As the part 1 in the title implies, I am devoting a couple of posts to explaining my soloing philosophy, which I first outlined in my book “Take Control: for guitar”. Most beginners have no idea about soloing. It seems like a huge jump to go from playing a scale pattern to being able to solo or improvise over a song/progression. Over my years of teaching I developed a simple metaphor to explain this process, so my students could relate to something they’d (hopefully) already done. Here it is…
LEARNING TO SOLO IS LIKE LEARNING TO READ. You learned to read in 3 stages and you can learn to solo in 3 stages. We’re just substituting the music language for the English language! Let’s compare the two;
- Stage 1- Learning the scale=learning the alphabet. Playing a scale is like saying your ABC’s. The only thing a scale does is tell you what notes you can play, not what to do with them. But like the alphabet, a scale is the foundation. You have to learn it first.
- stage 2- Learn words=learn riffs and patterns. When you began to read, you combined a few letters together to form words. When you solo you combine a few notes together to form riffs, or play repeating sequences of notes called patterns. (I’ll explain this shortly).
- stage 3- Combine words into sentences=combine riffs & patterns into solos. Kind of self explanatory. It takes a lot of jamming to do this smoothly. Finally you can solo!
Basically a riff is a combination of notes from the scale that sound good together. Most riffs use between 3-8 notes, longer than that is pushing it and the shorter a riff is the more versatile. What defines sounding good is your taste, a riff I like you might hate! So don’t learn my riffs! As I said above, patterns are repeating sequences of notes, groups of 3 (triplets), groups of 4 (sixteenths), etc. These are used to move around the fretboard, connecting riffs, etc. Patterns are used more by technical players, since you can build up a lot of speed up and down the neck with these. It is possible to find scale patterns in a scale thesaurus, or more advanced guitar instruction books like the Berklee series. As far as riffs, most guitar mags have dozens and you can always type in ” blues guitar riffs” or whatever in your search engine.
You can combine riffs and patterns together anyway you want! This means you don’t have to have a huge “vocabulary” of dozens of riffs and patterns, 6 riffs are plenty to start with. If you consider a solo to be some combination of 6 riffs, that factors out to 6x5x4x3x2x1=720 combinations! While all of these combinations might not sound great, even 10% is 72 solos (and this doesn’t count rhythmic variations). So instead of trying to learn a gazillion riffs just find 6 good ones and learn them in all 12 keys, different tempos and feels; you know, jam! I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t plug my book, “Take Control: for guitar”. In it I show you a triplet pattern, and how to move it around the neck. I also give 6 easy generic rock/blues riffs you can use to sound generic! While it is better to sound generic than to suck, you will obviously want better, more personal riffs. Getting your 6 riffs plus a few more odds and ends will be in my next post.