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How to Write a Guitar Solo

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There’s nothing quite like a great guitar solo from a skilled guitarist. They’re captivating and thrilling to listen to, but why?

It’s a combination of guitar playing skills and a good use of melodic principles in general. A great solo will be very similar to a great vocal line.

In this post we’ll talk about how to write a guitar solo if you’re just starting out. We’ll talk about some steps to take and guidelines to keep in mind when you’re writing.

If you really want to level up your ability to write and play great guitar solos, though, the best way to do that is through online guitar lessons – they offer detail and video instruction that can’t be beat.

Now, let’s talk about writing your first guitar solo…

Before You Write: Analyze Your Favorite Guitar Solos

The first thing you want to do is listen to your favorite guitar solos. There is really no better way to get a sense of how great soloists do their thing.

But you can’t listen passively. You have to practice active listening.

Active listening means really paying attention to and studying the mechanics of the solo. What’s the rhythm like? What are the different melody ideas that repeat? How long is the solo. What notes does it use?



Transcribe a Solo

One of the best ways to really learn a solo in and out is to transcribe it. 

That doesn’t necessarily mean writing down the solo using music notation – it could just as easily mean figuring out how to play the solo.

Recreate it. And, of course writing it out will help, but you can even do it using DAW (studio) software on your computer.

Once you learn a bunch of solos, you’ll internalize a sense of “how it should sound.” And that’s invaluable.

Step 1: Determine the Song’s Key

Figuring out what key/scale a song that you’re soloing on is written in is essential.

Once you determine the key, you’ll know which notes you can use within your guitar solo. For example, if the song is written in C Minor, you know you can safely use the C minor scale (C, D, Eb, F, G, Ab, Bb) throughout your lead guitar part.

This does require you to be familiar with basic music theory concepts – it can be very helpful to have all your scales memorized (along with how to play them in different positions on the guitar).


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Step 2: Come Up With Several Initial Licks/Motifs

Once you know the scale the song you’re soloing on is written in, it’s time for you to start writing your solo.

The first thing you should do is come up with 3 – 5 initial guitar licks (aka melodic motifs). A lick is basically just a short melodic phrase that you come up with. The same goes for a motif.

The reason you want to come up with 3 – 5 of these ideas is because not every idea will be great. If you come up with something and think it’s fine, there’s a good chance you could come up with something even better.

You don’t want to take this too far, because we don’t need 1000 tries at an initial idea.

Just start freestyling on your guitar in the scale you’re writing in, and come up with a few short initial “melody ideas.”

Step 3: Build Off the Best

Once you’ve got a few different ideas, choose the absolute best one as your “seed idea.” How do you know which motif is best? Easy – it’s the one that you like the most.

Don’t overthink it, just pick the one that resonates with you.

Now it’s time to build on top of that idea. You’re going to take that initial motif, and turn it into a full guitar solo.

Think about what would logically come next after those first few notes. Would it go up or down? What’s the motif “saying?” Continue that “conversation.”

Use your intuition here and try out different things, especially if you’ve studied your favorite solos like recommended above.


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Melody Best Practices

There are no rules, per se, in music. Whatever sounds good, is good. 

But there are some guidelines around crafting melodies that may come in handy when you’re writing a guitar solo.

After all, a solo is really just a fantastic melody that shows off a player’s skill.

Melodic Shape

The first thing to take into account is your melodic shape. 

If you transcribe great melodies, they’re not just a bunch of random notes jumping up and down across the scale.

If you were able to visualize them, they’d look like rolling hills – the melody would go up, and it would come back down. It’d go back up and come back down using a balance of step-wise movement (one note directly to the very next note – ex/ C to D) and intervallic leaps (jumping across notes – ex/ C to F).

Great melodies have balance and a coherent shape to it, while remaining interesting.

That’s what you want to keep in mind when building off your initial idea.

