Carl Verheyen masterclass
Milton Mermikides introduces the last of our excellent video masterclasses with American virtuoso, Carl Verheyen, who this month digs deeper into improvisational concepts.
over backing tracks, we had high expectations. He managed to be hugely impressive and inspiring in terms of his fluent musicality and improvisational flair, and in a couple of hours had produced enough material for no less than seven GT articles, and at least as many years of guitaristic inspiration. However, in this last installment, rather than transcribe and analyse another one of his improvised solos, we dug deeper into his approach to shed some light on how he achieved, and continues to his develop, his improvisational skill.
Rather than taking an unorganised approach to improvisation, Carl has for the last 37 years been cataloguing all his improvisational ideas - transcribing his licks on paper in order to help embed them into his playing (to “get lines under my hands”). He says that from his perspective (which in fact aligns with what many other improvisers have said), we only come up with truly original material for a fraction of the time that we're improvising (Carl estimates it as about 30%). The significant remainder of the time most of us – whether we admit it or not – are relying on a pre-existing stockpile of licks. Examples 1-3 demonstrate just three out of hundreds of licks that Carl has transcribed and absorbed for playing over an F minor chord. Carl’s approach is to continually work at strengthening, improving and expanding that ‘70%’ baseline vocabulary. He achieves this by transcribing any new ideas he comes up with while jamming, and adding it to the stockpile. Most importantly, he works at integrating any new idea within his pre-existing material, so that his options widen even further during improvisation. Carl shows this with a newly acquired lick (Example 4 – a
wide intervallic pattern using the root, b3, 5th and b7 of an F minor chord) and shows how this short musical idea might be integrated in F minor material (Examples 5 and 6).
Rather than leave it at that, Carl shows how a one-note adjustment to the melodic idea in Example 4 results in a phrase that works beautifully over Bb7 (Example 7), and continues by demonstrating how it can be integrated with Bb7 material in his preexisting vocabulary (Example 8). Furthermore, although Example 4 was born of an F minor context, Carl shows how the exact same lick can work for D-flat major (Example 9) implying a Dbadd9 chord (what Carl calls “a Db2 chord”). He shows how this idea works beautifully over Db major in a long free phrase which uses the idea twice.
The final piece of the puzzle is placed, when Carl shows how – through transposition – we can now adapt the musical idea for any minor or major chord (and with the note adjustment, any dominant chord). Carl’s final example uses Example 4 transposed down a semitone in order to work over a C major context.
All of these phrases are very musical and worth learning, but the biggest lesson here is the excellent template Carl offers in how one can build a large (and personalised) improvisational vocabulary for use in spontaneous musical expression!
We only come up with truly original material for a fraction of the time that we’re improvising. Carl Verheyen