Soloing

Diamond_Dave

Strat-Talker
Jun 18, 2015
411
Roanoke, VA
I’m a reasonable bass player and a decent rhythm guitarist, but I’ve always struggled with soloing. I think there are three schools of thought in soloing. Frank Zappa once commented on two of them. He said a lot of players memorize their solos note for note. They sound perfect but they always play the same thing. Frank, on the other hand, said he had a basic mechanical understanding of the guitar, and an imagination. When it came time to solo, he had no idea what was going to come out. He just let it happen, and when it was time to quit, he stopped.

In think a third school of thought, and the one I aspire to, is speaking through the guitar. I heard people say Jeff Beck did this. You think “boop bop ba do” in your head, and your fingers translate that to the strings. Just like your brain thinks “sandwich,” and instantaneously your lungs, vocal cords and mouth say the word.

It’s not rehearsed, and it’s not random, but it is improvisational. You just have to know the language so well, that you hear in your head the sounds, and your hands create them. It’s like learning a foreign language. You stutter and stammer at first as you conjugate verbs in your mind and then speak them. But after a while you become more fluent, and soon it’s second nature.

That’s my goal. Guitar as language. Not memorized strings of notes (think of reciting the Gettysburg Address word for word), not random words and phrases (starfish brake pad Diet Pepsi remote control), but deliberate, improvised sound (think of giving an impromptu speech on a topic you know well).
 

Handsome McClane

Senior Stratmaster
Silver Member
Sep 6, 2020
2,314
Sacramento
I used to be purely in the Zappa camp; only band I ever gigged in when it came to lead I'd find the key and make it all up on the fly. There was a period back in the '80s when all my friends and I would get hammered and jam for hours on end, so I'm definitely from the Grateful Deadish side of playing.

At the beginning of the lockdown though I downloaded some backing tracks and started learning songs note-for-note of some of my favorites - Satriani, Jeff Beck, Santana, Gary Moore. As a guitarist I've had the biggest leap in skill since doing this and I've incorporated techniques of theirs into mine now. If you've played something a thousand times, you also have time to reflect on how you want each note to sound.

Now my playing is mostly note-for-note, but I still reserve a few places in my set where I don't have anything planned lead-wise.
 
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StratUp

Dr. Stratster
Sep 5, 2020
10,944
Altered States
At this point (and I reserve the right to change later), I have full muscle memory of the scales. What I work to do is to get to that point where "I can hear what note I want to play so... fingers...play it". Most of the time they know where to go. Surprisingly to me, but the more I just play and experiment with sounds, the better it works.

But when I don't really know what the next sound should be or my brain isn't focused, I sometimes find myself stumbling and I momentarily head back to pulling some mechanical pattern from the scale that I know works - while my brain gets back in line.

That's not to say that I don't sometimes spend time working with the notes in the chords and trying to find patterns, sequences, etc that work. That all gets blended in later per the above "play what I want to hear".
 

Diamond_Dave

Strat-Talker
Jun 18, 2015
411
Roanoke, VA
I definitely think that by listening to the greats and learning their stuff, you become a better improvisationalist. As an analogy, I think the best way to become a better writer is to become a more avid reader. See how the greats phrase their thoughts, and incorporate some of their grammar and vocabulary into your writing.
 

Quikstyl

Strat-O-Master
Nov 10, 2018
655
Bay Area, CA
I’m a reasonable bass player and a decent rhythm guitarist, but I’ve always struggled with soloing. I think there are three schools of thought in soloing. Frank Zappa once commented on two of them. He said a lot of players memorize their solos note for note. They sound perfect but they always play the same thing. Frank, on the other hand, said he had a basic mechanical understanding of the guitar, and an imagination. When it came time to solo, he had no idea what was going to come out. He just let it happen, and when it was time to quit, he stopped.

In think a third school of thought, and the one I aspire to, is speaking through the guitar. I heard people say Jeff Beck did this. You think “boop bop ba do” in your head, and your fingers translate that to the strings. Just like your brain thinks “sandwich,” and instantaneously your lungs, vocal cords and mouth say the word.

It’s not rehearsed, and it’s not random, but it is improvisational. You just have to know the language so well, that you hear in your head the sounds, and your hands create them. It’s like learning a foreign language. You stutter and stammer at first as you conjugate verbs in your mind and then speak them. But after a while you become more fluent, and soon it’s second nature.

That’s my goal. Guitar as language. Not memorized strings of notes (think of reciting the Gettysburg Address word for word), not random words and phrases (starfish brake pad Diet Pepsi remote control), but deliberate, improvised sound (think of giving an impromptu speech on a topic you know well).
When I write a tune, or solo, I usually have an idea of what I want to say. Then I just go for it. If I hit a cool lick I like, I'll make sure that goes in, then just play what comes out. With my old band same thing. Had solos that were part staple, part just go for it. Soloing to me is about putting the icing on the cake, so I tend not to wander off too far and lose sight if the big picture
 

StratUp

Dr. Stratster
Sep 5, 2020
10,944
Altered States
I definitely think that by listening to the greats and learning their stuff, you become a better improvisationalist. As an analogy, I think the best way to become a better writer is to become a more avid reader. See how the greats phrase their thoughts, and incorporate some of their grammar and vocabulary into your writing.

Just figuring out a few passages from varying artists greatly expands you skills.
 

crankmeister

Most Honored Senior Member
Jul 9, 2020
7,227
Republic of Gilead
I learn bits of solos sometimes because I can tell that there’s a technique involved that I need to know or practice.

