Learning to Improvise

The ability to improvise is essential in styles of popular music such as blues, rock, jazz and fusion. In your guitar lessons you will be taught how to dramatically improve your improvisation skills using a series of diverse exercises.

Manipulating Music Phrases

Learning to reuse musical phrases in a variety of ways allows for improvisation that has themes and is coherent.

Without this ability, improvisation can sound fragmented, random or simply boring.

There are many ways in which musical phrases can be manipulated – within scales or between different scales.

This takes practice and care, but is one of the most powerful ways to upgrade your ability to improvise.

Rhythmical Ability

To be able to play accurately at any point within a beat, is another key factor in being a good improviser. One of the most effective ways to manipulate and reuse musical ideas is to vary them rhythmically.

Converting a 16th note phrase into 16th note triplets takes practice. For many it can take a long time to acquire this rhythmic ability. But, once sufficiently developed, it becomes a powerful weapon in your musical armoury.

Learning Music Theory

Learning which scales and arpeggios suit a given situation, allows different musical options. Each scale and arpeggio represents a unique musical flavour with which to create music.

Instead of just using the minor pentatonic scale, a guitarist may choose a major pentatonic scale, a seven-note scale, an arpeggio or the chromatic scale.

To carry musical ideas through various scales and arpeggios, demands a solid grounding in music theory. Once achieved, this ability becomes another highly effective skill.


How loudly or softly we play is another important factor in the overall musical effect of our improvisation.

This can mean changing dynamics for entire sections of an improvisation, or even just within a single phrase. Even just playing up the major scale with variations in dynamics can make it sound human and musical.

By working on specific exercises, the ability to play more loudly or softly gradually becomes a normal part of improvisation.


Technique plays a big part in how we improvise. If a guitarist can only pick notes relatively slowly, then they have a very limited range of speeds with which to express themselves musically.

With focussed practice and specific exercises, we can all develop our guitar technique.

This allows us to play with more accuracy and a greater range of speeds, offering more musical possibilities.


Learning authentic musical phrases, for a given style of music, is invaluable in developing our ability to improvise.

Although the word ‘improvisation’ implies something spontaneous, in reality, much of what goes into improvising is pre-learned.

Learning and rigorously practicing a dozen ii-V-I licks will probably do more for an aspiring jazz musician than simply playing by trial and error. In time these licks will naturally come out of a player’s fingers during an improvisation.

Booking a Guitar Lesson

To book a guitar lesson with Stuart, or to ask a question about taking lessons, send an email using the button below:

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“It can be tempting to think that improvisational skills are inborn. In reality, they are as learnable as any other aspect of guitar playing.”

– Stuart Bahn