How do they do it? How do they play lead guitar like that?
Is it pure talent? A secret form of unattainable knowledge? Magic?
When it comes to guitar solos it does seem like an impossible fantasy to most. But in truth, soloing on an electric guitar is just another skill set. Talent and creativity do play a big role in producing memorable guitar solos. But committing to a study plan that develops physical technique and the understanding of how music works is the key to unleashing the full potential of your natural ability.
How can you develop this skill set you ask?
First you must understand there is a physical and a mental aspect to creating beautiful melodies on stage. What we call guitar technique and music theory. Physical ability alone will not get you there and academics are useless until you can physically apply that knowledge to the guitar. You have be in shape and smart. You need to balance the physical and mental components of music to be successful.
We are by nature built with speed and strength. Most teens I know can do over 20 push-ups. That’s way more than enough muscle to handle a seven pound guitar.Teenagers are also capable hitting a 70 mph baseball which is pretty quick.
In fact, try this:
Move your left hand in front of your face really fast. You can hardly see it right? Yes, you are fast- like a ninja. You like most humans are plenty fast. We don’t need more speed to play guitar solos. The point is we are strong and fast enough to play guitar.
The problem is humans are clumsy and inaccurate. That’s what keeps us from being able to apply ourselves to the guitar. We have to develop precision. I’ve had body builders take guitar lessons with me that couldn’t push all of the notes of a C-Major chord. The next student, to their amazement could and she was only nine years old!
Instead of strength she used accuracy. A clumsy muscle-head is no match against a nine year old with good precision. The best way to develop accuracy is by practicing scale technique.
It just so happens that scales are what we use to create melodies for guitar solos. When you practice your scales, you are developing a physical skill set for playing lead guitar. Some of you already know this from typing. If you are a proficient typer then you know typing requires precise use of all your fingers, not just one or two.
Proper scale technique allows you to make full use of your hand while playing guitar solos. Practicing scale technique not only develops the muscles required to play melodies, it also builds the strength and flexibility required to play chords.
This is what the professional musicians know that amateurs do not know or overlook. The pros make time to practice their scales daily.
WHAT IS A SCALE
To keep it simple, I will define a scale as a repeated pattern of notes. The most popular scales are repeated in patterns of 5 or 7 notes. Lead guitarists memorize and practice these patterns daily to develop accuracy and flexibility to apply these patterns across the neck of the guitar.
Every note in the scale works in harmony over the band to produce those awesome, mind-blowing melodies. Playing lead guitar is not about guessing which notes to play. Proper practice of these patterns can pre-program your mind to the point where you don’t have to think about it.
To understand how to apply scales to music we need to bring up our next topic. The mental aspect of playing lead guitar.
To be a lead guitarist you need to understand how music works in order to take the guess work out of note selection. Playing random notes over your band really fast is not going to impress anyone. Having a good ear and ability to find notes can work, but it is time consuming and you can forget about improvising on stage.
Why waste time re-inventing the wheel? The efficient way is to choose notes for your guitar solos by understanding the “road map”. If you practice your scales daily then you have that “road map” memorized. The reason why is the notes needed to play guitar solos are contained within the scale.
There are 12 possible notes in music. Seven of those notes will sound great. Those notes belong to the scale. The remaining 5 notes in most cases should be avoided. This why you will need to memorize your scales for proper note selection.
The great guitar soloist and virtuosos are not magical in their abilities, they just know their scales. They have engrained the patterns of the pentatonic scale and the major scale into their hands. All they have to do is choose what pleases them most within those scales. Even a beginner lead guitarist can sound good by accident as long he or she is playing notes within the scale. With practice and creativity the note selection becomes an artistic expression over time.
Now we understand how scales can help us in note selection. We need to understand how scales work with chords. In order for scales to be effective you need to understand chord/scale relationships. If you play the wrong scale over a series of chords in a song, it will sound bad. Even if you play the scale pattern properly, it will still sound bad. You have to play the right scale for the chords. This is what I call chord/scale relationships.
In music there “languages” we call keys. To speak Spanish, you need to use Spanish words. Throwing in a little Russian and Greek will cause confusion. Whatever language you choose to speak, it has to be appropriate for the environment.
When your band plays a series of chords on stage, they are speaking a certain language in a key. As a lead guitarist you need to speak with your band in the same language using the same key. You need to choose the right scale for those chords. Every song has a key (language). Every song has a scale that harmonizes with that key.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT SCALE
In most cases the first chord of the song will tell you what key to play in. If the first chord is a D-Major chord, it usually tells the lead guitarist to play a D-Major or D-Major pentatonic scale. Just knowing that can get you through a lot of songs, but there is a deeper understanding.
Music is basically made up of three properties:
Whenever the band plays a series of chords, they sound good because every note of those chords are contained within a scale. If the band plays a chord that doesn’t belong to the scale, it will sound terrible in most cases. The band is essentially playing a condensed scale by playing multiple notes at once which make chords. These chords fit together as a chord progression. It’s all part of the same scale.
As a lead guitarist, if you know what scale that is, you know the key. Result- you know what scale to play. You are speaking the same language.
At Levels For Guitar, we break down the musical math so that you get a clear understanding of chord/scale relationships. You will know exactly how and why music sounds good, or why it would sound bad. To a lead guitarist this knowledge is power.
In a nutshell, to play fantastic guitar solos you need two things: The first is to learn how to play scales and the second is to develop your understanding of how scales and chords work together in harmony.
If this makes sense to you, we currently offer the first 30 days of our monthly membership free if you would like to sign up and try out Levels For Guitar, no strings attached.