How would you improvise a solo over this? Applied theory question

ukudancer

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Hi everyone, I need some theory help.

There's a nice section after the chorus at 3:11 where I'm playing the chords to the verse that could be a nice spot to throw a solo in.

https://youtu.be/lZODgs97uUc?t=191

The chords are:
C, G, F x2
Am, G, F x2

What determines your note choices and in what order? The circle of fifths tells me this is in the key of C, so that's a start. But I'm unsure where to go from there even if I want a simple solo that copies the vocal melody (a la Nirvana Teen Spirit style)

EDIT - I've read an improv trick to any soloing over any changes is to highlight the root, the third and the fifth notes of the chords, but I'm also a little unsure on how to apply that.
 

bunnyf

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Warning! This is not gonna be a technical explanation but this is my improv process, especially when it’s an unfamiliar song. Hear the key or find it with a little quiet noodling, or cheat and look at the guitar player’s hand. Then get my index finger on that note. Then a little ear work or guesswork using the pentatonic scale (I like to try to go to the root note on the 3rd string and the scale lays out very nicely in a pattern that’s very easy to remember and use. In fact if you have a low g you can get those two very useful pentatonic noes below the 1. Here’s the pattern: starting on the fret that contains your root on the 3rd string, as fret”zero”- low to high, 0 2, 0 2, 0 3, 03. Minor pentatonic btw similar process but pattern is 0 3, 0 3, 0 2, 0 2) This is just one pattern obviously but it’s a good start if your just beginning improv. Within this pattern you’ll find the skeleton on the melody right under your fingers. I think the best simple improvs are clearly melody based and so just finding those melody notes is the place to start.

When I say finding those melody notes, I don’t mean write them down or get them all worked out. It’s more like use your knowledge of how the melody goes to recognize them as you noodle thru your scale. If you start doing this with a lot of simple songs you know and you will find that you can get reasonably good at “guessing”. If you are fairly fluid and stick to notes in the scale any notes that are not the melody note you were looking for just become a passing note, arpeggio or part of some other embellishments and not booboos. After a while you get a feel and ear for where a tune is going and what you might want to do with it.

If I am absolutely unfamiliar with a tune, I will use the first verse to try and “call and response” style a fill after each musical phrase. Often by the end of the verse I can get a simple tune in my ear and be able to improve a break. Sometimes not tho, if it’s an unusual/complex one, I’ll take a pass on improv. I don’t want to solo with just pentatonic rambling. Hope this improv technique is understandable. I can’t always convey with clarity. Good luck!
 

Brad Bordessa

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1. Sing a solo over the section (or hum or vocalize)
2. Repeat until you come up with something hooky that you like (you can rewrite it as you go)
3. Record it, if necessary, to remember/reference
4. Figure it out on your uke

All the 1 3 5 tricks and "thinking" about soloing is simply a means of interpreting music onto your uke. It doesn't tell you much (if anything) about what the music should sound like. By using your voice, you bypass all the thinking and interpretation steps to just create. THEN worry about how to put the music on your uke once you know what you want the music to sound like.

It always surprises me how many people will whistle or hum lovely tunes and then pick up their uke and say "I can't solo!" You can! Just not on your uke. (Yet.)
 

ukudancer

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Thanks for the replies.

The 1 3 5 trick and tips help because I spent my teenage years mindlessly noodling on a guitar. I'm trying to undo all of that now. I understand intervals and I know where some of the notes are.

That said, I did look up a C major scale chart and low and behold, most of them are right where I play the main melody is. So, I'm going to start there. And while I'm not going to up and down the scale mechanically (and skipping the 4th), it is good for me to know to have a rough roadmap on how to play what's in my head.

I actually just called up my looper and solo'd over it with my acoustic and it definitely have enough info to improv something.

You guys are awesome!
 

Brad Bordessa

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It's musical. It's tasteful. You let it rest and breathe in good places. Well done!

Two thoughts:

It might help your phrasing if you chunk your faster passages into smaller lines. This will give you more chances to pause and react to what you're playing instead of just following a scale box. These are the main places your improv is less impactful.

Try experimenting with bending from one note TO the next note. Each one has a flavor. If you can't push a whole note bend yet, just stick to half-note bends in the scale (if you were in the key of C they would be E to F and B to C).
 

ukudancer

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It's musical. It's tasteful. You let it rest and breathe in good places. Well done!

Two thoughts:

It might help your phrasing if you chunk your faster passages into smaller lines. This will give you more chances to pause and react to what you're playing instead of just following a scale box. These are the main places your improv is less impactful.

Try experimenting with bending from one note TO the next note. Each one has a flavor. If you can't push a whole note bend yet, just stick to half-note bends in the scale (if you were in the key of C they would be E to F and B to C).

Thanks. I'm going to take another stab at it and create a motif and also try to tie in the main melody so that it comes full circle by the end.

I actually really need to take the time to understand bending to specific notes.

Good effort.

It looks like you know the words and are singing along, so maybe now you have the instrumental part going, work on the lyrics and vocal?

Somewhere in Eric Clapton's biography he talks about having to learn how to sing as well as play.

I do know the words. I actually started out with singing along to it on my first pass, but figured it doesn't suit my voice even if I did know how to sing better. :/

Side note, I decided to re-record my backing track as I felt the drum was too buried in the mix on my looper. I also wanted to added a longer section so that I could end it in a more satisfying way. (I'm learning far more than just soloing, I think!)
 
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ukudancer

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A couple of updates:

I spent an afternoon with the circle of fifths because I wanted to learn how to create leads with harmonies. So, this is my first attempt at harmonizing with myself.

I tweaked the intonation of both electric ukes...Surprise, surprise! It was off. It's not perfect, but it's much better.

I think my timing has improved? I also think melodies are getting easier since I'm not having to think so hard anymore.

Anyway, here's my Day 23 update: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2iSv7LNFAoA

Side note, I used to be an editor back in the day, so I figured I'd edit this thing together to see if I could do it in Premiere instead of AVID. The learning continues!

This has been such a fun journey. Thanks for all the advice and encouragement. As always, cc are welcome.