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What are the harmonic rules that serve as the foundation of a solo? For example, notes of triads serve as the foundation for voices and arpeggios, with an occasional non-chord tone. Harmonic function serves as the foundation for chord progressions.

However, most solos I've come across seem to ignore the rules of chords, note intervals, range, and sometimes even keys. Additionally, the composition of solos seems to change depending on which musical genre you're in.

I don't know which ideas I should start with when writing solos. Other than fiddling around my keyboard and hope that I get lucky with the notes, is there a better alternative?

Edit 1: Aside from obvious ranges of an instrument, are there any limitations when writing for solos?

Also, what happens if I attempt to transpose a song and pushed the notes of the solo out of the instrument's range? How do I rewrite the solo section without changing the underlying "message" of the solo, since I can no longer rely on the inversion techniques for chord-based instruments?

  • If a note is played strongly on a strong beat, it effectively becomes a chord tone by adding to the harmony. For example if you play a B melody (solo) note over an Am backing chord, you effectively create an Am add9 (or "add2") chord. Solos are melody lines. Backing chords or chord symbols are not the complete harmony, they're just accompaniment and melody notes add stuff to them. Study existing melodies. Play them by ear and modify them to see how your variations change the mood. – piiperi Reinstate Monica Jun 7 at 18:32
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    You're hintng that soolos change depending on genre.. That's true enough.What particular genre are you considering? – Tim Jun 7 at 18:38
  • What style are you looking for? Are you writing for yourself or your friends? The piano part will be not different whether you accompany a singer or an instrument. The solo part is depending from the style and the abilities of the performer. – Albrecht Hügli Jun 7 at 18:45
  • Classical orchestration and metal is a place where I want to start out with. As far as I understand, solos are not performable by voices no? – David LE Jun 8 at 0:42
  • @piiperiReinstateMonica If that is the case, would you consider solos to be equivalent to melodies? What are the key distinctions that separate solos from melodies, aside from the inability to be sing for the solo? – David LE Jun 8 at 1:14
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The only rule is: idiomatic writing. You must write a line for an instrument with its own techniques and limitations. For this, you need to understand the language each instrument speaks, so you need to hear a lot of examples of this or that instrument playing in solo, group, different techniques, timbres, effects and so on.

Ignore this and you will end up playing keys, but with a different tone.

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  • I don't think it's the only rule, but it's definitely important. – Brian THOMAS Jun 8 at 8:43
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notes of triads serve as the foundation for voices and arpeggios, with an occasional non-chord tone

Fellow site user Richard, in his answer here to another recent question, linked to a paper called The melodic-harmonic ‘divorce’ in rock that addresses this point. Some of what is explores is that in a lot of popular music writing, the melody doesn't always seem to have a strong relationship with the chords(though I would still say that melody and chords do tend to reference the same basic tonality, however independently).

Harmonic function serves as the foundation for chord progressions.

In some genres, yes; in others: not at all. Many subgenres of rock tend to avoid the dominant, for example!

However, most solos I've come across seem to ignore the rules of chords, note intervals, range, and sometimes even keys. Additionally, the composition of solos seems to change depending on which musical genre you're in.

Well, 'the rules' are different depending on which musical genre you're in. That's the very reason that different genres of music sound different: they have different forms and functions, audiences have different expectations as to how harmony and melody should work; they may use diffrent instrumentation which affects the way the harmonies are actually percieved, and so on.

I don't know which ideas I should start with when writing solos. Other than fiddling around my keyboard and hope that I get lucky with the notes, is there a better alternative?

As some people have suggested in the comments: learn the musical 'language' of the genre you're interested in writing for. Guitars and keyboards can be found in almost every genre of music, and they do very different things in each; violins aren't quite so ubiquitous, but can still be played in a wide range of styles.

Some genres have some amount of theory already out there to describe them and get you started; other genres, you may have to do some of your own study.

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