One of the most common questions from our students is “I’m stuck in a rut, I play the same things all the time, how do I break out of it?”
This often relates to soloing, as we usually first learn to solo through repetitive scale patterns and copying famous guitarists. As we advance, it’s easy to just end up in a more advanced rut, using harder repetitive scale patterns.
So here are 5 top tips to get you playing pattern-busting, stylistically different, interestingly-phrased solos:
1. Transcribe a Solo From Another Instrument
This one’s all about escaping the patterns and shapes on the neck that we fall back on so easily. After hours of repetition and muscle memory, we can end up in a situation where these shapes are what lead us i.e. The licks we play are determined by the default fretboard shapes we already know, rather than being creatively led.
If you transcribe a solo originally played on the trumpet, saxophone or piano, then all this fretboard baggage is removed. Pick a solo you like, originally played on another instrument, transcribe it and add the licks to your repertoire.
Check out Bill Evans’ 30 Sax Licks for Guitar You MUST Know!
2. Use a Different Tuning
This one’s also about avoiding those all too familiar patterns. Alternative tunings work really well for this because they give you two new options: 1) You’ll either consciously avoid your usual patterns because you’ll be trying other things in this new tuning, or 2) you’ll play your usual patterns anyway, but the tuning means a totally different phrase will come out.
Regardless, you’ll ultimately play in a more linear, ear-led fashion. Just ensure that if you find a cool lick you figure it out how to play it in normal tuning too, and add it to your bag of tricks.
Check out Vicki Genfan’s Essentials: Open Tunings!
3. Change Your Tone or Use A New Effect
This tip is more stylistically-focused. I don’t know about you, but what and how I play when I’m on the neck pickup with the tone knobs rolled down to 2, is completely different to when I’m on the bridge pickup with the distortion on. If you temporarily enforce a certain tone on yourself, you’ll be sure to play differently and re-consider what you’re playing.
Using a new effect has the same impact — find a nice delay setting and your soloing will simply have to adjust to work with it.
Another stylistic point here. Slide guitar at its best is an unbelievably beautiful sound, and it’s important for every guitarist to be able to play at least a little bit of basic slide guitar. Sound-wise, your soloing is automatically going to sound different with the slide on your finger, but it also creates some additional elements. You’re either in an alternative, slide-focused tuning, playing the different licks those tunings throw up, or you’re still in standard tuning, but having to play in a linear way, with your ear leading you. Meaning you’re back to creativity and further away from boring old licks.
Sing What You’re Playing
The focus of this one is your phrasing. So often we see guitarists forgetting to leave space between phrases, playing an endless barrage of notes, playing un-musically and going through the motions.
Setting yourself the challenge of singing what you’re playing while you’re playing it, particularly when improvising, is such an incredibly valuable thing to do. It ensures your phrasing is musical, that you leave space between phrases (you have to, to breathe!) it improves your singing ability, your understanding and anticipation of whereabouts on the fretboard will give you the note you’re looking for, and it puts phrasing and melody right back at the heart of your soloing.
Check out Karan Andrea’s Guitar Player Wanted: Vocals a Plus!
Good luck busting out of your soloing rut, and feel free to share your advice in the comments!
by Alex Bruce, who runs Bruce Music – Guitar Lessons London.
Bruce Music provides expert, friendly guitar teachers all over London.