I'm a well versed and experienced guitarist. I have a decent sense for rhythm and melody, but I have a VERY hard time with soloing. I know you've heard it all before I'm one of those guys that got stuck practicing scales too much and cant, for the life of me use them productively.

I CAN sometimes come up with little melodies, but I need help getting out of the scale rut. I understand modes and arpeggios and chord progressions, but I just need help getting out of the "running scales" problem I have. I listen to and play many genres: metal, rock, jam band, jazz.

The main issue I've been having is I'm stuck in the pattern blocks and have a hard time connecting different patterns together to make nice runs and arps. I need to make up some drills to work between the patterns, connecting them instead of running one after the other.

  • You hit it on the nail: scales are not solos, nor does practicing scales help in any way to make good solos. Jan 23, 2015 at 19:54

22 Answers 22


Do you transcribe other players' solos? I find this helps me a lot, especially when I transcribe non-guitarists' solos. The clichés and idioms on other instruments are simply different than they are on guitar, so that can help to see melody from a different perspective. Trumpets and saxophones, in particular, sit in a similar range to the guitar but have completely different styles of play.

To get the most out of transcribing solos, here are some points I think are important:

Choose solos you love, but from which you can learn. For example, I love the playing the blues and I want to expand my repertoire of blues ideas, but I don't transcribe Stevie Ray Vaughn solos. I love Stevie's playing, but I can't learn from it anymore. He played exactly what I would have played, if only I could play better. This is not to take anything away from Stevie, who did in fact play better than I do, but just to point out that I won't learn much from a Stevie solo that I don't already know.

On the other hand, I just transcribed Oliver Nelson's solo on "Stolen Moments", from his record Blues and the Abstract Truth (his solo starts at 4:14 and goes to about 5:54). "Stolen Moments" is also a blues, and Wikipedia describes his solo in it as "contain[ing] 'possibly the most famous' use of the augmented scale in jazz." I didn't know that at the time I started transcribing it (I just looked up the Wikipedia page as I was writing this), but I knew it was beautiful, lyrical, haunting, and entirely different from anything I would have thought of playing.

Get it right. Not just the notes, but the timing and the inflection as well. Get some software that slows music down without altering its pitch and allows you a great deal of scrubbing and looping control. I've used both the Amazing Slow Downer and Capo, and both are very good.

Getting the timing right is especially hard for me, but there's a lot to learn there. I have a tendency to overplay and to rush, and forcing myself to absolutely nail the timing on, say, a Miles Davis solo has taught me a lot about relaxing and staying in and behind the pocket. The inflection isn't as hard for me, but sometimes it's hard for my students. They don't seem to hear things like grace notes, slides, bends, vibrato, etc., the kinds of things that give the solo its vocal-like quality.

Write it down. This is important on so many levels. It will improve your reading, improve your knowledge of the fretboard, and it will really force you to grapple with the timing. Does that phrase really start on the 'and' of 3? How long is that pause? I thought those were sixteenth notes, but if they are, then the notes in this measure don't add up to four quarters. Hm.

Writing the solo out will also help with analysis. Once you've written it down, go back and write the chord symbols over the staff as they occur in the song. Then analyze the solo to see how the notes and phrases work with the chords. If you really want to go nuts with this, listen carefully to the chords that the other players are actually playing rather than the chords in the chart---they may be using alterations and substitutions, and the soloist may be playing off of those.

To be blunt: if you know the solo, write it down. If you can't write it down, you don't really know the solo.

Wisdom from Miles. Miles famously said about soloing, "Play what you hear, not what you know." In other words, when you're soloing, don't think about augmented scales and minor-7th arpeggios. Listen instead to what's in your heart and your head, and play that. Easier said than done, obviously, but this is exactly how transcribing helps the most: it trains your heart and head to hear ideas you wouldn't otherwise have, and it trains your fingers to execute better what you hear.

