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Thread: How to build a solo?

  1. #26
    The Amateur Mandolinist Mark Gunter's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to build a solo?

    Too funny Jon, you correct Carl for making an exaggerated blanket statement (ALWAYS start with the melody) and follow up with one of your own (you will NEVER engage your inner voice).

    I call BS.

    Carl's advice is sound, if maybe a bit exaggerated, in the sense that you do not ALWAYS, 100%, start with the melody. That would not even be possible, as some pieces of music have no straightforward, recognizable melody but rather just an overall sense of movement that tends to invoke certain feelings. Neither Carl (nor anyone else in this thread) have advocated being chained to the melody, but rather to start there. This is not a rule that must be followed, but it is good advice for aspiring musicians as a starting point IMO.

    As to your point that a person who starts with the melody will NEVER engage their inner voice, I ask, where is your proof? Sounds like BS to me.
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  2. #27
    The Amateur Mandolinist Mark Gunter's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to build a solo?

    Most jazz musicians tend to play through the head before improvising off the rails. It's so good.
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  3. #28
    The Amateur Mandolinist Mark Gunter's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to build a solo?

    One final thought, Jon, on your recent post - because this subject is interesting, important, and ideas need to be tested.

    As an historical matter: Don Felder did not have any lyrics or melody when he wrote Hotel California. He wrote a CHORD PROGRESSION. He liked it as it developed, and he recorded it on a cassette deck. Then he IMPROVISED SOLOS against his chord progression. He recorded his licks on a cassette deck.

    When Don's noodlings were heard by the Eagles, Glenn and Fry liked the stuff that was to become Hotel California, and they wrote lyrics and melody for the song. They changed the key of the song to fit the vocals. In the studio, Felder tried other solo ideas, but everyone agreed that what he had originally on tape was best, so he capoed up and played the same licks he'd originally invented - having to "re-learn" from his improv ideas - and he and Walsh worked out some competitive guitar slinging for the ending.

    None of this is conjecture - it is a matter of history, well documented in interviews you can watch around the web today, and has absolutely nothing to do with the point Carl was making.
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  4. #29

    Default Re: How to build a solo?

    Quote Originally Posted by Mark Gunter View Post
    Too funny Jon, you correct Carl for making an exaggerated blanket statement (ALWAYS start with the melody) and follow up with one of your own (you will NEVER engage your inner voice).

    I call BS.

    Carl's advice is sound, if maybe a bit exaggerated, in the sense that you do not ALWAYS, 100%, start with the melody. That would not even be possible, as some pieces of music have no straightforward, recognizable melody but rather just an overall sense of movement that tends to invoke certain feelings. Neither Carl (nor anyone else in this thread) have advocated being chained to the melody, but rather to start there. This is not a rule that must be followed, but it is good advice for aspiring musicians as a starting point IMO.

    As to your point that a person who starts with the melody will NEVER engage their inner voice, I ask, where is your proof? Sounds like BS to me.
    Yes. It is BS. I used hyperbole to address hyperbole.

    Nonetheless, one needn't always start with the melody.

  5. #30

    Default Re: How to build a solo?

    Absolute statements are always wrong.

  6. #31

    Default Re: How to build a solo?

    Never say that!

  7. #32
    Registered User John Flynn's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to build a solo?

    I am an intermediate player, so I my advice will not be as sophisticated as some other people here, but I do feel your pain. I think there have been three levels of soloing for me. There may be more, but this has been my experience.
    1. Pentatonics. Just mess around with the five notes, do some simple tricks and see what sounds good. This is really simplistic, it can get bland and it won't work if the progression is not 1-4-5. But it is a way to begin. You can also start to get a sense of where the 1-4-5 chord tones are adjust your solo to those simple changes, which is a good learning. I have moved on from this, but it got me started.
    2. Melody. Learn the melody and apply tricks to that, hopefully tricks that "say something" to enhance the melody. Tricks for tricks sake is not all that great. But if you learn all the tricks, like double stops, tremolo, cross picking, etc. you will just find places where those tricks enhance something uniquely in the melody. This is where I am now. It is not a bad place to be. The melody is always king, IMHO.
    3. Arpeggios. Departing from the melody and creating solo "statements" using chord tones. I am not there yet, except for double stops and cross picking. But I am thinking more like Jerry Garcia solos. That is a next step I would like to get to.

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  9. #33
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    Default Re: How to build a solo?

