How To Add More Interesting Sounds To Your Solos
By Matt Chanway
A common problem that a lot of guitar students have, is that when they try to improvise solos on the guitar, they play a lot of very “same-sounding” stuff. A lot of students initially complain that their soloing just sounds like they are going up and down scales, and doesn't sound musical. In this article, I'll outline some steps you can take to correct this, and quickly make your solos sound much more like actual music!
The first step in this process is going to be ensure that you're totally comfortable with the scale and scale positions that you are improvising in. When students express this difficulty, when asked to play straight up and down the scale they are using, they're often unable to do so without hesitation. You want to ensure that the scale is “burned-in” before really looking to expand on the creativity with the scale. The best way to do this is to practice the scale in small 2-3 string fragments. So for example, if we were practicing the E minor scale, in 12th position:
This scale might seem to be a lot of fingerings to memorize if we are playing up and down all 6 strings. However, if we were to practice just the notes on the E, A, and D strings, and then switch to the G, B, and E strings, we would be able to memorize the scale shapes much faster!
Next, we want to make sure we have some basic guitar techniques established to a reasonable level. Namely, string bending, vibrato, and ideally some legato technique as well. These techniques are a work-in-progress with guitarists of all levels, however, without at least foundational-level skills with all of these, you are going to struggle to make your solos sound fluid. I would recommend working with a qualified teacher near you to develop these skills and ensure you are executing them correctly. If you have a modest command of your vibrato technique, for example, you can already make your soloing sound quite good, and vibrato is something that you can always improve over time.
Once you are comfortable with your scale fingerings and have your baseline guitar techniques established, you'll want to identify some key notes to end your phrases on. This is a topic for another article, but if you know the chords you are improvising over, you'll want to concentrate on ending your phrases on chord tones. If you have a good handle on this, even if you play a series of notes that aren't terribly creative, if you land (or bend to) a chord tone note and apply some good vibrato, the phrase is going to sound at least decent.
A great way to get a handle on these chord tones is to put together the arpeggios of the chords you are playing over, and improvise within those sets of notes over the chord, as opposed to only thinking in terms of the scale. For example, if you are playing over an Emin-Cmaj7 chord progression, here are two possible simple arpeggio fingerings for those chords:
Improvising a short series of notes, using these arpeggios will add some great sounds to your improvisations right away. Learning these arpeggios also helps you add a destination to your roadmap of the fretboard, since any of the notes in these arpeggios will work great as and ending note to any scale-based phrase. There is quite a lot of information in this article, however if you're able to incorporate all of the levels of guitar technique described here, you will without a doubt be able to create great-sounding guitar licks and solos. Enjoy!
Matt Chanway is a professional guitarist and teaches guitar lessons in Surrey, British Columbia.