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I'm currently learning C major scale using acoustic guitar and I can play one note at a time on top of a Song. The challenge is,it doesn't sound like a music. How can I achieve good solo with it?

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A raw scale or mode by itself does not have enough variety to work as a solo. Scales and modes should be thought of as the raw material to build melodies, solos, and chord progressions.

What you really should do is pick up a book on writing melodies. Some of the guidelines would be maybe starting with a sequence of 2 to 10 notes to use as a motif, a musical building block. You can connect one or more motifs to form phrases, sort of a musical sentence.

The motifs and phrases can be repeated verbatim, transposed, inverted, or inverted retrograde (backwards). Another way to vary a motif or the larger phrase, is to alter the size and/or the duration of the intervals/note lengths.

Typically a motif or phrase begins and ends on a note belonging to the chord playing at that time, but that doesn't have to be the case. If you begin on a non-chord note, again typically, it will either resolve down to the nearest chord tone or held until the a new chord containing that note plays.

A good melody will have a variety of different pitches and some variety in the note lengths. However, there are many examples of pieces where there is a constant stream of 8ths or 16th notes. I would steer away from streams of notes of equal duration until you've had more experience writing melodies and you have an interesting harmonic progression to work off of.

Another guideline is to limit leaps (any interval larger than a major second) to 3 in a row in the same direction. Too much movement in one direction should be balanced by moving back in the other direction.

If you're just starting out, use chord tones to build the starting and ending points, sort of like key frames in animation. Then try building your motifs, looking for stepwise motion between the chord tones, arpeggiating, etc. to flesh out your melody/solo.

Another activity is to play the chord progression and try to hum a melody over it. Another activity is to record the progression and play experiment with your guitar to see what sounds good to you.

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    No. Don't try to learn how to write melodies from rules in a book. Learn to play your instrument, learn to read music which enables you to play just about every melody ever written! Then, when you've encountered a few hundred songs, you'll be getting near ready to make up some of your own!
    – Laurence
    Apr 13, 2022 at 23:28
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    @LaurencePayne, are you saying someone shouldn't try soloing until they've learned a few hundred songs, or am I misinterpreting? It's also unclear to me what you mean by "learn to play your instrument." In my mind, that encompasses soloing. The last thing: I think your interpretation of "rules in a book" are different from what user3235 has described. This answer has good advice about ways to practice building melodies. I don't think they're "rules" in the sense you implied. They're guidelines like "try repeating a phrase, inverting a phrase, ending on a chord tone, etc." Very useful stuff!
    – jdjazz
    Apr 15, 2022 at 18:27
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Being able to play scales, and identify the key of a song and then play the appropriate scale over it, is one aspect of starting to create melodies and maybe write songs or improvise over existing songs.

However, along with this practical side of things, you'll also have to learn about phrasing, and how to be musical with the notes you play. Otherwise, as you have experienced for yourself, it just sounds like scales, and not like music.

There are many simple exercises that can help you make the leap from playing scales to creating melodies. A first type of exercise is playing the scales differently. If you play the C Major scale as c-d-e-f-g-a-b-c and then maybe back down again, it always sounds the same, and it's clearly just a scale. But you can also play the scale:

  • in thirds: c-e-d-f-e-g-f-a-g-b-a-c
  • in fourths, fifths, ...
  • in runs of 3 notes: c-d-e-d-e-f-e-f-g-f-g-a-g-a-b-a-b-c
  • in runs of 4 notes, 5 notes, ...
  • parts of the scale: c-d-e-d-c, c-d-e-f-e-d-c, ...
  • triads in the scale: c-e-g, d-f-a, e-g-b, ...
  • 7th chords in the scale: c-e-g-b, d-f-a-c, ...
  • starting on a different note: any of the above exercises from d, from e, ...

These exercises are good for scale practice, and they are helpful for playing scales (and thinking about scales) in ways that are more musical.

