Authentic Improvisation

The Cequentia Manual

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Your philosophy of playing and practicing is central. If your philosophy of achieving great skills is based on the central message of practice, practice, practice and advice like "no pain no gain" you are likely to use ineffective practicing methods and get injured in the process. Simply because this simple philosophy is guiding your choices and actions more than anything else.


And if your philosophy of achieving great soloing skills is to learn as many licks as you can and then wait to see when they all come together and magically form an effortless soloing style you are in many ways completely without control in the process and have no or little idea about where you will end up.

But, if your philosophy is based on actual facts and strategies that actually work, your chances of making it to the exact place you want to go, goes up a thousand percent.

So let's establish a philosophy that brings you as many real and tangible benefits as possible.

The three things I hope to give you:

  • 1. The POWER
    to shape and direct your path and your destination.
  • 2. The TOOLS
    to make the fastest possible progress.
  • 3. The INSIGHTS
    that will make the process fast, fun and pleasurable.

    Training your brain Improvising and composing is really the same thing but while improvising takes literally no time, composing can take as much time as you want, but it is the same basic process.

    When you are thinking you are creating a string of associations. One thing reminds you of another and another. Associating is the way to come up with melodic lines as well and it is literally the process of improvising:

    You play one thing, and because of that line you just played, you play the next line. What you play is always a response to what you just played.

    But the prerequisite for doing this is that you master your instrument as well as you master your language. That’s our challenge and that’s what this manual is about.

    "One's philosophy is not best expressed in words; it is expressed in the choices one makes... and the choices we make are ultimately our responsibility."

    - Eleanor Roosevelt

    What is the smallest entity you use?

    It is not different from thinking or talking: You simply associate with notes instead of letters. But the key point here is that it's not really letters that we use for our thinking process, it's words. And words are small collections of letters with meaning.


    The same thing goes for music: It's not the individual note that inspires you to come up with the next, it's little groups of notes, like words exactly - and those groups of notes can either be licks or sequences.

    The Difference between licks and sequences

    Let's define the terms before we move on. Licks are little pre-composed pieces of a solo. They might contain or be based on several sequences and they might have bending, vibrato and other techniques in them. In this way a lick is a collection of musical elements put together in a musical sentence.

    A sequence is a formula of notes that you can move through a scale without changing the order. It doesn't belong to anyone but is a simple and small mathematical entity.

    A sequence could be to play three descending notes from one step in the scale, then go down one step in the scale and play three descending notes from there and then continue going down like that.

    A sequence is like a word: In and of itself it isn't of much significance or use, it's only when you put more than one sequence or word together that the magic happens.

    What would you choose?

    This brings us to my most important point when advocating the use of sequences over licks: If you wanted to become a great author would you learn and memorize finished sentences that other people had crafted and start putting those together into stories?


    Or would you learn as many words as you could and craft your own sentences that would then make up your story?

    This is not a difficult choice for most people. It makes little if any sense to pick apart other people's books and then start building your own with the pieces.

    "Philosophy is like trying to open a safe with a combination lock: each little adjustment of the dials seems to achieve nothing, only when everything is in place does the door open."

    - Ludwig Wittgenstein

    The genesis of creativity

    But this raises a question: What takes you the most time:

    putting together complete pieces that someone else came up with or creating pieces and then putting them together?

    Of course you are going to seem like a good author faster if you choose to use pre-made bits and pieces to make up your book. It's faster because a good deal of the work is already done.

    Learning words and then forming your own sentences and then creating complete stories of course takes longer.

    Furthermore, learning words without much meaning is much less exciting than learning juicy sentences with tons of meaning and drama.

    Just like learning great sounding pieces of a solo seems more exciting than learning the building blocks of those licks first: Sequences.

    "Words make you think a thought. Music makes you feel a feeling. A song makes you feel a thought."

    - E. Y. Harburg

    This divides the crowd

    Most people will always go for the most obviously attractive path than the one that seem more complex but leads to a place of greater quality or pleasure. Most people will choose something-good-sooner than something-amazing-later. This is not good or bad it's just human nature.

    But you can make a choice. You can choose what result you want to end up with and you can make that choice now.

    The challenge of originality

    You are never going to play something that you haven’t played before. So you are basically combining rehearsed building blocks into new phrases and solos. It’s the combination that is new. Just like when you speak.

    You are not inventing new words as you speak, you are combining words you already know and that combination of words is what makes up your unique statement. So what are your building blocks when you solo?

    If it’s licks you are going to sound like someone else in a new version. If its sequences you will sound like you.

    Your preferences. Your ideas based on neutral mathematical exercises that gives your fingers and ears options with which to create.

    "All good things which exist are the fruits of originality."

