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STOP believing in this false myth about playing guitar solos:
“To play difficult guitar solos that combine many techniques, you must practice these techniques in isolation until you can play them flawlessly. Doing this will give you the ability to play the entire solo fluently and easily, up to speed.”
Although practicing technical licks in isolation can improve your ability to perform those specific licks, it does NOT help you learn how to fluently combine them together in the context of an actual guitar solo. This is one of the big reasons why most guitarists struggle to easily play advanced guitar licks and why their improvisations often sound like a “collection of isolated licks thrown together” vs. a smooth and fluent “guitar solo”.
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Important Note: You must start practicing to combine guitar techniques together in a musical manner RIGHT NOW… not “later” when you have fully mastered them. Here is why:
- You do not need to fully master a technique before you can start using it to make music (in fact, it can take years to master some of the hardest techniques)
- Do you really want to not be able to do/play ANYTHING with the techniques in the meantime (while you work on them in isolation)?
Additionally, by actively going through the process of learning to apply and integrate techniques that you haven’t mastered yet into actual music, you will expose new weaknesses that you did not realize you had while only practicing in isolation. (Watch this guitar practice video to learn exactly how and why this approach is the fastest way to become a better guitarist.) These new insights will allow you to “master” the techniques in isolation many times faster than it would take you using the conventional (ineffective) approach.
Good news is, learning how to combine different techniques together in a musical manner is actually very easy - You’ll see why in just a moment. First, watch this video to see and hear a demonstration of how this process works and how it will help you to easily play difficult guitar licks.
Now that you’ve watched the video above, use the steps below to learn how to practice combining multiple techniques together. To complete these steps, use any of the following example licks or think of your own licks:
Step 1: Find Or Create A Point Where The Two Licks Intersect
Play through both parts of the lick at a comfortable speed and identify the note or general area where one lick ends and the other lick begins.
For example, in lead guitar lick #1 above, the last note of the arpeggio portion of the lick ends on fret 12 of the high e string (followed immediately by the scale run beginning on the 17th fret). This is where the two licks intersect. It is critical to find this point within the main lick, because this is where you will often need to change your picking motion (or general mindset) to play the second part of the lick. Referring back to lead guitar solo lick #1, observe how the arpeggio portion of the lick requires a sweep picking motion, while the scale portion of the lick requires directional picking.
If you are not familiar with sweep picking technique, don’t be intimidated. It’s actually A LOT easier to master than you think. Become familiar with this technique by reading this article about how to easily play fast sweep picking arpeggios.
Note: If you are practicing using your own guitar licks that combine multiple techniques, you need to find this point of intersection yourself. Do this before moving to the next step.
Step 2: Create A Smooth Transition By Isolating The Main “Problem” Area
Now that you have located the point where both parts of the lick intersect, isolate this note from the rest of the lick by doing the following (in order):
- Play through the lick again at a comfortable speed, but this time play the note you identified from step 1 several times when it occurs in the lick. The purpose of this is to strengthen the transition from one part of the lick to the next. By doing this, the entire lick will feel seamless and smooth (Note: do NOT make the common mistake of speeding through this note in an attempt to cover up any inaccuracies).
- Next, play through the lick as usual (without any repeated notes) three times in a row. On the fourth time through the lick, play the note from step 1 several times as you did previously.
Watch the video above one more time to see a demonstration of this and hear the immediate results that come from using this guitar practice approach.
Don’t worry about fast playing at this point, focus on emphasizing the note where both licks intersect, and doing so cleanly and accurately.
Step 3: Create Variations Of The Entire Lick Using Different Rhythms
After you feel more confident combining several techniques involved in the lick you are practicing, it’s time to make the lick as musical as possible. To get started, do the following:
- For 5-10 minutes, focus on playing through the entire lick with completely different rhythms. For example, if you were originally playing the lick using only 8th or 16th notes, change it by holding some notes longer than others or using other rhythm variations such as triplets. Challenge yourself to create as much variety from one repetition to the next (this will massively increase your ability to be creative). Additionally, feel free to repeat notes as you like (you aren’t restricted to playing each note only once).
Learn more about creating rhythmic variations in your guitar licks by watching this guitar soloing video.
- As you play through each variation of your lead guitar lick, pay close attention to the musical tension (drama) that is created when you hold certain notes longer. For example, while playing guitar lick #1, compare the tension created by sustaining the last note on fret 13 of the G string, to the tension created when sustaining the note on the 17th fret of the high E string. As you can hear, the difference is MASSIVE (there is a lot more tension present when sustaining the 13th fret of the G string in this example).
Step 4: Enhance The Entire Lick Using Creative Guitar Phrasing Elements
The final step for making your main lick sound musical and expressive is to enhance it using creative guitar phrasing techniques. Choose any of the variations you created in the previous step, and use one or more of the following approaches to make your guitar lick sound as musical as possible:
- Use strictly legato playing (little or no picking) by playing with hammer-ons, pull-offs and slides. See and hear lots of examples of how to do this in this blues guitar soloing article.
- Accent different notes in your lick and create more intensity in your phrasing using different types of vibrato - from narrow to extra wide. If you aren’t sure how to do this, read this article about how to play vibrato on guitar.
- Emphasize notes that are a half step (one fret) apart by using creative trills and ornaments like the ones discussed in this rock guitar soloing article.
After following the steps above, you now understand how to play killer lead guitar solo licks by combining any number of guitar techniques together. However, you won’t become a truly great lead guitarist using this concept alone. To learn how to take your lead guitar soloing to the highest level, work with the best online rock guitar teacher.