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How To Own Your Guitar Solo

by | Guitarists, Master Your Craft

Guitar solos can often be the most exciting parts of a band’s live performance or songs. They’re a time-trusted go-to for composers because the guitar has an expressive quality, not unlike the voice. Playing memorable solos requires more than just a set of fast fingers and a knowledge of the fretboard. In today’s article, we’re going to give you a few tips and tricks that you can apply to your guitar solos. You can use these tips for composition, live performance, or even just for improv while jamming with other musicians. 

Take Your Time

The greatest names in guitar playing are known more for their creativity than their playing ability. More often than not, guitarists think that fitting as many notes as possible into a bar of music qualifies as a good solo. Music is like food, and too much of a good thing can leave a listener feeling overwhelmed and sometimes nauseous. The best guitar players know how to pick their spots and build a story with their parts. Instead of trying to cram notes on top of each other, try to see how expressive you can be with minimal playing. You’ll also be able to draw attention to your flashiest parts by fewer notes around them. If you’re composing for an arrangement, start by adding your strongest licks and hooks and only fill in notes where the song feels empty. 

Hammer-Ons/Pull-Offs

Hammer-ons and pull-offs are two of the fundamental techniques in any solid guitar player’s arsenal. If you’re a novice player looking for direction on your journey to better playing, this would be your first stop. As the name suggests, a hammer-on is performed when you hammer a left-hand finger down on the fretboard to produce sound without strumming. A pull-off is achieved when one of these fingers pulls at the string as it leaves the fretboard. You can apply both hammer-ons and pull-offs to most scales, arpeggios, or other left-hand exercises. Try practicing a specific run or drill and switch between using these techniques and without. Developing the ability to call upon these two specific techniques quickly will add some precious articulations to any lick or run you may want to expand.

Octaves

The average fretboard offers around three octaves worth of range to utilize when soloing or improvising. Many guitar players often learn a particular scale or pattern on one area of the neck and neglect to try and translate these shapes to other fretboard areas. This habit leaves players with a minimal vocabulary for playing solos. When practicing new techniques, remember to work them in every octave possible on the fretboard. You can add an extra impression while improvising by repeating the same lick or hook over successive octaves. This is a subtle but convincing way to exhibit your confidence to move around on the fretboard. 

Blue Notes

Blue notes are essentially the “wrong” notes to play in your scales. When learning the basics of music, such as the major, minor and pentatonic shapes, guitarists are often told to treat these notes as an “out of bounds” area. However, once you learn how to use these notes in passing, you can create some very interesting phrases that divert from the rules of music. However, it’s also handy to know when not to use these notes in your solos. Tact is everything with this technique, and knowing when to whip out the odd blue note or seven during a solo will draw some respectable attention to your playing. 

Switch It Up

Another box that many guitar players get trapped in is not knowing the number of modes they can access within a specific key. More often than not, players solo in the root key of the song. For example, if the song is in A minor, most guitarists will only use the minor or pentatonic shape in that key. However, each key offers seven modal scales to choose from for solos. You can figure out the distinct feel that you can implement to make your solos more interesting by learning different modes. Switching modes during a solo also keeps the listener on their toes and interested in your next move. 

Use The Song

The strongest creative tool that guitarists can employ in their solo playing is context. Locking into the mood or overall feel of the song makes you look like a stronger player and enhances the entire song or performance as a whole. Let’s imagine that a song is a dramatic slow ballad. Try to picture your guitar as a vocalist trying to help paint this mood – perhaps using slower, more solemn expressions. 

Your band can also use ensemble pieces to add some serious weight behind your solos. Ensemble pieces are arranged pieces of a composition that mirror or complement your solo. For example, a bassist and keyboardist could join in on your solo by playing the same phrase as you over a specific part of the solo. This tool is a fantastic way to make your solos powerful and wonderfully reflect your band’s overall tightness. 

Final Thoughts

There’s no perfect guitar solo, but it is easy to tell a comfortable player from an uncomfortable one. Becoming a solid guitar solo-ist takes a combination of consistent practice and research. You can utilize the tools above to build a strong foundation for your guitar solos. Remember to enjoy the process, explore as much as possible. Thanks for reading through our list of tips to help you own your guitar solo, bro. Happy shredding. 

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