How To Improvise Cool Guitar Solos And Play The Music In Your Head
by Tom Hess
Emotion To Any Guitar Lick
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- perfect pitch.
- a ton of advanced music theory.
- lots of musical talent.
Fortunately, all of the above are false.
If you can play a scale on guitar and know how major and minor chords work, you know enough to improvise awesome guitar melodies.
Emotion To Any Guitar Lick
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In a moment, I’ll prove to you that you already have the skills you need to play the music in your head and improvise awesome guitar melodies.
And then I’ll lay out a simple practice method you can follow to become a more creative guitar player, even if you doubt your potential to do so right now.
To begin, watch this video on how to become more creative on the guitar:
Now that you know how simple it can be to improvise awesome guitar melodies…
… here are 5 more advanced ideas that help you become a more creative guitar player and play the music in your head.
Tip #1 For Becoming More Creative On Guitar: Play Fewer Notes... At First
This may surprise you…
But becoming more creative on the guitar is NOT about “less is more” or any such nonsense.
(You can play the music in your head and improvise awesome guitar melodies both at very high speeds with a lot of notes and at slow speeds with few notes.)
However, when you are first learning to become a more creative guitar player, your biggest challenge will be:
Your hands outrunning your brain as you try to improvise cool guitar solos.
This means: your fingers are playing notes faster than your brain is able to:
- process the notes
- decide if you like the notes
- make good musical choices on what to play next.
This makes it impossible to improvise awesome guitar melodies and play the music in your head.
The solution is twofold:
1. Play fewer notes as you are learning to become a more creative guitar player. (Sometimes, this may mean starting to improvise a cool guitar solo with just 1-2 notes per guitar lick.)
2. Put silence between your licks as you think about what to play next. Same way as you’d (naturally) stay silent in a conversation with a friend until you think of the next thing to say that adds to the conversation.
(Hopefully you aren’t the type who tries to fill every moment of silence with nonstop talking :) )
Here is how to do it:
Your goal in this stage of becoming more creative on guitar is to train your brain to be in sync with your hands.
After you can do this with a handful of notes, it becomes easier to do it with more notes.
Question: “But Tom Hess, how is it possible to improvise cool guitar solos with only a few notes per phrase? I feel like this is limiting my ability to become a more creative guitar player!”
Answer: What’s really limiting your ability to improvise cool guitar melodies (and solos) is when you are not able to: identify the notes you are hearing in your head and know exactly where these notes are on guitar.
This is the skill you need to develop if you want to become a more creative guitar player. Because once you have it – the sky is the limit for how many notes you can play in your solos (and how fast you play them).
Tip #2: For Becoming More Creative On Guitar: Give Yourself More Time To Think.
One big reason many guitar players struggle to become more creative on the guitar is:
They start thinking of what to play next right after they finished playing the current lick.
The problem with this is: you are forcing yourself to create the next phrase without giving yourself any time to think of what to play!
This is a massive obstacle to playing the music in your head and creating guitar licks as you try to improvise awesome guitar melodies.
Here are 2 simple solutions to solve this problem:
Solution #1: Start Thinking Of The Next Guitar Lick The Moment You Begin Playing The Current Phrase (Not At The End Of It).
This makes your job a lot easier and makes it much easier to improvise cool guitar solos (and play the music in your head).
You don’t need to plan out the entire new phrase while you are playing the current one. But at least flesh out some ideas for how you will start and end the new guitar lick before it’s time to play it.
Here is what this looks like:
Solution #2: Use Lick Sequencing To Create Guitar Solo Ideas And Improvise Awesome Guitar Melodies
Lick sequencing is an easy way to become a more creative guitar player.
Here is all you need to get started:
1. Know at least 1 scale all over the guitar in all of its positions. (I show you exactly what this means below.)
2. Know a couple of short guitar licks.
Then, comes the secret:
All you do is sequence each of your guitar licks through your scale all over the guitar.
You end up with huge chunks of lead guitar ideas you can develop into entire guitar solos.
How exactly do you do lick sequencing to enable yourself to improvise cool guitar solos?
Watch the video below:
Tip #3 For Becoming More Creative On Guitar: Develop Your Lead Guitar Phrasing Through Lick Refinement.
Most guitar players struggle to improvise cool guitar solos because they only focus on what notes they are playing… but not on *how* they are playing them.
Enter: guitar phrasing – the art of how you play the notes in your guitar licks and solos.
The better your phrasing is, the easier it is to become a more creative guitar player and play the music in your head.
Here is one of many ways to practice guitar phrasing as you practice to become more creative on the guitar at the same time:
Step 1: Create a short guitar lick (6-8 notes long). You can do this with or without a backing track.
Step 2: Play your guitar lick once using the best phrasing you (currently) can.
Step 3: Ask yourself: “on a scale of 1-10, how does this guitar lick sound?” (10 = “an album-ready lick you’d use to improvise awesome guitar melodies”) Give an honest answer.
Step 4: Ask yourself: “If I were to get this guitar lick to a 10 (so I can use it to improvise awesome guitar melodies), how might I improve it?”
Step 5: Decide how you will refine the lick using lead guitar phrasing techniques, such as:
- Vibrato variations.
