RGT Jazz Guitar Performance DipLCM Exam Improvisation Preparation

When working with a student, or preparing yourself for the Jazz Guitar Performance DipLCM Exam, one of the sections that tends to be the hardest to tackle is the Improvisation section of the exam, where you will be required to create a secure and authentic jazz-guitar solo at sight in the exam.

Improvising a solo at sight in an exam can be stressful if one is not fully prepared, as the chords will move by quickly, and finding the right mix of jazz vocabulary and originality can add an extra layer of difficulty to any improvised guitar sight-reading situation.

While it will pose a challenge to most players, by practicing sight-reading improvisation each day in your jazz guitar practice routine, and using specific exercises that address common problems that often arise when sight soloing on the guitar, you can ensure that you are as prepared as possible to tackle this section of the Jazz Guitar Performance DipLCM Exam.

In this article, we’ll be looking at the requirements for the Improvisation section of the exam, as well as exploring a few exercises that I have found helpful when preparing my students for this section of the DipLCM exam in jazz guitar performance.

Click to read the other three entries in this series on How to Prepare for the Jazz Performance DipLCM Exam.


Component 4 – Improvisation

This is the fourth section of the DipLCM exam presented in the Jazz Guitar Diploma Syllabus, which you can reference at any time to find further information on each section of the Jazz Guitar Performance DipLCM exam.

Worth 20% of the overall mark, the sight Improvisation section of the exam is usually one that students struggle with, both during their initial preparation and when sitting the exam itself.

Here is the description of this section from the Syllabus to look over:


“Candidates are shown a previously unseen chord progression that is then played as a rhythm guitar backing track. Candidates are allowed three minutes to study the chord progression and, after hearing the chord progression once, should then improvise a lead solo over three further playings. The chord progression will include some non-diatonic chords and/or key changes. The solo should display a high degree of proficiency and demonstrate a command of the instrument beyond that expected at Grade 8.”


When working with students on this section of the exam, two main problems tend to arise, the first being a lack of jazz guitar vocabulary in their solos, and the second is that they are not properly outlining the changes in their lines and phrases.

Because of this, one of the first exercises I do with students who are preparing for this exam is to write out chord changes for them, and then have them practice playing arpeggios and scales from the Technical Knowledge section of this exam over those chords at sight.

From there, I play the chords to those progressions and have the student practice creating solos using only those items such as 9th arpeggios, particular modes of Melodic Minor or other items from the Technical Knowledge list for this exam.

While not the most musical of soloing approaches, being able to accurately outlines any chord progression using arpeggios, up to the 13th, and scales, including modes of major, melodic and harmonic minor, is an important first step to being able to successfully pass this section of the exam.

To address the lack of vocabulary in student’s solos, I use the exercises outlined in the next section of this lesson.

If you are preparing for the RGT Jazz Performance DipLCM Exam, I highly recommend picking up both the “Jazz Guitar Diplomas Handbook” and the “Guitar Play-Along Volume 16: Jazz Guitar” as these volumes contain all the background info needed to prepare for this exam, as well as the lead sheets, sample solos and backing tracks for the tunes required, as well as practice chord progressions for the Improvisation component of the exam.


3 Exercises for Exam Preparation

When preparing students for the Improvisation section of the DipLCM exam, I have worked out a number of exercises that you can do, or use with your students, in order to be as secure as possible with this section of the exam.

Below are three of my favorite ways to work on sight-reading improvisation, both for this exam and in general, that you can explore in the woodshed.

If you have a particular exercise that you use to prepare for the Improvisation section of the exam, feel free to share it in the comments section below.


1. Bebop Vocabulary – Enclosures

One of the easiest, and most common, ways to bring a sense of jazz guitar vocabulary to your improvised solos, both at sight and over tunes you know, is to study Enclosures.

There are a number of ways to play enclosures in a jazz context, but one of the most common is to take any note, such as the root of a chord you are soloing over, and then play one 1/2 step above that note, one 1/2 step below that note, then the target note itself as you resolve those two chromatic tensions.

You can use Enclosures on any diatonic note, but to begin, it’s a good idea to work Enclosures over the root, 3rd, 5th and 7th of the chord you are soloing over.

Here is an example of how you could apply enclosures to a ii-V-I-VI chord progression. I have enclosed different notes in each measure, the root of the iim7 chord, the 3rd of the V7 chord, the 5th of the Imaj7 chord and the 7th of the VI7b9 chord.


Jazz Guitar Performance DipLCM Enclosures


As you can see, and hear, adding something as simple as an enclosure to any arpeggio line in your improvised solos is a great way to instantly bring a bit of jazz guitar vocabulary to any line or phrase.

Try working these enclosures into your improvised solos, focusing on one at a time first, then multiple enclosures after each individual enclosure is secure in your playing.

If you can improvise over any progression at sight, and inject enclosures to any chord tone for that progression, you will be well on your way to being able to pass this section of the exam with confidence and a secure sense of the jazz language.


2. Common Licks and Phrases

One of the best ways to address a lack of jazz guitar vocabulary in your, or your student’s, solos, is to study common licks and phrases taken from the jazz guitar tradition.

