How To Create Great Guitar Solos

Do you have a difficult time creating awesome guitar solos that sound like real music instead of a "combination of guitar licks"?

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Do you have a difficult time creating awesome guitar solos that sound like real music instead of a "combination of guitar licks"? Have you spent a long time practicing countless guitar exercises and searching for licks and scales on the internet, only to discover that these things are NOT helping you make your lead guitar playing better? The majority of guitar players who try to make their guitar solos more creative by using the approach above, usually end up frustrated with their slow rate of improvement and begin to lose hope in their potential to become really great lead guitarists. Very often they also start to believe in the common misconception that their ability to create great guitar solos is restricted by their amount of natural talent. Fortunately, it IS possible for anyone to greatly improve their lead guitar soloing skills with the right approach. If you haven't reached this goal yet, I want to show you the most common reasons why guitar players struggle with creating truly GREAT guitar solos and give you the steps you can take now to massively improve your lead guitar playing. The truth is that most guitar players focus on entirely the wrong things when trying to improve their lead guitar soloing and improvising skills. Many guitarists assume that the solution to their guitar soloing challenges is in learning more "new" skills (innovative soloing concepts, new guitar licks/scales/arpeggios etc). In reality, simply acquiring new musical skills will not (in and of itself) make your lead guitar playing better, just like having a lot of ingredients in the kitchen will NOT make you a "better" cook. While having a lot of musical skills will give you more options to choose from, these skills will NOT "increase your ability" to create great guitar solos until and unless you learn how to "integrate" them to make the best musical choices possible in any musical situation. For the vast majority of musicians, it is this lack of ability to fluently APPLY and INTEGRATE their existing skills that prevents them from mastering the art of lead guitar soloing. If you are not clear on what the concepts of musical application and integration mean and how they play a critical role in helping you improve your lead guitar soloing skills, watch this free video about practicing guitar effectively before reading the rest of this article. Now that you understand more about why the traditional ways of improving your guitar solos are ineffective, here are some specific steps you need to take to begin to integrate your existing lead guitar playing skills on a deeper level and greatly improve your guitar solos in the process. Learn The Guitar Fretboard Inside And Out - True mastery of the guitar neck goes much deeper than simply being able to identify a specific note/fret on the guitar. In order to really know your way around the guitar, you need to be able to play all the scales and chords used in your style of music everywhere on the neck, and be able to combine these shapes fluently. Guitar players - from Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix to Yngwie Malmsteen and Steve Vai - all have/had this exceptional awareness of scales and chord shapes on the fretboard. This skill enabled them to improvise great guitar solos effortlessly in any key without getting lost. In contrast, guitarists who struggle with making their lead guitar solos sound like music, often do not have this skill well developed and become stuck with soloing in the same 1-2 positions every time they play lead guitar. Regardless of how many scales you actually know, if you cannot fluently play them all over the guitar neck, you will have a VERY hard time with using them creatively in your lead guitar soloing. Master Aural Skills (Train Your Ear To The Fullest) Most guitar players (even the RARE few who actually practice ear training exercises on a regular basis) do not have a clear understanding of what it really means to "have a good ear for music". It is commonly believed that ear training is all about "being able to identify any interval, chord, or scale" after hearing it. Although this skill IS "a part of" having a good ear, in reality, ear training plays a much deeper role for your lead guitar playing. At the highest level, aural skills are "the link" between all of your musical skills (guitar technique, music theory knowledge, phrasing, mastery of scales and chords and more) that enable them to work TOGETHER to create the most expressive guitar solos possible. Master musicians use their ears to imagine the music they want to hear and direct their hands to produce that sound on the instrument as quickly and naturally as you speak your thoughts when holding a conversation. Without good aural skills, your musical skills can only work in isolation and your ability to create great guitar solos will forever remain limited (more on this below). Create Music With Your Mind Instead Of Your Hands - Most guitarists approach the process of lead guitar soloing in a mechanical way by "playing scales over chords". After learning the key of the chord progression, most musicians simply begin to solo by running through familiar scale shapes and licks. Essentially their mind goes on autopilot and all of the "creating" is done with the