Sunday, April 24, 2011

Solos: Van Halen Killed Them For Me

I was never really into solos on guitar. Sure, it was impressive that certain guitarists could burn up and down the fretboard but they usually failed in one really important area for me: If I can't tap my foot to it or bob my head then the song is not catchy and I lose interest pretty fast. I grew up just about the time "hair metal" was being killed by "grunge." Bands like Van Halen, Motley Crue, Poison, Bon Jovi and guitarist like Joe Satriani and Steve Vai were all shredders that were on their way out in terms of popularity. As technical as their solos were I just did not care. Solos only started to impress me later on when I heard Pantera and even later than than Job For A Cowboy. Eventually I learned to also appreciate mellower solos that had more feel to them. David Gilmour of Pink Floyd seemed like he could say more in five notes than Eddie Van Halen could say in a hundred.

Question: How are solos created?
1) Using Scales: To solo over any chord sequence you'll need a scale first. This sets the range of notes that will fit with the backing chords. If a song uses chords from the key of C Major, all the notes of the C major scale can be used as the basis for your solo. You don't need to play all the notes of the scale, or play them in any set order. The aim is to make your solo sound fresh and innovative, not scale-like!

2) Phrasing: Be sure to leave spaces between notes so that you start to create short phrases. Within these patterns use notes of different lengths: some long notes that you sustain, balanced by some very quick and short notes. This rhythmic variety will add interest and shape to your phrases. Try to incorporate rhythmic variety into your improvisations, remembering that you should also vary the direction in which you play. Remember, there is no need to play up the whole range of the scale before you play some descending notes. Adopt a melodic approach in which your improvisation can weave up and down the scale.

3) Using Intervals: One thing that always makes a solo sound too scale-like is using notes that are adjacent to each other in a scale. This type of playing instantly gives away to the listener that the improvisation is derived from a scale. Using interval gaps when playing a scale is a perfect way to break from sounding too much like a scale.

4) Repetition: By repeating short series of notes you will begin to establish phrases that will give your solo a sense of structure. By repeating these phrases, or variations on them, you will give the listener something to recognizable to latch onto, instead of a seemingly random series of notes with no direction.

5) Specialist Techniques: Make wide use of string bends, vibrato, slides, slurs, ect.

6) Emotion/Feel: Solos are supposed to be an emotional extension of the player. Once you know the key, once you have an idea of what scale you want to base your solo off of, then it comes down to what emotion and you want to convey with your solo. Some guitarists will convey their emotion by blazing through their solo at whiplash speeds while others will take a more laid back feel and make use of silence and spacing between notes. Be creative and be honest but most of all be sure to have fun!!

*The two best solos I can think of off the top of my head are:

1) "Floods" by Pantera

2) "Comfortably Numb" by Pink Floyd

*"Eruption" may have been the solo to end all solos of the 1980s, but frankly I don't give a shit!

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