  • 4
    The part about transcribing other instruments is great advice. Their ruts are completely different.
    – horatio
    Mar 18, 2011 at 19:26
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    Adding to Miles' wisdom, I have my students sing what they're playing. This really helps internalize the connection between thought and fingers. Eventually, I make them sing a phrase while playing 'air' guitar and then play the phrase verbatim on their guitar. Once you've done this for a while, you can play anything you can think, which I often find to be more melodic than how my fingers tend to stroll when left to their own devices.
    – yossarian
    Mar 18, 2011 at 20:40
  • I'm still reading you answer, it's long and I have ADD LOL.....anyway..I am trying to learn solos a lead guitarist I had threw down for my old band. blues licks, but the phrasing is superb and just has so much experience behind it they're hard to comp. link to tunes : bandmix.com/raintree_music the song "Don't Rock The Boat" is a perfect example of solos I CAN"T write myself but really should be able to now with 20+ years behind me. I wrote the chord progressions for those songs 10 years ago and played rhythm. Mar 19, 2011 at 1:21
  • I knew about Steve Vai's time with Zappa. Marty Friedman also has mentioned that transcribing sax solos was part of how he learned. Mar 19, 2011 at 1:53
  • @InternalConspiracy If your having trouble linking guitar bits/phrases/patterns together you probably would benefit from transcribing some solos. Liking raintree btw, can hear Santana's influence in there somewhere. Nice bass in there too.
    – Bella
    Mar 22, 2011 at 6:16

I think this is a common problem with guitarists, we all at some point or other run across this. Some of the things I have have learned to push past this are as follows.

String skipping

String skipping is a good way to mix up your scale runs, its a good idea to find a pattern you like the sound of and try moving it around, applying this to arpeggios is equally interesting. Here is a simple pattern repeated over two octaves in B minor:

$6.7  $6.10  $4.7  $4.9  $4.9  $4.12  $2.10  $2.12 

Hint: it might sound nice to drop the repeated B(9) and slide into it instead.


There are quite a lot of way you can use intervals to get interesting sounds, one idea is to take a scale and decide that you will play it using notes exactly x number of intervals apart.

So you might choose to play Dorian mode with notes 3 intervals apart, this could go as follows; [1-4][2-5][3-6][4-7][5-1] and so on through the octaves. Or you could take a section of this say [1-4][2-5] and move the pattern up an octave repeating the pattern.

Its a good idea to practice this using different interval distances and in different keys/modes, also its a good idea to make yourself a backing track to play over. Here is an example of using notes 5 intervals apart in B minor:

$4.9  $3.11  $4.9  $4.7  $3.9  $4.7  $4.5  $3.7  $4.5  $4.4  $3.6  $4.4  $4.2  $3.4 

You could play this in any way you want; however I have kept this on the two strings because it sounds nice to slide this around. Its also another very nice way to get around the neck. Try this with different interval distances.

There is a similar idea to this but using arpeggios in this answer I gave.

This is the kind of thing Paul Gilbert does a lot, I suggest you check out some of his videos on Youtube.

Alternate scale/arpeggio patterns

Its also a good idea to try and find multiple places and fingerings to play the same scale, certain fingerings lend themselves to certain ways of playing, this will also open up your knowledge of the fretboard which will naturally lead to more musical ideas and flexibility.

As with everything else, pay close attention to your phrasing when applying these ideas.

Here is a musical sample I created to accompany this answer; it incorporates the ideas in this answer (string skipping and intervals) interspersed with straight scale runs and a little phrasing.

  • thanks, I do stuff like this all the time. It's the "using it musically" part that gets me sometimes. It's not like I CAN"T EVER write a decent solo, but I have to work at it very hard to make it right. and by now, 20+ years playing just guitar, I should be able to do it by now. That part really just hasn't clicked yet. Mar 19, 2011 at 1:25
  • There is a lot of Wisdom in @Alex Basson's answer, the idea i have put forward are purely from a technical standpoint; i personally very rarely sit down and transcribe things note for note, since i try to develop my own style; however i do often put on an album of whatever i'm listening to that week and groove along with. While doing this i try to retain the original feel of the tracks but using my own style, while assimilating interesting licks/lines from the track (whatever instrument). This is how i develop a lot of technique, and have a lot of fun. I usually do this with a few beers ;)
    – Bella
    Mar 19, 2011 at 13:49

After reading your comment to @johnnysim's answer, I think what you really need is ear training and singing along your practice; pick a note and try to guess the sound of another note in the same scale before actually playing it. It takes a lot of training but you'll eventually be able to play any melody you have in mind.

