#1
I a previous thread about learning to play solos someone (actually Bubonic Chronic) made the simplest and often most overlooked aspect about learning to play a solo. You can't play a solo if don't know the chords under it. Let me back up and say you can't play a "good" lead/solo if you don't know the chords. I'm sure someone can come up with one in a million exception to that but let's say 99% of the time to do any effective soloing you need to know the structure of the chords under the lead and it's not always just major and minor chords. What I see so often is people posting threads about learning to play solos after they have been playing only a very short time and really haven't yet learned more than a few basic chords.

In days gone by bands had lead players and rhythm players and often these roles changed throughout the performance. The goal was to be good at both. The rhythm guitarist's job is to support the vocal, play the rhythm (chords) in sync with the other band members and supply the bed for the solo. Today it seems nobody wants to be the rhythm player so there is too little emphasis placed on learning how to play chords, all the chords first. I have seen threads where posters recommend that you can get by just learning how to play three note power chords as if that's all you need. No wonder new players don't understand what comprises a good solo. When you don't know the chord structure of a song you are forced to either: copy and memorize someone else's lead note for note or stumble around randomly picking notes from a scale that you don't understand because you are not aware of the relation between that scale and the chords associated with it. Too many new players are looking for a shortcut or magic formula that will make them a decent lead guitarist in six months to a year without taking the long and often boring road to learning chords structure and scale association to those chords. That's a shame.

Thanks for indulging my rant here. Maybe I've watched too much Lewis Black. I'll take a valium and feel better soon.
Yes I am guitarded also, nice to meet you.
Last edited by Rickholly74 at Jun 4, 2015,
#2
What you say is true. The chords you are playing over are very important.

But I remember when I played the trumpet in a jazz band, I didn't think in chords (or when getting used to the song, I had to think in chords, but after hearing and playing it a couple of times, I just remembered the sound of the rhythm part), I thought in sounds. I just remembered how the chords in the background sound like and played over that. My ear guided me. I knew I want to play this note because it sounds good. Well, I understood the chord progression, but I didn't actively think about it. Not saying you shouldn't, but overthinking is not a good thing. You don't want to think too much when you are soloing.

What is also important to know is that soloing is not random. You don't just play chord tones or scales. Even if they are "right notes", it doesn't mean they will sound good. Using your ears is the most important thing. Your ear pretty much knows when something sounds good or doesn't sound good. It doesn't have to be a chord tone, it doesn't have to be part of the key scale.


Don't get me wrong, I agree with what you said. Knowing the chords is important. If you just play a scale randomly, it won't sound good over a chord progression, because you are not paying any attention to how the notes you are playing sound over the chords.
Quote by AlanHB
Just remember that there are no boring scales, just boring players.

Gear

Bach Stradivarius 37G
Charvel So Cal
Fender Dimension Bass
Hartke HyDrive 210c
Ibanez BL70
Laney VC30
Tokai TB48
Yamaha FG720S-12
Yamaha P115
#3
Sort of.
Often the horn players lay down the most interesting solos and they may not "know" the chords but they hear the changes and it propels their solos. When I jam with the jazzbos a lot of chord substitutions get tossed-in that I may not know but I hear the changes and adapt my solo to compliment them. it's an ear thing more than chord theory for me.

That said I am a chord guy and believe that knowing them is essential for any skilled guitarist. Power chords= chopsticks on the piano and while they have their place, they are limiting in the extreme.
"Your sound is in your hands as much as anything. It's the way you pick, and the way you hold the guitar, more than it is the amp or the guitar you use." -- Stevie Ray Vaughan

"Anybody can play. The note is only 20 percent. The attitude of the motherfucker who plays it is 80 percent." -- Miles Davis

