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How To Improvise With Pentatonic Scales

Guitar Improvisation

Two Musicians Get Together and Magic Happens, Why?

T: Why do we play comfortably together? This is the magic that we have talked about many times. Two musicians get together. What has to happen for this magic to occur?

I have heard musicians state they enter a magical realm  in the improvisation they cannot describe but this magic can definitely be described and recreated intentionally.

Space and Groove

When I play the guitar with you, we each maintain our own space, the common element is the tempo, we both go for the groove, but I understand the groove in my own way and you in yours. We maintain this difference in perception and we groove together, this creates a lot of space and since each of us defines with precision his role as lead or accompaniment with extreme independence, it always sounds good, there are never any issues with the volumen, we can hear ourselves with clarity, there are no conflicts when we are developing our improvisation.

The Magic

All of this creates a magical space. When I play with you all barriers disappear and the only thing left is for the creativity to come out, the door is open. I do not have to worry about the groove anymore, I just flow, I can hear all the chords and melodies I want to play in advance.

This is a natural way of guitar improvisation.

J: Yep I agree!

T: This is a monologue.

It is more About Listening than Playing

J. Another way of looking at this is how we listen. Musicians develop a great capacity to listen to what is happening around us as we participate in real time. The objective is the listening, magic occurs when we play the guitar together, improvise and listen.  It then becomes more of a listening experience than a playing experience.

If we develop our improvisation without listening we cannot develop further our collaboration but as we learn to listen to each other, the more musical the language we are able to create and share. It is like a concept of space and time where we extend our horizons.

T: In my previous monologue I did not mention the word listen. Actually, everything I said was with the sole objective of listening. The structure I mentioned is what allows us to be able to listen with clarity. Say whatever you want and I am listening.

When we play there are actually two melodic lines at the same time but since we are listening to each other in the groove, they work well.

J. It is a concept of group work

T: Yes, but one more thing, the sensation that this creates in us is that of extreme pleasure. After we have played for half an hour I just end up totally relaxed and floating in space.

Why do we not Connect with other Musicians?

J: Yes, this process is very interesting. So when this magic does not happen, why doesn’t it happen? Maybe you can repeat your monologue in a negative manner.

T: Why doesn’t this happen to you with other musicians?

J: Well, in life there are people that I connect with better than others, as we are on the same wavelength

Connecting is Sharing

T. Is it this person’s  wavelength or his or her keenness to connect on this wavelength? We have a choice where when we play, during our improvisation, we choose to share. Others do not share and this creates a very uncomfortable musical setting.

Why do you enjoy playing with some musicians and not with others?

Respect is the Key

J: I have another word, respect. So listen and respect. These two actions create the pathway to the success of our improvisation. I listen to you and with respect I react to what comes my way and I do not impose. What will happen, we just allow it to happen, and with very little impulse.  That is I start off playing just a few notes and leave a lot of space. Later on there will be time for more impulses as the flow will take you there, but we have to leave space, respect and move slowly into the creative flow.

Guitar Improvisation Thomas and Johnny

The Adventure Into the Unknown Realm 

T: You have compared the experience to an adventure into the unknown. The respect, the space, it is not about what I want to say but what the group situation needs.

J: We do not know what will happen.

T: Yes this is what improvisation is about. So what will happen, I do not know, it depends on what each of us wants to give, this is the magic. Maybe this is why I experience so much pleasure and good vibes as we both intercat in a spontaneous manner with respect and space, but I must say we can improvise freely because we know all the chords scales, melody, structure we are masters of all the tools, the knowledge is the gateway that allows us to be free.

So with this feeling of the adventure of not knowing what will happen, our creativity becomes limitless.

Freedom by Sharing

J: Freedom occurs.

T: Yes, a tremendous freedom that does not occur when you are alone.

J: Yes if we share, we can go further, since there is a constant feedback that goes back and forth between the players. I give you a note and you give me back another one and we seek to add beauty to each other’s playing and if you give me something that I am actually in need of, or hearing, this gives me more energy to continue proposing new ideas to you.

It is a conversation.

The Musical Conversation Intuition

T: But how do we know that I’m giving you what you are in need of ?

J. There is an intuition which is part of what being musical is about, that we have inside of us, that I find hard to describe.

When you play a lot with another person he or she is giving you an input, that is telling you that they are  going in that direction we both know, and we head on there and then we go to another place and so on.

And in our playing we discover new places we have never been to before and it becomes a great new day.

The Emotion Goes Beyond the Spoken Language

J: Could it be that with music we can express what we are not able to say with words that come from deep inside our intuition. Words can express concepts but they do not reach the dimension of music. When we start playing we enter a new dimension, where the expression of the emotion goes beyond the spoken language

T:  Yes I agree. We have the conscious part of our brain that can perceive a reality, the spoken word reflects just part of the reality but music is also a reflection of the same perception, but the unconscious part of the brain that we are not aware of. You need maturity to flow with your unconscious side as this can be very uncomfortable, if you have not fully understood your past and your feelings,  and have not established limits to help these come through with ease.

Music Requires no Understanding

In summary, to play what you feel is easy, to play this more developed understanding of existence is easy, however it is very difficult to play the way we talk as when we try to explain to others to make them understand. In music there is none of this. We understand everything each other says. Actually when I play with you I do not have to understand anything.

And this way of existing creates more pleasure than the regular communication we use in our daily lives to explain to others the why, when, where, how.

