Useful Tips For Beginner Lead Guitarists

These are REALLY important tips.

Ultimate Guitar
Let's just go straight to the business. NOTE TO CRITICS: REMEMBER, THAT THIS A LESSON FOR BEGINNERS!!! So, what you should DO to make/be able to make a good solo? In order to build a good guitar solo, you must do the following:

1. Learn how music works.

I am BY FAR NOT the first one to say this, but that's how it is. You need to learn how music works, if you want to be able to play whatever you want. This includes learning the techniques you can perform on your instrument, music theory(musical terms, scales (and their modes), how chords are built, intervals, and so on. In the end of the lesson, I will introduce you to modes, and give you some scales to learn.

2. Find out what key is the song in.

It is very important to be in the right key to make a good guitar solo. (Not to mention that your phrasing and technique must be good as well). To find out the key of the song, you need to look at what chords are present in the song. Write down what chords are being used in the song. Sometimes the song may shift between relative keys, or even raise/flatten the key in the middle of the song. That's why - write down the chords the song uses in general, and also in detail, by dividing which chords are used each part of the song. After you've done that, look at the roots of the chords, and see which scales do these root notes fit. It doesn't mean that you should stick only to that one key. You can find a way around the key of song. A safe way is using scale modes (aka relative keys). Most scales have relative scales. But just, just as I said, we'll talk about that later in the lesson. So... Whatever way do you go, to make sure, that your solo sounds good, you should use the right key, and both start and end on the right notes. Of course, some people say that there no "right" notes. But! It depends on the way you look at it. From the one side of the coin - you can use all notes any way you want. From the other side of the coin - in certain situations, some notes sound better than others. Well, anyway... What I meant with the "right notes" thing was taking into account the notes of the chord that is being played at the moment of start/end, because it will lessen the chance of your solo sounding crappy. For example, If you are playing a part of a song in E Phrygian, which both starts and ends on an E5 power chord, then the "right" notes to start and end the solo on are E and B. This means, that it is safe to use B locrian, if you don't want to use E Phrygian to solo. Or also, if you are playing in C major, and it starts on C major, and ends on an A minor chord, then the "right" notes to begin on are: C, E, G. And the right ones to end on are: A, C, E. In order to find out the right notes BY YOURSELF, just look at the chords, and scrutinize at what fret each string is being pressed (open strings count too) But don't just stick to chord notes, because by doing that you will only limit yourself, okay? I don; t want to be blamed for misledaing beginner guitarists. :D

3. Come up with some good phrases that you could use for the beginning of your solo.

A good solo needs a good start, right? Well, the first thing you should take into account is the mood of song in general, and mood of the song in that exact part. According to that you can choose suitable ways to start the solo. Here are some examples:
  • You may start by shredding the hell out of the guitar right off the bat. A good example of this to look at is a guitar solo of "One" by Metallica. That solo starts right after the thrashy interlude, Kirk uses a lot of legato (hammer/pull-off) runs there.
  • You may start by a few, not very fast, but very powerful notes with a good vibrato. A good example of that is an 80's metal classic "Still Of The Night" by Whitesnake. That solo riff is not exactly a solo, though. It's more like a warm-up to a solo, but nonetheless, it sounds very melodic and powerful. It starts right after the violin part.
  • You may start the solo at a normal pace, not too fast, not too slow. A good example is the intro solo of "Nothin' But A Good Time" by Poison.
  • You may "kick in" with the solo by using a slide at the first note. A GREAT example of that is solo of "Open Fire" by Troy Stetina. (It's the first solo of his "Heavy Metal Lead Guitar Method" book).
  • You can start with a not very fast, yet a very tasty bend, and start slowly descending a scale for a while, and then stop for a few pentatonic phrases. A good example is the guitar solo from "Home Sweet Home" by Motley Crue. There's tons of options, just see sounds cool and fits your song.

    4. Think about what how are you going to play the rest of the solo, how are you gonna end it, how are you gonna put everything together.

