Soloing: It's Not Just Scales And Notes!

A "good" solo is more than a collection of scales and notes played quickly. Here's why!

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Without going into too much theory (theory is boring and everyone always disagrees about it and whines all frikkin' day anyway) here are some good tips for improving the subjective quality - the "good"ness - of your solos.

Learning to play fast shredding is useful, but just like getting a PHD in something, you run the risk of losing touch with your audience. Ever take a class from a PHD?! Same thing. You will be playing some Melodic minor mode with an altered ninth at 500 bpm, and the only one who cares will be you, or maybe some other wanker if you're lucky enough to get them out of their parent's basements long enough to come and see you.

So what does that mean? Well, just like in sports, or academics, knowledge is good, but it is ultimately limited. Truly good soloing combines knowledge - and surprisingly little in some cases - with inspiration. Most importantly, a good solo will communicate with your listener on a higher level. By that I mean you could play your song in Germany, Japan, Iraq - anywhere - and people will "get it." Look at Pantera, Metallica, Santana, Pink Floyd. All of them have accomplished this. The audience may not speak a word of English, but they "speak" art. A good solo absolutely must communicate on this level. Otherwise, who cares?

Speed is also vastly overrated. Speedy licks are like fancy college words. Cerrtain words, like "avunculocal," which simply means you reside with your maternal uncle, often fail to have any impact at all because people don't know what the **** they mean. A good speaker, like Martin Luther King, Jr., will pepper his speach with spicy words, but the audience, including children, will understand. Rather than filling your solo with lots of "fancy words," so to speak, try making a few spicy licks or fast runs work effectively for you. Make a fast lick be a crescendo to a passage, or use it to complete your improvisation. A solo full of fancy fingerwork will only impress one person - you. So make fancy fingerwork work for, and not against you. If you can't make it work for you, don't do it at all.

Often neglected are bends and slides. David Gilmour is not a great soloist because he plays esoteric jazz scales from Juliard music school (he never went to Juliard.) He is a great soloist because he communicates with his listener emotionally, and because he makes fantastic use of slides and bends. Case in point - "Comfortably Numb." Tell me you don't just about crap your pants or cry or have an out of body experience, or all three, every time you hear that. When that comes on and I am driving, I pull it over! I am a danger to myself and others when David Gilmour pours his soul onto the fretboard. Driving is bad!

Finally, think about the solo holistically, like you would an essay or some other written or spoken piece - remember, your guitar is "talking." When you write an essay, you have an intro, a statement of the problem, your stance on the issue, support for your stance, maybe a few examples of conflicting viewpoints and a conclusion. Likewise when you solo, it should have a beginning, an introduction to the main ideas, a climax and a conclusion.

Music is the highest form of communication. The Internet is like sticks and rocks to music. Cell phones are like cave paintings. Primitive, primitive, primitive! It's not the notes you play, it's why you play them. It's what you have to say, not the words themselves.

