January 04, 2019
While many musicians specialize in playing "cover" music (written by others), at some point most players find they are interested in writing and recording their own music. If you are a guitar player, chances are that you will be called on to play some kind of original solo or interlude during the recording. You probably already have a broad repertoire of "chops" that you reach for on a cover song, but maybe you want to make a musical statement that distinguishes this recording from your normal working style. This raises the question, "How can I write a great solo?" Of course, that question is one that only you can answer. But how do you decide where to start? Let's look at some fundamental methods of creating original solos, which you can apply to your own specific situation.
What Are You Trying to Say?
One excellent place to begin when composing music is to think about the message the song is trying to convey, and to visualize where this part is going to fit into that message. Imagine you are writing another vocal segment, or a new instrumental passage, and ask yourself, "Should this part mirror, or contrast the previous vocal section?" Consider: Do you want a frenzied, high energy solo like Jimmy Page's solo on "Communication Breakdown?" Or, should it be lazy, ethereal or dreamy like Kurt Cobain played on "Smells Like Teen Spirit?" Do you need a short section or phrase, or will the solo extend and form a separate section of the song? Will you play over changes from another section of the song, or write new changes that take the music someplace else? Most of all, throughout the process keep asking yourself, "Does this solo say anything to me at all?" If you aren't sure, it probably needs more structural work. Chop it up into little pieces, and rebuild it using the very best parts while tossing the rest. You want your instrument to speak in sentences and tell a story to your listener which fits with or compliments the song.
Break Down the Solo Into Phrases
A traditional example of this technique is the old blues solo, where the changes followed a 12-bar pattern, divided into three 4 bar sections. The first two sections were often mirrored, with the third being contrasting. Singers would deliver a line in the first section, repeat it in the second section but add some variations, then answer the phrase in the third section. You can apply this idea any way that you can come up with, and it will probably work. If your solo consists of 4 times through the verse changes, then you might break your solo into 4 phrases, one for each time through (or use four 2 bar phrases to cover an 8-bar solo section).
Once you have identified how many phrases your solo will incorporate, start filling them in, generally at first (for example, "the first phrase will be flashy, the second phrase needs to breathe, the third phrase will mirror the first, and the fourth phrase will be something completely different that builds out into a finale"). Next, use your chops (or new variations of them) to fill in each phrase. For an excellent illustration of this technique in action, dig out Ozzy Osbourne's "Diary of a Madman" and listen to Randy Rhodes' solo on "Over the Mountain" between 2:30-3:05. You will easily identify the separate sections Randy used to string together his memorable solo, but also notice how he used repetition, contrast, call and answer phrasing, and big intro and outro sections to give the phrases context and meaning, rather than randomly stringing together riffs.
Compose, Evaluate, Break Down, RebuildOnce you have a general idea of what you are trying to say, and you have fleshed out some specific phrases to build a solo, record it and evaluate it; how good is it? Chop out anything that doesn't raise your hair, saving only the stuff you really love, and start all over; rebuild the entire solo using only the best parts. Now carefully select whatever new phrases you need to fill the holes you just carved out but remember that sometimes the best thing to put in a hole is space. Just as good editing makes an essay shorter, so too does it make your solo more meaningful. Apply these techniques to your solo composition skill set and begin to master the language of "speaking in sentences" with your instrument. Make each revision better than the last (or throw it out and go back if it isn't), and over time your solos will improve. Most importantly though, is that each one will sound like you! What are some solos you have noticed that were built in phrases, and what makes them special?
November 06, 2023
One of the most misunderstood things in mixing is bass – whether it’s getting the low end right in general, letting the bass guitar cut through without overpowering everything else, or just making the bass interesting and cool. It can be tricky to get it right, but there are plenty of tried-and-true tricks for getting there quickly. Let’s go over a few of those.
October 30, 2023
Some of the great guitar-playing artists were self-taught – which means a great many of them use weird tunings. That’s probably no coincidence – using alternate tunings is a great way to come up with a unique sound. So, let’s look at a few of the most common uncommon tunings you could try with your guitar – or your bass.
October 23, 2023
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