It’s one thing to know about chords and harmony, and another thing to access that knowledge on an actual guitar. Unlike sight-reading approaches, which are designed for quickly locating specific pitches on the fingerboard, guitar improvisation relies on a system of shapes that work in any key.
This lets you build phrases on the fly, in a way that matches both the rhythm and harmony of the underlying tune. The way great players do this, seeming to almost preternaturally anticipate where the chords and groove are headed, is amazing to watch, and deceptively tricky to understand. But it’s done by connecting these fretboard shapes almost like Legos.
So building out your improvisational vocabulary isn’t just a musical pursuit — it’s also mechanical. In this quick tutorial, we’re going to jumpstart that process for you with a cool jazz-inspired arpeggio phrase that you can use any time you’re playing over a dominant chord.
Improvising on the guitar involves two main challenges:
- Musical knowledge: harmony, chords, and theory
- Mapping: fretboard locations of those notes and chords
In this free lesson, we address the second puzzle, fretboard mapping. Why the second one?
For one, you can have a strong foundation in harmony, and still not understand how to navigate the fretboard on the fly, during improvisation. So, in our experience, the mapping aspect of improvisation is less discussed and less understood. For us, this makes it an ideal subject to teach.
Do you know a lot of harmony but still hit a roadblock when trying to improvise? If that’s you: watch this video!
If you don’t have a good grasp on harmony, don’t worry about it! Work through the phrase in this lesson, and you’ll learn a bit about what 13 chords and dominant lines sound like.
Two Important Questions
Finished watching? We’d love to know what you think!
- Do you like the topic of fretboard mapping and how we covered it? Was the video easy to understand? Do you want to learn more?
- Do you feel like you need more harmony knowledge in order to understand this kind of lesson better?
Let us know what you’d like to see by clicking below to comment on the forum. If you can help us answer these questions, we’ll do our best to work on making the videos you need to understand these topics!