Ear Training And Improvising Essential

Improvising sounds very intimidating to most who haven't done it before.

For those who have they often just get stuck in the small box of noodling up and down scales.

This method of course sounds minimally musical, but is a little fun when first starting out. This method is similar to a baby making noises when learning to talk. It's very fun and exciting to be able to mimic those you look up to.

Mimicking to help you with your improvisation

This stage is important because it means you are taking small "baby" steps. Small steps will get you a lot further than no steps.  

Please don't take it as a negative that I am relating it to a baby talking. Ask any parent who has witnessed the first words of their child as they attempt to mouth out the sounds. Sure it is unorganized and sounds like gibberish, but the parent is also ecstatic. This is how I feel when I see students who begin to take steps outside their comfort zone and being improvising. Another important thing to remember is that this stage requires virtually zero prior knowledge or skill.

Improvisation with zero prior knowledge 

Many don't even realize there is so much more to improvising. To begin moving beyond the basic noodling stage, let’s look at how we can not only begin to improvise if we have never done it before, but also how we can develop our ability to create beautiful original melodies seemingly out of thin air. And no we aren't going to be learning "licks".

 Minor Pentatonic Scale

The primary thing we need to start is the minor pentatonic scale. This is a simple 5 note scale that sounds great. We next need to be able to hum along to the scale. For some, like myself, when first trying this you might be totally unable to hum a single note accurately. This is fine, it will take some work, but I was able to learn to do it and have taught many others to get this skill learned as well. It does help if you have a great guitar teacher to help with this.

 Exercise for you to try

Once you have the scale memorized and can play it and hum along to it, we will learn the notes. For now, don't worry about what the notes are, just focus on how they sound. Here are what you will call the notes.


1st note = 1

2nd note = minor 3

3rd note = 4

4th note = 5

5th note = minor 7

The sound of moving from a 1 to a minor 3 is like the beginning notes of Seven Nation Army or Smoke On The Water. This is 3 frets higher than the 1st note. Whenever you move 3 frets higher it has this sound. This is what we want to get familiar with. To know this sound and how it feels. It is sad, yet pretty cool sounding. We will then get used to moving from the 1 to the 4, then 1 to 5, then 1 to minor 7. These all have specific feelings and all together have a specific feeling that we have grouped together and called the minor pentatonic scale.  


Begin working on this for about 5-10 minutes every day. This will not only benefit your improvising, but most everything else you will ever do on guitar.


About The Author: Ryan Duke is a professional musician, guitar teacher, and owner of Seattle Guitar Mentor providing the very guitar lessons in Seattle, WA.