Let’s be honest – crafting mind-blowing solos is a pretty high priority for most guitarists.
Whenever we talk about great players, it often comes down to comparing their iconic solos.
So, why is this such an obsession among guitarists?
- It’s a chance to get creative and showcase our styles.
- We can experiment with new ideas and techniques.
- Playing an incredible guitar solo just feels amazing – it makes all that practice worthwhile.
It’s clearly an important skill for any guitarist, so today we’re going to answer this crucial question: How can I write better guitar solos?
Tip #1 – Analyze your favorites
Good artists borrow, great artists steal.
- Most guitarists will admit that a huge portion of their playing style was stolen from their favorite guitar heroes.
- To write solos yourself, you must understand what a great solo consists of.
- The best way to do this is by actively listening to solos you enjoy.
What is active listening?
It’s about paying close attention to the music.
- Instead of hearing a song as a whole, you break it down into separate parts.
- Then, figure out what each part is doing, and how it works musically.
Many beginner guitarists hear a solo and imagine it as one big piece, which makes it seem much more complex and intimidating.
- Breaking it down into smaller sections will make it more manageable.
- Guitar solos are, for the most part, a series of different licks and melodic lines put together.
Let’s analyze Brain May’s solo in Bohemian Rhapsody to practice this concept.
If we use active listening to break this part down, we can hear four distinct licks.
Once you let your fingers cool down from that last lick, you can carry on and deconstruct the entire solo yourself in the same way.
Consider another iconic solo – Kirk Hammet’s work in Enter Sandman is also much less intimating once you realize it’s just a collection of small phrases linked together.
If you want a challenge, check out our 10 best guitar solos list and try to break them down in the same way.
So, how can this concept help us write our own solos?
- It’s about changing your perspective.
- You don’t have to think of a solo as one long epic piece.
- Instead, write short licks over a few measures and string them together.One lick will often inspire the next and create a theme.
- Once you’ve written a few melodic phrases, the rest may come easier.
However, this begs the question: what’s the best way to write strong melodic phrases?
Tip #2 – Sing it out
Sitting down and improvising a solo can be a difficult thing to do, especially if you’re new to it. Many people find it easier to come up with melodies in their minds that on the guitar.
- You can sing, hum, or even whistle the melodies you hear in your mind.
- It’s not necessary to be a great singer. It’s just about getting the notes out.
- If you can record what you vocalized, it will be much easier to figure out your ideas on the guitar later.
Of course, it’ll be tricky to sing a fast, shreddy solo, but this method works wonders for figuring out basic melodic ideas.
Some of the most memorable melodies are the ones you can easily sing along to.
- Those are the “earworms” that get stuck in people's minds.
- If you find a good melody by singing it, you’ll already know it’s “singable”.
Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Free Bird solo is catchy and memorable (even though the solo is longer than most songs!)
- Imagining the guitar as a voice singing lyrics can also help with adding an emotional connection to the notes.
- Music is akin to telling a story
- Having one in mind while creating a melody it may make it more expressive and cohesive.
Tip #3 – Keep it simple
There is absolutely a time and place for guitarists to show off their technical abilities, but for the most part, you don’t need to go overboard when writing a solo.
- Your main focus should be on making the solo musical.
- No matter how badly you want to show off that new technique, it needs to be suited to the song.
- If you do get the opportunity to add in some flashy guitar tricks, build up to them towards the end of the solo – this will make everything feel more climactic.
You can do a lot with a simple melodic line
We often just focus on what notes to play, but not necessarily how to play them. Once you come up with a melody or theme, you still have a world of options on how to play it.
- Change your guitar tone for a totally different feel.
- Vary a couple of notes each time to keep it interesting.
- Alter the rhythmic feel of certain phrases.
The Intro to Gary Moore’s Still Got the Blues is the same phrase or theme repeated but with some slight variations and changes to keep the audience on their toes.
Key changes have a similar effect but can make a solo tricky to navigate. Check out how you can use the CAGED system to familiarize yourself with the fretboard so you can easily keep up with an active chord progression.
Tip #4 – Use some theory
Not every guitar player wants to hear this, but music theory will have a huge impact on your solo-writing abilities.
- If you know the chord progression of a song, you can have much more control over the sound of your solo.
- A solid understanding of music theory allows you to write more intentional guitar solos.
For example, if you aim for a dissonant-sounding phrase, you already know which notes you need to play to achieve the sound.
- This will save you a lot of time and it makes writing solos easier.
- You don’t have to sit and try something over and over again to find the sound or harmony you’re looking for.
Music theory gives more expressive freedom and allows us to easily communicate ideas to bandmates.
Playing music without knowing theory is like living in a country without knowing the language – you can do it, but it makes everything a bit more difficult.
Check out the course about music theory for guitarists if you want to get deeper into theory.
Tip #5 – Call and response
This is a time-tested method to create an engaging guitar solo that goes all the way back to the blues masters.
- The “call” is a short phrase that often feels “unfinished” or has a sense of tension.
- The “response” will be a similar-sounding phrase that ends the tension (usually by resolving to the root note).
- Think of it like a musical conversation with a question and an answer.
The call and response technique is used in many genres and often by multiple instruments. You might have a string section playing one phrase with trumpets playing the response.
Hendrix was a huge fan of this – the structure of Voodoo Child is almost entirely call and response.
Even guitar store kryptonite Stairway to Heaven has a great call and response section during the guitar solo:
Tip #6 – Leave room to breathe
When we get a chance to solo, it’s easy to get carried away. We want to show off our skills and not waste a second of our time to shine!
- Sometimes, the moments of silence between notes can be the most important.
- Or channel your inner Gilmour and let one perfect note ring out for eternity.
- You need to let the music breathe – especially for more emotional phrases.
If you play too many notes throughout a solo, there’s nothing for the listener to grab onto.
The Thrill Is Gone is a great example of how you don’t need many notes to capture emotion. You’ve just got to hit the right note and the right time!
Tip #7 – Perfection kills creativity
Don’t be too self-critical during the writing process! This is a big problem for many musicians who write original music.
- Nothing is ever perfect right away, and if you keep stopping to correct tiny things it will ruin your flow.
- Too much overthinking during the creative process is a total mood killer
- Save the judgmental stuff for when you listen back later
Record, then review
You hear things more objectively when you’re not also concentrating on playing.
- When reviewing, you’ll get a better idea of what works for the song.
- Sometimes the parts you enjoy playing don’t sound as good in context.
- The opposite is also true – there may be things you didn’t notice in the moment, but they sound great when listening back.
- “Perfect is the enemy of good”.
If you’re waiting for perfection before you move on, you won’t get very far.
It’s easier to edit something that already exists than to write something new from scratch, so let it all out and then refine it later!
If you want to learn more about writing and playing guitar solos, check out our Soloing Learning Pathway. This extensive Learning Pathway is designed for intermediate guitarists with a basic soloing foundation who want to become confident lead guitarists and master the modes of the major scale.
With guided daily lessons, playalong exercises, interactive jams, and opportunities for personalized feedback on your playing, you’ll know what to work on at every step of the way. Check it out with a free 14-day trial to Pickup Music.
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