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soloing solo?

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Jersey Jack
(@jersey-jack)
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I play acoustic, and occasionally I'll do an open mic with a harmonica. I'd like to take few more exteneed gigs, but I'm not at all sure how to work without the harp. What I need is some advice about how to introduce lead runs when I'm the only one playing. Using a harp on every tune gets tiring, but so do songs with no break at all.

Do any of you do short solos while at the same time maintaining a rhythmic bass on the acoustic? How does one begin to develop this ability?

(I should say that I am primarily a flat-picker. Also, I know pentatonics, etc., and I can solo a bit over backing tracks, so soloing is less the problem than soloing while keeping the chords and rhythm going.)


   
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gnease
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it depends on the style of music, but using tone centers and leading tones to signal the chord changes, as well as intervals and chords mixed with the solo lines (sort of chord melody) works well for the singer-songwriter tunes, as well as blues, country and ... if you are doing avant garde, almost anything goes, but audience boredom is a risk. a strong, driving beat done either on the low strings or pounding your foot on something like this stomp board (aka porchboard) helps:

http://elderly.com/new_instruments/items/PPBB-DARK.htm

Chris Smither is famous for the technique, though he just mics a board he stomps rather than use a fancy store-bought device:

-=tension & release=-


   
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Jersey Jack
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No, what I'm doing is pretty plain vanilla country/blues/singer-songwriter stuff. I understand your suggestions about tone centers, leading tones, etc., but the problem is more practical than theoretical.

For example, only songs in D major would allow me to have ringing open-string bass notes under my leads; anything else and I have to fret and hold a bass note while somehow using other fingers to play riffs/leads. I'm not sure how to get started with this stuff!

How does one develop this ability? I am very fluent with chords and reasonably fluent with soloing, but I'm baffled by the idea of putting them together. :shock:

Thanks!


   
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gnease
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maybe I'm not getting at what you need. but I'll try again ...

first of all, you don't need to have ringing bass notes, but a driving, well-defined rhythm helps sustain the listener through the gaps if the fills/soloing also have a strong rhythmic component that matches the bass/chords. in fact, it's often more rhythmically interesting if you use some muting and/or selective muting during the chording/bass parts. is your problem that because you don't sustain the rhythm through your single line soloing, that those sections feel empty and weak? maybe you just need some confidence in playing less and driving some on-going beat into the solos/fills. a lot of folkies bang the heck out of the guitar to the point of droning. the rhythm is more of a generic substrate for the critically important words. when folkies stop "banging it out," the space sounds empty. the style is more about being continuously driving and hypnotic. but that does get monotonous for those listeners who focus more on the music. stopping the strum to insert fills can up the musical interest, but dense strumming makes the single line note playing sound empty. so if fills and short solos are going to be added, the rhythm parts need to become sparser (use the muting for chop chords). Dave Matthews does this well: lots muted chords and intervals interspersed with interesting little runs.

back to the confidence part. consider: traditional blues players simply play chords or riffs, then play fill lines and then back to chords or riffs, over and over ... some of that is very spare, sometimes breaking cadence, but always driving and confident. that confidence matters.

another direction: fingerstyle players work the chords with moving bass and melody (or harmony or fills). the Chris Smither clip I linked above is a great example of this. Chet Atkins is as well, but more in the country vein. for some, this technique is far more difficult because it requires independent actions from the picking hand fingers. not everyone can do that.

whichever direction -- these or others -- you decide to go, practice is required. and that practice include some critical listening to the styles you wish to learn to get a feel for the rhythmic structure and the characteristic melodic and harmonic movements.

-=tension & release=-


   
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Anonymous
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if the solo is short enough, like just a bar or so, you might be able to get away with leaving the accompaniment.
if you can either use your thumb or a barre to keep a bass going, or any other method to keep a simple bass going, that'll work.
or if you're fast enough to play a lead, get back to the chord or bass note on the beat, and then go back to the lead, and so on, that'll work, too.
or incorporate the chord or chord fragments or bass riff into the solo itself.
none of these are necessarily easy by any means, but let's say you're playing a folky song in g. g am c d are the chords, for instance. it doesn't take a whole lot of contortion to keep a very simple root bassline going as you play runs on the higher strings in g major.
if you click my soundclick, and listen to tin soldiers, you'll hear a blues where i solo the whole time, and keep a simple bassline going with an open e, an open a, and then either a thumb on a b, or other finger on b depending on what else i'm doing at the time. or if you listen to toadlicker (not toad liquor. 2 different songs), i keep a bass going as i fingerpick other stuff above it. it sounds a whole lot more complex than it is to play. a lot of it is a straightforward but complex sounding travis style fingerpick that i just toss in runs and various chord progressions over.


   
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NoteBoat
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+1 on Greg's advice.

I've done gigs solo with tunes that included lead breaks. When I do that, I plan 'em out in advance, make sure they have a solid, driving rhythm, and use double stops if it sounds a bit 'thin'.

