Tips, Tricks & Techniques To Make Your Guitar Solos Way More Expressive.
This blog will make your solos sound much more expressive.
When you apply all the following techniques, you will be playing really colorful solos with a lot of personality and emotion.
I feel that there is a need for following information.
Most guitar teachers tend to spend a lot of time on which notes to play, where to play them, which scales to learn, which fingerings to use, but not enough time on HOW to play the notes.
If there is one thing I hope you will get out of this writing, please let it be this:
“It’s now what you play… it’s how you play it”
Yes, let me say that again: HOW you play the notes, is more important than which notes you choose to play.
In addition: it is really quite astonishing how many different ways you can play a note on a guitar. (As you will see in following list, which I don’t even claim to be a complete listing of all the possibilities).
This is one of the truly fantastic things that sets guitar apart from any other instrument.
We can bend, slide, hammer, unison bend, mute, palm mute, tap and so much more. There is no other instrument that allows so many means of expression.
And yet… most guitar players sound like they’re playing piano on their guitar: hitting every note head on as if they were pressing down a key.
A List Of Things That Will Make Your Guitar Solos Better Overnight.
Playing notes in a melody very short and punctuated.
- Mix more different rhythms in your note placement. Combine 8th notes with 16ths, with triplets with quarter notes with ties, etc…
- Drag, push and pull notes across the beat.
Don’t “lock in” with the rhythm section. You are talking with your instrument. Don’t let the rhythm section dictate you where to speak your guitar.
- Don’t play too many long sustained notes.
- Don’t forget to let your music breath. You don’t have to play all the time.
Space and silence are important. What you don’t play is as important as what you do play.
- Pace yourself. Don’t rush.
- Try to play more behind the beat.
It makes you sound more confident. Play lazy. Try to play all your melodic phrases a bit late.
Attack: Picking Hand
Don’t play every note equally loud. Let your guitar whisper. Let it scream.
Also play the notes nobody else can hear. They are important too.
- Pinch harmonics
These harmonics are produced when you pick the string in such a way that the side of your thumb briefly touches the string right after the pick attack.
- Mutes and muted attacks
Pick a string while touching it with your fretting hand without pressing it against the fret. This produces a percussive sound.
- Palm mute notes
This should be called “palm dampening”.
Pretty much like a damper pedal on a piano, you muffle the string vibration a bit by resting your picking on the bridge, very slightly touching the strings a bit.
A technique where you play melody lines connecting all the notes with hammer ons, pull offs and slides.
This sounds more fluent than if you would pick every note.
- Pick closer to the bridge, or closer to the neck.
This produces different sound timbres. Closer to the neck, you get a warmer sound quality.
Closer to the bridge produces a more metallic, brighter timbre.
- Tap notes
This is like a hammer on, but with a finger of the picking hand.
This allows you to do a hammer on at a larger intervallic distance than you can reach for with your fretting hand.
- Pluck notes with thumb and fingers
Playing notes with your thumb, gives these notes a fuller, warmer sound. Notes played with fingers sound a bit more snappy.
- Pick chords or notes with pick and fingers simultaneously
This is also called hybrid picking.
This technique produces a different sound than the sound you get when you only play with pick or only with fingers.
- Chicken Picking.
A technique where you precede single notes by a very quick mute right before the note.
- Pick scrapes and scratches
This sound is produced when you scrape the edge of your pick along the wounded bass strings.
- Tremelo Picking
Heavily used by Eddie Van Halen.
This technique is heavily used in mandolin playing, where you hit single notes numerous times in a row with fast alternate picking.
- Pick tapping. (Also called pick trilling)
The edge of the pick is used to trill notes on the fretboard at a fast tempo.
This gives a quicker, sharper, snappier sound than a trill performed with fingers.
For an example of this, check Joe Satriani’s “Surfing With The Alien” (at 1:07 into the song)
You can also hear a great example of this technique in Randy Rhoads’ guitar work on Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train” (at 3:00 into the song)
Here’s a quick video showcasing these techniques.
Embellishments and Colorations
- Slide out of nowhere into notes from below, starting the slide from close by the target note.
- Slide out of nowhere into notes from above, starting the slide from close by the target note.
- Slide out of nowhere into notes from below, starting the slide far away from the target note.
- Slide out of nowhere into notes from above, starting the slide far away from the target note.
