For Beginners: How To Begin Soloing And Write Your Own Stuff

A lesson for beginners wanting to write good guitar solos,and good music as such.

For Beginners: How To Begin Soloing And Write Your Own Stuff
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A lot of us, guitar players, have always wanted to play those face-melting solos written by guitarists like Eddie Van Halen, Randy Rhoads, Mick Mars, Vito Bratta, Kirk Hammett, Ritchie Blackmore, and many others. And when we are in the mood to go look for a good tab and learn the solo(or whole song) then we get the tab, learn the solo and play it. But when we try to make our own solos, then we oftenly have at least 1 of these 2 problematic situations: 1 - we don't have even the slightest clue about how to compose anything (especially a guitar solo) 2 - we CAN compose something, but it's by far NOT great. This article is supposed to she'd some light on composing music (especially a guitar solo). First off, to write a good solo, you need to learn some music scales (unless you are so talented, that you can write awesome stuff without practicing and learning). I suppose, that you, the one who is reading my article, want to play rock/metal music. This is the primary reason, why I made this article - so that there would be more GOOD rock/metal guitarists. (Aside from wanting to make a lesson of course) But! The scales that are used in rock/metal music, the scales, that are, kinda,"rock scales" are also used outside of rock music. You can sometimes see a "rock scale" in jazz solos, in blues, and et cetera. Sometimes, a scale that is used in, for example, heavy metal, can be seen in a pop song(mostly it is either the major scale, the natural minor scale, or sometimes the harmonic minor scale). Needless to say, in those cases, those pop songs are rock/metal infused. (Just take a look at Michael Jackson's "They Don't Care About Us", "Black Or White", a pop-rock/funk tune, or "Beat It", you'll see it). That is why, in this article, when talking about music scales, we are going to put emphasis on scales, that are used in most genres of popular music(this means stage music that has been popular throughout the 20th century:jazz, blues, rock, pop and so on) So, here we go...

THE 5 PENTATONIC SCALE TYPES (aka "The 5 pentatonic scale shapes"):

These are a must-know for any good guitarist, especially, if you are playing rock/metal. As for the genres of rock and metal - these 5 scale types are most specific for: blues rock, hard rock, arena rock, southern rock, boogie rock, country rock and to a lesser extent - metal (especially traditional heavy metal and glam metal). The reason, why these 5 scales are called "scale types", is because a scale is a specific note pattern, which can also be considered a form/shape for your fingers to follow, and this pattern can start from any note of the 12-semitone note system. To put it simply - it is because you can play these forms from, basically, any note you want (or, you could say, from any fret on the guitar, if it's easier for you to grasp), and it will result in a scale. NOTE! Tune your guitar to Standard E (aka the standard tuning)! The scales shown here follow the key(a key in music is the scale, on which a song/musical motif is based on, and is usually followed) of E minor (and it's relative scales). The shapes presented are played in 2 octave range (plus the next note of the pattern. The reason behind it: a visually simpler form).

PENTATONIC SCALE TYPE #1:

The minor pentatonic:
E|---------------------0-3-|
B|-----------------0-3-----|
G|-------------0-2---------|
D|---------0-2-------------|
A|-----0-2-----------------|
E|-0-3---------------------|

PENTATONIC SCALE TYPE #2:

The major pentatonic:
E|---------------------3-5-|
B|-----------------3-5-----|
G|-------------2-4---------|
D|---------2-5-------------|
A|-----2-5-----------------|
E|-3-5---------------------|

PENTATONIC SCALE TYPE #3:

The dorian pentatonic:
E|---------------------5-7-|
B|-----------------5-8-----|
G|-------------4-7---------|
D|---------5-7-------------|
A|-----5-7-----------------|
E|-5-7---------------------|

PENTATONIC SCALE TYPE #4:

The phrygian pentatonic:
E|-----------------------7-10-|
B|-------------------8-10-----|
G|---------------7-9----------|
D|-----------7-9--------------|
A|------7-10------------------|
E|-7-10-----------------------|

PENTATONIC SCALE TYPE #5:

The mixolydian pentatonic:
E|-----------------------------10-12-|
B|-----------------------10-12-------|
G|------------------9-12-------------|
D|-------------9-12------------------|
A|-------10-12-----------------------|
E|-10-12-----------------------------|
...and we're back to the

