How to Improvise: Improve Your Solos Using YouTube
Whether you’re learning to play bass, mastering the guitar or any other type of instrument, one of the best skills any musician can develop is the ability to improvise solos at the drop of a hat. But, let’s face it – getting comfortable with improvising is like anything else, it takes a lot of practice and patience to get right.
So how do you incorporate improvisation into your practice schedule?
One way is to use a loop pedal to jam over a few chords on repeat. In an ideal world, practicing with other musicians would give you a more wholesome experience, but that’s not always possible. So what else is available?
In this article, we’re looking at play-along and jam tracks which give you the experience of playing with a live band while also introducing chord progressions from just about every music style.
I’ve put together a list of 6 YouTube channels where you can jam for hours, completely free of charge. There are a lot of great options to choose from, so let’s get started!
First up, a great introduction to play-alongs is ‘Quist’, a guitarist/producer with around 180K subscribers. Although most of the videos are aimed at guitarists, there are a few tunes aimed specifically at bass players too. No matter what instrument you’re into, all the videos on this channel provide plenty space to practice your solo chops on repeat.
Quist covers a few music styles including blues and jazz in both major and minor keys. Most of the tracks have the chord changes written on screen as they happen, making it easy to know what to play next.
The channel is both beginner and advanced friendly, it’s a great introduction to the more common chord progressions found in popular music.
EJT is another great channel covering a wide range of musical styles for beginner and advanced musicians alike. Every video features a full diagram of chord changes, recommended modal scales and a chord indicator which lets you know when to change.
As far as quality goes, this is one of my all time favorite channels to practice along with. Every song plays out for a longer period of time which makes it easier for you to focus on repeating the song without having to lift your head up to restart the video.
There are a variety of styles to choose from and master, including alt rock, mellow grooves and ballads. Because a majority of the songs follow a slower tempo, moving through different chord changes is much easier, especially for beginners.
Jazz is not everyone’s cup of tea, but as far as learning more advanced chord progressions, Jazz is the ultimate challenge for any instrument. Whatever music style you prefer, the LJS channel is worth checking out.
The play-alongs vary in difficulty, from a few chords to fast tempo changes. There are also a load of free lessons available which dive into jazz theory (and how jazz also breaks the rules).
While the videos include a cover page with no information on chord changes, there are links in the description to downloadable PDF’s. I’d be willing to bet that after you’ve mastered a few play-alongs on this channel, your solo improvisation skills will go through the roof.
Although not a huge selection of videos, MBT’s ‘Artist Signature’ playlist is an interesting one to look at. Essentially, you’ll find songs that pay homage to Gary Moore, Joe Satriani and a host of other artists.
One of the challenges will be working out the chord structures by ear (another good skill to practice) as there are no chord charts or indicators for the key which is being used. If you’re just getting started, you may want to save this playlist for a later date, but definitely worth checking out when you’re feeling ready for a challenge.
If you’re trying to master the Ukelele specifically, there are a few channels available on YouTube but a vast majority lack that professional quality. ‘Ukelele Underground’ is the exception in this case, it’s a superb channel which caters to both beginner and advanced Uke players. Their videos include a lot of detail, showing how every solo is played, and how every chord is fretted.
The channel’s popularity speaks for itself with over 343K subscribers. Not only are there play-alongs to jam with, there are loads of lessons on technique that are worth checking out.
Improvisation isn’t just a skill for melodic instruments. Drummers form an important foundation for a band where improvised fills and solos make up a big part of that ‘wow’ factor.
The DBT channel is a fantastic resource for drummers covering a large variety of music styles, from rock to funk. Some tracks include click tracks throughout, while others are designed to help you develop a good ear for timing. A majority of the videos include a bar counter and on-screen metronome which definitely helps with keeping track of where you are in the chord progression.
Advanced players will also find a whole section on odd time signatures, which is an awesome challenge to solo over.
So there you have it. 6 free play-along options which cover just about every instrument and music style, friendly to both beginners and experts who want to improve their solos. It can be very addictive, so make sure you have a lot of time on your hands!
Even if you’re not into certain types of music, experimenting with a large variety of styles will give you a diverse musical vocabulary to work from. Once you’ve spent enough time mastering different tunes, taking that next step and playing in front of a live audience will be a much easier transition.
As always, the aim is to have a lot of fun while practicing, the results take time but are definitely worth the effort.