All of us heard at one point some guitar players that blew our minds. It was something like we’ve never seen or heard before. And that person was the main reason why we started playing the guitar. But what is it that was so captivating about their playing? What was it that made us start learning and trying to play ourselves. Well, for everyone it is probably different. However, there are a few tips that might help you become a better player yourself.
Use A Metronome
This is something I love mentioning because guitar players hate the metronome. I don’t know why that’s the case, but guitarists rarely own a metronome. If you play in a band It is as important to keep in line with them.
The same thing that applies to play in the key applies to the tempo as well. You don’t want to go in front of or behind the band. A metronome is a great tool that will help you develop a sense of rhythm and tempo. When you play solo, it is easy to create your own tempo and forget about everything, but this will sound bad. If your band is playing in one tempo while you play in another, everyone will be able to hear it. And they won’t like it.
So take your time and practice everything you learned by using the metronome. Start at the slowest possible bpm and work your way up. The speed will come in time. It is more important to focus on technique and playing correctly rather than playing fast. If you practice enough, you will notice how better you’ll be and how faster you’ll be able to play.
If you are still not convinced why you should practice with a metronome, check out my post 15 Important Reasons To Use A Metronome As A Guitar Player
Play In The Right Key
Playing in the right key is important. If you miss the key, everything will sound bad, even if you play beautiful licks. Because our ear creates a reference for everything, there are some things that might sound quite bad if the key is missed.
Before you start playing, you should have a basic idea of the chord progression and the key the song is in. From here, you can start exploring and playing licks and scales that are suitable for that key. Naturally, if you have trouble finding the key, you could always ask someone or check online. The last thing you could find the key yourself using the guitar.
Whichever way you choose, it will help you play better. Finally, don’t feel bad if you are not able to find the key instantly. It takes time, and it takes time for everyone. It is something that you’ll become better at with enough practice.
Find The Perfect Scale
Now, after you have found the right key, the next thing on the list is the right scale. One of the most important things for playing the guitar solo is the scale. By learning at least basic scales you would be able to use notes for them to improvise and play solo. Furthermore, by understanding scales, you would be able to hear and recognize the scale and pattern used in other songs as well.
So, if you are trying to learn a new song, you would be delighted to know that the scales you learned are used in those songs as well.
When you start learning scales, you will notice how many scales are there. Don’t let this scare you (some of them have really scary names). With enough practice, you will notice the connection between each scale and you will learn how to build them.
One of the most used and most loved scales are pentatonic scales. This scale, as the name suggests, has five notes or tones, hence the name pentatonic. There are several versions and variations, but all of them will have five tones.
This scale is great because it’s one of those go-to scales that we’ll return to. Most guitar players learn this scale and use it for every solo (which is not wrong).
If you love this scale as much as all of us do, the best thing to do would be to learn to play it in every position across the neck. This way you would have more options with only five tones. And the best thing is that the options are almost limitless. You’d be surprised how much you could do with five tones only.
The Root Note
The root note is your friend. Remember that whatever you play, the root note will always sound good. This is one of the landmarks you could use in your improvisation because you can’t go wrong and it is a great place to take a break before you figure out where to go next.
If you know the root note, you will be able to quickly find out what scale you want to play or what you can play. From there it will be much easier.
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The technique is one of the most important things when it comes to solo. The technique itself doesn’t have to be complicated or difficult, but it has to be good and accurate. If you play a single note, you should play it well. The note should be clear and sharp. Furthermore, the note you play has to give you the sound you expected and imagined.
Of course, if you use other techniques like bending, the note you are reaching should be precise and not weak and out of tune. It is quite important to perfect each of the bends and to play them precisely as they need to be played. Naturally, there are several types of bends, but even if you use micro bends, they need to go to a certain point.
Finally, one of the most important techniques is vibrato. Use it. The vibrato will allow you to give life and meaning to a single note. If you are wondering what’s the difference, try playing the same thing with and without vibrato. You will notice how the absence of vibrato will make almost everything sound lifeless.
There are so many subtle techniques and you should perfect every one that you plan on using. Even though your audience isn’t made of pro guitar players, they can still distinguish bad and good technique.
Think Before You Play?
You should always have a general idea of where you’re going with your playing. When you start playing a solo, you should know what you are trying to achieve. However, if you perfect all of the guitar playing skills, you should clear your mind and allow your fingers to tell a story.
There is a fine line and a difference whether you should think and how much. And there is even a question here. If you should think or not at all while you play the guitar. Many players suggest learning tons of music theory and then try to forget all about it when you play the guitar. The idea behind this is to know all the scales and licks and tricks but not to think about them when you play. Because (depending on the music genre) you are trying to tell a story. And your audience won’t be impressed by how you can play the Mixolydian scale, but they will surely be impressed if you possess a storytelling skill.
As we mentioned, the average audience isn’t made out of musicians mostly. And all of us love stories. So try telling one with your guitar.
