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Improvisation on the classical guitar II: The Invention

Clearly, a lot of guitarists are interested in the subject of improvising with the goal of composing in mind, judging by the amount of feedback that was left after my previous post, so I shall continue.

Assuming you are now familiar with the whole neck in the key you have chosen, the next step is coming up with an invention. By this I mean a simple musical motif that will be the basis of the development of the composition. It will keep reoccurring throughout the piece and will undergo many changes which will give the music a sense of familiarity while also providing the opportunity to take the music in different directions. Look on the invention as a device that you can return to when the music runs out of steam or when a change is needed to prevent stagnation or predictability.

A quick note on the invention itself. That is completely up to you. It may be a melodic phrase, part arpeggio - part scale. It could be a chord followed by a melodic phrase or arpeggio or vice versa. It may be a rhythmic idea, think Beethoven's fifth symphony. That little four note invention in that gives piece enough ideas to create a movement that lasts around seven minutes.

Once the key of the music is decided, time is needed to play around using the scales and arpeggios, as mentioned in the previous post. Assuming that the whole neck is now under the fingers, play around with whatever feels good, mixing chords, modal positions and arpeggios until something catches your ear.

It may be that an idea is heard internally, a phrase or a feeling that can be put into sound, or if no preconceived ideas exist, then just play. Keep going, it may take ten minutes or ten hours, but the first step is something that makes you go 'Ooh'. Bear in mind, if this is new to you, that frustration is normal, you will have doubts about your ability to compose, you will hear internal dialogue such as 'I can't do this' or 'I'm a classical guitarist, I just play other people's music', but ignore it. Trust yourself, you play the guitar because you love MUSIC, and ultimately you will love music and yourself more if you get past this stage. Don't tell anyone you are composing for the first time, their reaction may discourage you and you will only put yourself under more pressure. It's just you and your guitar from now on.

I've got it!' will happen. Well done. You are on the road now. Play it over and over again until you can play it and drive a car, if you know what I mean. Make it an earworm, let it burrow into your mind and something miraculous will happen. You will hear the next part. It may be while you are playing, or walking the dog, driving or taking a shower. Remember, you are creating the raw materials to write a piece of music out of nothing but your intellectual and creative energy. That is the important thing, making the connection to that place where it happens, and walking the path to that place and back so it becomes well worn, familiar and welcoming. If this is your first time trying to write, or trying to complete, a piece of classical guitar music, you will have to make your way through overgrown, unloved land.

So now you have it. The next step is what to do with it. Repeat it, question and answer, invert, condense, cut short, make longer, reverse, change key, a different octave. These are all options that will be the next discussion, but for now I shall leave you with that target in mind. Play the whole neck, don't limit yourself to root position or chord I, start somewhere less familiar, change position, try a chord or arpeggio, just do it, as they say.

Below is an invention of mine, and the first few bars from the piece that it comes from. The invention is marked in red, the rest is the answer to the question that the invention raises. Feel free to post your inventions and we can see how you're doing. There will be no judgement on the musical quality, only on the structure of the invention itself. Who I am to know what it is you are trying to express through your music. YOUR music, now isn't that exciting.


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