It is common for many players to hit the same roadblock mid-way through taking guitar lessons: Their solos don’t say anything. They can comfortably play through scales, might know a few licks and patterns and can even generate some of their own material. Despite this, when they start putting it all together and improvising they can’t help but feel like they are doing the musical equivalent of rambling.
If this sounds like you than take heart. There is things you can start practicing and learning to make yourself play better solos. It may seem like great soloists get their ability from inspiration, talent or some other kind of abstract source. In reality, there are many practice and playing strategies you can employ to sound like a more mature and in control player. You may even surprise your teacher in one of your next guitar lessons.One of the first things that will make a solo sound amateurish is when the soloist has no confidence in their melodic ideas. There is no better giveaway to this than when a player lets out a non-stop stream of unrelated ideas with little space between them. You have to learn how to let your ideas stand on their own. The following exercise will teach you a strategy for accomplishing this.Start by playing a musical idea, any musical idea at all. After you play it, wait. When the beginning of the next bar or two comes up, repeat the idea exactly as you played it the first time. Do not repeat the idea non-stop with no space. Treat it like a melody not a pattern. After a few repetitions break off and start playing different ideas, related or unrelated. This exercise can be done to a metronome, a backing track or perhaps with your teacher in one of your guitar lessons.This might seem like common sense, but how often do you do it? Listen to a recording of yourself and often times you will find that you sound lost. Repetition is a guaranteed way to make you sound more convincing. It also has a number of other benefits. When you repeat an idea your audience will start to predict it coming again and when it does they will feel satisfied. Before it starts to get boring you stop repeating the idea which will surprise them. Playing with the expectations of the audience is a key component to playing a convincing solo.Repeating yourself allows the band to easily lock into the groove of what you are playing, making it easy to build up excitement and tension. This speaks to another component of a good solo: It has peaks in excitement that eventually release. In addition, repeating yourself gives you time to think of a convincing new idea as opposed to the first thing to come to your head.
An alternative approach is to use your idea as a spring board for variations. There are a few basic approaches you can use. Each iteration of the idea you can try adding a note before, after or in between the phrase. You can try varying the rhythm my elongating or shortening notes. If one variation per repetition is too much just change the melody when you are ready to.
One of the biggest guitar lessons we must teach ourselves is melodic restraint. By practicing this way of playing, repetition and variation, it will start to naturally seep into your playing. Your improvisations will start to take on a natural structure. It will teach you to start thinking about your ideas instead of just throwing them out
Elite Music is a music school in Toronto, offering guitar lessons for adults and children in all styles. We offer trial music lessons.