Improvising in Open G… Here are some Riffs!

Many days when I pick up my guitar I end up just noodling away… improvising is probably my favorite part of playing the guitar.

Improvising over open chords is probably the easiest way to get started, and the key of G is the best key for that.

When you’re playing in G major, then you solo in Em. Em is the relative 6th of G, therefore is the minor scale that you use to solo in. (See my lesson on I IV V for a better explanation).

Playing in the key of G means that we can use Em Diatonic OR Em Pentatonic. Both of these scales become super easy in the open position…

I really relate to the fretboard in patterns. I find them much easier to get my brain wrapped around than note names. One day soon I am going to do a full-length lesson on that. However, for the time being, have a look at the scale pattern on the page here – that is the Em diatonic minor scale.

Now go through each of the chords in the key of G (G, C, D, Em, Am, Bm) and find where the notes from each chord fit into the scale. You’ll see that every chord is built out of notes within that scale.

Em Diatonic ScaleNext, get that scale pattern embedded in your head and pickup your guitar. That pattern now becomes your structure for improvising. With the pentatonic scale you can truly play any of the notes you want, wherever you want. With the diatonic scale, you have to be a little bit more careful, but you can usually get away with pretty much anything there as well.

Now that you’ve got that pattern stuck in your brain, watch this video, and do your best to follow my fingers and see how everything is coming out of that diatonic pattern. When you’re able to see that, it will really open up a door in your mind in relation to the guitar.

Please note I’ve indicated the extra E and A on the 5th fret. These notes are still in the scale, but those specific spots on the fretboard aren’t in the minor diatonic pattern – they are out of the G major diatonic pattern. It is important to know they are there though, and can of course be played. You’ll see one of the riffs in the video uses these two notes quite a bit.

One other thing – PLEASE don’t get hung up on playing the riffs exactly like I do. This lesson is to help you improvise – not copy. Take my ideas and make them your own, with your own rhythms or sequences.

Just have fun with it and let it all hang out!

As I already mentioned, I absolutely love improvising and playing this type of stuff. Consequently, I have no problem bringing a lot more in this vein, and yes, going into more detail about specifically what I’m playing. However, I need to know if you guys are interested in improvising, or if you prefer to learn common riffs to copy.

Leave a comment below and tell me if you love it or hate it.

Watch Open G Riffs on Youtube

For More Riffs Like This One, Click Here

If you liked the style and difficulty level of this guitar riff, you might like to check out my short course that contains a bunch more guitar riffs in G major.

Leave a Reply 78 comments

DON - December 5, 2009 Reply


    Jonathan Boettcher - December 5, 2009 Reply

    Thanks Don!

    I guess I’ll be doing more lessons on improvising then! =)

    terry - March 1, 2011 Reply

    Thanks Don, anything that helps me play better is always apreciated, I know I will use it often to warm up.

    mark - March 23, 2011 Reply


    geronimo gianelli - February 3, 2012 Reply


Brian Keen - December 9, 2009 Reply

Thanks Jonathan for the great riffs. I really like warming up with them. It makes me want to play my guitar even more. God bless Brian

    Jonathan Boettcher - December 9, 2009 Reply

    Thanks Brian – yeah I find doing stuff like this is a great warmup and also gets the creative side working! Cheers.

shane - December 13, 2009 Reply

Keep up the good work.I can really tell my playing is getting better.

    Jonathan Boettcher - December 14, 2009 Reply

    Thanks Shane – that’s great to hear!

beauxpatrick - December 16, 2009 Reply

I get a lot from your videos but I have a problem beginning to improvise… is there a hint as to how to start?

    Jonathan Boettcher - December 16, 2009 Reply

    Great question… Yeah, with this lesson in particular, I would start by practicing the scale we’re using a bit first. It’s E Minor Diatonic. You don’t have to be a pro at it, but just get used to where the notes are in the scale.

