BACKING TRACKS – I NEED FOCUS!
I love jamming over backing tracks and, as I’m not in a band at the moment, it’s my only real way of trying to extend my improvising capabilities. The trouble is, after about a minute there I am again, noodling aimlessly over the chords and not really knowing what I should be doing. Some simple tips or tricks (short cuts even) to making my practice sessions more rewarding and ultimately beneficial to my playing (surely the whole point of the exercise) would be appreciated. Thanks... James, Ealing, London
Actually a few people have asked us the same question recently, so music editor Jason Sidwell has put together a practice road map that should help. Follow this and your backing track sessions should be much more worthwhile… 1) Develop a good understanding of the track - play the chords for a while to link in, but don’t do any soloing over them yet! 2) Next, pick out single notes from the chords - aim for just one note per bar (really!); focus on playing a chord tone (a note derived from the chord) so you’re always choosing ‘correct’ notes. 3) Milk the minor pentatonic - a bluesy backing track in, say, A minor (Am7, Dm7, Em7) will allow you to use the A minor pentatonic scale over it all, and you won’t sound wrong (creating licks using this scale allows you to ‘feel’ how they need to be phrased, too). 4) Pull out one or two good chord tones over each chord in turn - sticking with our Am, Dm, Em blues, most chord tones are to be found in A minor pentatonic; do this and you’re bedding in a process that will serve you well in situations that presents you with more tricky, or thought provoking, chord progressions. 5) Find common notes - in a progression such as Gmaj7-Emaj7, no single scale will serve you over both chords, but there are notes that are shared (B is the 3rd of Gmaj7 and the 5th of Emaj7 and so on). So when soloing over these two chords opt for common denominator notes as ‘target’ notes, and then when more confident, add in notes unique to each chord. Start with one (or two) good notes for each chord then develop things from there. This is a very fruitful approach for many players. 6) Learn what the chord changes are and when they are occurring – when soloing over a track that’s more complicated than a blues, knowing where you are is vital, so playing rhythmic chords along to it, is a logical first step. The more you develop the link and your understanding between chords, chord tones and general scales, the better a musician you will be.
If you too struggle with James’s problem, make a point of actually trying this, to the letter. In fact, Jason’s points are so good that I think an entire lesson devoted to this topic – with expanded examples and further hints and tips – is a must for a future issue.
Try Jason’s ideas over the backing tracks
he created for this month’s issue.