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    I do need ear training actually. I have a voice teacher that lives next door to me and I would be dumb not to take advantage of that. I can usually sing a melody or solo, but I can never translate it to guitar, and If I try it gets so discombobulated it doesn't sound anything like what imagined and I don't remember what the original was supposed to sound like. ADD for ya! Jul 1, 2011 at 2:42

A great alternative to breaking out of linear scale runs is to use arpeggios. The first step is to be able to play chord tones of a chord progression. So in a progression in the key of E minor that goes Em Am for example, you could improvise with an Emin triad (E, G, B) over Em, and an Amin triad (A, C, E) over Am.

Once you are comfortable with visualizing these chord tones on the neck and playing it in time with the progression, take it a step further and play an Emin7 (E, G, B, D) over Em, and an Amin7 (A, C, E, G) over Am - these extra notes will add more colour to your lines.

I have a blog on this approach that demonstrates me playing over a more complex progression with tab: http://guitartreats.blogspot.com/2010_07_01_archive.html

If you're feeling adventurous, you may go another step further and start superimposing other arpeggios: play a Gmaj7 (G, B, D, F#) over Em, and a Cmaj7 (C, E, G, B) over Am to create even more interesting lines.

  • I like your blog post example. Also, I'd love to know how you generated the music/tab that you included in the post. What software are you using to make that? Mar 18, 2011 at 14:39
  • Hi Alex, thanks for checking out my blog. I use a Mac and created that notation/tab with a free software called Tuxguitar. It's a simple but effective program, but these days I've switched to using GuitarPro6 for more flexibility and the results looks a lot better too.
    – Anonymous
    Mar 18, 2011 at 14:46

Something I was taught that helped me break out of the scale box was to treat the notes of a scale as a target rather than a requirement. For instance, you can play patterns around the G major scale and only land on the notes of that scale to release tension. As an example, I have an ascending lick where I do 2 and 3 note hammer-on / pull-offs where the root note of the "flutter" is a note in the pentatonic scale. By the time you get up 6 or 7 steps up you've built up a lot of tension with which you can descend back down using a more traditional scale.


Dude, song is about melody, not about scales and arpeggios. Start with the melody and enjoy it. Don't mechanically try to add anticipations etc. just let it get into your mind until you feel where you want to add your stuff. Every "method" is just another way to get into another "rut". Soloing is just playing with the melody, otherwise it is boring and unnatural. And keep the groove. For example Tommy Emmanuel has this incredible talent of taking a melody and developing amazing things with it. He doesn't even read music and I was in a masterclass when he actually asked the audience "I don't know how this chord is called"... Most of us knew the chord, but there was no one who could play better than Tommy.

  • @ZvonkoM Cool a fellow computer geek guitar guy. I have not heard of Tommy, but a guitarist I am inspired by, and I'm sure most have not heard of him is Steve Sweeney with the Ohio Jam band Ekoostik Hookah ekoostik.com He has a very Dickie Betts style that I envy. I aspire to have phrasing like Steve Sweeney! Even in the Metal I play, I want phrasing that melts your soul. Mar 19, 2011 at 1:36

So you practice scales and arpeggios but can't actually do anything with it? But what were you not doing all this time? How about putting down the guitar for a while, put on some Stevie Ray or Django or Holdsworth or Hendrix whatever you fancy and just listen.

