Saturday, September 30, 2017

5 tips to write a better guitar solo

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Today we will talk about writing a good guitar solo, using as example some of the most famous ones.

Let's start with some pill of music history: guitar solos had during the 20th century an evolution, that starts with the blues/jazz guitarists of the '20/'30s, in which the improvisation was the key element of the whole performance, evolving in the '50s/'60s with the advent of rock n'roll and becoming more studied, often as a variation for the part of the song in which the audience was supposed to dance, until the '70s and '80s, the golden age of the guitar heroes, in which the solo became the focus of the whole song, often replacing completely to the vocal part.
From the '90s on we have then witnessed a slow decline of the importance of the guitar solo, and today it has become in modern music more of an optional part than a must.

Nevertheless a good instrumental part is fundamental in a song, not only to let the singer to rest for some second but also to introduce a variation element and some depth to the composition, and it doesn't necessarily need to be as technical as Van Halen; what matters is that it has something interesting to say and that it says it in a pleasant way, as for the vocals.
In my article about HOW TO MIX A GUITAR SOLO I have said that it should be treated like a vocal part, and indeed this is the point: it takes the place of the vocal part in that moment, it must become the focus of the listener, therefore it needs to be developed like a lead vocal part.

Here are 5 tips on how to write a better guitar solo:

1) Sing your solo: the first tip is a technique used by several great guitarists, like David Gilmour of Pink Floyd; when he writes a solo he sings it first, so he is sure the melody will be meaningful and effective, and sometimes he sings it live in real time while playing, as it can be heard in some live version of "Wish you were Here". The instrumental part shoul tell a story, like talking: you should start from a point a and getting to a point b, construct the phrase with a pleasant grammar, add something to the conversation: a solo that is not meaningful, if it is just a bored fiddling around the keyboard because it has to be there, doesn't deserves to be listened. A good example of guitar solo that tells a story is November Rain by Guns'n Roses. Singing means also knowing our way on the rhytmical side: we can play with 8ths, 16ths, switching to triplets, changing time signature, anticipate the beat, or (even better) slow the notes slightly to lean to the beat, and so on.

2) Don't overdo technically: it's better to know our strong points and stick to them rather than wanting to put in our solo at all costs something we are not good enough to deliver. Better to simplify it and practice more, until we are confident that we can play that part smoothly without looking goofy and ridiculous.

3) Bendings, slides, legatos, vibratos...: these techniques are your friends when developing a solo language, in facts they are some of the tools that expands our expressivity and that differentiate a guitar from the other instruments. Use these tools to make your solo flow richer and more expressive, by adding a benindg that slowly gets to the target note with emphasis (but beware about the pitch!), or by adding to the long notes a nice vibrato that follows the beat of the song or lazily leans to it.
Also, legato and slide are a great way to not having to robotically pick every note, but to make the guitar sing, and a great example about this is Bijoux, by Brian May for Queen.

4) Know your way around your fretboard: let's not fool ourselves, we can have the perfect ear, we can have the perfect melodies in our head, but anyone that says that learning scales puts us into a prison and that we shouldn't do it to let our melodic creativity to flow is just a lazy doofus in search for an excuse to not study. Scales and modes (wich are variations on the scales) are just other tools we need to know to expand our vocabulary. We don't have to know all of them, but indeed choosing some of them and learning them creating muscolar memory in our hand will be extremely useful, especially when improvising. Today there are also several online scale generators, that once we dial in the key of the song and the mode we want to try can suggest us a scale. This can be a very good starting point from where to begin building our solo, or to find the right variation to create interest, for example by adding some exotic scale note in our solo, technique in which Marty Friedman is a master.

Here is some idea for the modes, taken from the Guitar Tricks Forum:

"In metal, the only modes you pretty much need are Aeolian, Dorian, and Phrygian. But here are all of them:

Ionian - The basic major sound. Think 'happy' or 'triumphant'.
Dorian - The all-in-one blues, rock, and metal scale. This one's great for a jam in minor.
Phrygian - The exotic diatonic mode. Sound a little middle-eastern/Egyptian. Used frequently in riffs.
Lydian - The Vai mode. Creates a dreamy atmospere. Very hard to master.
Mixolydian - The Satch mode. Used in acoustic blues a lot, and good for guitar rock instrumentals.
Aeolian - Straight minor; think 'sad' or 'depressing'. Used in classical.
Locrian - Used a lot in metal riffs for that really EVIL feeling. I don't think I've ever heard it in a solo."
5) Mix improvisation with the theme of the instrumental part: all we have written so far can lead to the conclusion that we don't suggest to improvise. This is not true: I love improvisation, as long as it is meaningful, it is tastefully constructed, and probably one of the best ways to master a solo is by mixing some written parts to other improvised, as some of the greatest guitarists in the world has always done (for example the guitarists of Iron Maiden). Anyway there is no fixed rule about this, it's your solo, you decide how much to improvise, how much to write or whether to choose only one of the two solutions!

Enjoy and let us know if you have any other good tipo to write a better guitar solo!

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