    - John Stuart Mill

    Inspired by numbers or people

    Why? Because there are only so many guitar players out there to be inspired by. And these people was inspired by the same people, who were inspired by people before them and so on.

    Sequences comes in unlimited numbers and since the greatest indicator of your style, your unique expression is what you prefer, what you like, out of this massive number of options you will choose the sequences that are just right for what you like. For what your fingers likes to work with.

    The limitation of the past

    When you stop taking foothold in the limitation of notes and lines other people played, but place your feet solid in the open space of endless inspiration: Sequences, then you are on a straight path to building and solidifying your own fresh and personal playing style. That's what Cequentia is all about.

    But let’s take a practical look at the process of building a relaxed, fluent and intuitive playing style.


    The process of doing this has specific but simple steps that you go through. The steps are listed in order here but in reality you tend to go back and forth between them. The order is there to guide you so you have a tool that will help you identify your challenges.

    If you at any point in the process you feel that the challenge you are working on is too hard or that you can’t do the exercise successfully, go back. Look for the step on the list that you need to work some more on in order to make what you are working on now much easier.

    Here is your process and the path to outstanding soloing skills:

  • 1. Learn and internalize generic sequences
  • 2. Learn to combine generic sequences
  • 3. Build speed using small loopable exercises
  • 4. Practice creating melodies and runs without rhythm
  • 5. Practice and master rhythm
  • 6. Combine melodic and rhythm skills
  • 7. Practice combining lines with music
  • Here follows an explanation of what you need to do on each level:

    "If you can't describe what you are doing as a process, you don't know what you're doing."

    - W. Edwards Deming

    1. Learn and internalize generic sequences

    The first bundle of tabs in the Cequentia books are a simple presentation of the sequences involved in the powerlick. The first step in the process is to learn and internalize these sequences so you don’t have to refer to the book when you practice them.

    This doesn’t take long. Read your way through the first sequence and play it in a loop for five to ten minutes.

    Then learn the next sequence and play that for five to ten minutes.

    Then go back the first and do everything you can to remember it without referring to the book. It’s important that you try to remember it before you look in the book since this will send a signal to the brain that you really need to retain this information.

    The more energy you use trying to remember it, the more convincing the signal will be, simply because your brain is always trying to save resources. And putting something in your long term memory instead of spending tons of brain power trying to retrieve it from the short term memory is an energy saving activity.

    So try to remember the sequence and when you can’t, refer to the book again. Then continue this process of going back and forth between these two sequences, practicing them five to ten minutes each until you can easily remember them. Then introduce a third sequence and continue the process.

    The trick is to learn and forget as many times during your practice session as possible. The more times you learn and forget the sequence the more it sinks into your long term memory and stays there.

    Depending on how much practice time you have available, learning and remembering four sequences can take one or two days. Once they are thoroughly embedded in your mind and fingers you can go on to the next step.

    2. Learn to combine generic sequences

    You now turn your attention to the next chapter in the book. Here you will find the loopable combinations of sequences. Exercises that you can use to:

  • 1. Embed the sequences deeply into your brain
  • 2. Become a master at combining them
  • 3. Build speed
  • You can start building speed after the first step in the process and if you are working with complex sequences with a lot of notes in them, that is probably a very good idea. But please consider the order of this list a guide and not a strict list of rules to follow.

    When you work on combining the sequences you follow the exact same steps as when you learn the sequences in the first part of the process. You first learn and internalize the first exercise, then practice that for five to ten minutes. Then go on to the next and then back to the first and so on.

    "I've always considered myself to be just average talent and what I have is a ridiculous insane obsessiveness for practice and preparation."

    - Will Smith

    The book is not something you sit and stare into when you practice, you only use it when you are loading new exercises into your memory. Then you take those exercises with you and practice them using the metronome method and the TV-practice method described in the video that came with this manual.

    Once you have loaded a couple of sequence combos into you long term memory you move on to the next step.

    3. Build speed using small loopable exercises

    This step is really not about playing fast. It’s about control and accuracy. It’s about developing your skills to the point where you can do more than you need to. And it’s about developing “headroom” so that playing slower lines becomes completely easy. Because only when it is completely effortless to play you are free to associate freely with notes and rhythm. The least amount of struggling to get the notes out will impair your ability to play music. Just like trying to improvise a great speech in a language you do not master is an impossible task.

    So building speed is crucial. Do not shy away from it thinking it leads to a shallow playing style based on technique and not heart. It is not a process for “shredders” only, it’s for everybody.

    The first step in the process is to use the metronome to build precision and accuracy and then you can move on to the TV-practice method. But again: You might want to go back and forth between using these two methods in order to build both speed and accuracy.

