I think of improvising as an intellectual challenge that is analogous to meditating.
When I’m reading the chords of a song, or watching the hand of a chording guitarist and improvising at the same time, I am engaging in an activity that requires every bit of my attention, every bit of my know-how, and every bit of my mental skill.
In quite a rigorous way, I’m focusing on chords one-at-a-time as they approach, arrive, and disappear in real time. Just like one who meditates focuses, in a rigorous way, on thoughts one-at-a-time as they do the same.
Improvising, then, potentially offers the experience of moment-to-moment existence that is free of the burdens of the past and the future. This, as far as I know, is the same goal of meditation.
To use a hackneyed idiom, improvising is “living in the now.”
Like meditation, improvisation, in its truest sense, may be a bit of an illusion: How can I think about nothing when in the process of thinking about nothing I am thinking about something?
How can I let go and truly improvise when I am constantly aware of the chords?
Well, I believe that there is no such thing as letting go completely with improvising. What does exist, though, is a singular, distraction-free awareness of the present moment that I believe is every bit as satisfying as the romantic notion of complete surrender. Perhaps its even more satisfying because harmonic improvisation really exists and complete surrender only happens when you fall asleep or when you die.
To reiterate, when one truly meditates, he or she is only conscious of singular thoughts as they arise and evaporate; when one truly improvises, he or she is only conscious of singular chords as they do the same.
This is the essence of chasing the chords.
Here I am meditating to G-B7-E7-Am-D7-G:
Try it. No composing allowed, just chord-by-chord awareness.