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How do I learn to play a guitar solo?
Once you learn a few rock guitar solos, you will learn that there are many common licks that seem to be in almost every guitar solo out there. Also, if you think about the notes you are playing, you will start to notice how the lead guitar notes are just basically taken from the underlying chords. So you can then write or improvise your own solo very easily, just by using the common licks, and focusing on the notes you find in the scale that makes up the key of the song. Again, the "key" in general is just the notes you will find in the backing chords.
I learned all of the lead guitar theory and techniques I use on my own. I've never had a lead guitar lesson. Of course music theory is very important, and while I've had other music lessons, including basic acoustic guitar lessons, it was simply listening closely - playing by ear - and applying common sense using basic music theory that allowed me to understand lead guitar and to recognize all of the common lead guitar licks.
What do I need to do to improve as a guitarist?
Make sure you can name any note on your guitar fret board automatically, and think about them often as you play them. Guitar will make sense if you simply think about the names of the notes you are playing in relation to the notes you find in the backing chords. A lot of musicians will want you to believe it's much more complicated, but in 99% of the solos it's really not.
Is there a secret to understanding guitar?
To me the 'secret' is basically this - name the notes you are playing, and think about how they relate to the notes in the backing chords. Lead guitar has always been based on this simple fact to me.
Then as you figure out the licks and how they relate to the backing chords, you will start to find simple patterns and tricks such as always resolving to the root note of the chord or the 5th, or always just laying the common pentatonic scale over the underlying bar chord.
How can I figure out guitar solos by ear?
Well, I can only tell you what works for me. First, I figure out the chords in the song. I try to find the bass notes on my guitar - or any prominent guitar note I hear coming through. Then I get EXACTLY in tune to that. I tune my other strings, and find a chord in the song based on a bass note or something like that. When I play the chord, if it is not EXACTLY in tune, I tune the other strings while I'm playing that chord with the song, accounting for any discrepancies that might have occurred in my first initial tuning, or due to intonation adjustments - not only mine, but possibly on the artists guitar.
Once I am precisely in tune, I figure out all the chords in the song. If you just care about the solo, just figure out the chords behind the solo.
Of course after finding the root (bass) note, you want to check if the chord is a major or minor, then if you hear any additional notes coming through, like a 7th or something.
Then every lead guitar lick you go to figure out, just think about what chord is in the background. Go up the neck, looking for a match by trying the notes from that chord, or from other chords in the song - the notes from all the chords make up the scale you are in, if the song is strictly in key.
Then again, you also have to apply common sense. For example, a minor pentatonic blues scale over a major chord will 'break' the rules of the notes being in the underlying chord, but it will sound good because we are accustomed to hearing those type of guitar licks in rock and blues music.
But if an artist is staying strictly on a scale, soloing over the chords behind it, you will find the main notes your looking for by considering the notes in the backing chords.
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