Free Improvisation on Guitar – play rubbish like you mean it!
Read the Interview on Free Improvisation here!
So you want to be able to improvise in a free style on your guitar? And imagine you’re Keith Jarrett on six, fretted (or unfretted) strings, instead of those black & white keys? Well, good luck, my friend. And that’s something I should have told myself, too. Because I attempted the impossible and tried to follow down the above mentioned genius on his mighty path. Was it a bold move? You betcha. Was it worth it? Of course it was! So let’s try to go through what I did there.
Is it a waltz or something else?
Yep. The piece starts with a single line part, with a 6/8 time, waltz-like feel. This part lies over the first 5 frets, and takes place on the low E, A, and D strings, at least in the beginning. Then it quickly shifts into higher gear and starts including the G string (pun!) as well, landing notes on the 12th fret. Around that time, the country style double stops start happening. You can tell my influences from my free music, I guess. Should I be ashamed? I’m not!
When in doubt, arpeggiate
That should be my motto. -.- Anyway, I feel single line soloing more comfortable by nature. But at the same time, I do have a strong urge to express tonality in the chordal way as well. So what helps me out in that tense situation? Arpeggios, or broken chords, of course. Look at that one at about 0:59 in, when I fret the root of the chord on the low E string. It’s the 8th fret, and it’s a C sus2 chord. I love those. Sus chords, I mean.
Stay in one position – improvise out of it
Yeah, when I play stuff out of a position, it means I can imply a chord. At the same time, I can imply different shades of that chord, by playing simple melody over the stable, non-moving notes. By this point, and from the beginning of the tune, the tonic seems to be E minor. But then a weird thing happens. I start playing those crazy B minor 7 chords. I actually start going back and forth between them and the E minor-ish tonality. Then I do the same with G major 7 chords, staying in G major feel. And then stumbling upon D major as well. And C major, D major and back to E minor (from about 2:18). That’s the beauty of playing free, improvised music. You never know where the knowledge already present in your mind is going to lead you. I certainly don’t, but man, is it fun.
This anticipation happens when I start playing the B minor chords and shifting to C major stuff from them, going back and forth between the two (2:25). Of course in the end of this little trip, I’m back in the E minor feel again. Note the triplet feel rhythmic variations I throw in here and there. I do that quite frequently, just to change things up a bit, from the eight note monotony.
Now this is a somewhat guitar technique specific thing, but don’t worry, it’s not that hard. Rasgueado by default is that Andalusian originated flamenco stuff. The one where you use your fingernails to rapidly and repeatedly strum the strings. In an assertive, macho manner. Now with fingerpicks, it’s just not possible. These things would get caught in the strings, get pulled off and fly across the country like there’s no tomorrow. So I had to figure out a way to do something exciting with the ability of keeping them on at the same time. That’s how the reverse rasgueados evolved. I’m using the flesh side of my fingers, the default picking side of the finger picks. I also follow these upward strums with quick up and down strumming motions coming from the thumb pick. The backwards + thumb rasgueados start appearing from about 3:18 in the video. Sorry about the timing mistake at 3:27. Yeah, it’s free music, it’s fully improvised, and mistakes like these tend to happen (even more frequently than when I play worked out stuff. Too bad). No more lame excuses!
Stray changes – all improvised
Notice how I end up on alternating between F major and G minor chords, from 4:29 on. Things get more chordal from here, with going through all kinds of different keys. Just to end up in E minor. Again. Sigh. Then B flat major! Yay! And the piece finally ends on an F6/9 chord. Oh well. Don’t ask how I got there! But it all felt (and hopefully, to you, sounded) right. Don’t question the authority of my terrible mistakes, and all be well.