Music Lesson - Improv Interval Training - Part II

Now that we are comfortable finding and keeping our place in an 8 measure chord progression, the next step is to vary the lengths of our rhythm/lead intervals.  In Part II of this exercise, we are going to start with playing 8 measures of rhythm.  In the next repetition of 8 measures we are going to play rhythm in the first 7 measures and the last measure will be improv.  The next 8 measures will be 6 measures of rhythm followed by 2 measures of solo.  The pattern continues all the way to all 8 measures of improv.  At this point we start the exercise all over again.   

Just to be clear… 

II: 8 measures rhythm 
7 measures rhythm, 1 measure solo 
6 measures rhythm, 2 measures solo 
5 measures rhythm, 3 measures solo 
4 measures rhythm, 4 measures solo 
3 measures rhythm, 5 measures solo 
2 measures rhythm, 6 measures solo 
1 measure rhythm, 7 measures solo 
8 measures solo  :II 

A benefit of this exercise is that it forces us to improvise in various durations.  Sometimes our guitar practice devolves into turning on some backing tracks and unleashing one continuous string of uninterrupted guitar cheese until our fingers get tired.  Don’t get me wrong, this can certainly be fun but it doesn’t really simulate a real-life musical scenario.  When we improvise in the heat of live music, we are more often either playing short fills around a singer, or playing 8 or 16 measure solos.  It’s crucial that we learn to deliver short and concise musical statements.  Even if we are taking a longer solo, just like a great story is written with paragraphs composed of concise and discrete sentences, strengthening our ability to play short, medium and long phrases can help us tell a very thoughtful story with our solo rather than just blow can cheese all over those poor people in the audience.    

Counting is still very important in this exercise, especially when you are playing rhythm guitar.  If you aren’t counting out loud, you can quickly loose your place in the chord progression. Since keeping track of which repeat we are on inside the exercise is also tricky, it can also be very helpful at the start of each repetition to remind yourself which measure you are going to start your improv in. 

Just like in Part I of this exercise, our ultimate goal is to play more expressively and creatively and with more control over our improvised lines, but we are going to be achieving this indirectly.  The counting may seem unnecessarily bothersome, but a large part of music is mental awareness.  Awareness of the music happening around us as well as knowing and keeping our place in the music is a fundamental skill that will give us the freedom and control to play better guitar.  By practicing counting we are focusing our attention on the chords and our place in the music, and strengthening this mental muscle will pay dividends by helping our improvised lines sound like they were composed. 

Finally, and most importantly, this exercise helps us practice musical concentration.  Keeping our place as the rhythm/lead intervals are constantly shifting, and quickly switching between rhythm and lead requires a lot of concentration.  Concentration is a skill, and just like any other skill, it gets better with practice.  Transcendent musical performers all have extraordinary powers of concentration, and to be honest, no matter how hard we work and practice, a lack of concentration will limit how far we are able to grow our own musical abilities and expertise.   

Give it a shot and remember to have fun!  This exercise also works great over 4 measure progressions as well as over a 12 bar blues.  If you are really brave, it is also a great way to work out a 32 measure AABA jazz standard!   

Please let me know what you think by leaving a note in the comments section. 


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Demo of Improv. Interval Training Part II over "Merit Badge," one of my original tunes.

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