- String bend variations.
- Slide variations (backslides, ascending slides and descending slides.)
- Double stops
- Different ways to articulate the notes (so you are not just picking them, but also using hammer ons and pull offs on some of the notes).
This is the step that enables you to become a more creative guitar player.
Step 6: Play the lick again with your adjustments from step 4.
Step 7: Repeat steps 3-6, until you are confident that your guitar lick is a “10”. When you reach that point, congratulations – you’ve just now become a more creative guitar player than you were before!
Here is how this process looks:
Tip #4 For Becoming More Creative On Guitar: *Practice* Improvising Instead Of Just “Improvising”
Strangely enough, most people who want to improvise awesome guitar melodies and become more creative on the guitar, don't actually practice either of those too things.
How can this be?
Simple: most people who want to improvise cool guitar solos just… try to improvise cool guitar solos.
And if they are unhappy with how their improvisation sounds, they simply… try again.
But if you do this, you aren’t *practicing* improvising. You’re just… improvising.
That’s like trying to play through a song and starting over from the beginning each time you make a mistake.
(Instead of isolating the hard part, understanding what makes it hard and then improving your technique to make the hard part feel easy.)
The latter is practicing. The former is just… playing.
So, how do you *practice* improvising?
Break down your goal (to improvise cool guitar solos and become a more creative guitar player) into tiny skills that you work on mastering.
For example: refining guitar licks one at a time (as I explained in tip #3 of this article) is one such skill.
A few other skills that go into your ability to improvise awesome guitar melodies include:
Vibrato and string bend technique, note choice, phrase structure, using rhythm (and rubato) in soloing, solo structure on a macro level and more.
A great guitar teacher can help you diagnose the exact skills holding you back from becoming a more creative guitar player and train you to master them.
Here is an example of what *practicing* improvisation looks like:
Tip #5 For Becoming More Creative On Guitar: Learn Your Scales All Over The Fretboard
Another big reason guitar players struggle to improvise awesome guitar melodies is due to not really knowing their scales.
How well do you know your scales?
Let me ask you 3 “simple” questions to see if this skill (or lack of it) is a limiting factor in your ability to play the music in your head.
Hint: these are all TRICK questions.
The “obvious” answers that come to your mind instantly will almost certainly be wrong (and mean you need to learn your scales better if you want to improvise cool guitar solos).
Here are the questions:
1. When I say the words: “A minor pentatonic” – what position (fret) on your guitar do you immediately think of?
2. When I say: “play a scale starting from the root” – which string do you imagine yourself starting on?
3. When I say: “play a scale up and down” – how many strings do you see yourself playing on?
So... what were your answers?
Did you answer: “fret 5”, “6th string” and “all 6 strings”?
If so, you are...
BZZT - Wrong!
(I told you these were trick questions, didn’t I?)
Here is the thing:
When you truly master a scale on guitar, you can’t give just “1 answer” to questions like these.
That’s because, when you master a scale, you stop thinking about “scale shapes” or “positions”.
“A minor pentatonic” doesn't mean “5th fret” to you anymore.
Instead, you see your entire fretboard in your mind with all the notes of the A minor pentatonic scale. Just like a piano player sees all the notes of a scale on his keyboard – not “shapes” or patterns.
“Starting from the root” doesn't mean “6th string” to you anymore.
Because you can just as easily find the root on any string as you can find a raisin on a coconut cake.
And “up and down” doesn't mean “play on all strings” anymore.
You feel just as comfortable playing scales on 1 string, 2 strings, or even with string skipping, if you choose.
When you truly master a scale, you free up your brain from having to figure out “where the notes are”...
... and start thinking about more important stuff, like: what you want to play and how you want to play it.
That is when you become free to play the music in your head and improvise cool guitar solos.
And that’s when you become a more creative guitar player.
Sadly, most guitar players never get there.
They keep trying to “learn more scales”, “memorize note names” or trying to “figure out” where stuff is on your guitar while improvising.
Then they keep wondering why their solos suck, why they don’t feel creative while improvising or why they feel insecure while jamming with their friends.
But it doesn't have to be this way...
Because mastering scales is not all that hard (and doesn't take very long) when you know exactly what to do.
Watch this video to see easy ways to practice your fretboard memorization with scales:
Now that you know how to become more creative on the guitar and play the music in your head, what’s next?
The next step is to take ALL of your other musical skills to an advanced level and turn your guitar playing into something you can feel immensely proud of.
I can help you with this in my personalized Breakthrough Guitar Lessons. Unlike some other guitar lessons, you don’t get generic, cookie-cutter lessons from me.
You get guitar lessons personalized to your specific guitar playing challenges, musical skill level, musical interests, and of course: your unique musical goals. Hundreds of my guitar students are experiencing nearly lifechanging breakthroughs in their playing as we speak.To become one of them, click the green “Start Now” button on the banner below to learn more.
About Tom Hess: Tom Hess is a guitar teacher, music career mentor and guitar teacher trainer. He teaches rock guitar lessons online to students from all over the world and conducts instructional live guitar training events attended by musicians from over 50 countries.Transform your guitar playing into something you can feel proud of with the world’s most powerful online lessons for rock guitar players.
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