I have heard this far too often…
Guitar players worldwide have the same issue: our solos just don’t sound the way they should.
Well, look no further!
We will discuss some simple tips to get you on your way to success.
Here are the 8 essential concepts we need to discuss:
- Understanding Yourself
- Shake Things Up
- Daily Practice Regimen To Develop Your Skills
- Expectations and Encouragement
- Melodic Responsibility
- Guitar Tone
- Continued Learning
1. Understanding Yourself
Let’s start with a KILLER column from Bobby Kittleberger from Guitar World.
Here, Bobby discusses one of the most important mistakes that guitar players make, playing above our comfort level:
Playing within our comfort zone means we don’t “max out” our speed when we’re performing or writing music we actually intend to play in front of people.
Pushing our skill limit shouldn’t be something we do in an effort to entertain.
Instead, we should seek to play safely within our comfort zone and save the technical heavy-lifting for practice sessions. Read more…
You always need to remember, when you are alone and jamming at home, you have the best chance at being left alone, with no distractions and your nervousness is at its lowest, therefore your skills are at their peak.
As soon as you step out in front of an audience (regardless of size), you begin to feel “under pressure” to perform well, and this is when mistakes such as playing above your “comfort zone” begin to happen.
I am not saying that adrenaline can’t take over and turn you into a GUITAR MONSTER, but for most of us, that happens far less than the frustrations.
This is why it’s important to really “understand” who you are as a guitar player.
To do this, let’s make 2 separate lists:
1. What guitar techniques and concepts am I comfortable and confident with?
2. What do I still need work on to become comfortable and confident?
We need to take a long, hard look at these lists. That way, we can better understand WHO we really are as guitar players, and WHAT techniques and ideas are available to us when we feel the pressure.
2. Shake Things Up
Another big mistake we tend to make as guitar players is what I will call the “same old, same old” syndrome.
We play the same licks, patterns, chords, scales and songs over and over.
This can be great because within the repetition, we learn, memorize and strengthen various concepts and techniques.
The problem is, we get bored and frustrated.
We get used to hearing ourselves, and even though some of the things we are doing are probably awesome, we disregard them because WE have heard ourselves do these things a million times, and have “thought” about it in our head too many times to count.
You need to shake things up!
In this incredible post by John Toggle, John gives you some great insight on getting inspired and trying some new things:
Sometimes when we want to learn a particular style of music, we immerse ourselves in that one style completely. This is a good thing, but at some point you may feel tired and uninspired from learning and listening to the same stuff all the time.
If you’re learning blues guitar, try listening to some country, classical, or pop. You may find inspiration through these genres that will give you some new ideas for playing the blues. I guarantee you will find that blues scale in every type of music. I often made a game out of it and even remember hearing the blues scale in a Jennifer Love Hewitt tune. Oops!! Did I just say that?
It may seem obvious, but an easy way to get out of a rut is to take some private guitar lessons, or find some video guitar lessons online. Just watching someone play and explain something can unlock so many new ideas. See the full story…
Always keep in mind that inspiration comes from almost anywhere, so the more musical situations you put yourself in, the more ideas you might come up with (as much as I love pizza, I can’t eat it everyday for every meal…or can I)?
3. Daily Practice Regimen To Develop Your Skills
If you are going to challenge yourself and your abilities, let’s be honest.
Technique will always be an issue.
When you first started playing guitar, you couldn’t make a G Chord. But you kept practicing, and you got it.
This goes for other chords, scales, licks, patterns, arpeggios, and just about anything you can think of.
Developing your guitar playing chops is key to reaching a new, comfortable and confident level.
In my column from Guitar World magazine, I discuss a daily practice regiment for developing:
1. Right hand strength, picking speed and fluency
2. Left hand finger strength, both independent and groups.
3. Synchronization between the 2 hands for proper execution
All in all, these exercises should take about 15 minutes. My students have found that, when done faithfully and properly, they yield significant positive results. Please note that it’s a good idea to stretch out your hands, wrists and arms for a few minutes before doing these exercises. Three Steps to Shred: Fundamental Daily Practice Techniques in About 15 Minutes | Guitar World
And in this video, I discuss another popular technique for development of speed and dexterity called “Bursting”:
This is one of the fundamental exercises guitarists learn, and it’s great for building speed, strength and dexterity. But what I have realized with this exercise is that sometimes guitarists can become restrained when it comes to building speed past a certain point. For example, let’s say you are doing the exercise at 120 bpm, playing 16th notes; it can sometimes be hard for you to push the speed envelope past a certain point while remaining faithful to the metronome.
