Beginner Guitar Solos: The One Note Solo Exercise

Do your solos wander without form or structure? Are you maybe terrified of improvising at all? Go through these 7 simple steps to help focus your note and rhythm choices and create compelling and memorable guitar solos.

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Beginner Guitar Solos: The One Note Solo Exercise
"Ok, today I'm going to teach you how to start improvising on guitar... " That's a sentence that's often met by my students with a look of "Whaaaaaaaat? I'm not ready for that yet!" When, in fact, they (and you) are absolutely ready for it.

That feeling comes only from a fear of failure. And the nice thing about music (especially improv) is that failure doesn't really exist. Maybe you played a note you didn't want to hear right then, but that doesn't make it a "bad" note and certainly doesn't make you a failure of any sort.

To many beginners, a guitar solo sounds like an endless flurry of notes that just goes and goes. In reality, a solo is a collection of smaller distinct musical phrases chained together. I'm going to help you work out those small ideas with this exercise.

So if you're new to the idea of improvising on guitar, be patient with yourself, jump in without fear, and play some really nutty stuff until you start to hear stuff you like. No one was ever killed by a "bad" note.

If you've tried soloing and don't like the outcome, it's probably because you're feeling like the solo wanders from note to note, not really creating any phrases or going anywhere. Today we'll learn how to tighten that up so that you're creating interesting and more memorable melodies.

The exercise I'm going to take you through is one that I was put through in college. And while I use it to teach beginners, I'd already been playing for 5 or 6 years when I learned it, and still got some valuable fixes out of it in my own playing.

It's useful to have some sort of backing track on this to help you keep in a groove. It's also more fun. But you can also do it with a simple metronome click.

If you're recording your own backing track, just keep it simple. Maybe one bar each: C | F | G | C | and loop it around a couple times to give yourself some time to play.

Ok, let's get into it:

1. Throwing you off the cliff: Try playing a solo with a C major scale (C D E F G A B C). Haven't learned that scale yet? No worries, play any notes you want. This is just to give you a baseline of where you are right now as a guitar soloist.

2. Take note of what you LIKED and DIDN'T LIKE about that solo. Do this after each and every step.

3. For your next solo, you only get one note to play. If you're in the key of C major like the example chord progression, use the note C. Or whatever the root note of your key is.

Yes, you're going to play a whole solo with one note. Since you don't get any other notes, you won't be thinking melodically here. Only RHYTHMICALLY. This is a big key point. The "wandering" sound we're trying to cure is because there's no engaging rhythm to the solo.

In this one-note solo, you need to come up with as many different rhythms as you can over your groove. No bending, no hammers, no pulls (you can check them later)...  Just come up with as many different rhythms as you can muster with that one note.

4. Take just one of the rhythms that you played in the previous solo. It will probably be a one measure rhythm. Play another solo using still just the one note. But this time I want you to repeat that one rhythm over and over as well.

You may find that when you're doing this, that one rhythm starts to morph into something different because of tiny errors or "it feels like it wants to go somewhere else." This is good. This is how you're eventually going to let one phrase smoothly transition into the next in a real solo.

Obviously, a real solo doesn't just repeat the same rhythm over and over. So if yours starts to morph, keep it in the groove and let it morph.

5. Now take that same rhythm you used on the last solo. This time you get two notes to play with. Let's take C and A. Play that same repeated rhythm solo, this time distributing the rhythm over the two notes in any way you like.

Let's say your rhythm has 4 notes. You could play: CCAA, ACAC, CAAC, etc. Play whatever combination you like of those two notes over your one rhythm.

These notes will sound a little squirrely over the G chord (if you're using that chord), but don't sweat it. Stay on those two notes.

Again, if your rhythm starts to morph into something else, let it. Just make sure you're playing something that fits the tempo.

The purpose of this section is to help you distribute your rhythm over a SMALL group of notes. In your previous wandering solos, not only was the rhythm static, but you were probably poking out very random selections of notes. Most phrases will contain no more than 4 or 5 notes, tightly grouped together. Later as you become more advanced you can certainly develop wide jumps and more angular sounding phrases. But as a beginner, concentrate on small groupings to get a sound that pleases you.

6. Once you've done the 2-note solo, expand to four notes. Maybe G A B C. Use that same rhythm from the last couple solos, again, letting it morph into something else whenever it does.

