If you’re like the vast majority of guitar players, we make guitar solos using notes that come from scales. The only thing is, when we learn scales, we usually don’t learn them with variety so our solos will reflect on this and sound boring.
I was teaching some students a new scale the other week and when they came back for the following lesson, they showed me that they had practiced the scale just like we had learned it. I told the student, “Ok now play it only on strings 4-1.”
Without even thinking about it, they first went through the motions as if they were playing strings 6 and 5 before actually starting on string 4. It dawned on me that many times we don’t memorize a scale, we memorize an exercise to practice the scale and those notes don’t really sink in.
Variety (Or Lack Thereof) In Guitar Solos
Think about a major scale (Do Re Mi Fa So La Ti Do). When we practice scales, many times we just run them in an ascending or descending order. If we only practice this scale this way, what do you think will happen when it comes time to use that scale to make a solo?
As I’ve seen with 95% of my students, self-taught or otherwise, when we play a solo, we are more prone to using the same patterns that we practice when we’re not playing a solo. That means your solos probably sound a lot like you’re just running the scale up or down.
How can we mix up our scale practice to bring out more flavor in the melody?
A simple way that I like to vary the sound of the scale is by playing what I call, “Backwards Patterns.” It’s quite simple really. If we’re playing the scale in an ascending manner (usually strings 6-1) then I play each individual string in a descending manner. For example, if I was playing the major scale, instead of playing note 1 and then 2 on the 6th string, I would play note 2 first followed by note 1 essentially playing each string backwards.
If I was playing the scale in a descending manner (usually strings 1-6) then I would play each string in an ascending manner so that I get a little variety in the melodies. It can definitely take some brain power but with the addition of a simple exercise like this, you will notice that you will get more variety in your improvisation.
Another exercise that’s a little bit more on the advanced side of things that will really help you memorize the scale not the motions is “String Skipping.”
String skipping is exactly like what it sounds like. Skip around to various strings as you play the scale. This will help you really know the notes instead of just knowing the motions of going through the scale. You’ll have to think strings ahead so your mind will have to use a little extra brain power but I believe in you!
I like using specific patterns I’ve developed over the years but I encourage you to try your own. The more variety you add to it, the more solid your foundation will be when it comes to knowing this scale like the back of your hand.
If you REALLY want to get fancy (and I know that of course you do), then you can combine string skipping and backwards patterns together to make a heinous mess of your scales. This will take a lot of computing power but again, the more you practice it, the better you will memorize the actual notes of the scale.
Spicing Up Improvisation
Once you’re feeling comfortable with a combination of these exercises in the scale, I would encourage you to implement these strategies into your improvisation to see what tasty melodies you make!
Using these techniques to make unique guitar solos has been going on since the beginning of guitar playing. You might very likely stumble across some recognizable guitar solos and go, “oh, so that’s how they play that.” It can be very rewarding to accidentally play a lick of a guitar solo that has made someone very famous (and possibly very rich).
A very important part of becoming better at soloing is building up strength and dexterity in your fingers. For some great exercises, tips and tricks to getting those fingers into shape, check out my free 5-day course that will prepare you for becoming the soloing master you want to become. All you need to do is follow the link below and enter your email address!
Have so much fun with these techniques!