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