Get that feel for what the musician is playing - find what it is about their playing, whether it's a feel, tone, rhythm or a particular sequence of notes - and internalize it, practice it, master it. Do this repeatedly and tirelessly because you love it, and can't help it. Obviously, if you want to be a guitarist, it's because you love the guitar and the music, not because you want to be the next -cough- Richie Sambora. -hack-

  • I listen obsessively sometimes. less than a few years ago, but I have a good ear and pick out each player's subtleties. Like SRV. Lots of people can PLAY an SRV song, but they don't come anywhere close to SOUNDING like SRV. He had a subtle technique that just made each chord he played stand out. Mar 19, 2011 at 1:28
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    I can do a pretty good impression of SRV and I can't remember ever really practicing to sound like SRV. Practice is absolutely necessary to connect what you hear in your mind with what your fingers must do, but ultimately getting the sound comes from total confidence with the instrument.
    – Anonymous
    Mar 19, 2011 at 1:58
  • That said, to try to explain the SRV sound, it comes from a fairly tight grasp on the strings with the fretting hand applying subtle vibrato across several strings at once, or simultaneously pulling several sharp sharp, while the right hand is very slightly muffling the strings at bridge to get a nice rhythmic chording - sometimes muting only the lower strings to get a nice searing lead. Also very important is muting with the fret hand, loosening grip so stings lift off fret but still light touch by hand. Do that and apply some rock-solid rhythm, you got it made. :)
    – Anonymous
    Mar 19, 2011 at 2:18
  • "ultimately getting the sound comes from total confidence with the instrument" which I'm gaining but still don't have quite yet!! I don't really have opportunities to play with other people very often either and I know that can make a big difference. Mar 19, 2011 at 3:44

Sing what you play. Then play what you sing. You don't have to sing accurately, but it will change the way you choose your notes and rhythms.

  • If I could play the melodies I sing and make up to riffs, I would be on the cover of every guitar rag! but alas, here I am. That's great advise though and have been trying to do that more and more. sing something, then try to play it. It never comes out exactly, but I get close. I do that with riffs a lot too. Mar 19, 2011 at 1:26

Don't analyze it. Clapton was once asked for the most important piece of advice for guitar players and he replied "listen as much as you can". Forget the arpeggios and the modes... listen to some simple blues pieces and play them back with feeling. Sometimes you will have to play the same line a hundred times to get a unique take on it. This is not as obvious as it sounds but it is a very worthwhile approach and in my opinion the only one that separates the parrots from the real guitarists.

  • agreed to a point. I need to arps and scales so I can TRANSLATE what I hear in my head, to notes. I am not one to play within the rules at all..but I like to have them as a guideline. There's a lot of experience behind that too. Having the years that I do, I CAN take a simple lick and make it sound better just by doing something subtle to it a beginner would never know to do. Mar 19, 2011 at 1:33
  • True. But it took me 30+ years to use my ear when playing something back to myself on guitar; instead I was always concentrating on the geography of the neck. Since I made that paradigm switch about 2 years ago, my playing ability has gone to another level. It was a subtle but powerful lesson... and it was Clapton's quote that clued me into it...
    – Anonymous
    Mar 19, 2011 at 2:31
  • what types of things do you do? I know it can be hard to verbalize feeling, but if you have some concrete examples of what you did differently that would be great. Mar 19, 2011 at 3:43
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    Take a song like Stepping Out (Beano album). Listen to it a few times and take a walk/drive. In my head I hear how I would like to be playing it - we all do this. However, when we pick up the guitar after that we need to "rehear" what we just played in our head! Usually, this gets lost in translation. When playing it in your head, make it better than the original... think how to knock their socks off with feeling! When the crowd gets chills down their back, you've hit the target :)
    – Anonymous
    Mar 19, 2011 at 13:55

My answer will be Blues based:

a) Try Call/Response type phrasing. This means instead of long legato lines, you could try to do dismantle your penchant for runs into small "conversations" a la Blues. Playing a phrase - such as a short B.B.King style 1 bar lick. Then answer it with a phrase that is totally different rhythmically and melodically.

One thing extra thing you could do is "swap" the phrasing. If the first call is a phrase that sounds good, you could respond by repeating the phrase but perhaps an octave higher/lower or perhaps in a harmonic equivalent.