So what I want to do with today’s lesson is introduce you to a little technique that helps you tackle speed from a different angle. I call this technique “bursting.” guitarworld.com
There are many ways to build a daily practice, but the key is to make your practice have intent by being precise and effective in the amount of time that YOU have available.
4. Expectations and Encouragement
Another issue for guitar players (and humans in general) are the impossible expectations we set upon ourselves.
We are always comparing ourselves to others, always believing we are never good enough.
This gets in the way of creativity because we are never really looking at ourselves and our accomplishments because we are too focused on the negatives:
1. I can’t play that
2. I don’t understand that
3. That player is better than me
4. I will never be good enough
Have you ever said or thought this?
View this statement:
I, Steve Stine, love to play guitar, but am VERY aware that there are many guitar players who are WAY better than me.
This IS a true statement, and I am very aware of it.
But it’s BECAUSE I am aware of it that I DON’T CARE.
I understand who I am, what I am good at and what I need work on, and I USE those players that I admire as influence to keep me excited and make me want to continue growing and practicing as a guitar player and a musician.
If you have a few minutes, I want you to watch this video, as it summarizes the frustrations of one of my many guitar students.
After one of our lessons, I was compelled to make a video that discusses many of the topics we are looking at here, including self-doubt and comparisons (I really encourage you to watch this):
5. Melodic Responsibility
This is a HUGE one…
Many players learn scales, patterns and licks, but when they solo, they are completely unaware of what’s happening in the rhythm section under them.
In this article written by Jason Blume at BMI.com, he explains the importance of the melody in writing a song, and how to approach creating melody:
There may be nothing “wrong” with these melodies, but “nothing wrong” is a far cry from melodies that are unforgettable, fresh and original. No one walks down the street humming chord changes, guitar licks, drumbeats, grooves or bass lines. While these are all important components of successful songs, they aren’t enough. Read more…
Pretty awesome huh? There are some great tips in that article.
Another really great way to implement some melody into your guitar playing in a simple and relatively short amount of time is to use the chord concept of “CAGED” into your playing.
With the CAGED concept, you learn to “see” each chord across the entire fretboard.
This is awesome because it breaks you out of the rut of just seeing scales.
With the CAGED system, you begin to “move” from just seeing the scale “shape” you are using in your solo, and begin to “see” the chord shape you are soloing over as well, in that SAME position.
This way, you can begin to “target” your melodic notes by emphasizing the notes of that chord in your solo!
In this video, I show a bit of how this would work:
For more information and videos on the CAGED system and how to use it, CLICK HERE.
When playing a solo, you need to be aware of many things, but one comes to mind:
Learning to use variety in your playing creates what I call “dynamic variation” and keeps your listener interested.
Think about contrast whenever you are playing, whether it’s rhythm or lead:
4. Vertical/Horizontal playing
5. Play/Stop Playing
Always be thinking about contrast in your playing and things will definitely be more interesting.
In this article from guitarworld.com, Richard Rossicone discusses the element of phrasing:
Almost always, the same thing happens: The student’s leads sound like a continuous scale. I call it the musical equivalent of a stomach virus: The notes just keep on running out with no end in sight. The same thing occurs when they advance and learn the extensions of the minor pentatonic and the modes. They know the notes and the connections very well, but it sounds like one big run-on sentence. Sometimes I’ll see cover bands in which more experienced guitarists will do the same. In short, there is no phrasing. Here are some methods I’ve used to make lead playing more melodic and dynamic. guitarworld.com
And it’s true, learning to play melodically and add phrasing requires thought and a good ear for the situation.
