Countless guitarists have been inspired to pick up the guitar after witnessing what many consider one of the most impressive feats of skill and dexterity when playing a guitar. That’s of course the guitar solo. Whether it’s Jimi Hendrix and his intense soloing, Eric Clapton (AKA ‘Slowhand’) playing along to “Layla”, Eddie Van Halen and his mindblowing speed on “Eruption” and so many others, a good guitar solo never ceases to amaze.
Although you won’t be able to play like Jimi Hendrix, Van Halen and other world famous guitar wizards immediately after picking up the guitar for the first time, it’s still good to try your hand at soloing once you feel comfortable doing something a bit more advanced. And who said that a guitar solo has to be difficult to play? After all, there are many great and unforgettable solos that can be played even by beginners.
So let’s look at what you can do even as a beginner, as you explore the world of guitar playing and guitar solos. But first, let’s take a look at what guitar solos actually are, so you’ll recognize a guitar solo when you happen to hear one.
What is a guitar solo?
Solos have been part of music for a long time and in a number of different styles and genres of music. For years a solo has been the opportunity for talented musicians to really show off their playing skills while inspiring countless talented future musicians to start playing their instrument of choice.
During a solo, the guitar player steals the show and becomes the center of attention as they tap, bend and pick their way through the music. Guitar solos are also known as a great way to exhibit the guitarist’s improvisation skills. Although the guitarist is the center of attention while playing a solo, the rest of the band usually keeps on playing in the background, providing support to the lead guitarist.
Even if guitar solos might create a mental image of a long haired heavy metal or rock musician like Metallica’s Kirk Hammet and Slash from Guns ‘n’ Roses, guitar solos can be found in more or less all genres of music that use the guitar. Playing an impressive guitar solo is not even limited to just the electric guitar, although the most famous ones certainly are played with an electric guitar.
You probably didn’t come here just to read about guitar solos, so let’s continue with some guitar playing techniques you can use as a beginner to start learning guitar solos.
How to learn to play a guitar solo
Before we go through some useful guitar solo techniques that even beginners can try their hand at, here are a few pieces of advice that can help you on your way to becoming a master of guitar solos. Remember to take things slow and don’t get discouraged if it feels difficult at first.
Pick an easy guitar solo to play
This may seem obvious, but as you learn to play, it’s better to start off with songs that aren’t too hard for you to play. There are many great solos that are not too difficult for beginners who already have a hang of what it means to play guitar.
What makes soloing and learning guitar solos on your skills level much easier is a feature in Yousician that tells you just how difficult a song is. Start with songs with a lower difficulty and work your way up to the harder ones as you improve.
Find notes or tabs for the solo
As a beginner, learning to play a guitar solo by ear may still be a bit too much to ask for. However, some helpful and more skilled players have done the work for you by creating tablatures (or tabs) that can be found online. Just search for the name of a song and the word ‘tab’.
You can also use Yousician and it’s extensive song library to search for your favorite songs, artists and guitar players. There is even a feature that allows you to filter songs based on genre. Yousician presents its songs in an interactive tab format. Because guitar tabs are an intuitive and easy way to learn, even beginners can use them to play. In fact we have a handy guide for you to start learning guitar tabs, in case you’re not familiar with them already.
As you begin learning a guitar solo that you only know by ear, it’s a good idea to slow things down first before playing full-speed. A helpful tool for this is a metronome as it allows you to set the speed in a way that’s exactly right for your skill-level. In Yousician you can also slow down songs as you follow the tabs scrolling on the screen. Use the slower tempo to get familiar with the guitar solo as well as memorizing the notes.
Play along to the song
As always, learning to play a song on guitar is easier with a backing track. Play along the song to get a hang of the guitar solo’s timing. You’ll also hear if something in your playing sounds off or if you play the wrong note at some point.
Practice, practice, practice
This might come without saying, but practice makes progress. Keep repeating hard parts until you master them. No one is able to do anything perfectly on the first try so keep practicing.
Guitar soloing techniques for beginners
Now that you have an idea of what guitar solos are and how to play one, we can start learning some guitar soloing techniques that even beginners can try. In addition to being great for playing impressive guitar solos, these techniques are an excellent addition to your overall repertoire of guitar playing skills. The ones we’re going to focus on today are sliding, hammer-ons, pull-offs and bending. So get your fingers warmed up and let’s begin.
Instead of playing a note on your guitar and then picking another one either up or down the same string, you can add versatility to your playing and soloing by incorporating slides. With slides, you simply pick a note and hold it down. While the note is still playing, keep pushing down the string with your fretting hand and slide to another position on the same string. This can be any fret on the same string, either up the string or down.
Depending on how fast you do the transition (or slide) from one note to another, you can hear each note along the way as you travel over all frets between the one you started with and the one you end up on. Once you master doing simple slides on one string, you can try sliding on multiple strings at the same time. Go ahead, give it a try and add this technique to your guitar soloing arsenal.
A hammer-on is similar to a slide. However, instead of sliding across all frets between the start and end position, with hammer-ons you first strike a note and then ‘hammer’ another one with your fretting hand on a higher fret. Like with slides, you only have to pick the string once. In guitar tabs you can recognize a hammer-on by the letter ‘H’ pictured above a curve connecting the two notes.
Similar to hammer-ons, a pull-off works in the same way as you pick a note, and while the string is ringing, move to another note. However, this time instead of moving up the string, you’ll be releasing the finger of your fretting hand higher up on the string to play another note on the same string. In other words, to play a pull-off you need to have already fretted the string at a position closer to the guitar headstock before picking the higher note and releasing it. In guitar tabs, a pull-off is indicated with the letter ‘P’.
To add some intensity to your guitar solos, try bending the strings. To play a bend you first strike a note and then bend the string while holding the string down. By bending the string you’re manipulating the note’s pitch, making it sound higher than the note you started off with. The more you bend, the higher the pitch will be.
When playing with guitar tabs, the tab usually indicates how much exactly you should bend the string to get the desired sound. Keep practicing bends and you’ll get better at finding the sweet spot and producing just the sound you want. Once you get better at bending a single string, you can incorporate bends with two strings to your guitar solos. Just don’t bend too much or you’ll risk breaking the strings!
Learn to play guitar solos on acoustic and electric guitar
Now you know what a guitar solo is, how to start learning one and some of the techniques that will help you on your soloing journey. So, what’s next? First off, it’s a great idea to start exploring some of the music theory behind not just guitar solos, but music in general. A good place to start is scales. These will be valuable especially as you start to improvise and come up with your own solos on the fly.
In addition to guitar scales, you should definitely learn minor and major guitar chords, in case you aren’t familiar with them already. Knowing how to navigate the guitar fretboard even with your eyes closed will also be a great skill to have for every guitar player.