February 4, 2014

I have to confess something.  I'm terrified of improvising.  I grew up listening to amazing jazz records that showcased the most astounding feats of improvised playing - it sounded composed but it was so free!  You could just hear the gears in the player's head whirring so fast...


I've known for along time that I'm a slow thinker.  Not that I'm dumb (don't ask around though) but I just process things at a pace more suited to a Saturday morning with a cup of coffee and a big window to stare out of blankly while I consider my response to your insightful question.


When faced with chord changes that are moving about one chord per every one or two seconds, I just freeze.  Now to be fair, I've got a lot better than I used to be.  I spend daily time now, improvising over now-familiar chord progressions.  I outline the arpeggios and make sure the important notes get heard.  I become familiar with the 'in's and 'out's of the harmonies.  But when I know I have a solo to play at a show, I write it.  Not that I sit down with pen and paper, but I create a solo that will sound improvised... but it's not.


Now don't be too eager to judge.  There are a ton of great (and now iconic) rock guitar solos that were mapped out ahead of time.  And what I do is hardly different.  Actually, anymore I don't stop at writing one solo.  I try to write two or three, using really different ideas.  The result is that, at the show, no one of those solos gets played.  I draw confidence from knowing that I have any part of three different (well-thought-out) solos in my fingers at any given moment.  And that confidence sometimes leads me down a path that none of my pre-written solos dared.


So last week, at the Clearfield Salon, when Josh and I broke it down in the middle of Rise, I wasn't too nervous.  He started it off - which helped! - and I only used the tail end of what I had worked out in advance.  It was a really smooth transition from the peak of the solo back into the head of the tune.  Since I was already a little extra nervous that night, leaning on that one piece made the break down section come to a really satisfying close.


Next time you see us live, you'll know a little more of what's going through my head...


Til then.


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