When constructing my guitar solos, I try to maintain a broad view of the melody as a whole and how it progresses and unfolds. I prefer a solo to have peaks and valleys, establishing “tension and release” and an overall statement that’s musically sound.
A “composition within a composition” is the approach I like to take. As an example of this, I’d like to present my solo in “Pernicious,” from The Order of Things. FIGURE 1 illustrates the rhythm part behind the solo: I palm mute single 16th notes, with two- and three-note power chords added in bars 5–8.
The overall harmonic environment alluded to is E natural minor (the Aeolian mode): E F# G A B C D. My goal in crafting a melodic solo was to highlight specific intervals within natural minor as my focal points. Let’s analyze this solo in two-bar sections.
FIGURE 2 illustrates bars 1 and 2, and I begin by referencing the primary lick in “Pernicious,” which puts emphasis on the notes F# and D, via an Em9 arpeggio fragment, F# D B. After playing these notes, I play a quick scalar passage that moves through all of the notes in E natural minor. In bar 2, I play a double hammer-on—F# to G to A—followed by a double pull-off, descending through the same pitches, then a fast ascent through the entire scale.
This sets up the phrase in bars 3–5, shown in FIGURE 3, which begins with notes from an Am7 arpeggio, G E C, played over the A5 power chord. Stylistically, the three-note arpeggio approach becomes an early theme in the solo’s progression. I like employing this approach as it supplies a sense of cohesion to my melody.
In the second bar of FIGURE 3. I move back into an Em7 arpeggio on the upbeat of beat one, after which I incorporate descending chromaticism, moving from B to Bb to A, and in the next bar I move outside the tonality briefly with the inclusion of the flatted ninth, F, which serves to set up a restatement of F# via chromatic movement once again.
FIGURE 4 illustrates the solo’s third phrase, in which I move to a rhythm of steady eighth-note triplets with an “octave displacement” approach: instead of playing all the notes in the same octave, I quickly jump between two different octaves while playing what is essentially a simple melody. This technique gives the line a completely different and unique feel.
FIGURE 5 presents the next phrase, which is simply a bent and sustained note to which I apply a tapped harmonic, performed by tapping directly onto the seventh fret while sustaining the bend, which will sound the same note but two octaves higher.
FIGURE 6 kicks off the second half of the solo and references the shapes presented in my previous columns, with chromatic notes added. FIGURE 7 follows, offering a simple melodic idea built from repeating notes, and in FIGURE 8, I employ octave displacement once again. FIGURE 9 shows the end of the solo, which is very “spacious” and concludes with another tapped harmonic, occurring 12 frets above the fretted pitch.