November 22, 2013 by Don Russo
How to Solo (Part 2)
In our first part of learning “How to Solo”, we learned about the basic fundamentals of groove, creativity, vocabulary, and playing with feeling. Now, we are going to dive into three basic approaches to soloing. This is a lesson I learned from my good friend Jim Mings. I’ll never forget when he told me, “There are three basic ways to solo: scales, melodies, and chords”.
I know scales can be the bane of existence for a music student’s life during their lesson, but you can’t escape the importance of scales. Truthfully, soloing with scales is the easiest place to start. A majority of tunes stay within one key. Therefore, you can stay in a pattern, and every note sounds in place. Then, you can easily apply the “Lego” principle I referred to in Part 1(Hyperlink). It’s really easy to pick a couple of notes within a scale, and begin the all too important phrasing process. Most music students begin with the basic pentatonic scales and diatonic scales. These are a great place to start, but there are so many other scales like: Harmonic Minor, Super Locrian, Half-Step Diminished, and many more! Some are stronger spices thatcan’t be used as frequently, but you should know them nonetheless.
Louis Armstrong made a living off of soloing around melodies. This approach is as simple as soloing around a melody. There are a couple ways to incorporate melodies. One way is to learn the melody of the tune you are playing and solo around it. You can change the timing of the melody, or add/remove notes to make it your own. Another approach would be to quote another melody from a different song. You simply take a melodic sequence and play it over a different tune in a place where it will fit with the chord progression. I once quoted the main melody from Super Mario Brothers over “St. Thomas” by Sonny Rollins. I also love quoting the Pink Panther Theme over minor tunes. This approach always evokes a good response from a crowd, as you are bringing the familiarity of a melody into your solo. If you are a music student and you aren’t picking melodies out, start now! You should have a large pool of melodies to choose from. It’s amazing how creative you can be with just quoting melodies from other tunes.
This is the approach that a lot of players shy away from. Chasing chords can sound amazing, but be very challenging in some cases. The idea of playing a solo chasing chords is just like it sounds; you have to play the notes of the chord that is being played. So, you basically shift gears from chord to chord. The issue with chord chasing is that you must have an understanding of chords, and a good awareness of your instrument to locate the notes of a given chord. This is where a lot of people get hung up. If you haven’t put the energy in to learning how to chase chords, then you are missing out on a major part of improvisation. I love teaching my guitar students jazz tunes when they are learning to chase chords. Jazz involves improvisation, and the progressions are vast and challenging. If you are take music lessons, make sure you get your instructor to help you start chasing chords ASAP!
Just like in football, there are three basic phases on the game: offense, defense, and special teams. All three are vital. The same applies to approaching soloing. All three approaches are vital. One is not exclusive of the other, and they all should work together for the common goal of making your solo sound as hip as possible. Happy soloing!
How to Solo Part 3