Motivating yourself when you feel negative about your skills

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Emp_FabEmp_Fab Frets: 13808
So, I got all plugged in with my looper tonight to practice improvising solos and after fifteen minutes I realised just how shit my soloing has become.  I was never a great, or even good, lead player - but I was a lot better when I was playing someone else's solos verbatim.  Left to my own devices combined with a lack of practice and I'm ashamed of the very limited number of hackneyed old patterns I was coming out with.  Trying to deviate from my worn-out patterns just resulted in bum notes.  At the twenty minute mark I'd had enough, turned everything off and came to bed, despondent.

What do you do to motivate yourself when you feel (realise!) you're pretty crap ?
Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine.
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  • Why judge yourself on real time improvisation. It’s not the only way to solo. You can write parts on your own at whatever speed you like. Doing it in real time will develop the more you play.
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  • BridgehouseBridgehouse Frets: 16327
    Well, having spent two days listening to some "well known" guitar parts played on repeat through a variety of boutique amps I'd say that if you are at hackneyed old patterns over a looped rhythm then you're doing pretty good. 

    Honestly - we all underrate ourselves. Often we are wrong
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  • fastonebazfastonebaz Frets: 246
     To improvise fluidly you need to know your scales.  Just try looping over loads of scale exercises for a while. 
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  • Emp_FabEmp_Fab Frets: 13808
    Why judge yourself on real time improvisation. It’s not the only way to solo. You can write parts on your own at whatever speed you like. Doing it in real time will develop the more you play.
    But surely everyone improvises in real time ? (pub bands).  It hadn't even occurred to me to write a solo in advance then play that in the relevant song.  To the lazy me, real-time improv means no need to learn anything in advance!
    Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine.
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  • FreebirdFreebird Frets: 1046
    edited February 25
    I usually locate the tonic and the dominant of whatever key I am in, and generally wing it from there. You can even run through the adjacent notes to see which ones fit, but as long as you've got those two markers down you can usually come up with something, and then make it increasingly more complex as you go along.
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  • blobbblobb Frets: 939
    It's not work. Take it easy. Last night I put a Soft Machine record on and picked up a bass. No idea what I'm doing but it was a great hour. I learnt more doing that than I do out of books, useful as they can be. Guitars are musical instruments, not calculators. Headphones can help, so you can really get lost in the whole thing. No mistakes, doesn't matter what you play but it helps pick up the movement, timing, phrasing, how it all fits together. Then try playing over your loops.again.
    Feelin' Reelin' & Squeelin'
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  • carloscarlos Frets: 1504
    Just had a bad go at it, I think. Also trying to use rusty skills. 
    The other night I was feeling shit about my skills* and tried learning some Extreme (Nuno Bettencourt) riffs from the 90s albums. I got Decadence Dance and Get the Funk Out to a level I could play them live in about 30 minutes total. WTF? Maybe I'm not as shit as I thought?
    * - Miles Okazaki compositions + his book Fundamentals of the Guitar


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  • octatonicoctatonic Frets: 19424
    edited February 27
    Improving at guitar is evolutionary, rather than revolutionary and it feels glacial in terms of the rate of progression.

    If you do the work then it comes to you- if you don't then you are always on the back foot and will always struggle to progress.
    So, do the work, break it down into pieces and keep going.
    I am the juice of four limes.
    Trading Feedback

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  • vizviz Frets: 5106
    edited February 26
    Emp_Fab said:

    Left to my own devices combined with a lack of practice and I'm ashamed of the very limited number of hackneyed old patterns I was coming out with. 


    Emp_Fab said:

    But surely everyone improvises in real time ? (pub bands).  It hadn't even occurred to me to write a solo in advance then play that in the relevant song.  To the lazy me, real-time improv means no need to learn anything in advance

    Hey. I’m not sure if you read my post on your other thread or agreed with it but I think you need to be really clear on what you think improvisation actually is and therefore what aspect of it you need to work on. Below are my tl:dr musings, others may disagree. 

