How do I get started with improvisation? (Premier Guitar Column)

This is something you’ll hear from me over and over again: The true reward of practicing is in the practice itself. In other words, don’t shortchange yourself by skipping steps to get ahead. After all, who is ever ahead of anyone in music, really? One mistake that many intermediate players make is to assume the practice of music is something linear. To begin working with modes, one might imagine it necessary to master the first mode, and then move onto the second, and then the third. Personally, in my decades of study, I haven’t had much success with this approach.

When pondering how guitarists actually improve at the instrument, I like to think less about a straight line and more about the idea of Russian dolls. If you unpack the largest in a set of dolls, there is a slightly smaller one inside. This smaller doll contains an even smaller one, and so on. My secret to mastering complex information has been to find the smallest manageable nugget of information and milk it for all its worth, trusting that this will lead to larger and more complex nuggets. It’s like working with Russian dolls in reverse.

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