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5 Great Improvisation Tricks to Improve Your Skills

If you want to learn to play guitar solos on the spot, then this is the article for you. Improvisation is one of the most sought-after guitar skills (especially in blues and jazz) and this article offers five great tips you can use to improve your improvisation today!

If you’re looking for some free, high-quality backing tracks to practice with then check out free backing tracks here. The guide includes the scales you need, tips on how to play with each and every track and loads more great info. Check it out!

Let’s get started, then!

1- Deliberately Restrict Yourself

When improvising, most guitar players feel an urge to play “more”. We want to try out all those different scale patterns, play all over the neck and see how many different techniques we can show off!

If you watch any great guitar player (depending on who it is), you might see them using loads of techniques and notes… but somehow it sounds better than when an average player does it.

Well, what’s the difference?

The difference is in HOW they use them. They’ve learned (through practice) to use their techniques and skills tastefully rather than just cramming them all in. Instead of putting in a lick because they can’t think of anything else to play, they put it in because it’s exactly what the song needs.

Next, then is the question of how to develop this skill. How do you go from mindlessly noodling to really expressing yourself when you improvise? It can seem really daunting at first with all those different notes, rhythms and scales to think about.

How about, then, if you just focused on one tiny little thing and learned to use that tastefully? Sure, it might seem impossible at the moment to learn all of those interlinked skills, but if you just focused on one…

When you practice improvising, try restricting yourself. See if you can play a solo using only four notes – or even just three! Keep practising that until you can play some really great licks, and it sounds (and feels) natural. It won’t sound brilliant yet but that’s not the point – this is practice, not performance.

Then when you’ve got used to that, gradually add in more things. Try adding in some new techniques, or playing seven or eight notes instead. This technique stops you from tastelessly running up and down scales all day, and instead forces you to come up with something musical.

Try it for two weeks and see how much difference it makes!

2- Make it a habit

How often do you practice improvisation? Every couple of days? Once a week? Once a fortnight?

If you want to get good at it, I’d recommend doing it every day – even if it’s only for a few minutes. Improvisation is one of the most important skills you can develop as a guitar player, so don’t neglect it – practice it!

Any skill that isn’t used is a skill wasted, but by practising your improvisation you’ll learn to use all of your skills in context. Do you struggle with integrating your fast picking licks with your slower, more melodic phrases? Then practice your improvisation!

Make it a habit. Every morning before you go to work (or school), see if you can fit in just two or three minutes of improvisation practice. No need to plug in your amplifier or anything like that – just play unplugged, using a backing track coming out of the speakers of your computer or phone. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy; the easier it is for you to get started, the better.

Get into the routine of doing it every day and soon you’ll find that you’re more creative, your skills flow together better, and you feel more comfortable learning new things.

Make it a habit!

3- There are no mistakes

When you’re improvising, don’t be worried about mistakes. Don’t avoid playing certain things just because you think they might sound bad; play them!

Don’t be afraid to experiment with things that you aren’t sure about. Who cares if you play twenty new ideas in a row, and all but one sound terrible? That one could become one of your go-to, signature licks.

When you’re playing by yourself, there are no consequences to playing things that sound bad. There’s a reason it’s called “playing” the guitar – because it’s a toy! The guitar (like all musical instruments) is just a glorified, expensive toy that exists purely for entertainment. Don’t get so serious about it, and NEVER be concerned about playing things that sound bad.

If you’re someone who often avoids new things because they always want to sound good, consider this: if you never try out anything new, you’ll never sound any better. EVER. You absolutely must try out new ideas if you want to improve, even if you do “risk” making mistakes.

I have a remedy for this. Plug in your guitar, and sit down (or stand up; whichever you normally do) ready to play. Then, instead of playing something normal, make a load of noise! Strum the strings randomly and fret whatever notes you feel like. Be like a little kid who’s just been given a guitar, and is reveling in the joy of making a load of pointless noise. Play as loud and as messy as you can, and rock out! Deliberately make mistakes. If you feel silly, carry on and go all the way until it becomes really, really fun. See how bad you can make yourself sound, and enjoy doing it!

Notice how you made hundreds of mistakes and made a load of awful noise, and it wasn’t bad – it was FUN! It was actually enjoyable. There were no negative consequences (well, maybe for your neighbors’ ear drums!).