Guthrie on tone: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zmohdG9lLqY
#4
I agree with both of you. Actually my first instrument was trumpet and I played it for about 20 years till it just lost interest (and there wasn't anyone to play with). I agree particularly about ear training. Somewhere along the line it just happened for me. It was never a conscious attempt to somehow make it happen, it just did. I think mostly because when I started playing there was no tabs, no YouTube no other way to learn a song except sitting down and playing it and moving the needle on the record back and trying again and again till you just figured it out. Sheet music for rock was a joke at the time. It rarely had the right changes and was never in the actual key of the record. I watched any TV show with a rock band on it hoping the camera focused on the guitar players hands so I could see what and where on the neck he was playing. I received my ear training mostly through just being forced to work it out as I'm sure many of us did. By the same token I learned my first scales by just copying solos I liked (and could play) off a record blindly just figuring it out. It was only after awhile that I realized there was a pattern to a lot of it and learned that there was actually a relation between scales and chords of the song.

I'm thankful that I learned the way I did so I'm not complaining. That's just the way it was and anyone who has been at for 40 years like me did the same thing I imagine. My rant is more in the nature of commenting on how much I think players miss by trying to just jump ahead and start playing solos before they have a better understanding of chords and scale interactions.
Yes I am guitarded also, nice to meet you.
Last edited by Rickholly74 at May 8, 2015,
#5
Quote by MaggaraMarine

What is also important to know is that soloing is not random. You don't just play chord tones or scales. Even if they are "right notes", it doesn't mean they will sound good. Using your ears is the most important thing. Your ear pretty much knows when something sounds good or doesn't sound good. It doesn't have to be a chord tone, it doesn't have to be part of the key scale.


There's a great saying, which should guide a lot of players. Not original to me.

"Before you can play a solo, you have to be able to play a melody."
#6
Quote by HotspurJr
There's a great saying, which should guide a lot of players. Not original to me.

"Before you can play a solo, you have to be able to play a melody."

Yeah, 120% true.
#7
I respectfully disagree. I come from a context of being a full time teacher with over 150 students at present.

I have taught people to play to a backing track without needing to know the underlying chords.

It could be a Minor 9 chord, the person soloing doesn't NEED to know "that was a minor 9th". They understand that most times, music is diatonic, stays in one key, and when outside chords (Modal interchange) are used, they are usually temporary, and using your ear, allows you to treat an off note as a passing tone.

Now later as they learn keys, chords and the notes of every chord, sure, that adds to their skill sets. Now that C#m9 chord coming up in bar 3 has a more direct possibility that they might target a high D# on the change, and bend a half step to the 3rd of the chord. Effective sure. On point, yes.

So while I agree, the problem is that your idea of what "good" is might differ from my idea. I know lots of people like Jeff Beck. I went and saw him last Sunday. I've never gotten into him, because I hear mostly an out of tune guitar when he plays. It depends on who you ask. I think Johnny Winter overplays the blues, others like what he does. It depends upon who you ask.

Ultimately, the person playing, needs to settle upon what THEY feel about the solo they do.

I agree that the culture of guitar has changed and the value of what is important on the guitar, has changed from what it used to be, but that's the times we are in. One area I've seen this, is in the gradual shift from the guitar as a melodic instrument to one where its more sonic than melodic.

Best,

Sean
#8
I think many guitarists fail to define an abstract 'voice' which they are working towards as a lead player, and simply want to be technically impressive. Guitarists like Tom Morello and the dude from Helmet have incredibly unique and recognizable lead 'voices' without being exemplar scholars of technique, and drawing from diverse influences such as these can be really beneificial in defining what it is you want to say and emote with your lead work.
#9
I've made up solos to backing tracks using only pentatonic scales and they sound pretty decent. I'm sure making up a lead part in relation to the background chords could possibly make a better solo, but even if you don't do this you can still make a good solo. I've only been playing for a year, but I feel that one of the major elements to creating a good solo is to know how to play along with the other instruments. For example, if there is a snare drum or hi-hat present in the song you could sync up with that to keep a rhythm going. I feel like it's more how you play a solo is what makes it good rather than what notes you're playing. I don't think you need to line-up perfectly with the chords, all you need to do is stay in the key and keep a rhythm and it will sound good. However, I have only been playing for a year so i could be wrong on all of this, but from the massive amounts of hours i have been practicing this is what I feel makes the solo unique
#10
Quote by omentremor
Guitarists like Tom Morello and the dude from Helmet have incredibly unique and recognizable lead 'voices'


