So what do you think about when you’re improvising? I’m guessing there are as many answers as there are guitarists. I’ve spent 50 years or more in the “exertion” phase of guitar, I would theorize that intermediate guitarists are people who became so enchanted with the newly realized dexterity in their fingers that they stopped studying the fretboard and just raced around directionless because they could. Then there’s Joe Pass that said if you’re thinking, you’re not playing (paraphrased). Is a virtuoso a noodler within sophisticated harmonic and rhythmic boundaries?
My hands feel like race cars that can’t find the race track.
Phrasing is king, that’s what I think about first and foremost.
As for note choices, it’s contextual. Sometimes I’ll think of nothing more than the Pentatonic Scale, others I’ll think more about CAGED positions and scale shapes, and sometimes I’ll think more specifically about chords or triads.
But across the board, phrasing is the most important element of music in my opinion. That’s what differentiates music from a series of notes.
Then there’s Joe Pass that said if you’re thinking, you’re not playing (paraphrased)
I would agree with this to a certain extent. Of course, that’s easy for a well experienced professional to say, but many of us mortals need to think more strategically about what we do There does become a point though where certain phrases, note groupings, or patterns, are just inherent in your muscle memory and don’t require much thought at all.