    Now, have a look at the chords you play in this key… G, C, D, Em, etc. If you look closely at the scale, you’ll see that you can actually find the notes for each chord right within the scale. That is a key point – because once you realize everything you’re playing already comes out of the scale, then you can add bits and pieces from other parts of the scale to improvise.

    For instance, the F# on the 6th string makes a great passing note going from G to Em, or vice versa. Simply strum the G, pluck that F# (single note), and then strum an Em. I did this video recently which is kind of a toned-down version of the one above… you might find it helpful to start here.

    An Easy Riff For Beginners With Open Chords

    Back to my ranting on the scales 😉 once you’re a bit familiar with the scale, simply strum one of the chords, like a G for instance, and then try to make a little riff with 1 or 2 notes out of the scale. It doesn’t have to be complicated – a simple passing note like I mentioned above is still considered improvising! Hope that helps…

      mike - June 6, 2011 Reply

      Hey Johnathan, just to let you know I enjot what you and Colan Daniel do, as well I’m particularly speaking about the improvising instructions given to beaupatrick

beauxpatrick - December 26, 2009 Reply

Thanks Jonathan… I am sure this will inspire me to be creative if I can just break out of the scale… I have a tendency to only play the note in succession of the scale. Wish me luck…


Jonathan Boettcher - December 26, 2009 Reply

Hi beauxPatrick – try deliberately skipping notes in the scale, working your way through it, or try going up three notes, then down one or two, then up three, and so on until the end. I find that can be a useful way to help train your fingers into new patterns.

carl - March 24, 2010 Reply

loved the lesson more please works well with knocking on heavens door

Rand - May 19, 2010 Reply

Thanks Jonathon, Its coming together for me better all the time. I might not have the riffs yet, but I understand how to come up with them. P.S. Thanks for the explanation on 7ths.

Jake - June 14, 2010 Reply

I loved this session Jonathon. I’m gonna have my guitar teacher help me out with this today. Excellent. Thanks and I’m looking forward to more cool stuff like this… 🙂

Don2 - June 20, 2010 Reply

Thanks, Jonathan,
This kind of got me out of a rut for improvising in G open string positions.

Jesse James - July 31, 2010 Reply

As you referred to what we would like between riffs to copy you, or improvising, I would like to have more riffs to work on. However, I also believe that improvising is important for everyone in order to improve beyond where they are at. I am working on the riffs and when I try to go beyond this and try something different my fingers appears to be drunk and start stumbling around. But you know it is coming. I will get these fingers sobered up at some point here, but these videos are really helping out compared to what I was doing.
In the penatonic scale there are five notes. Now do these notes start out at the root note of a chord, for eg. with the D chord the notes would be D, E, F, G, AND A?

Also, when you do riffs going into another chord, do you start the notes about 4 beats before the chord change if you are going to use 4 notes in your riff persay before you change chords, if this is the riff style you would use if you are jamming with someone else? I hope I am making my question clear here, but if it sounds confusing I will try to explain it again.

Thanks Jonathan for all your help in doing these videos.

    Jonathan Boettcher - August 2, 2010 Reply

    Hi Jesse – you can play the pentatonic scale from each chord root, if you want, however you really don’t need to. Especially when you’re learning… just pick the scale for they key that you’re in, and stay in that same scale regardless of what chord is being played (as long as you’re still in the same key).

    I’m not sure I follow the second part of your question – but I think if you experiment using the same scale over different chords, you’ll start to get the hang of it.

Jesse James - July 31, 2010 Reply

I have been able to do some steps going into the A key between A, D, and E chords and they are not too bad for someone trying to walk into all the chords in this key. All I need to do is practice them till I get them down.
For eg., walking into A chord I hit the E string open, E string 2nd fret, E String 4th fret, then A string open and play A chord.

Walking into D chord, I hit the A string open, then A string 2nd fret, A string 4 fret, then play the D chord.

Going down into E chord, A string open, A string 2nd fret, E string 4 fret, E string 2nd fret, E string open, then play the E chord.