    So, at the low end of the scale, improvisation basically means the assembling from a small bank of pre-rehearsed licks to make a hotchpotch of stuff that sounds vaguely relevant. At the high end, it means rapid yet planned composition, immediate translation from brain to fingers, and flawless execution.  You are at some point on this scale - we all are. 

    If you want to move from the left end towards the right, you need to develop in three areas: having something to say, planning how to say it, and being able to say it fluently. It’s a bit like giving a speech 

    1) Having something to say. I think this is the most challenging part. It has nothing to do with fingers. It comes from your mind’s ear being able to sing the music you want to experience. The more music you listen to the more ideas you will have. You need to listen actively - ie really explore the music, what it does to you and how it does it. This is obviously an unending journey. Through it you will develop the ‘musical You’ that you want to convey to your audience. It may sound overly high-brow but it really isn’t. Developing this mind’s ear is what allows you to know what you actually want to play. When improvising you can’t let your fingers do the creative thinking for you, you have to have a musical idea to follow - at the level of the whole solo, and for each phrase, and even for individual note choices. Otherwise it’s not improvising (remember improvise comes from the word ‘improve’), it’s just noodling (remember noodling comes from the word ‘aimless lazy time-wasting nonsense’). You can’t noodle your way out of a rut, and even if you do have a huge bank of pre-rehearsed ideas and loads of licks to draw from, the listener will pick up on the same phrases repeated over and over just like you have already. 

    2) Planning how to say it. Improvisation does take place in real time but it’s not random. The more deliberate the planning, the better the improvisation. It doesn’t mean every note is planned, but something along the lines of ‘start down here, then soar over this turnaround, then widdle back downwards with raised 6ths, then end on a minor funky bit around the root’ is needed for the whole solo to have shape and flow. Otherwise it’s a meaningless, tiring jumble. Your brain must have an overall plan, and must then perform micro planning sprints as the chords roll by. And then of course your fingers must respond rapidly, which is the 3rd point:

    3) Being able to say it. From your posts it is clear that you can learn and play a written solo well. So it’s not the playing skills per se that need to be fixed (yet). But it’s the ability to respond rapidly to your musical ideas that’s the challenge. Hence you revert to the same old stuff that normally comes out of your fingers. The temptation is to learn more and more licks, but that just means you get better and better at being at the left-hand end of the spectrum. This is fine but will always limit your ability to improvise. 

    What you should do:

    Firstly, before working on getting more licks down, it’s worth checking whether your brain can still create music. This is the acid test. Walk away from your instrument and try and sing some improvised solos. If you find yourself singing your old hackneyed finger-based licks then you’re in trouble because your brain has lost the ability to be creative! If you have forgotten how to create music, then there is really only one way out of it. You need to put your instrument down and really listen to lots of new music, actively as per (1) above. Widen your boundaries. Hum stuff to yourself while you’re doing other things. Start composing. 

    Assuming you can still sing outside the box but just can’t play what’s in your mind’s ear then that’s great - you’re on that long journey of planning and translating what’s in your brain to your fingers. 

    For the planning side of things, you need to recognise that planning a solo is a deliberate conscious act that all great improvisers perform. It may come across as unplanned, but it isn’t. The planning may be instinctive, but that doesn’t mean it’s not happening. Think about your musical ideas and how they’re going to fit. Plan the whole solo, then plan the phrases, then as each phrase approaches, plan certain notes and targets that you want to hit. At this level your planning sprints are probably 1 second in advance, and your fingers will have to fill in the gaps, but it’s still planning. So when practising improvisation, just consider - are you actually doing any planning? (Assuming you have a musical idea to plan in the first place, of course.) If you’re not, then start planning. Go slowly at first but make sure you’re planning all the time, that you don’t let your mind go into overdrive. 

    Then for the execution, here’s where the fingers take over. The barriers to your fingers doing what you want them to is two-fold: firstly they don’t do what you want them to because they can’t. Secondly they do something else instead because they can! All that aimless noodling and scales-based practice actually damages your ability to improvise, because it prevents you from being able to think purely musically, independently from what your fingers naturally fall to. 

