Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Let's talk theory for "jamming"

I’m at the point where I’ve completed years of scale practice. I also have a decent grasp of theory. I now find myself at a level where I can jam but it’s not as “musical” as I like. I base a lot of my jamming around a lick or two and fill a lot. I can “make it sound like music” and it fits in time but is not as melodic as I would like.

How do I make my “jam” more melodic? If I know the song well enough I can get my thoughts and ideas several beats out in front of what notes my hands are playing. I have plenty of time in my head to work on melodic lines in order to get to where I am going but still can’t crank melodic lines out on the guitar “on the fly”.

Anyone care to share ideas or resources on this? I find the subject of “musical improv” really lacking on the internet. Sure I’ve found a few good articles here and there, but no “study” or “how to” on it. Again any resources you care to share on the subject would be appreciated.

I’d also be interested in hearing what some of you done in order to propel yourself into the “next level” with jamming when you were where I am today.

I haven’t done much in the way of BG jams and working on breaks for a while, but I did notice something when I was doing it more often. I can typically do one of two things: 1) Play something relatively simple but melodic that picks up the melody pretty clearly. 2) Play something more lick based that only by luck might pick up the melody.

My BG improv skills are not good, but I thought they improved most when I focused on the first approach (simple and melodic). That seemed to improve my “playing by ear” skills whereas working on licks did not. In a song that was familiar ground I could blend to the 2 approaches a bit, but I never got to the point where I could just spit out machine gun speed notes and build it around a melody I had not yet learned to pick out. I think the better you get the more you could do that. The more licks you know, the more you are likely to hear something in your head that you could use for a given tune. I look forward to what others might have to share on the subject. I suspect you are already doing much of what you need to improve on your improv. This advice comes from someone who is not good at it, so take it with a grain of salt, but here is what I suggest: Play a ton, play different things, keep it simple until you can nail the basic tune by ear, play until you can “think sounds” and your fingers can make it reality without your brain getting in the way, and slowly add more licks or scale based connecting notes to the equation.

Thanks for the response Mike and the suggestions/ideas.

I’m not much of a BG “jammer” either… but I do want to improve on this substantially. I’m in essence still in the beginners stage of jamming. Sure I might fool the audience but I am not fooling other musicians who are looking for a melody based improvised break…and there is no doubt that I am not fooling myself.

This subject of musical improvisation is very interesting to me. I know one has to possess the ability to be creative. I guess creativity may show up about 5% of the time in my noggin’. The rest of the time I’m playing rehearsed or have decided to try an improvised break based on the melody. I typically end up getting twisted up in knots (off the melody) and find myself bailing back inside of a scale shape and hitting notes while searching for a way out. Sometimes I have no way out and simply tell myself to stop and get back on it when the next measure comes around.

I’m hoping to find some resources somewhere on how one can improve at improvisation. I’m starting to think that I may well just need to see a psychologist or psychiatrist in order to better get in tune with my creative self. Maybe some yoga? :smiley:

Is musical improv “learned”? Is improv really improv or are we memorizing so many lines/licks/patterns that we simply plug them in and it sounds like improv?

In the future if you stumble onto anything that covers this subject then please feel free to share. I’m pretty sure this thread will die off, however don’t think I would no longer appreciate some info 6 months down the road.

If you are interested here is a video from “TED Talks”. I had watched other TED Talks in the past and was pleasantly surprised when I found one on music improv. It’s fairly interesting.