27 comments sorted by best / new / date

    chAos55
    Hey! I wank and i dont live in parent's basement...and i wouldnt care!...uhhh oops,hehe...not a bad article, gets to the point.
    kakumei
    Yes i agree solos arent just scales Like Slayers solos dont count he just runs around randomly and doesnt count a s a real solo It has to give you feel and medoly Like Iron Maiden,every solo they do gives you a damn thats cool feelin lol
    Guitar_Hero_no1
    what the funk "A solo full of fancy fingerwork will only impress one person" um have you ever seen yngwie malmsteen playing i think he has impressed more than one person
    XxXgUiTaRxXx
    kakumei: Yes i agree solos arent just scales Like Slayers solos dont count he just runs around randomly and doesnt count a s a real solo It has to give you feel and medoly Like Iron Maiden,every solo they do gives you a damn thats cool feelin lol well have you heard the solos from show no mercy like die by the sword, your not as smart as youd like Bubonic Chronic: ...and Jeff Hanneman owns Kerry King. nice someone agrees with me! kerrys overatted, long live hanneman!
    krookedjay
    Good article. I agree, having a good solo is not just about speed and flashy playing, its about the emotion that you put into it.
    zephendrix
    I agree. I am not the best soloist ever to walk this earth, well actually...I am not that good at all, but I understand what you said. When I hear solos such as the one from Comfortably Numb or even some audioslave stuff, I get goosebumps. The goosebumps wear off about the fifth time after I've heard the song, but man...I get chills and everything when I hear a great solo for the first few times, and the majority of the times the solos are relatively slow but yet extremely powerful.
    Rocker3829
    Good article, another thing about a solo that many today forget to put in it besides it being fast is that many solos today lack emotion.
    Sloofus
    It's an interesting topic to talk about. But you can't really "teach" someone to be passionate about music.
    OzzyCat
    SRVGuitarFreak: I get ur point and it is a good one, but the article in my opinion is writin poorly. THAT JUST MADE ME LAUGH... YOU SLATE HIS WRITING YET MAKE AN AWFUL SPELLING ERROR AT THE SAME TIME... WRITIN... LOL
    Bubonic Chronic
    Although I would have to disagree about Slayer, I agree with Kaumei in general. Slayer is simply atonal, percussive music. No key, no "tonal center" - no theory at all. It's not just "random notes," though. How many rap songs have a record scratching DJ in them? Same thing - percussive noise. That's a valid way to put a lead in your song, just a different way is all. ...and Jeff Hanneman owns Kerry King.
    Cpt Crunch
    I agree with what the article is saying. So many times emotion is lost and forgotten with solo\\\'s, and thats why you see less and less of them nowadays.
    `NeXxuS`
    i disagree, knowledge of theory is not ultimately limiting... that is the stupidest thing ive ever heard. and why not use a little flash in solo's? speedy licks are what some guitar players live for.
    crzywhiteboy
    "Finally, think about the solo holistically, like you would an essay or some other written or spoken piece - remember, your guitar is "talking." When you write an essay, you have an intro, a statement of the problem, your stance on the issue, support for your stance, maybe a few examples of conflicting viewpoints and a conclusion. Likewise when you solo, it should have a beginning, an introduction to the main ideas, a climax and a conclusion." this is the best paragraph out of the whole article you could have just wrote this and it would be enough. Good article.
    Iosoce
    Not bad, great article for the mediocre solo-ers. Definately gonna lead them in the right direction on creating their own music. Keep up the writing.
    Nick56
    I think that was a very good article. It may be ''written poorly'' but it get's the point across and really is true everything you said.
    Bubonic Chronic
    "I get ur point and it is a good one, but the article in my opinion is writin poorly." It's "written" by the way. And yah, probably is written poorly. Did it at work in about five minutes. Another eternal question in lead playing is "am I playing 12th fret blues box" or whatever "too much?" Or am I playing in G Major again?! On a certain level, being aware of "overusing" certain scales and keys is good - it encourages you to step outside the bounds, but if it works, IT WORKS! So what if every song you ever wrote is C-G-G-C-F or something, if the next one you do is f*cking brilliant, well, it's brillian. Keep it. But when you're done you should polish up on your other scales.
    SRVGuitarFreak
    one other thing, you CAN have a fast solo in a slow song. Don't get me wronge, shredding the whole isn't going to work. But you can have it melodic, and then have some burts of speed in there to bring out a point in ur emotion, i think the best example I have heard of this is troy stenia on his speed mechanics for lead guitar, the end solos he lets u hear, one song is slow but the solo is all different stuff and it is awesome.
    flip
    communication is the key to solos is not a bad idea. but i think that solos need to reflect the songs there in. no matter how meaningful a solo is. you can't put a fast one in a slow song and vice versa. placement of the solo is just as necessary as the meaning of it. leaving out this point in your article could be misleading to some people. although i do agree on your anologies and ideas ans such. it may at times a sloppy article, but communicates the idea very well. good job.
    DoomsdayArsenal
    Ya when my band is writing new songs, and I go into a solo, if I don't "feel" it yet, I absolutely won't take a solo. If it doesn't add to the song, it shouldn't exist. Comfortably Numb continues to be the industry standard for what a great guitar solo should be for a reason!