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Developing and Practicing Solos

ChiefbigeasyChiefbigeasy New Orleans, LA✭✭✭ Alves de Puga DR670; Dupont MDC 50; The Loar LH600
in Technique Posts: 275
The excellent discussion about what and how we practice got me to thinking about how we develop and practice solos.

For example, I've recently started using Anthony's book "Manifesting Manouche" as a guide to learn soloing. I have spent most of my time learning solos note for note and learning variations of licks and phrases, and getting good tone with my rest stroke picking and rhythm. I've augmented his material with Christiaan's latest videos and a couple of lessons I purchased from Yaakov Hoter's excellent school before he recently shut it down (hope it rises again soon).

Combining these approaches, I've been working on primarily two songs: "All of Me" and "I Can't Give You Anything but Love." I think ya'll would agree that thoroughly studying these tunes will give me a lot to go on.

I've come to agree that working hard on one song will actually give me a lot to apply to other songs. However, concentrating on just one or a couple of tunes sometimes allows me to fall into a rabbit hole of trying to absorb too much if not all the information there is. I find myself not being satisfied just working out an interesting etude/solo and instead, wanting to know every variation all over, up and down the neck. It's almost as if I'm becoming too concentrated and comprehensive about the one song. My mind may start wandering and thinking about learning the original or variation of a complete solo just to have something complete and playable (see my earlier post "The Seduction of Django's Solos").

This is in part a function, of course, of not being a working musician and not having to have a more workingman-like approach to having a set list that I need to just play on a regular basis.

I guess I'm just trying to figure out the right way to ask this question. If, for example, you figure out a nice solo for a tune in one area of the neck with few wanderings for extra color, are you satisfied? Or, do you find yourself thinking you should be able to play something interesting anywhere on the neck you end up, and dissatisfied if you can't?

I'm thinking that, in truth, it takes a good long time (a lifetime?) to feel that comfortable all over the neck, Even then, it's one thing to know the scales and arps all over the neck; it's another to be able to say something interesting. And, of course, it's much easier to solo all over the neck playing "Minor Swing" than "Cherokee".


  • anthon_74anthon_74 Marin county, CA✭✭✭✭ Alta Mira M 01
    edited October 2015 Posts: 561
    I like to create an etude that says in one part of the neck, then another, and then another all for the same song, Then, intentionally create one where you jump from position to position. Map it all out, and then eventually it starts to flow, and you can access it, and even tweak it on the fly.
    Anything that I want to show up in my playing, I first map it all out. It seems a bit counter intuitive to improvisation, but it get's me there faster.
    Anyway, my next project is going to be a quarterly online magazine that will include new etude videos and tabs. In this I'm going to do extensive song studies, when several etudes over the same song, but using some of the concepts you're asking about (same part of the neck; jumping zones).

    Anyhoo, hope all is well !

  • I believe that practicing solo's isnt adviseable Now dont go crazy yet......finish reading please. At least not if you want to improvise and have real artistry.

    I will put it into a speaking metaphor. We learn words, we learn phrases then sentences. We may even memorize a poem or two. When we communicte with others, if all a person does is quote memorized speeches.....pretty soon the conversation will be stilted and decidedly odd sounding...IF IT CONTINUED AT ALL... Music is a language too, communicating emotional concepts not explicable by words.

    By all means practice your phrases, your scales and arps, your 2-5-1s chordally and single notes, get em down so they ate part of your dna. Learn the melody and harmony of a song so deeply you can play it from anywhere without thinking.

    I also beleive it very important to spend some time every day noodling around while concentrating on the tv or listening and even responding if you can to a conversation with someone else. Quietly in the background, so your playing doesnt intrude. Why, to separate your fingers from your concious mind.

    Also spend some time once you have the above part coming along on the segment below.

