Notes, Rhythm, AttackWhen I look at a great guitar solo, there are three main elements that the player is controlling to create an interesting and moving solo. Of course, there are more subtleties in elite player’s techniques, but I am talking about the principal elements that they are using to build their solos. These elements are the common denominator between all great solos, regardless of genre, whether the guitarist is playing electric or acoustic, or any other aspect of style. If you can begin to control and eventually master these elements, you will most certainly begin creating memorable solos during your own performances. Then with the requisite polish that comes from experience, your playing will graduate to ever higher levels of refinement as your mastery of these three elements becomes more and more “second nature.”

Element # 1- Note Selection

The first element is note selection, and it actually entails a couple of aspects to pay attention to. Every song is constructed with a chord progression and if you understand the requirements of what links chords together to make a harmonic progression, you have a massive head start. You need to know the key of the song so that you understand your master tonal center. You need to observe the cadence points so as to understand the strongest leading tones. And finally, you need to understand your desired sonic quality over the changes, meaning do you want a Pentatonic feel, or more notes as in a seven tone scale. Also which seven tone scale? When you look at the various modes, how do each of them relate to your chords.

If you’re having a hard time following me, let me give an example. If I was going to solo over the chords of the Van Morrison classic Moondance, I need to notice that there are two distinct sections of the song. In the verse section of the song, the chords go back and forth between Am7 and Bm7, and therefore it’s important to realize that because of the F# note in the Bm7 chord, I would need to use the Dorian mode in A as the basic array of notes to select in my solo. In the chorus section, the chords change to Am7 to Dm7 and half cadence on E7. Here I have two things to consider. The Dm7 has an F natural in it instead of the F# and so would require playing the Aeolian mode in A on that section until reaching the E7 chord, where I would either play a E dominant 7 arpeggio or use an A Harmonic minor scale. The point is that the shifts in chords require a corresponding shift in scale selection, because continuing to play Dorian would create a train wreck with an F# potentially played against a chord with an F in it. If I wanted to play from a simpler array of notes, I could use an A Pentatonic minor scale which has no sixth and therefore would have no F# or F to clash with the chords. This is all part of the choices the soloist gets to make, and precedes the actual selection of the individual notes to play in each phrase.

Element #2- Rhythmic Variations

There may be nothing more monotonous than incessantly playing the same melodic rhythm over and over. When you pay attention to animated speech patterns when people communicate, you see variations in pace or speeding up or slowing down the space between words. This works beautifully as you craft melodic solo phrases, using multiple note values such as eighth notes, sixteenth notes, occasional quarter notes, all the triplet variations of those, plus well-placed rests. Giving rhythmic variation to your solos makes them more energetic and communicative and will definitely draw the listener’s ear to what you’re playing.

Element #3- Attack Variations

This element is not nearly spoken about often enough for how important it is to your playing. The pick attack or way that each note is presented is a critically important element in how your solo phrases sound. When you play any note, it has a decidedly different flavor if you simply pick it, or if you do a rapid grace note slide, a slide between notes ascending or descending, a hammer-on, a pull-off, a half-step or whole-step bend, or a pre-bend release. Each of these attacks adds a different color to the execution of the notes you play and should be woven tastefully into your solos.

I know that it can sound like a daunting task to keep all of these elements at the forefront of your mind while you’re attempting to play a solo, but I guarantee that as you make these elements belong to you as tools you add to your skillset, your solos will be the better for it. Remember to select interesting notes at great sounding intervals, play them with variations of internal rhythm, and freely change the attack on the notes you play and you’ll be soloing with the best of them.

For those of you who learn better with demonstrations, I will be doing a video to demonstrate these elements down the road, so subscribe to the RSS feed or bookmark this blog and come back to it often to see new tips that I have added. Nothing feels better than nailing a , make every note count.

Meet David Randle

has written 12 posts in this blog.

David is a lifelong guitarist and songwriter, with a highly developed knack for producing and arranging. He spends a great deal of time mentoring and coaching aspiring music artists and songwriters to rise to the pinnacle of their abilities. Music definitely is a language we all can understand. Connect with David on Google+.

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