Getting into lead guitar soloing is easy with these few simple ideas.
That first improvised guitar solo can put a look of abject terror on a new guitarist's face. But as with anything in music, working first on a few basic ideas will build both a solid foundation and your confidence, until you're shredding with the best of them. Here's how to get started and get better and your guitar solos.
1. Take the pressure off. Improvising a lead guitar solo simply means stringing together some notes to create a melody that sounds good to you. Starting with that idea, play a little melody with no accompaniment. Create with no restrictions. It's what the jazz guys like to call "free play". Follow your ears to the notes that sound good to you.
2. There's no such thing as a "bad" or "wrong" note. Have you ever seen this headline in the news? "35 people killed and injured today when guitarist plays G# instead of A!" No, of course not. You will play lots of bad notes over the years. Don't fear them. Just get past it and get to a note you like better. The longer you play and the more sophisticated your ear gets, you'll find that you can play just about any note at any time and the theory nerds will have an explanation for it. You just need to know how to get to, and out of the note, and play it with conviction.
MY SUPER AWESOME "SAVE YOUR BUTT" TIP:
If you hit a weird note you don't like, move one fret in either direction. Almost every time that will put you on a note that matches the chord better.
3. Pick a scale and hang out there for a while. Beginning guitarists will often try to absorb new information faster than your brain can handle it. The first scale a guitarist learns is usually the minor pentatonic. If you haven't learned a pentatonic pattern yet, check out this link. Play around with that scale until you're really comfortable with it before trying to learn other ones. Spend a lot of time improvising with each new scale you learn to understand its possibilities and quirks.
4. Start with small, simple phrases. I know you're picturing the guitarist in your head wailing away at a zillion notes per second. But what's really happening is he's stringing together tiny phrases of just 4-5 notes. Putting those phrases together makes it sound much more complicated than it is. Start by creating little 3-5 note phrases by themselves from your chosen scale. When you have a few that you like, try playing them in sequence to create the longer phrases.
5. Use ornamentation techniques. The guitar is a wonderfully vocal, expressive instrument because we can ornament notes in a variety of ways: bends, slides, rakes, hammer-ons, pull-offs, scoops, falls, etc. These little tricks take you past just notes and rhythm and actually give your lines some character. Make sure you practice each technique (especially bends) until you can do it comfortably and accurately.
6. Think rhythm. An awesome solo is often not about how many notes, or even WHICH notes you play. Listeners are much more attuned to rhythm than they are pitch. Now that you've got some of those simply 3-5 note phrases from step 4, try playing them in as many different rhythms as you can. Write some out if you like. A famous guitarist once showed me a fantastic exercise for improving the rhythm of your improvs. Play an 8-bar solo with just one note. That will force you to come up with every rhythm possible on that one note. Do that a few times until you start running out of ideas. Then expand it to two notes. Working with a limited amount of notes will help you create interesting rhythms that you can later apply to you more expansive phrases.
If you can accomplish these 6 steps, you'll be well on your way to being a great lead guitarist. Have no fear. Make lots of mistakes. Enjoy the process.