Basically - this forces you to consciously play differently. Of course you can still through in an arp here and there - but it begins to cut up your scalar runs into small "human" voice type sentences.

b) Al Di Meola Rhythms. Instead of the usual legato style 16th and 32nd notes. Again, throw in interruptions and Rests. Apply accents to the offbeats. Etc. Di Meola is a big influence on me regarding this. It will at least make your scalar runs sound "different" to begin with.

c) Don't Play at all. In a solo section - how far can you go without playing anything? Must you fill every bar with a solo? How about literally stopping. This can give some creative options. eg. If you know you're going to stop - play a tension building lick. If you decide you will play 2 bars then rest for 3 you could try and articulate a phrase that's appropriate. (for some reason I've got a Latin Samba beat in my head as I write this).

d) Try mimicing horn players. The thing about horn players is that their power comes from breath. Therefore they will run out and will need to take a rest! Try and do the same. This is another variation of (b). But the other dynamic is that the articulations are different. Again... because their lines are not "guitar" based - mimicing their runs could afford you some new phrases.

e) Singing I think this was covered in another thread, but singing along to your solos can help you unlock some creative juices. You can either sing while your playing. Or sing a phrase then play it. The latter is definitely harder - and at least it's not "guitar" in origin so you won't immediately fall back in your rut.

Hope these help

  • for (d), try staying on just one string and jump up to second position before changing registers (strings). Oct 26, 2011 at 22:26
  • hey that's a great tip. The jump to a second position can also be done musically via sliding into the note. Or acrobatic octave jumps - they're visually fun but hard to do (especially onstage when you're jumping around!) Oct 27, 2011 at 8:46
  • yeah, a slide or a pivot ($3.2 $3.5 $3.4 $3.7 as 1 - 4 - 1 - 4) is easier. But for that very reason, doing a hard jump makes a better exercise. And you can delay (or avoid) jumping only by doing r e a l l y l o n g s t r e t c h e s. Oct 27, 2011 at 10:06

A lot of people say that you need to do specific things, and then after enough repetition the desired results will happen by themselves. And they're right most of the time. Developing musical intuition is a very powerful way of patching together the emotional center with the moving/instinctual center. But for someone who has intellectualized a lot of the content of musical theory, this becomes increasingly difficult. The brain can't trust the gut to take care of business. So the brain keeps looking over the gut's shoulder and causes interference just by being there.

The only way to combat this "departmentalization" is holism. It really is a spiritual problem. The rut in your playing is symptomatic of a rut in your life (I'm trying to be philosophical, not mean. This is all my opinion based on extrapolation from your question. But I'm going to state it like a fact because it makes the idea easier to explain. As they say in rehab: If it don't apply, let it fly.) Take a break! Go to the park. Find a girl, settle down... oh, wait, never mind.

You should read about the psychology of creativity. Isaac Asimov, Howard Gardner, Carl Jung! Particularly important is the "topology of psyche", the different combinations of the four functions: intellect, emotions, intuition, sensation. You need to teach the brain to respect and understand the gut's true abilities.

You can also keep attacking it from the music theoretical side. Johann Fux's *Gradus ad Parnassum" explains the rules of counterpoint. This is the book Beethoven studied. And the most amazing book on musical theory I've ever found is Viktor Zuckerkandl, Sound and Symbol. It uses musical examples to discuss real philosophy. The idea is that the individual tone itself, when played in a musical context already knows what it should do. Music Theory is the attempt to predict what it should do. Musical Intuition uses the parallel processing of the human nervous system to approximate what it should do. And when the mind, ears, and fingers start to work together, the human organism becomes the instrument and the music truly does "play itself." Like the puppet working a puppet in Being John Malkovich.

So in summary, I both agree and disagree with everybody else on this page. Try their suggestions. But if it doesn't work, check out some of these authors and dig a little deeper. Leverage the mind to break the stranglehold of the mind.

Edit: That said, I did think up a laundry-list of things to try doing.

  • Try to play a solo with just one note. You can use varying dynamics (piano, sforzando, muted, harmonics), varying texture (rallentando, tremolo, staccato, rasgueado!), varying tone (bright near the bridge, sweet near the neck, strangely dull near the center), *swing-against-a-*straight-beat, straighten-up-a-swing-beat, and syncopate, to name a few. This lets you concentrate on the rhythmic phrasing.

  • When you watch TV, play along with the commercials. Try trading-eights with the scrubbing bubbles. You learn to very quickly jump into different styles.