Just thought I would share this in case someone would like it. I sure ain’t an instructor but I will share when I come up with something to help another.

If this can be done better then let me know okay Jonathan? I need all the help I can get here.
Thanks alot for all your time and efforts in this. It is greatly appreciated.

    Jonathan Boettcher - August 2, 2010 Reply

    Hi Jesse – yes, you’re definitely on the right track here…

cwgreen - August 25, 2010 Reply

Jonathan, I really enjoyed this video. I enjoy copying your riffs but when I get tired of practicing a certain riff it is relaxing to just improvise and mess around with different stuff. Lets have some more on the improvising. Thanks

Nick108 - September 16, 2010 Reply


1% to learn parrot like riffs, for the theoretical side, but 99% to learn how to improvise I think is more important, then its relevant to what you are doing, to be able to hear two bars of a riff, then go click in the mind and then turn out lead lines or whatever that directly relate to that.


Capn1934 - September 16, 2010 Reply

Found the quick video an eye opener……..began adding the simple riffs to the G – C – and D chords..thank you…….made this easy and fun to learn

Chris - September 17, 2010 Reply

Jonathan, Thanks for the video lessons they are great, and improvising is my favorite thing to do ,I put on some backing tracks of different types of music and find what scale works the best, mostly use the pentatonic with a little blues note added here or there along with a few passing notes and let er’ rip, I feel that I’m improving, getting faster and know the scale all over the neck, I’d like some lessons maybe on song building, how to structure a song, so if you get some time that would be cool. Thanks again and keep on rockin!

John - September 26, 2010 Reply

Hi Jonathan,
Your vidio was cool! I always wondered when I adding a note here, and there, if I was on the right track in my music, rather than just strumming the cord.

Kettle - October 10, 2010 Reply

I like your guitar stuff, theory and licks n’ tricks and improvising.
And recommend Jonathan’s 145 course.

Nick108 - October 10, 2010 Reply

Jon, why don’t you move next door, I’d love to able to jam with my neighbours like we used to in Richmond in Melbourne, this guy next door played piano, verbatim all day, so I got the geetar, waah waah, to old Fender Bassman up full bore and played along, then some guy the other side was a drummer, he joined in also, sort of like a communal neighbourhood jam session, someone a mile away said it sounded so good the cops refused to come and tell us to turn it down when some bastard complained about the volume. Even cops know the difference between a dangerous animal and a kid who wants to practise, sadly in this area where I am now all they know is gossip, slander, hate campaigns, but I blast them out anyway. Oh and if they complain, the cop and his son two doors up complain that I stopped because he says there’s nothing better than coming home from work hearing someone write, practise and love their music all day long as an offering to god, and anyone else with open ears and minds who happens by. Your lessons are helping heaps, you have explained some things to me that I took years to understand and never did, because you go slowly, clearly and concisely. And you are a good lookin bloke also, nothing worse than learning from a bloke on video who looks ugly.

All the best and just keep on sending them.

Hope you enjoyed the Mp3 tracks I sent via YouSendit.

Nick108 In Adelaide Australia.

Fred Holland - October 14, 2010 Reply

I feel one huge step closer to understanding the relationship between playing chords and scales to make original sounding music. Thanks for all the work.

Tom - December 2, 2010 Reply

“However, I need to know if you guys are interested in improvising, or if you prefer to learn common riffs to copy.”

Yes and yes, some of each, please. Actually a whole boatload of each. Aw, just send the whole armada! Great stuff!

Skip Kanosky - December 29, 2010 Reply

Wonderful! This makes so much sense. I have been working on both
scales( pentatonic & diatonic), when do you know which one to use
in a chord progression?

    Jonathan Boettcher - December 29, 2010 Reply

    Hi Skip, in most cases you can use either diatonic or pentatonic; depending on your mood I guess! 🙂

    There are some cases where only the pentatonic will work, but its a bit difficult to describe briefly. I’ll see about making a video on that.