Repetition + Novelty

The reason we talk about licks and motifs as short ideas is because most music is based on repetition and novelty.

Once you’ve got your initial cool idea, you use it and return to it to give the listener a sense of familiarity.

So throughout your solo, you’ll likely play that initial idea more than once, and build off of it in different ways.

But you also have to surprise them and defy their expectations. That’s where the novelty comes in.

When you’re building off your initial idea, remember that – you want to take the listener on a journey, but also return back home before going on another one.

Again, it’s about balance here. Piquing interest while also providing familiarity.

Call and Response

The idea of call and response is another concept that’s very prevalent in music. And it ties into the ideas of melodic motifs and repetition.

You can approach your solo as a conversation – where one guitar lick is the “call,” which gets answered by another motif as the “response.”

The way you play those two melodic motifs would be similar to how two people talk with each other. 

Learning more about this approach to melody writing will help you a lot.

Let it Breathe

Call and response leads nicely into the idea of letting your solo breathe.

One of the worst ways to write a killer melody is to leave no space at all. Think about it like a conversation again – if both participants are just constantly talking with no room for space or silence, it’d be exhausting and incoherent.

The same goes for your guitar solos. 

You don’t need to fill every nook and cranny with a note. You can use silence and space to your advantage.

This ties into the idea of rhythm in music. Where you space the notes you use across time will directly impact how it sounds/feels.

So let it breathe a little…

Storytelling

Another thing to keep in mind when writing your guitar solo is that you’re almost telling a story with it.

Just like a singer’s top line will have elements of storytelling to it, so will your melodic soloing.

So think about what your initial melody idea is “saying,” and tell a story around it using the emotions you’re able to create by playing musical notes.

Music really is just emotion created through sound. And emotions tell stories.

Is your solo frantic and agitated? Or is it sombre and sorrowful?

The way you write your melody will tell a story – so think about what you’re trying to convey to the listeners, in the context of the overall song.


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Step 4: Add Hooks

OK, so you’ve written an initial idea, and you’ve built on top of it.

You’ve got your entire solo fleshed out melodically – you know the notes you’re going to play and you know where you’re going to play them.

And the melody itself, has to be a great melody before moving on to this last step. So make sure it’s the best it can be.

The final step to writing a great guitar solo is to refine the fantastic melody you’ve just written.

And that means adding hooks – or little pieces of ear candy that listeners can latch onto and will want to hear again and again.

Keep in mind, that even your melodic ideas alone can act as hooks if they’re dope enough. If you don’t have any really cool melodic phrases in your solo, that’s one place to start.

Refine your melodic ideas within the solo to be more hooky or catchy.

But beyond that, you can also use various guitar skills and techniques to spice the melodic ideas up. These are all about how you play the notes. 

The skills include string bending, vibrato, and much more. You should incorporate these techniques into your solo to add more flair and novelty/interest.

Final Thoughts

And there you have it – you’ve written your very first guitar solo. It may seem overwhelming at first, especially if you’ve never been introduced to the concepts we describe above.

But don’t let it paralyze you. Take it one step at a time, starting with analyzing and studying your favorite guitar solos.

Then, when you’re ready to take a stab at your own, site down and re-visit the steps above and just get started.

Don’t let perfectionism hold you back – your first few solos will be mediocre at best. Just work through the suck and you’ll get to a level of mastery eventually over time.

Just keep writing and trying different things out.

If you really want to become a better guitar player fast, I highly recommend you check out Guitar Tricks (14 Day Free Trial) – they’ve got a TON of in-depth video lessons on everything you could possibly want to learn.

Thanks for reading this guide on how to write a guitar solo. I hope it was helpful. Now, don’t just close this article and read another one. Go start writing your own solos!

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    Omar Zulfi

    Omar Zulfi is a music producer, rapper, singer, songwriter and digital entrepreneur. He is the founder and head writer at Deviant Noise. Learn more about what he's doing by clicking here.