A Beginner's Guide To Soloing

Beginning and intermediate guitarists are often intimidated by the prospect of improvising.

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Beginning and intermediate guitarists are often intimidated by the prospect of improvising. Seemingly reserved for the elite of guitar heroes who scrunch up their faces when shredding, this imposing wasteland appears to be impossible to cross. But fear not, brave people of the six strings! You can do this!

Step 1. The Map

The map for this quest is the A minor Pentatonic scale, outlined in Example 1. This is a handy little scale with a big name. Breaking it down, Penta means five and tonic refers to tones. So, we have a five-tone minor scale. Nothing too hard about that, right? Play this scale a few times to get it under your fingers. The eventual goal is to know it so well, you can play it without conscious thought. If you can do so and carry on a conversation at the same time, good job.

Step 2 (optional). The Rhythm

For our canvas to paint sonic art on, we need a rhythm guitar part. The A minor Pentatonic scale contains the notes to build several chords, an A minor being one of them. We'll choose this chord for our exercise. Get a buddy, keyboard, or backing track to hold down a steady rhythm of just an A minor chord. The idea is to provide a backdrop for you to solo over.

Step 3. Show Time

Armed with your scale, a sense of adventure and trusty friend or backing track, it's time to conquer soloing! A: Play your scale in order, ascending, and then descending. Listen to how it sounds against the A minor chord. B: Play your scale in the same order, but hold some notes longer than others. Play a few fast, then some slow, and see what sounds you get. C: Repeat step B, and this time, repeat some of the notes. D: Start to mix up the order of the notes. Skip a few, repeat some, and jump around. Be creative! Approach the scale as a skateboarder would look at a flight of stairs- don't just walk up and down 'em! E: Add seasonings. Bends, slides, pull offs and hammer ons are to be tried. Picture the solo as a salad, and these articulations are the bacon bits. See Example 2. for further ideas.

Breakdown

Ok, so what just happened? Hopefully, you will have taken the scale, listened to it in it's basic form, and then started to spin some melodies from it's framework. At the end of the day, the goal is to play music, not scales. I'll often see students playing scales very well, but not knowing what to do with them. Simple steps such as these can be very helpful. Remember, it's not magic. You can do it, and before you know it, you'll be soloing like an old pro. If any of these concepts don't click, or if you're having trouble getting the hang of it, drop me an email! I'll be glad to help you out. And for more ideas, don't forget to check out my blog! Rock on! Don't forget to check out my blog. Josh Urban (photo) is a musician with a unique perspective on music. Always a thinker, he gains insight wherever he can find it, be it in the clubs as a working musician, busking on the city streets, or teaching in the classroom. A naturally enthusiastic fellow, Josh is always fired up about bringing the lessons he's learned to his readers. Maintaining a website, a blog, and a monthly newsletter, he aims to make musicians stop, think, and play with a little more intensity, integrity, and inspiration. You never know who's listening.

