Freeway Music — Columbia, SC’s Premier Music School

How to Solo (Part 3)

We talked about the basic fundamentals of soloing with groove, soul, creativity, and vocabulary in How to Solo Part 1. We also touched on three basic approaches to soloing: scales, chords, and melodies in How to Solo Part 2 . Now, we are moving into the art of telling a story. I personally loved the wisdom I garnered from taking private music lessons, and perhaps one of the lessons that most stuck with me was learning how to tell a story. My guitar teacher’s name is Robert Newton. He is such an amazing music instructor! We were having a guitar lesson and he taught me how to tell a story with my solo. He said, “just like you would write a paper or a story, you need to include these three basic parts:”

Rising Action

A related series of incidents in a literary plot that build toward the point of greatest interest…

Don’t come out running! The worst thing you can do as a player is to come out full-throttle and running. Where do you go from there? Exactly…there is no room to grow. Make sure that you ease into the solo. Be patient, just like you would if you were sparking a conversation with someone. Let the solo naturally unfold. A solo can almost write itself if you let it. Then, begin to make your solo more interesting and exciting. If you are unsure how to do this, then you are in luck! My next blog entry “How to Solo (part4)” will be dedicated to this process alone. Rising action can ebb and flow, but should culminate with the climax.


A decisive moment that is of maximum intensity or is a major turning point in a plot…

This is the point that your solo should be building up to. You should be rocking full-throttle and moving the crowd. For some reason, when I think about a climatic solo, I think about Jimmy Page’s solo in Stairway to Heaven by Zeppelin. I know…it’s one of the most overplayed tunes…but for a reason. That solo is great! Right around 6:20, Page starts rocking his first climatic part of the solo. Then, shortly after, he rips out another lick that takes it up a notch further into the vocal section. The climatic part of a solo can be as long or short as you want it. You can also have more than one, as long as the 2nd one eclipses the first one. Just make sure that you bring it down at the right time. There is an inner sense of when it’s time to pack it up, and you better obey that inner sense for fear of losing the crowd. Sometimes it will be 10 seconds and sometimes 2 minutes, but you’ll know. Then, you will begin the “falling action.”

Falling Action

All of the action in a play that follows the turning point. The falling action leads to the resolution or conclusion of the play…

Once you have the crowd at the climatic part of the solo, you need to gently bring them down to resolve or end the solo. Think of it as the cool down period after a workout. Like a cool down period, it should be slightly shorter than the warm-up or rising action. You basically should play a short section to wrap up the solo for the listener. Again, there are no hard and fast rules here, and the falling action can vary in duration. You’ll just have to trust your senses again. ALWAYS listen to that inner voice. It seldom is wrong. As you become more experienced, it will become easier and easier.

The next time you take a solo, keep the principle in mind of telling a story. Simply being aware of the process is the first step. Grab your listeners, give them a payoff, and gently let them down. Go listen to some of your favorite solos and soloists and see how they do it. Until next time, happy soloing!

Check Out:
How to Solo Part 4

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