So unique and recognisable you can't remember his name?
I'm an idiot and I accidentally clicked the "Remove all subscriptions" button. If it seems like I'm ignoring you, I'm not, I'm just no longer subscribed to the thread. If you quote me or do the @user thing at me, hopefully it'll notify me through my notifications and I'll get back to you.
Quote by K33nbl4d3
I'll have to put the Classic T models on my to-try list. Shame the finish options there are Anachronism Gold, Nuclear Waste and Aged Clown, because in principle the plaintop is right up my alley.

Quote by K33nbl4d3
Presumably because the CCF (Combined Corksniffing Forces) of MLP and Gibson forums would rise up against them, plunging the land into war.

Quote by T00DEEPBLUE
Et tu, br00tz?
#11
Quote by J23L
I've made up solos to backing tracks using only pentatonic scales and they sound pretty decent. I'm sure making up a lead part in relation to the background chords could possibly make a better solo, but even if you don't do this you can still make a good solo. I've only been playing for a year, but I feel that one of the major elements to creating a good solo is to know how to play along with the other instruments. For example, if there is a snare drum or hi-hat present in the song you could sync up with that to keep a rhythm going. I feel like it's more how you play a solo is what makes it good rather than what notes you're playing. I don't think you need to line-up perfectly with the chords, all you need to do is stay in the key and keep a rhythm and it will sound good. However, I have only been playing for a year so i could be wrong on all of this, but from the massive amounts of hours i have been practicing this is what I feel makes the solo unique


Most people do that already - it's called being rhythmically aware, and musically mature. Nearly all of us at some point discover its a pretty good idea to be aware of the snare and bass and high hat, when playing to a track. You well said, you've been at it a year. Here's my challenge:

Record yourself playing what you "know" as far as improvising, for 30 seconds over 5 different backing tracks in different keys, and then transcribe your work. See how many unique ideas you came up with. Now, look and see how many of the solo parts were exactly the same as other songs. It will open your eyes, I think.

It may not happen in year 1, but at some point you're going to find that you are treading over the same tired ground and playing a lot of notes and saying nothing. When you get there, you won't think that your solo is "good". You'll see the rut you're in, plowing the same ground to exhaustion only to discover the fruit it yields is less and less satisfying.

So, yes it's a year for you, but you're still in the honeymoon phase. My advice is, enjoy it for all it teaches, and then let those dry spots inspire you to evolve. Whether its stylistically, genre or knowledge, use them to break from that rut, and then you will also see that your opinion on a good solo or self expression will change as well. Right now, you are new to the pitch collections, and still finding new things to say, but just keep what I said in mind, and if possible, stay ahead of the rut by always making yourself learn something new that stretches you.

Best,

Sean
#12
Before you can play a solo, if you are wanting to improvise, the most important thing is to have practiced enough to make what you know subconscious. I know people who would be worthless in a real band, can't tell you what key they are in, but when it comes to shredding a blues solo, they can do it better than people I know who have studied theory for years. It is about being creative and having a deeper attachment that links to what you have stuffed in your subconscious. You have to be able to play without thinking at all to solo. Knowing the chords and knowing where to start helps for sure. I know people who can completely kill a solo and don't know a drop of guitar theory. http://www.amazon.com/Yogi-Jam-Secret-Unlocking-Potential-ebook/dp/B00XTSBBSK/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1431955784&sr=1-1&keywords=yogi+jam
#13
Quote by Sean0913
Most people do that already - it's called being rhythmically aware, and musically mature. Nearly all of us at some point discover its a pretty good idea to be aware of the snare and bass and high hat, when playing to a track. You well said, you've been at it a year. Here's my challenge:

Record yourself playing what you "know" as far as improvising, for 30 seconds over 5 different backing tracks in different keys, and then transcribe your work. See how many unique ideas you came up with. Now, look and see how many of the solo parts were exactly the same as other songs. It will open your eyes, I think.

