Learning how to solo is argubaly one of the most challenging aspects of learning guitar. As a result, many guitarists tend to get frustrated over their progress. Here are 12 essential tips on how to get better at guitar solos:
1. Don’t Let Your Mindset Hold You Back
Whilst it sounds like a strange point, I firmly believe that one of the biggest things holding guitarists back is their own mindset. Becoming great at soloing is no doubt a challenge; however, it’s all-too-easy to let your frustration and self-doubt get the better of you.
Here are a couple of actionable pointers on overcoming a counter-productive mindset:
- Accept that it takes time: Effortless shredding takes years’ worth of daily practice to master. If it doesn’t feel like you’re making any progress, understand that it’s likely not a reflection on your abilities. Once you’ve accepted the amount of time and effort required, you’ll be less-likely to let frustration get the better of you.
- Don’t compare yourself to others: Comparing someone else’s musical journey to your own is a pointless activity as no two journeys are the same. In addition, it’s unfair to compare yourself to someone who has more experience than you do.
- Remember that failure is a necessary step to succeeding: As previously mentioned, each person’s journey is unique to them. Therefore, failure is necessary to identify and overcome your own shortcomings. View failure as an opportunity to improve rather than a reason to throw in the towel.
2. Create A Daily Practice Schedule (And Stick To It)
Consistent progress can’t be achieved without consistent effort. If you’re serious about getting better at soloing, I’d recommend practicing for at least an hour a day. If you feel like you don’t have time, you’ll have to make time. This might mean getting up an hour early (which I did for years) or sacrificing your nightly Netflix binges.
Once you’ve found a free hour, you’ll want to create a set plan to make your practice time as productive as possible. Here’s an example of an effective hour-long practice plan:
- 10 minute warm up
- 30 minutes practicing a set technique
- 20 minutes practicing a solo that uses the set technique
3. Practice To A Metronome
Practicing to a metronome is absolutely key to improving your soloing technique. The reason it’s so effective is because it forces you to nail the technique before incorporating the speed. Here’s a quick guide on effective metronome practice:
- Start the metronome at a speed where you can comfortably play each note
- Once you feel comfortable with the technique, increase the tempo by 5bpm
- If you start making mistakes after increasing the speed, go back to the previous tempo
- If you’re struggling with a particular phrase in the solo, try practicing that phrase in isolation
Korg offer a great trainer metronome on Amazon that also analyses your pitch, tone and volume whilst playing. This is a great little device for making sure your technique and tone are as accurate as possible when practicing.
4. Have A Basic Understanding Of Music Theory
Having at least a basic understanding of music theory will make it much easier to understand and improvise solos. Whilst music theory can seem daunting to a complete beginner, most of the concepts aren’t too complicated to grasp.
Here are the concepts I’d recommend learning:
- How to read sheet music: Clefs, note durations rhythms etc.
- Chord Progressions: Common chord progressions, cadences, circle of fifths etc.
- Scales: Major & minor scales, keys.
- Intervals: Consonant & dissonant intervals, inversions.
- Rhythm: Time signatures, syncopation, off-beat rhythms etc.
- Aural skills: Being able to aurally identify chord progressions, scales etc.
Almost all music theory can be learned online for free. I’d recommend starting on YouTube as many of the concepts are better-understood from a visual standpoint. Here’s a great 1 hour crash course from Ross the Music and Guitar Teacher:
5. Learn The Minor Pentatonic Solo
Whilst you should eventually aim to learn as many scales as possible, I’d advocate starting with the minor pentatonic solo. The minor pentatonic is a five note scale that’s commonly used in rock, pop and blues music. It’s a great starting point for the following reasons:
- It’s easy to learn and implement
- It works over both minor and major chord progressions
- It serves as the basis for many famous rock and blues solos
- Easy to improvise solos
Here’s a great video tutorial on the minor pentatonic scale from Marty Music:
6. Don’t Neglect Your Picking Technique
When learning how to solo, it’s all-too-easy to become fixated on fretting technique. However, picking technique is just as important as fretting technique. Make sure you rehearse picking techniques such as:
- Alternate picking
- Sweep picking
7. Rehearse One New Technique & One New Solo Each Week
This technique worked wonders for my own playing. Each week, decide on a set technique to learn and find a solo that incorporates that particular technique. Spend time each session rehearsing the technique to a metronome before moving onto the solo.
Sticking to one technique per-week keeps things simple and helps with muscle memory. Whilst you might feel you’ve nailed the technique after the first couple of days, I’d still recommend sticking with it for a whole week. This will ensure you fully-learn the technique through muscle memory.
8. Play The Song, Not The Instrument
If you’re improvising or writing your own solos, I’d recommend adhering to this principle. When you’re learning new techniques on a weekly basis, it’s all-too-easy to start throwing too much into each solo. Always make sure you put the needs of the song before anything else. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t express your creativity, but keeping the arrangement as your top priority will vastly improve your overall musicianship.
9. Try Out A Range Of Pick & String Gauges
You’d be amazed at how much of an influence pick and string gauge can have on your playing. As a result, many guitarists are loyal to one particular brand of both pick and string. I’d advocate trying out a wide range of different pick and string gauges until you find something that works for you. However, as a general guide, thinner plectrums and strings are better-suited to soloing.
The best pick I’ve found for soloing is Dunlop’s .60 range as it’s lightweight without being flimsy. The best strings I’ve found are Ernie Ball’s Super Slinky strings, which are long-lasting and great for bending.
10. Use Vibrato
Vibrato is a technique that involves slight, yet rapid changes to the pitch of a note. Vibrato is fantastic for self-expression as each guitarist’s vibrato technique is unique to them. Many well-known guitarists such as Slash and B.B. King can be identified purely through their use of vibrato. In addition, vibrato can add a real sense of depth and presence to a guitar solo.
Here’s a great video lesson on vibrato from JustinGuitar:
11. Go Easy On The Effects
Whilst effects can add a huge amount to a guitar solo, it’s easy to become overly-reliant on effects instead of good technique. When learning, writing or practicing guitar solos, I’d advocate using as few effects as possible. This will make it much easier to identify problem areas and ensure your technique is as clean as possible.
12. Play A Wide Range Of Different Music
Whilst you might have a preference for a particular genre, I’d encourage you to branch out to as many different genres as possible. Each genre will have a distinct set of popular soloing techniques which can seriously enhance your overall playing. That being said, there’s also a lot of crossover and technique fusion between genres.