Political Language Versus the Music World

J: This world of  political nature in contrast to the music world. Politics are all those things we have to do everyday to survive in a material and practical way.

T: Isn’t music practical and materialistic in nature? Is it not more of a  real manner of perceiving existence?

J: Yes, for me it is.

T: When we start playing a lot of problems get solved.

We Improvise to Add Beauty to Existing Harmony

J: There is also another aspect that we musicians understand better. When we create melodies and develop  our improvisation, in the optimal state, we add  beauty to the existing harmonic context.   We are saying with music how beautiful this particular melody is in relation to this chord. Look at how I play the #9 th or b5th. I am describing and adding light on top of the existing chords with the melody I create, which is what I hear in the music and share with my exterior.

Melody has this function of underlining harmonic beauty.

When I play I am describing the harmony with my melody that I like and choose what part of the harmony I want to share with you.

T: If we were to compare it with the spoken language, the melody are the musical words. All the harmony, the context, are there to let this melody come out to converse with you and others.

What is Blues 

T:I perceive that when we get into blues this relationship of chords and melodies disappear.

J: Yes, blues is a presence. Without presence there is no blues. I am here. I am playing this thing that is blues. There is a lot of presence. It is the final sentencing, it is what it is.

T: Blues is a presence so how do you explain this to someone who has never played blues .

How do you teach this ?

Others might say yeah you need to learn the blues scale.

J: No, that is something else.

T: I think the blues expression is what gives this cutting edge to jazz, funk, soul and actually all contemporary music styles.

J: Blues is the matrix of the climax of all these styles.

T: All extreme expression comes from the blues that everyone has learnt starting with the Beatles.

J:. I am going to invite you to another reflexion to see what your opinion is.

What Does it Mean to Sound Good?

We have rhythm and harmony and on the other side we have melody. In any school you can learn harmony and rhythm effectively but melody is something more of an individual pathway and learning process.

It is a mystery why certain notes work well today in this progression and tomorrow they may not at all. There is no academic explanation for this fact of what sounds good or not. There are also musicians that are extremely expressive and you analyse their solo and they are only playing 3 notes.

There are notes you play that sometimes do not work. You try them and you know it does not feel right. Then you play two other notes and you know that this sounds right. Also as a music producer this is the core element to our decision making,

T: No you cannot teach this concept.

J: If we apply this to blues where the objective is to be there and disconnect from the harmony this even breaks further the concept of melody as we only concentrate on the melody with no or little relationship with the harmonic context

T:  Yes, you break all the set parameters when you do this. You are actually not following the harmonic progression and during your improvisation and wish to stand out you have to feel and play in this manner. You have to sound independent, that is how you achieve the climax.

Sing What you Hear and Play it 

The secret is to sing and play what you hear and it will always sound good. You might even end up playing avoid notes, breaking the rules but sounding great, or the chord is a Dm and I am not playing the Dm but improvising with blues in C and it sounds great. Why?, because I heard it and I can sing it.

Teachers Present the Sounds

Anyway, I can sing it because we have been developing melodies for many years. The learning process creates awareness of the existence of the sound. As teachers we present these sounds to students, then they use it and develop it ,and down the track after many months of practice these sounds will form part of your natural vocabulary to play something you like.

Everyone knows what sounds good or bad. But why does something sound good? What do you think?


J:I like what you are saying and I am also hearing the concept of being sincere with one self.

To play or not to play with sincerity. I am playing what I hear.

T: What are you hearing? You mentioned a melody but you cannot think

in advance what note you are going to play, you hear it and you play it .

J:You are not thinking about a note, you are hearing it. There is someone inside of us that is the music lover that selected the right note for you.

The Musician Inside of us

T:  Can you imagine that inside of us we do have different people, a guardian angel or the musician?

J:  Yes we have fed for many years this musician inside of us. We listen to music all day, we are hearing music everywhere we go and that comes out when we play.

T:  It’s fascinating to see it like this and actually very nice. Yes we have this musician inside of us that is not the person who for example, has to argue with the tax office.

J  I agree with extreme comparison. The other is the instinct to survive.

The Musician Inside of us

T:  Can you imagine that inside of us we do have different people, a guardian angel or the musician?

J:  Yes we have fed for many years this musician inside of us. We listen to music all day, we are hearing music everywhere we go and that comes out when we play.

T:  It’s fascinating to see it like this and actually very nice. Yes we have this musician inside of us that is not the person who for example, has to argue with the tax office.

J  I agree with extreme comparison. The other is the instinct to survive.

T: In music there is none of the live world human standard interaction. There is  no music that comes along that takes on the role of the tax agent.

Music is a Safe Haven 

J: Music is a safe haven.

T: Yes, what a beautiful word.

J: Music is a safe haven and if you are immersed in music you feel safe as it takes you into a territory where there is a lot of peace.

T: Johnny you do a lot of things differently to how I do them, but but both of us are really doing the same thing,

J: Yes we say it in different ways but with the same objective.

T: Yes, I say something and you say something, we say it differently but in the end the feel is the same. The difference can be a consequence of life experiences, cultural differences and the spoken language. For example I am more of an Australian culture and you are more Italian, we have the common language of Vastilian.

This is fascinating as we have the same objective but the pathway differs to achieve it.

J: I am going to put up here a link to live performances we have. Well we will see you all in the next session.

T: Thank you all for listening and you are welcomed to suggest new content for our next sessions.

J: Please share you comments

T: Let’s keep on working together to make music grow as a community, let’s paint the world in a different colour.


Thomas Lorenzo

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