    After you've come up with some good phrases, you need to put everything together. To do this effectively, you must have good phrasing and a decent knowledge of scales and their modes. Let's say that you started with a slow, tasty bend. That's good. But where are you going to go afterwards? Well, you could, for example, jump to the middle of the scale, play a few notes back and forth a semitone, then add a pre-bend, vibrato, and run down the scale a bit using 8-note triplets. A part of a guitar solo is done this way in the song "Every Rose Has It's Thorn" by Poison. Or maybe, you could repeat the same bend a few more times, only faster, and then shred a bit, and then again go slower, and play around with intervals, ending with a beautiful pinch-harmonic with a vibrato. Then, add a few good-sounding slides, throw in one more vibrato, and then descend to the lower notes with the blues scale(according to the key of the song, of course), ending the solo with a cool, wide vibrato. Just like I said before - there's tons of options. You can experiment with notes, phrases and techniques any way you want. But to be sure that what you are creating is something of high quality, then you must put effort into studying music, into what you're doing. Now, just as promised, let's talk about modes. By the way, REMEMBER THIS: Musically, mode = scale = key.(that means, all three of these terms mean basically the same, only with subtle differences). What we, musicians call "modes" are relative keys. Relative keys are scales that consist of the same notes in the same linear (figuratively speaking) order, but start and end each on it's own note. Here is the most popular example of modes, the relative scales of C major: EVERYTHING'S IN STANDARD TUNING!!! C major
    D dorian
    E phrygian
    F lydian
    G mixolydian
    A Aeolian (natural minor, or simply minor)
    B locrian
    And, we're back to C major! C major
    Now, you may have a few questions, which sound something like this: "How does all of this stuff work? How and what for can I use it? What about other scales?" Basically, it works like that: you take the scale of the song, and shift from the initial root note to another note, making it the new root note to stick to for however long you want/need. And that, is how you use it. Some of the reasons what musicians use modes for are:
  • To contrast the moods of your solo (or the song in general)
  • To contrast the sounds
  • To make interesting musical "surprises" (This one can also be attributed to intervals as well). Another question in your head might be: "How is it with other scales?" Well, If you'd be in the key of D major, then the modes would be: D major, E Dorian, F# phrygian, G Lydian, A Mixolydian, B Aeolian, and C locrian. Why? Because each type of scale follows it's own pattern. The pattern of the major scale is: 2-2-1-2-2-2-1. 2 = a whole tone, 1 = a semitone. To be able to "count out" the modes, you need to know the patterns of scales. The introductory example of modes that I gave you, is the most popular example of the modes of heptatonic (7-different-note) scales. There are boatloads of other types of scales, and their respective modes and patterns. You can look them up in the internet(obvious, I know it). Btw, there is a good lesson about pentatonic scales and their right here on UG. It's called "How To Begin Soloing And Writing Your Own Stuff". That lesson is a bit off-topic, but it contains a lot of useful information. Check it out ;) One last thing. Just in case, if you are curious about scale patterns, but don't want to spend time looking for them in the internet - there's another way to, at least partially, discover some more. It's not hard. Just take the example of modes that I already gave you, and analyze each mode. Look at the fretboard and see how many frets are between each note. That way you will learn those patterns in a matter of minutes. I hope that this lesson wasn't boring/misleading and was of good use to you. ROCK ON!
  • 56 comments sorted by best / new / date

