How To Play Better Guitar Solos Than You Ever Imagined Possible Part 3: The Easiest Way To Make Your Guitar Solos More Emotional
By Tom Hess
How much do you know about playing emotional guitar solos? Test yourself by answering this simple question (without your guitar):
Which of the 2 pairs of notes below have the most in common in the way they feel and sound?
Pair 1: an E note played over an A minor chord followed by another E note played over a C# minor chord.
Pair 2: a D note played over a G minor chord followed by an F# note over a B minor chord.
If you are like most people, you answered “Pair 1” ...and your answer is WRONG... dead wrong. Here’s why:
In pair 1, the E note ‘functions’ (and therefore - ‘feels’) COMPLETELY different over both chords. When an E note is played over an A minor chord, it functions as the 5th of that chord, but when it is played over a C# minor chord, it functions as the 3rd of that chord. The 5th of a chord and the 3rd of a chord sound NOTHING alike (you will hear this in just a moment). Although the same note is used, the way the note ‘feels’ is drastically different when its function is changed.
In contrast, in pair 2, the D note is the 5th of a G minor chord and the F# note is also the 5th of a B minor chord) . The 5th of one chord sounds EXACTLY the same as the 5th of another chord (even though the ‘pitches’ are different). This is why a D note over a G minor chord sounds and feels exactly the same as an F# note over a B minor chord.
To hear many examples of everything I described above, watch the video below:
How To Integrate This Concept Into Music To Make Your Guitar Solos More Emotional:
Use the audio file below to complete the following steps. The audio recording consists of a single note (E) that is sustained for 4 minutes.
Step 1 - Let the E note backing track play as you strum the following chords over it (letting each chord ring for at least 10 seconds): E major, E minor, A major, A minor, C major, C# minor, F major, F# minor, F# major, B major, D major, D minor. Think of this as playing a one-note guitar solo over each of these chords.
Step 2 - If you already understand how triads are constructed, then you know that the E note functions completely differently over each chord above. For this step, identify ‘what’ its function is over each chord you played. After you have done this, decide which note function you like hearing the best. Example: if you love hearing the sound of the E note over the D minor chord and you know that the E over a D minor chord is a 9th, then you know that you will ALWAYS love (and recognize) the sound of a 9th played over ANY minor chord. As mentioned in the video above, a certain note ‘function’ always sounds the same, no matter what the specific note is or what the chord is.
Of course, the other note functions are no less important than your favorite ones, but start by memorizing the ones you like the most and expand into learning the sound of other note functions later.
If you don’t yet know how triads are constructed, do the following:
- Simply listen and pay attention to how the emotion of the same exact pitch changes, depending on what chord is played over it. After you learn about music theory, you will be able to get much more specific about ‘why’ each chord produces a vastly different emotion over the same note and will be able to recall each emotion in your guitar solos at will. For now, simply learn to hear ‘different’ emotions produced by the E note when it’s played over different chords.
- Take guitar lessons from the best guitar teacher you can find who will teach you everything you need to know about music and guitar playing to fully reach your goals.
Step 3 - Describe in words what emotions you associate with each function (sound) of the E note over the chords above. This is the most important step, because associating different sounds with specific emotions is KEY to using the above concept very creatively in your guitar soloing (and songwriting techniques). There is no right or wrong way to do this - simply come up with your own terms that associate an emotional context with each note function. Ask yourself: “what does the 9th played over a major chord feel like to me?” The specific words you use to describe the feeling are not so important - just make sure you are clear on ‘what’ emotion you feel.
After you have done the steps above and have a strong understanding of how each note function feels, start looking for opportunities to apply this new concept in your guitar solos. One of the ways to do this is to analyze the backing tracks you typically solo over, identify what notes go into each chord, and find what notes these chords have in common.
For example, in the chord progression: E major, C# minor and F# minor, the E note is present in both E major and C# minor chords. It functions as the root of E major and the 3rd of C# minor. At the same time, the C# note is present in the C# minor chord and F# minor chord (it’s the root of C# minor and the 5th of the F# minor chord). As you play guitar solos over this chord progression, take advantage of the common tones between the chords and their changing emotions. Hold those notes out for longer right before the chords change, surprising your listeners with the change in the note’s function.
Warning: do NOT overuse this soloing method. Like all other guitar phrasing/soloing techniques, this concept WILL lose its coolness if you use it too much.
By using this approach in your guitar solos, you will greatly improve your ability to express yourself in your lead guitar playing. However, this is only ONE of many ways to play better solos. To truly master guitar soloing, you must learn to make your audience feel whatever you want them to feel every time you play lead guitar. Learn all the ways you can do this by reading this page about creating intense emotions in your guitar playing.
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