December 01, 2013 by Don Russo
In How to Solo Part 1 we covered the basics. Then, we learned three approaches to soloing in How to Solo Part 2. Finally, I explained the principle of telling a story in How to Solo Part 3. The first part of telling a story is the “rising action.” As promised, in this part we will talk about ways to accomplish that principle. Here are 5 ways to build up your solo:
The highest note you play in a chord is called the “lead tone.” It stands out to the ear more than any other note. The same applies when taking a lead. When you start in a lower register and move up, your solo will seem to grow. I encourage my guitar students to put on some backing music or jam with friends, and practice starting on lower notes and climbing to higher ones.
Obviously, the louder you are, the more attention you will draw. Practice increasing the range of volume you have on your instrument. Start with the softest possible sounds you can make, then get even softer. Build your way up to the loudest possible sounds you can make…and then get louder. There are so many ways to accomplish this task. Since I am a teacher, I’ll explain it like I do to my guitar students. Playing with your fingers (as opposed to the pick) is softer, for instance. Having your volume knob down and then cranking it up is a useful tool many guitarists don’t take advantage of. The pickup you use, adding distortion, and adding effects…they all can create more volume for you.
This is a piggy back to volume and applies mainly to those who can play more than one note. Two or more people singing at the same time is more powerful and dynamic than one. Although, I once saw a sax player record his lines and then harmonize it live. Try taking a solo with single notes and then add voices to it to make it grow. One of my biggest complaints to my students is that they often view the guitar as one block as opposed to 6 different singers that can be combined in any way. This different view of the guitar can be a very useful tool when trying to raise the dynamic of a solo.
There is power in simple repetition. Repetition is simply a powerful thing. See what I did there? Haha! When somebody says something and they say it again and again, it tends to become more noticeable. Simply play a phrase and repeat it as many times as you feel. You’ll be amazed at how it will affect you and the audience. Anytime I’ve ever taken a guitar solo and repeated a phrase, the audience starts getting into it. The phrase is often easy, and I feel like I am cheating in a way…like I know something they don’t…haha!
This is my favorite and one of the most important aspects of successfully growing a solo. Space is an often overlooked principle of music. The power of silence and patience is a virtue that all musicians need. As referenced in the last part, you cannot come out running. Practice playing a note or notes, and then wait as long as you possibly can to play the next note…and then wait a second longer. You’ll find yourself creating lines you normally wouldn’t make. You’ll also find yourself in control. You will drive the solo as opposed to the solo driving you. Then, as you organically begin placing more notes, the solo will climb in a very natural way.
What are you waiting for? Put on some backing music, or jam with your friends ASAP! Practice the principles of pitch, volume, voices, repetition, and space separately. Then, fuse them together to for a more complex formula to make your solo grow dynamically. Your playing will certainly benefit and you will get the crowd’s attention. Best of luck and happy soloing!