An Intro to Rhythmic Improvisation

Following on from our guest workshop last week, here's Michael's notes on how to use rhythmic motifs in your solos.

Learning how to improvise and play wonderful guitar solos on the fly can be a very daunting step and one that many guitarists leave until way too late in their development to begin.

Conventional knowledge tells us that we have to learn ours scales, then our licks, and then put them into solos in a linear fashion that takes months if not years to develop.

Too often this leads to the guitarists learning a whole bunch of licks and scales which they can play in isolation but can’t actually put into a musical context because their lead guitar abilities are far more advance than their creativity.

This can be a very frustrating experience and one that plagues too many guitarists. Fortunately creativity can be trained just like any other skill and more often than not all we need to do is change the way we think, which will result in instant improvement for anyone who has already put in the hard yards getting their lead guitar chops up.

Whether you’re a beginner guitarist starting out or have a few years under your belt, this workshop will provide you with some simple ideas that will give you a lot of milage when it comes to improvisation and creativity. If you want to know some of the secrets to improvising that only the pros know, keep reading.

Part 1: Blues Jam Riff

I want to introduce the ideas of rhythmic motifs for our soloing. A motif is a short theme or idea that is repeated and for our session today we will be focussing on using repeated rhythmic ideas to create cohesive sounding guitar solos.

An easy way to do this is to take an existing blues riff or pattern and substitute notes of the pentatonic scale over it.

Our example today uses what I call the blues jam riff. 


I want you to sing along the rhythm and clap your hands on the (00 00) in the brackets. I want to to internalise these rhythms because soon you will be substituting notes from the pentatonic scale over the top.

Once you can clap the rhythm all you need to to is to play the pentatonic scale one note at a time in place of the (00 00) Try going through each note of the scale. When that gets comfortable try substituting two different notes in e.g. (55 88) and eventually up to four different notes (58 58).

Whatever idea you come up with try and play out across multiple strings. If you’re more advance and these ideas come easily to you I would challenge you to come up with technical variations of the lick that incorproate slides, hammer ons and pull offs or any other variations you can think of.

Part 2: Rhythmic Motifs

In part 1 we explored a simple rhythmic motif that match the blues Jam riff. You could easily play for 10 minute or longer with this riff but at some point you’re going run out of ideas or need something more challenging.

The next step is to create your own rhythmic motif and start to play licks with it. The
key is to start simple. Draw a bar of music that contains eight semiquavers (eighth notes) and circle three or four of them.

Once you have a rhythm I want you to clap it while counting aloud until you have internalised the rhythm.

Once you can do that you should apply different notes from the pentatonic scale to the rhythm. It won’t matter what notes you play, as long as you match the rhythm each idea you play with sound cohesive and flow into each other.

Once you’ve used exhausted the idea you can repeat the process with a new rhythm, you can also apply this to any other scale or even chord ideas and riffs.

With some practice you’ll be able to come up with rhythmic motifs on the fly and swap between them just like your favourite guitar heroes do.

Part 3: Movable Blues Licks

One thing I always tell my students is that it’s easier to learn one lick and play it one hundred different ways than it is to learn one hundred different licks.

If you listen to any of your favourite guitarists you’ll notice that they only ever play a handful of licks and change them slightly, this ‘bag of tricks’ as I call it are their foundational ideas that they use for the majority of their soloing. For this part of the workshop I’m going to show you how to take one lick and play it for the entire solo.


The lick in our example plays 6 notes across the D & G strings. it is first presented in the key of Am. I want you to visualise it not as fret numbers but as notes within the scale box pattern, imagine little LED lights turning on under the frets as you play.

If you visualise the D Minor pentatonic scale our 5’s and 7’s will now become 10’s and 12’s and if we move up to E minor, 12’s and 14’s.

If you keep the same intervalic distance and move the pentatonic scale to match the chord you are playing over it will sound fantastic each and every time…give it a try.


Hopefully by now you’re starting to see how effective rhythmic motifs can be in tying together a guitar solo and improvisational ideas. I cannot stress enough how much milage you can get out of such a simple concept and wether you are a total beginner or an advanced player learning how to control rhythmic motifs will be a huge asset to your guitar playing.

What you should do now is make an effort to practice creativity and Improvisation for 20
minutes 3 times a week and before you know it you’ll be improvising like your favourite guitarists.


Feel free to book yourself in for a free evaluation guitar lesson to get access to this and more awesome guitar tips, tricks, courses and knowledge.


About the Author

Michael is a Heavy Metal & Fusion Guitarist and Master Guitar teacher based in Melbourne, Australia. He is the owner of Melbourne Guitar Academy and plays in Heavy Metal band Hybrid Nightmares. If you’re after the best guitar lessons in Melbourne's Northern Suburbs (Strathmore) or want more killer articles visit the Melbourne Guitar Academy Website.