So, I have the technical skills, theory ( Chord tones as an example ), hammer ons, bends, ect all down really well but I suffer from these issues:

  1. I still cant create an interesting solo in my head or my hands.
  2. I cant remember someone else's a solo in my head after transcribing it and playing it a zillion times
  3. My transcribing is not an issue, I'm not tone deaf.
  4. Even if I come up with a simple riff, connecting it to another seamlessly (Melodically, not technically ) seams out of reach. When I jam against some chords, its harmonically sound, but really boring.

Whats going on with me ?

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    The "I cant remember someone else's a solo in my head after transcribing it and playing it a zillion times" sounds like a fairly big memory problem to me. I generally have the solo embedded in my head after I listen to or play it that many times. – Dekkadeci Jun 7 '18 at 14:31
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    I agree with that: after a zillion times you should definitely know it by heart. But, it's actually possible to be a good solo player even if you're incapable of remembering anything, as long as you're good at improvising. – leftaroundabout Jun 8 '18 at 0:11

Sorry but technical skill does not translate to musicality. Don't stop practicing, as skills are great to have, but you need to completely reorient how you view soloing. It helps to learn to think in phrases rather than licks or scales and arpeggios. Music is a language like any spoken language and one can have musical idioms that seem to violate the basic rules (or guidelines) of western music and still project meaning to the listener.

30 years ago I was in your position, especially when it came to jazz. You say you have all these techniques but how long have you spent on the process? Maybe you just haven't given it enough time. If you can transcribe solos then you're in good shape. Dissect those solos and find the basic phrases. Commit those to memory, not the whole solo. It takes time to build up a good memory.

Just putting a chord tone on a chord will most always lead to forgettable solos. I understand the theory behind it but following chords puts the cart before the horse. The solo should feel like it's leading the way, not following.

My advice would be keep listening without your guitar. Don't try to solo or transcribe. Just listen to guitarists you like without judgement. Then take note of specific phrases that make a solo memorable. Go back and focus on these and build up a vocabulary of phrases, not technical rules. This might help.


I am not a great improviser (I don't practice that anymore), but back in the day when I was doing a lot of soloing on saxophone in jazz band, I had the same trouble when I started out. A few things helped me (some of which I think you are already doing):

1) listen to A LOT of music that you are trying to play. For me, that meant listening to a ton of jazz. This did not help immediately, but it filled my head not with specific ideas, but with the general feel of what to do.

2) Practice the technique and the riffs and LOTS of scales and arpeggios. These things are the basics of your instrument. My teacher told me "your instrument needs to be an extension of your body." When you think a note, your hands need to be able to go right there and make the sound come out. The only way to get there is to know your instrument like the back of your hand. Scales and arpeggios and more scales and arpeggios. Riffs are OK, but scales and arpeggios let you make up your own riff. If you want to practice riffs, transpose them to more keys.

3) This was the one that helped me finally "do it" and play a nice solo. Start simple. A lot of the reason I was having trouble was I was biting off more than I could chew. The songs had too many chord changes or went too fast. Finally I had a song to solo in that was a slow minor-blues I really connected with, and it all clicked. I suggested starting with blues. Really get comfortable with that before trying to solo with music with more complicated chord progressions and sets of scales. Give yourself time to soak it in, relax, and feel it.

Adding a 4th suggestion: sing along with the chord progressions. You can't play a solo if you can't hear a solo.

  • You could amplify on point (3): I teach my young students to start soloing by only playing one note and just improvising a rhythm for it. Then they are allowed two notes. Then four notes, etc. This is after they have a good sense of the minor pentatonic scale, of course. – Todd Wilcox Jun 7 '18 at 13:48
  • @ToddWilcox, very good point. I did not go through that myself, but my husband ran a jazz combo for high schoolers and used that technique with them. It is very effective (and helps to make improv less scary!) Miles Davis used this on one of his pieces. I can't remember which one, though. – Heather S. Jun 7 '18 at 17:17
  • @Heather S., I liked your answer so I didn't write up another one. :-) I wanted to emphasis your last point. Almost always its easier to sing something than to play it on your instrument because you are not constrained by what you can play technically. Practice singing your improve and focus on the head/melody of the tune. Putting notes from the melody IMO help make the improv sound more interesting because it is "familiar" (because it matches the tune). – PatS Jun 13 '18 at 13:53

Allow me to guess, please. You're not a fan of scales. Without complete knowledge of several, you are a little stuck. When you transcribe, do you instinctively go to the next note, because you are well aware of the scale the player is using, or do you (like I did for years, wasted!) stab away until you heard the right note?

Knowing several types of scales will help, obviously if you don't already have these. Major and minor pentatonics; major and minor blues; major and (3) minor seven note scales; some modes. Knowing these, in any key - which on guitar isn't too tricky to move up and down - will allow you to be able to sing a phrase, then play it straight away. It'll also allow you to know which scale a player is using, thus make it easier to transcribe, and also more effective to remember. You may well get to the place where you think 'root, 3, 4, 6'for a phrase, and then be able to change its key immediately. Sort of like reading a mental map. That's a better proposition than trying to remember each twist and turn.

Please tell me if this is on the right track, or whether I need to address the question differently.

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