    Speed requires thousands of repetitions. But the benefit of doing them is that you build the ability to play effortlessly. Producing the notes should and must become as easy as breathing in and breathing out and doing the many relaxed, accurate and perfect repetitions in front of the TV is key. And it’s not boring because you are entertained as you do it.

    "The happiness of a man in this life does not consist in the absence but in the mastery of his passions."

    - Alfred Lord Tennyson

    The key to using these two practice methods is to make sure you are in time, accurate and that you get the accents right as you play the sequence. In order to do this you use the metronome method while keeping an intense focus on both hands and what you are doing.

    Then once all these little things have become automatic and easy you start building speed using much less focus.

    You brain has already learned to do everything right at a relatively low level of speed, now you can put in all the repetitions using that basic technique and start building on what you have learned.

    This two step method is the key for any person to develop world class skills.

    4. Practice creating melodies and runs without rhythm

    Now let’s assume that you have one powerlick consisting of four generic sequences under your fingers. You can play and combine them quite effortlessly. You might not be able to play them super fast but you can play them and easily. Now the fun begins.

    The following exercise requires you to accept feeling like a complete beginner again. But if you stay with it you will quickly get results. Decide to spend a predetermined amount of time on it each day for a week before you pass judgement on it or yourself.

    The whole point of the exercise is to teach you to create little lines or melodies using your new sequences. Up until this point you have been training your fingers to move in new ways, now is the time to start being creative with your new skills.

    A line is basically just a beginning a middle and an ending. You start your line on any given note, then you combine sequences and then you choose a note to end your line on.

    You use every note shaping technique you have learned for the beginning and ending. You slide up to the first note perhaps and end by bending up to another note adding vibrato to it in the end.

    Start simple by trying the following:

  • 1. Select just one sequence
  • 2. Choose a note to start on
  • 3. Play a little of the sequence and
  • 4. Choose a great sounding note to end on
  • 5. Did you create a great line? Repeat it until it’s easy
  • Add sliding, bending, pinch harmonics, vibrato and any other note shaping technique you can to the beginning and ending note and sometimes also to the notes in between.

    Search and probe for the best notes to start and end on and when you have created a line that sounds great, play it over and over again until it feels natural and easy to do so.

    Then create another line using the same sequence. Take your time and make sure you practice each line that you are satisfied with until it feels super easy.

    When you start feeling successful using just one sequence try combining two sequences and follow the same process. You might use as little as a couple of notes from each sequence so you don’t even have to play full sequences you can just use your ability to move your fingers in new ways to create new melodies and lines.

    "Improvising is wonderful. But, the thing is that you cannot improvise unless you know exactly what you're doing. That's a kind of paradoxical thing about improvising."

    - Christopher Walken

    Improvising slowly

    This process is pure magic. Because it allows you to do the impossible: Practice improvising in real time. How do you learn to juggle seven bottles above your head? You can’t make them fall slower than they do. So there is no way to practice that slowly. But you can practice improvisation slowly and that’s what the above exercise will do for you.

    As you create line after line you gradually become faster and faster at creating new lines and you become better and faster at making really great ones. Until the very point where everything you play is a great line.

    I am very serious. This is what happens. This was the process I went through and the result was nothing short of magical. Let me just repeat it: I used my new sequences to create lines by coming up with great notes to start and end on.

    We played around with the sequences endlessly repeating every great sounding line until it was and felt easy to play. We continued like that, practicing casually everywhere I could.

    We would do this exercise when watching TV, when talking to friends, in the kitchen, on my room alone, everywhere.

    And relatively quickly I began to see the effects of it. I was to a higher and higher degree able to just come up with stuff on the spot and it sounded better and better.

    Accept feeling pathetic

    In the beginning you have to accept feeling pathetic. But do not fall into the trap of believing that your disastrous attempts to create a decent melodic lines in any way predicts how long or hard the path is to mastery.

    If you keep at it you will see results that will amaze you very quickly. You just have to get through that initial resistance of “Arh, there is no way I can learn this. This sounds so bad...” Your first breakthrough happens when you create a line that sound more than good. That’s when your confidence grows. And then it happens again, and again.

    5. Practice and master rhythm

    This area is by far where the most aspiring guitar masters could progress the fastest and make the biggest difference in their playing. The ability to play any rhythm and to improvise with rhythm in real time will increase the number of melodic options you have radically.

    Not mastering this area is what makes you stop in the middle of a line because you lose control over it. It’s what keeps you from being able to spend sixteen bars obsessing about five notes and extracting unique, different and interesting melodic lines from them.

    Rhythm is the hidden part of the equation that we usually don’t focus on exclusively but only as part of a lick or a melody. But when you start focusing on just rhythm and you get really good at it, your overall skill level goes up 1000%.

