Building a solo

Hi guys,

I know this is a topic which isn’t actually about guitar technique but it’s very relevant.

I’ve been so obsessed for years about mastering guitar technique that it has sort of taken I’ve my playing life, to the point that my solos now actually sound crap.

Was thinking that I revert back to creating melodies as solos and then add in ‘shreddy’ stuff as and where appropriate?

Interested to know the thought processes of the great players on this point too.



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Writing a solo is very difficult, at least for me :slight_smile:

How to go about it really depends on the genre, song, and function of the solo within the song. If you already have the song and you “just” need to write the solo, you could ask yourself: what comes before? what comes after? does the solo help to go from A to B, and does it sound like it belongs in the song? Or does it just sound like I want you to listen to all the shred licks I have been studying? :wink:

I can give you two examples that I have recently written, where I am reasonably happy with the solos. I personally like to write short-ish solos for my own music (20-30 seconds), although when I listen to other musicians I do appreciate Dave Gilmour going for 5 minutes :slight_smile:

The first is a song in the style of Vinnie Moore. Here the solo has to be very melodic, but should also have some “fast licks” to create some energy / excitement. But the real important stuff, in my opinion, is the choice of the slower notes. They have to really emphasize the chords that are going on underneath. The exact notes you choose for the fast parts are not very important, provided that the “target tones” (e.g. notes that fall on important parts of the beat) are good: video should start at 0:54

The second solo is in the style of Iron Maiden. Here the vibe and chord progression is a bit more blues-rock, so following all the chords is not that important and you can basically do almost everything with the blues scale. The phrasing (bendings, accents, vibrato etc.) is almost more important than the choice of notes. There is only one fast lick (classic blues-rock picking + pulloff pattern) which again does not follow the chords very closely, it’s more of a rhythm thing (and we know that any notes from the blues scale are going to work in this context). Video should start at 1:30

EDIT: sorry I just re-read and noticed this

…in which case it’s not from me that you want to hear :rofl:


Hey, no all of what you said is really useful and very helpful. Thank you!

I’m ultimately interested in hearing how any guiltiest formulated so also and incorporates shred licks into their playing where appropriate.

I have just managed to wreck any ability to actually play a decent solo in favour of mastering guitar athletics over the years. Time to address that


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Phew, cool :slight_smile:

By the way, do you have a specific genre you want to play? And a few bands that you really like to listen to in that style (and where you like the solos)?

I think it can be very helpful to listen to these artists you like, but be also critical and see if you find some things that you’d like to “borrow”, and others that you’d like to do differently.

I think identifying what you do and don’t like in other musicians is a good first step for developing your style.

I’m not really sure at the moment. I think a useful first step for me would be to be able to incorporate the licks/technique I have been working on into something meaningful where it doesn’t sound like a contrived load of crap!

I love players like Gilmore but also want the shred musical tension of the likes of Gilbert and all the other players that CTC make a reference to!

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Ha… this is a life long struggle. There will be times when you like your own playing, and other times when you loath the same bits. Other times you’ll end up reaching for the old masters to add some more guidance and healthy plagiarism :slight_smile:

The best advice I can give you is to play a lot with a back track and try to keep up with the chord changes, I really struggle. I don’t have a much time as I once had to play. Loop a small section maybe even and get from A to B with your influences.

This is the last thing I recorded, it was a after many takes, I figured approximately where I needed to be at certain points and winged the rest. But that evolved take after take till I got this last one. Thought it would make the cut.

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I basically use economy picking as my main vehicle for fast lead technique and despite working on the speed mechanics for pick slanting primer, I still can’t get strict alternate picking down without my brain going into some kind of melt down.
Sadly, I don’t have the time to really spend hours practising as I once did when I was much younger, so have to maximise the time I have.

Twangsta, totally get what you’re saying and that also sounds like a plan. It’s a hard question to answer I guess. It seems to me that at the heart of it all is a melody which is then embellished at different points; embellished with fast runs which approach one of the melody notes . Perhaps that’s where I’m struggling to fit in licks, as licks are musical moments in time which may not necessarily fit the melody you’re playing at that moment (I guess?)

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In the couple of months I’ve been here, This has been my favorite thread so far.

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Two real simple things that have worked for me:

  1. Sit around and goof off with the guitar and have some fun. Experiment, try different things. If something sounds cool, write it down and record it. See if you can create themes and variations off of that idea. Try in different keys, modes, different rhythms. Try it ‘compositionally’ eg take time to plan some ideas and see what happens. Then try it ‘improvisationally’ - turn on a drum track or backing track, see to what extent some ideas/concepts you’re able to create and vary on the spot, in time.

