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Woodshedding - Learning to Play!
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I don't really want to copy another guitarists style, and I've found the majority of solos and lead melody work is very artist specific. Is there a secret to not sounding like I'm just running up and down scales beyond playing along with jam-tracks for hours and skimming ideas off of music I'm listening to?

Is it a case of grass-is-greener, where when I listen to a riff on a youtube lesson or song I think it's so incredible because I didn't create it, and when I make one up myself it gets mentally categorised as noodling regardless?

Genuinely curious here.

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My questions are in what genre are you trying to generate leads and at what level are your playing skills, i.e. beginner, advanced, pro, etc?

Also do you have Band-in-a-Box (BiaB)? BiaB is an excellent tool in creating, learning, and practicing new leads.

More information would be very helpful in selecting a path for you.


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Any good jazz musician will fall back on licks on occasion when really pushed, when unprepared, or when ideas just temporarily run dry.
These ‘fillers’ just come out by instinct and it’s important to minimize them. Not being afraid of space helps.

After a jazz instrumentalist learns a melody, the next thing to do is learn and understand the words so as to apply proper phrasing. Then take this technique into the soloing. Tell a story.


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In the truest, best sense solos are always reflective of the person playing them; very artist specific. Essentially, a soloist defines what musical statement to make and the path to get there. The player's technical skills then make that path a reality, making the statement.

That's a generality for sure, almost an obvious point, but to go beyond that and break the "noodling around syndrome" (been there, know the feeling), like MarioD writes... what level are your playing skills?

The path is there but if your skills are "beginner" then we gotta start at the start. If your skills are "advanced" then why repeat what you already know/can do, lets build on them.

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I have some time right now and thought what the heck, I'll make some assumptions and put in the old 2-cents opinion...

I'll assume as a guitarist that you are not a beginner. You have the basic technique guitar tool-set of techniques... hammer-on, pull-off, slide, bend, vibrato, etc. You have command of the fretboard... can play the note you want how you want, when you want. Use an appropriate scale... all of that sort of stuff. Play all the right notes in the right order.

You want to know how to not sound like just running scales or skimming ideas off something else or mindlessly jamming to some backing track. You want to play something you don't characterize as noodling. There's no secret really. You need to learn phrasing.

OK. Quick lesson.

The solo is composed of phrases (that's why they call it "phrasing"). The phrase has four elements - pitch, rhythm (time, tempo), volume, timbre (tone quality). These are combined to form the phrase, the goal being to communicate a musical idea. Everyone knows this but just for fun I said it again.

The phrase has two elements - articulation and construction. Articulation is HOW, the technique... accents, slurs, effects, hammer-on, bend, etc. Construction is the WHAT, including its place within the piece and in relation to other phrases. Many guitarists concentrate on articulation (what guitar, what amp, what EQ settings, bends, slurs, what effects pedals). Why? Because it is fun. I won't address that. I'm assuming your articulation is fine and works for you.

Lets look at construction, which I think is what your question is really about. Some general information:

- Be aware of and use the rhythm. This is what drives the piece forward. This is the engine. Your guiding light.
- Be aware of the tonal center of the tune. Where does the melody start and end? Where is tension and resolution, where is climax? If it starts here, where does it go and how does it end? What are the dominant tones, pitches, of the piece?
- Phrasing is to rhythmically build and organize musical phrases individually then into a cogent whole, placing the entire phrase structure within the form of the tune, all along being aware of the tonal center and rhythm of the tune... the phrasing compliments the tune or extends the tune (inside vs outside soloing (if you don't know what that is, ask)).
- Phrases must lead into and out of each other as well as the whole ... they logically start and logically end (otherwise you lose the listener) in pieces and in total.