    And the great thing is that rhythm is quickly learned.

    Learning to fret and pick the notes on a guitar is takes time and a lot of repetitions. And learning to do it very fast takes even longer.

    Mastering rhythm is a small part of playing music if you look at the hours and the focus you have to spend on it to get really good at it. But it makes up 50% of the musical experience.

    "Perhaps of all the most basic elements of music, rhythm most directly affects our central nervous system."

    - George Crumb

    So there is no time better spent than mastering rhythm. It has such a huge effect on your playing and will set you free in more ways you can imagine.

    The skill of rhythm is really simple in its definition: The ability to tap your foot while hitting every possible quarter-, eighth- or sixteenth note effortlessly. This goes for triplets as well of course.

    Learning to play drums will teach you this in a fun and entertaining way but you can also find various and very effective free courses and videos on the internet. This area of music is not that big a task to master so there is no excuse for not starting right now, today.

    6. Combine melodic and rythm skills

    This is where all your work pays off. Because you have been working on each skill separately, focusing on mastering each individual piece of the puzzle putting the pieces together is about as satisfying a process as it can be.

    The process of putting notes and rhythm together is simply a matter of choosing a rhythm and then to start putting notes to it using your sequences. Start with a simple easy rhythm and then try playing a sequence you really master using this rhythm.

    Gradually increase the complexity of the rhythms you use and make sure you apply it to all the sequences you know. This can be a great process of applying rhythm after rhythm to your sequences but the end result is amazing.

    Once you feel confident playing both rhythm and notes you can repeat the process you used under step four only this time you apply rhythm to the mix as well.

    You create line after line using both sequences, rhythm, beginnings and endings. You use phrasing techniques like vibrato, bending and sliding to spice up your lines and then, every time you come up with something that sounds really good, you repeat it as many times as you need in order for it to be automatic and easy.

    Then you move on and create another line. When you keep doing this you will eventually be able to create really great meaningful lines on the spot, in real time with no hesitation at all. This means that everything you play makes musical sense, just like you tend to make sense every time you open your mouth. It’s no different.

    Now you have learned to create music on the spot, with no hesitation and you always make sense. You always play something that is music. It’s fresh, original and it’s a unique expression of who you are. Of your preferences.

    Now that you can create great musical sentences you need to be able to put them together into great stories as well:

    7. Practice combining lines with music

    If you were to give a speech and you spoke eloquently in beautiful sentences but each sentence didn’t connect to the one before it, you wouldn’t make much sense and your audience would quickly lose interest in what you had to say.

    The last skill you must develop is the skill of connecting each line to the one before it. When you speak, each sentence comes from the previous sentence, from something another person said or from something that happened. Every sentence is connected to the one before.

    The quickest way to develop this skill is to focus on what you play as a reply to what you just played. Almost everyone can do this intuitively. Just try it in your head right now. Imagine a line in your head. The start of a solo. You might sing the line or just hear it in your head.

    "If life's lessons could be reduced to single sentences, there would be no need for fiction."

    - Scott Turow

    Then imagine what would come after that line. And after that. Try it now. Just imagine your favorite guitar player on stage playing a solo. Most people I have tried this with have no problem imagining a solo that makes total sense and that develops from beginning to end.

    This is what you must be able to do but as you play your instrument. There are several practical exercises you can do to become even better at this but you have this skill within you already, it’s just a matter of using it.

    Here’s how to practice this:

  • 1. Put on a jam track and make sure it’s a ballad. A slow moving track that allows you to have lots of time in between the lines you play. Also make sure it has the length of a normal solo and doesn’t go on forever. What you need to practice now is both putting lines together and beginning and ending you soloing “story” with the bars defined by the music.
  • 2. Then start building a solo as the music runs in the background and once the track stops, evaluate for a couple of seconds, decide what to improve the next time and then start the track again.
  • 3. Use the ideas you came up with the first time around and improve them instead of trying to come up with something completely different each time around that’s is not the purpose of this exercise. The purpose is to refine and improve your solo, not to play something completely different.
  • Then continue until you are satisfied with what you are playing. This is the same process as creating just one line remember? You keep trying until you come up with something that works and then you repeat what works until it’s easy.

    The same thing applies here: Keep working on the ideas you use, on how you put them together, on how you start your solo and how you end it, until it works, then have fun using those same ideas, the same structure of the solo until you’re bored with it.

    This is the end of your path. Once you start feeling stuck and bored with your playing repeat the process.

    Introduce new sequences and take them all the way through the seven steps. This will infuse your playing with new ideas all the time and keep your playing style alive and fresh.

    Claus Levin