It may not happen in year 1, but at some point you're going to find that you are treading over the same tired ground and playing a lot of notes and saying nothing. When you get there, you won't think that your solo is "good". You'll see the rut you're in, plowing the same ground to exhaustion only to discover the fruit it yields is less and less satisfying.

So, yes it's a year for you, but you're still in the honeymoon phase. My advice is, enjoy it for all it teaches, and then let those dry spots inspire you to evolve. Whether its stylistically, genre or knowledge, use them to break from that rut, and then you will also see that your opinion on a good solo or self expression will change as well. Right now, you are new to the pitch collections, and still finding new things to say, but just keep what I said in mind, and if possible, stay ahead of the rut by always making yourself learn something new that stretches you.

Best,

Sean


--

Sean, I find myself in a similar position to J23L. And your guidance is a good lead for aspiring guitarists like he (or she) and myself. I can't tell you how many times I've set a simple chord progression on loop and set myself to soloing. But I keep falling back into that rut you talk about. Inevitably, I find myself going back to a plain pentatonic every time I improv more than a few bars.

What self study do you recommend to help me get out of the pentatonic rut?

-Andrew
#15
Past whether you can play a solo or not without the chords, as a semi professional musician you'd be quite useless to me if you didn't know anything but lead. I don't need a guy who plays over every song, I need someone who can play with the rest of the band, who can enhance it.
And no, Guitar Hero will not help. Even on expert. Really.
Soundcloud
#16
AlanHB I agree with your comment. While my original post rambled on you said it very concisely.
Yes I am guitarded also, nice to meet you.
#17
It all depends on the genre and the instrument. In bluegrass fiddling, you play the basic melody and embellish the hell out of it. Tons of double fast, lighting fast scale runs, tremolo for days, grace notes everywhere, everything at least 8th notes, maybe even shorter if the tempo is moderate like in the mid 200s, 8th triplets moslty. It all is about making playing as many notes as you can during the gaps in the melody and between melody notes, and step movement and chromatic passing tones are of far more importance than targeting chord tones (outside of a melody that inherently targets chord tones, but that isn't the decision of the player).

On the other hand on pedal steel guitar, soloing or general lead/fill playing involves finding a voicing for the current chord and then interspersing the chord tones with whatever passing tones are easily available on the other strings at that position (usually the non E, G#, and B strings) or are easily available by engaging a pedal or lever, such as using the A pedal to get a 6 (or by releasing pedals/levers if they are engaged to create that voicing, such as the A+B pedal A major shape. And then you have the diad harmonized scale runs which tend to emphasize chord tones and the occasional single note scale run which is used in fast songs and involves starting and ending on the particular chord, but the actual scale notes are somewhat irrelevant to the chord changes.

In the first example knowing the chords is of very limited value while in the second example it is invaluable.
There's no such thing; there never was. Where I am going you cannot follow me now.
#18
It's good to follow the chords with whatever style of music you are improvising or soloing in. It just makes you sound more sophisticated.

It's like seasoning food. Salt just makes everything taste better. Even in sweet pastries.
#19
^Yep. Linear implied harmony.

You don't even have to follow the chords per se, but you do need to delineate some form of clear harmonic "stuff" in your lines. It gives them direction.
"There are two styles of music. Good music and bad music." -Duke Ellington

"If you really think about it, the guitar is a pointless instrument." - Robert Fripp
#20
I guess it's all about what you want to play as an individual. I always wanted to be a guitar player. Not a rock guitar player, not a metal player not a jazz player or any other specific category of guitar playing but I'm not knocking anyone who wants to learn to only play any one or two styles. I just want to be able to go out and play with any band, anytime, playing any style. Through 40 years of playing that's always been my personal goal. It's not always a complete success but it is a great experience because I love to play live. I do have my own personal preference (classic rock), but I hope I have reached a level where I can get up and play a little of everything else because I just love to play. When I am not playing with my own band I enjoy sitting in with friends and 90% of that is playing backup rhythm guitar and then maybe getting a short spot for a lead. Sometimes I fall down completely but I still value the chance for the experience.