    So when you pick the guitar up, you need to unlearn your noodles. If you are going to play exercises, make sure they’re proper finger-twisters such as 1234234134124123 and its derivatives, and that you use a variety of them, otherwise your fingers will continue to override your brain. If you’re going to learn scales, make sure you continually advance them - not just pentatonic and diatonic but also other scales and modes - melodic minor, diminished, octatonic, etc. And arpeggios, not just running up and down the sequential notes. And most importantly, think about the MUSICAL aspects of the scales, what they are, what they do, and therefore where to use them. This will have the twofold benefit of building you some new ideas AND rewiring your brain away from its comfort zone. 

    But in parallel, remember to do steps 1 and 2 and consciously try to play according to your musical plans. Refuse to play what you already can. Determine to block your fingers from doing it. Find the notes that your mind wants you to play and try and find them. It doesn’t matter if it’s slow or arduous. Every note you play you will be creating new music. Every minute you spend will help - help you play actual music that your brain has come up with and simultaneously break out of your rut. 

    Hope that helps. I’m no special improviser myself but this is what I’m working on and it helps.
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  • pmbombpmbomb Frets: 498
    I'm crap too.

    My motivation is that I enjoy playing and the slow baby-steps of learning and improving. It's enough, one day at a time.

    I avoid thinking about goals.
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  • Hard to thing to teach improvisation, I do the RGT Electric Grades with a lot of my learners and the whole skill of using the scales you're learning can be tricky if they haven't played for long.

    Always important to know where the root note areas are for whatever key you're playing in. Then the relationship between the other notes, as intervals. So I know where all my 3rds 5ths 7ths and octaves are. Then work the others as distances from them, e.g a second will be between the root and 3rd, the 4th between 3rd and 5th etc. Then adjust for whatever scale I'm playing (major scales major 3rds and sevenths, minor scales minor 3rd's and sevenths). Then add the other intervals for colour.

    This stops the scale sounding too scale-like and repetitive. I also encourage them to be rhythmically exciting and not stick to the same thing, start on different beats of the bar, ahead of the bar, make notes longer, shorter etc. Its good you play with a looper, always important to play the notes against some kind of harmonical framework. Ok you play a C note but that note could mean anything against a chord. Is it a root? a 3rd?  

    Use your ears to guide if the note needs to go up/down, be quicker shorter, etc etc. Bending notes and sliding adds more expression.

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  • Emp_FabEmp_Fab Frets: 13808
    edited February 26
    Many thanks to everyone and @viz in particular for that very comprehensive and informative reply.  I'm definitely able to think and sing solos that I know would work - I've never actually tried putting them down on the fretboard though.  As for my dexterity - One of the biggest problems I face when trying to nail a particular (cover) solo is that I'm trying to copy the fingering, style and composition of another (always far better) guitarist - and, for them, that double string bend followed by the hammer-on and slide up to the next position is something they find easy because they wrote it - and they wrote it that way, partially, because that particular pattern came naturally to their style and ability.  Multiply that by the number of different guitarists and solos in our set and I've got to be at least half* as good as, at least, twenty different professional artists.  *(third, quarter.... whatever it takes to play their particular solo in that song).

    If I'm writing my own solos for their songs then, in theory, I should find that easier, because I will inevitably craft my solo around what I am able to do easily - or - to stretch myself a little, slightly difficult, rather than plugging away for hours on end trying to get someone else's solo to sound adequate using only muscle memory rather than any skill per-se.

