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So far I have known 3 pentatonic shapes, I don't just run it up and down when soloing but I don't think it's a good solo. I've heard about harmony, target notes, chords, one pentatonic per chord but I don't think I get the grasp of it. Can someone tell me how to achieve harmony and what target notes to aim for? Would it be something as if the chord C is played over I mainly focus on C,E,Gs?

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A great exercise is to examine closely many good tunes, and their harmonies.

Check what notes are played on beat one of each bar.

Check the pattern of the rhythm of notes making up the tune.

Check what 'foreign' notes are used - and where they come in a bar.

Check how several notes might get played one way on one chord, and in a similar way on a different chord.

Check how some songs use a 'conversation' where a short tune is replied to by another.

Check what notes are often used on unstressed parts of the bar.

Check how, on certain songs, a completely 'wrong' note just works so well.

Then, use those ideas in your soloing!

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(TL;DR: harmony and phrasing)

Harmony

You ask "How to achieve harmony?" There's nothing to achieve, some kind of harmonic feeling or "context" always exists. The question is, what to you do to the harmony with your solo, so I transform your question to: "How to achieve an understanding of what I'm doing to the harmony."

Any note can be played over any chord, and together with any other notes, and it will always do something harmonically. The (1) rhythmic placement within a bar, (2) length of the notes, and (3) strength (dynamics, volume, power) of the notes affect how strongly your note does what it does. Any note that you play on a strong beat, e.g. on the "one" when your beat goes one-two-thre-four-... , will have a greater impact than ones you play between beats or the "and" of one-and-two-and-three-and-four-and-... If you play a short note between the beats, it will be a so-called "passing tone", and its harmonic impact is much weaker. So I'm saying that ANYTHING you play strongly on a strong beat, is effectively a chord-tone, regardless of what were supposed to be chords tones by the arranger or someone who played the backing chords.

Even with single-note solo lines over a drum beat or metronome click, you're creating a harmonic idea. You're implying a harmony, drawing a harmonic picture in the listener's mind. You're outlining or shaping things.

The different things you can do with your chord tones, i.e. notes which are played in a way that they affect the harmony strongly, are the following:

  • Either you agree and strengthen the harmony created by the backing chords by playing chord tones. For example, on a C major (C-E-G), you play a C, E or G. (remember, on a harmonically strong beat! passing tones aren't considered here)
  • or you augment or add something to it by playing notes that are not part of the backing chords, for example on a C major (C-E-G) you play a B note, which will turn the chord into a Cmaj7 (C-E-G-B).
  • or you might disagree with the harmony (or the harmonic movement) and by playing a note that feels like it's fighting against the other notes, for example on a C major chord, a G# note feels like a slight disagreement. But if you leave out the G from the C-E-G backing chord, it becomes a C+5 chord! To be honest, it's very hard to come up with an example that could be explained over a single static chord. On a static C major backing chord, any single note makes something that I think is nice or at least interesting.

IMO, over a single static chord, any single note pretty much "works" and makes sense. Even the G# over C major isn't bad, it's actually quite interesting. But as time goes on, you start getting problems, when there's a chord progression. Remember, whatever notes you play, outline some chords. Play single notes on a metronome click. Keep playing... as you keep playing, you keep outlining chords ... is it the same chord you've been outlining all the time, or has it changed? Have you outlined chord 1 now and then a different chord? If you don't outline the same chord all the time, you're outlining a series of different chords, and so you're actually outlining a chord progression! What kind of a progression did you outline? If you don't have any idea, then you're drawing random stuff in the listener's mind. The big picture is not in your control, if you don't even know what story it is you're telling.

Or even worse ... if you're playing over a backing track, are you outlining things that support the chord progression, or are you trying to tell a different story on top of it? A random, out-of-control, story perhaps? It needs to be in your control.