Avoid Playing All The Notes
This rule is directed to the scale. If you see that scale has seven notes, it is never a good idea to play all of them. With enough practice, you will notice how some notes sound good, and others not so much. Furthermore, you will notice how certain notes you could bend for half of the tone only, while others you can bend more.
Plus, the main goal of improvisation is the point and something you’re trying to say. You will never be able to do that by playing each of the notes. Find interesting patterns, skip a few notes sometimes and experiment.
But playing all the notes from the scale is never a good idea.
Use Silence In Your Solos
When you play a guitar solo, there is always a place for silence. You don’t have to fill every part of the solo with licks and scales. Learn when to wait, so the notes that you play after will have a larger impact.
This is one of the greatest skills, and you can hear a lot of it in blues. Naturally, learning how to exploit silence is not an easy task. And by silence here we mean your guitar only. There will be the rest of the band to support you and you should create your solo with them.
Don’t Discard Your Bandmates
When you play on a stage, you will play with other musicians. It is important to realize that they have their own parts to play and to listen to what they have to say. If you play with someone for a longer period of time, you will notice their playing habits and something that they love repeating.
Every musician has their own trademark and something they always return to. Try listening to your bandmates and hearing what they have to say. They are a part of the band as much as you are, and you should never think of them as background players. We all love to make jokes about bass players but the truth is that we love them, and the music wouldn’t be the same without them.
Master Your Favorite Licks
Licks are pieces and segments of the guitar solo. There are so many great licks in blues and rock music that you could borrow. This is not something you should be ashamed of, but rather something that you should embrace.
Every guitar player had a role model, and each of them learned from their idols. If you like some part of the song or lick that your favorite guitar player uses, learn how to play it, and implement it into your own music repertoire.
Since we all love different things and many different guitar players, borrowing a few licks from them will still create something unique. Something that will be your trademark.
You can find the most popular licks in blues that are used in rock and metal years later. So, find the ones you like and practice them and try to incorporate them into your improvisation.
Use Music KnowledgeTo Your Advantage
Music theory. This is something you should try learning, and try learning as much as possible. There can’t be too much knowledge and everything you learn will make you a better player. While you don’t have to bother learning things that are of no interest to you, you could always find something that you’ll love and focus on that.
Using your knowledge of the history of music, theory, and everything will make you create solo easier and better. If you know how you play something, and why you play it, it will be easier for you to create that solo that will give your audience Goosebumps.
The Way You Play
This is one of the technicalities of the solo. Avoid playing the notes in the same manner. When you watch a movie, you notice how actors change the way they speak depending on the scene. Sometimes they will whisper, sometimes they’ll shout. Other times, they will be angry or sad. This is something that you need to do on the guitar.
Experiment with accenting notes differently. Take a scale you like and play notes. But instead of playing them all the same, try playing each note differently. You can accent some louder and other softer. Practice techniques like staccato and legato to create different feels in the song.
Learn Something New
One of the worst things all of us do is get comfortable. You get to a point in guitar playing where you know a lot. And it is easy to keep practicing old stuff and stuff you mastered rather than learning something new.
Try to practice both old and new equally. There are players who suggest spending half of the time learning new things, and the other half practicing old. It doesn’t matter if that’s a new scale, a new song, or a new lick. Learning something new is always good and it will enrich your guitar style and playing.
Experiment With Music
Similar to the previous part, you should experiment with music. Now, we are talking about listening. It is always a bad thing to listen to the same songs and the same bands. If you do this, you will limit yourself and prevent you from discovering something that you might like.
Furthermore, you might hear a band that you don’t like, but manage to find a single lick that sounds good, you could learn that lick only and be richer for another great thing you could play.
Now, this is one of the hardest things when it comes to music. You would have to have an enormous knowledge to be able to simply play what you hear in your head. But this is the key to the best solos you ever heard.
The secret behind David Gilmour’s solo in Comfortably Numb is simple – feeling. You could see that he feels every note that he plays and that will make everyone else feel it. If you manage to transfer your own emotion and message through your guitar to the audience, you will be able to make them feel something incredible.
Of course, this is not an easy task, and it will probably take you years to do it. B. B. King said that every solo can be reduced to a single note if that note is played with enough sincerity.
There are so many beautiful guitar techniques, scales, rhythms, and licks out there. The only thing you need to do is practice. With enough practice, you will be able to hear a song, and just start jamming with it even though you hear for the first time.
There is a reason why so many teachers repeat this so often. But practice really is the key to everything. The more you practice, the better you’ll be.
If you feel unmotivated to play the guitar, check out my post How I Motivate Myself To Play Guitar Every Day – 15 Tips
We mentioned here a few of the most important tips, but the point is to find what you like the most. If you love the music you play, everyone will be able to see it and hear it. Try putting yourself in everything you play and the audience will love it.
We all love relating to something, and feeling is something all of us have. So try focusing on that and keep practicing.
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