85 comments sorted by best / new / date

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    poabh
    thats a great article. especially since its a moveable scale its relevent to any key
    bayotka2006
    hehe..nice article..but I just cant understand the musical notation above the tab..is it really necessary?
    ShamiqSevenfold
    im confused ,theres a big difference in the penta scale and the solo example u hav given at the bottom,so is that what ur supposed to do like just mix the sclae and is there a limit to what u can do with the scale? i would really appreciate the help
    HawkaLuigi
    Still I Rise wrote: um yeah, im like a noob but im trying to teach myself how to play guitar but its not going well haha, but anyways is there any other chords that u can play with this scale? Yeah its a good article itll help me out
    Try asking in the forum mate. Checked.
    Still I Rise
    um yeah, im like a noob but im trying to teach myself how to play guitar but its not going well haha, but anyways is there any other chords that u can play with this scale? Yeah its a good article itll help me out
    LaLaLaLoopy
    up to now, ive been pretty much a rhythm/power chord type player.Mainly cuz ive been too intimidated to try,and when i did try soloing, very frustrated....but this has helped alot and has re-kindled my motivation to give soloing another shot...thx man.
    bass_gtarace
    i read this, downloaded an a minor backing track and soloed for an hour and a half nonstop. This helped me so much. Thanks for writing it!
    masumane
    Not bad, short and sweet. I have yet to see on this site a good lesson for improvising with the purpose of really just playing what you think of first, without having to just hammer it out for a while. It's really just a thing of practice, although I think a blues/jazz improvising lesson would tremendously help me out. If anyone knows of one plz post it.
    rockmachine666
    I won't say i'm a beginner, that's humiliating for a guy who's played the guitar 3 years, but i completely suck at the whole scales & improvising thing. I'm gonna try this out.
    IMABBALLPLAYER
    Good article for helping out beginners. I remembered soloing was such a pain when i started out.
    chaoticgeek
    I wonder if anyone is still answering questions on this topic... Ok I read something that related all major scales to a minor scale. I was wondering if anyone knows what I'm talking about. I'm not positive but I think it said that the G Major was A minor, not positive about that so I could be wrong about that relationship. If that is so would you be able to play A minor over a G Major chord progression?
    ShamiqSevenfold
    ShamiqSevenfold : im confused ,theres a big difference in the penta scale and the solo example u hav given at the bottom,so is that what ur supposed to do like just mix the sclae and is there a limit to what u can do with the scale? i would really appreciate the help anybody?
    Epic Failure
    Nice article for beginners, it didnt help me but it is sure to help some less experienced on UG! Good Job!!!
    Kennydrox
    great article, helped me alot, no mumbo-jumbo words like in most guides to solo's thanks for the help
    ihavenoname93
    thank you for not runnin on 4 10 minutes on the same thing. other articles tend to do that
    shooterman
    nice articleit helped me alot with what to actually do with the scales i know
    MissVonDunajew
    Must you stick to the scale then? or can you mess around... on a blues scale for example Gm blue scale... can you play an E note?
    Sunny035
    As someone who considers themselves to be intermediate, this lesson has really helped. I've been doing this for about 10 minutes and already can see improvements =)
    Ultraussie
    Good article, except beginner's want to be doing it at the Twenty-Twelth fret with harmoniacs.
    Steve The Plank
    Good lesson, but it might confuse people that in the 2 octave A minor scale, you go up to the, when it would make a lot more sense to end on the A, but then go on to explain the relative major of Cmajor, and how you can fit the Cmaj pentatonic scale right over the top of the Amin pentatonic.
    TheUnholy
    A minor is C major only in terms of them containing the same notes. When playing in A Minor, you use A as your root note (start and finish a lot of phrases with it, etc, basically plant the song/solo's foundations in the root A), and it will sound Minor, a bit darker. Use those notes with C as your tonic (root note), and you'll get a brighter sounding major tune. There's more to using Major and Minor scales correctly than that, but that's a start for you. By the way, the Major and Minor scales that share the same notes are called "relative" - for example, C Major is the "relative major" of A minor (which is the "relative minor" of C Major)
    chaoticgeek
    chaoticgeek wrote: I wonder if anyone is still answering questions on this topic... Ok I read something that related all major scales to a minor scale. I was wondering if anyone knows what I'm talking about. I'm not positive but I think it said that the G Major was A minor, not positive about that so I could be wrong about that relationship. If that is so would you be able to play A minor over a G Major chord progression?
    Ok, well I found the answer to my question. I found my book I bought a little while ago, 101 guitar tips, and it has a table of the relative minor to the relative major. C major > A minor and then you just go half-steps through the scale for both, like C# > A# ect... If anyone else was wondering that too. But if someone would make sure this is right, I don't wanna be confused and screwed up. But if I'm correct then A minor is also C Major.
    BFMVrrule
    this is a great article man.. precisely what my guitar teacher is teaching me at the moment.. he tells me that there is 5 positions that the pentatonic scale can be played on the guiatr and as of now he has taught me that one and another 1... im glad to hear that what he is teaching me is right this is great for beginners like me 10/10 bro
    nickwentinsane
    Skam127 wrote: could someone name some songs that use this scale.
    EVERY ROCK SONG EVER. CHECK OUT SOME STUFF BY ZEPPLIN FOR A START.
    KerSkater
    Good article, I loved the skateboarder analogy, we usually fakie tre down flights of stairs
    mistertomo123
    twistedmaggot : does anyone know where you can download backing tracks Ever heard og google? i'll try this method, prettey basic but good for those without much experience at guitar
    e-bowie
    Whats the point of breaking down penta and tonic words, explaining everything pretty well but forgetting to mention what an A minor chord is.
    ssk9716757
    mrbiscuits315 wrote: So you could use the A minor pentatonic scale over songs in the key of A minor right?
    Precisely.
    Shor-T Zero
    Not only is it great for beginners, but it even aims at the people who, like he said, can play scales like nothing, but have no "musical" quality in the playing of those scales. Great article man, a good read. Short, to the point, and helpful to the masses.