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This guitar lesson explains how to improvise on guitar. The most important part of improvising guitar is to know where all the notes on the guitar neck are. You should be able to glance at any note on the fretboard and know its name. If you don’t know what guitar notes you are playing you will find improvising extremely difficult.

Printable diagram of all the notes on the guitar neck.

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Other things to consider when improvising guitar are scale choices, techniques you wish to employ, and phrasing. Assuming you know the notes on the guitar neck, the next consideration is choosing the right scale. The first scale to master for improvising guitar is the Pentatonic scale. Pentatonic means five tones. In this case we will be using the Minor Pentatonic. It’s a safe choice when improvising guitar because the 2nd and 6th scale degrees are omitted making it quite versatile. With two less notes to worry about, it’s easier to make Pentatonic licks fit a variety of guitar leads.

Example 1: To decide what guitar scales to use look at what notes are within the guitar chords you are going to play over. Our rhythm progression contains two chords, A5 and D7. Both of these guitar chords belong to the key of A minor. A5 has two notes, A and E. Notice that this chord is neither major nor minor so we will be able to play a wide variety of scales and modes over it. The second chord, D7 has four notes, D , F#, A, and C. For this example we will stick to A minor pentatonic because it will work well over both chords. For future reference, the D7 chord is derived from the A Dorian minor scale which contains a raised 6th tone. Notice again that the minor pentatonic does not contain a 6th. After nailing down the pentatonic scale, try adding the F# note (7th fret b string) to the pentatonic scale (pattern #1) and you will end up with the Dorian mode sound.

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Example 2:
Here are two patterns of A minor pentatonic. First, memorize them. Now you remember what notes the chords contain right? These notes are called chord tones. When starting or stopping a lick you will want it to be on a chord tone. This will make the lick sound as if it fits the song. The tonal center, in this case, is the A note. Therefore, you will build licks around the A note. However, when playing over the D chord you may also treat the D note as the tonal center. This will help to lock you in with the chord changes and once again, make the lick sound as if it fits.

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