How to practice improvisation on guitar? How did you learn improvisation?

What should I practice, how should I practice? I want to lift my guitar playing to a new level, because I'm little bored of learning songs.

I've tried to play to backing tracks or did something like this, but the results were worse than horrible.

  • 4
    Join a band where everybody is a better player than you. That's 'think on your feet 101'.
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Apr 19, 2018 at 16:30
  • @Tetsujin - easily said, hardly done! Can't think why a band might want someone who is a lesser player to join. Unless it massaged someone's ego!
    – Tim
    Commented Apr 19, 2018 at 16:40
  • 1
    It's actually how I learned as a kid, two bands in a row where I was actually the worst player - by just enough to keep up, but learn a lot in a short time. I then supplemented that with a studio session as a hired vocalist [with no real clue] on an actual record! which pretty much taught me 'how to sing' in a mere 12 hour session. [I never claimed it was easy, but by hell you learn fast or you leave, pick a window ;)
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Apr 19, 2018 at 16:47
  • 2
    I'm curious to know what was horrible about playing to the backing tracks, since that would be my strong suggestion. Commented Apr 19, 2018 at 17:12
  • 1
    @TheChaz2.0 - Boredom, no challenge, the luxury of being able to stop [or play badly with no fear of reprisal] whenever you like, repetitive structures, same each time... no audience applause at the end, or bottles if you were lousy...
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Apr 19, 2018 at 17:42

10 Answers 10


Learn which notes go best with which other notes. The best way is to understand and learn scales. They are the starting point of most tunes. Not just played as notes up and down as in actual scales, but to be able to mix and match.

A safe place to start is pentatonic. With five notes, and the other two iffy ones removed, just about everything played will start to sound reasonable. Get used to the major and minor pents.

Bear in mind that the two factors in improv. are the right notes and the right timing. But there is also a third: dynamics. Playing all notes at the same volume gets very boring very quickly. Imagine someone talking. Interest is kept partly by dynamics.

Talking about talking - a lot of music can be explained in conversation form. Question and answer if you like. A way in to this would be to actually have a conversation with someone, and, keeping the sentences each of you use short, straight after each, play what was said on your guitar. The rhythm is already there, just provide some notes! It's not easy initially, but anything worth while is like that.

Be very aware of what key you're in, and what chords and harmony are likely to occur in that key. For example, in key C, playing the notes D E F in a bar will fit far better over a Dm or G7 chord than over C or Am. But only by experimenting will you make sense of this side of improve. It can be done theoretically, but is much more effectively done practically. And, yes, there will be times when you can fit D E F over a C chord. I say to students: for now, only those 5 pent notes will work, but eventually, any note, any time, anywhere - you'll play and it'll sound good.

Work through different scales, modes, and eventually you'll arrive at the ultimate - all 12 notes of the chromatic scale, which can all be used in any key - once you know how!


Instead of learning songs, learn styles. Pay attention to what rhythmic patterns, scales and tonalities, inflections, and timbres/effects work in each of a number of styles that you like, paying attention to what things 'just work' in general, and what things only work in certain styles.

Listen carefully to masters of these genres (or if they are too intimidating, just to people who are quite good). Imitate what they do. If you get it right, great. If not, hey - you're just 'making your own style'.

Know the layout of your instrument so well that you can play a tune on it as easily as singing it.

If you have time, make your own backing tracks - it will force you to understand the genres you're interested in even better, and how all the instrumental parts work together, which will help your improvisation a lot.


You'll never be happy with your soloing if you just place notes over chords. Music is a cultural art form. You need to immerse yourself in a culture.

Learning to solo well, take your playing to "the next level" requires learning to speak the language of music. Theory, while awesome, is the grammar of music but knowing the rules of grammar will not help you write a novel (it will help you write a novel with good grammar).


You didn't state how you learn songs, sheet music, by ear, etc. If by ear then the following exercise might work well.