Skip Kanosky - January 1, 2011 Reply

Thank you! I’ll be watching!

Tony Rocco - January 11, 2011 Reply

Hi Jonathon! since I received Guitar Scale Patterns, the mystery of playing up and down the fretboard is revealed. I am a logic driven person and I could wrap my arms around your logical presentation. I have been playing for about 40 years on and off. I never took the time to understand the fretboard and theory. I have renewed enthusiasm and look forward to practicing and improving.
Thanks for doing these videos.

    Jonathan Boettcher - January 13, 2011 Reply

    Great to hear Tony – you’re very welcome!

x-ray - January 18, 2011 Reply

very cool thanks buddy…

bigjoeb - February 15, 2011 Reply

Hi Jon, thanks good lesson, very helpful. I am a little confused about the pentatonic (or diatonic) scale to use to improvise in though. For G scale you chose Em as it is the VI so is this always the pattern? eg for a song in E one should use Cm? or in D use Bm??

Am I on track here? if the song is already in a minor scale do you just use that key eg. in Dm use Dm pentatonic?

    Jonathan Boettcher - February 15, 2011 Reply

    Hey, yeah, you’re definitely on the right track. The VI is the relative minor, so for G, you use Em, for D you use Bm. E you use C#m… not Cm (double check your tones & semitones… or just count down 3 frets from the tonic note).

    If you’re already in a minor key, you can let ‘er rip with that same minor scale – just like you said – Dm use Dm pentatonic or diatonic.

      Ron - July 25, 2011 Reply

      This is why it is good to read other’s comments…bigJoeb’s comment/question and your answer, Jonathan, just flipped on the light switch for me!! Great job! I think I know where I’m going now and looking forward to some real, improved, improv!

Dustin - March 6, 2011 Reply

Johnathan, Your tips with improvising riffs has help me want to hang on to my guitar alot more and practice. I’m still trying to remember the scale patterns, but this old mind isn’t as acceptable as it once was,but keep it up because you have helped me improve my playing alot.I realize that I’ll never be a star,but having to go on disability it helps to pass the long hours away. Just wanted to let you know that you are appreciated

    Jesse James - March 7, 2011 Reply

    Hi Dustin,
    I want to say that I too am on disability and sometimes it takes a bit to pick up the guitar. Also, this old mind has been on a skid the past couple years also. Sounds like we are similiar in our lifestyles. But it was encouraging reading your article here. I too am so thankful for Jonathan taking the time to help so many out. He is doing a terrific job in his ambitions on here.
    Thanks to you Dustin for mentioning your situation, and thanks to Jonathan for all your support here.
    I try to say thanks by improving in my abilities here.

Dustin - March 8, 2011 Reply

I think it helps for us older players and expecially us that are on disability to keep pattying each other on theback,,,,it just helps to hear that i’m not the only one. It’s to bad we couldn’t get together and let it rip if possible,but then again i owe alot of it to Johnathan taking the time to put lessons on line . Thanks everyone, and to you Jesse James some for reply

    Jesse James - March 9, 2011 Reply

    Dustin, thanks for the return memo.
    I try to keep things simple, and have some humour in things the best way I can.
    Now here is a name for all the disabled that are trying. We may not hit the neon lights, but we can call ourselves “The Gimp Machine”, and Jonathan can guide us through the
    I am very thankful for Jonathan efforts in all he does, and I am so thankful I found his site to get help.
    I live in Edmonton and I love to have access to such giving people as Jonathan.

    I have a question. When I am trying to play along with a video or a song on the internet, I seem to get frustrated when my sound makes it discouraging. Sometimes I wonder if we are in tune together, or is it the strings I use compared to them. Any suggestions?

      Jonathan Boettcher - March 10, 2011 Reply

      Hi Jesse, depending on the song you’re listening to, it may not be recorded in standard pitch. Assuming your guitar is in tune, this might be the problem. Some of the older records were a 1/4 tone off, or a half tone off… especially ones recorded on reel to reel. One thing that might be useful is something like – you can actually take recordings and alter the pitch ever so slightly until they’re where you want them to be, without changing the tempo.

