Learning how to solo over chords is important for applying your knowledge of
scales (theory) and lead technique (practical) in the context of your
own songs and improvisation.
If you're the lead guitarist in a
band, or you at least aim to be, knowing how to play lead harmony over
as you'll most likely be expected to write your own licks. By the end
of this course, you will be confident with this.
Also, it will of course help to know a few scales, but I will be
referencing scales in the examples throughout this course, so as long
as you understand what scales are and know a few scale patterns (e.g.
pentatonic, major scale, natural minor etc.) you should be fine.
Make a promise
to yourself now that you'll read every word of this course and devote
time to it every day. You'll be writing your own solos sooner than you
think! Not only that, this course will give you the grounding you need
to develop your improvisation skills. Without these first crucial
steps, improvisation will be a difficult task.
the scale for your solo
A lot of people ask me how you apply the scales you learn over
(i.e. a sequence of chord changes). Forget about progressions for now!
The first logical step is to learn how to apply scales over single chords.
Soloing over chord changes
is a far more advanced concept which we'll come to later.
begin by identifying which scales will be compatible with different
backing chords. After all, the notes we use in our solo need to
correspond with any notes being played in the backing chord, or it'll
clash and sound unmusical.
Once you learn a scale or chord, you
should know the tones/intervals from which it's built, not just the
pattern it forms on the fretboard. My scale and chord theory lessons
these building blocks. By knowing these intervals, you can match up the
chord with a scale that uses those same tones.
I'll reference these intervals through the examples in this course so
you can learn as you go.
is a set process I use for working out which scales I can use over the
backing chords. The more you practice, the quicker this process ticks
over in your mind...
Identify a root/bass note to establish the key of your solo.
Identify the basic (triad) chord type. Is it major, minor, suspended,
diminished or augmented?
Identify if the chord is a 7th
chord and if so whether it's a major 7th or minor/dominant
Identify any extensions the chord has (e.g. 9th, 13th, #9th etc.).
a minute we'll get cracking on the 1st step, but overall this 4 step
process is crucial as it defines the key in which you play and which
scales/tones you can use in your solo. Only then can we move on to
learning how to apply these scales fluidly
It could be that the
backing chord only includes the basic triad form (or even just a
powerchord or bass note), in which case steps 3 and 4 are irrelevant
and you have far more choice over which scales you can use to "colour"
those chord flavours.
1 - Finding your key
When soloing over chords, the key of the solo is most often
of that chord, which in turn becomes the root note of any scale you
might use. This is also called the bass note, as it's most often the
lowest note in the chord, and will therefore commonly use the low E, A
or D string on your guitar.
The root note is 1,
and you'll see it referenced in scale and chord diagrams on this site.
For example, here is a chord and related scale diagram with their
labelled. Identify the root notes on these diagrams...
As you can see, both these patterns are rooted
(i.e. their lowest, bass root notes are positioned) on the A string.
However, what's more important is the root note
itself, as this defines the key. So if the root note of the backing
chord is D
(e.g. A string, 5th fret), then we know any scale we choose should also
be rooted on the note D.
Our solo would therefore be in the key of D.
We'd be playing a D scale.
you should already know the chords being used during the solo (e.g. you
write them yourself or a band member writes them down for you). That
way, you already know the chord names and therefore which root note
We can use this root note to find a starting point for
our solo on the fretboard. It's best to use the low E or A string as
this starting point, as the most familiar chord shapes and scale
patterns are rooted on these strings.
So, for example, if the backing chord was B major/minor, I might find
the note B
on the low E string at the 7th fret as follows...
And if the chord was Eb major/minor, I might use the Eb
note at the 6th fret on the A string...
the chord was E or A major/minor, we could even use the open E and A
strings as the bass root notes. As long as you're familiar with playing
scale patterns from open string root notes, it's an option.
now theoretically established the key and a starting point for our
solo. As you'll
see in the next part, we don't actually have to begin the solo on that
bass root note - it's just a reference point to help us find our
bearings on the fretboard.
locating multiple root note positions for a backing chord. This will
allow you to move in and out of different scale positions more fluidly
when you come to soloing.
In the next part, we'll look at the 2nd step - identifying the chord type, which
will help us narrow down our scale choices for our solo.