Lead Guitar Improvisation - Are You Expecting A Magic Bullet?

Learning to improvise lead guitar solos can be an extremely rewarding experience. There's an amazing feeling when you manage to play something off-the-cuff that sounds great. At the same time, learning to improvise can also be an incredibly frustrating experience at times. I'm sure almost every guitarist has gone through phases of feeling like they can't express themselves how they would ideally like. (I know that I have certainly felt frustrated with my improvising at times!).

And guess what?

This frustration is perfectly normal. It's part of the growth process. That frustration is what drives most of us to learn more, practice more and eventually improvise with much more fluidity and skill. And that's a great thing.

But this frustration can also cause some guitar player to seek out a magic bullet. In other words, they are looking for some tips or advice that will magically improve their improvisation in a very short period of time.

And why is this a bad thing?

Because they'll waste heaps of time searching for the magic bullet rather than putting the time into practicing things that will help their improvisation. It's kind of like some people looking for a magical diet to lose weight…rather than just eating less and exercising more.

To see an example of someone looking for a magic bullet, below is a situation that I've encountered a LOT over the years. (Any resemblance to a person living or dead is purely coincidental. :-) ).

 Be A Fly On The Wall During A Fictitious Guitar Lesson…


Student: Craig, I'm not happy with my improvisation.

Craig: What about it don't you like?

Student: Well…it's just not good enough. What can I do to improve it?

Craig: It's not a simple answer. But here are a few ideas. Have you learned any new licks recently?

Student: No.

Craig: What about transcribing? Have you worked out any solos that you like by ear?

Student: No.

Craig: What about rhythms…have you been working on the rhythmic motifs sheets that I gave you a couple of lessons ago?

Student: No.

Craig: What about scales and arpeggios? Have you mastered the exercises that I gave you?

Student: Not yet. I kind of got bored with them. I practiced them for a week and it didn't seem to help too much.

Craig: Well, maybe try practicing them until you have mastered them up to the speed that I recommended.

[I continue to ask questions and give suggestions for the next 30 minutes].

Student: OK…I'll start working hard at the stuff you've already given me.

[One month passes].

Student: Craig, I'm not happy with the way that I'm improvising.

Craig: What specifically don't you like about it?

Student: I don't know…it's just not good enough. I want it to be better.

Craig: Have you been working on the stuff that we talked about a while back?

Student: No.


[Craig snaps and grabs a battle-axe and decapitates the unfortunate student].


Luckily, the vast majority of people who start getting guitar lessons from me aren't like this. And the ones who are like this don't remain a student for long…

They usually stop after a few lessons when they realize that getting good at improvisation will require hard work, internalization of many different musical materials, persistence and a long-term mindset. And to be honest, I'm glad to see them go. I want to focus my energy on helping people who are enthusiastic, hard-working and don't frustrate the hell out of me. :-)

That's all for now. In a future article I'll give you some ideas of some specific things that you may want to practice. But for now, I invite you to use your own brain and do the following exercise…


Please invest the next 30 minutes doing the following…

  • Write down at least five specific things that you would like to improve about your improvisation.
  • Write down at least ten specific things that you would need to practice in order to improve your lead guitar improvisation.

Practice hard and I'll see you next time!

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