Question: I would like to improvise better, what are some tips in creating a solo, I’ve heard some say to use hamming (mouth sound) method. What is the secret to improvising? I am really frustrated sometimes. I just really get into doing fast shredding stuff or sweeping and it makes no sense compared to the backing track. 

Tom Hess's Answer: If you want to improvise/compose your own solos, it is very important to learn how chords are constructed and how they fit into keys. Also study how scales are applied over chords and are used to create solos. When you know what chords you are playing over, what key the chords are in and what notes are in each of these chords, it becomes MUCH easier to use melodies (derived from scales) to create expressive solos.

In addition to the theory knowledge, you also need to develop your ear to hear the notes of your solo in advance before playing them (and know how your note choices will sound over specific chords in your solo).

Also, you need to learn how to play scales all over the fretboard (not simply in one or two positions). The more control you have over the fretboard, the easier it is to be creative and expressive when improvising. When learning things such as the modes of the major scale (all over the neck), practice playing one position at a time until you have it totally memorized (at least at a slow tempo). Then add the remaining shapes one at a time until you can play all 7 from memory.

You also need to work on the two fundamental techniques of lead guitar playing: bending and vibrato. Read this article about improving your guitar vibrato technique. In addition, make sure that your lead guitar playing is clean without any excessive string noise. To learn more about how to clean up your playing, check out this improve guitar technique article.

Also, when it comes to creating expressive soloing ideas, it is very helpful to use your voice to sing melodic phrases, and then play them on guitar. This will help you to become much more creative and original than if you simply improvised on your guitar all the time. However, in order to do this successfully you need to have developed a very good musical ear. Read this article to learn more about aural skills.

Bottom line is, playing, creating, and improvising solos on guitar requires a specific set of skills that will enable you to create the music that you want to create. Although the skills are different than what is required for playing rhythm guitar (for example), the process of going through mastering them is still essentially the same. If you are struggling with learning and mastering these musical skills (even after knowing what they are), then you should find a guitar teacher who can show you how to learn these skills in the most effective way.

Also check out my guitar improvising course.

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