      STOP TREATING MODES AS SCALES! Modes =/= scales.
      I must say I'm pleasantly surprised to see this comment got the medal. Very very important concept, this. As Joe Satriani once wrote, "When learning the seven fundamental modes, it definitely helps to think of each mode as simply being a different orientation of its parent major scale. Ultimately, however, it's better to break away from this relative or associative way of thinking and look at each individual mode as being its own harmonic entity."
      You're wrong,mate. Modes ARE scales,and that's that. Period.
      See, the problem with discussing this is topic is that it has been done to absolute death in music forums all across the internet. Still, I'll say this: yes, modes can be viewed as a pattern of notes so you could call them scales, but the problem with this is that people go about preaching modes' associations with their parent major scale. Modes are much better viewed as harmonic entities (rather than scalar ones) which are independent of each other as well as their so called parent scale. It is pretty much useless to try to see how modes work/use modes if you think otherwise. *edit* in your "Some of the reasons what musicians use modes for", you missed this very point: they are harmonic entities. In fact, your point about how modes 'work' is pretty much plain wrong. No they don't work like that, and I'd advise you to read/watch some lessons by Joe Satriani or Frank Gambale which clarify this point very well.
      Ya know,maybe you're right at some points. But still,modes ARE scales. And i'm sure i did not make my point about how modes 'work' plain wrong. The only thing taht i will admit,is that i've probably missed out some stuff about the modes.
      I know that modes are independent. I've never stated the opposite.
      Calymos just said that modes are scales. that IS the opposite. :|
      Modes ARE scales. Wanna know why? Because a scale is a group of notes,that creates a distinctive sound. Modes create a distinctive sound as well. If you fail to see and realize that,then you're narrow-minded.
      I will admit that "modes are scales" as they are produced by displacing the starting point (root note) of a scale without changing the formula. That being said, I have to disagree with "mode = scale = key". Note you have the E Phrygian mode. This IS a scale because you are playing a specific interval formula. However, like you said, they are relative to the key of C major. What it sounds like you are saying by comparing mode, scale, and key, one might think they are playing the E Phrygian in the key of E, when it's actually a displaced version of the key of C.
      Most of the lesson is about scales, really + one paragraph about beggining the solo. Nothing here is very harmful or misleading, generally useful info for a total beginner i guess, but it can make the new guy feel like soloing is all about the scales and politely following the chord progression...
      It seems like that only at the first sight. If you delve deeper into what i wrote,you'll see,that I've also talked about some ways how to end the solo.
      To agree with Szarlih, you do have in bold print at the very beginning: "NOTE TO CRITICS: REMEMBER, THAT THIS A LESSON FOR BEGINNERS!!!" The only tab that shows any explanation are the different modes. While modes can be useful to create different "tastes", if you will, of solos, the majority of solos in any genre follow the minor pentatonic scale much more than modes. This lesson would have been more effective if you had a brief discussion on that topic.
      this is just my thinkin here, but if you're a beginner and you don't know at least most of this,(such as figure out what key you're playin in) you probably shouldn't be tryin to write your own solos its just like you can start with the hardest ski hills, and work your way up but you're just gonna crash and break something, in this case probably your technique
      I could have sworn Jimi Hendrix broke all of these almost 50 years ago...
      I fail to see why an article that is specifically intended for beginners would mention modes at all, whether their description is accurate or not. Modes are not that confusing, but for a true beginner it is far too much information.
      I like to give a lot,so that there would be more benefit for those craving knowledge,and so that my work would be rated,and would live on.d
      I can see that, but you might consider separating the information into two articles: one on the tips for beginners, and a second on modes. Additionally, you can do what you have done here without mentioning modes by instead of referring to it as "D Dorian" calling it "C major scale beginning from the D note." That is much more accurate for what you are teaching, and should please the "scales aren't modes" crowd.
      If you want a fantastic article on modes, there's one on Wikipedia (of all places). Google "diatonic" and skip to the analysis, unless you're interested in the Greek terms and the exact ratios in cents.
      "Basically, it works like that: you take the scale of the song, and shift from the initial root note to another note, making it the new root note to stick to for however long you want/need. And that, is how you use it."
      This is wrong on so many levels and is absolutely not how modes should be treated. Why even bother to mention modes if you don't know how they work? Beginners should stay as far away from modes as possible.
      "Basically, it works like that: you take the scale of the song, and shift from the initial root note to another note, making it the new root note to stick to for however long you want/need. And that, is how you use it." This is wrong on so many levels and is absolutely not how modes should be treated. Why even bother to mention modes if you don't know how they work? Beginners should stay as far away from modes as possible.
      Actually,i DO know how they work. I think that i've described it in a way that a beginner will best understand. When you were a beginner,did you understand everything about music theory,when it was written in a complicated,scientific way? I doubt it.
      modes are not supposed to be understood by the beginner guitarist. What a beginner would get from the way you have described in your lesson is that everytime you change chords in a solo, it changes the mode...