      Alternatively, you could just tune your guitar to the song you want to play with.. I’ve done that before as well, though its not much fun if you want to play with a number of different songs and they’re all different!

      That’s my 2 cents though 😉

        Jesse James - March 10, 2011 Reply

        Thanks Jonathan for your response.
        I do have guitar tuners here. I have four of them so I can’t be too far out, it is just the sound that is far out. lol
        I have a tuner here that just snaps onto the head of the neck. If my arm is resting on the body, like I am playing it, while I am picking the strings, can that impact the vibrations somewhat that the tuner is sensative to? If so, then I will just lay the guitar down and do it that way.

        Jonathan Boettcher - March 10, 2011 Reply

        Hi Jesse – no, resting your arm on the body shouldn’t affect the tuning; I tune while holding the guitar all the time, just as I would if I were actually playing it. The only thing it may do is deaden the vibration slightly, but it wouldn’t change the pitch.

Jesse James - March 10, 2011 Reply

Thanks Jonathan for the info. I will keep trying to get it, and it will come.
It sure is easier said than done, I must say. If it was easy to come by, the personal satisfaction wouldn’t mean as much when you achieve the goal.

Justin - March 23, 2011 Reply

Maybe it would help if you showed us exactly how to play the Em diatonic scale, because it looks as if you throw in some open strings. It is somewhat confusing…

ozzy - June 23, 2011 Reply

Hey Johnathan…kool lesson dude…the more lessons on improvising the better as far as I’m concerned..plz keep’em coming …great job as always…thanks

Jim - July 14, 2011 Reply

Nice Stuff, helped a ot in my open chord playing!

Ron - July 25, 2011 Reply

Hey Jon,

As always, your tips/tricks and other instruction are always great to watch and listen to and they are very helpful. I would love to continue learning about improvisation, but some riffs and licks every now and then would be nice, too. I am a fairly creative guy, but having access to others creativity helps in the dry spells. Plus, it is what brings us all together as one big, happy family of players!

Love your stuff, man. Keep it up!!

Moe - September 18, 2011 Reply

Thank you. Good stuff….I can follow. Much appreciated.

Jimmy - January 6, 2012 Reply

Great lesson, i’m having alot of trouble learning how to solo. I have the 145 course & the scale theory, which is very helpful. Guess i’ll keep myths day job!

Jesse James - January 6, 2012 Reply

Hi Jonathan
Thanks for this lesson as it really started clicking with me today here for some reason. Funny, but I have been trying a couple riffs just like you did here.
I got a question, when you start out with a riff and if you start out with a C note, then carry on, is the C note the last one you play before you go into C chord?
And if you end with a G note, you go into the G chord right?
You were also using pulloffs along with hammerons in these riffs, am I right on the pulloffs?
Thanks alot for these, and this one really clicked with me today.

God Bless

    Jonathan Boettcher - January 9, 2012 Reply

    Hi Jesse, you don’t always have to end up on the same note as the next chord… though you do want to think about how the notes are related to the chord. For instance, your last note might be a passing note leading toward the chord, or it might be a third of the chord’s root, or a fifth, etc. Re the pulloffs etc, have a look in the riffs section of the site, I think there are some videos on that in there.

ERROL CARROLL - April 1, 2012 Reply


    Jonathan Boettcher - April 2, 2012 Reply

    Hi Ed, we’ll get you a replacement disk sent out. Cheers, Jonathan

      ERROL CARROLL - April 3, 2012 Reply


Markus Wayne - May 6, 2012 Reply

why are your videos slugish or out of tune ?
are your lessons that quality to watch also?
I would like to know before I buy.. thanks.