A second type of exercise is to limit yourself, and try to be expressive with a limited number of notes, by choosing when to play them, in what rhythm, for how long, how loud, ... and by playing each note differently, and trying to find something that works with the song or backing track that you're playing over:

  • play only the note c (really), and try to make it sound interesting
  • choose a different note, and try again
  • choose two or three or ... notes, and try to come up with something interesting
  • choose a string, and play notes only on that string
  • try the previous exercise on all 6 strings
  • choose one finger, and use only that finger to fret notes

This may sound silly, but I urge you to give it a try. These exercises force you to think musically, instead of just thinking about where to put your finger to play the next note in the scale. If you learn to add something musically meaningful to a song with just one or two different notes, you'll surely be able to add something meaningful without those limitations.

A third kind of exercise to avoid just playing scales, and think musically instead of playing what your fingers are used to, is singing the notes as you play them (out loud or in your head). This will force you to pick the notes very deliberately, instead of just moving to the next note in the scale because your finger are used to going there. You'll have to do this slowly at first, and it will take some time before you can do this as quickly as you can play scales, but it is an important part of becoming a player who can actually play a melody instead of just playing scales as fast as you can and hoping that that will impress your audience.

And lastly, sticking to the notes in the scale of C Major when playing over a song or backing track in C Major, is a simple rule of thumb that will help you as a beginner, but don't be afraid to step outside the lines. Try a passing tone now and then; instead of playing d-e, try d-d#-e and see how it sounds. Or just throw in a "wrong" note occasionally, just to find out whether it's interesting or not. Experiment, but always judge the result with your ears, not with what your brain or fingers have learned is the "right" thing to do.

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    Excellent first answer! Welcome! Apr 14, 2022 at 13:25
  • EXCELLENT musical advice. I am going to go back and add in a few I have never tried. GOOD JOB, Plutar Gayer!
    – Bill Welch
    Apr 18, 2022 at 3:45
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You may be doing a lot of up/down scale motion, perhaps something like basic scale practice up and down, but trying to add a twist here and there for "interest."

That approach treats a musical line, a melody, as a series of pitch changes. Going about it that way would seem to make sense, because a typical description of melody is something along the lines of "a series of pitches." But, don't overlook the importance of rhythm!

Try there two rhtyhmic things:

  • work with a short rhythmic motif, simple ideas like long short short, long short short, or long triplet long long, or whatever you can imagine, repeat the rhythmic motif for whatever pitches you choose
  • pay attention to forming good phrases with a pause at the end of lines, for example if you had a repeating 4 bar progression, when you get to the fourth bar play a long note, pitch-wise the tonic or dominant (or chord root/fifth) tend to make good line ending notes

Getting back to pitch, don't worry about moving pitch around too much, that would mean less motion for your hand on the neck. Of course you will want some pitch movement, but think in gradual terms, and don't think that you must constantly move pitch around, some ideas...

  • Choose a pitch from the chord then just articulate that single pitch with rhythm.
  • If you then want to add some pitch variety, try just a neighboring motion, one step up or down and then back to the starting pitch.
  • Also, instead of motion up/down the scale, try motion up/down the chord, that's called arpeggiation, you could add some pitch variety with your rhythmic ideas simply by arpeggiating up or down from a given tone and then return to that starting tone.

The pitch ideas above are what you might call "inside the chord" or "inside the bar". For example, consider you are playing in 4/4 time and you have beats 1 2 3 4 for each bar, for each chord. This "inside the bar" playing is all about motion occurring between beats 1 and 4, or in other words inside the bar lines.

But, good melodies pay careful attention to the changing chords and the change over the bar line. In other words: pay careful attention to beat 4 of the bar/chord transitioning to beat 1 of the next bar/chord. One way you can think about this is...

  • Think in terms of voice leading, which is very simplified terms is moving notes by single steps to make chord changes (the topic is more complex than that, but don't worry about it now.)

The important thing is this: when you are on a particular pitch moving to the next chord usually involves (with minimal, smooth voice leading) move up or down only by one step, or simply holding the pitch you're already on. For any given, common two chord change, you can think in terms of three melodic moves. For example, chords C to G, the three shortest melodic moves would be pitches G to G, E to D, and C to B. That's just one option to hold the pitch and two to move by one step down. Try the same thing and explore the possibilities for chords C to Am and C to F.

If you summarize everything above regarding pitch, it boils down to move by single steps, or arpeggiate the chord.

Notice how this would take us away from just noodling up and down scales!

Try these ideas to simplify what you're doing pitch-wise so you can better focus on interesting rhythms and good line phrasing.

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