In my guitar course, “Learn to Phrase in 14 Days”, I teach the essence of creating a killer melody, and learning how to phrase and “re-phrase” over various music situations:
Imagine talking to someone who always spoke in the same tone, at the same pace and stopping at exactly the same spots. Would you believe anything they tell you? Probably not right? Because they don’t sound genuine or even human. If you want your audience to feel something during your solo’s, you’re going to have to be believeable. To be believable your solo itself must have that extra “human element” to it. That’s where phrasing comes in. Problem is, most people have no idea what phrasing even is or how to begin finding their own “voice” in their solos. Essentials Of Soloing
Needless to say, when you start putting all these pieces together, you get a whole new world of soloing options.
But we aren’t done yet…
7. Guitar Tone
This one is tough!
Everyone is looking for something else, but the truth is that your guitar tone can inspire you to incredible levels of inspiration.
so the first step is… you need to find your own tone.
But what makes up a guitar tone?
Usually, you are working with 3 essential elements:
Have you ever plugged into someone’s amp, or grabbed their guitar, and you were instantly motivated?
Having a guitar that plays great and feels comfortable is essential to your ability to solo.
The strings needs to feel good in your hands, the pickups need to respond appropriately, even your guitar pick needs to attack correctly.
Then there’s the amp…do we go with a
1.tube amp or solid state? Does it matter?
2. What wattage do we need?
3. What about brands?
This subject is the spark of conversation and controversy in the guitar community.
I am going to help you as best I can by summarizing:
Play what sounds good and feels good to YOU.
You can be sold almost anything.
And they are all trying to sell you something.
Is that bad? Of course not, it’s how a business stays in business. But once you separate the sale from the product, you can begin to make choices for yourself and what you really need.
In this article from musicradar.com, they break down some great things to think about to creating a killer tone:
The worlds top players spend their lives in its pursuit, while the rest of us chew over the minutiae of their sonic journeys. Its time to cut to the chase here are the 50 steps that are stone cold guaranteed to help you sound better. Check out the full story
And in this article from Peter Thorn at premierguitar.com, Peter discusses some key elements to grabbing the most out of your gear:
Amps. When I first plug into an unfamiliar amp, I’ll start by setting all the tone controls to noon, and slowly raise the volume to a comfortable level. If the amp has a master volume, I set it for a good listening level and sweep the gain knob to explore the amp’s overdrive capabilities. I then make small tone tweaks by sweeping each pot up and down and listen to the range they work in, and how they affect the sound from different points in front of the amp. See more…
And here are some links to further your reading (there are literally hundreds of great sites, but here’s a few):
Also, here is an awesome photo of “pedal order”. This might help you as well:
8. Continued Learning
Whether you are learning songs, taking guitar lessons, reading books, magazines, or articles like this, the goal is to KEEP MOVING FORWARD in your study of learning.
There are so many places to look for “help” in learning how to play guitar, and your goal is to find the ones that make the most sense, and offer logical, step-by-step progress.
Finally, remember this: Set Goals
If you find new and exciting information, and you are ready to push yourself to new musical levels, remember to set goals.
The easiest way to do this is to create 2 lists of goals:
1. Short-Term Goals
2. Long-Term Goals
Short term goals are VERY important, because they make the biggest difference in the shortest amount of time.
Think of it this way:
A student just started learning how to play the G chord. This student decides the next project is to learn how to play “Classical Gas” by Mason Williams, “2112” by Rush or “Black Star” by Yngwie Malmsteen.
Those are AWESOME goals, but certainly long term from where this student is now. It would be far more beneficial to achieve smaller goals first, which will make the “learning” of one of these songs much more achievable in a shorter amount of time down the road.
Short-term goals are elements you are familiar with, or can grasp to “comfort and confidence” in a fairly short amount of time.
These goals are incredibly important because they are inspiring, and usable in the “real world” in a short amount of time.
Long-term goals, on the other hand, are LIFE CHANGING. But they require much more effort, time, patience etc. to achieve.
As much as we have huge hopes and dreams (and that’s a good thing), often the Short-term goals build bridges to the Long-term goals, which makes those harder goals closer to being achievable.
Use logic in your practice and your learning.
Organize yourself and you will make far greater progress.
So get out there and make a change! Use the ideas in this article to help you:
1. Get Inspired
2. Think Outside the Box
3. Move Forward
4. Stay Organized
5. Practice Daily
6. Stay In Touch With Who You Are
7. Set Short-Term and Long-Term Goals