hands. Here is a visual demonstration of the most common process that most guitar players use to create guitar solos: In contrast, great lead guitar players rely on their ears and their mind to imagine what they want to hear before playing a single note, and use their hands (guitar technique) as well as their music theory knowledge, mastery of the fretboard, and other musical skills to express what the mind wants to hear. Although they also end up "playing scales over chords", the overall level of creativity and expression achieved is much greater because all of their musical tools/skills are integrated together as one "creative whole". Here is a breakdown of the process used to create great guitar solos: Although the steps above happen very fast (and almost always occur on a subconscious level), this kind of thought process is key to creating truly great guitar solos. The most important thing I want you to notice is that most of what actually "creates" a great guitar solo needs to be done with your mind and your ears. This is totally different from the thinking process of inexperienced guitarists, whose guitar solos are merely an attempt to fill up space/silence with notes. Continuously Work On Your Guitar Phrasing - Many lead guitar players continuously search for "notes to play" but neglect looking for better ways of HOW to play (phrase) those notes. Good guitar phrasing involves much more than applying an occasional bend or vibrato to a note. When I train my students how to master guitar phrasing, I show them how this skill consists of "macro" and "micro" level components. "Macro" level phrasing refers to how each phrase fits into the big picture of the lead guitar solo and the song itself (much like phrases flow in a conversation). "Micro" level phrasing deals with ornamentation applied to individual pitches of the phrase. It is important to understand the difference between the two components and to have effective strategies for training both of these areas of phrasing. If you want to find out more about what goes into great guitar phrasing and get some ideas on how to practice this skill on a "micro" level, download this free lesson about guitar phrasing. Get Regular Feedback On Your Lead Guitar Soloing From More Experienced Guitarists Or From A Guitar Teacher - Unlike improving your guitar speed, where you can measure your own progress in a tangible way, improving your lead guitar playing is a very "intangible" skill. This means two things: 1. It is very hard to become aware of specific flaws in your lead guitar soloing when you don't know what things you should be listening for. 2. It is also challenging to determine whether or not your guitar solos are actually improving and what areas of your lead guitar playing still need work. You will make the fastest progress when you have your guitar solos analyzed by a guitar teacher who can not only point out specific flaws in your guitar playing but also can create an effective lesson strategy to help you overcome the specific challenges that are holding you back from creating truly great guitar solos. Now that you understand more about what it takes to improve your lead guitar playing, you should become excited as you realize that all of your musical goals are entirely within your control to achieve. When you begin to implement the steps I have outlined above, your lead guitar soloing skills begin to improve rapidly. If you haven't already done so, watch this free guitar practicing lesson and download this free lesson about phrasing on guitar to get more specific advice on how to improve your guitar soloing. About The Author: Tom Hess is a very successful online guitar teacher, recording artist and a member of the band Rhapsody Of Fire. He teaches guitar players around the world in his electric guitar lessons online. Visit tomhess.net to get free guitar playing resources and to read more guitar playing articles.

27 comments sorted by best / new / date

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    PapaSchumpf
    The most important mistake is reading instructional texts instead of playing and exploring the guitar by yourself.
    maltmn
    @the haters: If you're going to come to an instructional guitar forum and speak negatively about instructional articles, then what the hell are you doing in the forum? Free lessons are NOT real lessons. They are little incomplete ideas that unprofessional guitar players attempt to explain to other people who have no idea what's going on. Tom is a professional guitar player. He is doing what all of you guys WISH you were doing. He has a RIGHT to sell his lessons. You have no right to discredit him. You have NO standing in the music world. He makes a lucrative living teaching and touring the world. There's a REASON why it's that way.
    thejester
    to all the haters, how is reading instructional texts bad? how is looking at a tab bad? how is knowing your scales bad? do you have a well thought out argument for that. why cant you split time between them. all of you people always hurt on this stuff. it is not the end all be all, Hess does a great job articulating that. Know your stuff but still do your own thing. heaven forbid we didnt all learn like papschumpf and never took a lesson, looked at a tab, read on article on how to barre a chord, etc. y'all are elitists
    Zeletros
    Oh god. Check the author, Tom Hess! Never expected him to write an actually helpful article without the need to pay him.
