The Ultimate Preparation for Soloing

Can you handle soloing over any chord progression? Use this original method for preparing yourself for any major/minor chord progression you may encounter. All you need is 2 pentatonic scale shapes!

The Ultimate Preparation for Soloing
11
In this lesson, I will answer the question, "How do you 'prepare' for a guitar solo?" This is a question that my students have asked me for years. They've often come into lessons wondering "How do you know what scales to play?" or "How do you know where the scales are on the neck?" or "Can you actually switch scales as the chords switch to get a better sound?" If any of you are stuck with these same unanswered questions, here is a great preparation method for getting comfortable with the pentatonic scales that can be used for improvising over a chord progression. I don't mean learning a scale to be used through an entire solo, since that is really not the ideal method when chords are changing. Instead, this will show you how to actually follow the chords by appropriately changing your pentatonic scale. Although there are 5 pentatonic scale shapes that can be easily played on the guitar, this exercise will use two of the most common shapes, which can be used as both major and minor pentatonic scales. I have named each of these scales for the string that has the lowest root and the finger that plays that root (e.g. Min Pent E1 has the lowest root on the E-string and that root is played with the 1st finger). Here's a review of the shapes we will use, with "R" notated to show the roots of the scales. Maj Pent E4
e |-O-|---|---|-R-|
B |-O-|---|-O-|---|
G |-R-|---|-O-|---|
D |-O-|---|-O-|---|
A |-O-|---|-O-|---|
E |-O-|---|---|-R-|
Min Pent E1
e |-R-|---|---|-O-|
B |-O-|---|-O-|---|
G |-O-|---|-O-|---|
D |-O-|---|-R-|---|
A |-O-|---|-O-|---|
E |-R-|---|---|-O-|
Maj Pent A4
e |-O-|---|---|-O-|
B |---|-R-|---|-O-|
G |-O-|---|-O-|---|
D |-O-|---|-O-|---|
A |-O-|---|---|-R-|
E |-O-|---|---|-O-|
Min Pent A1
e |-O-|---|---|-O-|
B |---|-O-|---|-O-|
G |-O-|---|-R-|---|
D |-O-|---|-O-|---|
A |-R-|---|---|-O-|
E |-O-|---|---|-O-|
Figuring out when to use each scale shape can be difficult, especially over a chord progression that has 4 or more different major and minor chords. Here is the chord progression that will be used to show how this method can work:
| E  |   |   |   | C#m |   |   |   | A  |   |   |   | B  |   |   |   |
Before you read any further, would you be able to solo over these chords? If so, would you be able to use the pentatonic scale of each chord, or would you just use E major pentatonic throughout? Would you have options of where to play the scales, or would you be forced into the one place you are familiar? If you feel like soloing over this chord progression would be too difficult or out of your range of knowledge, there are steps you can take to go from not knowing what to play, to making a serious attempt at soloing over the chord progression. First, you must establish where your hand should be located to play the scales that fit the chords. This is best done by playing only the roots of the pentatonic scales, as these are the notes that will always sound most consonant with the chords. Since we have a number of available scale shapes, you can organize the scales by simply going through the chord progression 1x using lower hand position scale shapes, and then 1x using higher hand position scale shapes. Using half notes, cycle through all the possible roots, as it will help you with Step 2, and be sure to always use the same fingering as you would use if you were playing the scale.

Step 1: Play the Roots


   (Maj Pent A4)                              (Min Pent A1)                     
    E                                          C#m                              
E |----------|----------|----------|----------|----------|----------|----------|
B |-----5----|-----5----|-----5----|----------|----------|----------|----------|
G |----------|----------|----------|----------|-----6----|-----6----|-----6----|
D |----------|----------|----------|----------|----------|----------|----------|
A |--7-------|--7-------|--7-------|--7-------|--4-------|--4-------|--4-------|
E |----------|----------|----------|----------|----------|----------|----------|

          (Maj Pent E4)                               (Maj Pent E4)          
           A                                           B                     
----------|----------|--5-------|----------|--5-------|----------|--7-------|
----------|----------|----------|----------|----------|----------|----------|
----------|-----2----|-----2----|-----2----|----------|-----4----|-----4----|
----------|----------|----------|----------|----------|----------|----------|
--4-------|----------|----------|----------|----------|----------|----------|
----------|--5-------|----------|--5-------|----------|--7-------|----------|

                      (Maj Pent E4)                              (Min Pent E1)
                       E                                           C#m        
----------|--7-------|----------|--12------|----------|--12------|----------| 
----------|----------|----------|----------|----------|----------|----------| 
-----4----|----------|-----9----|-----9----|-----9----|----------|----------| 
----------|----------|----------|----------|----------|----------|-----11---| 
----------|----------|----------|----------|----------|----------|----------| 
--7-------|----------|--12------|----------|--12------|----------|--9-------| 

                                (Maj Pent A4)                                
                                 A                                           
--9-------|----------|--9-------|----------|----------|----------|----------|
----------|----------|----------|-----10---|-----10---|-----10---|----------|
----------|----------|----------|----------|----------|----------|----------|
-----11---|-----11---|----------|----------|----------|----------|----------|
----------|----------|----------|--12------|--12------|--12------|--12------|
----------|--9-------|----------|----------|----------|----------|----------|

