How To Advance Your Lead Guitar Solos

If you are like most guitarists, you probably, at one point or another have found it difficult to improvise solos on guitar.

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If you are like most guitarists, you probably, at one point or another have found it difficult to improvise solos on guitar. Even if you possess a high level of technique and good knowledge of music, sometimes your advanced skills (ironically) can be a detriment to self expression if used inappropriately or at the wrong moment. In a way, sometimes it is possible to restrict your own creativity by being too advanced. When you have many techniques, areas of knowledge and skills to choose from and are forced to make soloing decisions quickly, you may often end up making bad musical choices which distort your creativity. Fortunately, there are solutions to solving this problem. I want to offer you several suggestions on how to make the most out of any soloing situation you may find yourself in and give you general ideas which you can apply right away.

If you want to see and hear how all of the concepts (that I am about to describe) were put into practice, you can watch a free improvising video of me playing using the concepts I will discuss below. It is available to my free newsletter subscribes. Otherwise, simply follow along with the rest of this article, and apply these ideas into your own playing.

You probably know that it is important to think of melody first when starting to solo, but I am going to tell you a bit more about how you can use melodic tools to establish a basic framework structure in your solos that will enable you to add faster parts later without taking away from self-expression. So let's imagine that you are about to start soloing. What should you do or think about first? Here are my recommendations:

1. Start simple. Don't be tempted to shred too much in the beginning of your solo! This may seem like an obvious point to some, but I want to make sure we are on the same page. Think of melody first and treat your slower melodic lines as a skeleton and think of any faster fills as fleshing out the skeleton. It may be tempting to play fast too soon (especially if you are able to play fast), but when you begin any new solo it is much better to think of melody first.

Don't get me wrong, I love to play fast and shred in my solos, but I always make sure that there is a melody in them first, before thinking about adding faster parts. (In the video I mentioned above, although I do play a fast lick leading into the main solo, the majority of the solo is very melodic and slow on purpose). Even if you choose to play faster licks, they need to lead into something and serve a musical purpose.

2. Practice saying more with only one note. When I was taking improvisation guitar lessons with my awesome guitar teacher Tom Hess, one of the things he had me practice was playing only one note, using only bends and vibrato as my phrasing tools. This one technique has done an incredible amount not only for my vibrato, but for my overall creativity and expression. In fact, sometimes I even use this technique in actual soloing situations when it is appropriate to create actual phrases with only one note (more on this later, in point 4 below).

3. To get the most dramatic effect possible from your solos, try to create a harmonic background that has a lot of extended chords (seventh chords, add note chords etc). For example, in the solo that I improvise in the video mentioned above, I play over one of my most favorite progressions, iadd9 - VI7 - iv7 - ii half diminished add 11- V7 add 13. Because the chords in this progression are add note chords or seventh chords, soloing over them lends itself very nicely to melodic playing.

Record this progression yourself and you can hear what I'm talking about when you try to solo over it (or you can download a free backing track that I use here.)

4. Take advantage of common tones. This is one of my favorite things to do when soloing melodically over chords that have a lot of notes in them (such as the progression used above). For example, the chords listed above offer several possibilities for common tones. Even if you did nothing else except hold one note (that is common to all chords) with heavy vibrato or bending a short distance away from that note while the chords change, you will still get a very cool sound. In the progression above, the note C is a chord tone in all but one of the chords, and you can take advantage of this when soloing to create passing tones, suspensions and other effects.

5. Repeat phrasing ideas in different octaves. It is a very cool thing to do that will help you get more expression out of shorter phrases, particularly if you make subtle variations in the phrasing using vibrato and other things.

After you have an identifiable melody in place (using ideas such as above), it is relatively easy to add more advanced things from that point such as, targeting melodic notes with a faster scale sequence, using arpeggios etc The good news is that if you approach soloing in such a way, your shredding will become very appropriate and will add to your self-expression rather than take away from it.

In the guitar solo video that I mentioned above, I tried to incorporate all of the 5 main points discussed in this article to show you how a basic melody can be developed. This outline is of course, not the only method of creating solos (there are many more), but it is one of my favorites.

I encourage you to give it a try and have fun with it!

About The Author: Mike Philippov is a professional virtuoso guitarist, music composer and instructor. He is also a co-author of several instructional products, numerous articles and other free instructional resources available on MikePhilippov.com.

