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How To Play Less And Improvise More Creatively

By Author: Ariel Brady
Total Articles: 271

I remember a story I once read in one of Miles Davis’ biographies. The story was about a conversation between Miles and John Coltrane. Miles was tired to death of Coltrane’s never ending solos and invited him to make them shorter…to which Coltrane replied: “I just can’t stop playing". Miles answered: “Simply take your horn off your mouth!”

It’s that simple. I believe as guitarists we have all been guilty to play way too much, too loudly…

In my search for a more inspired approach to soloing, I have experimented with various strategies. Something that actually has helped me to play more creatively was to learn “not to play”.

That’s right!

Here’s how to start practising it:

1) Divide a twelve bar blues into three sections, each one consisting of four bars. Start soloing over the first four bars and then rest for the following four bars. Start playing again, and so forth. Invert the order. Rest for four bars then play…

2) Choose different bar groupings. Consider odd combinations: play for three bars, rest for 2. Stop for one bar, play for three, and so on…

You will soon notice that you can relax more and more, come up with more interesting ideas and you'll develop the power to “say” something interesting without even being aware of it.

You will also start listening to what your band mates are doing, what chords the bass player is outlining, the rhythmic ideas put forward by the drummer and so on…and you will also start suggesting ideas to the rest of the band.

Nonetheless, this will take dedication and focus.

You should be working on this at the very least half-hour/practicing session. You sit down on a comfortable chair, and practice all possible combinations. Experiment with different types of accompaniment. One day you use a metronome, another day a sequencer, another day even no accompaniment at all! Experiment with different styles as well| and see what happens playing over a swing tune, then a Latin one and so on. Of course it is best to try this approach on a variety of chord changes. Try “II V I” progressions and then| see what happens soloing over standards.

Important! After you practice consciously, get up, make yourself a cup of coffee and chill… Then spend something like 10 minutes playing just for the fun of it…

You’ll notice immediately how this exercise dramatically changes your playing from the feedback you’ll get from who listens to you during|at your live performances. People will feel that something is going on, like a story being told…they’ll stop chatting to listen to your music…that is an incredible experience, trust me.

I remember a rehearsal with a jazz orchestra a few years ago… I didn’t like the conductor very much but, during rehearsal, he said something that I still remember:

“When you're soloing, imagine that you are getting paid for the notes you are not playing".

What a great point… and a smart way to make more money :-)

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