PENTATONIC SCALE TYPE #1

(this time - it is 1 octave higher that the initial shape #1): The minor pentatonic:
E|-------------------------------12-15-|
B|-------------------------12-15-------|
G|-------------------12-14-------------|
D|-------------12-14-------------------|
A|-------12-14-------------------------|
E|-12-15-------------------------------|
Since we are in the key of E minor, the FULL proper names for each pentatonic scale this time, in order of appearance, are: E minor pentatonic, G major pentatonic, A Dorian pentatonic, B phrygian pentatonic, D mixolydian pentatonic. You may have noticed, that if you play only THE FIRST notes of each pentatonic, then you get the E minor pentatonic (in a range of 1 octave). This shows, that these 5 pentatonic scale types are related to each other. How? It is because these 5 pentatonic scales (or also - scale types), are MODES of each other. Basically, every scale has multiple relative modes. And the words phrygian, dorian, mixolydian... They are names of scale modes. But, those mode-names belong primarily to heptatonic scales (7-different-note scales, which also have 7 different modes, including the initial one), not to pentatonic. So, I had to give them a name, and I borrowed the names of the heptatonic scale modes.(Besides, any educated guitarist would understand it, and wouldn't argue about it). So here is the conclusion of the lesson: With these 5 scales (scale types) you can do some awesome soloing! And remember: you can play them from any fret on the fretboard, and all these 5 scale types will sound good together if you use them within the right key. Just remember what key the song/musical motif follows! Rock on! ;) P.S. You can break rules in music and achieve good results with experimenting, but for that you should learn a lot of music theory, and a lot about music as such. Not to mention, that you should be careful while experimenting. (But you can be a CRAAAZEEEEEY experimentator, if you want to.

