Fretboard Geek

How to play more melodic solos

At some point, every guitar player falls into the trap of repeating patterns while soloing. The trick to getting past this and making your playing more musical is creating melodies rather than licks. 

What does creating a melody mean and how can we as guitar players achieve this? What is the line that separates an improvised solo from a melody?

This article will give you a helpful approach and tips on playing more melodic solos.

What makes a good melody?

Music theory has much to say about harmony but not so much about melody. That makes sense because harmony is a byproduct of melody–which is a byproduct of our creativity.

A good melody is generally memorable, catchy, tense, etc. A general rule is that if a melody moves you as a musician, it will most likely move other people.

It’s essential not to think of a melody as only for the guitar. When a melody is catchy, we can sometimes bang some sticks against the table, following its rhythm while still making sense. Think about the times you have done that while listening to some of your favorite songs.

Related: 20 drills to improve your fretboard knowledge, ears, and music theory

How to play more melodic solos?

Beyond your instinct as a musician and spontaneous creativity, you can follow a certain way of thinking, approaches, and tips to push yourself to create more melodic solos. Some of which are the following.

  • Think like a singer

The voice is the most potent instrument and the one people primarily relate to. Every great melody, in whatever instruments, can be hummed or sung.

The basis of most great songs is the vocal melody. Recall, for example, the Beatles and their melodic hooks like “Let It Be,” “Get Back,” or just the simple “ Na na na…’ on ‘Hey Jude.’ Play these vocal melodies on the guitar, notice how they are short, memorable, and have a sense of tension and release inside just a few simple phrases.

The vocal melody often inspires even great guitar solos. Do a simple exercise of always learning the melody of the vocal of a song on the guitar. Even if the song doesn’t have a guitar part, learning the vocal melody will take you far.

This approach might also explain why some of the best lead players are also great singers!

  • Limits bring creativity

Constrain yourself to just five notes and two strings and develop interesting lines using these limitations.

Putting limits often forces us to create, taking out unnecessary distractions such as the many scales, shapes, chords, or muscle memory. Analyze a melody of a song you love, and you will probably find that the singer is not singing that many notes. Notice how they are phrasing, accenting, and playing around with the rhythm in a way that makes it exceptional.

  • Think rhythmically

Sometimes notes don’t matter. You could be playing a melody using entirely different notes but keeping the rhythm patterns the same, and it would still make sense.

Try to think consciously about making different rhythm decisions such as releasing a note faster, playing groups of three’s, etc. Put a drum track on loop and improvise over it by switching up the rhythm after each take as an exercise.

Related: How to solo over chord changes

  • Listen to the other players

Some of the biggest challenges of musicians can be solved just by listening more carefully to the music and responding to it. 

As they say, great jazz improvisers are as good as the others they share the stage with. This is true because players of a high level are feeding each other ideas and responding to lines and phrases all the time. Listening carefully without playing to the band might bring some hummable melody into your mind which you can then transfer to your guitar.

  • Learn your intervals and chord tones

The only music theory tip in the list is intervals and their importance for creating strong melodies.
I know the way we are suggesting that you follow all the chord notes of a chord while soloing, as it would be the same as going up and down a scale. Learning chord intervals, their roles, and functions can improve your skill to transmit a melody from your head to your instruments.

Intervals are related closely to ear training, another very important element to playing more melodic guitar solos.

Final thoughts

Playing more melodic solos is related to your knowledge of the instrument and the approach you take towards starting to create a melody. A fine blend between “feel” and technique creates memorable melodies that never get tiring.

A good approach is to start listening closely to the music and then respond to it first by singing along and then playing the melody on the guitar.

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