  • When you make a mistake, play it twice!. It makes it sound like you intended it the first time. And the second time you won't get it the same as the first; so it sounds like its developing, albeit a little weird. At that point your fingers have danced around the unfamiliar notes in question long enough that the third time it sounds like you first imagined it. But the audience has become part of the discovery, too!

  • Randomly slide up/down an octave, whereever there's room. Or other intervals, for a quick change of position and timbre (if you change position and keep the same notes, you have to change strings which can give a different edge to the same melodic fragment).

  • Try open tunings and use a slide. Good luck trying to play nice, even scales. You have to pick your notes based on chord intervals and choose which way to slide into it (even if you mute the sliding, it still needs to be a convenient direction).

But these are just techniques, and the scales is just the graph paper. To paint a picture, you have to paint a picture of something. Figure out what emotional aspect the song is missing (too weepy->add aggression, too fluid->add punctuation, too melodic->add rhythm, too rhythmic->add melody, too euphonious->add chaos). In the standard rock-song form, the solo goes between the second and third verse. This is the "summing up" portion of the corresponding Euclidean proof. The solo is the boy Oedipus, reared on the legends of the first and second verse, enumerating his litany before beheading his father (or whatever inescapable conclusion the third verse has to offer). The solo has a musical purpose to justify the tension expressed in the final moments.

And one final bit of inscrutable wisdom from Bill Richardson, band director at UMSL:

Music is between the notes!

He was probably quoting somebody, but never told who.

The most between-the-notes soloist of all time is Louis Armstrong. (But try the one-note solo first, listening to Louis is cheating!)


A bit late to the party but here are a couple things that have helped me:

1) Focus on small 'boxes' of three or four closely positioned notes on the fretboard. Think of them like manageable bite-sized sub-scales. E.g., from C major pentatonic, take: - The C at the third fret of the A string - The D at the fifth fret of the A string - The E at the second fret of the D string - The G at the fifth fret of the D string

...Take those four notes and master them. I.e., play every single ordering of those notes. Explore different rhythms for the orderings. What happens when you play two of the notes at the same time? Try switching which one you consider to be the 'root' note where you resolve your melodic phrases. What different genres can you express with those four notes? What fingerings work well? Once you feel that you know everything there is to know about that box and have muscle memory for every single pattern imaginable (or are just getting bored with it), choose another one and repeat. After you have a couple boxes, look for ways to connect and transition between them.

You can take the same approach with whole scales (What differing shapes/paths can the same scale take on the fret-board? How do they connect/intertwine?) but the smaller boxes seem more manageable to me.

2) To rephrase the advice in other answers about learning the solos you love: Work out how to play any melodic phrase that comes to mind. I.e., sit down and figure out how to play 'Mary Had a Little Lamb' without any other instruction or hints other than you and your guitar. Then do 'Ride of the Valkyries'. Then do 'The Entertainer'. Then do 'On Top of Old Smokey', etc. etc. You don't have to get all the harmonies and orchestration--just the main theme as you hear it in your head and only to your satisfaction. The goal is to be able to translate what you have in your brain to your fingers. There might also be something of a vernacular in music that has "stood the test of time" or is reasonably memetic--i.e., tunes that everyone knows (including your parents/grandparents).

3) Don't forget articulation in your practice/playing. E.g., things like string bending and vibrato. They're not overly mind-blowing or difficult but they can turn a mechanical/robotic phrase into a much more heart-felt/human/expressive performance.


One-Finger Soloing

It's a very simple technique but I came across this recently. You literally choose one finger on your fretting hand - index most likely - and are only allowed to use this finger.

The idea is it breaks your ingrained muscle memory of playing scale patterns. And also, following the scale is now no easier in terms of finger movement than playing anything else.

I rather feel this is a bit too simple for someone of your experience though?


This may sound silly, but I recommend that you stop improvising for a while (like a month or so) and focus on transcribing and playing composed (not improvised) music by ear. It's hard to grab the guitar and not improvise if you're used to it. But what I think happens when most guitarists improvise, is that their fingers take over, and they start running up and down the scale because fast kewl licks are the norm. That's what people expect from guitarists. And that's what most of our heroes do.

