So lately I've been trying to build up the improvisational aspects of my guitar playing, and I am getting bored of playing E minor pentatonic. I learned the whole E minor scale, not just pentatonic, up and down the fretboard like most people do and I know the boxes and I also recently learned the major pentatonic scale as well. (Still working on the other two tones in the scale) That said, I have found that I really like the sound of the major pentatonic scale.(I love John Frusciante's live soloes, such as Slane Castle)
However, the point of this post is that I do not have enough theory knowledge to answer some questions that I keep asking myself when I improv and solo, so I'll ask you guys, the theory experts.

I said earlier that I tried to incorporate the 2 tones left out of the pentatonic scale into my soloing, which in the case of E minor would be the 2 and the 6 (F# and C). However everytime I play these notes in my solo, they sound weak or out of place. Is it their place in the scale that makes them sound so uninteresting? Is their anything I can do to use these notes and still have an exciting and engaging solo? Should I shy away from these notes and focus more on passing tones to create emotion and tension?

As I also said earlier, I am discovering that I really enjoy the major pentatonic scale as well,and I am trying to incorporate this into my playing as well. If I want to change from minor to major, ex. E minor pentatonic in this case, would I go to E major pentatonic or G major pentatonic because it is the relative major? Can I play part of a solo in E minor penta and then go into E major penta without getting funny looks? Can I smoothly transition between the two or should I reserve this change for the more "extreme" changes in soloes, like after a very big resolution? In other words, is changing from minor to major in the same key too big of a jump for the ears?

My final questions is asking for general advice on how to solo better. If you think you can help me out based on what I have said earlier, then please anything would help.

If you read this whole thing thank you and any contribution to the topic is appreciated.
For 2nd and 6th scale degrees, try analyzing the chords that you're soloing over. Learn how to harmonize each degree of the scale you're in. The key of Em has the notes E F# G A B C D.

So, for example, in Em, starting with the i (1) chord we have the notes E G and B. then F# is F# A C, G is G B D etc. Each chord is built off the 1st 3rd and 5th degrees of their own respective root. So take the root of a chord you want: lets say Em. The root is obviously E. the 3rd is G (F# being the 2nd), the 5th is B. I apologize if I'm explaining stuff you already know, you said you weren't great with theory. I'm also sorry for my explanations being chaotic

You could play the F# or C as passing tones (notice how each are a half step away from 2 tones in the Em chord, you could use them for tension/release leading into an Em). If you're playing Em blues, the F# and C could be played over the B and A chords respectively. It all depends on what chords you're playing over. For the most part though, I would just sticking to using them as passing tones, don't hang around on them. Faster runs would a good place to use them. Changing scales from major to minor is the same thing, you can't just change between minor or major whenever you please, at least to my knowledge.

Creating emotion is a very subjective thing, I think a lot of that is in how you feel and express the notes you're playing. Half of the battle of good soloing is using phrasing and dynamics to your advantage, tastefully and appropriate to the song. Try starting your solo ideas on the 4th beat leading into the downbeat of the 1. Listen to vocalists or any great guitar player, while counting along with the song, and you'll notice that most of them start their ideas on either beats 2 or 4. I'm sure John Frusciante does it... listen to anything and everything and really pay attention to the nuances in their phrasing. Stevie Ray Vaughn, Carlos Santana, Jerry Garcia, Steve Vai etc. Hope my rambling helps you out a bit, good luck!
Last edited by jburde at Aug 13, 2011,
I don't know what you've been doing, but a lot of guitarists when they start just randomly hit notes in a scale to improvise and they run into problems like this. If you're not thinking it through well, try to sit back and hear what you want to play, then try to play it. Chances are, you won't get it down correctly, but it gives you a starting point to work with.

Know where you are in the harmony. Your note choices depend a lot on that. What notes are stable and what notes create tension change with the chords. Work mostly with your chord tones to start out, then try to create ways to move between them by the time the next chord comes around. Also, if you've got the theory balls, read this:


This is a good primer to using non-chord tones. It has standard notation (sheet music) on it, but it also describes each scenario pretty well, so you don't necessarily have to read the notation to understand. 'Steps' and 'stepwise motion' refers to moving by second (one letter of your scale) and 'skips' are moving by a third or greater (skip a letter or more.) Note that this doesn't cover all situations in which non-chord tones are or can be used, it'll just get you thinking about melody and scalar motion. Good luck.
Nothing that is worthwhile in life will ever come easy.
Don't think of improving as a mechanical process, just visualize or hear what you want to play in your head, and then transfer that through your fingers, and onto your guitar. Don't think of improving as "ok ima start off on the root note, then jump to a perfect fifth, and end with a root note". Think of it as "lalalanenenededo da da dun", and then just transfer that to your guitar, using your knowledge of music theory as a guide to help you with the process (eg. knowing what notes are in key, and which aren't).
Last edited by zincabopataurio at Aug 14, 2011,