eighth notes of a scale and assigned me a play at 50 beats per minute. That sounds pretty slow, but he wanted me to include the eighth notes. Eighth notes are like the backbeat of a scale. So if I were to play the diatonic scale of C major on my guitar, I would stress the bolded notes. C D E F G A B C.

If I play the scale at 50 BPM with just whole notes, they would all be bold, but to improve the timing when playing only the eighth notes, I stress or play loudly every other note.

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