How to Play a Better Guitar Solo...

Creating a guitar solo that sounds like more than just playing up and down basic scales takes a number of skills. Learn what those skills are and how to develop them...

Guitar soloing skills include concepts such as phrasing, repeating themes, leaving space, building your solos dynamically, and learning to play over simple chord changes. In order to rip out a solo the guitarist needs to understand all of these areas.

Before jumping into these areas it is important that the guitarist learns their scale patterns and how the scales are organized around the neck. Patterns are the templates for where you will locate the tones required to play a solo. The layout of both major and minor scale patterns is a must for soloing success. So, learn your patterns and know how scales connect. This is the first step to playing a decent solo.

The first soloing concept to talk about is phrasing. Good phrasing helps to structure your solo like you’re having a conversation with someone. If I’m talking to someone, I don’t run all my sentences together in a monotonous tone because that wouldn’t make much sense and wouldn’t be very interesting. That would be the same as playing a guitar solo that just runs up and down a scale.

When you’re talking to someone, you leave pauses, have inflections in your voice, and have rest times where you wait for a moment. Sometimes you want your guitar solos to be the same way. Your solo can be more interesting if you pause here and there and build inflections in your playing.

Having a repeating theme in your solo grabs your listeners attention. You won’t always have a repeating theme in your solo, but it’s nice to have build some type of theme in your solo. The theme will help tie everything together, giving it a cohesive feel. Repeating a theme will also help you with your phrasing because it leaves natural pauses in your solo.

Something that’s hard for guitarists to do is to leave space between notes, because we’re used to practicing scales and we naturally want to play through them quickly. Be sure to leave some space in your solos to keep your audience engaged and keep them dialed in to your music.

Try this basic soloing idea; establish a part you'll use as a theme. Play your part as a recurring theme, leaving a space for the part to breathe, and then play the theme again.

Building your solos dynamically is another way to make your solos more interesting and keep your listeners engaged. That could mean you start your solo quietly, slowly build it up, and then by the end, it’s natural to end off with a faster lick or at a higher volume.

This won’t be the case with every solo you play, but keeping dynamics in mind is a great tool to pull out, especially if you’re playing a song that is emotional or you want to end off with a crescendo. Think about it like an action movie, there are still down times during the movie so that the action really stands out.

Playing over chord changes can be somewhat confusing. The first solo you practice should be organized under a diatonic progression. This means all of the chords are from the same key center. For example, if you choose to work on an "F Major" progression, then every chord would come from the key of "F Major" and your entire solo would use the "F Major" scale.

A more complex approach is when chords are non-diatonic, meaning you should be changing the notes you play in your solo to fit with the chords that are happening in your song. For example, lets say the two chords we have in a jam track for your solo are G Major and Bb Major. In this case we’ll adjust our notes according to those chords.

When the G major chord is playing, we’ll use G major and G major pentatonic scales. When the Bb Major is playing, we’ll switch to an Bb Major pentatonic scale to match that chord. That’s going to be a more challenging example to work with, so it’s not exactly perfect for a beginner soloist. A beginner should start with the diatonic progression and develop their skills to be able to handle playing over non-diatonic progressions.

Try to use these basic soloing tips in every solo you play over the next few weeks. They are really helpful for making your solos sound more musical, and move you away from sounding like you’re just practicing scales up and down the neck.


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