2009 Mike Philippov All Rights Reserved

60 comments sorted by best / new / date

    dave742
    oh god....not another tom hess...doesn't everyone find it funny that for all his babble about ''practicing hard and having discipline'' all he can do is put down other guitarists on the internet? Music comes from the soul. Not the brain. so while i'm sure tom hess and his ex-pupil here can probably play the A minor scale in the key of Fb descended much faster than I ever will, I'm also pretty sure they've never written an original, decent riff in their life. Not meant to cause offence but yaknow, thats just one dudes opinion.
    hellbound_jonny
    I think the way people improvise is indirectly influenced by the music they listen to thus making the improvisation their own and totally original. If a teacher directly influences a pupil e.g. by showing licks or methods, it's simply too strong and doesn't actually allow a pupil to express themselves in their own unique way.
    domiel
    that solo wasnt a very good one, and its not even played cleanly. if you want to be a teacher first finish learning.
    Shadowe
    Man, I think that you should look at your own thoery before just trying to show us something with that video. I think some bendings are kind of ot of tone, and you don't put the arpeggios in the right places. Your shredding sonds too dirty, and you didn't create a nice melody. Sorry for being so hard, but I think that domiel is right: If you want to be a teacher first finish learning.
    ChadCrawford
    Great idea with the extended chords. I will experiment with that. I checked out the video as well, thanks for that. Some of the complaints above are ludicrous. Fine playing and fine article.
    lildude_6859
    i really liked this a lot! i know i have some potential as a guitarist, but this is definitely some stuff that i am going to try out!!!
    chris0186
    Guitar is an instrument - there's no such thing as lead or rhythm. Decent article though.
    Jason_Dionne
    Good advice Mike. I will try this out. I defenetly related to the fact that I try to hard to shred when I first write solos.
    hellbound_jonny
    chris0186 wrote: Guitar is an instrument - there's no such thing as lead or rhythm. Decent article though.
    Yeah, there is actually. One guitar might play the melody (lead) and the other the backing chords(rhythm). Although you can't physically distinguish a lead from a rhythm guitar, the methods of playing establish which guitar it is.
    Kirkcrimson
    hell this article is acenine if you want to improvise learn some scales learn the key the song is in and shred it up for gods sake but another good point is to have a good sense of timing too when improvising if you dont know when to play what you want to play then theres no point in trying.
    Bendybaws
    Nice to see a lesson back in the guest columns for once instead of those crappy stories. Reasonable lesson but there are better out there and they don't require your email
    xitlight
    It should be mandatory for everyone who wants to know how to slay someone with a single note to listen to peter green back in the day. His phrasing and solo structure is phenomenal.
    symba05
    >> these guys call themselves virtuosos just because they can shred. Gimme a break.
    Geldin
    And I am given advice I already knew and use in my soloing only one year in by a guy who sounds like I do before warming up. Great. Once again, my belief that there is no easy way to really good is reinforced by a short lesson that fails to address what it promises. Thank you, so much. I'll get back to practicing now.
    J@Z~
    I always just go with having a seizure on the fretboard in an extended pentatonic!
    BLUEkerl
    J@Z~ wrote: I always just go with having a seizure on the fretboard in an extended pentatonic!
    that works only 75% of the time with me
    Gabysguitar
    Kirkcrimson wrote: hell this article is acenine if you want to improvise learn some scales learn the key the song is in and shred it up for gods sake but another good point is to have a good sense of timing too when improvising if you dont know when to play what you want to play then theres no point in trying.
    symba05 wrote: >> these guys call themselves virtuosos just because they can shred. Gimme a break.
    [quote]symba05 wrote: Yeah, all taht is right and you also learn to improvise with the practice and the time.If you don't listen music and have a good ear training. Also,I don't know how is this "TOM HESS"!
    Gabysguitar
    Mike_Philippov have in his profile Tom Hess in his favorite guitarrist. Is the first mentioned. Is he so a "GREAT GUITARRIST"?
    -will-
    he said that knowing to much can restrict your soling ability. then why the hell would he want to teach us more? according to his words, this lesson would make you worse at soloing. yeah, tom hess my ass.
    (BNDR)
    hmmm. the poin about the single note solos was interesting. its could help you express yourself better. The rest was kinda standard/crap... tom hess, what a joke.
    Reaper-Man
    chris0186 wrote: Guitar is an instrument - there's no such thing as lead or rhythm. Decent article though.
    Do you play Guitar Hero or something?
    dashroom
    Good article but could have done without the reference to Tom Hess. And RIPdime has a point.
    RockInPeaceDime
    AdenZerda wrote: Did he learn the "Submit your email to view this video" trick from Tom Hess too?
    err that's any business or someone trying to keep in contact with potential customers. It's called capturing a lead. Would you also bitch and complain when somebody asks you to fill in your phone number and contact information when you purchase a car? Probably not. They get your phone number so they can follow up on your purchase, as a number of businesses that care about bring back their customers does...
    miskatsu
    Another lesson which didn't help me at all! I'm damn slow in playing fast notes (!?), and Im very frustrated how I cant improvise solos with even slow speeds... I hate solos, when I got to do them, but when someone else does, Im jealous...
    metallicafan616
    another lesson on making generic solos, and advertising tom hess, who is actually not a virtuoso at all...
    hellbound_jonny
    I don't think you can teach someone how to improvise. My teacher has tried and I always just forget the licks he shows- playing regurgitated licks isn't improvising.
    Heminator89
    It's actually good. If you people use this in your guitaring it will ACTUALLY help in your solos.
    hellbound_jonny wrote: I don't think you can teach someone how to improvise. My teacher has tried and I always just forget the licks he shows- playing regurgitated licks isn't improvising.
    You can be taught to improvise. Whatever licks you learn, apply them properly. Don't blindly improvise. Think and do so. Marty has explained it to perfection in "Melodic Control" DVD.
    Wasp
    I had to laugh at this:
    hen I was taking improvisation guitar lessons with my awesome guitar teacher Tom Hess
    But it has a few good points. I like the one about the one-note solo.
    Ridder Lugtepik
    improvising can't be taught, although tips and advices can be taken. Simple licks can be shown to one and the player can play it like he wants it to sound like, that's improvising. This article has some good tips and advices.
    hildesaw
    When I was taking improvisation guitar lessons with my awesome guitar teacher Tom Hess
    This seemed like a commercial to me, anyone else?
    lestat1836
    thanks for the article, especially the part about using extended chords, I had not thought how that would affect my lead playing in that way before. ;))
    AdenZerda
    Did he learn the "Submit your email to view this video" trick from Tom Hess too?
    Josh Geohagan
    Yeah, he's going to pull the same crap that Tom Hess did and send me an endless supply of emails if I decide to partake in this "free" lesson.