How To Improve Your Rock Guitar Solos And Improvisations

Would you like to be able to improvise highly expressive rock guitar solos any time you pick up your guitar?

Ultimate Guitar
How To Improve Your Rock Guitar Solos And Improvisations
Would you like to be able to improvise highly expressive rock guitar solos any time you pick up your guitar? Although many guitarists want to play great rock guitar solos, there are very few who actually 'can' play impressive guitar solo licks. Why is this?

The answer comes in two forms:

1. Almost all guitar players are under the impression that the best process for coming up with guitar solos consists of piecing together separate licks one after the other (which is a mistake).

2. A very high percentage of the guitar playing community has NOT invested much time into developing their guitar phrasing abilities. This severely limits their ability to improvise inspiring guitar solo licks because they only understand 'what' needs to be played but not 'how' to play it!

If you are looking to make massive positive change in your ability to improvise rock guitar solos, it will require consistent and focused effort to build your understanding of the points above (I teach my guitar students in detail about these things with my correspondence rock guitar lessons). With this in mind, you can work on improving your rock guitar improvisation skills right now using the guitar licks you already know very well. In fact, by doing this you can quickly create great guitar solo improvisation ideas in the moment without learning any new guitar melodies. To illustrate how you can do this for yourself, I am going to show you a highly effective guitar soloing approach.

Here is the approach that you should use:

1. Choose a series of chords to solo over and record yourself playing them many times for two to three minutes (or simply find a backing track online if you like). Make sure that you are comfortable soloing over these chords.

2. Choose a short guitar lick that you have memorized or are already familiar with.

3. Start the track with the chords you made (or found online) and play the guitar lick you chose over it.

4. After you have played your guitar lick once over the chords of the track, resist the temptation to start improvising any totally new licks. Instead, repeat the lick over one more time 'except' now you must add at least one of any of these alterations to it:

  • Play the notes with altered note rhythm values (keep the actual pitches the same though, only change the rhythm)

  • Change some or all of the pitches in your guitar lick while keeping the rhythm of the notes the same.

  • Keep all of the notes in the guitar lick the same except for the last few notes (this can sound really nice when there is a chord change at the end as well).

  • Use different guitar techniques to add slight variations to some of the notes in the lick. For example, emphasize some notes with vibrato, use bends or artificial harmonics).

    Try to come up with a total of ten alternate ways to play the guitar lick you chose without entirely changing the lick itself. I know that in a "real" guitar solo you will not be playing the exact same lick over and over. However, by going through this process, you can greatly enhance your ability to improvise creative guitar solo ideas.

    5. Now, choose a totally new guitar lick. This time use a guitar lick that feels significantly different than the one you had previously used. Repeat the steps described starting back at step 3.

    6. Use the rest of your guitar practice session to concentrate on the above-mentioned steps.

    The majority of guitar players approach rock guitar soloing and improvisation in a totally different manner than what is described above. However, by coming up with different ways to alter and vary a single guitar soloing idea, you can quickly make improvements to your rock guitar improvisation skills that you simply wouldn't make if you were taking the generally used method of trying to cram together a bunch of random ideas. On top of that, the approach in this article will help your guitar soloing sound better because you will have many opportunities to enhance a guitar lick that you already like to play using a variety of guitar techniques. By doing this you will quickly improve your guitar phrasing skills while having a more enjoyable time practicing and playing something that sounds good in the moment.

    You may think that this guitar soloing approach sounds like a really basic approach. If so, you're right... this approach is both basic and incredibly productive at building your rock guitar playing skills. In fact, this is the same approach I have used many hundreds of times to help guitar players learn to play great lead guitar improvisations.

    Learn how you can play great rock guitar solos using the exact approach in this article by checking out this free guitar improvisation video:

    YouTube preview picture

    About The Author:
    Tom Hess is a touring musician, composer and the guitar player for the metal band Rhapsody Of Fire. He teaches electric guitar online lessons to guitarists around the world. On his website, you can find guitar playing tips, free guitar resources and more guitar articles.