      modes are not supposed to be understood by the beginner guitarist.
      Sorry,but i find this statement stupid. Beginners should learn theory and practice to aply it to become good at guitar playing. The faster you start honing your skills and enrichening your knowledge,the better.
      I have to agree with rockslide86. I used to teach modes toward the beginning and, even when explained with diagrams and how/when to use modes, it was too overwhelming. The only "modes" a beginner should learn is the Ionian, or major scale, and the Aeolian, or minor scale (minor pentatonic would be more affective).
      As someone who doesn't know anything about modes then, is there someone out there who can give me a more accurate explanation of what they are?
      I think i remember a video on YT where young genius Guthrie Govan explains them simply albeit correctly. You'll have to look for yourself
      A Mode is the same information (in this case a scale) in the same order with a different starting point, that is it's most basic definition. We most commonly apply modes to scales but idea can be just as easily applied to rhythms or finger excersise's. It's simple as shit, the actual application may be challenging but we cant mistake that with the concept itself being complicated.
      Modes are produced by displacing the starting point of a scale without changing its interval formula. For instance, in the key of C major, you have C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C for your scale. D Dorian displaces the starting point by starting on the D, so now your scale is D-E-F-G-A-B-C-D. You are STILL in the key of C major, but with a slightly different sound. Ionian would be your major scale, Dorian is useful in jazz, Phrygian creates a flamenco sound, Lydian is also used in jazz over major 7th chords, Mixolydian is often used in folk and rock music, Aeolian, or the natural minor, forms your minor pentatonic, and Locrian is also used over jazz as its weird flavor sounds best over minor 7th flat 5 (half-diminished) chords.
      My advice for beginning lead guitarists is to become beginning rhythm guitarists, and look into learning about soloing once you can play some songs and understand a bit about music/harmony. Rhythm comes first.
      Why are there so many "how to solo for begginers" articles. There is one literaly every week. Why do people insist on writing them, usually badly, if there are already hundreds of them on this site alone. WHY?!
      Because people actually KNOW something about guitar playing won't give away that knowledge for free. And everyone wants to be cheered for some crappy work.
      Because I have seen this very article somewhere else. I even think it was on UG, but I'm not sure about that. It was those examples on how to start a solo that caught my eye.
      Yeah,i wrote it,but put it into the wrong category. Plus,the first version was TOTALLY awful. I think,i could've made this one better too. Sometimes i get carried away with some minor details,and the end result degrades somewhat in comparison to the original idea.
      Mode = scale = key? Man that's one of the silliest things I've heard recently. What else don't you know?
      I know,that some things i've written seem blatantly obvious,and for you - i'm a captain eyewitness. But come to think of it,would a beginner understand that himself? Not always. Sometimes things need to be pointed out,even if they seem obvious.
      I'm sorry, I should have been clearer. The statement is blatantly incorrect. By your reasoning scale = key. This feels like it may fall on deaf ears, but here goes: Scale - a prescribed set of notes/intervals in relation to a designated tonic Key - the harmonic context of the song, determined largely by song structure and characterised by a constant tonic irrespective of what chord is played, and the strength of the pull to the tonic/tonal center. The pull to the tonal center in keys is such that if you are to play any note/chord over it, it will have little to zero effect on what the tonal center is - everything will be heard in relation to it. Modes - Are BOTH a scale and harmonic context. They are the harmonic context pre-dating keys, they developed into keys roughly 200 years ago. The vast majority of music written in the last 100 years are in keys due to the freedom they grant (you can play any note/any chord). Modes do not grant the same liberties, as any freedom taken will most likely draw the song into a key. That's cool though, keys were developed for good reason, they accommodate for a lot more situations than modes. The modes had prescribed sets of intervals, and some people take these sets of intervals and play them and call them modes. However it should be noted that they cannot function as modes unless it is played in a modal harmonic context, which is exceedingly rare. However by using the sets of intervals prescribed by modes, you could call it a scale, that's completely acceptable. But then saying a song is "in a mode" simply because you played a set of intervals is like saying it's in the key of "blues" because you used a pentatonic scale over a major progression. For this reason, your examples of application of modes fall flat on their collective face. From your article; "For example, If you are playing a part of a song in E Phrygian, which both starts and ends on an E5 power chord, then the "right" notes to start and end the solo on are E and B." Firstly you'd want a song in "E phrygian" to resolve to something like Emb2 rather than your plain standard E5. The E5 will most likely be heard as a minor and then it's game over, you're in a key. From your article: "This means, that it is safe to use B locrian, if you don't want to use E Phrygian to solo." Notes of E phrygian: EFGABCD Notes of B locrian: BCDEFGA It's the same notes, and you've informed us already that the tonal center of the song is E, so that will affect the way that B locrian will be heard. It will be heard as if the tonal center is E, it will be heard as E phrygian. You're really telling us that if we don't want to play E phrygian, play the same thing and call it a different name. But I hear you scream "omg AlanHB use your ears! It's super exotic sounding!" Well if you mean by "super exotic" you mean "one note different from the minor scale", I completely agree. The b2 accidental in your song which will almost undoubtably be in E minor really sticks out. That's what happens in keys, accidentals sound "out of place". If the song actually were in E phryg, it would all sound "right". However it's a song in E minor, you're playing a mode/scale known as E phrygian, and it's also known as (and functions as) the E minor scale with a b2.
