How to improvise on Lead Guitar

An improvised lead guitar solo can be satisfying for both the player and listener if done intelligently. Here are some guidelines to make your solos great

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Keep it fresh

Benny's Blues
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Don’t labour a point. Although repetition of phrases is vital over 4 to 8 bars, keep things moving forward. If you take an unexpected turn, it maintains listener interest.

I think what I do really well is that I can 'chameleon' myself into many styles at a very fast pace, sometimes in the same verse of a song. Joe Bonamassa

Get over the top of it

By this I mean take the big picture, look at it strategically, not just at the notes that are immediately about to be played. What’s happening with the band dynamics? Match the mood of the music.

Watch the tempo, don't place a fast instrument on top of another one which is also very busy. It’s just muddy. If the keys are playing sixteenths the lead instrument should be playing eights. There can be only one focal instrument at any point in time.

Strangely enough, I wasn't into fast guitarists. I preferred Peter Green's subtle touch. I saw him with John Mayall's Bluesbreakers at the Marquee Club in London and was very impressed. He was the only guitarist I've ever seen to turn the volume control on his guitar down during a solo. — Alvin Lee (10 Years After - famous for playing fast)

Counting Bars

Initially the number of bars that you must fill will dictate the beginning, middle, and end of your guitar solo.

You should cultivate the skill of knowing where you are at anytime by counting bars in your head.

Get your drummer to cue you by playing fills at transitions.

Mirror the track

The next notes that you play do not just spring from your fingers, you are the pilot and navigator!

Try to latch on to a motif within the track. It might be a suggested melody or rhythm. Then add variations.

Here’s a solo that more than adequately demonstrates many of the above points

She's Out of my Life
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The Finish

When playing live communicate with the band if your solo length is open ended. Have a signal or cue that they, or you can use to finish. There's nothing worse than a lead guitarist who has overstayed his welcome. Leave them wanting more!

The final bar is usually a climax and usually resolves to the root of the key you are playing in, typically up high on the fretboard.

Conclusion

Keep it fresh, play with the band and the music, and keep mental track of where you are.


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