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This blog is intended to relate playing the guitar to composition, and vice versa. Learning to solo can lead to learning scales and trying to play them as fast as possible. That doesn’t apply here.

But learning about creating riffs and melodies does. Scales are good for this.

(It doesn’t mean that you can’t use what I say here to play solos. It’s just not my focus.)


Learning tapping, sweeping, and legato techniques for their own sake is fine. Learning one of these techniques, and having it inspire some writing is better. That seems more interesting to me than simply learning technique so you can play a more impressive solo. I’ll look at these techniques in later posts for their compositional value.

First steps

The first thing you need is a scale. The minor pentatonic is probably the most common scale in popular music. Here are two ways of looking at the A minor pentatonic scale:


A minor pent


…and a diagram. The numbers indicate what fingers to use.


A minor pent diagram


So what do you do with this?

Try this. Play a recording of a song you like. Get your guitar and play along with it using the A minor pentatonic scale. If you’re lucky, the scale will be in the same key as the song and it will sound fine. But you’ll probably have to move the scale shape to different spots on the neck until it sounds good.

This just means that you start the scale on a different fret than the 5th fret. By the time the song ends, you’ll most likely have found the right scale. If not, start the song from the beginning and keep going. Be patient.


Once you have the right scale, start the song again. Play only when the singer is singing. This gives you a feel for something called phrasing.

Phrasing is a personal way of playing a series of notes. It’s called phrasing because it’s related to the phrase lengths we use when we speak. When we play like we speak, it sounds and feels natural.

Playing like you speak

Playing like you speak means to play phrases that are no longer than the length of your breath. It means to pause like you would at the end of a sentence. It means not playing way too many notes. Playing along with the singer gives you a sense of the natural length for a single phrase.

Think of the solo as a story. Stories are built from sentences and phrases. A good story doesn’t have run-on sentences because they annoy people. So keep your phrases concise. Don’t play anything longer than a natural sentence length.


Take a breath. Now breathe out while playing the minor pentatonic scale. That’s a good measure for how long a phrase should be. This is a rule of thumb, not a hard and fast rule. Some phrases might be a bit longer, some a bit shorter.

As you do this work, be aware of the compositional implications. Getting a feel for optimum phrase-lengths in a solo transfers to writing good melody. Focusing on scales as a tool for writing melody transfers to playing good solos. Think compositionally and your playing will be better.

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