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How To Improve Your Lead Guitar Playing

Do you have a hard time coming up with guitar solos that sound like real music instead of a “combination of guitar licks”? Have you spent a lot of time searching the internet for countless guitar frets, new scales, and guitar licks, only to find out later that these things do NOT make you a better lead guitarist?

Guitarists who try to make their guitar solos more creative with the above approach are usually frustrated by their slow progress and begin to lose hope of ever becoming a great guitar player. Very often they also start to believe the common misconception that their ability to create great guitar solos is limited by their natural talent.

Fortunately, it is possible for anyone to greatly improve their guitar soloing skills with the right approach. If you haven’t reached that goal yet, I want to cover the most common reasons guitarists struggle to create truly GREAT guitar solos, and the steps you can take right now to significantly improve your soloing.

The truth is, most guitarists focus on the wrong things when trying to improve their guitar soloing and improvisation skills. Many guitarists assume that the solution to guitar soloing challenges is to learn more “new” skills (innovative soloing concepts, new guitar licks/scales/arpeggios, etc.). In fact, learning new musical skills does not (in and of itself) make you better at playing lead guitar, any more than having lots of ingredients in the kitchen will NOT make you a “better” cook. While having many musical skills gives you more options, those skills will NOT “increase your ability” to create great guitar solos until you learn how to “integrate” them to make the best possible musical decisions in any area. musical situation. For the vast majority of musicians, it is precisely their lack of ability to fluently APPLY AND INCORPORATE their existing skills that prevents them from mastering the art of the lead guitar solo.

Now that you have a better understanding of why the traditional ways of developing your guitar solos are ineffective, here are some specific steps you should take to begin integrating your existing lead guitar playing at a deeper level and greatly improve your guitar solos in the process. .

  • Get to know the guitar fingerboard inside and out – True mastery of the guitar neck goes much deeper than simply being able to identify a specific note/fret on the guitar. To really get your bearings on the guitar, you need to be able to play all the scales and chords used in your style of music everywhere on the neck, and be able to combine these shapes fluently. Guitarists from Jimmy Page and Stevie Ray Vaughn to Randy Rhoads and Eddie Van Halen all have/had an exceptional awareness of scales and chord shapes on the fretboard. This ability allowed them to improvise great guitar solos effortlessly in any key without getting “lost”. Conversely, guitarists who struggle to make their lead guitar solos sound musical often do not have this skill well developed and are stuck soloing in the same 1-2 positions every time they play lead guitar. Regardless of how many scales you actually know, if you can’t play them fluently on the neck of the guitar, you will have a VERY hard time using them creatively in your lead guitar solos.
  • Master aural skills (complete training of your ears) – Most guitarists (even the RARE ones who actually practice ear training regularly) don’t understand what “good hearing for music” means. It is commonly believed that ear training is about “being able to identify any interval, chord or scale after listening”. Although this skill is “part” of a good ear, in reality ear training plays a much deeper role in playing lead guitar. At the highest level, vocal skills are the “link” between all of your musical skills (guitar technique, music theory, phrasing, learning scales and chords, etc.) that allow them to work TOGETHER to create the most expressive guitar solos possible. . Master musicians use their ears to imagine the music they want to hear and guide their hands to produce that sound on the instrument as quickly and naturally as you speak your mind in conversation. Without good vocal skills, your musical abilities can only function in isolation, and your ability to create great guitar solos will forever be limited (more on that below).
  • Make music with your mind instead of your hands – Most guitarists approach the process of playing lead guitar mechanically by “playing scales over chords”. After learning the key of a chord progression, most musicians simply start soloing, running through familiar scale shapes and licks. Essentially, their minds are on autopilot and all “creation” is done by hand.

In contrast, great lead guitarists rely on their ears and minds to imagine what they want to hear before playing a single note, and use their hands (guitar technique) as well as their knowledge of music theory, fingerboard mastery, and more. musical skills to express what the mind wants to hear. Although they end up “playing scales over chords”, the overall level of creativity and expression is much higher as all their musical tools/skills are integrated into a “creative whole”.

Although the steps above happen very quickly (and almost always on a subconscious level), this kind of thought process is key to creating really great guitar solos.

The main thing I want to make is that most of what actually “creates” a great guitar solo is done with your mind and your ears. This is very different from the thinking of inexperienced guitarists, whose guitar solos are merely attempts to “fill the space/silence with notes”.

  • Keep working on your guitar phrasing – Many lead guitarists are constantly looking for “playable notes” but neglect to find better ways to HOW to play (express) those notes. Good guitar phrasing is much more than applying the occasional bend or vibrato to a note. When I teach my students to master guitar phrasing, I show them how this skill consists of “macro” and “micro” level components. Phrasing at the “macro” level refers to how individual phrases fit into the overall picture of the lead guitar and the song (similar to phrases in conversation). The “micro” level wording deals with the ornamentation applied to certain pitches of the phrase. It is important to understand the difference between the two components and have effective strategies for training both areas of expression.
  • Get regular feedback on your lead guitar solos from more experienced guitarists or a guitar teacher – Unlike improving your guitar speed, where you can measure your progress in a tangible way, improving your lead guitar playing is a very “intangible” skill. This means two things:

1. It’s very hard to spot specific mistakes in your solo guitar playing if you don’t know what things you should be listening for.

2. It’s also hard to determine if your guitar solos are really improving and which areas of your guitar soloing still need work.

The fastest way to improve is to analyze your guitar solos with a guitar teacher who can not only point out specific mistakes in your guitar playing, but also create an effective lesson strategy to help you overcome the challenges that are holding you back. creating really great guitar solos.

Now that you have a better understanding of what it takes to improve your guitar playing, you should be excited to realize that all of your musical goals are completely under your control. Once you start following the steps outlined above, your guitar soloing skills will begin to improve quickly.

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