Do you ever wonder how some guitar players seem like they are speaking through their guitar while soloing? It's these solos that seem to grab your attention and really get through to you. Today I am going to try to help you out with how to come closer to speaking through your guitar. In my opinion, the hardest and most important aspect of soloing is accurate self expression.
I believe that the human voice is the most expressive instrument. The best part about this is that we all have one. Even if we can not actually speak, our minds talk and express thoughts, feelings and much more. For me, hearing a great singer hitting a note with cool vibrato or swelling into a passage with great emotion and passion really sticks with me. I believe these memorable musical moments are more emotional, not only due to the singer's melody, but because of the words attached to them. Words are the advantage that singers have over the rest of the instruments and those words forge a connection not only musically, but lyrically with the listener.
The main idea that I am going to focus on is how we can borrow this connection from the human mind and its emotions and passions to make its way into our soloing through our hands. This connection from our minds to our hands is much more difficult than when singers sing. We all can communicate via language, but our hands are not as efficient as our mouths are at doing what our minds are trying to express.
The problem that I see with guitar players, in respect to soloing, is that we are geared towards visually learning and creating on our instrument. We learn scale patterns, tab numbers, chord shapes etc, and continue our learning based more visually than mentally/aurally. We generally see how scales interact with each other via whole steps and half steps and even move our hands in visual patterns due to how the guitar is laid out. Have you ever noticed how some players solo around the same positions or even use the same stock scale patterns? They are definitely not hearing music in their head and trying to express it through their hands. They are actually just randomly playing notes they remembered learning visually on the guitar and maybe have evolved to expressing it rhythmically with some phrasing. I ask you, is this a great method of creating music? Is this what you are hearing or expressing in your head? Not in my opinion, but it's how most players create solos, songs, riffs and other musical parts. Now this is not necessarily a bad thing because some times you can make up really cool ideas seeing visual patterns that your mind would never have put together. But for the most part, I would never write even a minority of melodies this way due to how random and expressionless these ways of producing music are in nature.
Singing will allow you to get more lyrical with your melodies and express ideas your hand can not hear or see. Here is what I suggest you do to get closer to this way of writing and expression.
1) Work on humming one note in your head and find it on your guitar. Increase the amount of notes to the point where you can find them all with little effort and time.
2) Work on tuning your guitar with and without a tuner. This sounds basic but is a great step in developing your ear. Then after you can tune your guitar without the tuner, get a chromatic tuner that has a cents read out. Start off by tuning one of the strings perfect with the tuner. Then try to get as close as possible to tuning the other strings without the tuner and then check to see how you did. This will develop your ear to a much finer degree and might even help you develop perfect pitch.
3) Work on humming scales, such as major, natural minor, minor and major blues pentatonic, harmonic minor and melodic minor. If you can hum accurately over a key, you have just developed relative pitch.
4) Work on humming or singing intervals. The tighter you are at hitting them right on, the better your ear will get at stretching its creativity and pinpointing exactly what your mind is hearing as the second note of the melody or solo.
5) In order to express yourself at a high level, you must be able to mimic the expressions that singers use. This would include vibratos, crescendos and decrescendos, staccatos, trills, bends, slides, sforzandos and many other dynamics. The better you can get at carrying over these emotional dynamics onto your guitar neck, the more alive your solos will sound and come across, like if you are talking through the guitar.
6) Start humming over songs that you like on a regular basis. These can be on the radio, from your CD collection etc. Then make time in your practice schedule to listen to songs and figure out the key that they are in. Proceed to use the correct scales and play them all over the guitar neck. Then stop playing and hum melodies you hear over the music. Start to hum back ideas that you liked and try to find them on your guitar. Keep doing this until you have quite a few ideas that you can play. Take this concept even further by singing the melodies and then making up solos. Go as far as writing down the ideas for the verse, chorus, solo etc and playing them over the song.
At this point in time if you can sing a melody instantly over the song and play it back, you have something pretty remarkable; you are speaking through your hands!!! This concept is not far off from how your brain responds to your mouth and allows you to express and communicate words and ideas. I by no means am a master at singing through my hands, but it's now a way of music creation that I no longer can and will do without. I noticed more of an improvement in my song and solo writing after I graduated college, which included choir and aural skills classes, than any other time in my life. I realized that my eyes and hands were creating music that my brain was just agreeing on instead of dictating. I was too caught up in seeing the music and then hearing what my hands were creating and I completely forgot about how to truly express my ideas like my mind does through words.
Turn your melodies and solos into those lively and expressive creations you hear in your head by learning to sing through your hands!
Mike Walsh is an internationally renowned progressive guitar virtuoso, composer and teacher. For more information about Mike Walsh, his bands Sage and Hess, to hear samples of his playing/music, and to read more articles, visit his web sites.
His latest CD with Sage is entitled "Lightning Strikes".