It starts with one word. In a musical context, that means it starts with one note. Every solo has to start somewhere, right? So start with one note. And stay on that one note. See what you can do with it.
I had an improvisation teacher in college who had me solo over five choruses of the blues using a single note. I hated the exercise. But I also had to admit it made me better. At the time, I thought he was getting me to focus on rhythm alone; it wasn’t until more than ten years later, when my oldest child began to talk, that I realized what he was doing: he was teaching me to speak in music.
One word = one note.
I want you to start by putting on a backing track. You’ll take any note from a scale you know “should” work over the chord progression, and you’ll use that note exclusively. But before you start, I want you to close your eyes and think about how a small child uses one word… they may say “give” (and point) with a soft, trembling, quiet voice and pleading eyes… or they may say “Give!” (and point, and stamp their feet and cry). They may fall sobbing to the floor, repeating “give, give, give….”.
Your note is your “give”, or your “now”, or your “want”, or your “need”, or your “mine”, or whatever other image works. Picture in your mind’s eye how many ways you can use that one word in different ways.
Now play. Wring everything you can out of that one note – rhythm, volume, duration of the sound, timbre (the quality of the tone). I’ll wait.
How did that feel?
I’ll bet you got to know that one note better than you ever have. You’ve explored some of the possibilities. You’ve made it your friend. You now know what that note can do.
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