Start listening to improvisational musicians. Don't just learn your favorite some from a band as most bands play it the same way every time. Zep is a good example of a band that pushed the limit of improv in rock. Don't just listen to recorded versions of songs, listen to all the live versions, bootlegs if you can get a copy. In Jazz this is easy because the name of the game is change. For example, want to learn Groovin' High by Dizzy Gillespie don't just get the lead sheet and put chord tones over the chords (you will hate playing). Get your hands on a dozen recorded live versions of the tune with great players and start transcribing their solos. This will introduce you to musical vocabulary.

Each song has mood or feel, not just a lost of chords and notes. It is always a good idea to learn about the song, what was the composer's intent.

At the end of the day there are simple rules to music like this or that mode fits over this or that chord but music is an expressive art form and all the rules won't make you creative.

Playing with others is very important since part of improve is communicating with others, being a good listener while you're playing (not a natural thing at first). But it would be nice to have some vocabulary before jumping into an open stage night.

Take a different tack to learning and keep up with the backing tracks.


If you are not ready to practice to a backing track, then I recommend practicing scales first. Practice to a metronome - start at a slow speed that you are comfortable with and work your way up. It is customary to learn the pentatonic scale first. If you play blues or rock music, you’ll most likely spend most of your days improvising there. Once you become comfortable with the first position, start practicing the others.

A word of caution: many guitar players find themselves confined to the Pentatonic scale later if they cannot play they the others. On that note, although it may be overwhelming, I recommend that you practice the modes of the major scale, i.e. Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, etc. This is not vital, especially if your are a beginner, however, improvising in them will make your solos sound more interesting later on.

Once you become somewhat comfortable with the Pentatonic scale, as others have suggested, practice to backing tracks online. If you think it sounds bad, don't worry, you will get better with time. Learning guitar can be frustrating, so if you get discouraged, take a break for awhile and return to your practice with a clear mind.

As a last suggestion, listen to other guitar players. If it helps, learn some solos note for note so that you can glean licks to incorporate into your own playing. When I started doing this, I was listening to very fast and difficult solos; I got the false impression that speed is everything and that playing solos is all about skill. But, just remember that a few tasteful notes can sound better than a blur of scales. Pay attention to what the instruments around you are playing and keep in mind that using every tool in your arsenal right out of the gate is a waste, and leaves you nowhere to go. Your solo should build on itself; this is what intrigues your audience.

After awhile, you will begin to develop your own style and improvising will be no sweat :)

Best of luck!


So the easiest would just be to look up "backing track" on youtube. Because it tells you what scale they're playing in. Not sure why you said it was a disaster. All you do is either play the notes of the scale (ie lead guitar) or the chords of the scale (ie rythm guitar). but you do both of these from the scale. that's why if you don't know how to play scales and find diatonic chords from scales then you need to practice.

The next step up would be to try to jam with any song you hear on youtube. The way to go about this is to first figure out the scale. Here's a method I've found useful: as the song plays, just randomly pick notes on the guitar, the ones that don't sound good are not in the key. the notes that you have left are in the key. next figure out if this is a major or minor key, and what the tonic is. if you have no idea what I'm talking about or how to do what I'm saying then you need to practice a bit more theory.

Third, try to find someone to jam with you. You can take turns where one of you picks a chord progression, then the other solos on top of it. Both would be in the same scale.

Which leads me to say that the basis of most improvisation is just picking a chord progression and soloing on top of it. Soloing in its basic form just means you're randomly picking notes from the scale. Now making this sound good just takes practice. Also look on google for "chord progression generator" here's one: http://chordchord.com/ ... the I is your key and scale. just jam on top of that.

p.s One last thing is try to find songs by ear. ie look up "how to play by ear" on guitar. It'll make you better at finding the tone that's in your head. It's hard to improvise if you can't play what's in your mind out your fingers.


