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I play as a guitarist in my local church, playing mostly contemporary Christian music (Hillsong, Elevation, Planetshakers), and have done for the past ~10 years. I would say that I play at an intermediate level, have a good grip of music theory and have no issues picking up the various guitar licks from listening to the tracks.

However, I feel like my playing ability has stagnated for the past 3-5 years and find that, when improvising, I end up going over the same sort of thing all the time i.e. picking through various chord inversions, or following the chords with octaves in the livelier songs.

I really want to take my playing to the next level and be more creative with my playing.

Does anyone have any advice? Particularly any structured courses or books that you would recommend?

  • Maybe listen to and play some other genre? With all due respect, and taste of music is completely subjective, but the Hillsong stuff and the whole genre is musically very narrow and homogeneous. Play some bossa nova, jazz, soul, funk, actual gospel or something. ;) – piiperi Reinstate Monica Dec 2 '19 at 12:05
  • Could you try and formulate an actual answerable question from this? Something concrete like "how to ...?" Maybe an example of something you think is boring? – piiperi Reinstate Monica Dec 2 '19 at 15:37
  • Sadly the first comment is true. We should come out with something richer. – ram0nvaldez Aug 21 at 0:12
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Have you gone through some sort of structured curriculum in the past 10 years? As the comment stated, try different genres, variety is the spice of live (some say). This is not only good for getting new ideas but also for improving chops when they seem to get stale.

Don't fall into the trap of being a graded curriculum follower. Some of the more famous series have specific approaches that highlight the technical approach of the author. Two of the well know ones are Mel Bay and Bill Levett. I've worked through both. In the classical genre there's Carcassi, Romero, Parkening, just to name a few. In theory you should continue to review the basic material throughout your life. To make it more interesting you can cycle through new material. Not only method books but solo performance pieces.

As for improvisation, you get better by doing more. And in my opinion and experience no book will do as good as using your ear and playing along with other groups or play along tapes, CDs, digital media. Each genre has its specific themes so learning a few solos by ear will help you understand the style. Whether or not you can incorporate this into your music is up to you.

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So you want to be more "creative" with your music while "improvising?"

I'm not sure a structured course or book will help with that. "Structure" seems to be quite the opposite of "improvising" or using creativity.

Just some random ideas that might help.

Try playing some of the songs you typically play using alternate tunings. This would require using different chord shapes and voicings and would lead to a different approach to picking over chord inversions.

Try altering the chord set used to play certain songs in standard tuning, by using a capo in a different position. This will also alter the chord voicings and fingerings and give you a different starting position to develop lead runs and fills based on the chords used. For example, if you normally play a song in the key of A in 1st position using the chord set from A Major - try using a capo on the second fret so that you would use the chords from the key of G Major to play the song in the key of A.

Search Youtube for "covers" of songs you play to see if another musician's interpretation of certain songs inspires you to approach your playing of that song in a different manner or gives you some new ideas.

Use a looper or recording device to record yourself playing the song the way you usually do, then try to play along in a way that adds something different.

If you normally use a flatpick technique on a particular song, try fingerpicking (or vice versa).

Try playing songs in a drastically different tempo - either faster or slower and see if that leads to a different approach to your improvising on that song. If so, you can take your new ideas and apply them to the original tempo.

Get together with some new musicians you don't normally play with and jam. They will likely have some ideas on how to play your old familiar songs that are new to you. Perhaps even jam with some musicians not familiar with the songs you play or artists you cover and have them improvise without any preconceived ideas about how the music is "supposed" to sound.

Hopefully one or more of the foregoing ideas will lead you to a fresh approach and breath new life into tired renditions of the great songs you have been playing for so long.

Good luck and enjoy the journey.

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You need to expand your musical repertoire and be a practical musician. There are many ways of skinning a cat and here is my suggestion towards being a good improviser and getting out of the rut;

  1. Listening to music that is outside and beyond your church's playlist. This will broaden your ear and introduce you to other sounds (chord progressions, scales, rhythms, patterns, melodies, etc). The Blues is usually a good place to start because it has a simple form but Jazz is the ultimate aim when working on improvisation. At this point, you don't need to like jazz or blues, you just have to force-feed yourself some of the all time greatest songs in those genres. Don't worry for now, you will understand with time.
  2. After too much listening, then you need to study and grasp the theory behind those genres (blues & jazz). Practice the structures machanically and have them internalized then you can start playing them musically. In other words learn the chords, scales etc separately before applying them to a song. It's dumb to try and play a song when you don't know how to make that chord or not aware that a certain melody is actually based on the underlying arpeggios or mode.
  3. Learn a couple of standards and play along with them, then you can start experimenting over them to build your own chops. Jazz standards in particular will expand your chord vocabulary, structure, arpeggios, scales and technique. Some musicians just copy legendary licks, turnarounds and play them over and over until they "own" them and "quote" them in passing during improvisation. Someone once said, "you don't need to bring anything new to music, everything else has been done before. All you need to do is to bring yourself to the music."
  4. Learn to sing what you play and play what you sing. This might sound confusing at first but in actual fact it is easier with practice. You just singout the notes of the scale or chord voices as you play them. This will make you more of a "musician" than a badly wired robot because it helps you to be one with your instrument, giving you another channel to emote through your instrument or playing with feel. Horn players do it all the time, it's only that we can't see it because they always have a horn in their mouths! Guitarists of the highest eminence like George Benson do it all the time.
  5. Above all, don't forget to use your ear while at it and have lots of fun. Music is aural and practice is more important than theory. A good musician is the one who can "speak" through his or her own instrument, that's what the people hear.
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    Great answer! Wish I could give you more than one upvote. I love what you said in paragraph 3. Thanks for your contribution. – Rockin Cowboy Dec 6 '19 at 19:17
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Being in UK means you have at least two exam syllabi at your fingertips. Rockschool and RGT.

I prefer the latter, which will take you from wherever you are (maybe grade IV/V?) through to past grade VIII, onto diplomas - rewarded with letters after your name!

There may well be gaps in your experience and playing that the syllabus will fill. At least have a look at what's on offer, maybe contact one of the tutors local to you - there are many RGT ones in your area - and possibly even take an exam or three. I've put scores of students through, and all were happy to continue after their first exam, whatever that level happened to be.Even without, it's worth a good look at the books involved.

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I take it it is electric guitar what you play?, if so, have you tried fingerstyle with the acoustic? How's that for a change?

Another option, maybe try listening to this guy yourguitarsage.com, for creative ideas, for trying new tricks and techniques.

Another idea re-iterating on @piiperi Reinstate Monica's comment is try listening other christian authors both old and new.

When exploring other genres, remember Apostle Paul who said "examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil."

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