Section 6.1 (back to index)

Improvisation - even more making it up as you go along

Use your previous knowledge to build on. Start a 12 bar blues rhythm in E.

Using only fingers 1 and 3 in the left hand and anything you like in the right (Fingers, nails, picks, chicken drumstricks, whatever ) Play the following blues beat remember it's

Long Short Long Short

2 2 4 4 String 5

0 0 0 0 String 6



This gives you the simplest thing to play on guitar. Play it twice counting 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &.

Let the numbered beats be long and the & beats short and you have one bar of 12 bar in E.


Now find the following 5 notes in 1st position (This means left hand finger(LHF) 1 on fret 1, LHF 2 on fret 2 LHF 3 on fret 3 and LHF 4 on fret 4. E G A B D - This is the E minor pentatonic scale.

After you have found it in 1st position find it on every string. This gives you


E Minor PENTATONIC on all strings
    G   A   B     D   E
B     D   E     G   A   B
G   A   B     D   E     G
D   E     G   A   B     D
A   B     D   E     G   A
E     G   A   B     D   E


If you have worked on the A minor pentatonic the 5 patterns revealed at the 5 starting notes of each mode should reveal a striking similarity to you.

That's because the 5 shapes are the same NO MATTER WHAT THE KEY and they always follow each other in the same order as well.


Although I have stopped the notes at the 12th fret for clarity they repeat (of course) after the 12th fret.


A really useful exercise is to do a little 'tapping' practise with the 5 notes on each string.

So for string 1 tap the 12th to get the E with either the index or 2nd finger of the right hand and then do a double Pull Off on frets 5 and 3 to get the A and the G. Then tap the 10th with A DIFFERENT FINGER of the right hand to get a D and Pull Off frets 5 and 3 again, finally tap fret 7 to get the B and you can guess the rest (Yeah Pull Off 5 and 3 again)

A Pull Off on guitar is done by pulling the fretting finger sideways instead of just LIFTING IT off the fret thus sounding the fretted note without the right hand being involved. Jimi Hendrix had this great gimmick of pretending to play the guitar with his teeth by doing this. Of course it's a LOT easier with electric guitar and tons of screaming distortion but you knew that already, right?

For a double pull off just fasten LHF 1 and 3 on the requisite notes of the string and then pull them off one after the other to make a triplet AFTER you have tapped the higher frets of each string. Note that the fretted notes change according to the table for each string. After you have been doing this for an afternoon or so you should IMMEDIATELY HEAR IT IF YOU PLAY A WRONG NOTE. (That is a note that is not in the scale.)

Follow this procedure with ALL the strings and you should quickly master ALL these notes on ALL the strings.

Another important tip which many people don't connect with is to alter the practise between playing for speed and playing for note memorisation. To memorise notes IT IS IMPORTANT TO SAY THEIR NAMES AS YOU PLAY THEM.

And if you feel that I am screaming when I type this you are right. It is



This is a different practise from speed and has a different purpose and many people find it hard to do this aloud. Perhaps you should ask yourself why?

Usually I advise students to look out for stuff that feels hard so that they can practise it. Remember PLAY TO YOUR STRENGTHS but PRACTISE ON YOUR WEAKNESSES.

If you combine the above simple techniques by alternating them, playing one bar of rhythm and then a bar of improvisation you can have a great deal of enjoyment as you work your way around the fingerboard.


It is MUCH easier to concentrate at first on these few five notes and then the rest of the fingerboard will come easily to you. Rather than the silly diagram that I have seen in far too many guitar books which outlines ALL the 78 principal notes on the fingerboard. expecting that somehow magically the beginner will transfer them all off the page into his brain in one fell swoop. In my experience the beginner thinks 'I'm never going to learn all that!' and of course he doesn't.

Ttake it from experience 5 notes is plenty at first.

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