    My opinion, and what I do. I am firmly in the start with the melody crowd. (for most kinds of music) By knowing the melody you have an idea of the narrative of the tune, and where the drama is. What I do then is to do things that emphasize the narrative of the tune or maybe even exaggerate the drama a little bit. I apply harmony notes or passing notes or even wander a bit, but always I am trying to express what is in the tune, buttress the narrative of the tune, pay homage to the melody.

    The crowd that talks about listening to my inner voice - I have to say while that sounds good, I am playing someone's tune. If I were writing the tune I would get to follow my inner voice. If it is a type of jazz where taking a break is more like spontaneous composition live in front of people, that would be different. That is where inner voices are meant to shine.

    Besides I have heard my inner voice, and it is not so interesting.

    And as far as expressing myself. Nahh. Nobody wants to hear what a middle aged middle income middle educated guy with quite pedestrian life experiences has to say. Myself doesn't make a compelling narrative: "then I went to high school, then it was Thursday". Play expressively, absolutely, but express the music you are playing, not yourself. IMO. Alter dynamics and play double stops, harmonies, interesting meanderings from the melody, but use all those tools in support of the narrative of the tune.

    Its something like cooking. You want to kick it up a notch, not insinuate what you would have rather cooked into someone else's recipe.

    YMMV and don't just listen to me. For perspective I am firmly in the camp that would rather have people comment on how lovely the tune is, rather than how well I played it. I want to be invisible and let the music do the talking. Again YMMV.
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  11. #34
    The Amateur Mandolinist Mark Gunter's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to build a solo?

    Quote Originally Posted by CarlM View Post
    Absolute statements are always wrong.
    Quote Originally Posted by JonZ View Post
    Never say that!
    Quote Originally Posted by Mark Gunter View Post
    ... has absolutely nothing to do with the point Carl was making.
    Okay, has 'very little' to do with the point. I was using hyperbole for literary effect.
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  12. #35

    Default Re: How to build a solo?

    Mark, we were just messin' around, no disrespect intended.

    The original poster has not reposted and has disappeared or is just lurking. The discussion has gone quite a ways beyond his original post and has covered a lot of good approaches to building solos even for intermediate or advanced players. It is worth reading.

    Dealing with what JonZ said: My comments were directed toward the situation of the original poster who was a somewhat more than beginner who is having difficulty constructing solos and even knowing where to start. A player needs to find their "inner voice". For most people it takes some effort. Very few exceptional players have great, wonderful, original stuff start flowing almost from the start. The guy posting obviously was not finding that happening from what he said.

    The approach I proposed comes from instruction and workshops, primarily guitar that I have been to. Particularly David Grier, who no one on this earth has ever accused of being unoriginal, who started with a basic version of Wildwood Flower, began adjusting, changing notes, adding and subtracting different things till he had shown us probably fifteen different takes on the song, all recognizable and the final strikingly different from the original. Chris Jones of Chris Jones and the Night Drivers taught a class on how to construct solos for vocal tunes at Kaufmann Kamp one year again where he started with the melody and walked us through line by line, adding slides, bends, hammer ons and other effects, fill in or transition phrases where the melody got sparse and emphasizing different dynamics till an effective solo was built for the song. And some of the techniques came from private teaching and instruction from Keith Yoder as we worked through fiddle tunes with exercises he showed me to find different approaches to make the songs original.

    So anyway that is where I was coming from. Very few people come right out with good stuff without putting quite a bit of work into it and it helps to have a structured approach at least to start so you do not wind up wandering out in the weeds all week. More advanced level players have been there enough they know when to quit wandering and try something else.
    Last edited by CarlM; May-17-2020 at 3:02pm.

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  14. #36
    Peace. Love. Mandolin. Gelsenbury's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to build a solo?

    This has become a very interesting and helpful discussion. I'm not a good player, and I very rarely need to play a solo in a song. But now I know where to start!

    For the sake of completeness: I've successfully built (rather than improvised) a couple of simple but tasteful solos, and I enjoyed the process. But this thread has definitely given me more tools to use next time.

  15. #37
    The Amateur Mandolinist Mark Gunter's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to build a solo?

    Hey Carl, I was just poking a little fun back at myself with that last comment, I enjoyed the funny comments you and JonZ had posted. Yeah, this thread is a bit of a ghost ship, the OP seems to have abandoned ship.

