5 essential skills to play a great guitar solo

Guitar soloing lesson series part 2

5 essential skills to play guitar solos

Hey guys and welcome back to our Guitar Soloing lesson series. In the first lesson you have learnt some basic left and right hands exercises. In today’s lesson we’re going to start delving a little deeper into the art of guitar soloing, so I hope you’ve been practicing hard!

Before we start off with Part 2 of the series, I’d like to take a minute to talk about what I believe are thefive cornerstones of learning to play great guitar solos:

1 - Your physical playing ability

Let’s keep it real; you could know a thousand different scales, a few dozen arpeggio patterns and a whole bunch of cool techniques, but they won’t mean jack shit if you don’t have the actual physical playing ability to incorporate them into your solos. This is why it’s important that you incorporate a daily practice routine that focuses on developing your finger strength, dexterity and speed of both your fretting hand and your strumming hand.

2 - Your theoretical knowledge

This is your knowledge of chords, scales, modes, arpeggios and so on and so forth. Without this knowledge, you’ll be as restricted as a painter with only a few brushes to choose from.

3 - Your technical knowledge

This is your knowledge of various techniques used in guitar soloing like string bending, hammer-ons and pull-offs. Without a robust repertoire of techniques to employ, your solos can end up sounding monotonous or one-dimensional.

4 - Your playing dynamics

This is the actual way in which you play the notes that make up your solo. For example you might decide to play a section of the notes softly while playing others more aggressively.

5 - Your melodic sensibility

This is your melodic fingerprint that you will develop over hours and hours of jamming. Without a strong melodic sensibility, you won’t have anything to set your guitar solo apart from every other solo out there.

These five elements are also a great way of approaching any new guitar solo that you’d like to learn. And they are what we will focus on developing in your playing over the course of this series. So let’s get started.

In today’s lesson, we’re going to start building your theoretical knowledge base with one of the most basic elements of guitar soloing – the pentatonic scale.

The pentatonic scale

As the name suggests, a pentatonic scale is a musical scale with five notes per octave, as opposed to say a heptatonic or seven note scale.

Now the great thing about the pentatonic scale is that it sounds “in tune” with any chord change in a particular key. For example, if you are playing in the key of A minor, any note of the A minor pentatonic scale will sound “good” over any chord in the key of A minor.

The pentatonic scale shapes are also incredibly easy to memorize because they each only have two notes per string, so you can pretty much start making music using them from the get-go.

First off, let’s take a look at the 5 shapes of the A minor pentatonic scale:

pentatonic scales guitar positions

Now trying to learn all 5 shapes can feel a little daunting at first glance, so let’s break it down step by step.

Step 1 – Start playing the 1st shape (starting on the 5th fret) using alternate picking. Remember the goal here isn’t to just play up and down the scale. Rather, it’s to memorize the scale with absolute certainty until you can play it with your eyes closed.

Step 2 – Pay attention to the notes that you’re playing in the 1st shape. Now if you practiced learning the notes across all six strings like we did in the learned in the last lesson, you should find this fairly easy.

Step 3 – Start playing the 2nd shape (starting on the 8th fret) using alternate picking. Pay attention to the notes that you’re playing.

Step 4 – Notice how the 1st shape and the 2nd shape seem to fit together like two pieces of a jigsaw.

For example the following in the 1st position:

minor pentatonic scale guitar tab firstposition

Is the same as the following in the 2nd position:

minor pentatonic scale guitar tab second position

Step 5 – Start cross-referencing the notes of each shape until you’re able to visually see both shapes fitting together on the fretboard.

Step 6 – Repeat this process for positions 3, 4 and 5 until you have memorized them with absolute certainty.

You’ll also realize when learning these 5 positions that you can play the 5th position which starts on the 15th fret, starting from the 3rd fret as well.

Next let’s take a look at the 5 positions of the A major pentatonic scale:

pentatonic scales guitar positions

Your next task for this lesson is to repeat Steps 1-6 for the A major pentatonic scale until you’ve got all 5 shapes memorized with absolute certainty.

You can also use my scale finder tool as a quick reference if you ever get lost or confused.

Meandering exercises

To wrap off this lesson, I’d like to leave you with a four-part homework assignment.

Part 1- The first thing that I want you to practice doing this month is trying to “meander” for as long as you can across the fretboard while staying in one particular key – A minor pentatonic for instance. Now remember, for the first step it isn’t important for your meandering to sound musical. All I want you to focus on is to be able to keep playing for an extended period of time, using the entire fretboard, while staying in key. The more you practice this, your hands and your brain will develop its own map of the fretboard which in time will help you play almost subconsciously without having to worry about what notes you should land on.

Part 2 – The next thing I want you to do is to repeat this same meandering exercise, but this time using a metronome. As with the first step, the goal here isn’t to sound musical. All I want you to work on is being able to play up and down the fretboard, in one particular key, along to the metronome.

Part 3 – Once you feel comfortable in your ability to randomly meander across the fretboard to the metronome, I want you to start thinking about your phrasing and note durations. For example, if you were only playing 1/8 notes so far, I want you to experiment with adding notes of longer and shorter duration. I also want you to start experimenting with adding pauses and breaks, all while playing to the metronome. This is the point that you can start thinking about making your meandering sound more and more melodic. If you like you can even find a suitable jam track on YouTube and try playing along with it.

Part 4 – Once you’ve done this with both the A minor pentatonic and A major pentatonic scales, I want you to experiment with meandering across the fretboard on different keys. This shouldn’t be too difficult if you’ve memorized your major and minor pentatonic shapes with absolute certainty. For example, if you want to play in the key of G minor, all you have to do is move your 5 minor pentatonic shapes down two frets.

You can also check out my separate video lesson on the minor pentatonic scale, to spice up your soloing capabilities with this scale.

Now this might feel like a lot for one lesson, but don’t be intimidated. Once you get started you’ll realize how each concept sort of flows into the other. And what’s more you’ll also start to feel some real excitement creep into you as you start hearing yourself actually sound like a solo guitarist! So as always, practice hard, and I’ll see you soon!

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