    I will get back to it tonight and try thinking of a solo, in blocks, then seeing how well I can play it, modifying it if needs be, and take it a chunk at a time.  I will make a conscious effort to avoid the same-old patterns I have been using.  I shall get back to you :-)
    Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine.
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  • RolandRoland Frets: 2182
    Emp_Fab said:
    One of the biggest problems I face when trying to nail a particular (cover) solo is that I'm trying to copy the fingering, style and composition of another (always far better) guitarist - and, for them, that double string bend followed by the hammer-on and slide up to the next position is something they find easy because they wrote it - and they wrote it that way, partially, because that particular pattern came naturally to their style and ability.  
    Conversely, if you wrote it then they might find a challenge in your patterns, and the way you emphasise particular notes. Other people aren’t necessarily better. Just different. Clapton admired Kossoff’s vibrato, but was better in most other areas of his playing.
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  • sev112sev112 Frets: 390
    I read in a book somewhere that you should record yourself improvising for 5 minutes say once a week. You just add your next 5 minutes to the previous recording without re-listening to what you previously recorded.  You just keep adding once a week

    then after say 2 or 3 months you can listen back to it all. And apparently you see how much difference there is in your playing , even if at the time it seemed hackney’d


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  • vizviz Frets: 5106
    Emp_Fab said:
    Many thanks to everyone and @viz in particular for that very comprehensive and informative reply. 

    It was one character too long to post. I had to merge two paragraphs and get rid of a space :)

    Good luck, sounds kike you know what to do!
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  • beed84beed84 Frets: 1278
    With regard to improvising, I remember my previous guitar tutor having a particularly nice touch. It seemed his ideas were endless and always interesting. I could've listened to him all day. Anyway, me being the naive teenager I was, I frustratingly blurted out "I want to play like you do." To which he responded, "I can only teach you what I know, not my experience." His wisdom has stayed with me ever since.

    So, to add to @octatonic's point, get experienced and the rest will come.
    "We are all just actors trying to control and manage our public image, we act based on how others might see us" – Erving Goffman
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  • stratman3142stratman3142 Frets: 774
    edited February 28
    Although I can improvise certain things in certain styles on the fly, that's not what really interests me. I'm more interested composing which (for me) is about coming up with a concept then getting to an end result through a mixture of ideas, imagination and some trial and error, which will involve some bum notes on the way .

    In the privacy on my own home, I don't worry about bum notes on the journey to getting to a solution and sometimes they're a springboard for new ideas. Live I'm a bit more cautious.

    Even though I often feel crap in the process of getting there, I persist through that to get to an end result. 20 minutes isn't that long. I'll often spend a total of many hours, which will include taking breaks and coming back to it.

    It's not a competition.
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  • mburekengemburekenge Frets: 652
    edited February 28
    I recently realised that although I had learnt loads of 'shapes', they really didn't mean a lot to me in context.

    IMHO it's all about ear and interval training.

    I'm in the process of going back through the arpeggios and scales, and singing them as I identify the intervals.
    It's a long process, but I can already feel it paying off much more quickly than I envisioned.

    *obvs this goes hand in hand with transcribing and learning vocabulary*



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  • equalsqlequalsql Frets: 3215
    A good thing to do to play over tracks the continually change tempo and key.

     'Aja' by Steely Dan is a great song for developing your ear and your timing.  It's quite a challenge as it twists and turns like a snake, yet still somehow hangs together.


    (pronounced: equal-sequel)   "I suffered for my art.. now it's your turn"
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  • uncledickuncledick Frets: 237
    Apart from a few highly talented individuals I think everyone has a style they gravitate to.  Witness messrs Gilmour, Bonamassa, Vaughn etc.  We recognise their playing because it reflects their personality and taste.  Thinking you can nail guitar licks from a whole range of styles is, imho, delusional.

    I find guitarists whose playing I gravitate to and will then play along to YT to build up some licks that fit my style and ability.  I can then use these patterns if I need to write a solo.  I'll never be able to shred or play jazz, but if I can back a female vocalist like Pete Stroud can then I'll be happy.
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  • BarneyBarney Frets: 357
    I think it's a good idea to really break things down..for example ..take a pentatonic scale and use maybe the top 2 strings and get as much mileage as you can just out of them using phrasing different note combinations ECT...it's surprising how many ideas you can come up with ..after a while you start knowing what the notes are going to sound like before you play them ...this will give true improvisation and not just lick playing ..you will start playing what you feel ...then repeat with G and B string ECT. .then 3 strings at a time ...then 4 ECT ..
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