- Slide between adjacent scale notes ascending or descending
- Slide between scale notes at larger interval distances, ascending and descending.
For example: from a C note on the 1st fret of the B string to the G note on the 8th fret.
- Bend, to the next note in the scale
- Larger bends: up minor 3rds, major 3rds and even 4ths.
- Pre bend. You bend the string first and hit the note after the bend.
You hit a note, bend the string so the pitch goes up to the next note, then release your bend so the string comes back to is unbend position, sounding the first note again.
- Hammer on.
Play a note anywhere on the guitar neck, then hammer with your fingertip onto a higher fret on the same string to produce a higher note.
- Pull off.
This is a hammer on backwards
Play a note anywhere on the guitar neck, then pull that note off to a finger you have placed on a lower fret on the same string, to produce a lower sounding note.
- Thrill: a rapid succession of hammer ons and pull offs.
- Tap notes.
Tapping is the technique where you produce notes by hammering with the fingertips of fingers of your fretting hand onto the string.
The technique is made famous by Eddie Van Halen, but has also been heavily used by Randy Rhoads, shredders and metal guitar players.
Most of these guitarist, use tapping into longer elaborate lines or entire solo sections, but you can also use tapping purely as an expressive device.
This is showcased to great effect in the Rush song “Limelight”, where Alex Lifeson taps the one, long note at 2:40, and slides the note down with the finger of his picking hand that he tapped the note with. This gives an eerie type of sound quality and fluidity to the note.
- Micro bends.
Sometimes guitar players also call those “quarter bends”, by which they mean that the bends produce notes at intervals smaller than a half step.
These bends are a great tool to add a lot of personality, and color to a solo.
However: they need to be very deliberate and controlled, otherwise the sounds they produce end up being perceived as “wrong notes” or “out of tune playing”.
- Tapped Harmonics.
Giving a very quick, snappy picking hand finger tap on the fret 5, 7, or 12 frets above a (fretting hand) fingered note, produces a harmonic.
- Natural harmonics.
These harmonics ring when you pick an open string while touching it very lightly on the 5th, 7th or 12th fret
- Artificial Harmonics
This is a special technique, where you finger notes, and then pick them while lightly touching them 12 frets above the fretted note.
For this you hold the pick between thumb and middle finger, and pick the strings from ehind your pointy finger, which is stretched out, gently touching the fret 12 frets above the fingered note.
For a great example of this, check Steve Morse with Deep Purple, playing “Sometimes I Feel Like Screaming”
- Oblique Bends
This produces the “pedal steel” style sound.
Play multiple notes simultaneously (as an interval or a chord), then bend one of the notes up while you keep the other notes ringing.
- Unison Bends
You hit 2 notes a 2nd interval apart on 2 adjacent strings, and then bend the lower string up to the next note.
This produces a wailing unison.
- Whammy bar
You can create really great sounds with a whammy bar.
From motor cycle engines to dive bombs to UFO’s: the possibilities are endless.
- Press on a string behind the nut after picking a note on that string
This raises the pitch of the note you played.
This sounds like a whammy bar.
Super important: this adds life to the notes you play.
You gently rub or massage the string up and down in small motions, at a controlled tempo that is in line with the tempo of the song.
- Hit the same note on 2 different strings simultaneously (unisons)
This is a bit of a physical stretch, but doable.
- PLay melodic phrases on 1 phrase, hitting an open neighboring string at the same time to create a drone like sound added to your melodic phrases.
Here’s the video showcasing the covered techniques:
How To Practice This Information
I know all the above is a huge amount of information.
Sometimes people get overwhelmed and don’t know where to start.
Pick 1 item at a time from the above list, and only do that one thing, for a 2 minute session, soloing over a song.
When your alarm goes off, for the next 2 minutes, pick and practice the next thing on the list. Again: during these 2 minutes, all you do and all you focus on is that one thing you picked from the list.
After a couple of weeks, you can start making combinations.
For example: “in the next 2 minutes, I am going to solo playing every melodic phrase with great focus on dynamics and with at least 1 mute in every phrase.”
When you do this consistently and as much as possible daily, after a couple of weeks, all these techniques will start showing up in your soloing automatically without you having to think about it anymore.
Be on the look out for more blogs about everything guitar, music, songwriting and music education.
Meanwhile: give this blog a rating and give me your feedback in the comments section below. I believe everything can always be improved, and I gladly would implement your suggestions and ideas in this blog or the next