Piano and Keyboard lessons from Glenn Sutton in Poway and San Diego

How to Improv on Your Ax

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Interested in learning the electric, bass or acoustic guitar? Need lessons in the Scripps Ranch or Sabre Springs area? Would you like to learn to play your favorite songs?

Contact Glenn Sutton at 619-306-3664.

The basics of guitar improvisation

If you are ready to branch out in your guitar playing, there is nothing that will stretch you further than learning how to improvise. Let’s take a look at a few tips on how you can accomplish this.

Pick a key and practice

This is where a chord chart or chord book becomes essential. It lists all of the chords in a given key, and usually the notes within each chord. Make this chart your friend. Learn all of the notes within each chord, and how the chords relate to each other. You cannot do enough of this. Over time, it becomes “muscle memory,” or second nature. You don’t want to be thinking too hard about which notes you are playing when it comes time to improv.

Play with the Circle of Fifths

The circle of fifths is a visual representation of the relationships among the 12 tones of the chromatic scale, their corresponding key signatures, and the associated major and minor keys. Using this diagram in conjunction with the chord chart mentioned above, you can better understand the relationships of keys, notes, and chords.

Here’s how you use the diagram:


Count the number of sharps or flats in the key signature, and then move that many spaces around the circle of fifths, starting at C. Move clockwise for sharps, and counter-clockwise for flats.

For example, if you see three sharps (F#, C#, and G#) in the key signature, start from C and go clockwise three places, and you'll find that the song is in either A major or F# minor. Similarly, if you see five flats (Bb, Eb, Ab, Db, Gb) in the key signature, you start at C and go five places counter-clockwise; that puts the song in either Db major or Bb minor.

Goof around with different sounds & backing tracks

This is another great way to get those creative improvisational juices flowing! Change the settings on your guitar and your amp. Filter your sound through computer software or effects pedals. Change these settings up often. Whatever sounds you create can be used in the type of music you play in your normal settings. You never know what you will come up with.

Similarly, using backing tracks can spur you on to greater creativity. These are easily found on YouTube, on CDs and MP3s, and in various other formats. They provide you with a full band to back you up while you experiment. This is a fun, safe way to muddle your way through an improvisational line or two.

Learn from others

Put on your critical eye and ear, and observe other guitarists doing their thing. This can be live, video, or even just sitting around with your fellow guitar players. Take note of what keys they are playing in, what notes they are playing. This can inspire you to try combos you have never tried before.

Go for it!

These are just a few of the many ways you can get your improv on. Give them a try!

Phone Glenn Sutton at: 619-306-3664 or email: guitarman.glenn@gmail.com

Bass Guitar

Services include:

  • Electric Guitar Lessons
  • Bass Guitar Lessons
  • Acoustic Guitar Lessons
  • Keyboard Lessons
  • Piano Lessons
  • Organ Instruction
  • Learning to Write Music
  • Advanced Improv Techniques
  • Performance Techniques



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  • Classic
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  • Jazz
  • Improv
  • Blues


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  • San Diego
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