So after three months of discussing basic approaches to improvisation, how to locate simple intervals on the fingerboard, and harmonic concepts common to most versions of the blues, I witnessed a student of mine take a guitar solo in which he was playing spontaneously around points of change in the harmony, rather than by repeating shapes or licks he had learned from someone. In other words, I just watched someone improvise (really improvise) for the first time ever. Pretty amazing, to get to be there.
The student turned to me with a sort of surprised-looking grin and exclaimed, “I think I just had a breakthrough!”
Witnessing this shift in consciousness from being at the mercy of one’s fingertips to being aware of and able to interact with points of change between one key center and the next has always been, for me, one of the more profound rewards of choosing to be not just a player but a teacher of the instrument. One can only hope that we all have these moments, and that they remind us why it continues to be such an exciting thing to practice and to play.
I’d like to take a moment to talk about two potential pitfalls that come from experiencing this kind of success.