I remember a story I once read in one of Miles Davis’ biographies. It was about a conversation between Miles and John Coltrane. Miles was tired to death of Coltrane’s never ending solos and invited him to make them shorter…to which Coltrane said: “I just can’t stop playing!” Miles answered: “Just take your horn off your mouth!”
It’s that simple. I think as guitar players we have all been guilty to play too much, too loudly…
In my search for a more inspired approach to improvisation, I experimented different strategies. Something that really helped me to play more creatively was to learn to “not play”.
Here’s how to start practicing it:
1) Divide a twelve bar blues into three sections, each one consisting of 4 bars. Start soloing over the first 4 bars and then rest. After 4 bars, start playing again, and so forth. Invert the order. Rest 4 bars then play…
2) Select different bar groupings. Consider odd combinations: play for 3 bars, rest for 2. Stop for 1 bar play for 3, etc…
You will soon realize that you can relax more, come up with more creative ideas and you will develop the ability to “say” something interesting without even being conscious of it.
You will also start listening to what your band mates are doing, what chords the bass player is outlining, the rhythmic ideas put forward by the drummer etc…and you will also start suggesting ideas to the rest of the band.
However, this will take dedication and focus.
You should be working on this at least 30 minutes/practicing session. You sit down on a comfortable chair, and practice all possible combinations. Experiment with different types of accompaniment. One day you use a metronome, another day a sequencer, another day even no accompaniment at all! Try different styles as well…see what happens playing over a swing tune, then a Latin one and so on. Of course you should try this approach on different chord changes. Try “II V I” progressions and then see what happens with standards.
Important! After you practice consciously, get up, make yourself a cup of coffee and chill… Then spend something like 10 minutes playing just for the fun of it…
You’ll notice immediately how this exercise dramatically changes your playing from the feedback you’ll get from who listens to you during your performances. People will feel that something is going on, a story being told…they’ll stop chatting to pay attention to your music…that is incredible experience, believe me.
I remember a rehearsal with a jazz orchestra years ago… I didn’t like the conductor very much but he said something that I still remember:
“When you are soloing, imagine that you are getting paid for the notes you are not playing”
That is an interesting point of view… and a smart way to make more money:-)