Once I get the idea and the technique, that’s it. I’ll never bother learning the whole solo, and I’ll just keep working on and applying the idea/technique to my own purposes.

Zappa is unique, experimental, avant-garde. Not everyone is in that situation. But I agree with him in spirit and I dislike the repetitive and rote approach. I like studying music and fretboard theory, seeing all the different ways and trying them out. And while I like a nifty bit of complementary lead play, solos are usually the least interesting (and most overhyped) part of a song to me.
 

rolandson

Dr. Stratster
Jul 13, 2015
13,509
Foothills of the Cascades
I’m a reasonable bass player and a decent rhythm guitarist, but I’ve always struggled with soloing. I think there are three schools of thought in soloing. Frank Zappa once commented on two of them. He said a lot of players memorize their solos note for note. They sound perfect but they always play the same thing. Frank, on the other hand, said he had a basic mechanical understanding of the guitar, and an imagination. When it came time to solo, he had no idea what was going to come out. He just let it happen, and when it was time to quit, he stopped.

In think a third school of thought, and the one I aspire to, is speaking through the guitar. I heard people say Jeff Beck did this. You think “boop bop ba do” in your head, and your fingers translate that to the strings. Just like your brain thinks “sandwich,” and instantaneously your lungs, vocal cords and mouth say the word.

It’s not rehearsed, and it’s not random, but it is improvisational. You just have to know the language so well, that you hear in your head the sounds, and your hands create them. It’s like learning a foreign language. You stutter and stammer at first as you conjugate verbs in your mind and then speak them. But after a while you become more fluent, and soon it’s second nature.

That’s my goal. Guitar as language. Not memorized strings of notes (think of reciting the Gettysburg Address word for word), not random words and phrases (starfish brake pad Diet Pepsi remote control), but deliberate, improvised sound (think of giving an impromptu speech on a topic you know well).
Dave, check out Herb Ellis "Shapes."

It is a training technique that involves the second and third schools of thought you mention.

It invokes the intuitive with the imaginative around ... the brain's speech center. In fact, regardless of whether jazz motivates you or not, listen to some of his stuff.

He sang what he was playing. Sometimes he can be heard singing the part.

He had a quote that I embraced

"One can't think their way to a new way of playing but one can play their way to a new way of thinking."

I'm a side guy. An accompanist. I rarely solo'd. Most times if I were to be soloing I'd have it practiced, and rehearsed with the entire ensemble...note for note because even when shows look unscripted, they aren't.

Until of course, they are.

And every so often, despite nothing in the script, no word from squat, I'd get tossed a few bars. And it doesn't matter that I am not expecting it, I'd still have to rise to it.

Shapes made improvising easier and more enjoyable. It made it easier to allow my fingers to do what I was hearing in my head. And it made it okay to...

Give myself the authority to play.

Another resource: a book...
The Inner Game Of Music

Or...how to get out of your own way.
 

Diamond_Dave

Strat-Talker
Jun 18, 2015
411
Roanoke, VA
Awesome. Too many folks to respond to, but thank you all.

I do often learn a solo note-for-note because I just want to...usually it's something I've heard on the radio/streaming. Often something from when I was a kid that sounded incredibly cool, and now I realize that it's not all that hard.

I like learning why the solo sounds good--the key it's in, its progression up and down the scale, where it varies from the scale and where it doesn't.

I'll check out the books!
 

Quikstyl

Strat-O-Master
Nov 10, 2018
655
Bay Area, CA
I learn bits of solos sometimes because I can tell that there’s a technique involved that I need to know or practice.

Once I get the idea and the technique, that’s it. I’ll never bother learning the whole solo, and I’ll just keep working on and applying the idea/technique to my own purposes.

Zappa is unique, experimental, avant-garde. Not everyone is in that situation. But I agree with him in spirit and I dislike the repetitive and rote approach. I like studying music and fretboard theory, seeing all the different ways and trying them out. And while I like a nifty bit of complementary lead play, solos are usually the least interesting (and most overhyped) part of a song to me.
Paul Gilbert does a similar thing. He'll learn somebody's lick by ear, not caring if he's 100% accurate, so he still sounds like him.
 

Quikstyl

Strat-O-Master
Nov 10, 2018
655
Bay Area, CA
Awesome. Too many folks to respond to, but thank you all.

I do often learn a solo note-for-note because I just want to...usually it's something I've heard on the radio/streaming. Often something from when I was a kid that sounded incredibly cool, and now I realize that it's not all that hard.

I like learning why the solo sounds good--the key it's in, its progression up and down the scale, where it varies from the scale and where it doesn't.

I'll check out the books!
I hear ya, my friend.
I tried not to learn other solos growing up (except for Gilmour). I did recently go back and learn Scotti Hill's solo from "I Remember You" just because it kicks ass.
 

Hanson

Senior Stratmaster
Feb 3, 2016
2,039
Mesquite, Texas
Similar to you, I spent most of my life as a rhythm guitarist and bass player. It wasn’t until the last 5-6 years that I have become descent at soloing and lead playing.

For soloing, I start with a plan on how I’m going to play the beginning. That seems to help me get through any jitters that I may have. Midway, through the end, I will morph into improvisation.
 

grritz

The guitar plays me
Silver Member
May 2, 2014
1,240
Rock Hill, SC
These are all excellent suggestions. I'm still learning to solo, so sometimes I steal something I've heard, sometimes I try to play without thinking...but always staying in key...and always looking for the tonic note that I can target or come back to at the end of the solo.
 


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