Skip to main content

Almost everything you hear on a recording — even on a live recording, has been worked out to some degree. The player may not have spent hours on composing it — it may be the best of several takes. But unless that first spontaneous take ends up as the final version, it's sort of a knock on that approach anyway, because doing several takes constitutes a form of work too. And in the live context, when a band is out on tour, most guys will play roughly the same solo every night, working within the framework of what they played on the album. The days of long extended improvisational sections is largely over. Even the best players in the world — very few of them are spontaneously brilliant improvisers. How many of the millions of no-name players (like me) are? I like worked-out compositional solos that are a song within a song and contain the same kinds of dynamics good song have. My view is that they should contain a beginning, a middle, and an end. Like the song itself, a solo should create tension, than release it. In many cases, they should build to a crescendo. I often find the best and most memorable solos are the ones you can hum along to. A terrific example of this approach was Randy Rhoads. Every solo Randy played on those Ozzy albums is a hum-able melodic journey. I can sit here in my office without having heard those albums in ages, recall and hum any of those solos from memory. I Don't Know, Crazy train, Mr. Crowley, Goodbye to Romance, Over the Mountain. That is a testament to how well those solos were constructed. Those solos ARE mini-songs. Anyone who thinks they were improvised on the spur of the moment is kidding themselves. The bottom line is this: If I compose my solos, I CAN sound like a far better player than I may actually be. Spontaneity is fine at a jam (that's what jamming is about) and even in some gigging situations, but as long as there is time to prepare something in advance, I don't know why anyone wouldn't want to ENGAGE THEIR BRAIN on a deeper level. I'm talking primarily about solos that are going to be recorded and listened to over and over again. With my stuff, I don't want to look back and think: why the @#$% did I play that? every time I hear it. When I compose the solo, I find I can inject more attitude and feeling into my playing. I can come up with great melodies, draw on EVERYTHING I know, and weed out ideas that don't work. And I won't, for example, be left thinking, Gee, I could have gone to major scale there and it would have sounded brilliant. Too bad I didn't think of that. I can avoid the pitfalls of just noodling and/or playing just licks and actually take the solo somewhere. If you all can do this on-the-fly, hat's off to you.

Unleash your musical brain

My subconscious musical brain actually knows a LOT more music (everything I've ever heard) than my conscious musical brain (everything I bothered to learn). So my brain can and does come up with things I will not think of if I rely on my very limited knowledge of theory. This is why, when I'm working out a solo for a song, I listen to the section I'll be playing over without a guitar in my hands at first. I want to give my brain every opportunity to hear things that are outside the of the limitations of "what I know" and typically lean on.

I may well hear a melody line in my head that is in a scale I never use.  To execute it, I will usually just play that melody by ear based on whatever fingering I find easiest. If I were to bother to go look up what I did, I might find out it was part of the Locrian or Lydian scale or whatever. But by that point, I'm not sure I really care. My musical brain (my inherent sense of melody) in this case, is doing the driving here in a purely intuitive way.  I'm not looking up how to play Locrian and trying to find a melodic line in that scale. That would be a purely analytical way.