2 Guitar Soloing Tips that Change EVERYTHING (Lead Guitars Secret Sauce)

Are you one of those guitar players who has worked hard at trying to play an original guitar solo only to end up feeling like you've failed at making your lead ideas sound good? Do you often have a gut reaction when you play solos that your notes are a little off-kilter and your sense of time for resolving licks could be better?

Well, I'm here to tell you that you're not alone. This topic is one of the most popular topics that I am asked about and it's also one of the most popular areas that guitar players will tend get frustrated with when they're trying to develop their lead guitar playing to higher levels.

If you've ever purchased a book or video method on "How to Play a Guitar Solo," or perhaps taken a course on how to play lead guitar, what is it that almost always starts those courses...? Generally the first thing those courses will introduce, are... you guessed it, the Minor Pentatonic Scale.

Almost every course, eBook, video and Guitar blog covering how to play a guitar solo, (that I've ever seen), begins with the standard, "Okay, folks let's get started with a great scale to learn for playing a solo, the Minor Pentatonic." 

At that point the lesson almost always continues with demonstrating that Minor Pentatonic scale pattern off of the 6th string, 5th fret "A."

While there is nothing "bad" about doing this, the problem is that most guitar players already know that scale shape and they've very likely tried using it for weeks, months or possibly even years - often with minimal success. 

So, the scale pattern alone is not the answer. Learning a scale is not going to provide the "Secret Sauce" to playing great guitar solos.

Another area guitar players practice to be able to learn to play better guitar solos is the area of working with "Jam Tracks." And, if you know a few scale patterns on the neck, JamTracks can be helpful for starting to get your sense of phrasing together. There's no questioning that Jam-Tracks will help a guitar player start to phrase better.

Jam-Tracks will also help players balance their sense of the scale tones against the flow of underlying chords in a Jam-Track progression. So, there are great benefits that can come from practicing alongside of Jam-Tracks. Especially when Jam-Track practice is combined with greater fingerboard knowledge of learning both scales and arpeggios across the fingerboard.

However, I've listened to hundreds of backing track jams sent to me over the last 10 years from guitar players all over the world who still can't nail down their phrasing. They've worked with Jam-Tracks for long periods, but still cannot make the scales connect very well. It's frustrating because after all of that time and effort, it will still feel like there's something missing. It's like they've done all kinds of work, but they still don't have the secret sauce to playing a great guitar solo.

Okay, let's get into the secret sauce - what is it, how can you start adding it to your solos and how will it start making a big difference in the ways that you perform a solo.

Well, there are two ingredients to the secret sauce. The first ingredient is learning how to perform a guitar solo played by another guitar player that you admire. These should be solos, that excite you, that really grab you. Solos so cool, that when you hear them, you instantly fully respect the way they make you react.

Now, I know what's happening for some people listening to this. There's a group of guitar players out there saying, "No way, I'm not learning anyone else's solo, because I don't want to be influenced by them, I don't want to sound like anyone else - I want to have my own style."

Okay, fine... but before you shut this off and go away, listen to something that I have to tell you. In my over 25 years of teaching, and in all my years of dealing with hundreds of fellow students when I was attended the Guitar Institute of Technology (there were around 285 guitar students along with me attending that school when I was there), I learned something very valuable.

Every amazing guitar player I've ever met who could rip out fantastic guitar solo improvisations, had spent hours and hours learning other peoples guitar solos that they admired. Even if it was a solo that they only liked a small portion of, they learned it, and they could play it note-for-note. That is Secret Sauce Ingredient #1.

And, my homework for you with this first ingredient is to take a short phrase I've removed from a few bars of Led Zeppelins "Stairway to Heaven" solo and learn it. 

Get it down 100% perfectly and then work on integrating it into your own playing. Have it become your first step to a future of lifting off dozens and dozens of guitar solo ideas from all types of guitarists who inspire you.

Example). Excerpt of the solo from, "Stairway to Heaven"

If you take stock of "Secret Sauce Ingredient #1," and put it into massive action and begin experiencing what learning other peoples solos will do for you. It will start to make a difference right away. I know it has for me and for hundreds of other players I've had the pleasure of working with over all the years.

I've taken lines and phrases from heavy metal solos and turned them into jazz licks. And, worked out passages from blues songs and made them into classic rock solos. This idea can be used to dissect and then re-construct any lead guitar part and have it become a fantastic new element within your guitar playing.

But, there's another layer to this. And, this brings us to, "Secret Sauce Ingredient #2." This is the ingredient of composing original solos of your own from scratch. 

Now, before we get into this, I need you to stop for a moment and think through what playing an improvised solo really is. Playing any "made up on the spot solo" is actually, composing. But, the composing is happening spontaneously - within the moment. Improvisation is actually, "Spontaneous Composition."

So, what better way to prepare for those periods of spontaneous composition than by spending a lot of time on composing. When you compose, you work every one of those muscles that allow you to improvise. Each playing idea, pattern, rhythmic element is stretched to the limit when you're trying to invent cool phrases and licks for a composed worked out solo.

So, spending time composing a totally worked out solo, where everything is completely planned (and even better,  recorded for reference at another day and time), will do phenomenal things for your ability to both stretch your thoughts musically and apply your musical ideas when it comes to completely off the cuff soloing. 

Remember Improvisation is simply Spontaneous Composition. So, the more time you spend working on your skills with respect to composing, the more skills for improvisation you'll acquire along the way.

So, now what do you do? You have the "Secret Sauce" for soloing. And, in order for you to have success with the formula, you'll need to do some work. 

So, let's look at one final list. A list of seven things that you can start doing right away to really get the Secret Sauce flowing for you in your guitar soloing practice routine.

1). Start by organizing a daily review of scales and arpeggios
2). Find a short-list of solos that you want to study and learn
3). Develop a "note-for-note" playing ability with your chosen solos
4). Work out, or download Jam-Tracks to use for composing
5). Understand the chord changes (know the key and harmonic analysis)
6). Spend time composing "worked out" phrases over the Jam-Track
7). Either notate or record your composed solos for future follow-up

- Andrew Wasson

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