The 6 Levels Of Guitar Solos

Ayla Tesler-Mabe  /  Lessons UPDATED Aug 26, 2021

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Are you ready to take your guitar skills to the next level? Ayla Tesler-Mabe shares her personal approach to guitar solos on six different levels. By the end, you’ll feel more comfortable improvising on the guitar and come up with some pretty cool licks. Let’s dive in!

Level 1 – The Pentatonic Scale

In the context of this lesson, we’ll be focusing on a 12-bar blues in the key of A. It’s the type of music that sits between major and minor sounds and gives you more opportunity to play minor and major pentatonic scales. 

Start with the root note to build the A Minor Pentatonic Scale. If you move the same scale down three frets, you’ll be playing the major scale. Any notes from the minor scale are safe to play to get a bluesy sound. The same goes for when you switch between major and minor. 

The pentatonic scale is always a great place to begin because you’ll get the most mileage out of it and will implement it in your playing forever. 

Level 2 – Building A Lick Vocabulary

When most people start to internalize the pentatonic scale, they find it just sounds like a scale instead of a musical phrase. What helps remedy this is building a vocabulary of licks you can find online or in songs you listen to and implement them into your playing. They inspire you to find your sound. 

It doesn’t always have to be within the minor pentatonic scale, you can find other licks outside of the scale. This can be a great way to add sophisticated tones into your playing without necessarily knowing what you’re doing and add nice color to your solos. 

Level 3 – Adding Color (understanding what to add)

Anytime you play minor or major pentatonic, you can add a “blues” note to turn it into the blues scale and gives you another note to target when improvising. 

Another example is Dorian Mode. And all you have to do to turn the scale into the mode is by adding two notes and continue up the scale. Without fully playing Dorian, playing one of those notes you targeted can become more sophisticated and colorful. 

Trust your ear and try exploring notes outside of the scale. If they sound good to you, then they’re probably good!

Download the scale chart to follow along. 

Level 4 – Follow The Changes

The structure of a 12-bar blues is starting on the 1 chord, then the 4-chord, back to the 1 chord, then 5-chord, back to 4-chord and back to one chord, and end with the 5-chord. 

By following the changes of the chords with arpeggios, you can know which notes to play along with the chord changes. This is your way of outlining all the chord tones in your playing. 

Level 5 – Creating Tension (chromatic tones)

Now we’re getting jazzy. 

When you’re figuring out all the correct and safe notes to use is in your licks, it’s a good idea to also link in those “weird” sounding notes. They’re the ones that build tension in the song and add emotion.

Once you choose your target notes, there are a few tricks you can use to get started in chromaticism. The first is seeing two notes on the same string and filling in all the space between. Another approach is the two fret above your target notes and walks down chromatically (there’s the jazz). You can also do that same approach but two frets below. You can also try the over, under target approach. Start from above, below, under, then target. Lastly, you can try this same approach but reverse it.

As long as you end on the target note, it works! And you’ll be creating a lot of tension in your licks. 

Level 6 – Finesse (play with feeling) 

Out of all the levels, THIS is the most important step. Don’t get me wrong, coming up with sauve phrases in your playing and hitting the right notes is a big part of soloing. However, having finesse is key!

Most of the greatest guitarists of all time have an insane amount of finesse and feeling. But they also leave a lot of space in their playing. 

Music is the space between the notes – Claude Debussy

A guitarist knows all the notes and navigates the fretboard like it’s nothing. But a musician expresses the human experience through their guitar – like storytelling!

Bending, sliding, and vibrato are a few techniques to express more emotion. When playing notes in a lick, always ask yourself, “what can I do to make this more expressive?” And everyone has a different approach that makes them unique!

These tips are the first steps to continuing your guitar journey as you will always be growing and improving in your playing. Hopefully, the biggest takeaway for you is discovering how YOU express yourself on the instrument. 

Don’t forget to download the scale chart so you can practice along!

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