    When somebody asks, "how do you do this or that", they may be asking each of us to describe how we ourselves do it, so there's not a correct answer. But I think that in the end, whether you are Sam Bush or Don Felder, improvising a solo comes from having a large vocabulary that you use to express yourself with, and hopefully with something tasteful and relevant - not a string of non sequiturs. That's why a person needs a lot of practice at it, and it can help to study other folks solos and licks and make them into something of your own. You can do the same with arpeggios and scales through your own experimentation. So there's no one answer, many things can go into the toolbox, with the goal of fluent expression.

    Babies have thoughts, but they need to build vocabulary and get a feel for syntax before they can express their thoughts well, and it ain't no overnight thang.

    I'm not sure, though, that the OP was asking about improvising because that's not the same as building a solo - a solo could be real-time improvisation, or it could be a passage that a person crafts and learns and practices in the woodshed. The videos offered in this thread give a good starting place, as do most of the comments, I think.

    You can tell a child to express their inner self all day long, but if they don't have the verbal tools they'll be limited. Same goes for newbie musicians I think. You can pick up the tools by playing with others and you can pick them up in the woodshed, doesn't matter which and IMO both is best.
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  16. #38
    Oval holes are cool David Lewis's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to build a solo?

    I might have missed it, but learn your intervals. Tak a song you know and just play 1 and 5 tones over it. Get used to that sound. Then 1 and 3. Then 1 and -4. You can then go to more exotic intervals. 3-5, 1-7, 2-4.

    Also, at the same time as youíre practicing this work this next part into your playing routine, sing the solo you want to play - yes, you do want to play a solo, and in your head you know what it is. Donít worry if you canít sing - thatís not the point. You know the notes youíre reaching for.

    Also, start with pentatonic scales. Much easier, and more transportable.

    Once you can sing it, you can play it.
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    Default Re: How to build a solo?

    Quote Originally Posted by David Lewis View Post
    Also, start with pentatonic scales. Much easier...
    The Pentatonic scale = 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th and 6th notes of a major scale: in G: G, A, B, D, E.
    In G these notes work well on the G chord. What if you use those 5 notes to play through all chords in a simple G tune?
    The two other chords in a basic G tune are C and D spelled CEG and DF#A. On a G chord the C and F# [as the 4 & #7]
    are "avoid" notes. They however are really useful as the root of the 4 chord and the 3rd of the 5 chord.
    Not available if you're only playing G, A, B, D, E. Also not available: chromatics. Playing an F before the F# on the D chord
    or similarly the Eb before the E on the C chord. These are vital bluesy sounds. The pentatonic scale is sold as allowing you
    to avoid mistakes and its therefore a good "rule" for beginners. It introduces a sort of "vagueness" though, from not playing the chord changes because "all notes can be used" and its implied they're all the same. They aren't though. The B [#7] doesn't sound that
    good on a C chord but the Bb [b7] does.

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    Default Re: How to build a solo?

    Quote Originally Posted by JonZ View Post
    This is just one approach. Solos don't have to reference the melody. If you ALWAYS start with the melody, you will NEVER engage your inner voice.

    It's not a Bluegass or fiddle tune, but it's well known, so consider the solo on Hotel California. There is a lot going on there that has nothing to do with the melody, and it's a brilliant solo.

    Yes, THIS - Hotel California is the most amazing solo ever! It's like they were making the guitars SPEAK!
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  19. #41
    Oval holes are cool David Lewis's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to build a solo?

    Quote Originally Posted by Joel Glassman View Post
    The Pentatonic scale = 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th and 6th notes of a major scale: in G: G, A, B, D, E.
    In G these notes work well on the G chord. What if you use those 5 notes to play through all chords in a simple G tune?
    The two other chords in a basic G tune are C and D spelled CEG and DF#A. On a G chord the C and F# [as the 4 & #7]
    are "avoid" notes. They however are really useful as the root of the 4 chord and the 3rd of the 5 chord.
    Not available if you're only playing G, A, B, D, E. Also not available: chromatics. Playing an F before the F# on the D chord
    or similarly the Eb before the E on the C chord. These are vital bluesy sounds. The pentatonic scale is sold as allowing you
    to avoid mistakes and its therefore a good "rule" for beginners. It introduces a sort of "vagueness" though, from not playing the chord changes because "all notes can be used" and its implied they're all the same. They aren't though. The B [#7] doesn't sound that
    good on a C chord but the Bb [b7] does.
    When you’re starting out., the pentatonic scale is very useful. G A B D and E are all very useful over a C chord - you have the third and the fifth. You have the sixth, which gives a lovely dissonance, and the major 7 - jazzy...