I personally can't keep myself from improvising (yes I'm such a hypocrite) so I moved to another instrument and rarely play the guitar anymore. I find transcribing much harder than improvising, mainly because when I'm improvising, I don't think about every single note, I just decide that I'm going to move from the fifth back to the tonic without skipping any notes, or using an arpeggio, or using that pattern I use all the time... you get the idea.

I think my problem is weak ears. If I can improvise pretty fast, but can hardly transcribe simple melodies from pop songs, what else could it be?


Try to think of the scales in terms of intervals instead of patterns on the guitar neck. In The Advancing Guitarist, one exercise is to play on only one string. That is a helpful technique to map out the intervals, and refrain from using the well known patterns.

Another thing is to play around (with scales or just in general) on a keyboard. I find that I more naturally create melodies there, while on the guitar it is easy to fall back into the patterns. Then play those melodies on the guitar.


This is a great little exercise:


with an on the fly solo i find that basing it around the standard pentatonics really helps, from there you can slip in and out of modes/scales or whatever whenever you like.

i find it helps create a fluid supply of melodies

  • While this is pretty good advice in general for rock/pop solos, the question at the top is specifically about how not to just follow a scalar pattern. Jul 31, 2014 at 4:14

Attitude !! Play music.

The key word is "Play". When it comes to solos, it's literal: a box of toys and some time to do whatever you want.

Training scales and arpeggios etc is greater for dexterity and they may constitute a run or riff you put into a solo, but I think it's not an answer to "how" to come up with a solo - more how to add some impressive twiddles (and nothing wrong with that! :-D ).

I find a good way of gaining some inspiration is to break out of the comfort zone a bit. Don't play within the 'usual' scale/pattern. Play some other fretboard pattern or position that's a bit difficult for you, or unusual. For me, this normally leads to routes and melodieds that I would normally not have arrived at if playing just the good ol' pentatonic etc. Also it serves me well to remember that all I'm doing is making noises. There aren't any rules. So sometimes I play the string so deadened it sounds like a drum and go for a rhythm solo, or just let it feed back and play with tremolo arm, or use the mike stand as a guitar slide. My point isn't "try these", it's more .. break the norm.


Play melodies as if you're the singer. Take a pop(?) song and play the vocal part. Play the words (sort of etc). Once you can hear the song make the notes feel good by bending up to them, different vibrato and phrasing. Then think of the mood of the song, think about the lyrics. Then play the melody in octaves or with a slide.


You have probably got more advice than you can use, so I will be brief. I am coming to the conclusion that no matter what type, style or period, the introduction of half-step, non-scale intervals in melodies makes a difference in the interest that music generates in the listener.

The appoggiatura is just one kind of half-step ornamentation, and it has its technical definition. Let's just say that it is about "leaning" from one note to the next - from a non-scale tone to a scale tone.

In the blues, you will hear the minor third bending to the major third all the time. That is merely the most obvious example. Spice up your solos with non-scale half step intervals, and see what happens.


Everyone's given some great advice, but here's the thing about solos; they're melodies, and melodies are constructed in a certain way. It's possible to figure out that certain way just by playing, but I found it far more useful to actually understand the principles of melody construction ahead of time. Once I did, my solos improved by leaps and bounds.

So, what is the way to construct a melody?

I'm not going to reproduce it here, because it's too much information. What you need to do is grab yourself a copy of "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Music Composition" and read the chapters on melody. They're the best text on the topic I've found.

You can get the book on Amazon here.

  • Learn how to reharmonize the tune, or passages in the tune, with passing chords, secondary dominants, cadences, etc. Then identify tones in each new chord which you use as target tones in your solos.
  • For each passage in your song, identify the tonic chord. Then learn how to use a solo to establish this chord as the harmony of resolution: approaching it and resolving to it.

Good solos are a combination of: phrasing and selection of target tones. Target tones come from the chords; if you have a weak chord progression you will have a weak solo; a nice strong chord progression will give you a strong solo.

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