January 18, 2019

How to make your soloing sound good without learning lots of scales or ‘licks’

We’ve all been there, you listen to a song you love that has a great guitar solo in it, you become really inspired to pick up your guitar and try to do the same thing but when you try and play, everything just sounds flat, boring, uninspiring. This isn’t your fault, this is the normal process of learning to solo.

Read on to find out how you can take some simple elements of soloing and use them to create interesting sounding music without learning loads of scales or complex theory.

Learning What The “Right” Notes to Play Are

To start soloing, you’ll first need to know what the correct notes to play are so that you’re not guessing as to what will sound good or not. A great place to start is to use something called the ‘minor pentatonic scale. We’re doing this in A today and so your scale will as follows:

  • String 6; Frets 5-8
  • String 5; Frets 5-7
  • String 4; Frets 5-7
  • String 3; Frets 5-7
  • String 2; Frets 5-8
  • String 1; Frets 5-8

Make sure you know at least strings 1, 2, 3 of this scale. These are the most important strings because you want your soloing to be heard clearly over the backing music.

Making Your Soloing Sound Interesting

Learning scales are a great place to start but if you learn the scale shapes and nothing else, you’ll quickly realise that they sound pretty boring if you just play up and down them. This is a bit like if you were to cook a meal, but you chose to leave out any spices, sauces etc… your meal is going to taste quite bland.

Soloing works in the same way, we need to add something to ‘spice up’ our playing to make things sound interesting using something called phrasing.

What is phrasing and why is it important?

Phrasing is ‘how’ you play the notes, not what you play. Every time you listen to a great solo your ear is hearing a combination of the notes being played and ‘how’ these notes are being played. Without phrasing your guitar playing will always sound bland, dry, and lifeless. With phrasing, you can take the simplest of ideas and make it sound cool.

What are some phrasing elements that we can use to make your playing sound more interesting?

1. Double picking

The first thing I want you to try is to take the notes that are on string 3, 2, 1. Try playing some of them with double picking.

Double Picking is where you take a single note and play it 2 times. To do this, pick the string down toward the floor, then back up toward your face.

2. Sliding

The second phrasing element we’re going to look at is something called a slide, specifically we’re going to be sliding from 1 fret below the note you intend to play (e.g. you slide from fret 4 into fret 5).

Tip: A common challenge I see guitar players having with sliding is that they’re so used to releasing the pressure of their fingers as they move them. When sliding, make sure that you leave your finger pressed down on the string while you do the slide as this will keep the string ringing out.

Like the exercise on double picking, let’s now take some of the notes in our scale and try doing this sliding from 1 fret below.

3. Combining All The Elements

Okay so we’ve looked at sliding and double picking, but now it’s time to put it all together. I would like you now to slide into fret 5 then double the next note on the string.

Do this for every string you’re playing and listen to how it sounds. Your ability to make your playing to sound good doesn’t just come from learning a single phrasing element, but from your ability to combine elements together.

Get Creative!

Now it’s your turn.

Come up with your own ideas based upon what you’re learnt. That way you’ll really learn the concepts here and be able to use it in your own playing.

The best way to do this is to take a small group of strings (e.g. 2, 3, 4) and come up with your own little ideas that are 3 – 6 notes long.

By keeping your ideas to 3-6 notes long, they will sound more like a musical idea, and less like you’re talking constantly at someone.

When you’re using everything that you’ve learnt here, please make sure to apply everything to real music. You can search on YouTube for backing tracks to play along to and you’ll find them in all different styles and speeds so you can practice along with music that you like the sound of.


If you’re struggling with improving your soloing and would like help with progressing on the guitar faster with real life feedback, direction and accountability from teachers who have experience helping people improve their soloing, contact us at Guitar Tuition East London with electric guitar lessons. They are focused on not only being great musicians but being a great teacher to help you to improve on the guitar.