    It’s a little trickier in D, but you have the 4 (an avoid note) the fifth, the sixth, the root and the 9. While you’re getting used to it, you can use your ears to work Pty our what tones you like.

    Later you can try pentatonic scales in 'crossharp' style. Try playing a C pentatonic over G. Then a F over the C and a G over the D. It’s most of the avoid notes out, you can start to hear possibilities you wouldn’t have thought of. D over G, G over C and A over D.

    Pentatonic can get you a lot of places.
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  20. #42
    Registered Muser dang's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to build a solo?

    Quote Originally Posted by JeffD View Post
    ...
    And as far as expressing myself. Nahh. Nobody wants to hear what a middle aged middle income middle educated guy with quite pedestrian life experiences has to say.
    ...
    Did you have to describe me so accurately?!?

    Funny comment but also a great insight. Sometimes when there is spontaneous applause after I take a solo I realize I have transcended the day-to-day and connected with people I donít even know.

    I solo from the melody, generally, but then sometimes I avoid the melody. It depends on the song.

    Most rock songs have a strong lead guitar solo that is distinct but related to the main melody.

    Most bluegrass songs follow the vocal melody tightly, and I typically learn a variation or two in addition to a potential full improvised solo.

    Like Jeff said, use your techniques and tools to sell the moment.

    I would like to add that Irish traditional and old time follow different rules. Just learn the lead and donít improvise unless prompted. I know most people know this but maybe itíll save someone from the cold hard stare I got from an otherwise very kind woman who apparently did not like my rousing fully improvised two times through the melody take on Angeline the baker. Afterward she let me know ďthis was an old time jam and we donít usually take free improvised solos, or twice through solos. But mine was nice anywayĒ!
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  21. #43
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    Default Re: How to build a solo?

    Quote Originally Posted by Mike Romkey View Post

    7. Write it out! Or tab it out. I don't know ANY top tier players who haven't spend a ton of time laboriously and obsessively writing out other people's solos (be it Bill Monroe or Matt Flinner), and, to at least some degree (and maybe a great degree) their own. I seriously doubt David Benedict, Sierra Hull, Mike Marshall are just pulling stuff you hear on recordings out of their ear on the fly. There probably are a few people who rely on improv (like Andy Statman, I think) but my bet is to a larger degree what you hear is intentional rather than inspirational.

    I'm working up a solo -- building a solo -- today for "Missouri Borderlands". It's a simple melody. Previously, my strategy would have been to wing it. But aspiring to a higher level, my approach will be as above.
    "Don't know", well, then what do you know? How well did you know Bill Monroe?
    Did he know notation at all? Judging from Smith's bio he was familiar with shape notes from singing school but had to give up reading owing to poor eyesight, and rely exclusively on his ear.

    More importantly, perhaps, whom did he learn from, or copy? We know that he started playing the mandolin in the early 20's, learning the basics from one Hubert Stringfield, a farm hand. But who could possibly have been his models on mandolin at that time, on records or radio?

    Seems he learned lot from his uncle and Arnold Shultz, creating much of his style by transplanting guitar and fiddle licks on the mandolin.

    As I've already said I never notated stuff that I learned from records, only my own compositions. Actually I never played anyone else's solos, only used them as inspiration and models for my own playing. Generalizing and speciazing.

    Why and how would anyone write down his own solos; or even want to remember them?

  22. #44
    Registered User tree's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to build a solo?

    I have "worked up" solos. I don't write them down, but if they're good (or if they have good parts) I memorize them so I can play them again. YMMV
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    Default Re: How to build a solo?

    Quote Originally Posted by tree View Post
    I have "worked up" solos. I don't write them down, but if they're good (or if they have good parts) I memorize them so I can play them again. YMMV
    Nothing wrong with working up a solo and playing it. Even better is to practice so you have the ability to depart and "spontaneously amend" the notes. Keeping the original solo as something you can move back to. One way to do this is to memorize variations on 4 bar sections or A or B sections. It would be like having a flow chart which allows for detours, but also a route back. I read an interview with Chet Atkins about having a solo which he doesn't quote exactly but revises as he's playing. On a day he wasn't feeling that inspired he might rely more on the original solo. One way to practice playing variations is to learn versions of a fiddle tune as if they were different tunes and then combine them in different ways. Its like a puzzle or game, and a lot of fun.

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