A Beginner’s Guide To Soloing

Beginning and intermediate guitarists are often intimidated by the prospect of improvising. Seemingly reserved for the elite of guitar heroes who scrunch up their faces when shredding, this imposing wasteland appears to be impossible to cross. But fear not, brave people of the six strings! You can do this!

Step 1. The map

The map for this lesson’s quest is the A minor Pentatonic scale, outlined in Example 1. This is a handy little scale with a big name. Breaking it down, Penta means “five” and tonic refers to tones. So, we have a five-tone minor scale. Nothing too hard about that, right?

Play this scale a few times to get it under your fingers. The eventual goal is to know it so well that you can play it without conscious thought. If you can do so and carry on a conversation at the same time, good job.

Example 1

Step 2 (optional.) The rhythm

To paint sonic art, we need a canvas on which to do so. This platform is the rhythm guitar’s part. The A minor Pentatonic scale, and its parent scale, A natural minor, contain the notes to build several chords. The A minor chord that is found among the scale is an ideal candidate for our foundation of future greatness in improvisation! We’ll choose this chord for our exercise. By the way, this chord is constructed of the notes A, C, and E.

Get a buddy, keyboard, or backing track to hold down a steady rhythm of just an A minor chord. The idea is to provide a backdrop for you to solo over.

Step 3. Show time

Armed with your scale, a sense of adventure and trusty friend or backing track, it’s time to conquer soloing!

A: Play your scale in order, ascending, and then descending. Listen to how it sounds against the A minor chord.
B: Play your scale in the same order, but hold some notes longer than others. Play a few fast, then some slow, and see what sounds you get.
C: Repeat step B, and this time, repeat some of the notes.
D: Start to mix up the order of the notes. Skip a few, repeat some, and jump around.Be creative! Approach the scale as a skateboarder would look at a flight of stairs – don’t just walk up and down ’em!
E: Add seasonings. Bends, slides, pull-offs and hammer-ons are to be tried. Picture the solo as a salad, and these articulations are the bacon bits. See Example 2. for further ideas.

Example 2


OK, so what just happened? Hopefully, you will have taken the scale, listened to it in its basic form, and then started to spin some melodies from its framework. At the end of the day, the goal is to play music, not scales. I’ll often see students playing scales very well, but not knowing what to do with them. Simple steps such as these can be very helpful. Remember, it’s not magic. You can do it, and before you know it, you’ll be soloing like an old pro.

If any of these concepts don’t click, or if you’re having trouble getting the hang of it, drop me an email! I’ll be glad to help you out.

And don’t forget there are lots of lessons here at Guitar Noise on soloing and improvising. You’ll also find many lessons of scales themselves.

Rock on! And for more ideas, don’t forget to check out my blog!

Also check out… A Beginner’s Guide to Soloing – Part 2