Writing guitar solos is just as intricate as writing the lyrics of a song or even writing a book. A good guitar solo rises as it progresses. It has a lot of variations and can hold the audience so that they aren’t disconnected from the rest of the song but know that they are listening to something unique.
As an artist, your style will drive the entire solo writing process but there are some tips you could use to avoid spending time on anything that is unnecessary or would dilute the essence of your guitar solo.
- Try to visualize your guitar solo
Try to imagine yourself playing a piece. Imagine how you’d want to start it. Would it be gradual or fast? How do you want to make the transition from the vocals to your solo? Would you use slides or bends for the transition?
If it gets difficult to imagine your piece, you could try singing it. For some with enough musical experience, the notes will simply follow each other. If, at any point, you the solo sounding redundant, think of a way you could elevate it to a more complex level.
Having a crude idea of what you want your solo should sound like will make it a lot easier when building a guitar solo. You could record or write down notes of what you thought of. Making notes will help retain all you were able to visualize.
- Choose your key and scale
Choosing your key and scale are the bread and butter of your guitar solo. If you already have a backing track for the song, you will have to sync your start to that key.
After choosing your key, you want to look at the scale you want to go for. You also want to refer to the pentatonic scale while writing guitar solos. Decide if you want to go for the major pentatonic scale or the minor.
The last thing you want is a guitar solo that starts with a completely different key from the backing track, loses the audience somewhere in between because you didn’t make an effort to choose the right scale for the solo. Take your time in this step and try to overlap your visualization with the appropriate key and scale.
- Find your rhythm pattern
Your guitar solo has to reflect your artistic flair. But along with that, it must also build on top of itself from start to end. It must have some tension that’s finally released or perhaps is left untouched till the end.
Start with whole notes. Give your audience something to connect to and in time, move to 8th or even 16th notes. Take your solo from simple and basic to complex and intricate. Have rising and falling waves throughout your solo, with the pace continuously changing. Find a balance so that you don’t overdo or underdo it.
If you follow the pentatonic scale, it is natural for the audience to follow you, which is partially the beauty of it. But as a guitar soloist, you must challenge what the audience expects with variations. This can be anything from adding a bend or slide somewhere in the song to shifting up half a step or perhaps an entire step.
- Take inspiration from your favorites
Artists always derive their inspiration from other artists. Go back to the artists you listen to and try to analyze their styles. You may have acquired something from them already but there might just be something you hadn’t noticed.
Listen to their solos both as an audience and a critic. You’ll be able to find points of interest both from the flow of the music and its technicalities. You could even explore more solos based on the genre or mood you wish your solo to capture.
For example, if you refer are someone who listens to a lot of folk and indie, you could choose artists like the Passenger. If you’re more inclined towards rock music, you could check out more artists in that genre and form. If you cannot find something new from your inspirations, find some new artists and analyze what makes them different.
- Balance Dissonance and Melody
This may not be applicable for solos of all genres, but it’s still something you would want to consider while writing your guitar solo. Melody, put simply, produces a conventional effect, a natural flow of notes that sounds good to the ear. But your true flair shows when you can challenge melody with dissonance.
Dissonance is what notes out of place result in. This happens when you add notes that are unrelated to the melody and do not connect so easily. This style brings out a rather uneasy mood but it can amplify what you wish to express. You could vary its intensity based on the effect you want your solo to have on the audience.
If the song is about something tragic or rough for the character in your song, dissonance in your solo could help amplify that mood and carry it from vocals into your solo itself. Once mastered, dissonance can contribute well to the quality of the song.