For many styles of music, from rock to blues and everything in between, the guitar solo is the best chance for a guitar player to shine. You will be given the spotlight and an opportunity to show off the skills produced by hours upon hours of practice.
Anyone with any skill can write a solo, but writing great guitar solo takes style and panache.
If notes are the building blocks of solos, guitar scales are the blueprints. A scale is a series of notes that all work together in harmony, so to speak. A cohesive-sounding guitar solo is one in which all the notes fall within a particular scale.
The major pentatonic scale is a very commonly used one in rock music, but there is no shortage of scales to fiddle around with to find different sounds. There are also major scales (which have a brighter, happier sound) and minor scales (which sound darker and moodier).
First check out this incredibly simple and useful scale generator. Select the key of your song, choose the area of the neck where you want the scale (or “full”, for the entire neck) and pick from among dozens of scales. The page will display the notes in the scale directly on the image of the neck and in tab form at the bottom-left of the screen. You can also select a number of different tunings and choose between horizontal and vertical structures.
Once you’ve selected a scale to use, the real fun begins.
The key to writing an interesting, memorable solo is to avoid making it sound like you’re just going up and down a scale — one of the easiest traps to fall into for beginning guitar players. The good news is there are a number of different methods by which you can modify what you are playing and create a unique solo.
The first is simply to avoid long runs up and down the scale. Use nonconsecutive notes often enough to keep things interesting.
The other major factor in creating a great guitar solo is to avoid the tendency to play one note on every beat. That means playing faster at times — and by “faster” I mean playing quarter notes, eighth notes, sixteenth notes, etc. – but also using pauses to give the listener a reference point between licks or sections in the solo.
It can also help to occasionally take a two-, three- or four-note pattern and repeat it several times — without allowing it to become monotonous, of course. Such repetition can build drama, making certain sections of the solo stand out and become more memorable.
And never hesitate to throw in techniques like hammer-ons, pull-offs, vibrato and slides or effects like a wah pedal to liven up your solos.
When writing your guitar solo, the best thing you can do is to avoid relying on just one or two of these methods and techniques. A great guitar solo is one that is varied and memorable and fits the song it’s in. Skill and technique are critical, but just as important are creativity and musical sensibility.