How to Play Unbelievable Guitar Solos: The 5 Skills You Need to Master
I very often cover more higher-intermediate level material in the ZOTZinGuitarLessons blogs, but it is good to go back to basics every once in a while and remind ourselves of some techniques that we might no longer use as much as we should in our playing.
When it comes to playing guitar, there are a lot of different styles and techniques that you can learn. But if you’re looking to truly wow your audience with some unbelievable guitar solos, there are a few cool techniques that you want to use regularly in your solos. Keep reading to learn about the five essential skills that will make your rock guitar solos way better.
1. String Bending
Bends add a lot of feel, character and expressiveness to guitar solos. It would be unfathomable to play a rock solo without string bends, yet many guitar students who are asked to solo in their lessons, somehow forget to use them. String bending is when you use your fretting hand to push or pull the string, resulting in a change in pitch. Most students, in the beginning, bend out of tune. Their bends are sharp or flat. That is where ear training enters the picture. When your ear improves, the intonation of your bends will automatically also improve. Bending strings correctly takes some practice, so make sure you put in the time if you want to master this skill.
Vibrato is another key element of playing amazing guitar solos. Vibrato is essentially a controlled back-and-forth motion of the fretting hand that results in a wavering sound. This technique can add feeling and emotion to your playing, and when done correctly, it can truly take your solos to the next level. Like string bending, vibrato takes practice, so don’t get discouraged if it doesn’t sound perfect at first. The tendency is to make the vibrato too fast and too wide. Make it controlled. Dont’ shake or quiver it. Listen to the sound and adapt if it sounds too fast. Good vibratos blend in, like spices in a well-cooked meal, secret agents on a mission, or film music in a movie.
3. Hammer-Ons and Pull-Offs
Hammer-ons and pull-offs are two closely related guitar techniques that are often used in combination during fast-paced guitar solos. A hammer-on is when you fret a note with for example your pointy finger, pick that note and then “hammer” down onto the same string with for example your ring finger, without picking the string again. This produces a new note as you hammer hard onto the string.
A pull-off is the opposite of a hammer-on. With a pull off, you have two fingers on the same string a couple of frets apart (or on two adjacent frets), and you “pull” your finger (of the higher numbered fret) off the string after picking it once, so the note rings that you finger on the lowered numbered fret. When you play most of the notes with consecutive series of hammer-ons and pull-offs, you can play very fast solos that sound very fluid. This technique is called “legato,” which means “fluent.” Some guitar players who are known for their legato solos are Allan Holdsworth, Joe Satriani, and Steve Vai.
Slides are another great way to spice up your guitar playing and take your solos to the next level. A slide is simply when you place your finger on a higher or lower fret and then “slide” it up or down the fretboard without picking the string again. There are many cool, creative effects you can create with slides: sliding double stops, have super fast, series of short up and down slides around a note to create the Indian music effect, slide up and down on the low E string with distortion on to create the motor-engine sound effect, or use slides to try to emulate the sound of voice-like speech on guitar. The sky is the limit. Experimentation is how you discover fun sounds and open up your creativity.
Tremolo-picking is a fast-picking technique that is often used in rock and metal songs. Tremolo-picking is when you pick the same note multiple times in quick succession using alternate picking (up-down-up-down). This technique is typically used for fast passages or for creating a sense of intensity in a solo performance. Very few guitar students use this in their solos. It’s a shame because it adds so much to a solo, yet is so easy to pull off. You can hear Eddie van Halen use the technique in his solo on Michael Jackson’s Beat It at 3:15.
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