When learning any lick or phrase, I like to first get it under my fingers, and then run it through a series of exercises in order to allow me to bring these ideas into my jazz guitar solos in a more organic fashion than simply reciting them from memory.

Here are those exercises to check out in your guitar practice routine as you spend time learning common licks and phrases in the woodshed, all of which can be done in 12 keys across the neck.


  1. Play the underlying chords on guitar and sing the lick over those chords.
  2. Sing the root of each chord and play the lick on guitar on top of those root notes.
  3. Play the lick from memory to a backing track of ii V I chords in all 12 keys.
  4. Improvise over those same ii V I chords, using the lick as inspiration but beginning to alter the lick by changing the rhythm, adding or taking away notes from the original phrase.
  5. Sight improvise over a chord progression and each time a ii V I comes up, use this lick to build your lines over those sections of the tune.
  6. Write out the “perfect” solo over a tune your are working on, or random chord progression, and use this lick as part of that solo. Memorize this etude and play it over backing tracks in all 12 keys.
  7. Scat sing a solo over a tune or random chord progression, either a backing track or comped on the guitar, and use the lick as much as possible to outline ii V I chord progressions during this exercise.
  8. Write out 10 licks of your own that are in a similar style to the lick you just learned, and apply and or all of these new licks to the above exercises.


To help you get started, here is an example of a common Major ii V I lick that you could run through the exercises in this section.


Jazz Guitar Performance DipLCM Lick 1


As well, here is an example of a common Minor ii V I lick that you could practice through each of the exercises in this section.


Jazz Guitar Performance DipLCM Lick 2


As you can see, even with just one major and one minor ii V I lick under your fingers, and run through each of the exercises above, you can get a ton of milage from just a few melodic phrases.

So, don’t feel like you have to learn a million licks to develop your jazz guitar vocabulary. It is more a case of learning a few solid licks that you can then manipulate in the moment, rather than reciting a number of licks from memory when soloing at sight.


3. Transcription

The third item that you can add to your jazz guitar practice routine in order to ensure that you are fully prepared for the Improvisation section of the Jazz Guitar Performance DipLCM Exam, is spending time learning solos from classic jazz records.

Doing so, learning solos by ear from records, will not only increase your ability to hear jazz phrases, playing along with these recordings will enable you to develop a strong sense of swing, phrases and articulation, which will allow you to sight improvise with proper time feel and jazz phrasing.

Though learning a solo by ear, and playing along with the recording, is very good practice to develop your jazz guitar vocabulary, time and phrasing skills, I have found that there are exercises you can do in order to take these solos one step further in your development as a jazz guitarist.

Here is a brief outline of those exercises. To make these exercises easier to achieve at first, begin with just one four-bar phrase through these exercises, then work your way up to 8, 12, 16, and 32 bars before you play the whole solo through each exercise on this list.

As well, to gain maximum results in the woodshed, every exercise should be done from memory.


  1. Sing the solo along with the original recording.
  2. Comp the chords to that tune on the guitar, sing the solo over those chords.
  3. Sing the root notes to each chord as you play the solo on the guitar.
  4. Play the solo along with the original recording on your guitar.
  5. Play the solo on guitar, but only with a metronome.
  6. Put on a backing track for the tune you are transcribing. Play 8 bars of the transcribed solo, then you improvise for 8 bars. Build up until you are playing one full chorus of transcribed solo, and then one full chorus of your own improvisation.
  7. Write out the solo and pull out lines, ii-V-I in major and minor keys, to work through the vocabulary exercises in the previous section of this lesson.
  8. Play a full chorus of the transcribed solo along to a backing track. Each time you play through the chorus, alter it slightly to begin making it your own solo. You can do this by altering the rhythm, adding notes, taking notes away etc. After 5-6 times through the chorus, the solo should be almost entirely your own as you have arrived at this point through altering the originally transcribed solo chorus.
  9. Solo along to a backing track using the exact rhythm as the transcribed chorus of solo, but you use your own notes. So, your improvised solo will have the exact rhythm as the one you transcribed, but the notes will now be your own.
  10. Write out a one-chorus solo over the same tune as your transcription, using licks and patterns from the transcribed solo, but in a new order. Memorize this solo study and play it along with a backing track.


As you can see, learning a transcription and playing it along with the original recording is just the beginning when working on solos in your practice routine.

By tackling some or all of these 10 exercise with any transcription you do, you will take your knowledge and ability to adapt this solo and the vocabulary from this solo to new levels in your practice routine, and practical application when jamming or gigging on jazz guitar.

Do you have any questions about this article or about the Jazz Guitar Performance Exam? Post them in the comments section below this article.

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About Dr. Matthew Warnock

Matt Warnock is the owner of mattwarnockguitar.com, a free website that provides hundreds of lessons and resources designed to help guitarists of all experience levels meet their practice and performance goals. Matt lives in the UK, where he is a lecturer in Popular Music Performance at the University of Chester and an examiner for the Registry of Guitar Tutors.

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