  2. Listen to music you like that has soloing you like. Anytime something catches your ear, sit down and transcribe it. Writing it down is great, but if you can at least work to a point of playing it on the guitar that’s something positive. once you have some reasonably confidence in simply playing back the lick/idea, then some of the above applies the same way: See if you can create themes and variations off of that idea. Try in different keys, modes, different rhythms. Try it ‘compositionally’ eg take time to plan some ideas and see what happens. Then try it ‘improvisationally’ - turn on a drum track or backing track, see to what extent some ideas/concepts you’re able to create and vary on the spot, in time.

That’s the ‘short idea’ piece or ‘licks’ element. But for turning something into a cohesive whole, it’s a great to listen to players/music you like and just ask ‘what are they doing to develop the ideas?’
Good to listen to stuff you like and note parameters like:
density vs space
syncopation vs straight rhythms
being more rhythmic vs loose or just ‘going crazy’
held notes vs silence
length of phrases
how repetition is used
what elements of one part of the solo are tied into the next part (Eg same rhythm different pitches, same pitches different rhythms, etc)
articulations: vibrato, bends, slurs, slides

I think there’s a lot in the above to keep one busy for quite a while!


Great playing by both of you by the way ! I can warm up to that speed after I’ve killed muskeg for half an hour and ‘warmed up’ but trying to deliver that the next day, forget it; not without reparations f tie kill factor from tie day before :rofl:


That’s a topic for a separate discussion, but I’ll tell you that it should not take 1hour to warm up (assuming your hands/arms are healthy etc.). I guess the question would be to figure out what exactly “goes wrong” when you are not warmed up, and what you are doing differently when you feel warmed up.

is it hand sync? is it that you do many different picking motions and don’t settle on one?

Feel free to post examples of this in Technique Critique and we’ll take a look :slight_smile: :+1:

But to tie it back to the main topic, I think practicing “realistic” solos could benefit this aspect of your playing as well. In a solo you typically can’t “warm up”: you’ll have a mix of fast and slow parts and you only have a single shot to nail the fast part, you can’t repeat it 10 times until it comes out good.

Finally, I thought I’d be cheeky and exploit this thread for my own benefit :rofl: (and maybe a bit yours) I am actually in the process of writing a solo over some slow arpeggiated chords. Would you like to help me by listening critically? :slight_smile:

What do you like/dislike about it? What would you do differently? (feel free to ignore of course!)

Furthermore, I can drop the backing track in here too if you want to write your own version. I swear I won’t copy it :wink:

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Dang Tommo, love the start, then the riff started, stuff close to my heart. Beautiful flow on there.

That word flow, what ever it means to you is where soloing is at, like crushing a trail path down hill on an MTB.

Thar would we the best way to out it. Melody with flair, but in practice it’s very random in my head.

My best guess is it’s any and all of the combinations Jake mentioned. That particular solo, all I figured melodically was the first few notes, the rest is just smoke and mirrors, trying to follow through, all the flair I think textures mostly. Like when I’m practicing three or two note arpeggios, its pure texture if I’m doing it right.

Tommo. I really want to hear more of that track, its pure 80s glam, best I’ve heard from you for my tastes anyways.

Edit: I wish I could install Ronni James Dio in my brain, that magnificent beast had all the melody and chops I’d ever want to play off. Bible Black…


This is a great topic. Can’t say I can do it!

But some thoughts.

First I think there is a big difference between solos in songs with lyrics and instrumentals. So you need to decide what you’re going for.

Second, and I don’t know how well this applies to shredder styles, but…I think having narrative structure is very important. Telling a story, knowing what emotion(s) you want to express and how they develop.

A perfect example for me would be Tunnel of Love or Telegraph Road by Dire Straits. The solos feel like stories, have huge dynamic range, and the emotions journey - from melancholy to something uplifting (as I feel it.)

Gilmour, is another good example. Apparently he jams for hours over a track, then listens to it, picks out and learns the parts he likes, and then starts to connect them into something more coherent.

The Allman Brothers are a good one to listen to as you can very clearly follow how they are developing a theme, especially on songs like Whipping Post and Mountain Jam. Blues, especially older electric blues, provide great examples of emotions, dyamics, and repetition - not doing too much, keeping close to a theme or lick, using variations in melody and rhythm, etc.

Some improvisation exercises I learned from the Justin Guitar website are one string-solos (eventually add a second string), one finger solos, and don’t be afraid of space and repetition.