(Maj Pent A4)                                
B                                            
----------|----------|----------|----------||
-----12---|-----12---|-----12---|----------||
----------|----------|----------|----------||
----------|----------|----------|----------||
--14------|--14------|--14------|--14------||
----------|----------|----------|----------||
Play this step as many times as needed until you can comfortably play all roots of the scale shapes. This is the most solid way to establish your hand positions through the chord progression. Step 2 is to play the scales, so you can acknowledge all of the possible notes that may be used for soloing. Similar to Step 1, play 1x through the chord progression using lower hand position scales, and 1x using higher hand position scales. Use eighth notes (and alternate picking) to play the scales, and constantly alternate whether a scale starts on a low root or a high root. This will ensure that you do not always feel compelled to start at the low root of the scale when soloing.

Step 2: Play the Scales


  (Maj Pent A4)                                              
   E                                                         
E |-----------------------4----|--7--4----------------------|
B |-----------------5--7-------|--------7--5----------------|
G |-----------4--6-------------|--------------6--4----------|
D |-----4--6-------------------|--------------------6--4----|
A |--7-------------------------|----------------------------|
E |----------------------------|----------------------------|

                                       (Min Pent A1)                 
                                        C#m                          
----------------------------|----------|----------------------------|
----------------------------|----------|----------------------------|
----------------------------|----------|--6--4----------------------|
-----------------------4----|----------|--------6--4----------------|
--7--4-----------4--7-------|--7-------|--------------7--4----------|
--------7--4--7-------------|----------|--------------------7--4----|


----------------------------|-----4--7--4----------------|----------|
-----------------------5----|--7-----------7--5----------|----------|
-----------------4--6-------|--------------------6--4----|--6-------|
-----------4--6-------------|----------------------------|----------|
-----4--7-------------------|----------------------------|----------|
--7-------------------------|----------------------------|----------|

(Maj Pent E4)                                             
A                                                         
----------------------------|-----2--5--2----------------|
-----------------------2----|--5-----------5--2----------|
-----------------2--4-------|--------------------4--2----|
-----------2--4-------------|----------------------------|
-----2--4-------------------|----------------------------|
--5-------------------------|----------------------------|

                                       (Maj Pent E4)                 
                                        B                            
----------------------------|----------|--7--4----------------------|
----------------------------|----------|--------7--4----------------|
----------------------------|----------|--------------6--4----------|
--4--2----------------------|----------|--------------------6--4----|
--------4--2-----------2----|----------|----------------------------|
--------------5--2--5-------|--5-------|----------------------------|


----------------------------|-----------------4--7--4----|--7-------|
----------------------------|-----------4--7-------------|----------|
----------------------------|-----4--6-------------------|----------|
-----------------------4----|--6-------------------------|----------|
--6--4-----------4--6-------|----------------------------|----------|
--------7--4--7-------------|----------------------------|----------|

(Maj Pent E4)                                             
E                                                         
----------------------------|-----9--12-9----------------|
-----------------------9----|--12----------12-9----------|
-----------------9--11------|--------------------11-9----|
-----------9--11------------|----------------------------|
-----9--11------------------|----------------------------|
--12------------------------|----------------------------|

                                       (Min Pent E1)                 
                                        C#m                          
----------------------------|----------|--9-------------------------|
----------------------------|----------|-----12-9-------------------|
----------------------------|----------|-----------11-9-------------|
--11-9----------------------|----------|-----------------11-9-------|
--------11-9-----------9----|----------|-----------------------11---|
--------------12-9--12------|--12------|----------------------------|


----------------------------|--------------9--12-9-------|--9-------|
----------------------------|--------9--12----------12---|----------|
----------------------------|--9--11---------------------|----------|
--------------------9--11---|----------------------------|----------|
--9-----------9--11---------|----------------------------|----------|
-----12-9--12---------------|----------------------------|----------|

(Maj Pent A4)                                             
A                                                         
-----------------------9----|--12-9----------------------|
-----------------10-12------|--------12-10---------------|
-----------9--11------------|--------------11-9----------|
-----9--11------------------|--------------------11-9----|
--12------------------------|----------------------------|
----------------------------|----------------------------|

                                       (Maj Pent A4)                 
                                        B                            
----------------------------|----------|----------------------------|
----------------------------|----------|--12------------------------|
----------------------------|----------|-----13-11------------------|
-----------------------9----|----------|-----------13-11------------|
--12-9-----------9--12------|--12------|-----------------14-11------|
--------12-9--12------------|----------|-----------------------14---|

----------------------------|--------11-14-11------------|----------||
----------------------------|--12-14----------14-12------|--12------||
--------------------11-13---|-----------------------13---|----------||
--------------11-13---------|----------------------------|----------||
--------11-14---------------|----------------------------|----------||
--11-14---------------------|----------------------------|----------||
Be sure to play this step until you can comfortably play each pentatonic scale that fits each chord. Remember, Step 1 puts your hand into the appropriate position on the neck, and Step 2 shows all of the available notes within that hand position. If you are able to play the scales, then it is time to try Step 3, which is improvising over the chord progression. You know where your hand should be for each chord, and you know the available notes. Always think ahead so scale switches cannot catch you by surprise, and try to use short rhythmic and melodic patterns (called motifs). By using these types of patterns, your solo will have common ideas that will lead to an overall better sound.
About the Author: By Greg Studley. For more materials and lessons visit www.improvisingwithknowledge.com. I hope this helps some of you expand your knowledge of how to create guitar solos, and advances your playing. More videos and lessons will be online soon!