Guitar teacher offering lessons in Plainfield IL


   
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Jersey Jack
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Topic starter  

Wow, this is all useful stuff! You know, never thought much about emphasizing rhythm as a way of compensating for the sparseness of harmonic structure during the solo. The confidence part is spot-on, too, as I do find myself anxious when I lift off the regular strum--it's like being afraid of silence! :roll:

And the idea of making a point of landing on root notes at the moment of chord changes, especially using double-stops--this also sounds very promising.

I don't think I have the finger-style chops to try that angle--at least not yet.

Anyway, thanks this is exactly the kind of advice I was looking for! :D


   
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Rum Runner
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Jack, I'm glad you posted this question because I was wondering about the same thing. It seems I am pretty much in the same boat as you; I can sing; I can strum; I can solo; but I can't do it all at the same time. When i have tried, people do comment that the solo sounded a bit thin, no rhythm to really go with it.

Using double stops as Note Boat suggested sounds promising, but I am having a hard time with them. Right now I am working on the intro to "Brown Eyed Girl" using double stops and I don't know why it is taking me so long to get it to sound clean. If I play just the single, upper notes, no problem. However, the single notes just don't sound right on solo acoustiic. the double stops seem to give you everything that it calls for- the recognizable melody along with the rhythm. One question about double stops- I have been doing it with all downstrokes. But the "Brown Eyed Girl" riff is prety fast. Should it be played with more of an alternating picking pattern to make it sound smoother? I have tried thatonce or twice and it makes the sound more legato but I have even more trouble with it.

Regards,

Mike

"Growing Older But Not UP!"


   
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gnease
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Brown Eyed Girl: I play all the double stops as downstrokes -- even though I'm predominantly an alternate picker. you may find it a bit easier to switch from the e-B string over to the B-G strings with the changing parts. that'll keep the two main sections of the riff in the same general area of the fretboard. YMMV

so now I'm going to go to the flip side of the driving rhythm solo advice given above. it's a good place to start, but it will only take you so far. something which seems to develop as does ones confidence in playing is the ability to make even quiet, slow single-note lines during a break in the rhythm cacophony sound interesting to the audience. I suspect this happens as the player becomes less concerned about the mechanics of playing and starts using his/her ears a lot more. so it's a combo of gaining proficiency with dynamic control and phrasing and having a real ear for development melody/harmony. and using what that ear hears in real time to change the course of playing.

you may believe you are quite accomplished at playing solos over a rhythm backing, but understand that with a great rhythm backup, even a mediocre lead player can almost do no wrong. the rhythm section shoulders most of the load. if the lead player has merely a reasonable sense of timing and nail a few tonal centers -- esp at the beginning, end and where chord changes occur, it' can actually sound pretty damn good. but remove that rhythm backing and listen to the solo naked ... and quite often, not so good. so here's some homework: try composing and playing good solos without any rhythm backing. if you can achieve that, inserting them between rhythm sections won't seem so difficult. it'll start to come "naturally."

more homework: work on inserting double stops in the midst of single-note lines in a way that sounds dynamically controlled for the effect you need, whether emphasis of the beat, thickening of tone (try octaves!) or just plain ole seamless loudness balance. the last is usually not so easy for noobs, but becomes innate with practice ... practice ... practice.

-=tension & release=-


   
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Rum Runner
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Brown Eyed Girl: I play all the double stops as downstrokes -- even though I'm predominantly an alternate picker. you may find it a bit easier to switch from the e-B string over to the B-G strings with the changing parts. that'll keep the two main sections of the riff in the same general area of the fretboard. YMMV

FYI, I do in fact play the intro going between the G?B and the B/e strings, just as you suggested. As you say, it does keep those two sections of the riff right on top of each other, and I do find that to be easier than trying to go up and down the whole fretboard. At least i am doing something right!

The other thing I do in practicing is set up a metronome and play each double spot on a beat, not worrying about the actual timing, just trying to get each double stop to sound clean. When I can get them all clean at a given speed, I up the tempo. Eventially I should be able to do it clean at a tempo where the fastest note changes occur. Then I should be able to have it. My big problem on the double stops seems to be the right hand not catching the right two strings all of the time.

Regards,

Mike

"Growing Older But Not UP!"


   
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gnease
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you are following a tried-and-true method. you will get there.

something you may or may not already know. if you are plateauing, give it a rest for a day or two and practice something else. days off seem to help fully realize the muscle memory learning process.

-=tension & release=-


   
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kent_eh
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Chris Smither is famous for the technique, though he just mics a board he stomps rather than use a fancy store-bought device:

He's not the only one famous for that technique (pay attention about a minute in...)

I wrapped a newspaper ’round my head
So I looked like I was deep


   
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Anonymous
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saw my brother do something that might work for you. he kept playing the chords, but he played them differently than he was during the verses, changing the picking pattern and adding a few notes. really worked well, kept a full sound.


   
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