Here is a recent email from a student with a common problem. Unlike most students, this guy hits the problem right on the head. My reply is probably not what you would expect; that’s what makes it more effective than the ‘answers’ you usually receive if you have this problem yourself. Trust me, you have this problem too.
From the Aware Student:
“I have a question and I didn’t want to wait until next week because
it’s really frustrating me. So I’ve been working improvising
and soloing and I feel like I’m not being very creative and
I feel like I’m not doing really interesting things. In my
opinion at least. I’ve been listening to other solos and
stuff online and trying to mimic some lines and stuff from
other people and what I’ve noticed is that they do different
things rhythmically than I do. Some of the notes they use
are different but it’s mostly the rhythm. I was wondering
how can I learn to think in different rhythms because my
solos and stuff kind of go along the same beat and it’s
boring me. So could you give me some tips or anything before
next week to help me improve this? Or do you have anything
to help me improve improvisation in general?”
“Great job! You are right on target. Millions of guitarists get so involved in the notes, scales, modes, blah, blah, blah, that they miss the elements. Music is Melody (Notes), Harmony (Chords), and Rhythm. Rhythm is weakest for everyone, so it’s really good that you understand the real problem.
You might think I’m crazy, but listen to as much James Brown as you can. There are so many places in the Rhythmic Line to start a musical phrase and James Brown’s music explores many of those places and ways to start and end phrases. I know it isn’t ‘Blues’ per se, but you will find plenty of ingredients from the Blues in his music.
Find the key of one of his tunes and play lines in it.”