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When teaching your students to improvise it is necessary to encourage them
to practice against some sort of backing.
Of course you should spend some lesson time listening to them jam over your
playing rhythm guitar - but the problem is that they can't take you home with them!
There are several options to consider:
You can suggest they play over records. Trouble is that they will be 'competing
for space' with the lead vocalist or guitarist on the record. So although there
is much to be gained from copying bits and pieces off records, jamming along
does not work quite so well.
They can access commercially available backing tracks, either on CD from their local music
store, or downloaded from any of several online sources. There are a range of these available, but mostl seem to suffer from
one or more of three basic faults:
- The tracks are too short - just when you are getting a few ideas sorted
out the track ends and you have to break off to rewind.
- They are over-produced - why this happens is a mystery! People make a backing
track for you to solo over and then fill it with harmonica, piano and sax
solos! Perhaps this works for more advanced musicians who can weave their
playing in and out of the other soloists, but its not much use for your average
- The chord sequences are too complex - again this may be great for the advanced
player, but simple repetitive chord sequences are much more useful to the
So my answer is to make your own backing tracks.The recording quality doesn't
have to be over special and the simpler the tracks the better. Acoustic guitar
rhythm tracks are fine if you only have single-track recording facilities.
If you have multi-track then lay down bass, drums and rhythm guitar, but I
wouldn't bother using a live drum kit for this unless you have some experience
with mic-ing up a kit for recording - its a black art! Unless you know what
you are doing you will get something that sounds like you are banging around
with the pots and pans in your kitchen! So I suggest swallowing your artistic
pride and using a drum machine or the midi kit that comes bundled with your recording software.
Make each track 5 minutes long and avoid over-complicating it! Record a variety
of sequences in different styles to suit the students you teach. Before the
final mixdown play along with the backing yourself to make sure
you have the right balance of tempo, orchestration and levels - if you're not
finding it easy to play to, then nor will your students!
Final advice: SELL the end product (CD or download URL) to your students. If you
give it away there's less chance they'll use it!
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