Learning how to solo over chord progressions is one of the most important skills a guitarist can develop for applying the knowledge of scales and guitar techniques in the context of improvisation...
If you want to be the lead guitarist in your band, you need to how to play over the chords in a progression. This technique is crucial, since you'll most likely be expected to write your own leads using scale patterns. By the end of this article, you'll have a good idea for how to get started picking the scale you'll need to play a guitar solo.
It helps to know a number of different scale patterns. Scales help the guitarist to understand what the appropriate note patterns are on the neck, and through scale knowledge, the guitarist will know how to use tonality, (major and minor sounds).
A few scale patterns to know early on are; major and minor pentatonic, the basic major scale, and the natural minor scale. If you can develop these fingerboard patterns in at least two regions of the fingerboard - early on, you should be more than fine when it comes to playing your first few attempts at guitar solos.
SCALE USE IN GUITAR SOLOS:
A lot of people are curious about how to apply the scales they learn over top of various chord progressions (a chord progression is a sequence of chord changes). The first step to accomplishing this is to learn how to apply scales over single chords. Then, you need to move into playing scales over "diatonic" progressions, (progressions that stay within a key).
The final stage is learning to play a guitar solo over chord changes that are "non-diatonic." A non-diatonic progression is a progression that does not contain chords form the same key. And, as you might have guessed, this is a far more advanced concept which you'll need to come to later on.
If you want to learn everything there is to know about playing guitar solos, then I'd suggest becoming a paid member at "Creative Guitar Studio" and spending time studying the "Advanced Guitar Player Program." It will cover everything you need to know for performing solos on the guitar.
Your first step to playing a diatonic solo is to begin by identifying which scales will be compatible with different backing chords. A diatonic progression uses backing chords from one key. When you solo, you'll be using one scale. The notes we use in our solos will need to correspond with the notes being played in each of the backing chords, otherwise the sound generated will clash and come across as sounding dissonant, (unstable).
Once you learn to play a chord progression, you should get to know the tones /intervals from which it was built, and not just the pattern each chord forms on the fret-board. This is called "Harmonic Analysis." The foundation for this in music theory is based in, "Key Signature Harmony." The most common progression found in popular music harmony is the "I-IV-V."
By knowing and using scale and chord theory, you will be able to build solos with the correct scales that fit with your chord progressions. By knowing intervals, and basic key signatures, you can match up the chord with the correct scale that uses all of the correct tones required for the progression.
DOING "HARMONIC ANALYSIS"
There is a set process you can use for harmonic analysis which organizes scales around their key signature. It involves focusing on the backing chords and being very clear on how those chords relate to the scales you will be applying. The more you practice this method, the quicker this process will make sense to you over any progression you encounter.
1. Identify the "Tonic Chord" (Home-chord) to establish the key center of your solo. Normally, (85% of the time) this is the first chord played in the progression. If you cannot understand which chord is "Home," then listen to tell the chord for where the progression wants to keep returning back to. There will be a chord (90% of the time) that wants to act as the "Home" chord. This "Home" chord will be either Major or Minor and this will be your "Tonic."
2. Identify the quality of each chord type in the progression. Is it a major, or a minor chord? Are the chords "Dominant 7th?" You'll need to start recognizing the chord quality very quickly in order to fully understand the overall color of the chord progression.
3. Identify any other chords used in the progression as separate from the "I-IV-V" chords. In other words, start by looking for the "I-IV-V" chord types. Then, analyze what occurs around those chords as the filler chord types. Is there a "III-chord?" Or is there a "II-chord," or a "VI-chord?"
Key centers operate in one of two primary tonalities, "major," or "Minor." If the "I-IV-V" chords are major, you need to use major scales. If the movements of the "I-IV-V" are Minor, then minor scales must be used. Over "surrounding chords" will have either major or minor quality as well. You will need to understand them and their placements in harmony to become the best soloist possible. The "Creative Guitar Studio" Intermediate Guitar Program teaches this process thoroughly, using a step-by-step system.
4. Test and operate your scales. This "Testing" phase is the all important period where you start learning if your scales work properly. If not, you'll need to modify your approach. Generally, if you run through the steps above, you should be on the right track fairly quickly. However, some chord progressions can behave in ambiguous ways. These ambiguous progressions will need further testing with scales in order to establish the correct scale type for application over the chord changes.
This 4 step process is crucial, as it defines the key in which you will play your solos in, and it determines which scales you can use in your guitar solo. Learning how to apply these scales fluidly and musically is the next step. But, this final step cannot be reached until you are clear on the scales that are required for creating a guitar solo.
YOUR GUITAR SOLO:
When soloing over chords, the key center of the solo is most often (85% of the time), defined by the root note of the first chord played, (which in turn becomes the TONIC note of any scale you will use). This is also sometimes called the "key note" or the progressions "naming note."
More often than not, the "key note" is the first tone of the progression's lowest note, and will therefore most commonly use the low E, A or D string on the guitar as it's bass tone, (lowest possible tone).
The root note is identified as "1," and you'll see it referenced in scale and chord diagrams for harmonic analysis as a Roman Numeral, "I."
For example, let's say that the first chord of a progression you want to solo over is a "C Major" chord. On the fret-board chord diagram below, with the intervals labelled, we'll say that this chord was being used as the first chord of your progression.
Identify the root notes, (they are on the 5th and 3rd strings).
"C" major chord:
This chord would correspond the the "C Major" scale. The pattern below for "C Major" scale is established in the same fret-board area as the chord shown above. You could use this pattern to start soloing over the above "C Major" chord.
"C" major scale on the 5th string root:
As you can tell, both of these patterns are rooted on the 5th string (i.e. their lowest, bass root note is positioned on the 5th string). The root note itself is very important, as this defines the key. So if the root note of the backing chord is "C" (e.g. 5th string, 3rd fret), then we know any scale we choose to solo from should also be rooted on the "C" tone as well.
Our solo would therefore be in the key of "C." We would play a "C major scale."
Ideally, you should already know the chords being used during the solo (perhaps you'll write them out yourself or a band member may write them down for you). That way, you will clearly know the chord names and therefore which root note each chord will use.
You can focus on the root note procedure to accomplish your "Harmonic Analysis" and find a starting point for your solo on the fret-board. It's best to use the low E or A string as the starting point, (this tends to give us the most familiar chord shapes and scale patterns, since most guitar players begin learning scales rooted on these two low strings).
For example, if the backing chord was "B minor," played on the 6th-string, you could find the note "B" on the low 6th string at the 7th fret.
B MINOR CHORD:
As long as you're familiar with playing scale patterns from the low string root notes, it's the best option to start from for analyzing a progression to begin playing your guitar solo.
Once you've theoretically established the key, and a starting point for your solo, it's important to understand that you don't actually have to begin the solo on that root note - it's just a reference point to help find your scale pattern on the fret-board.
As long as you use the notes of the correct scale, you can begin on any note of the scale and test whether or not you enjoy the sound produced. If you like the sound, then you're on your way, if not, use another note to start your solo instead.
Locating multiple root note positions for a backing chord will allow you to move in and out of different scale positions more fluidly when you start soloing. Therefore, make sure you always analyze more than one region of the neck for performing your solo in.
Another important idea is to always think in respect to both the 5-tone pentatonic and the 7-tone full scale when soloing. Never lean in only one direction. Each scale type will provide you with different soloing sounds and different fingering options.
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