I'm an intermediate guitar player looking for tips on how to best approach learning another musician's guitar solo. I've got a good grasp of the major/minor scales and modes, but I am missing something fundamental in my attempts at applying them to even simple solos.

I'm terrible at memorizing tabs and really don't care about learning the piece exactly as it was on the record. I'm more interested in looking at a piece of tab or watching a live performance and being able to: - identity the scale(s) being used - get a grasp of the overall feel of the solo - pick up some new licks from the solo and effectively piece them together with ones i already know

My problem is that I get so lost in the exact notes of what is being played, i find that i cant really make much sense of what the player had in mind when creating the piece. Even when, for example, someone explains that the whole solo is in a minor pentatonic - i'll watch the person play it and there are tons of notes not even in a minor pentatonic. I start wondering, what other scale is in play here? Is this really even a minor pentatonic? What did this person really have in mind when they threw that dissonant sounding note into the mix and why does it sound so awesome?

I know this is very broad and it an answer would just be the starting point to lots of further research. If there is a recommended book, blog, anything that could help me get to a better overall understanding, it would be greatly appreciated.


1 Answer 1


From my perspective, which is less theory and more practice, I would always try and approach this chords first.

Listen to the rhythm guitarist. On the run up to the solo and then all the way through the solo, the rhythm guitarist (or keyboard or whatever) will be providing you with all the chords so you don't need to guess what the soloist is playing from.

Once you know that, a slightly trickier part is to understand which mode the soloist is using, and why...

If you can hear all the notes, and it sounds like you can, identify which fit into a mode - this can tell you which mode is being used. Be aware that there will be notes that don't fit in whatever mode a phrase may be based on.

  • and that is fine. If you do remain entirely within a mode or scale things can get a bit boring.

But there are no rules as to what is not allowed, so any guitarist can put in whatever notes they like. If you play enough of a particular guitarist's work you will learn their idioms, fills and riffs - which they use and reuse. So in some cases they may not have a particular reason for a note.

It might just have sounded good when they first did it, and so they decided to keep it in.

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