Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Mighty Guitar Solo

My general rule of thumb is: If you can't sing the guitar solo or hum it, then it's not going to connect with listeners very well. I enjoy really simple and melodic musical phrases, a line that "Death Cab For Cutie" would use for example.

Most music/guitar teachers will say that a familiarity with most of the major and minor scales, as well as the pentatonic scale are necessary in order to write a guitar solo. I can see where they are coming from, but I can't say I totally agree. I have hardly ever used any theory when constructing a solo or riff myself.

So, what do I do? 

  • Listen: Listen for style. Is it "jazzy"? Is it sugar-candy "pop"? What is the vocal melody doing? These clues will give you an idea of where you should start. (You can play a punk-rock riff in a jazz song if you'd like, but you better be prepared for a lot of angry stares from the couples sipping their martinis in the Jazz club!)

  • Absorb:  Find a quiet place, and for goodness sakes, throw out the distracting boyfriend and the hyper dog. ( I know they are both adorable, but this step takes focus!) Let the music sink into your head and fill up your whole body. Focus on only the music. Then forget the music completely. Let your mind wander. (See what yoga is doing to me?) 

  • Speak: Based on what you have now heard and subsequently felt, what is it you would like to say musically?  What can you add in this section of the song that won't take away from the beauty of the song? (Don't overdue it!) Has the whole song been really "busy" musically? In that case, you should try to play something really simple for contrast. How is your soul feeling based on the music? Are you sad? Use long drawn-out high notes or "drone" in the lower register of the fretboard.

  • When in doubt, Follow the vocals: If I find myself completely stumped and uninspired, I listen to what the catchy vocal of the song is, imitate that melody slightly, or play a lick to compliment whatever has been sung. 

  • Simple is better then complicated: There have been so many occasions when I wanted to impress people and I would try to add a little "frill" or "run" that I couldn't quite play yet. Attempting to use techniques you aren't comfortable with never ends well.


I have to admit that whenever Dia tells me she would like a solo in a song I feel extremely anxious. However, I always feel a huge sense of accomplishment when I write a solo that I love and proceed to execute that same solo live. So all you need to do is remove all of the doubt that tends to creep up before you even remove your guitar from the case. Give it a try!

Honestly,
Meg


20 comments:

  1. Great advice. I find it interesting that you say that you hardly ever use theory when building a solo, 'cause I've got some friends that have been pounding my head full of theory. Not that I don't think it's been useful to learn, but it's nice to hear that people who write good music don't always rely on it.

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    1. Don't get me wrong. I think theory can be fabulous and a great help! I just haven't used theory much yet, but maybe that's because I'm not fully familiar with its usage. We'll see if things change after I dive into "theory" a little deeper on this blog...

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  2. I always feel that the main themes should always be designed to stick in the minds of the listeners. Too often have I been in audiences and realized that the lead guitarists are either bored or have something huge to prove to others, much to the detriment of the music. I don't hear it on Red, Cocoon, Here^3, or the others. It's well done.


    I like this blog. It's real.

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    1. Thanks Josh! I totally agree with you about guitar players feeling like they have to "prove themselves to others". I'm listening to one of those guitar players write now from the other room and it is ob-nox-ious! ha ha.

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  3. Hey meg. Will you be writing guitar blogs most of the time, or just occasionally? (I'm a little confused) eeeee can't wait to see ya next Wednesday!!!! I will be speechless if I am able to take a picture with you!!!! ❤

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    1. Hi Kalle,

      Just some of the time, maybe once or twice a week. What types of blogs do you enjoy reading the most? The frequency all depends on my readers:)

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    2. Honestly, I like hearing about your explorations around new cities, stuff that makes an impact on the bands life together....just the cheesy stuff I guess.....It makes me understand your music better in a way!

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  4. Excellent post - very informative!

    I love the guitar solo in 'Love Song' because the guitars sound like they're battling and then they come together at the end. It's really catchy and fun!

    Did you come up with that solo? :)

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    1. That was a collaboration between Carlo and I.

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  5. I love the guitar solos in Meg & Dia songs! The one in "Less of Me" immediately comes to mind; that is my favorite part of the song, listening to it gives me the feeling of having an out-of-body experience.

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    1. That is an example of Carlo's excellent guitar skills and tastefulness in style!

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  6. You are inspiring in your desire to learn and improve upon your craft! I was given a paint set for Valentine's Day and I would love to be a great artist, but it is definitely not a natural skill I was just born with. I need to get over the intimidation factor and just start trying to learn and improve!
    Speaking of Valentine's Day gifts, I bought the tickets for the Chicago Show at Subterranean for my boyfriend, Mike, for Valentine's Day. I was wondering if you guys will be playing any of your older Meg & Dia songs? Specifically I was wondering about 19 Stars. This song is particularly special to him. His mom was diagnosed with Cancer and passed away. When she was diagnosed he moved home to help take care of her and he always talks about 19 Stars and how it reminds him of her and that time they spent together. It would be so great if that song is part of your set!
    I figured, it didn't hurt to ask :)

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    1. Wow Dawn, I really wish it were part of our set, but unfortunately I don't think so. I'm glad the song could help during that difficult time.

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    2. No problem, just thought I would ask :) It's crazy how much a certain song can match up with or remind you of certain things! Very powerful!

      We look forward to the show!

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  7. I really liked what you said in the "Speak" section of the blog about "what do you want to say musically?" and complimenting the song. It seems like they must go hand in hand. Otherwise, the solo would be noticeably out of place.
    Just curious what are some of your all time favorite solos recorded by others and ones you have recorded?
    I am liking where you are going with the new guitar angle on the blog btw. I feel like I should stand up now and tell you my name and what I hope to learn in this class. :D

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    1. No! No hand raising! ha ha. That's way too formal.

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  8. Alright! Thanks Meg this definitely helps :) I'll let you know how my next solo goes although I won't be able to top the one in Need You Now!

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  9. Love the post. Really really cool thoughts, especially for a guitarist still struggling with creative phrasing. Just curious, what tone do you like when you bust out a solo? I know it depends on the track, but what is your favourite?

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  10. Thank you for posting this! I will definitely take this to heart. I've always wondered how you guys constructed your guitar solos, and it's interesting to see what goes on in your mind. I'll definitely give this a try. Thank you!

    and theory is something I've always been terribly uninformed about, so hopefully I will be Ok!

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