7. Now try combining two different rhythms, still with just four notes, but alternating between the rhythms.

Going through these 7 steps will tighten up both your melody choices and your rhythms to help you create great, cohesive little melodies. Then, as I mentioned previously, your solo becomes lots of those little melodies strung together. No more wandering! Yay!

Also, there is one other concept you need to know about that is really the best way to learn guitar and put me out of business.

42 comments sorted by best / new / date

    The one note solo, reminds me of Tenacious D's one note song
    This is truly amazing! I have composed a few songs that are fully complete with the exception of solos and every time i try to compose such a thing, my mind gets blank and nothing comes out. This will really help me to make progress.
    I feel stupid for playing guitar for 3+ years and not knowing what the C major scale is
    tone-tone-semitone-tone-tone-tone-semitone Starting on C: C D E F G A B C No sharps or flats, all natural notes. Works great over Am, F, C, G.
    just adding on, C is A3 (third fret of the A string). on any one string, a tone is a two-fret gap and a semitone is a one-fret gap. do a bit of googling, you'll get it soon enough
    dw about it, even when playing completely random notes you cant be further away by a semitone from being in any major scale
    very good lesson! Im a teacher and I can say from experience that rhythm is soo overlooked in solos by students
    I agree. I have a friend who can shred pretty well now (I taught him), but his solos just sound like run on sentences. I try to stress "micro-solos" - just soloing for one or two measures, and then resting for another one or two, and repeating. That way, you can really see how the parts of the solo fit together.
    Does this also work on bass?
    yeah! if your doing a bass solo. just be aware that lower frequencies muddy together easier so stick to root, third and fifth scale tones unless you really know what you're doing
    I don't tend to comment on lessons often but this is by far one of the most useful and helpful lessons iv read on this or any other site. And its well written as well. Thanks
    Is it bad that I just play? I dont know all of this C major stuff or Modes or anything of it. I just play.
    Even if you knew theory, you should still just play with feel and listen to the sounds in your head. Best solos are those where the player really thinks and plays what he wants to play. Music is about sound so I think people should think about the sounds they are making. It's good to know theory then you really know what you are doing. But if you only know the sound and not the theory behind the sound, that doesn't really matter, as long as you can produce the sounds you want to hear. But if you only know theory and not any sounds, it really doesn't help you.
    That's not bad. Music theory is great, but in the end, it's just a tool to help your music sound good. As long as you like what you play, then you can play whatever and however you want.
    Glad you guys like it. As I mentioned, I'd been playing quite awhile when I was introduced to it in college and it really helped my playing too.
    Far Cry by Rush has a pretty cool one-note solo if you can call it that
    Quite a coincidence that I'm quite sure it's Alex Lifeson in the picture on the front page.
    Great lesson. Well written and sound advice. I'd thoroughly recommend anyway interested in expanding on this article and composing solos to buy a looper pedal. $120 will get you a Ditto Looper and you can lay down a simple (or complex) rhythm and solo over the top of it for hours. It is great fun and great to experiment with which notes fit over which progressions, as well as being great for developing rhythm.
    Can u teach me a simple scale pattern
    1) Say please And well, C major (let's hope it doesn't get ****ed up) e-----5-7-8 B-----5-6-8----- G-----4-5-7----- D--- --5-7----- A--5-7-8----- E-8----- That's three full octaves and it's the most commonly used "box" (That's what my guitar teacher calls them lol) You have higher up notes on the scale here for example e-10-12-13-- I'm just a beginner though so well...
    Something that really helped me was just finding out what key a song was in and playing a "solo" over it while listening to it... even if it was just a few notes over and over. But those three notes would grow to 5 notes...7... etc. Helped with phrasing.
    What I have learned when writing solos is play what you feel. Yes you can do your solos in scales but you need to just experiment. That is why I love pro tools. I can play the song as many times I want and solo different takes. If you don't know scales a good book I have in my self is scales over chords. It gives you an starting point and from there play with feeling.
    I tend to do this while free styling a jam session,definitely alot fun trying out different buildups of notes and rythms.
    can someone explain the one note thing to me is it one note on one string i can i use the same note on different strings. Plus ive been teaching myself how to play and dont actually know notes :/
    Good Ol' Ramos
    At first I didn't agree with the article. I felt like I was doing fine with my progress in soloing. Then I had a few drinks and decided to try it. I was quite happy. It was a new challenge for me and it allowed me to focus on the patterns and rhythms rather than focusing on trying to find the perfect next note. This is a fantastic read and I recommend everyone try it at least once, just for the sake of trying something new/different.