A Rhythmic Approach to Improvisation

...this exercise will massively boost your rhythmic creativity!

Intermediate to early advanced guitar players commonly face the problem that their lead guitar improvisation sounds like they are doing the same things over and over again. After a couple of minutes their playing becomes boring and predictable. This can become frustrating when it is your goal to make music that is interesting and grabs the attention of the listener. We as guitar players do not want to bore our audience - we want to make them to be hit emotionally by every single note that comes out of our guitar and we want them to listen attentively and with enthusiasm.


The reason why many guitar players struggle to make their improvisation sound diversified and interesting longer than two minutes is because they practice it only by directly improvising without further thought and mindfulness about what they really do. This way they are never challenged to move out of their musical „comfort zone“ while playing the same things over and over again.

Innovative practice approaches for improvisation go much deeper than the common „noodling“ approach because they manage to keep the brain of the guitar player engaged all the time. This is what we are supposed to strive for if we really want to make the most of our time in every single practice session.


So here is one of these approaches that will help you to to engage your brain during improvisation practice and step out of the „always noodling the same stuff“ box. It will greatly enhance your...

  • Ability to make your improvisation sound more interesting, less predictable and attention grabbing
  • Creativity for songwriting ideas
  • Rhythmic awareness and aural skills
  • Rhythmic accuracy
  • Rhythmic sight reading skills

The fundamental problem here is, that many people focus more on which notes they play during improvisation (wich is important beyond doubt) while neglecting to ask themselves which rhythmic possibilities they can use to make their music sound interesting!

Thats why this assignment is not about pentatonics, scales or arpeggios but about rhythmic variations and their application and implementation into improvisation.


Here is what you should do:

  • Write down a simple rhythm that you can handle, understand and play/strum on a sheet of paper. Here is a simple example:
  • Make sure you are able to clap that rhythm with your hand or strum it using deadnotes on guitar. Make sure to be able to play it along with a metronome at a speed thats appropriate to the backing tracks you normally use during improvisation sessions.
  • Ifyougotthatdowngoaheadandimproviseeitheroverametronomeoroverabacking track by using this very rhythm as a constriction to your playing. Find as many ways how to use this rhythm as possible - there are practically no limits. Don’t drift off, don’t play anything else, this is mindful and focused practice, no time here for noodling around!
  • After you got familiar with that rhythm and its application try to find more and more variations, write them down and repeat the whole process. Over time you can build a library on your computer or in a notebook where you gather the ideas you liked the most.

If your are an advanced player and think this is too easy here are some ideas how to make it more challenging:

  • Count out loud while improvising
  • Make the rhythms harder by using sixteenth notes, triplets, syncopations, brakes, tremolo picking, polyrhythm etc.
  • Increase the length of the rhythmic section
  • Increase the speed of the backing track or the metronome
  • Combine different rhythmic variations by switching to and fro between them during improvisation

There are no limits to this exercise and even highly advanced players can benefit from it because you can make it infinitely difficult while you are also able to keep it very simple and on a basic level.


Over time - if you use this approach regularly - you will realise that your music sounds more interesting and less predictable. You will find that your music gets more expressive and that you will enjoy improvisation more and more. What happens is that your „musical toolbox“ in your head has grown massively and you are now able to pull off more tricks from your subconscious without having to put a lot of active thought into it.


Mind that the key to getting to this level is to consciously use this and other practicing approaches on a consistent basis. Don’t get frustrated if it is hard at the beginning! It is always hard at the beginning but you can only grow as a musician if you challenge yourself to step out of your comfort zone and practice things that don’t come easy in the beginning.


„Hard work beats talent - Always, there are no exceptions!“

This article was written for stlouisguitarlessons.net, a very successful music school owned by Mr. Charles Long.