43 comments sorted by best / new / date

comments policy
    ron4ik16
    Strange... I've put quite a lot of material for beginners,in one lesson,and there are no comments... PEOPLE!!! WHERE ARE YOU!?!?
    ConcertShooter
    It should read "shed some light," not "she'd some light." However, with enough alcohol "shed [probably] she'd some light." ; I play trumpet and am learning the violin. Just traded a nice firearm for a pristine 1999 Gibson Les Paul Classic 1960 reissue. I'll save the English lessons for another forum. So I'm here to learn how to play the guitar but not just by reading tabs. Tabs is a start since I already read music. Appears to be a lot of good information here.
    Virtuosofreak
    "It should read "shed some light," not "she'd some light."" It's probably some UG team's fault. It doesn't mean that they are dumb anyway. It just happens sometimes.
    iaceu
    Beat It is a great rock/pop example because as most guitarists know, the guitar on that track was played by Eddie Van Halen.
    shredbanez
    I wonder,if this lesson is still useful.... It seems as if no one is reading it anymore... Yes its very useful and will always be...yes people are still reading it and benefiting from it too. :
    legriffith
    Not bad but I still don;t get how to tie this into a the harmonics of a song... I did learn though so it's all good.
    Virtuosofreak
    Simple. You just need to know what scale does the song itself,or at least a certain part of it(sometimes certain parts of a song may follow another key) follows. Then you just start applying what you learned to the song.
    Motorheadache
    No, I understand the modes are a seperate entity. I was only trying to relate the same mentality to the pentatonic positions. After all, these are really just 5 modes of the pentatonic scale at the end of the day. When you play thru the modes you're doing the exact same thing only with 7 notes starting from the major scale...
    AlanHB
    No they're NOT positions on the fretboard.
    Virtuosofreak
    You are right. They are scales,not positions. What the guy meant was probably "playing scales on different parts of the fretboard".
    shredbanez
    Thanks..great lesson. I've been playing for about a decade now..i used to do mostly covers. About 2 years back I started learning to improvise over blues backing tracks, and I stopped doing covers for the most part, and started developing my own sound and feel. While I know all the modes in all keys fluently now, and can rip up and down, using picking/legato comfortably, my blues improvisations/noodling always sounded limited, because I only knew the major and minor pentatonics..never bothered to learn the other three modes. This article helped me a lot...A LOT!!! Also, your use of the analogy of heptatonic modes to explain the pentatonic modes is very cool..it'll help me to memorize/visualise the pentatonic modes cause I'm already fluent with heptatonic modes... Thank you so much. \m/
    wingman1
    Howdy, I quite liked the lesson even though I was hoping to get an answer to something else that's been bugging me. Say I want to play a solo from the E minor since that's what you used in the lesson. Can I go from E minor pentatonic to A Dorian pentatonic within the same solo and the same key or will the key change? And say that the rhythm guitar is playing Em for 2 bars and A for another two bars. Do i have to play the Eminor pent. scale for exactly those two bars or can i just go to another scale, say A Dorian after only a bar of Em has been played?
    Virtuosofreak
    Yes,you can. But you should also be sure,that the notes you play in the solo fit with the notes of the chords,because if they don't,then in a lot of cases the solo won't "glue" to the chord progression. And,the key of the song may both change and not change when you skip to another mode. This one depends on the way the song is written. How to determine it: if the passage of the song returnes to the initial chord in the "key" places(by timing),then the key does not change OVERALL IN THE SONG. e.g. a riff plays a few times,and in at least 2-3 of them - returns to the initial chord. But if there is something like a shift,then the key DOES change OVERALL IN THE SONG. e.g. The riff changes,and the song's "mood" changes/stays the same,but shifts up or down.
    Motorheadache
    Good lesson! I am currently working on the 5 pentatonic positions myself.I know quite a few pentatonic licks, but felt kind of limited by not knowing all of the positions. So far, I have the shapes committed to memory and can play them in Em/Am/Bm with relative ease. I didn't even THINK of applying the names of the modes to each position (even though I realize they are the 5 modes of the pentatonic scale). Thanks for that!! One thing I am NOT clear about, is what "makes" it a mode? Is it because I start by playing the lowest note of each position which effectively is changing the "root"? (IE, lowest note of each position E/G/A/B/D on the low e)? What if (for example) I decided to play thru Position 2 in its entirety starting and ending on the root note E at the 2nd fret of the A string? Would that still be considered the Major "Ionian" pentatonic? Same goes for the other positions. What if I played E to E in position #4? Would this still be considered Phyrgian? I'm not quite making the connection here, and I'm hurting my brain by overthinking it! Can anyone shred some light?
    Virtuosofreak
    Wjat makes it a "mode" is the fact,that these scale shapes consist of the same notes. The only difference(roughly) in each of them is that each scale starts from a different note of the same group of notes and the notes go in the same order.
    Virtuosofreak
    "Is it because I start by playing the lowest note of each position which effectively is changing the "root"? (IE, lowest note of each position E/G/A/B/D on the low e)?" Figuratively,yes. But it does not depend on which guitar string you start to play. It depends only on which note you make the "root" note.(It goes that way for any musical instrument,and any kind of scale) But you can start playing from G note,playing the G major pentatonic,and later switch to E minor pentatonic.(kinda like,the scale transforms into another scale) You can experiment with this stuff. "What if (for example) I decided to play thru Position 2 in its entirety starting and ending on the root note E at the 2nd fret of the A string? Would that still be considered the Major "Ionian" pentatonic?" Well,it depends on,how would you mean it,when playing it. If you would mean it like a solo/melodic run over a song in G major(the #2 shape/type in the key of E minor,and it's relatives),then yeah. But if you would,for example,play something in E minor,and end on E(just as you said above),then it would be considered the E minore pentatonic scale. "Same goes for the other positions. What if I played E to E in position #4? Would this still be considered Phyrgian?" Uhh,no. Why because the root note would be E,and you would also end playing on E.
    dvskid7
    thanks man! i just started playin' about 6 months ago. im teachen myself how ta play and some things were a bit trickey to figure out. that really helped...now for sheet music (that shits to complicated for me)haha
    AlanHB
    Modes aren't positions on the fretboard mate. That's a score of one for me, because you've just taught the pentatonic scale to a beginner, and they will call it a mode.
    Virtuosofreak
    The author didn't call modes "positions on the fretboard". That's number one. Number two: "Mode" is another name for "scale". It is another way of calling a group of notes arranged into a scale.
    suneet141290
    wow !! i cant wait to try this stuff i just finished with barred chords and am on the onset of finger picking but i wanted to get acquainted with this stuff apart from the scales ! good stuff
    Seldom Pro
    Thanks for the lesson it ansewred some of my questions but not all but it was a good lesson thanks again!!
    Krieger91
    Great article, but I remain confised on what thing, which I can't seem to fully find anywhere or understand: Once I've got the scales down, how do I learn how to use them? Example, Angie buy the Stones..which scale would I use to improv over it? It's in a minor, I think..does that mean I can use any minor pentatonic scale of any note within the key of a minor?
    DragonAvenger7
    Great article on scales! I"m training to be a lead soloist and with this I can have more options since I know more patterns now!
    mmpunk
    Okay, I read the whole thing; I sort of barely understand the scales, and my following along skills dropped off when you said "With these 5 scales (scale types) you can do some awesome soloing!" How? I am a total beginner with music theory, although I've been playing for 2 years and can play semi-complicated songs, like Strength of the World by Avenged Sevenfold. I wish I could follow along with some of these lessons that take me nowhere. I'm sure its a good lesson, I just don't see how it's for beginners.
    unleashedfury
    Good lesson on the start of soloing Pentatonics are pretty much the foundation to get a beginner rolling in most music, however I never heard or referred to pentatonics as modes or heard of them referred to as modes. I was always taught based on the note your playing. So using an example of the A minor/C maj. Pentatonic scale. The first position would be C major pentatonic Then if you shifted upwards to D it was referred to as C major Pentatonic in the 2nd position.. Maybe my instruction was wrong but I sure as hell didn't go to berklee or nothing..
    Virtuosofreak
    Well,the author did make a little mistake. But still,this lesson is not off-topic.(at least,not much) It helps beginner guitarists to REALLY understand guitar solos,which in turn,helps you to begin write your own guitar solos. I will agree,that the lesson is lacking in explanation about how to compose. The information here mostly contains the 5 common pentatonic scales with an improvised name(which isn't bad,because technically they ARE modes of each other),and some explanation regarding them(all of that is in other words - some music theory). Besides,the lesson is about how to begin soloing .
    joestrong
    I'm a little disappointed. The article talks about how we can compose a song, then teaches us the positions of the pentatonic, then tries to call them modes. Misleading, and too much for one article if I'm honest.
    Virtuosofreak
    Well,the author did make a little mistake. But still,this lesson is not off-topic.(at least,not much) It helps beginner guitarists to REALLY understand guitar solos,which in turn,helps you to begin write your own guitar solos. I will agree,that the lesson is lacking in explanation about how to compose. The information here mostly contains the 5 common pentatonic scales with an improvised name(which isn't bad,because technically they ARE modes of each other),and some explanation regarding them(all of that is in other words - some music theory).