    IMO the best way to learn to solo is to play along with backing tracks at first, very a relaxed open state of mind. ....letting the music flow through.....if a concious thought about what to play next comes up....stop....breathe in through the nose and exhale ubtil completely relaxed with no thought about what to play and let your fingers start playing again. Once you can do this for a chorus without stopping then you are possibly ready to play with others. If you have others who will work along with you playing slowly enough that all your relaxed unthinking focus is on them and you can let your fingers roam without fear, judgements or analysis then go for it.

    To go back to the speech metaphor it takes a lot of seat time to be able to make an impassioned speech without notes.

    If on the other hand you just wish to play other players solos, then get a few books on learning classical music technique. Practice, those solos til you can play them perfectly, note for note, just like the classical players do. If you are really really good, play a heck of a lot of hours a day, you will eventually end up with your own voice. But it will never be what it could have been.

    Now Im gonna get roasted....but that is what I truly believe.
    The Magic really starts to happen when you can play it with your eyes closed
  • edited October 2015 Posts: 2,853
    Every note wants to go somewhere.

    It's one thing the best pieces of music advice I ever got.
    It came from Kurt Rosenwinkel.

    And I hear it with emphasis on "wants", not "somewhere". As in you're not going to play a note and try to think what note is going to fit following the one you just played. Listening to the note you just played is going to tell the next note choice.

    Actually, it's going to be my new signature, this current one is too pedestrian.
    Every note wants to go somewhere-Kurt Rosenwinkel
  • For those who want to understand the basis of a note wanting to go somewhere I highly recommend Paul Hindemith "The Craft of Composition" Book 1 - Theory.

    Its a fascination read with a lot about the human side of Psychoacoustics.
    The Magic really starts to happen when you can play it with your eyes closed
  • NylonDaveNylonDave Glasgow✭✭✭ Perez Valbuena Flamenca 1991
    edited October 2015 Posts: 444
    Another quite useful way of learning about tension and release is by playing tunes by ear in open position changing key after each chorus and refingering as you go.

    Given that improvising is at it's best playing the tune you have in your minds ear then working on playing the tune you have in mind has got to be a good thing.

    And of course you will get lots of fingering solutions and eventually a system for solving fingering problems in real time. Also you will find elegant ways to navigate chord sequences (which is an interesting and sometimes useful definition of what a tune is). This might even get instinctive, or at least shed unhelpful intellectual preamble at least.

    This skill wont get worked out at all by either practicing and etude with set fingering or reading on a book.

    Having the fingerings seems to be a big part of the problem. I can sing or whistle just about any tune without worrying about what the notes are or how to find them.

    But getting to the fingerings on guitar is tricky.

    Quite a lot of that tricky comes from the belief that the things that are supposed to help us improvise will, when they really just distract us, or lead us hungrily to the next Aebersold playalong and the next and the next.

    Anyway did anyone mention scat singing ? Like record yourself scat singing a solo or a few, picking the bits that you like (and which are therefore exactly what you genuinely want to do).That way you will see how YOUR musical mind works and how to finger those ideas on guitar.

    No one can do that but you. But if the notes you would sing aren't the ones you play then how much of your improvising is wanting what you get rather than getting what you want ?

  • nomadgtrnomadgtr Colorado Bumgarner Corazon
    Posts: 70
    +1 on scat singing. This ties back to what Hal Galper discusses about the real instrument being your mind (thx again Buco for turning me on to Hal, he does an excellent job of articulating what I've been dealing with subconsciously for decades). If you start with singing the melody line it will help you develop your sense of the flow of the tune and the changes. After you can scat the melody start embellishing it ever so slightly. Eventually this will lead to your ability to do full improvisational scat including scatting outside and inside the changes. From there you can develop your ability to scat in your mind without vocalizing the notes. Assuming you have a command over the fretboard to a reasonable degree your playing will flow naturally over time from this scatting. Knowing all the musical theory stuff is great for understanding the framework of the music and why some things work and others don't but in the end most of that goes out the window when you start to improvise. It's great for analyzing things after the fact but you can't really process that in the moment when you're improvising. Your mind's ear will be your guide.
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