Writing Guitar Solos For Those Who Can’t Yet Shred

Do you wish you could write guitar solos, but don’t think you can play fast enough?

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Ultimate Guitar
Writing Guitar Solos For Those Who Can’t Yet Shred
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Do you wish you could write guitar solos, but don’t think you can play fast enough?

Have you ever thought guitar solos are only for advanced players?

Does it feel like your solos and leads aren’t as cool as everyone else’s?

If this describes you then you aren’t alone, but more importantly, you can begin writing and playing your own captivating guitar solos now. You don’t have to play 1000 notes per minute, or even 500. You might not melt faces with super speed, but you can warm people hearts with moving melodies and phrasing. This is what will really get people to love your music.

First I want to say it is better to begin writing solos now. You will get better at crafting solos over time and you can still work on your speed and technique as you grow.

There are some prerequisites for writing a solo. You will need to know what key the song is in and the notes of that key. This is about as simple as it gets. If your song is in E minor then the notes you will play are E F# G A B C D. You only need 1 string at least and you don’t have to play all of those notes. Sounds too simple? Maybe, depending on what you want, but starting simple will help you to focus on writing a emotionally moving melody. You can make it more complex later. Make it as simple as possible at first. If it needs more, then add a little more a little at a time.

Now that we know the context(key and notes) of where our solo will sit we can begin writing. You should also have a good understanding of what chords you are playing over. If you haven’t yet done much writing or don’t know the notes in your chords well then just start with one chord.

Let’s take a look at a solo I wrote. It is only on 2 strings, is pretty slow, is in a major key, and basically only plays over 1 chord. It actually is over 4 chords, but that’s another topic all together. This song is tuned down a minor 3rd to C# standard. But let’s pretend it’s in standard tuning so we can get playing faster. You can see the tablature below, but if you’d like the tab for the whole song, plus the mp3 for free, go here now.

If you look at the tablature, you can see there isn’t a lot of going on or a flurry of notes. My goal for this solo was to create a simple and dramatic lead into the climax of the first half of the song. If played in standard tuning, this would be the key of D major. The focus on the solo and what generates the emotionally hopeful feeling is that I let the notes of the D chord(D, F#, A) ring out more than the other notes. This is a very consonant and positive feel which goes along with the lyrics preceding the solo. When first writing a solo, let the notes of the chord ring out longer and it will sounds very smooth, just like when a singer sings, they almost always hold out notes which are in the chord(s) being played. This is the first piece to get down and make it a listenable melody.

There are two more pieces at help this simple solo take shape and feel complete. The second piece is to vary and/or shift the rhythm just enough so it draws in the listeners attention. In my solo example there isn’t anything rhythmically complicated. I just went for a melody that sounded like it could have been a vocal melody. There are not even any triplets.

The third piece which is like the icing on the cake is the phrasing. This is all the fancy stuff that makes the notes sing and everyone will think you are awesome. Again in my example there isn’t anything that is super hard to do. Hear are the phrasing elements I used; hammer on’s, pull off’s, slides, accented notes, staccato notes, narrow vibrato, and bending. I didn’t really plan these out, it just sounded right. I simply took the notes which I wrote and heard them in my head in a more interesting way than just playing them in order and in time.

This solo is so short and simple, it will be great to learn and analyze every note. You will be able to get through it much faster than more complex and rhythmically dense solos. After you learn this one, write your own, then share below, I’d love to hear what you wrote.

About The Author:

Ryan Duke is a progressive metal songwriter, recording artist, and teaches guitar lessons in Seattle. Download his music for free at fortisamor.com

12 comments sorted by best / new / date

    WDStephenson
    Very interesting, I'm certainly someone who needs help in the solo/lead writing. I write chord progressions and lyrics but definitely want to add more lead in general. Appreciate the article and will use it  
    Racaycah
    I'm among those guys that you mentioned in the beginning, and my problem is that whenever I write solos like this, I tend to get repetitive too much. It also sounds dull to me, but I guess that's natural considering I've spent my last few years mostly listening to mind blowing shred guys, so I instinctively compare my own material to the stuff I'm used to. This lesson shows me that it's a good place to start when you know what you are doing. Short but amazing content. Thank you!
    Ryan Duke
    I know how you feel. Listening to high caliber players can do that, but i have found it good to remember that simplicity can be great and no less valuable to yourself or the listener. I like to write things as simple as possible and build complexity only if it is needed to make the song or solo better.
    HugoPan
    Another great tip is, write segments with bursts of speed here and there, to keep the solo interesting and varied. some of the best solos ever have that dynamic.  Also, when you write faster passages, you will need to practice them anyway, so you end up practicing with a purpose and getting better with the results. 
    stereosmiles
    I've found it useful to start with playing the melody, and then deliberately trying to play off-key notes to see if there's somewhere else for it to go to. But most of all, just having an idea of what I want to hear gets me close to the end result. Figuring that out in my head is one thing, finding it on the fretboard another! Lucky for me I like those random-sounding lead guitar parts