Breaking Through

Hello all! I’m Gerry. This is my first post. I’ve been reading on here for a couple months now. I have found this board to be quite helpful during this season of discovery for me. I am happy to have found this place. I just want to thank you all and introduce myself. Apologies in advance as I am bound to ramble.

I play the guitar and have for 13 years. I’ve always been drawn towards writing songs and specifically lyrics and listening to stuff like Willie Nelson, John Prine or Bob Dylan. How they played guitar often seemed straightforward and attainable and i figured I would be satisfied if I could at least get solid at the “easy stuff”. I really wanted to sing and strum chords.

This did satisfy me for years. I practiced a lot and got better. Sang songs and had a great time. These years were beatiful and I wrote some songs i’m still proud of. All the while not really knowing what i was doing musically but just making stuff up that sounded cool and following and tweaking patterns i had seen other people do.

I started thinking about the major scale when I was learning the walk downs on the Willie Nelson album Red Headed Stranger. This is how I’ve always wanted to sound. Willie and his nylon strings have always inspired me to be great.

I was improving in technical ways but in my head I still felt lost musically. I was trying to memorize or write down so much and ended up forgetting most of it. I couldn’t communicate effectively with serious musicians and didnt really know what to do whenever i got an opportunity to improvise.

I found the IFR book a little over a year ago. It was quite impactful and knocked down a huge mental block for me. The major scale was something i had known and memorized. But i never considered how it extended itself all around the instrument. That sounds silly in hindsight, but i didn’t utilize it. I didn’t understand its importance. How to weave up and down and get back home when i needed to. I suddenly saw the guitar in a new light with endless possibilities.

I recently started the Chord Melody workshop. I have been taking my time with it and am really seeing a huge leap of understanding on how to build chords and as a side benfit its hammering home these note relationships across the strings in a way I hadn’t known before. All of a sudden im seeing the connections everywhere. Its exciting.

My only hangup is I feel like im playing so slow. Maybe that’s good. I feel this voice in my head always trying to crank it up a notch. I keep envisioning myself in a controlled matter just blasting through the notes and creating this incredible solo but i cant seem seem to reach it without losing the thread or sounding basic or generic. Sometimes I almost feel chained to hitting the right notes and putting them all right where they should go each measure. Its pleasing and everything works out as neatly as a Hallmark Christmas movie.

I guess my question is, what does it look like in your improvisations when you really break out of that safety net and build a solo that disrupts your expectations and rises to its mightiest peak? Something that makes your own heart quiver. How do you practice and find this skill? Maybe this is the impossible question that words cant express. Maybe I’ve just got to be patient and keep digging for it.

Perhaps I’m struggling to find my inner creativity and trusting my musical mind. If anybody has any ideas let me know. :call_me_hand:

Welcome to the forum @Gerry

A really big thing for me was doing @Jelske 's “Introduction to Melodic Improvising” course last Autumn.

Essentially it’s the same stuff you’ve been reading in IFR, but somehow Jelske supercharges it.

I did it as the full 12 week workshop, i.e. as an interactive group, lead by Jelske (as opposed to the video course option), so there was the added (& I believe important for me) aspect of feedback from Jelske on my recordings.

What did it give me? Tons of stuff, but if I were to pick out a few points they might include:

Increased confidence in general.

Greater willingness to pace my playing, i.e. not just going for lots of notes, playing slow when it’s right (& it often is - slow allows for more expression aside from other things).

An understanding that you can ‘tell a story’ while improvising without having to know in advance where that story is going.

I’m no great player. I’m still a beginner (less than 3 years with guitar), but I’m less of a beginner than I was, and I do enjoy my practice.

PS. I’m currently doing Jelske’s “Mixed Harmony” followup course & that’s every bit as good. :slight_smile:

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Thanks for mentioning my courses @DavidW.

@Gerry: Please find all details on the 12-week workshop below. I believe that working in a tight-knit community, combined with some of my personal feedback, can really help you overcome inhibitions and deal with this little voice within that isn’t always helpful for our progress. Feel free to send me an e-mail if you wish to have a direct chat with me regarding the workshop ( Or ‘tag’ me in your reply here. Happy to help!
Introduction to Melodic Improvising | Improvise for Real

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Gerry, think of it like learning a foreign language like Mandarin Chinese. First you have to go very slow - learn individual words, short phrases, etc Learn the new sounds of the new language. Immerse yourself in Chinese sounds and conversation. Then after you’ve been at it for a while (individual mileage will vary), your brain naturally starts to put things together. And you can then speak Chinese spontaneously. But it takes time, and the process can’t be rushed if you are aiming at genuine mastery.

So how do you practice learning to speak Chinese? Speak Chinese as often as you can, just immerse yourself in it. You mind will then, all by itself, let you speak spontaneously in Chinese. But, don’t rush it. True mastery takes time and lots of time speaking, and understanding, and speaking some more.

With music, learn to recognize the sounds like they are the faces of family members. Then short phrases. Then longer phrases. Internalize all this. Play a lot. Listen hard to the sounds, and play some more. Eventually, your mind will make up lines for you to play all by itself. And with luck, you will be able to play what you hear. The IFR exercises will get you there.

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