It’s not what you play, it’s how you play it.
There are lots of ways to make guitar solos. Most guitarists focus on ‘what
to play’ versus ‘how to play things’. Fact is, the nuances
of phrasing (‘how’ the notes are played) often matter MORE than
the notes we actually play. How many times have you heard someone play a solo
‘without’ much emotion? Often there was nothing wrong with their
choice of notes. The solo lacked emotion and interest because the ‘phrasing’
Guitar Phrasing is the most important aspect to creating great guitar solos,
yet very few guitar players learn to develop this key element of their guitar
One of the best things you can do to make better guitar solos is to carefully
study your favorite singers. In the late 1990s, I began to study the vocal styles
of my favorite singers. I learned to play on guitar every little nuance of their
vocal phrasing and vibrato… and most importantly, the ‘musical contexts’
in which they made various phrasing and vibrato choices when singing. Singers
cannot do many of things that we can do on the guitar, but they can naturally
and effortlessly do things that are not common (but are still possible) to do
on the guitar.
Listen to your favorite singers and notice the difference between their vocal
phrasing (‘how’ they sing notes and phrases) and your guitar phrasing
(‘how’ you play your notes and phrases). Then listen carefully to
how these singers construct their phrases and compare that to how you create
your guitar solos. When you really pay attention to this, you will probably
make some very cool and powerful observations. This can be one of the best guitar
solo lessons you can ever have. It can be a real eye (and ear) opening experience
that can lead you to discover MANY new ideas that you can use to make you’re
your own great guitar solos.
Here are three things you can learn and implement into your playing immediately
so that you can consistently make better guitar solos.
Delayed Vibrato: Listen to how many singers sing a note (without
vibrato at first) and then begin to apply vibrato to it a few moments later.
The vast majority of guitar players don’t do this when soloing; instead
they apply the vibrato immediately to the note. Although this can also sound
good, it gets old to always immediately apply vibrato when you use it. So play
a note on your guitar, let it ring out naturally (without vibrato) for a moment,
then apply vibrato to it. In addition to creating a more ‘vocal style
of guitar playing’ you may also notice that the note you just played sustains
longer. (more on this in the video below).
Movement between notes: As you know, when playing notes on
a piano there is no ability to ‘bend’ notes. Singers frequently
‘bend’ notes in both directions (up or down in pitch), although
downward ‘bent’ notes are more common in most vocal styles. Guitar
players frequently bend notes, but 99% of the time they only bend notes ‘up’
(more on this in the video below).
Intuitive Emotional Expression: Singers often manipulate tension
and dissonance intuitively. They might sing the 9th of a chord because it makes
a very specific emotional feeling. Most (non jazz) guitar players would naturally
play the root while making a guitar solo (especially at the end of a phrase).
This happens because guitar players typically are thinking about patterns and
scale positions. And thus the ear is conditioned to ‘find the consonant
notes’ when beginning and ending phrases while creating (or improvising)
guitar solos. Singers don’t have ‘patterns’ and ‘positions’
to think about. They are only focused on their intuition - the emotion of each
note they sing. This results in more natural options for the singer (compared
to many ‘inexperienced’ guitar players) particularly at the beginnings
and endings of phrases.
Watch the video below to see exactly what I’m talking about and hear
a live demonstration of each.