How to Combine Guitar Riffs for a Solo


When a student first starts learning beginner guitar lessons, they often play the popular riffs and chords of the songs they like best. It is always helpful to learn with music you are familiar with, but eventually it is fun to branch out into creating your own compositions and improvisations. In this article we will show you some tips and pointers on how to combine guitar riffs for a solo.

How to Create Your Own Riffs

The first step in learning to write a great solo is by reverse engineering the songs you like best. As you play a popular riff or solo, use a tuner to identify the different notes of the song and when you practice always do a deep analysis of the piece. As you get better at playing start improvising extra or different notes, this will prepare you for writing your own.

Chord Progressions

Like drum rhythms and bass lines, chord progressions are shared by many songs. You can start creating riffs by using these common chord progressions.

  • I-IV-V or I-IV-I-V or i-vi-v
  • I-V-vi-IV
  • vi-IV-I-V
  • ii-V-I
  • !-bVII-IV
  • I-vi-ii-V
  • VII-I
  • I-III-I-V-bV-IV

If you have trouble finding the chord progressions that you need then try using the same ones of popular songs. Just be sure to change up the melody and other lead lines. Try playing these progressions as open guitar chords, up the fretboard, or even in different tunings like Drop D, Standard D, Half-step, open G, and so many more. Often in metal and punk we use simple power chords on the lower bass strings, for example I5-III5-VII5.

Once you have the basic chord progression down you can move into extended chords like 7ths, 9ths, sus chords, and more. Try various chord extensions to help shape the chords and to build riffs with. The series of chords you pick are simply the skeleton of the song, from there you must turn it into a unique riff or lead guitar part. You can also use a guitar chord chart to help you with fingerings for these more advanced chords.

Use your Circle of Fifths and Nashville numbering system and play the keys that work best for your voice or style. It is also helpful to have a drum machine or backing track to jam along with the chord progression. You want the creative juices to flow so find a nice chord sequence and play it in a variety of strums and rhythms.

Use Arpeggios and Scales to Create a Solo

As you play these chord progressions and riffs, the best initial solo ideas come from arpeggios. This is playing each note of the chord in various patterns and is a staple of shred guitar and heavy metal solos. Of course genres like folk and pop also use slower arpeggiated chords, as it is a helpful technique that allows your fretting hand to remain in place while you pick the single notes.

Find a Suitable Scale

If you do not know much about music theory, it is always easy to look up guitar scales and modes that will fit your specific chord progressions. Stick to the appropriate scale initially and avoid any notes that do not belong. Later as you advance you can start experimenting with different notes but make it easy on yourself in the beginning.

You can also do this in reverse by creating a solo with any random scale and then building the chord progression around it. The process works the same where you turn on an appropriate backing track or rhythm for your genre and start moving around the scale or mode. Regardless of the method, pay close attention to the notes of the scale and the intervals. Try using a scale finder to build riffs from.

The space between each interval often has a unique sound and you can use these as a rough emotional guide on where to take your solo. Heavy metal often uses the minor, pop and rock use the major, each scale can provide a specific vibe for the style of music, including the pentatonic scale. The better grasp you have on how notes relate to one another will make it easier to improvise between riffs.

Start Simple with Your Guitar Solo

If you are new to the guitar keep your added notes simple at first, try using descending and ascending bass lines in between the chords you play. As you get good at picking specific melodies out, start to move up the fretboard and play lead lines with barre chords. Most guitar solos occur at the middle and higher notes so make sure to familiarize yourself with more than just open chords.

Record yourself playing a very basic chord progression or riff you have created and then use that looping track to practice soloing over. You will know if your scale or notes are working if it sounds good. Besides knowing where to move next with the scale or arpeggio, we must also use our ears to be sure that the solo is fitting with the riff.

Knowing music theory and the notes you are playing is very helpful when creating amazing riffs and solos, but we also want to break out of the mold at times as music is not always exact. This is why it is helpful to practice a new solo improv over backing tracks, you can just let loose and try different ideas. Just be sure to record any progress you make otherwise you might forget.

Add in a Variety of Guitar Techniques

Whether you are creating your own riffs or even using popular songs to play new solos over, the chord progressions and scales are only half the battle. The next step to soloing over riffs is to add in different guitar techniques like hammer-ons, pull-offs, bends, and any other movement you already know.

It also helps to play the notes of the scale with different picking styles; try alternate, sweep, economy, and any method you come across. Even when we play the scale in different orders it will sound boring without some guitar flourishes. Start simple by adding single note stretches in your riffs and then spice those leads up with any technique. If you have analyzed a lot of songs and solos you may already have a variety of new tricks up your sleeve.

If you want to shred or sweep with efficiency that will take a lot of practice, but it’s also the perfect excuse to really study the fretboard. Creating your own solos will force you to try different chords and scales, and soon you will have a better idea of the interval or note that you want to hit next on any part of the guitar.

Practicing chords and scales is not always that fun, so combining riffs to create your own solos is a great way to learn. Take some simple chord progressions with their appropriate scales and then record backing riffs that you can jam over. One of the best ways to learn to play the guitar during your online guitar lessons is to creatively approach your practice, and it is a great boost of confidence when you compose your own guitar solos!

By Shawn Leonhardt for Guitar Tricks and 30 Day Singer