It's time to find out how much you really know about playing emotional guitar solos. See if you can answer the question below:
Without using your guitar, which of the following pairs of notes sound most alike?
Pair One: a CMaj chord being played below a G note - followed up with an Emin chord being played below G note.
Pair Two: a DMaj chord being played below an A note- followed up with a GMaj chord being played below a D note.
If you are like many guitarists, you answered "Pair One" as the pair that sounds most similar. However, this answer is way off! Here is why this answer is wrong:
The first pair contains a G note being played over both the E minor and C major chords. Although the same pitch (G) is being used, this pitch does not sound/feel the same when played over each chord. The reason why is the G note is functioning differently: It functions as the fifth over C major and the third over E minor. A fifth and a third sound nothing like each other.
In pair two, the A note and the D note actually create the exact same 'feeling' even though they are different pitches. This is because they are both fifths: A over D major is a fifth and D over G major is a fifth.
To 'hear' what this sounds like (how the same note sounds different when played over different chords), watch the video below:
First, download the .mp3 file below. This .mp3 is simply made of a single note (E) that is played continuously for four minutes. Use this file to complete the steps below:
First Step: As you listen to the single E note play in the backing track, strum these chords one after the other (let each chord sustain for ten seconds or so): A major, A minor, B major, C# minor, C major, D major, D minor, F major, F# minor, F# major, E major, E minor. As you strum each chord, think of the backing track as if it were playing a single note guitar solo.
Second Step: If you're already familiar with the way in which chords are constructed, you are aware that the E pitch functions differently when played over each chord in the sample above. Now, identify the function of the pitch over each chord. Then decide which function sounds the best to your ears. For instance, if you enjoy the feeling that occurs when you play an E note over a D minor chord and recognize that E played over a D minor chord is a ninth, you will always enjoy the sound of a ninth when played over any minor triad. As you learned in the video above, the function of a note will always sound the same regardless of the pitch/chord being used.
Additionally, do not limit yourself to only learning how your favorite 'function' sounds. This is a good starting point, but you should also learn how to identify the other functions as well. This will help you develop your ear and become a much more expressive guitarist.
If you aren't sure how to build chords (with music theory), do the following:
Third Step: Write down on a piece of paper the specific emotions you associate with each of the pitch functions (feelings) above. This step is crucial, because it will help you to remember these concepts and give you the ability to use them creatively in your guitar solos. Don't worry about whether the emotions you write down are right or wrong, just think of your own terms for describing them. You should ask yourself the following: "How does it feel to ME when a ninth is played over a minor chord?" It's not too important what words you use specifically, just make sure you understand the emotion you feel.
After you can identify the feeling of each function from above, it's time to incorporate this knowledge into your guitar solos. Begin by mapping out the notes in the chords of your favorite backing track (that you like to solo over). Identify the notes in each chord and pay close attention to which notes are shared in common with more than one chord.
As an example, consider this chord progression:
A major, C major and F major, the E note occurs in both the A major and C major chords. In A major it has the function of a fifth, while in C major it functions as a third. Also, the C note occurs in the F major chord as a fifth (and the root in the C major chord). While soloing over these chords, take advantage of the common tones between the chords and their changing emotions. Hold these shared notes longer just as the chords begin to change, and you will shock anyone listening with the different feeling created as the note changes its function.
Of course, you should not 'always' be using this method in your solos. Doing this all the time will cause your soloing to become predictable and stale.
Although the concept you learned in this article is very powerful and will help you improve the quality of your guitar solos, it is only the beginning! If you really want to become a killer lead guitar player, you must master the ability to make your listeners 'feel' exactly how you want them to feel with every note you play. Learn more about this by reading this page on how to create intense emotion in your guitar playing.
Tom Hess is a professional touring guitarist and recording artist. He teaches, trains and mentors musicians from around the world.
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