In this months blog post I am going to take you through my top five tips to use when you are given the opportunity to take a guitar solo. I hope you find this post useful and can use these tips to structure your practice to see improvements. I hope it helps you gain the confidence you require on your instrument.
We all want to solo like Slash on the guitar or at least have the confidence to step into the light on stage and connect with someone in the audience. Read on if you’d like to hear some of my top tips for improving your guitar solos.
The first tip is the most important and without this one it makes all of the others very difficult. This one starts in the practice room. How well do you know your scales? If the very mention of the word scales has made you sweat a little. Or you remember a time when your guitar teacher asked you to play one, and you couldn’t remember it. We need to address this issue. How do we expect to compose a meaningful guitar solo on the spot when we don’t know the basic building blocks that get us off the starting line. I genuinely think some people expect to be able to solo really well from the beginning. This is not true, even Jimi Hendrix probably sucked when he first started to solo. Well ok, Hendrix has never sucked. But these types of guitarists are very rare and unless you are one of these you will need to put in the extra effort.
Dedicate at least 15-20 minutes of your practice sessions to learning your scales in all keys. There are twelve keys of music and you want to be comfortable playing in all of them. This might seem like a daunting task at first but if you need help constructing a practice plan, well that’s exactly what I am here for. As a starting point you will want to know at a minimum your basic major and minor pentatonic scale shapes across the fretboard. This alone will give you the grounding you need to be able to solo.
Spend some time each practice dedicated to developing existing, or learning new techniques on the guitar. Being able to master basic techniques well including hammer ons, pull offs, slides, bends and vibrato will already set you apart from a huge pool of other guitar players that haven’t. There is no excuse for sloppy technique, if something doesn’t feel right or most importantly sound correct, address it. Again I can help you identify any weaknesses in your guitar playing and can set you on the path to correct these.
Good technique will help bring interest and excitement to your playing and solos. The thing I notice most about all guitarists I watch is technique. I’m not interested in how fast someone can shred through the minor scale, but I am interested when someone has great vibrato and flawless technique and connects with me on a deeper level through their guitar playing.
Work on one to two techniques per practice and spend time throughout the week on them. Use exercises, solos or phrases that utilise the techniques you are trying to address to make working on them fun and enjoyable. Record yourself and listen back to hear the progress you are making. When you focus your time on a subject or area on the guitar you’d like to improve, you’ll be surprised how quickly things start to improve with focus.
Too many times I watch guitarists who are more interested in impressing a small audience than constructing a guitar solo that compliments the track they are playing over. Trying to fit in a three octave sweep arpeggio pattern over slow a Blues progression, just because you learnt it last week is never going to sound great.
Think about the style of music you are playing over and what techniques or embellishments you can bring to the table that compliment it. If you can connect with your audience with less notes, do it. Connection is always the key to a great guitar solo. Did you move someone in the audience with your playing? Did you make the hairs on the back of their neck stand up? I have experienced this myself watching other guitarists so I know 100% that it is possible.
This seems silly right but the solution here is simple. Listen. Can you hear the chord movement that you are playing over? What are the other instruments doing? Is there a melody you can reference in your solo? The most important thing to take here is to listen to the music and try and bring something that compliments every-time you play.
In order for us to create a great solo, it is important we learn and study some. Pick the solos that really motivate you and learn the nuts and bolts behind them. What scales are being used? What techniques? Every guitar solo you learn you will pick up new phrasing that you can instantly apply to your own guitar solos.
Dedicate time in your practice to learn a solo. Doesn’t have to be the full song but just the solo. Learning the solo might motivate you to continue to learn the rest of the track, but sometimes just learning a solo can be super rewarding. We will be doing a short series live on our Facebook page over the next few months so keep an eye out for this as we will be talking a look at top short solos to learn.
Remember these are just a taster of five of what I believe to be the most important tips when soloing. However this could easily have been fifty tips. Use these as a spring board to get you started or approaching your solos differently. Then you can look further or dig deeper once these areas improve. Remember you can always book an assessment lesson with us where we can look at where you are now and how we can move you forwards with your guitar playing. I also offer personalised practice plans you can follow which are structured around the areas you would like to progress. These are priced at £50.00 but include a personalised, structured practice plan. Plus includes all of the content and exercises you will need to apply for your practice sessions.
The final tip of the day is to think and be present when you are playing. Too often we go into auto pilot mode and just reel off the same set of licks and phrases that we always play. Try not to waste notes in your solo and cherry pick only the best notes to play over the progression you are playing over. Being present with your guitar solos is up there with the most important lessons I have ever learnt. When we just play through on auto pilot mode we stop listening and our musicality dwindles. Try to think about the movement of the chord progression and try to compliment it with your note choices. Target the notes from within the chords you are playing over.
Plan the solo out in your head or at least a few notes before you play them. Try to hear the melody before you find it on the guitar. This approach will give you huge freedom on the guitar and will allow you to step outside of your boxed scale shapes. It will also allow you to bring your own unique voice to the instrument. The ultimate goal.
I hope you have enjoyed reading this months blog post. Let us know of any subjects you’d like us to cover in a future blog. As always keep working hard on your guitar playing and we shall see you in a live lesson video very soon.
Thanks for reading,
Rich @ MGTB