In today’s lesson we’ll go through the 7 guitar solo mistakes I notice beginners in guitar soloing do on a regular basis.
I used to make almost all of these mistakes myself when I was starting out in soloing. I think everyone does.
If you correct the guitar solo mistakes that you identify in your own playing there should be a clearly noticeable difference in the quality of your solos.
The very first guitar solos that many guitar students come up with sound something like this:
Though the student is playing by the rules* – Using notes that are in the scale, playing them on time and inserting the occasional string bend, the result sounds more like a guitar exercise than a guitar solo.
One of the reasons for this is that the student is playing too many notes and never letting the music breathe through the use of long notes and rests.
To avoid this mistake you should think less in terms of playing notes and more in terms of creating melodies and phrases.
This shift in thinking will automatically stop you from doing this mistake since each phrase has a beginning and an end.
Try to come up with a catchy tune, rather than putting in as many notes as possible and the results may surprise you.
*As you progress you will realize that the rules are not even rules, but if you’re a beginner in guitar solos, I think it’s a good idea to stick to the basics. Start breaking the rules only when you come to understand the reasons why the rules can be broken.
2. No use of vibrato
Since many beginner guitar soloists tend to play too many notes and never let the music breathe, they rarely use one of the most powerful guitar techniques, vibrato.
If you play a phrase that has say, 9 notes in it, one of those notes is more important (to the listener) than the other notes.
That note is the last note of the phrase.
By applying vibrato to that note, and to other long or emphasized notes, you will sweeten the sound of these notes and significantly improve the quality of your guitar solos.
It is important to practice vibrato on isolated notes before using it in your solos.
Make sure that the small bends that you make when applying vibrato, leave from the same place, reach the same target, and come back to the same place on the fretboard.
No vibrato is better than bad vibrato.
3. String bending is out of tune
While small inaccuracies in vibrato may sometimes go unnoticed, bends out of tune will always make you sound like an amateur.
Make sure you know exactly what note you want to reach with the bend and that you bend neither higher nor lower than the target note.
Practicing this is not only a good exercise for your guitar technique, but also trains your ear. In this lesson you will practice string bending technique outside as well as within a musical context.
4. No rhythmic variety
If you look at the example of bad guitar solo playing above you will notice that all the notes except for the last have the same duration. They’re all eight notes.
While there may be instances where a composer wants to use the same rhythm for a long period of time any good composer knows he has a variety of rhythmic options he can use.
In the next example the music is not only allowed to breathe with the long notes, but also uses different rhythmic elements such as sixteenth notes grouped with eight notes, dotted notes and rests.
In this lesson I show you what the basic elements of rhythm are. Consider all of these elements as options you can use in your guitar solos and improvisations.
5. No use of repetition
This is quite a common mistake among beginners in guitar soloing and one can easily understand the psychology behind it.
When starting out many of us have a voice in our head going: “You’ve already played that dude, play something new”.
Or, if we’re jamming out with our friends we may (over) think that they’re thinking we ran out of tricks.
Well, here’s the good news:
Listeners love hearing something they can already relate to. If you’re coming up with new ideas all the time, you’re just losing their attention.
Instead, don’t be afraid to repeat yourself, but add variation to your repetitions so that you keep the attention of the listener and at the same time engage his taste buds with some novelty.
This is not hard to do once you get the grip of it. It’s much easier than coming up with new ideas all the time.
In this lesson on how to write a melody on the guitar I take you through a step by step process of developing a motif (the shortest musical idea) into a melody by using repetition and variation.
6. Unwanted string noise
One common reason why your solos may sound pretty good, but not quite like those of your favorite guitarists is that you’re leaving unwanted strings buzzing.
This dilutes the sound of the notes you’re playing with noise and lowers the overall quality of your solos.
Many beginner guitar soloists don’t even address this problem because they become used to the buzzing sound and assume it’s normal.
They can hear that something’s not quite right, but they don’t know what it is.
Thus, the first step towards correcting this guitar solo mistake is to simply be aware of it.
The next step is to identify which strings are buzzing when they’re not being played and muting them with your right hand, your left hand, or a combination of both. Learning how to mute unwanted string noise takes practice time but it will make a bigger difference in the quality of your guitar solos than say, learning how to play the guitar faster.
7. Ignoring the backing music
Advanced guitar soloists can solo with full awareness of each chord change in the background, and adjust their emphasized notes accordingly.
A simpler option is to choose a scale that suits the chord progression (say, the scale of the A minor natural or the A minor pentatonic if the chord progressions is F – Dm – Em – Am) and use it without adjusting to the chord changes.
Though both approaches work, the simpler approach does not mean “choose a scale, and ignore the rest of the music”
Instead, after giving the scale a couple of runs to warm up to it, you should stop playing completely and listen to the backing track while asking:
What ideas can I draw from the rhythm, the bass line or the chord changes?
How can I compose something that complements this piece of music?
If do the above practice, your solos will fit the harmony even if you can’t use chord tone soloing yet.
Conclusion: Guitar solo mastery
The guitar solo mistakes addressed above do not include “not knowing enough scales” or “not being able shred”.
Whether you need to learn more scales, or play faster depends on your particular level of playing, goals and circumstances.
Rather, they’re common mistakes that can make your solos sound weak, and when corrected your solos will improve even if you don’t learn a lot of new stuff.
Once the above issues are resolved, it’s a good idea to keep improving in various guitar skills that when combined, lead to better soloing.
These are, mainly:
- Music theory and application: This will show you all the melodic and rhythmic options you can use in your solos.
- Ear training: Knowing how a note sounds before you even play it, or how a particular note will sound when played against a particular chord, among others, are aural skills that enable you to come up with solos with ease.
- Guitar technique: The more techniques you learn and the better you get at executing them the more options you have to get the sound you desire.
- Speed: A great solo does not need to be fast. You can express your emotions perfectly without shredding at any point in your solos. However great guitar soloists are usually able to play fast which is helps them to both express (ex by creating a sense of urgency in the music) as well as impress (it impresses the listener since only advanced guitar players are able to do it).
- Creativity: Contrary to popular belief creativity is not something that some people are born with and some people are born without. Like a physical muscle, we all have it and how much it grows depends more on how much we train it than being blessed with good genes.
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