Do your guitar solos sound un-musical?

Chances are you're missing these two basic skills...

So you're to the point that you have some scales together and you're banging away over a choice chord progression, but for some reason your guitar solos just don't sound the way you want them to. Try these two easy tips to focus your improvised solos and make them more musical.

I had a new student just the other day come to me with this same problem.  Everything he was playing was technically correct, but it just didn't sound very good.  It sounded scattered, disorganized, and unmusical.  This is how we're solving his problem and it will help you too.

1. Play just chord tones.  Some notes are more important than others.  The notes of the chord you're playing over should form the basic skeleton of your melody.

Do these two things to practice this:
    - Take one position of your favorite scale.  You'll find that full major and minor scales will work better than pentatonics for this one.  Once you've got the feel for it, it's easy to scale back to a pentatonic scale.  Work on playing the arpeggios for each diatonic chord in that key.  Be sure to stay just in the one position.  You can (and should) try other positions after. Using a C major scale for example, you'd pick out the notes for each of these chords: C, Dm, Em, F, G, Am, Bdim.  For some extra melodic joy, go to the 7th of each chord as well. 

If you're not sure how to spell the particular chord in that key, just remember to stay inside the scale pattern you already know and just go every other letter.

Keeping to just one position of the scale will help you think more melodically instead of just moving patterns around the neck.  Your melodies will be better connected that way.  Once you've gotten comfortable with one position, then try others.   

    - When you've gotten comfortable with the arpeggios for all the chords in that key, start improvising some melodies over a 2 or 3 chord progression.  A trusty old 12-bar blues or just a little two chord vamp comes in handy here.  As each chord arrives, only play the notes in that chord.  Your solo will still sound a little "jumpy", but now you're focusing on the structure of the melody.

The rest of the notes in your scale are used as passing tones from one chord tone to the next.  Once you're got your chord tones together you can start throwing in a few non-chord tones.  Be sure to keep one of your chord tones on beat 1 right now, just to keep things grounded.

When you listen to a good solo you'll be able to hear the chords go by, even if nobody is playing them.  The note choices of the melody will reflect those chords.

2. Jam with a metronome.  As a young guitarist, I had a big problem with my guitar solos losing the groove.  Metronome to the rescue!

Turn your metronome on to a comfortable tempo.  Don't force yourself to go too fast just yet.  Pick a tempo that you can keep up with for at least a minute straight.  Improvise a melody based on each of these rhythm patterns:
- 8th notes
- 16th notes
- 8th note triplets
- 8th notes and 16th notes, alternating one measure each
- 8th notes and 8th note triplets, alternating one measure each
- 8th note triplets and 16th notes, alternating one measure each
- Do each of the combination ones again, but for just two beats each

Don't over think your note choices here.  We're only concentrating on keeping a good steady rhythm and locking in with the click. While note choice is important, rhythm is what really makes a melody memorable and interesting.

These two simple exercises will improve your improvised guitar solos dramatically, both in your note choice and sense of grooves.  Once you're comfortable with these ideas you'll be able to move on to more complex techniques.