18 comments sorted by best / new / date

comments policy
    daylightdies370
    does every freaking lesson on UG have to use the pentatonic scale? It's the most basic and generic scale that there is!
    guitarist5477
    Cause it's great for learning and starting out a lesson. When you teach someone something you want to start off with "basic and generic," so it's easier to teach.
    gregstudley
    It is a very basic scale, which is why I use it for teaching introductory improvisation. The modal scale system is often times too confusing for those who only read TAB, since the modes are all versions of the same 7-note scale. Personally, I use a modal system for soloing, being sure to switch to the appropriate mode as a chord switches. The explanation of how to do this is much more than what can fit into an UG lesson. I hope this helps to explain my philosophy.
    ruggedstyleman
    This is the best how-to guitar video I've ever seen. Great method of how to prep for a solo, too. Great lesson!
    bluesforlife69
    An awesome lesson! Congrats. \m/ i had doubts on the pentatonic and the lesson totally helped me out
    gregstudley
    Hieicitu, You are completely correct. I incorrectly notated the scales. Maj Pent E4 and Min Pent E1 should have been notated as: Maj Pent E4 e |-O-|---|---|-R-| B |-O-|---|---|-O-| G |-R-|---|-O-|---| D |-O-|---|-O-|---| A |-O-|---|-O-|---| E |-O-|---|---|-R-| Min Pent E1 e |-R-|---|---|-O-| B |-O-|---|---|-O-| G |-O-|---|-O-|---| D |-O-|---|-R-|---| A |-O-|---|-O-|---| E |-R-|---|---|-O-| Thanks for catching the error, and sorry about the confusion. I guess that is what happens when trying to write an instructional guitar book and UG lessons at the same time!
    gregstudley
    As for your other question, Hieicitu, the major pentatonic scales fit for the major chords and the minor pentatonic scales fit with the minor chords. The root of the scale lets you know where the scale should be located. As it worked in this lesson, the first chord of the chord progression is E major. The root of the chord is the note E, which can be found on either the A-string 7th fret or E-string 12th fret. The Maj Pent A4 shape can be used for the E on the 7th fret of the A-string (since the scale shape has a root on the A-string). Just move the shape so that the note E is being played on the A-string with the 4th finger, and apply the scale shape. The Maj Pent E4 shape can be used for the E on the 12th fret of the E-string (since the scale shape has a root on the E-string). Move the shape so that the note E is being played with the 4th finger, and apply the scale shape. This same method of placing the major and minor pentatonic scales can be used for all of the chords of this chord progression. There will always be 2 options using the given scale shapes. One will be higher on the neck, and one will be lower. I hope this answers your question! -Greg Studley
    RichieJovie
    Not work on phrasing? bends? melodic ideas?
    gregstudley
    Phrasing and melodic ideas, including rhythmic and melodic motifs is all included in Improvising With Knowledge Episode 3: Eighth Notes and Motifs. Check it out on Youtube or on the Improvising With Knowledge website.
    Hieicitu
    I read the hole lesson and there is some things that i don't understand. I learned the pentatonic scale like this, and the e |-R-|---|---|-O-| B |-O-|---|---|-O-| G |-O-|---|-O-|---| D |-O-|---|-R-|---| A |-O-|---|-O-|---| E |-R-|---|---|-O-| Instead of this e |-R-|---|---|-O-| B |-O-|---|-O-|---| G |-O-|---|-O-|---| D |-O-|---|-R-|---| A |-O-|---|-O-|---| E |-R-|---|---|-O-| Am i wrong?. Another question, how do you know what scale use in which chord? Thanks (and sorry about my english, i know it sucks.)
    gregstudley
    I have answered both of your questions in the comments below. Hope it helps to clear things up. Greg
    The Black Widow
    These tutorials always manage to confuse me somehow. I'm gonna start using these scales more, though. Thanks!
    gregstudley
    Check out the Improvising With Knowledge videos on YouTube or on improvisingwithknowledge.com. They begin from a very simple level and gradually work up to this point. Starting here would be confusing, but starting at Episode 1 will make perfect sense.
    gregstudley
    Check out the Improvising With Knowledge videos on YouTube or on improvisingwithknowledge.com. They begin from a very simple level and gradually work up to this point. Starting here would be confusing, but starting at Episode 1 will make perfect sense.
    karstaag666
    My ultimate preparation for a solo is spread legs, lean back, and bend a face melter!