Need to Come Up with a Solo? Put Down the Guitar and Visualize

(Image credit: Damian Fanelli)

Hi, gang!

Some sessions require me to be a mind reader. I often am asked to improvise a solo or fills in a song.

Various types of directions are usually given: "Play like Joe Walsh or Brent Mason." "Make it melodic."

Sometimes the directions are more vague: "Make it sound orange." "Keep it organic."

I'm not a mind reader, so it's important for me to be able to not only be flexible but to have an endless amount of creativity. It's not unusual for me to give clients several solos from which to choose. I know we all have our stock licks in our vocabulary, and I like to believe these make up our style. However, I don't want to be a one-trick pony, so I have a cool way to tap into an endless source of ideas.

Put down the guitar and use your brain. In other words, take the tool out of the equation!

Many of us are guilty of playing the same pentatonic licks all the time. They might have a certain amount of emotion but very little in terms of creativity.

Hear me out! When we just play, we are able to put a ton of feeling in that typical whole-step bend from a G to an A on the B string, but how much thought goes into it? None. You are simply letting your fingers do the playing from muscle memory. Repetition. The last time I checked, there wasn't one iota of brain matter in our fingers! Our brain tells our fingers what to play. So let's allow that to happen.

The next time you're trying to figure out a solo, or are asked to take a solo, put the guitar down and do this: Sing a solo. Even if you can't sing. Picture the solo you really want to take. Then, and only then, figure out how to play it! Maybe you will find yourself imagining yourself playing a variation in rhythms or syncopation that you wouldn't have tried. Perhaps a sweep arpeggio is pictured into a slide. Maybe just a series of long, simple perfect notes creating a new melody. But I can guarantee you one thing: It will not be what you would have played by just "going for it." And you will keep these licks as part of your new arsenal.

Here's another way to look at it. Most of us have seen School of Rock. Think Jack Black! WWJBD: What Would Jack Black Do? Pretty funny image, right? Well, it's supposed to be.

You also can imagine yourself adding a completely different emotion into the solo that may just add something cohesive to the song! Is it a love song? Play with a deep-felt emotion and long notes. A sad song? Make that solo cry like a baby. A funny song? Be ridiculous! Notes that have emotion behind them are always going to touch the listener more than a stock, pentatonic-based "fingers doing the thinking" solo! Always!

And don't stop here. Use your brain and the power of imagination for your rhythm parts and chord voicings and counter lines and your tone and overdrive and effects and ...

Let me know how this affects your playing. I think you will be surprised how fast you find yourself growing as a musician and as an artist with a sound and feel all your own. Class dismissed.

Till next time …

Ron Zabrocki on Ron Zabrocki: I’m a session guitarist from New York, now living in Connecticut. I started playing at age 6, sight reading right off the bat. That’s how I was taught, so I just believed everyone started that way! I could pretty much sight read anything within a few years, and that aided me in becoming a session guy later in life. I took lessons from anyone I could and was fortunate enough to have some wonderful instructors, including John Scofield, Joe Pass and Alan DeMausse. I’ve played many jingle sessions, and even now I not only play them but have written a few. I’ve “ghosted” for a few people that shall remain nameless, but they get the credit and I got the money! I’ve played sessions in every style, from pop to jazz.

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