Routes to a good solo
In my experience there are a few different ways to hone your skills when learning how to play lead guitar. The first question to ask yourself is who do you want to sound like ? You will always sound like yourself in the end but at first we want to copy the greats. Their timing, feel and tone are what you’re after. They are our heros and inspiration :p
So who you listen to and who you want to emulate is the first thing to consider. But how can you get this ?
Listening & Transcribing
In my experience the answer was listen to them. A LOT. Then after a while you just start to pick up the essence of their playing. However, its not enough just to listen and admire, you have to get copying, transcribing or doing a ‘lift’ as they say in jazz. I used to feel like I had to reinvent the wheel for every solo until I started taking ideas from other players and making them my own. This is ok! If you have several players you like, you can learn solos from each player which will all become part of YOUR vocabulary as you improve.
Favourite 10 Solos
A goal I had last year was to learn my top 10 guitar solos off by heart. I knew I loved these solos and wanted to be able to play them along with the recordings from some of my fav players : Robben Ford, Kenny Burrell, Bill Evans, Django Reinhardt.
These are my 10 most favourite gypsy jazz, bebop and blues solos so I made a list and started learning them by ear..
When I was at college some players would write out the sols they learned, which you might say is the true meaning of transcribing, but I just wanted to get the solo under my fingers because at the end of the day, memorizing these solos so I could play them start to finish anytime, anyplace, anywhere, is what mattered to me.
Technique isn’t everything
Electric guitar has come a long way since the 50s and these days there are lots of players out there with great technique. Some players tap, some sweep, some use economy picking and others go for smoooth legato lines .. By all means you should work towards creating good tecnhique/s on your intrument but I’ve found some of my fav players use nothing more than alternate picking … and they sound incredible. Why ? Phrasing.
The way you phrase your solo is so important if you want to keep your listeners attention. I’d go so far as to say it trumps any flashy technique out there.. We soloists should be working towards creating call and response solo lines that deliver a story in PIECES rather than throwing all your licks in straight away. I recently watched an interview with one of my influences (Allen Hinds) where he advised solo players to not play anything more than chord tones and simple motifs for the first several bars of any solo. Good advice. All my favourite solos have simple phrasing based on chord tones at their core.
I hope this article was useful to you as I know sometimes we all feel overwhelmed with where to start given all the information available these days on lead guitar books, videos and a sea of guitar techniques.
So I encourage you to start learning solos by ear. I’ve found I now enjoy slowing down the track and piecing together the puzzle because that’s where I find all the best bits!
Best of luck !