When I first started writing guitar solos, they sounded more like extended guitar exercises or scale sequences than melodic music.
So do my students’ first solos, and those of every beginner in guitar soloing. This is because we are too focused on finding the right notes and applying the right techniques to consider creating melody at first.
In this lesson, I’ll show you how to transition from playing boring solos that sound like exercises, to melodic tunes that sound like real music.
- Choose a scale and milk it first
Many intermediate guitar students learn a lot of scales without mastering any of them to the point where they don’t have to think about the notes when playing in that scale.
In order to avoid having to worry about finding the right notes while improvising or soloing, you must be very familiar with the scale you’re playing in.
This allows your brain to:
• know what note choices it has;
• your ear (or rather, your brain through your ear) to hear how they sound in advance; and
• your fingers to easily go to the notes the brain chooses.
As a result, don’t start soloing as soon as you decide on a scale unless you already know it very well.
Rather, as explained in this short video, you should take the scale through a process I call “milking.”
- Think melodic phrases not individual notes
If you’ve practiced the scale enough, you should be able to easily find the notes and even predict how they’ll sound in advance.
This is significant because when writing music, you should think of short melodic phrases rather than individual notes.
To practice doing this, select 3-5 notes from the scale you’re using and limit yourself to creating a melody using only those notes.
These melodic ideas can be very short, and you don’t have to use all 3-5 notes.
Since you’re using very few notes, you don’t have to worry at all about finding the notes, and can focus all your attention to creating a melody as catchy as possible.
Before proceeding to the next stage, generate at least ten such melodic ideas. Use the same scale each time, though you can choose different notes from the scale.
- Connect the melodies, use long notes and silences
Guitar solos are a collection of melodic phrases, but these are not thrown together at random.
Some of these melodic phrases you have created fit together perfectly, while others require adjustment.
Experiment with connecting the melodic phrases you have created (as well as creating new ones) in a musically meaningful way.
Don’t forget to use long notes or pauses (rests) between each phrase.
- Use string bending and apply vibrato to long notes
If you followed the previous three steps, you should now be able to make your solos sound melodic rather than an exercise or a long string of notes.
Now, it’s time to spice that melody up.
There are many techniques a guitarist can use, but for the purposes of this lesson we’ll restrict the two which I consider the most powerful: string bending and vibrato.
Go back to the melodies you created in step 2 and look out for:
- Notes that are a half step (one fret) or a full step (2 frets) away from each other. These are notes you can choose to bend from one to another instead of hitting both with the pick.
- Long notes. These are the notes you can easily apply vibrato to.
- Dynamic Accents
An accent in music, like in language, is when we emphasize or stress a note or chord.
There are various types of accents in music, but the dynamic accent which serves our purposes here, is executed by picking a note with more force than the surrounding notes, making it sound louder.
Accenting notes in your guitar solos adds vitality and excitement. These guitar accent exercises will help you get started using accents in your solos.
- Creative rhythmic patterns
Beginners in guitar soloing are usually too preoccupied with finding the right notes to notice the rhythm.
However, rhythmic choices are as important as note choices when creating a melody.
We have briefly touched the topic of rhythm in point 3 (using long notes and silence). Many beginners in guitar soloing fail to incorporate long notes and pauses, resulting in their solos sounding like a never-ending stream of notes.
However, allowing the music to breathe is not the only aspect of rhythm. Learn these rhythmic patterns to become acquainted with the concept of rhythmic variety.
Apply these patterns or ones you make up, to the solos you have created in the previous steps. (Try them on the parts of the solos you like the least. You may be surprised how much you can change a melody by changing the rhythm. Or else, write new melodies and start from the rhythmic pattern rather than the notes)
- Chord tone soloing
The suggestions above apply to a more basic level of guitar soloing where you choose a scale and use it through the entire backing chord progression.
For instance, the chord progression is Am – F – G – Am and you use the A minor natural scale all way through.
Soloing like this works and you can stick to it if you’re still coming to grips with the steps mentioned above.
However once you can easily play solos with melody, you can take things to the next level with chord tone soloing.
This involves, using the same scale (A minor natural in our example) but emphasizing the tones of each chord you’re playing over (ex: A, C, and E on A minor, F, A and C on F major and G, B and D on Gmajor).
Chord tone soloing is not easy but can really enrich your melodies, as well as improve your overall musicianship.
Creating melodic solos requires focusing on the elements that make a melody stand out, most of which we have covered in this lesson.
It is important to keep practicing guitar exercises involving these elements so that these come handy when you’re creating solos.
However, when you’re in creative mode, your focus should be on creating melodies rather than using as many notes, or techniques as possible.
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