Freeway Music — Columbia, SC’s Premier Music School

How to Solo (Part 1)

How to Solo (Part 1)

Perhaps one of the hardest things to teach in music lessons is how to solo. Students are down right frightened of soloing and improvising at times. One of the reasons it is so hard to teach is that there are so many factors. So I have decided to split this blog into a series. Let’s begin with the basics.

I constantly quote this statement from The Music Lesson by Victor Wooten to my guitar students, “People FEEL music before they hear it.” Before trying to move around and play a bunch of notes, find and establish the groove of the song. I’d rather hear someone play “wrong notes” in a groove than “good notes” out of the groove. Start with even one note and lock in a groove. Then, add a note, and another…etc. People will immediately feel your solo.

Notes are just a bag of Legos. I think it’s important for music students to maintain this child-like mentality. I remember the first time I approached my mom’s piano. I wasn’t concerned with being a musician, or how good or bad I was. I just loved the sounds that came out of the instrument. I didn’t understand theory, but I gathered that if I kept experimenting with the notes, I could eventually create familiar melodies or even original melodies that sounded good to me. The piano was a giant bag of Legos to me. I could construct them anyway I wanted to. Somewhere along the way, I became aware of the fact that I was a “musician” and a “guitar player.” I then began to add undue pressure on myself as a player. Also, as I learned more, I began overthinking. Truthfully though, all I was doing was buying new Lego sets to add more pieces to build from. Once I realized that and went back to my child-like mentality, I began enjoying the process much more.

Music is a language. The sooner one grasps that concept the better. Just like language, one can take notes and make words, sentences, phrases, tell stories, and even express concepts. Practice making small phrases and repeat them. Then, create longer ones and try to repeat them. You can also express yourself with tone, loudness, and emotion like language. You should listen to the language, speak it as often as possible, and live in it. Just like if you were trying to learn Spanish, you would do so much faster in a Spanish speaking country forcing you to hear it, speak it, etc. Listen to other solos, learn them, transcribe them, and play them. It will help you learn the vocabulary necessary to be successful at soloing.

There is nothing worse than a bad actor, and there is also nothing worse than watching someone play without any soul. I can play a series of notes with zero soul and then play those same notes with soul and they would sound completely different. Just like you can peg a bad actor, the crowd will peg someone playing without soul. At times, soloing is like standing on a table in the middle of a restaurant and saying, “Look at me!” You’ll have to learn to open up, be exposed, and put your heart out there a bit to really inject soul into your playing. Sometimes it may help to close your eyes and just let go. However you need to get there, I just encourage you to get there! It will change your playing forever.

So, there’s part one. Capture the groove, maintain that child-like wonder, learn the language, and play with your soul. Next time we will talk about three basic ways to approach soloing. Until then, happy soloing!

Check out:
How to Solo Part 2

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