Improvisation for Strings


Combining the creative and the technical in a way to make the art of improvisation more accessible to string players.

There is an old joke that goes something like this...“How do you get a guitar player to be quiet?  Put sheet music in front of him.”

It’s just a joke, however, the complete opposite can often be said for string players.  If you take the sheet music away, many of us have no idea what to do next! If we are put in a situation where we need to improvise or “jam” with other players we can’t do it.  Why is this?

The violin/fiddle is such a melody driven instrument.  Many of us have never been put in the position where we’ve needed to know anything beyond the melody or harmony written for us. We aren’t required to be aware of the chord progressions, voicings and grooves we need to be able to become a more cohesive member of the band.  These things are often left up to those accompanying us.

Can improvisation be taught? Improvisation can be learned, through experience and practice. If they have a solid technical base, are willing to put in the time and aren’t afraid to take a chance, this workshop series would be a great way to enrich a students playing.  It will teach them how to use their instrument in a way they may never have before and give them confidence that they can take with them beyond the classroom. 

String players at a University level already have the tools they need to be able to improvise. They know the theory, but can’t always relate it to their instrument. Through a series of workshops I can show them how to train their ear and apply their theory.  This practical application, combined with their creative mind, will give them the freedom to improvise while also giving them a better understanding of the applied musical theory.  After all, it’s the music that came before the theory.  Theory is just a way of understanding what sounds good to our ear so we can replicate it. The art of improvising often helps other areas of playing as well, including timing and intonation by increasing the need to listen and adapt to the other musicians playing with you. 

Using different musical styles from Folk and Bluegrass to Swing And Jazz and using percussive techniques like the “Chop” I can help students to gain an understanding of a variety of styles of playing. We can start with simple melodies and chord structures and move towards the more complex. 

Specific areas of interest to the beginner improv student will include the following topics 

  • Following chord progressions. 
  • Thinking like a rhythm player (chop)
  • Time (groove)
  • Phrasing
  • Thinking in numbers (Nashville number system)
  • Building a solo, or expanding on an existing one
  • How to apply different scales.  What are the most important notes in a scale or chord.
  • 5 Common Chord Qualities M7, 7, m7, m7b5, o7


To summarize, I can help students to learn and develop a skill that is still not common among string players.  This versatility can only be a benefit to them as they pursue their musical journey.

Shane Guse - As well as teaching at The Beckett School at Laurier, Shane Guse is a top call musician on stage, radio, television, in studio and beyond. His album credits include many award winning projects and some of the most played songs on Canadian Country radio. His touring credits include the top artists in the country including country stars like Dean Brody and Jason Blaine and Pop stars like Richard Marx and Colin James.  He is also the founding member and leader of the multi award winning roots group The Western Swing Authority. 

Shane is the Canadian Country Music Association Fiddle Player of the Year for 2010, 2011, 2014 and 2016 and has over 20 CCMA nominations to his credit.  He has also received, 3 Country Music Association of Ontario Awards, an Academy of Western Artists Award and is a two time Independent Music Award winner.

Click here for registration form.

Term Description: 

8 weeks:  November 9, 16, 23, 30 & January 11, 18, 25 and February 1

8 week class - $240.00
Main Branch, Beckett School at Laurier
190 Lester Street
Phone: 519 578-3640


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Shane Guse, fiddle instructor, Beckett School at Laurier Shane Guse
8 weeks of 30 mins. ($253) 45 mins. ($380) 60 mins. ($506)