50 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Cool article and video Tom!
    Why is this article STILL on the front page of UG? It's been on here for like a month. Give other authors a chance. Jeez.
    Wow, he seems like an intimidating teacher with the suit and how he bluntly tells you what you're doing wrong, but his method works. I can't believe how much the student in the video improved after a few seconds. I'm excited to give this a try.
    i think some of you may have missed the point of this article
    Pad Mast3rs
    But its the first usefull AND hateless commentsection I read in a while. I think the ideas are good but i think that it is important to develope your ears. You must be able to play whatever you have in mind. What i mean is that i often sing in my mind and try to play that on guitar....until it gets interrupted by shredding.
    PS- Is there a specific reason why they are resting their guitars in the classical position style? Does it allow for more natural movement of the muscles? Just curious....
    I play classical guitar and personally i feel its easier for the fret hand to maneuver, especially with the chords at the bottom of the neck. Maybe they feel the same.
    Ryan Duke
    It definitely does help and mimics the way it would be while standing with a guitar strap. This doesn't apply to everyone though.
    I don't know if I hundred percent agree on this. Not all soloing is just about repeating the same licks, its about progressing them into different ones which makes songs very creative. Like for example, have you ever heard Randy Rhoads solos repeat the licks from the chorus? No its basically progressed from them and they just sound beautiful because of the fact he built up to it. People who repeat licks are the ones who become uncreative and, therefore are known as repetitive like Kirk Hammett.
    The lesson is good. Video is a bad example though. I didn't hear much of an improvement. Either way, phrasing phrasing phrasing!!! Look up Scott Henderson's lessons.
    Mike from Breaking Bad seems to have written a pretty good lesson between murders and drug deals.
    I know that this is a guitar site, but I still think that there's very little emphasis on most internet sites in general on the best, most proven way of improving your improv/solo: listen to your favourite guitarists with undivided attention and imitate them and their nuances - that's how nearly all our favourite guitarists did it, and it really gets the stuff in your memory like no amount of theory/advice could and you can pull it out to use it in whatever context necessary. Just my 2 cents
    And to answer your question Dimarzio, its really all up to opinion on the way you sit your guitar down. People do it the classical way because they feel its easier to access the lower part of the neck. I on the other hand feel its easier to have a guitar that either sits on top of my knee (like a prs type body). Or get a V shaped guitar and put the bottom of the v on your strong sided leg. Plus when your standing up this doesn't even matter anyways because its a different positioning.
    Okay. Yeah, it's hard for me to break the habit of positioning the guitar the "usual" way. If anything, I'm trying to break the habit of lifting my fingers so far from the fretboard. But if I can play Paul Gilbert-style licks, is it really that bad of a habit? It just seems that it works for me...
    Well it depends, when your multiple string skipping like Paul Gilbert you cant really plant your fingers down like you would playing single string skipping. What I would do is try to just practice your chromatic scales, they really help you develop the strength and the coordination for not lifting your fingers too far off. When I first started I had that EXACT same problem too man, just practice barring too it really helps with finger strength. Also take breaks too when your fingers hurt or your frustrated, when you come back usually its magic and you can play what you couldn't before.
    Yeah, it doesn't really hinder in my playing that bad. I've found that rather than focusing on my fingers lifting, I try to relax. That helps. But I've noticed a lot of professional players lift a lot too. I try to relax for the stamina. Thanks for your responses man!
    yep i had a v an thats exactly what i did haha, put it on my leg the same side as my fretting hand
    Good exactly whats good man, basically if you do it like that you really don't need to play classical you kinda got it down already. Especially if your like me and short lol its really hard to play acoustic on your left leg, seems like im reaching for something on the top cupboard or something haha.
    Danjo's Guitar
    Hey, this one was actually good! I've never liked any of your articles before, mostly because they focus on technique, which I don't care about. This gives me something to think about though.
    How could you not care about technique but consider this a good lesson. This is a lesson ON technique.
    The guy in the video is kinda stupid haha. Tom's having a hard time communicating with him. Great Lesson.
    As a beginner, this taught me a very good training method for building creativity with improvising and using different guitar techniques with backing tracks. THANK YOU!
    Rock Prodigy
    It's a cool lesson and cool video with useful tips. I am missing the groove element though... It's very easy to get lost on the notes, licks and scales when improvising without a solid rhythm track behind you. Playing to a backing track, drum etc... makes you focus more on the rhythm and improves your sense of phrasing and technique. Good article overall.
    i thought i was a freak cause i always play with the guitar like that sitting down.....i didnt even occur to me thats how classical guitar players do it
    nah man haha, its really all up to preference dude. You should get a V shaped guitar it really helps IMO in development its almost like playing it in the classical stance but on your normal leg. Plus who doesnt look like a bad ass having the v part on their leg?? Also for me the guitar seems too far away when I put it on my left (right handed) leg and when you use a V you can put it on your strong (right handed) leg and be really close.
    I really like the analogy to a "bag of firecrackers". You shoot your wad on a lick and it's over. I think this is a great exercise. I continually revert back to old licks, or random licks. I'm definitely going to give this a try.
    I'm not the worst guitar player in the Universe,and definitely NOT the worst guitar solo improviser,but i gotta try this one out myself,because i feel limited when improvising. I hope this actually works.
    lol, a good teacher always proofs that it's easier than we thought, thanks MR for a very helpful article and video..