When I read AlanHB's line "I need someone who can play with the rest of the band, who can enhance it." I can say that's the kind of player I hope I am or will be.
Yes I am guitarded also, nice to meet you.
#21
Quote by thegonia
It all depends on the genre and the instrument. In bluegrass fiddling, you play the basic melody and embellish the hell out of it. Tons of double fast, lighting fast scale runs, tremolo for days, grace notes everywhere, everything at least 8th notes,


That's true, I was thinking about guitars primarily.
And no, Guitar Hero will not help. Even on expert. Really.
Soundcloud
Last edited by AlanHB at Jun 3, 2015,
#22
for me context is the guide...playing with a singer who plays 4-5 chords on his guitar..I will play more..add fills..extend arpeggios..use bass lines..if there is a bass player involved..i will play less..a keyboard..even less..imitate the melody perhaps..chord fragments..stuff like that..

when I put together a recording of a new tune I wrote..basic track is just the chords(sustained) for their time allotted in the progression..not strummed..then add a bass line..then run the melody over that..now I can use fills..extensions..passing tones/anticipations to the bass line..develop rhythmic strumming for the chords..enhance the melody-passing tones-intervals..melodic patterns etc..play it back and decide if it has too much of something or not enough..adjust and repeat..doing this many times over the years develops your total sense of a tune..not just part of it..(just hearing the chords or the bass line or the rhythmic feel)..

yes I have met players that do not know chords or their function..and have no knowledge of diatonic harmony..but they can play a solo note for note..in ONE position (key)..

knowing chord functions and harmonic relationships is vital to growing as a musician .. it all depends on your goals and how important it is to you
play well

wolf
Last edited by wolflen at Jun 3, 2015,
#23
Quote by AlanHB
That's true, I was thinking about guitars primarily.


It's actually pretty much that way with all of the bluegrass instruments including guitar, the exception being banjo which makes heavy use of arpeggios and some of the older styles of dobro playing that are based heavily on banjo technique.
There's no such thing; there never was. Where I am going you cannot follow me now.
#24
^^^ So you would say that bluegrass is characterised by all notes playing single note lines all the time, and a distinct lack of chords.
And no, Guitar Hero will not help. Even on expert. Really.
Soundcloud
#25
As far as the lead instruments other than banjo and dobro, yes for the most part. That's just lead though. Obviously the instruments playing rhythm have to pay attention to chords. And all instruments play rhythm at some point including the fiddle. Generally you have one instrument soloing and the rest either play rhythm or stop playing (fiddle and dobro tend to stop playing rather than play rhythm, but will occasionally be used for chopping in the absence of a mandolin).

The exception would be banjo which generally plays the same thing all the time, which consists of melody notes interspersed between chord tones and arpeggios with the standard banjo licks thrown in as fills. This can be done as both a solo breaks and as backup for other solos, though some banjo plays may play simpler arpeggios or mandolin style chops when playing backup.

All a lot of that is also true for old time music, which is the old mountain folk music that preceded bluegrass, which in turn gets those traits from mainly Irish and Scottish folk music, which are similarly based on single note melody.

Irish music tends to be a bit more heterophonic in terms of having all of the instruments other than guitar, bass (if present), and bodhrán playing the melody at the same time. Because of this, the melodies tend to be less improvised (due to the lack of room three, four, five, six, or even more instruments to improvise the melody at the same time) with improvisation being stricter and often restricted to ornamentation as opposed to improvising small variations in the melody as in bluegrass. Though obviously with less instruments there is more room to improvise, such as in a small group consisting of a guitar player, banjo player, fiddler, and whistle player, and not all the instruments always play at the same time.
There's no such thing; there never was. Where I am going you cannot follow me now.
#28
Quote by Jet Penguin
^Or everyone could just spine up and improvise at once :upto

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xbZIiom9rDA


Do you know why they call it free jazz? Because nobody would ever pay to listen to it.

