How To Easily Create Awesome Guitar Licks For Your Solos And Improvisations

By Tom Hess


To improvise great guitar solos, you must create guitar solo ideas that:

  • Integrate seamlessly with other ideas in your solo
     
  • Express what you want to express

Many guitarists struggle to improvise because they allow their hands to outrun their brain. Their fingers play faster than their brain can create the next good guitar solo idea. Thinking ahead when improvising and making the best musical choices becomes hard... Sound familiar?

This video illustrates the problem (and shows how to fix it):

Here is a secret most guitar players do not know:

Becoming a better improviser is NOT about thinking faster. It’s about:

1. Giving yourself more time to think during your guitar solo. (You can do this even when playing fast.) This helps you make the best musical choices in your guitar solo and express yourself fully.

2. Reducing the number of things you must think about. This leaves you free to focus on the music and helps you have more fun playing guitar. The best guitarists don't need to think very much when they improvise. Many of their skills are ingrained into their subconscious mind. You too can reach the same level of mastery (it's not hard).

The following tips will help you improvise better guitar solos:

How To Create Awesome Lead Guitar Licks

Lead Guitar Improvising Tip #1. Set Yourself Up For Success

Many guitarists wait too long to start planning their next phrase. All the thinking starts at the last possible moment (usually on the last note of the current lick). This leaves you very little time to decide what to play next. You should start thinking much earlier.

Example: If you improvise an 8-note phrase (Phrase A), do NOT wait until note 7 or 8 to plan your next phrase (Phrase B). Begin thinking about Phrase B as soon as your hands are in position to play the first note of Phrase A.

Let your hands play Phrase A on autopilot and free up your conscious mind to make the best musical choices for Phrase B.

Watch the video starting at 1:04. The video shows how to set yourself up for success when you improvise.

Lead Guitar Improvising Tip #2. Get More Out Of Each Phrase

Most guitarists play each phrase only once and immediately move on to create a brand new guitar lick. This process continues for their entire guitar solo. Creating brand new phrases nonstop is a big challenge for your brain. It also makes playing guitar with emotion very hard.

Solution: Create lots of variations on each guitar lick you improvise. This gives you a lot more time to think about what to do next, helps you to play each guitar lick with the best phrasing possible and makes your improvising more creative.

Use these ideas to create guitar phrasing variations:
  • Repeat the phrase over and over with different rhythms (keep all the pitches the same).
     
  • Repeat the phrase and change its notes (keeping the rhythm the same).
     
  • Change some of the rhythm and some of the pitches.
     
  • Change how the vibrato is applied.
     
  • Add new ornaments to some of the notes (slides, bends, double stops, trills, etc.).
     
  • Sequence the phrase up or down the scale. This requires advanced fretboard visualization skills.
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Lead Guitar Improvising Tip #3. Learn The Difference Between Improvising And Practicing Improvising

Mindlessly improvising to a backing track does NOT make you better at improvising. Practicing improvising does.

To practice improvising, you must set specific goals to achieve during your practice time. These goals depend on your specific lead guitar playing strengths and weaknesses. An expert guitar teacher helps you identify your improvising challenges and set specific goals to overcome them.

Here are some examples of specific improvising goals:

  • Practice improvising using positions 4, 5 and 6 of the Harmonic minor scale.
     
  • Create dozens of variations from a single guitar lick for the duration of a 3-5 minute backing track. (This includes adapting certain notes of the lick over each chord of the backing track.)
     
  • Practice starting and ending all your guitar licks only on consonant pitches (notes that are in the chord you are playing over).
     
  • Master a specific type of non-chord tone and create guitar licks using it. (Example: suspensions.)

Your improvising goals must be very specific. You must be able to tell when each goal is reached. The more specific the goal, the faster your improvising improves.

This free eBook shows you how to play guitar licks with fire and emotion.

Lead Guitar Improvising Tip #4. Take Advantage Of Silence

Want more time to think about what to play next in your guitar solo? Leave a few seconds of silence between your phrases. Literally STOP playing for 1-3 seconds. Use that time to think of what to play next. Yep, it’s that easy.

You do not have to be playing something 100% of the time in your solo. Good improvising is about balance. You balance consonance and dissonance, tension and release, silence and sound. This helps you to express the emotions you want your listeners to feel.

Using silence also adds A LOT of musical tension to your guitar solo. Your listeners expect to hear notes (sound). When they hear silence instead, it goes against their musical expectations. This builds tension.

Learn more about building musical tension in your guitar solos.

Note: Be careful not to overuse this technique. This phrasing style loses its effectiveness when overdone.

Lead Guitar Improvising Tip #5. Internalize The Backing Track

Let the backing track (or song) play for a few moments before you start soloing. This helps you in 2 ways:

  1. You learn how quickly the chords change, what the chords are and what the feel of the overall track is. This helps you make better musical choices during your improvisation.
     
  2. It (usually) sounds better to delay the start of the solo and let the listener hear the backing track.

This simple tip makes improvising a lot easier and helps your guitar solos sound better.

Implement these tips to create lots of new guitar licks and become a much better improviser.

This lead guitar playing eBook helps you add fire and emotion to all your guitar licks.


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