Ever tried to wrench identifiable noises out of your guitar that sound like a solo? I can assure you – it is possible. With a little time and solid instruction, you can learn to solo in about an hour.
For many guitar players it’s an itch that needs scratching as we try to express ourselves musically and expand our understanding of the guitar as a whole.
While sixty minutes might not seem like much, it IS possible to learn how to play solos in a relatively short amount of time, maybe even less.
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How Do I Start to Solo?
Learning how to solo starts with a good set of tools and, as mentioned, good guidance. At the very least you should at have an artist and solo in mind to use as a target.
Having said that, the real difference in being being able to start soloing quickly is not so much the amount of talent you may have (or not), but the quality of instruction and your willingness to make something happen.
Thanks to the convenience of video instruction, a highly focused guitar tutorial on soloing such as Guitareo’s program of free videos, makes the process about as easy as baking a cake, and in about the same amount of time.
What Tools Will I Need?
The short answer is patterns, and a guitar of course. On a guitar, patterns can be as simple as a chord form or a series of single notes, ie; a scale.
For most of us, starting to solo means learning scales. Now, before you start imagining endless hours of tedious repetition taught by a dusty professor scratching out notation on a worn chalkboard, it’s really not that bad.
Scales are your friends. The more you know, the more friends you have.
Is there one scale that rules them all? Technically, yes, and that would be the C major scale – the big kahuna.
But if you’re starting to solo, let’s make it easy and practical – pentatonic is the way to go.
Pentatonic patterns are simple. Being based on only 5 tones, the “penta”tonic or 5 note scale is an economical structure that can easily be applied across the neck. Plus, chances are your favorite players also make good use of it too – especially in rock and blues styles.
What Makes a Good Solo?
Ah yes, the eternal question. The answer lies in your own personal tastes which are subjective. You probably have guitar heroes you admire, and certain solos you find extremely entertaining.
A good guitar solo is one that contains emotion, uses dynamics and fits the song.
Does this mean it has to be technically brilliant or complex? Absolutely not.
For example, check out Neil Young’s impassioned and understated approach to soloing in this video at 1:54
As they say, sometimes less is more.
From a player’s point of view it should at least be fun to play. And from a listener’s point of view it should be fun to hear.
Regardless of the artist or style of music, great solos tend to stand the test of time. They’re a blend of the player’s personality and their given choice of phrases, which are often a collection of bits and pieces from their own guitar heroes.
If you want to create good solos, learn from the best. Grab your inspiration from the guitar players you admire.
How Do I Get Better at Soloing?
Getting better at soloing involves practice – no two ways about it. Having a good practice routine combined with a positive mindset will always produce results.
To accelerate your progress, here are a few points to keep in mind:
- Be realistic – While it’s a good idea to stretch your boundaries, you should also be practical about the level of difficulty you’re taking on.
- Divide and conquer – Break down the harder passages into bite-size chunks you can digest more easily. Work on each one in turn then patch them together
- Walk, don’t run – Use a metronome to gradually build up speed for faster parts.
- Understand theory – In all honesty, getting a grip on theory will unlock EVERYTHING musical – not just the guitar.
- Think outside the musical box – If you want to develop a more unique solo voice, look beyond the guitar. Other instruments can be excellent sources for inspiration such as vocal lines, saxophone or even piano.
As a word of caution, it doesn’t take long to find extraordinary players that can tear up a fretboard. Did they learn to solo overnight? Probably not. Everybody eats the elephant one bite at a time.
When learning solos, or any other guitar parts for that matter, turn the volume down. It sounds counterintuitive but it works wonders. Turning the volume down forces you to focus and opens up the ear canals so you actually hear more with precision and definition.
Personal Notes on Soloing
For many players, the idea of soloing is about as complex as earning a PHD in music and growing a sixth finger. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Yes, copying or “lifting” a solo from another player can be tricky, but it’s well worth the effort. And once you get a taste for soloing it’s almost impossible to get away from it.
Personally, once I started playing solos, I never looked back – total thrill time. Not that playing chords or riffs wasn’t fun, it’s just that I found soloing was MORE fun.
Like most others, I began borrowing licks and tricks from the greats, then mixed the musical ingredients together to develop my own personal style.
Interestingly enough when I started teaching soloing, I noticed an unsettling phenomenon starting to pop up: my students were beginning to sound like me! This threw me for a huge loop and I quickly took my personal licks off the teaching table. Not to protect my ego, but to make sure my student’s own style developed organically from their own inspirations – not polluted by my personal preferences.
In closing, yes, you can learn to solo in a short amount of time. The best way is to find an excellent source of instruction and pick a reasonable goal. From there, making sensible solo sounds on the guitar is just a matter of putting in the time and effort.
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