There is something called melodic patterns that a person can study after they've got a good handle on the basic scales. My own experience had me practicing these patterns for a while and then I noticed when I'd listen to music I could hear in my mind the places where I could insert a particular pattern to compliment what was already happening musically. There are a ton of these melodic patterns already worked out, so all you need to do is look for them and work on them. After a while you may even start building your own patterns. At that point you'll truly be improvising.


you should develop a dictionary of phrases through your music life, every style has its conventional and novel musical phrases and some patterns are taken from old music of violin and flute (ostinanto with open strings, for example, thirds and octaves are played on anything for centures), some from old rocknroll or the vocal lines... musical education including knowledge of scales, chords, sequences, memorization techniques and analysis, ear training including perfect pitch, ability to write music in conventional music terms, harmony, picking, tapping on guitar, harmonics, legato techniques, various articulation, precise intonation, bends... When you have these in your mind and hands you can absorb music a proper effective way and develop and grow as a good player. Play what you think sounds good enough to be replayed, most pop music is primitive to learn on it, JS Bach and sons wrote a better musical entertainment and tutorials for us, in my opinion. I like how Gary Moore and SRV played Jimmy Hendrix songs and added their own style, energy and phrases, for example...Lenny Tristano was a good jazz pianist, John Coltrane was one to play sax a strange novel way...to name a few good names..

  • "Ear training including perfect pitch..." -- you aren't going to learn perfect pitch (unless you are still very young), but you can learn relative pitch at any age, which is more useful anyway.
    – user39614
    Commented Apr 20, 2018 at 20:49
  • I have seen people who have learned it training, that ability does not guarantee that you`ll be a star and a good player, world-class level concert violinists and pro singers have these almost all (in the range of their instrument) and however many do mistakes on Auralia testing software, and perfect pitch is not always perfect to recognize 100% of sound coming to your ears, if you can score 50% with software testing your are not pitch deaf, and there are no published studies of the perfect pitch testing of rich musicians...
    – player777
    Commented Apr 21, 2018 at 15:47
  • That is completely wrong. Most musicians, world-class or otherwise, do not have perfect pitch. Most good musicians have good relative pitch. Perfect pitch is extremely rare, and those with perfect pitch don't really make mistakes in identifying pitches. How often to you make a mistake when you look at something red, thinking that it is blue instead?
    – user39614
    Commented Apr 22, 2018 at 11:50
  • all people do mistakes, Mozart was a human, not an angel. His dad Leopold taught him all knowledge including ear training, we all able to do what we have learned. Once I showed at the local music store how I can tune a guitar exactly in pitch without a tuner and a reference tone, then we have checked with a tuner. I never brag with skills I have learned. I can hear tones of a range I play, not all orchestral instruments including bubens and koyotes howls in nature. You can call me tone deaf, it is OK. I am not a pro musician. Оne having a good memory learns a perfect sound pitch in any tuning
    – player777
    Commented Apr 23, 2018 at 7:58
  • @DavidBowling, pitch memory can be acquired later in life. Studies show that environmental factors contribute to perfect pitch, which might suggest that perfect pitch is acquired at a young age. For example, in countries with tonal languages (like China), perfect pitch is much more common.
    – jdjazz
    Commented Jun 9, 2018 at 14:25

Chordbot is an android app that helps you build chord progressions. It will then play the progressions. You control the tempo and they supply a number of strumming or picking styles to choose from. You could then jam to a chord progression of your choice at whatever speed is comfortable. Or, you could get yourself a looper and play the chord progression yourself and then improvise over it.


me I found some guitar riff on guitar pro software, I made it play in loop, and I improvised guitar solos on it, trying to use key tones or modes. The application chord tracker work well too, it play songs indicate the chord which is playing and you can make a part of the song play in loop and improvise with your guitar. If you don't know how to improvise I suggest you to use either key tones or modes, it can make good solos, take a course with a guitar teacher for that.


In addition to skinny peacock's answer I think the actual answer is theft. Every other answer here would force you to someone invent great solos out of thin air. Absurd. Steal them ... exactly as every great musician has.

You learn the solos you like, you analyze them a bit, you pick out little phrases and 'melodic patterns' and you create a palette of your own patterns.

Do you want to play melodic solos?

Steal Elliot Easton, Gilmore, Ian Bairnson (Alan Parsons, Pilot), Joe Walsh, Knopfler, Brad Delp, Larry Carlton ... Brian May, Steely Dan solos like on Kid Charlamane... etc.

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