The biggest mistake, IMO, in guitar solos, is not having a clue about how the harmony progression ("story") works, and outlining a different, incompatible or even completely random story on top of it. Car analogy. Harmony is a big thing like a car, it goes somewhere, and there can only be one driver. If you're not the driver with total control - you need to know how your actions are turning the wheel. If you play random stuff, you're trying to turn the steering wheel randomly. There are basically three ways to avoid this:

  • (1) Learn how harmony is driven. Learn to play chord progressions to songs by ear, and learn what the role of each note is in the chord progression, particularly the root and the third. Learn to create your own alternative chord progressions to song melodies. Make your own backing tracks or use a looper. Learn to be the driver!
  • (2) If you can't understand how harmony is driven, learn a few safe neutral things to play that don't touch the steering wheel. Play things that make it look like you're doing something. One very commonly used neutral thing is the pentatonic scale, which can be played over many chord progressions without making any substantial harmonic impact. If the song is in the key of A minor or C major, the notes A - C - D - E - G can usually be played even randomly, without fighting the backing progression too much. Again remember, only caring about notes played strongly on harmonically strong beats. As weak short passing tones you can play things more freely.
  • (3) One-by-one, learn licks and tricks that aren't generally neutral and safe, but that can be played in certain situations you can identify. For example if the backing track has a C7 chord (notes C-E-G-Bb), you can arpeggiate for example a Gm6 (G-Bb-D-E), Gm7 (G-Bb-D-F), Bb (Bb-D-F) or Edim7 (E-G-Bb-Db) chord over it. If the song is in C major, soloing those make a very strong harmonic impact, but now since you know that there's a C7 dominant seventh chord, the harmonic effect is already there and you can amplify it. Once the C7 chord has ended, quickly switch back to playing safe notes only.

Maybe I should stress this: using the right diatonic scale will not save you from driving the harmony all over the place randomly. For example the C major scale has the building blocks of a whole world of harmonic changes, you can have tonic, subdominant, dominant, ... I, ii, iii, IV, V, vi, viio ... Do not outline random chords! Not even if you think you're doing it "in the key".

Phrasing

Say something
Say something
Say something different, and then
Say something

There's a simple A-A-B-A pattern that works on many levels. Solo phrases, song parts, etc. There's any number of similar patterns, but use a pattern, any pattern as long as you use it and don't chaotically switch. Play those lines with your instrument. Develop the phrases.

Here are a few "idea seeds" for creating phrases:

  • Use a phrase with one note.
  • Use a phrase with two notes.
  • Use a phrase with three notes.
  • Use a phrase with four notes.
  • Use a phrase that starts on a backing chord tone.
  • Use a phrase that approaches a backing chord tone from below, e.g. for C major, play G-D-E
  • Use a phrase that approaches a backing chord tone from above, e.g. for C major, play D-F-E
  • Use a phrase that "sandwitches" a chord tone, for example for a C major, play D-B-D-B-C, or for F major, B-G-B-G-A

Develop your phrase. Transform it a little bit when you play it the next time. Here are some things to try:

  • Change the pitch of one note of the phrase on the next round.
  • Change the length of one note of the phrase
  • Change the timing of one note of the phrase
  • Move the timing of the whole phrase to the "ands" between beats (i.e. make it syncopated)
  • Move the pitch of the whole phrase along the scale (e.g. E-D-C --> F-E-D --> E-D-C --> D-C-B)
  • Move all notes except one (e.g. E-D-C --> F-E-D --> E-D-C --> D-C-B)
  • Take a short sentence you like and "speak" it with your instrument.
  • Take the pitches of a phrase you stole from your favorite guitar solo, but change the timing
  • Take the timing of a phrase you stole from your favorite guitar solo, but change the pitches
  • Take the timing of a phrase you stole from the guitar solo hate the most, but change the pitches
  • Etc.

So play phrases and develop them! Good luck and have fun.

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That would be a perfectly good start. And it was the approach taken to a whole lot of good, melodic jazz from the Golden Age before everyone got obsessed with 'chord=scale'.

Look at how the original melody fits with the chord notes. Try to make up an alternative melody rather than just playing scales. It's time for a reaction against Jamey Aebersold and the Berklee method!

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Some ideas:

  • rhythmic variations of the patterns
  • add changing notes (e.g. triplets)
  • passing tones
  • chromatic approaches to the pentatonic scales
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Running up and down a scale shape is not music. Forget these shapes and learn an actual song. Learn a solo from a guitarist you like and pick some licks from it to change up and use as part of your own language. Depending on the style you can either learn by ear or get the TABS, transcriptions. Learn some Zep, Yes, Van Halen, Wes, Pat Martino, Hendrix, etc. This is how you learn to solo, not by learning a "shape" and running up and down.

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