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How to Use Commercial Breaks as a Guitarist

As TV commercials seem to get more mundane, annoying and frequent, you may not be so interested in what they have to sell you, but you can still use them to your advantage as a guitarist and make productive use of the down time between parts of your favourite show.

The people who create these commercials want a hook that will instantly connect their product to their audience. As a result, most commercials make use of simple, catchy chord progressions that are relatively easy to pick up by ear and a great place to start training your ear to identify chord and note relationships.

As commercials only tend to last on average 30 seconds, they are the perfect opportunity to test your improvisation skills, as you'll be challenged to move between different keys and styles of music in a short space of time.

There are a number of exercises you can try during a commercial break. Some will depend on your current ability, but simply making the effort, even just listening more closely than you perhaps normally do, will help tune your ear to this kind of task.

1) Try and work out the chords being used in the music and see if you can transpose them to different keys. Start with the first chord in the repeating sequence, find the bass note on the low E or A string and then work out if it's a major or minor chord.

2) See if you can embellish jingles used in commercials and turn it into a fully fledged song. Of course, a lot of music in commercials is taken from established songs, but see if you can take those 30 second snippets in a completely new direction. You never know where you'll end up!

3) Test your knowledge of scales. Start with pentatonic scales and try adding your own solo to the music. If your scale knowledge is weak, try humming a simple harmony and replicating it note for note on the guitar. When the commercial comes on again, you'll be more ready to add to it.

4) Try strumming and picking along to the song in the commercial - something different every time it comes on.

5) Test your knowledge of arpeggios by arpeggiating the chord changes in the music. You might have to note down the chords to work on this later.

If you're struggling with any of these things, then don't be afraid to keep it really simple, because it's still a useful exercise at any level.

For example, try finding a sequence of two or three notes that harmonise with the music. This may not seem very exciting or productive, but your ear (your brain, actually) will start to pick up certain note relationships quicker the more you exercise it in this way. This leads to better co-ordination between what you hear and what you see on the fretboard.

The great thing is, a lot of this development will happen in the background - the subconscious mind will do much of the work.

So keep your guitar close by for those ad breaks and use them to test your creative spontaneity and improvisation skills. It may just spark something that pushes your learning progress to the next level.

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