    Jonathan Boettcher - May 6, 2012 Reply

     The videos are high quality, and delivered differently than the ones on The ones you pay for, you can download completely to your computer prior to watching them, so there will be no delays or slow spots. Additionally, we have DVD versions available for all the lessons.

Colleen - October 28, 2012 Reply

I love the direction you are going with this instruction!  Playing can be an exercise in creativity for me OR a copying experience that sucks the fun and life right out of my music.  Do love the examples though to get started in the right direction.

mtman2 - November 5, 2012 Reply

Jonathan, Nice video.  I especially like visualizing the pattern you presented before I watched the 10 min video.  I think the key here is just understanding enough about the theory to create a nice flow of chords and moving the passing notes to get to the new chord.  This kinda reminded me of that old Led Zepplin tune that started off acoustic.  I don’t know the tunes name, “Hey Lady…..” thanks, amtman

    mtman2 - November 5, 2012 Reply

    Oh, one other thing, If you can shoot the video angling in from the top we would be able to see which fingers are on which strings mo betta.  It appears that camera angle is possibly coming in from the bottom and your fingertips get blocked out by your fingers……

Rex Starling - December 13, 2012 Reply

Really enjoyed these riffs on G. Your programs are varied and always interesting. I used to watch and listen in wonder at the fast fingering and never really try them . Now i try them all. After learning all 5 pentatonic scales, Ill have a go at anything. Keep them coming and “thanks” Rex ( 75 yrs young) nz

Bill - December 21, 2012 Reply

Hi Jonathan, I am left handed and struggle like hell to copy riffs etc from lessons or tabs, because everything to me is back to front, upside down and blows a fuse in my tiny brain.
I have given up on trying and do my own thing feeling very comfortable playing along with most songs up and down the fretboard and it is easy to find the correct key to start and make up my own riffs in tune with a song.
So for me, improvising is the best thing and more fun.
This lesson was exactly what I was looking for too, I am at a point where I can solo or play just using chords but had no idea how to work the two together. This is the perfect lesson for me and you make it easy to follow and understand.
So thanks for this lesson. I already have you 1-4-5 course and had better purchase this one.

Bill NZ

Bill - December 21, 2012 Reply

I thought you had a new course from this lesson!!!

Clintom - December 30, 2012 Reply

 Like it!

Marlonppernes27 - January 29, 2013 Reply

Thanks for Jon for all those creative ideas. Definitely will put them into use.

jstin - February 23, 2013 Reply

jstin :       Hey   Jonathan I just wanted to say that the open G Riffs is very good it takes you away from the
          electric  guitar. It’s been four or five months since I’ve pick my Acoustic guitar and this gives me the
          power to say to myself I don’t need to work on my Electric guitar for two hours every night I can split
          each one for an hour a piece thanks Jonathan

Golfer - September 24, 2013 Reply

Hi Jonathan. Simple, great ideas to enhance strums.

Kenneth - December 7, 2013 Reply

This is great. I love “noodling” and you’ve gave me some great ideas. chi - May 3, 2014 Reply

I really like watching you play with great hopes that it will improve my playng. I can see why learing to play by improving can help

king rex - May 9, 2014 Reply

Good stuff!!! Thanks for sharing

Mike S - October 13, 2014 Reply

Hey Jonathan, That was just what I needed. I like to noodle around using scales and the way you presented it was a new way for me to try.

Sue - June 6, 2015 Reply

I just copied the pattern into my notebook. I probably have it already because I purchased scales, 1 4 5 and a few other dvds, but I find writing it down also helps me to remember it. Tabs are great esp. for beginners like me, but maybe they are also a crutch that needs to be thrown away. I’m going to attempt to improvise.
Thanks for the lesson.

Clive Farthing - September 25, 2016 Reply

Hi Jonathan thanks for this lesson, I have gained from lessons I have brought from you greatly. This has put a new perspective on my practice. Trying to copy everything is not easy in my senior years as my memory is not so good If I could get used to being creative . Expanding my playing would be a lot better thanks.

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