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Teaching Improvised Lead Guitar

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Teaching improvised lead guitar is an art unto itself. In no other area of the subject are you up against so many variables. Anyone can learn a few blues scales. The difficulties start when you try to get them to use those scales to improvise with. There are six main areas that may need quite detailed coaching:

  1. Speed and Fluency
  2. Orientation (What key, what position)
  3. Phrasing (Picking out melody and counter-melody)
  4. Technique (Use of bends, slides, hammer-ons, pull-offs etc.)
  5. Inventiveness (Willingness to experiment with variations)
  6. Rhythmic awareness (Timing, accenting, muting, responding to chord changes and vocals)

My tip for this week is to get your student to have a go at improvising say over a 12-bar sequence and assess them against this list as they're playing. At any one time there will be one or more of these items that you can hear they need coaching on. The trick is to choose the one you can see the student making the most immediate progress with.

Then focus on that item, typically for at least half a lesson. Then next week repeat the same procedure: get them to improvise, check them out against the list and select an item to coach them on.

Don't make the mistake of mixing the items. Whilst coaching orientation, don't comment on their phrasing. Whilst coaching technique ignore their rhythmic weaknesses. It's always confusing to the student to be coached on more than one item at a time.

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