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Play fast guitar solos

Ten years ago I could improvise guitar solos at 880 notes a minute (14 notes a second).

guitar solo pointer  I practiced the finger exercises. The #1 best soloing practice.

This is a sample from the free exercise charts
Use a metronome or drum machine when practicing solos.  This is critical.

This shows two variations of exercise type A

guitar soloing     
Start on a down stroke (circled black).  The pick changes direction when changing strings.  (circled purple)

guitar soloing
If you start on an upstroke (black) you can sweep the first transition (green).  Every other transition changes direction (purple)

guitar soloing exercise 2
The pick sweeps from one string to the next.   (green)

Finger picking:
The thumb changes direction (purple) and the 1 finger pulls toward the thumb on its downbeat (circled small blue).
The 1 finger sweeps into the next string (green), and the 2 finger sweeps into the next string (green).

soloing fingerpick 2
Notice that if you start the thumb on an upstroke you can sweep through to the second string (green).
This can become very fast.

soloing exercise 2

In this example the fingers pull toward each other on their initial strokes (circled small blue). 
Finger 3 can be substituted with finger 2.  See my finger picking page.
Many possible finger combinations exist.

guitar soloing fingers chart 3
The initial strokes in the previous exercise only applied to Group 1  (T and 1 finger)

In groups 2 and 3, the 1 finger (on string 3, D) would start in the opposite direction (orange).
This allows it to "pull" towards the thumb and also sweep into the next string (green)

Each soloing exercise variation can be played with pick or fingers in a multitude of ways.

pointer  Practice the rhythm exercises: play every rhythm combination in 1 measure.  The #2 best soloing practice!

soloing rhythm exercise 1         soloing exercise 2

Use a metronome or drum machine        

Fretting hand technique for the crosspicking exercises
Pick the pattern at medium speed
on 1 string.  Don't switch strings.   
                   Pick while you play.
                   Keep playing, now play 4 double time hammer-ons without picking.  
                   Go back to picking and fretting at the original speed.  Make the transition smooth.

                   Try to play it clean.  If you can't, slow down.

                   Next play 8 hammer-ons in a row without picking.  Go back to slow.
                   Next play all hammer-ons (on 1 string).  Go back to slow.
                 Play it clean or slow down.           

Picking Hand

Pick 1 note at double time speed.  
          Listen and make it smooth.
          Now both hands are accurate, separately.

Both Hands

Next, pick and fret the exercise, double time on 1 string
          This makes both hands accurate together.
           Play 4 slow, then 4 fast, then repeat.  Listen and make it smooth.

           Now play it all fast.  
           Slow down if it's not clean.

Now, try moving to the next string.  Go back and forth between 2 strings.
           Play 4 slow, then 4 fast on 1 string.  
           Move to the next string.   .

           Start the pattern with an upstroke or down stroke -depending.   Pick motion charts          

          Try playing 4 fast notes on 1 string, then play 4 fast notes on the next string, then move back, and repeat.

          Try jumping a string and crosspicking these patterns
           Try jumping 2, 3, 4, or 5 strings.  I used to crosspick all 6 strings at 200 bpm.
           Play it clean, or slow down.

All exercise variations can be simplified in this manner.
Simple steps help you build soloing speed.  Time allows for complexity and speed.  
Be patient and build it up.

The exercises will unlock most pick, finger pick, and fretting hand movements.

They give you random chromatic skill.      

Other tips

I had a fast guitar. 

The action was low
The pickups were good.  

You could tap the string and hear the note.

I played scale fragments

Fragments have less finger movements.  
This lets you focus on playing fast solos.

An odd number of strokes lets you move in the same direction across the strings, (3 notes per string is common)
An even number of strokes allows you to change direction.  
See the pick motion charts    

Play 1 octave scale fragments as fast as you can.        color patterns
Then slide from the lower octave fragment to the higher octave fragment.   (or vice versa)
This is a major key to soloing, learn the fastest simplest chord and scale shapes.  It has to happen fast and effortlessly.  

