What You Need to Know to Solo with the Best
Many budding guitarists have the ultimate goal of being able to pull off Joe Satriani-like solos on their guitar or be able to improvise to contribute to a song. This is to be commended; it is a motivating (and attainable) goal. But in order to master guitar to that level it is critical to master several basics first. You can do it, but it is by no means quick or easy. Reaching this level of aptitude will test your patience with yourself more than once on the way. But when you come out on the other end of it, you will find that the pain was worth it. Here are four essential things you must be able to do in order to improvise or solo like a champ.
First Skill: Music Theory
Getting down to the nuts and bolts of how music is technically put together may seem unsexy, but knowing what notes to play over what chords is the name of the game. This simply cannot happen effectively without mastering music theory. Knowing all of your scales (major, minor, pentatonic, etc.), being able to take chords apart and study the individual notes that make them up, then taking notes to create new chords, studying modal theory…it goes on and on.
Not what you signed up for? Maybe not. But chances are that the more you get into theory, the more important you are likely to realize it is. A good music teacher will be able to help you break music theory down into digestible parts and help you understand how these parts are interrelated.
Second Skill: The Fretboard
Take the time to study every spot on the fretboard and every note that these spots produce. Spend as much time as you need to in order to memorize each note. This is critical, because when it comes time for you to hit that all-important note in your solo (by the way, they are ALL important) you will know exactly where to find it without having to think about it. Just as with music theory, the long hours spent working on it will pay off huge dividends later on.
Third Skill: Phrasing
In music, a phrase is a short set of notes, usually taking about 2 to 8 measures. Phrasing, then, simply means properly arranging notes in this short set in a melodic fashion. Put another way, it means hitting the right notes at the right time. It should go without saying that this can take a great deal of practice. Learning how far to space notes apart and how to hit them will come with effort and patience.
Fourth Skill: The Basic 7 Elements of Music
Rhythm, harmony, melody, dynamics, texture, timbre, and form: They are the matrix of music. Understanding these elements in detail will inform your decision of what to play and when. Their importance cannot be understated.
Keep Learning and Practicing!
The best way to accomplish these skills is to work with a good guitar teacher who can break things down and help you understand all of these important aspects of music. Take time to practice and find creative ways to keep yourself motivated. Soon, you will become a more valuable player who can improve like a pro.