    Panasonic3
    maltmn wrote: @the haters: If you're going to come to an instructional guitar forum and speak negatively about instructional articles, then what the hell are you doing in the forum? Free lessons are NOT real lessons. They are little incomplete ideas that unprofessional guitar players attempt to explain to other people who have no idea what's going on. Tom is a professional guitar player. He is doing what all of you guys WISH you were doing. He has a RIGHT to sell his lessons. You have no right to discredit him. You have NO standing in the music world. He makes a lucrative living teaching and touring the world. There's a REASON why it's that way.
    the reason is we are young like you and are on the internet too much. we have every right to discredit him. it is the internet and we have no faces. i think its funny that you call him a professional then insult him by saying that only unprofessionals write free articles, seeing how free this article was... this was a rather zen article. it says you should look at the big picture and predict each note before you play it. scales and stuff are important, but having a professional instructor being right there with you is the best way to get better.
    Oixord
    PapaSchumpf wrote: The most important mistake is reading instructional texts instead of playing and exploring the guitar by yourself.
    This is a fact :p most people who can't figure this out on their own are probably not great musicians
    malalark
    thejester wrote: to all the haters, how is reading instructional texts bad? how is looking at a tab bad? how is knowing your scales bad? do you have a well thought out argument for that. why cant you split time between them. all of you people always hurt on this stuff. it is not the end all be all, Hess does a great job articulating that. Know your stuff but still do your own thing. heaven forbid we didnt all learn like papschumpf and never took a lesson, looked at a tab, read on article on how to barre a chord, etc. y'all are elitists
    +1
    maltmn
    Anyway, this article is awesome... It explains why some of the jams I have with my friends sound awesome, and why others don't! Sometimes I use the second process of thinking, and sometimes I use the first. Mostly it depends what is going on around me... If I'm standing, sitting, moving around, singing, thinking, listening... etc.
    stndrdprcdre
    The thing about learning scales is that in order to really make them work for you, you have to really go ALL OUT and really learn the hell out of them. You can't "half & half" it...meaning knowing a little bit of scale theory and then winging the rest of it because you will get so lost. I think that's why scales intimidate people so much.
    duexe
    You know that if you pay UG, you can remove banner ads from your browser. Additionally, if you dont want to read Tom Hess ads.. you dont have to click on them.
    Tomas_slash
    Pretty good advice from a pro musician, who would have thought he was the lead guitarist from Rhapsody of fire, well the free lesson is really cool.
    maltmn
    I apologize for my aggression... However, this article isn't actually "free" because as noted above, it's almost like an advertisement. You're right Panasonic3, having a professional instructor right in front of you is definitely the best way to improve.
    kratos379
    This was a much better article than most of his other ones, since it didn't feel like it was an ad from him. There's definitely some good info in this article too.
    Metal_9
    You have to improvise and explore the neck. Learn a new scale and make a different pattern with it or just mess around with. That's how i got better. Looking back now, I've gotten so much better
    huevos
    Zeletros wrote: Oh god. Check the author, Tom Hess! Never expected him to write an actually helpful article without the need to pay him.
    I was thinking that the whole way through the lesson.
    Kreuger
    Id be happy to check out the videos if I didnt have to sign up. I found this helpful
    duexe
    Nice article. Kinda makes you wonder what Hess is going to do next now that he is in Rhapsody of Fire. As much as people appear to dislike his articles, he continues to show his chops in the music business.
    Paul Tauterouff
    Excellent and helpful article! Hearing the sounds you want to make in your head and then being able to play them on guitar is very powerful. I tell my guitar students to sing their scales to try and help them to get to that point. Transcribing helps too. Music is about sounds, not just running patterns on the fretboard.
    akiakstormy
    I saw Tom with Rhapsody at Masters of Rock in Czech some days ago, total kick ass! He's an amazing guitar player and we can be lucky to have someone at that level teach us cool lessons like that one.
    s guy
    This article shows what i thought: that my guitar teacher is awesome