If you’re a guitarist you probably know the situation: you’re playing a song & it’s almost time for your big solo. In an ideal world, you’d close your eyes, let the music flow through you and play a memorable improvised piece of lead guitar without any effort at all. However there are times when inspiration just doesn’t come, it just isn’t “happening” for one reason or another and you need to “craft” something in a more structured way.
Try to see this as an opportunity – if you know how to “compose” a solo in advance, you will soon get to the point where you can do this kind of thing on the fly. In short, you will be able to improvise a memorable solo to order. Also, once you have your “composed” solo, you can use it as a basis for something a little more free-form on those nights when the magic is happening.
Assuming you know what notes you’re going to basing your solo around, or the scales/licks you’re planning on using, then the next most important thing is the phrasing of the solo – the “shape” you give to those notes sonically. This is what this little lesson is all about.
Nothing sounds more tedious (in my opinion) than hearing a guitarist just demonstrating their knowledge of the fretboard by running through their favourite scales as a way of soloing, usually as fast as possible. Don’t get me wrong, I love to hear a guitar player rocking out, playing fast – it just sounds better if the whole thing has structure and sounds like it has direction or (as I mentioned earlier) some form of “shape” to it.
Here’s how I tend to do it. First, listen to the track you’ll be soloing over and try to imagine a well known song or tune being played/sung over that particular backing. Much like the BBC Radio 4 panel game “I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue” where the contestants are challenged to sing one song to the tune of another – “What Shall We Do With a Drunken Sailor” sung to the tune of “Misty” or other such bizarre combinations spring to mind.
All you have to do is use the notes you’re planning to base you solo around, but fit them into the “shape” of the tune you’ve borrowed. A good example of this can be heard in Cream’s “Sunshine Of Your Love” where Eric Clapton bases the first few bars of his solo around the sonic shape of “Blue Moon”.
Check it out here – the solo begins at 2:01
Or how about Jimi Hendrix using “Strangers in the Night” as an outline for his solo in Wild Thing. You can hear Jimi’s solo (sorry about the cruddy audio, by the way, but this was the only clip I could find) alongside Old Blue Eyes here
Here’s my interpretation of this technique. Here is a backing track I’ll be soloing over. And just to prove you can pretty much borrow from any tune you like, I’ve used the theme from that Great British cultural institution “Coronation Street” as the basis for my solo. If you’ve been living on one of the moons of Jupiter for the past fifty years or so & don’t know what this sounds like, then here it is:
It’s that “Deee-da-da Diddle-dee” phrasing that I’m going to use as a shape for my solo. Once again, I’ll stress that I’m not playing the actual tune – I’m just using the same rhythmic shape that the notes of the original tune fall into, but “populating” it with my chosen notes which fit the feel of the backing I’m playing over. Check out what I came up with:
So, there you have it. A solo based on the theme to the worlds longest running TV soap. Fair enough, I did wander away from the path (or indeed “The Street”) in a couple of places, but that’s not important – all we’re looking for here is a basic idea to use as a springboard. You really can use any reference: nursery rhymes are another favourite of mine – they have a quality to them which makes your solo sound somehow “familiar” when the listener hears it. You may feel a bit odd with “Old McDonald Had a Farm” or “The Wheels on the Bus” going through your head whilst playing your big solo in a metal/rock/blues tune, but if it works (and I promise you it does), then grasp the idea with both hands & go for it.
See you next time.