Play with a band.  

They'll push you.  You'll get in the zone. 
Your fingers will catch fire and the heavens will open.

I tried to play solos 

If you don't try it won't happen.

"I never played a overdubbed solo" for years.  "It's so weird, so sterile.  You feel like your outside.  When you do solos live there’s a certain spirit that’s so difficult to get in overdub situations.  When the band plays together, everybody interacts, and that feels much better to me.  I listen to everything and cue off everyone in the band."       -Allan Holdsworth

Or overdub.  
Use a drum machine.  

Record a rhythm track over the beat.  
Add a vocal part to set the mood.
Get warmed up.  Then take a break to center yourself.  
Crank up the volume, move your head (or body) to the beat.  

Solos can be slow or fast.  Work up to speed.
First takes are often the best.  Its OK to try again later or tomorrow.  You often get the best solo in the first 5 tries.

I listened to a lot of metal solos on satellite radio.
This is fuel for your subconscious.

I played with other people. See jamming
Every month your fingers get faster.   
They dance without you thinking about it.

Solos just happen.  They're best when you aren't creating them.  Let it happen.

Apply this:                                           

Playing fast    More tips for blazing fast solos                                                     
Watch the pros                                               
Finger exercises                                              
Video games

Controlled guitar solo

Contained and slightly standardized.

This style teaches control,
Anticipation of what comes next,
Feel and touch.

Uncontrolled solo

Wild, unpredictable and un-contained.

This style pushes your soloing speed,
It develops new techniques, sounds and ideas.

Both styles are valid.   Practice both.


When I approach a guitar solo "first I learn the melody, then I learn the chords.  Then I try to use substitution chords here and there that will make the tune a little more  interesting.  In place of Fm I would use an Ab, or in place of C7, I sometimes use a Gdim going to F"      -Chet Atkins

A guitar solo "should do something, it shouldn't be there as a cosmetic, it should have some aim, take the tune somewhere."

Playing a guitar solo "just comes naturally.  Sounds corny, but it's like holding a conversation.  You’re just saying something through the guitar.  I just try so say it as clearly as possible.  There's nothing worse than a boring sermon, it's as simple as that."

"I can play a solo on record and I can't even play it afterwards.  I could probably learn it parrot-fashion, but that’s completely what I'm not into.  Leave that thing alone and do something else."        -Jeff  Beck

"For a solo, you really need to work, and think, and explore what it means to you, the possibilities and how you’re going to articulate them."

I don’t play 15 solos and then splice them, I just "hope and pray for inspiration, that’s the magical thing that gives you some sense of immortality."

I use overdubs, "you just can't do a solo in certain situations."       -John McLaughlin

"If I attempt to construct a solo," I can, "but that’s the last thing I want to do as an improviser.  I just want it to be.  I want it to happen."      -Pat Methany

My objective when soloing on the guitar is to be "like a samurai in the pacing.  I really want to hit everybody, but it's got a lot to do with timing and space.  The objective is to make everyone feel like they've been struck with a bolt of lightening."  It's about "construction and pacing and making them wait.  Make them wait for the first note of the solo, and then hit exactly the right note.  It all depends on how you start the solo, if you start it wrong, you've really got no chance."  

It gets tiring playing in a band where you solo constantly.  "Sometimes you end up playing every lick you know before the end of the set, and then your fucked."  

If I took 3 passes at a guitar solo in the studio they "would all be identical in every way, except that the high points would be in different places."        -Eric Clapton

"I like slide solos to sound like a vocal part.  Find a melody and make it say something.  It's speaking to you, it's not just notes.  Also, you should build, start a thing and go somewhere, make a little statement. Saxophonist Lester Young told a little story when he played.  You also want to insert a little attitude, is it up down? happy? sad?  Hopefully you just play, you just know these things instinctively, like driving a car.  That’s when your on it.  If everyone had to think about
what they do, they wouldn't play anything.  They'd end up with too many variables."        -Ry  Cooder

I don't work out guitar solos, "because every time I've tried to, it turns out that there's something that would fit a little better that comes naturally.  My approach is just to play naturally and take takes.  Figure out what it is that sounds good.  If there's a way to make it better, do it."

