Writing a great guitar solo is no easy task. In order to successfully write a great guitar solo, it will take a lot more than simply determination along with an investment of your time...
To compose a great solo, you'll need skills in areas of guitar technique, for knowledge of scales and you'll need a solid understanding of the guitar neck. Plus, you'll need a lot of patience, thoughtfulness, creativity and the ability to tap your emotions. This is a big deal if you're going to do it right.
PLAYING A GUITAR SOLO:
Soloing is one of the more intimidating gestures for most beginner guitar players, but it doesn't have to be challenging. Remember, a good solo, above all, fits into the song. The solo needs feel and flow and it doesn't matter how fast or slow you play. If you focus on composing a solo that "perfectly fits" into the backing chords, you'll succeed. All it takes is some practice and developing the skills of the improvisor. But, what are the skills of an improvisor?
THE SKILLS OF AN IMPROVISOR:
Solos are not just some kind of a random assortment of notes in a scale, but rather they are composed of a quick, precise, and melodic succession of intervals.
Take some time to listen closely to some of your favorite guitar solos, sing them back and work them out on the guitar to more clearly see how they work along with the chords underneath.
The best guitarists in the world all spent years memorizing other people's solos, taking little licks and learning structure firsthand. Duane Allman, for example, famously operated his record player with his toe, moving the needle to listen to solos he liked over and over while he tried to learn them on the guitar.
There are guides and videos online to "Learn to play like _____." These are great ways to learn new scales and note combinations for your own solos. Take a moment to watch my lessons covering; "David Gilmour - Scale Concepts," and, "Jeff Beck - Lead Guitar Style," as well as my lesson on, "PRINCE - Guitar Style." These guitar lessons will give you a solid understanding for how some of the worlds top players use scales to solo.
Learning how the "Pros" did it will go a long way to helping you better understand how to use scales, arpeggios and intervals to make your own solos great as well.
DETERMINE THE SCALES TO BE USED:
There are a lot of options out there for scales, and none of them are necessarily "right." However, when the key is determined, there will be scales that sound, "correct."
While you can play multiple scales in one solo depending on the chords being played, beginners should get comfortable with one scale first, then move on to more complicated scales in their solos.
If you don't know any of the following scales, spend time to learn more about guitar scales and modes and expand your soloing range. When starting out, there are two basic scales that can be applied anywhere on the neck, for use in almost any song. The following shapes can be moved anywhere on the neck to change the key:
Major Pentatonic: In Position - Moveable Shape
Minor Pentatonic: Multiple Position - Moveable Shape
There are several ways to perform scales, bot within one fretting position and across the span of the fingerboard using multiple positions. You'll need to learn about both of these principles in order to get good at soloing.
In order to write a solo, you'll need to be comfortable with the song, the scales that relate to the song and with the chord changes. For any solo that you are writing, you'll more than likely be in contact with the person who wrote the song, and they should tell you their ideas for the piece, the key center they want you to focus on, and the specific chords they used. If you are not in contact with the songs composer, you'll be on your own to interpret how the solo should flow in the context of the piece.
Listen to the song 2-3 times while fooling around (noodling) on your guitar to get some early ideas for scales, licks, and tones. Don't worry about coming up with the perfect solo on the spot. Just play along, making a mental note of parts that sound good.
SOLOS ARE A BRIEF STORY (A SONG WITHIN A SONG):
The best solos ever written are a "song within a song." From Eric Clapton's searing blues solo in "Layla" to the single-note genius of Django Reinhardt, all of the world's greatest solos have a strong and connected structure.
They build slowly, adding complexity over time to hook the listener -- not just show off technical prowess.
One of the best ways to start a solo is to think of your solo as having a beginning, middle, and end. A good structure to start with might be:
Beginning: start slow, with short little phrases of multiple notes, or slower repeated bits.
You want to introduce the notes you'll be playing, maybe playing off an earlier melody, repeating the same phrase 2-3 times, or mimicking the vocal melody.
Middle: start exploring the fret-board as the chords start changing. You might move into higher notes, play some repeating notes, or start incorporating bends and vibrato.
End: end the solo on your best phrase or your fastest set of notes, culminating the solo in a high point or climax.
Sometimes you'll find the solo instantly, but more often than not you'll need to play ideas and test phrases several times, taking what you like and cutting what sounds "not so good," until you have a full solo you personally feel is worth playing.
Stay loose and try new things. Once you have your notes down you can start spicing up the solo with added flourish and fun: If you have some key notes that hold for a long period of time, try shaking or bending them to make them really sing.
Can you slide into notes? Hammer on or pull-off them for quicker playing? Can you cut or add notes to make the pacing and tension build up better? Are there some odd notes outside of the scale that may give the song a unique flavor? These are all important areas to consider when composing your solos.
THINK IN A LYRICAL WAY WITH YOUR NOTE CHOICES:
If you replaced all the words in a song with notes, you'd basically see that good singers are "soloing" all the time. However, since singers must move more slowly than a guitarist, they are more concerned with making each note count.
A singer can't simply run through a scale - they have to make the whole line or verse coherent, intertwined, and smooth. You should be doing the same thing in a good guitar solo, no matter what speed you go.
While composing, think about: What are the important notes, and how can you emphasize them with vibrato or bends? How do you get from one note or chord to another smoothly and melodically? What is the overall feel of the song? How does your solo fit into that feel?
Playing a great guitar solo is a skill that takes a long time to master. It comes together as a result of a great deal of listening combined with excellent intuition and technical skill. However, once the foundation start coming together, the fun of writing a solo kicks in. And, this is what propels a player to seek out a better performance.
Take your time, be patient and above all else, study. You need background knowledge in order to make this work for you. Over time, success will follow!
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