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Thread: What's the Step between Learning Scales and Improv Soloing?

  1. #1
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    Default What's the Step between Learning Scales and Improv Soloing?

    Hi everyone. I'm sure this has been covered in various threads, but if I start hunting for them, I'll end up spending the day on UU, which would land me in hot water.

    For years, I've been jealous of the players who can effortlessly improvise right over a chord progression. When I've asked a few of them what the secret was, they've told me to learn scales. So I've purchased a few books with scale patterns in them, and although I can commit the patterns to muscle memory, I still have no idea how that new skill translates into improvising solos. And none of the books explains it. It's like someone saying, "Memorize the alphabet, and you can write like Shakespeare." There's got to be a missing step(s) in this learning process.

    Can anyone explain what those steps are, or point me to any online videos, DVDs or other learning materials that might get me moving from scales to solos?

    Thanks.
    "The ukulele is the thinking man's violin." - Krusty the Clown

  2. #2
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    You are working from a wrong assumption. In my opinion (I'm sure some people will disagree with this) learning scales is not the way to go. I don't think I have ever played a single scale on a ukulele.

    The secret is to know what notes you can play in a particular key and which notes fit with which chords. You also need to have an understanding of how melodies are structured. It is hard to explain in words without going into a lot of detail, but the long and short of it is that the more you know about the rudiments of music, the easier it will be to play a solo over a chord sequence.

    Before someone lays into me for saying you shouldn't play scales, just bear in mind that I am able to solo over a chord sequence. In any case, I am not saying don't play scales. By all means play them if you find them interesting.
    Last edited by Ken Middleton; 04-12-2012 at 08:19 AM.
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  3. #3
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    Tommy, learn the major and minor pentatonic scales to start. Lots of info on how to use them and which ones you might learn first on the internet. The patterns are simple and with a little practice you will be able to pick out notes that go with a particular key. Disclaimer here, I've only played with the hoi polloi.

  4. #4
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    I think Dominator is the best teacher in this department, he might very well be the best teacher out there period
    Study up on every video, interview, tabs, lessons, etc. from him.
    Do I sound like I think he is the greatest? lol, I guess I think he is

  5. #5
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    Thanks everyone! Keep those responses coming. I'll reply at length later (when the boss isn't looking).
    "The ukulele is the thinking man's violin." - Krusty the Clown

  6. #6
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    The alphabet to Shakespeare analogy does apply almost exactly here. The alphabet is needed to write the words that Shakespeare wrote, although knowing the alphabet does not tell you anything about what order to place letters in to craft words; much less which words go together to make a phrase pleasing to the ear.

    I get why people say to learn scales, it is to let you know what collection of notes work in a particular key or style. Like pentatonic scales are for blues, etc. If you were to learn all the scales for all the keys, the logic goes, and if you are able to hear someone playing a progression and know what key it is in, then by playing notes FROM that corresponding scale you would (theoretically) never hit a wrong note.

    I think to further qualify, it would just be a SAFE note to hit, but the great players never hit a wrong note because they are feeling it and whatever they do just works.

    I remember when I took guitar lessons many years ago, I was learning a piece called Mood for a Day - there is a big riff in there that travels all the way down all the strings - and my teacher just said "It's just the natural scale but it ends on F#" I was able to learn a 22-note riff in seconds because I already had practiced the scale a zillion times. BUT what makes it sound so cool? That last note, which is NOT in the scale.

    So yes, scales can help, but no, they are not "the answer."

    I have been playing for many years and confident soloing still eludes me, but I am getting braver.

    Good Luck!
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  7. #7
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    Using the scales is kind of the "easy way" to make sure you never play a bad solo note but it also results in pretty boring solos. A lot of guitar teachers who are teaching people whose ambition is to play lead guitar in a rock or blues band will simply say "play the minor pentatonic of the 6th of the key and you can't go wrong." What they mean is this, if the chord progression is in the key of G and staying in the key (no "oddball" chords) then you can play any note from the Em pentatonic scale anywhere in the song and it will not be dissonant. Using the minor pentatonic of the sixth, instead of the major pentatonic of the tonic, gives the song a bluesier feel because you will be resolving to the sixth pretty often.

    It's actually not a bad technique if you don't know the song well enough to know where the chords are changing and what they're changing to - but you'll never have a really great solo that way, either. So, if you know the chord changes it is much better to solo over the chords. You'll use a lot more notes from the chromatic scale and the solo will be much more interesting.

    EDIT: Oh, one other time when soloing the pentatonic is really handy - if you have one of those jams where you have a couple of lead players "soloing" against each other - if they both stay with the pentatonic they'll never "collide."

    John
    Last edited by OldePhart; 04-12-2012 at 07:25 AM.
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  8. #8
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    My ukulele teacher addressed this in one of his classes recently. His two main takeaways were:


    • Actually LISTENING to music is just as critical to learning to how to improvise as playing scales, learning theory, etc.
    • You can't teach creativity. And you can't learn it from a book, a YouTube video, a website, etc.

  9. #9
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    I am very far away from there, but I will share something that seems to have helped me. Perhaps some of the experts (all those that have replied are included as are many, many more).

    I have a large diagram (looks like a giant organization chart [somewhere about 6 ft long) of "common" and some "un-common keys" spaced across the top. Under each key I have a side by side list of all chords in those keys. Below each chord name I have a copy of a fret board showing note locations, strings and fingering of the chord above. Below the fret board, the strings continue and I have the note information of each string for the chord being played. This may seem weird and may not help your, of anyone else’s need, but it helped me learn relativity of keys, chords, fingering and notes.
    Last edited by Uke Whisperer; 04-12-2012 at 08:48 AM.
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  10. #10
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    Good question I've been wondering too. Although I have absolute pitch and a background in music theory so I know what chords and notes I'm hearing - I just have no idea yet where they are on the uke fingerboard! At the first position it's not hard to figure out, but after that, it's like I'm in totally uncharted territory and I'm largely using trial and error, which goes slowly. There has to be muscle memory involved in knowing how to move around the fretboard, which I haven't developed yet. I'm taking it one song at a time, but would like to approach it more methodically.
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