Now, apply the same thinking when you solo. As long as you’re not in front of an audience you don’t have to play anything that sounds good at all! Just play around with it and feel like a little kid again. This is not only fun, it’s a really effective way of opening up your creativity and discovering new, interesting ideas.

4- Don’t get caught in the complexity loop

We as guitarists often get caught up in what I like to call the “complexity loop”. We’re constantly looking for ways to sound better, so we try to play something more advanced. If it’s harder, it’s got to sound better, right?

Then we find that it doesn’t remedy our problems, so we try learning another complex thing. We spend ages learning it, only to find that it doesn’t really make us sound much better either.

We keep wanting to sound better, so we learn something more advanced, only to find that it doesn’t make us sound much better (in most cases, anyway), so we think “ah, I must have to go more advanced than that!” and we learn another advanced thing, only to find that that doesn’t help either, and then…

I think you get the idea. The problem is that we always think going more complex is the answer, when more often than not it’s the opposite – the answer is simplicity. Master the basics first. You’ll get far more progress (and sound much better) by playing simple, easy phrases than you will by always trying to force yourself into more difficult and advanced techniques.


There’s nothing wrong with learning advanced things at all, but it’s pointless if you can’t make the basics sound good. Until you can play one simple 3-4 note lick and make it sound incredible (and I mean really incredible), don’t bother learning the more advanced stuff – focus on making those basics absolutely amazing! Before you know it you’ll be a brilliant guitar player, and all without learning a single sweep arpeggio.

Don’t get the wrong idea – advanced things can sound amazing when done well. You don’t have to play advanced music to sound good though, and that’s the mistake people often make. You’ll get more progress (and sound better) by perfecting some simple stuff than you will by just about scraping through a more difficult piece of music.

5- Play!

This is something so many guitar players never apply, and yet it’s completely obvious. Reading articles and watching videos, although useful, isn’t going to make you any better unless you spend time actually playing!

Knowledge that isn’t used is knowledge wasted. Don’t waste the info – apply it, and get into the routine of playing every day.

Play before you go to work. Play when you get back – even if it’s just for five minutes. Play just before you have dinner, or just after. Do it! You DO have the time; it’s just a matter of prioritizing guitar playing.

If you spend more time reading and watching than you do playing, then you’re doing it wrong – play more! Watching online guitar lessons and reading articles is great, and it’s really helpful, but only if you actually apply the info in real life. It’s no good learning about five ways to improve your improvisation if you don’t practice it!

As soon as you finish reading this article, go to free backing tracks, pick a track and get playing! All the scale patterns, keys and tips you need are right there. The sooner you apply this stuff the sooner you can get results.

Final Thoughts

Thanks for reading! If you’d like more then check out my website for loads more cool content.

See you soon!


26 Mar 2017 19:25:25 @pauljones:
I always tell my students to think of improvisation (and music in general) as a conversation; question and answer. Whatever you play, try to answer it with a similar or coherent phrase. This concept is so simple yet many times overlooked, and I think it's useful :p
You make a very solid point here Tom, there's no use in watching videos and reading books if you don't incorporate (and practice) the concepts into your guitar playing. I can say I have been guilty of this more than a few times... Anyway, great article!

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28 Mar 2017 13:50:21 @tomguitar:
The conversation idea sounds awesome - making it sound like a voice, which is what people relate to (and therefore like) most. Cool!
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02 Apr 2017 19:03:57 @pauljones:
Exactly! Music is a language after all, and the interesting part is that people enjoy music (and can be affected by it) even if they don't have a clue of what is going on . But this is also why the idea of a conversation works- the listener likes to be able to follow what's happening. As an improviser, being able to express ideas clearly is so important for this purpose.
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Savo Kostic
28 Mar 2017 13:10:23 @savo-kostic:
A few audio samples would be just perfect after each tip :)
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28 Mar 2017 13:47:10 @tomguitar:
Hey, that's a good idea - I'll definitely bear it in mind for future lessons! :)
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03 Apr 2017 12:38:22 @ddaneskovic:
Very practical advise, thanks...I have noticed in my improvisation process that inspiration is very important thing. Sometimes when I do not have any good music idea or inspiration my improvisation sounds really awful and it often comes after long practice of improvisation. That is why listening of good music and reading articles about something interesting in music always help me to get out from get stuck in my musical ideas. Until now it always helps me to practice improvisations of different styles of music or to practice famous and inspirational compositions of classical music. Anyway, great tips here...thanks...
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