Some basic techniques for construction:

- Work in terms of 2 bars as the basic building block unit. Build the phrase 2 bars at a time or in 2 bar chunks (4 bars, 6 bars, etc). If you have a 12 bar blues, the complete phrase might consist of for example Phrase 1 (2 bars) which leads to Phrase 2 (2 bars) which leads to Phrase 3 (8 bars). Putting the three phrases together you get the full solo. Feel what's going on in each phrase, how it fits within the whole and how each phrase interacts... look before and after the phrase. Does it flow?
- Use long-short and short-long figures... not a steady stream of 8th notes or 16th notes
- Use a syncopation set-up ... an 8th rest before a quarter note followed by an 8th note
- Use grace notes
- Extend phrases by holding the last note over the bar line for a quarter or half note
- Use tension and release... going up in pitch usually evokes a tension, descending a release
- Use repetition and contrast
- Use larger pitch leaps for effect, but mostly use step-wise motion... one note leads to another
- Keep the melody of the song in mind, it can be a base

Well, that's swell, but how in the world can a learn to even construct a phrase of 2 bars much less 12? Easy... listen and practice.

We learn to do by listening to what others do and learning from that. But critical listening. Take any solo you like. Listen carefully to the construction (not articulation)... here's where the ability to transcribe music is handy. Transcribe it. If you can't transcribe, find the written music, if you can't find that or read that then find the TAB. In fact, even if you can transcribe it or read music, find the TAB... the what-string what-fret information is useful for guitarists analyzing something because that information gives guitar-specific information notation doesn't always show.

Look at what is being played in 2 bar chunks... how the player constructs each phrase and how each phrase leads to another, where the phrases go musically and how the phrases integrate into the whole. How the solo enters and how it exits. Looking at the tab you might see how the finger position base (5th fret, lets say) sets up the next phrase played at the 7th fret for example.

Practice constructing, phrasing, by humming or singing it. Sound good? If you can hum it you can play it.

So now when you want to construct a solo from some notes you are playing (noodling around with) you'll have some basic techniques to phrase those notes into something else. Your phrasing is just as valid as anyone else's. The more you do, the better at you'll get.

Good luck and always have fun.

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Originally Posted By: han14
...... when I make one up myself it gets mentally categorised as noodling regardless?

Genuinely curious here.



Just remember that one man's noodling about on the guitar (or any instrument for that matter) is another man's "OMG DUDE! How did you do that? "

When you hear the back stories of how different hit songs were created and written, many times it comes down to someone walking in to the room where someone else is running a warmup riff or just messing around and the other person says, "Hey, that's cool" and waaa laaa, a song is born.


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It's how Life in the Fast Lane came about.

Joe Walsh created that lick as a pre-show warmup lick and nothing more and finally one day one of the others guys said: "Enough already. We have to turn that into a song."

I think it was Glenn Frey.


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But to answer the original question, there is a profound world of difference between jamming or riffing and playing a heartfelt solo that includes the elements of phrasing, emotion, personality and know how.

Essentially I think that a beautiful solo is an expression of a person's personality and their emotions, the two come together at the same time.

I'm all for jamming and riffing, that's how you learn, but when you go into an actual solo that's a whole different thing, if it's in the area of a melodic heartfelt solo.

If this instance you just genuinely have to feel it, and most of the time your job is to see which notes need to be cut, not which notes need to be added.

To me it's kind of a spiritual experience where you are sort of summoning up your phantom if you will and you channel your personality through the fretboard.

If you're doing that you won't usually sound like anyone else, you'll sound like you, and you won't be playing just anything that you could be playing, you will only be playing what you ought to be playing at that exact moment second by second. I usually advise people to slow it down, just grab a note and hold it, bend it, hang onto it, massage it, see how that feels, just sustain things, before you rush ahead to deliver a flurry of un-felt notes. Slow practice is mandatory in practicing, and the same goes for solo generating as well, at least for me. Machine gun tactics don't impress me at all.

At least that's the way it feels for me anyway.

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Most of my fav solos use at least some of the main melody of the song.
Personally I can't play a solo t save my life. I jusst use the chord tones and try and get out of there as fast as possible. I don't have the skills, talent or sensibilities for soloing.

Last edited by rayc; 06/30/23 12:29 AM.

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