chipperj wrote:I would say one of the most important things to think about, is focusing on what notes are in the chord, rather than what notes are in the key. I often hear players who will keep their solos in an A major scale if the song is in the key of A major, and think that's all that is needed. All well and good until the song goes to a D chord (Like in Franklin's Tower), and you're still playing a bunch of C#s, because you figure that's the third of an A major scale. Dissonance can sound great sometimes, but playing a C# against a D chord in a song like this sounds less than great. And that's just a simple example. It gets even more complicated when a song seems to change it's tonal center throughout a verse. Like Althea, for example, where you almost have to play in different keys from chord to chord. The verse starts in B minor, but if you just play a solo in a B minor scale over the whole verse, it will sound terrible. As you switch to the A and then to the E (and then back to the A..), you might have better results if you hint at each chord as it goes along.
One thing that might help is to learn to arpeggiate each chord as they change, to really get a handle of what notes are in each chord. When that becomes comfortable, start trying to form melodies using those notes. After that, you start to notice that some notes seem to pull you to the next chord. Those are leading tones, and Garcia was all over leading tones. An example would be say, in a song that goes from A to D (I to IV). Notice that playing a G natural (even though G# is in the A major scale) and then down to an F# as it lands on the D chord seems to pull you to that chord.
When that gets comfortable, start adding notes in between the chord tones. Start with the notes in the "scale" of that chord, and then work up to chromatic runs. Hopefully, you're ear will tell you when it works and when it doesn't. Garcia would often land on a strong chord tone coming off a half-step below it.
Probably more theory here than you'd hoped- sorry.
That is an excellent post chalk full of sound advice, nice one. As Chipper wisely pointed out:
Learn the scales for each chord for a song and apply them. This is what made Jerry's playing so musical and melodic.
Equally, learn the arpeggios of each chord in a song at least triads and where relevant add the sevenths.
Understand the differences in notes between each of the chord tones and listen for what tones guide smoothly to the next chord.
Start to play around with chromatics and bringing in notes outside of the scale yet that either pass or pull a listeners ear to the next note.
Add to that heaps of patience, patience and more patience and the ability to critically assess what you do not like about your playing and working to improve that. I recommend objectively recording yourself to listen more for what you do not like and less for what you may like.
I have been playing for over 25 years and always say I am not a particularly good player, but I am better than I was yesterday. Improving comes from intelligent practicing especially focusing on things you do not well and setting goals and expectations that are reasonable as per the time and schedule to dedicate to your instrument to get better at those things. I mean in a nutshell those four essential points Chipper distilled from Garcia's solo playing seem simple enough, but be reasonable with yourself that is a lifelong undertaking towards developing muscle memory of your right and left hands with the aim of tastefully and accurately being able to phrase what you hear in any key.
Good luck and above all remember to enjoy the ride.