Besides, there's no spinning up in a pub full of easily angered drunks.
There's no such thing; there never was. Where I am going you cannot follow me now.
#29
Quote by theogonia777
Do you know why they call it free jazz? Because nobody would ever pay to listen to it.

wheeeeeeeeeeey
superman is killing himself tonight
#30
It's not quite true though. After all, your ears pay for it every time.
There's no such thing; there never was. Where I am going you cannot follow me now.
#31
Quote by theogonia777
That's just lead though. Obviously the instruments playing rhythm have to pay attention to chords. And all instruments play rhythm at some point including the fiddle. Generally you have one instrument soloing and the rest either play rhythm or stop playing (fiddle and dobro tend to stop playing rather than play rhythm, but will occasionally be used for chopping in the absence of a mandolin).


So if you don't know chords, basically you'd just be that dick that solos over everything.
And no, Guitar Hero will not help. Even on expert. Really.
Soundcloud
#32
You would know the chords if you were a mandolin player or guitar player since they play rhythm more than lead. Guitar players are actually the second least likely to play lead in bluegrass behind bass of the six standard instruments, mainly because they are the foundation of the rhythm section. Fiddle players tend to play solo breaks and the rest of the time they tend to not play at all, unless their is no mandolin player, in which case they sometimes fill the mandolin's role in the rhythm section.

But I'm not saying that bluegrass players don't know the chords. I'm just saying that they don't really need to use chords as a frame work for soloing the way a jazz musician would for example. Bluegrass soloing is more based around improvising the melody and fast scale fills rather than being based around chord tones like in jazz.
There's no such thing; there never was. Where I am going you cannot follow me now.
#33
^^^ But my point, which you are addressing, doesn't relate to approaching solos.

I'm questioning the value of a musician that doesn't know chords and you are giving me a lecture in bluegrass, where they take turns soloing and emphasising chords.
And no, Guitar Hero will not help. Even on expert. Really.
Soundcloud
#34
There is no value of a musician who plans on soloing and comping that doesn't know harmony.

If you don't know chords, you can't play rhythm, and all you can do is solo. If you don't know harmony, your lines will be bland and directionless.

IMO.
"There are two styles of music. Good music and bad music." -Duke Ellington

"If you really think about it, the guitar is a pointless instrument." - Robert Fripp
#35
Quote by theogonia777
But I'm not saying that bluegrass players don't know the chords. I'm just saying that they don't really need to use chords as a frame work for soloing the way a jazz musician would for example. Bluegrass soloing is more based around improvising the melody and fast scale fills rather than being based around chord tones like in jazz.

But Jazz is also heavily based on melody. You will always be able to hear the tune within the solo from an accomplished improviser in jazz.

Bluegrass, country and jazz are very similar. If you play exactly the same kind of notes but switch to the neck pickup and change the feel to swing then you magically transform to bebop cat.
Last edited by mdc at Jun 3, 2015,
#36
Quote by AlanHB
^^^ But my point, which you are addressing, doesn't relate to approaching solos.

I'm questioning the value of a musician that doesn't know chords and you are giving me a lecture in bluegrass, where they take turns soloing and emphasising chords.


I'm really not sure what you're asking for exactly.

Quote by mdc
Bluegrass, country and jazz are very similar.


Bluegrass and jazz really aren't particularly similar outside of emphasis on on improvisation and syncopation.
There's no such thing; there never was. Where I am going you cannot follow me now.
#37
Quote by theogonia777
I'm really not sure what you're asking for exactly.


Well you can hold off on the bluegrass for now. We seem to agree that you should know chords, and we'll just leave it there
And no, Guitar Hero will not help. Even on expert. Really.
Soundcloud