Should Intermediate Guitar Players Focus on Learning Songs or Improvisation? Unconventional Opinion.

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Written By Gary Daws

Chief Music Officer

When it comes to learning the guitar, there is often a dilemma for intermediate players: what to focus on, learning songs or improvisation? Many guitarists face this issue, and there is no easy answer. In this article, we will explore some perspectives on this matter, including learning scales, learning other people’s material, chord melody playing, and the importance of balancing practice between song learning and improvisation.

Learning Scales: The Foundation for Improvisation

One of the best ways to improve improvisation skills is to learn scales. It is recommended to start with any scale and learn it in a closed position, trying to learn each position up to the 12th fret. Once you are comfortable with that, try playing the scale up and down one string, factoring in slides and shifting. Start with the Bottom E string and move up one string at a time until you reach the high E string. Memorize the frets for every string and try to call out the note names if possible. Then, try improvising the scale over anything, such as a backing track or loop, and try making coherent melodies off of just one string. It is essential to keep in mind that improvisation requires some preparation, and compositions require playing around with musical devices. Therefore, it is best to approach improvisation and learning preexisting material as not entirely separate things.

Learning Other People’s Material: Expand Your Vocabulary

Learning other people’s material is another effective way to improve your improvisation skills. It might influence and change the lines you’re playing, but generally, learning music that inspires you will enhance your ability to improvise. Try learning solos and pull the bits you like from them. Learning the most basic melody of a song will help you improvise your parts around them and make it your own. You don’t need to learn songs exactly how others play them, but it can help improve vocabulary and technique to learn parts exactly. It is also a great way to absorb what you like in what others did and expand your abilities beyond what you can already play.

Chord Melody Playing: A More Advanced Approach

Chord melody playing is an advanced technique mostly used in jazz context, which involves improvising with chords and single lines mixed. It’s a good approach if you need more direction, but it requires more effort and practice. It will help if you consider it a long-term goal and do not look for a quick solution. It takes years of dedication and practice to achieve a level of proficiency.

Balancing Song Learning and Improvisation

Learning songs and learning to improvise are two sides of the same coin, and focusing on one means that you aren’t developing your skills as a musician. Learning songs can inform your phrasing for improvising, and improvisation can help you be more creative when playing songs. It’s best to balance practice between song learning and improvisation, as well as other skills such as technique, scales, and theory. It’s recommended to divide practice into units of time, focusing on each separately, and switching between them frequently.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, the dilemma of whether to focus on learning songs or improvisation is a common one for intermediate guitar players. Learning scales, learning other people’s material, chord melody playing, and balancing song learning and improvisation are all valid approaches to improve your guitar playing skills. Ultimately, there is no easy answer, and it depends on your preferences and goals. The best approach is to experiment with different approaches, find what works best for you, and enjoy the process of learning and improving.