      Thanks for the explaining your viewpoint. I must explain mine as well. You see,the thing with the E5 chord and E phrygian and B locrian scales was meant not only to give a way to use a different scale,but also to point out,that a good solo should start and end on the right notes.
      Plus,the statement "Mode = scale = key" is meant to be taken FIGURATIVELY ,because e can call them synonyms. Often when poeple talk about the scale a song is based on,people say:"Thw song is in the key of..." Plus,you yourself said: "Modes - Are BOTH a scale and harmonic context." So,if taken FIGURATIVELY,my statement "Mode = scale = key" is correct.
      To address your points above: In terms of the "right" note, you are talking about chord tones. E5 has an E and a B note in it. You can play an E or B over it and it will sound good. That's about it. No need for altering scales. Depending on the context the implied 3rd of that chord will also sound good, an E5 functions as a voicing of a chord with the note E as the tonic, which incorporates both the root and 5 of it. It does not function solely as an E5. A key isn't a scale, and a key isn't a mode. If a mode is to be taken as a harmonic context (which you completely are NOT) it is the form of tonality pre-dating keys. A song is either in a mode or a key, it cannot be in both at the same time, they are distinct entities. If it is taken to be a scale it does not define the harmonic context and is still not a key. So no "FIGURATIVE" statements, it's music theory.
      These tips didn't seem very well thought out.
      I agree. I sometimes get too carried away with the details,and the text loses it's structure. I'm making a lesson about one genre of rock/metal. Ain't gonna tell about which one yet,because it's a surprise,and i wanna make everything perfect.
      satyam 29
      there are whole lot of runs in the start of solo of "one"..???? there is a easy tapping lick which sounds hard.... :
      I never said it's very hard. I just mentioned the tapping lick as an example of how can a guitar solo be started.
      I think its funny how people stress theory so much in writing music but some great rock guitarists made most of their money before they actually learned any of that. Kirk Hammett and James Hetfield talk extensively about how they never learned any sort of theory until very late in their career (the 90s as i recall from an interview). Hendrix didn't know any of this nor did Flea(until recently) or Frusciante(early in his career). Most modern guitarists don't know a lot of this. Do you think we all sit around learning scales and shit? Nah! We go and we put on a Zeppelin album or maybe something heavier for the more metal inclined and we shred our hearts out. We improvise. Victor Wooten wrote a book called "The Music Lesson" in which the mentor Michael says don't lose the Music to find a note. In that passage he is talking about players who get lost trying to find the key and the mode and which notes sound right. The best music is made by feel and understanding how to make the notes work for you.
      You have a point. But you're not 100% right. Theory is needed. Hands down. But,the theory should SERVE the actual music,not vice versa.
      You are absolutely right about that, festivalinhell. Most of the immensely successful players learned theory very late if at all. However, the difference between them and most people is while they never studied any music theory, they already instinctively figured it out without realizing it. They learned (perhaps through trial and error) which notes sounded good with which chords, and over time they became able to improvise flawlessly. Most players are only able to copy what they hear, and have no idea why it works (or why something else does not work). For those people, theory is without doubt of extreme importance, because it will help them understand not only their instrument(s) but all others due to the universal application of theory, and they will be able to understand why one thing works better than another.
      Not quite right. A few examples of famous guitarists that DID study theory early: C.C. Deville from Poison had learned in a music school,but dropped out after some time. James Hetfield had piano classes in his childhood. MAB and Yngwie Malmsteen are both music school graduates(if i'm not wrong).
      Well yes, many guitarists did study early and often, but I am sure that most did not, especially the guys from the 60's and earlier, at least until later in their careers.
      I find that in my own playing. I do a massive amount of improvising anymore. I've been playing for about six years now and only since December have i started to learn the basic theory behind it (root notes, etc). My performing arts teacher and theatre director are impressed with my ability to hear the notes parts harmonies etc and to improvise based on that and have said that is something that despite decades of experience teaching and performing professionally they never mastered that. Musically aside from grade school band lessons i have no prior music lessons. Everything i know for the most part aside from note on the treble clef is self taught and it has served me well. It is something that each person has their own level of need for. I'll never deny the importance to some people but i can't say that in order to be a musician you have to have a college grad level of advanced music theory knowledge. If you understand chords, keys, time signatures and the notes on the staff you know pretty much all that is necessary in order to be a fundamentally decent musician. I think where theory becomes important is when you are trying to teach someone a bit of music. I work with bassists and pianists who rattle off tons of crap about modes and relative minors and blah blah blah and i would love to know what they're talking about but i just don't yet. I has become significantly easier since i started learning chord names and have learned to pick out roots to help collaborate with other musicians.