Learning how to solo on the guitar takes dedication and a lot of practice. While learning your favorite guitar solos is an excellent way to accomplish this, you will inevitably come across a handful of licks that you just can't play. This is where some basic guitar solo exercises can come in handy. These exercises can help you learn new techniques and tighten up your picking performance.
Guitar solos are almost always based on guitar scales. The major, minor and pentatonic scales are the most common, although the diminished scale and the various modes are also used fairly frequently. Practice playing through various different scales at multiple places on the neck until you are comfortable with them. Then try playing each note of the scale followed by a third, fourth or fifth. Strike the first note of the scale and then immediately follow it with the note located at one of these intervals. Then pick the second note of the scale and follow that with its third, fourth or fifth. Continue throughout the scale in this manner. Play these scales slowly along with a metronome, gradually speeding up as you become comfortable with these variations. Use strict alternate picking to get the most out of these exercises.
The best guitarists play solos all over the guitar neck, not just in one specific scale position. A good position-shifting exercise starts with playing the first five or six notes of a scale over the deepest two strings and then sliding up a few frets from that last note in this initial position to the next note in the scale. Continue to play the scale in this new position over the next two strings and then repeat this position shift. Continue doing this up and down the neck to become proficient at shifting your fret-hand position.
Vibrato is an important phrasing technique that can add a lot of feeling to your lead guitar playing. Vibrato is a slight fluctuation in pitch produced by literally shaking a fretted note with your fingers or your wrist. Practice a few different techniques until you find one that works for you. Then practice playing a couple of quick lead licks and adding vibrato on the last note. When you can hit vibrato on command after several different types of guitar runs, try bending the last note and adding vibrato to it while it is bent.
Guitarists often use arpeggios, chords that are played note by note instead of all at once, to craft their guitar solos. Focusing on the arpeggios that correspond to the chords that you are soloing over will help your solos sound much better. Write a simple three or four chord progression and then dissect the chords that you are using. Find where each note in each chord occurs over the entire fretboard. Then craft a solo using this information. Emphasize the notes in the arpeggios of the chords you are playing over. Don't be afraid to add notes outside the arpeggios, but don't put too much focus on them.
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