"Most people will probably agree, your best solos come out of your first 5 to 10 takes."  Often "the very first ones will be best."

"A solo should divert attention away from the repetition of the melodies, It's got to be a new section, but I like to use familiar underlying."       -Steve Morse

“When your playing an instrumental it's got to start somewhere and end somewhere, and it's got to say something."     -Duane Eddy

"I don't like anybody else in the studio when I'm putting on the guitar parts.  I limber up for a while, then maybe do 3 solos and take the best."       -Jimmy Page

When I'm building a guitar solo, first I "learn the melody of the tune if there is one.  Then I construct the solo as if that were happening, and I'm either playing with it or against it.  That's a loose description, because there are a lot of other factors involved."         -Jerry Garcia

When I'm playing a guitar solo "I like to hit the right note.  Even when you’re stretching all over the neck, it's important to know where you’re going with it andend up there."        -Billy Gibbons

"I like to do a number of solos that aren't playing it safe, and then make up one good one out of all the wild bits that work.  I often make up a composite track from three or four solos, and make certain I don't have any mistakes in there, because who wants to listen to mistakes for the next twenty years?"

I don't memorize my solos for on stage, but I'm influenced by them.  "Sometimes I've heard it so many times that I actually play solos note for note, but not very often."      -David Gilmore

My guitar solos are "turning and turning a tune until eventually you show all of it's possible sides."

"Many guys play solos that are too long, some of the greatest jazzmen built on eight bar solos."

My playing sounds introspective because "I try to develop a solo compositionally.  Also I don't really play fast, speed has never come easy for me."     

It's possible to ignore the melody while improvising, "but I get bored with performers who do that.  Many guy's solos sound the same.  they play on the chord changes rather than improvise on the tune itself.  I think it's more fun to improvise on the whole song, the melody gives you that much more to play off."         -Jim Hall

"I never played an overdubbed solo" for years.  "It's so weird, so sterile.  You feel like your outside.  When you do solos live there’s a certain spirit that’s so difficult to get in overdub situations.  When the band plays together, everybody interacts, and that feels much better to me.  I listen to everything and cue off everyone in the band." 

I don't try to repeat my guitar solos "I just try to be spontaneous.  I really get worried if my live solos sound like the ones on the records." 

I don't organize runs in terms of scale or chords, "I just try to play naturally.  I don't analyze, I follow my instincts. I try to hear something that makes sense, sounds reasonable, and play it."

But having said that I do try "break it down to find out what the chord structure is, if I can superimpose things like triad on top of triad.    I experiment with it.  There's no set way for me to play. I have to be able to see it in my minds eye."

I don't locate different groups of chords on other strings to change their impact "unless it was called for.  I just try to look for interesting ways to play simple things and make them sound like they're not." 

I don't think register (location on the neck) has much bearing on a solo.  "the solo itself has an important bearing on it.  I don't make any rules about it.

 If the solo starts low, I'll think about the notes in that area, but I don't divide the neck up, it's all one."      
-Allan Holdsworth 

I don't really work out guitar solos in advance. "Sometimes it might break down in the middle, and then you figure out which way it should go and punch it in.  But generally, it's pretty rough-and-ready.  I'll often play three passes, record them all, and then make something by stitching them together."        -Mark Knopfler 

The Cult of Personality solo "was a first take.  Our producer said 'Lets do a solo tomorrow.'  But I said 'I've got to do it now.'  It was the funniest thing.   I was really beat until he said 'The track is coming now,' and then I plugged into a musical stream of consciousness.  After it was done I thought  "did I do that?"  I really plugged into what that song was about on that solo, and I felt really good about it."        -Vernon Reid

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