There is more to creating a memorable and exciting guitar solo than connecting the dots between notes of a scale. Throughout your years of playing you've developed a repertoire of chops, phrases and techniques but stacking these techniques in linear fashion will not necessarily produce that "magic" solo that will pique the interest of your average music fan. Here are a few solo composition methods that I apply to my recording and playing, helping to pull the listener into the guitar solo.
The elements of composition in all art forms are: Repetition, Contrast and Focal Point. Let's take a look at each element separately as it pertains to solo compositions.
Repetition creates familiarity within the short time frame of a guitar solo. A small repeated hook in a solo will stick in a listener's head and create anticipation for the next time that person hears the song. One way to apply repetition to your solo is to repeat a short (4-beat) phrase or chop four times (4x) with a slight variation or resolve within the fourth rep. This technique can be heard frequently used by Ted Nugent and more recently, Zakk Wylde on his solo CDs. Another method for applying repetition is to start your solo off with a 4-beat hook phrase then, repeat the hook phrase every 2 to 4 barres. This divides your solo into sections and the hook phrase starts off each new segment of your solo. If this opening hook phrase is a slower melodic phrase (think quarter and eighth note combination), it also creates a nice focal point for your solo. One more way of applying repetition to your solo is as follows. Repeat the mechanical movement or technique of a phrase in different positions within the scale or from different starting notes (sequencing). This gives you a rhythmic repetition yet allows you to change notes with each repetition.
Contrast creates valleys and peaks in the energy level of a solo. Ever watch a movie that is jam-packed with action from beginning to end? While it may be fun to watch as its playing, it inevitably becomes almost pointless and less memorable than a movie with a more diverse story-line. If you were to do a solo with all 32nd notes at peak energy level, do you think people will remember it? They may remember that it was fast but details will be lost. Use slower melodic phrases juxtaposed with your speed chops. Change your guitar tone every 4 to 8 barres. Go back and fourth from repetition patterns to more random-note chops and runs. All these methods will create contrast in your solos making them more interesting and memorable. Steve Vai is famous for his diversity. Much of that diversity comes from creating contrast within his guitar-work.
The focal point is the part of a solo that people will remember in their heads and make them want to hear the solo again and again. To reiterate, a slower melodic phrase will have a better chance at sticking to a listener's memory. Repeating that phrase will increase the stickiness. Another way to create a good focal point is to harmonize the most memorable chop to drive the point home. I'm sure most of you can recall the opening lick by Randy Rhoads in the solo of "Over the Mountain" (Ozzy Osbourne - Blizzard of Oz - 1980). Maybe you haven't heard the song in years but you can still hear the guitar line in your head when you think about it. This chop is: a) a slower melodic hook, b) repeated twice before launching into the fast part of the solo, and c) is harmonized, using two guitar tracks (one at the root note, one at the octave).
These are some of the methods I used when developing solos for my latest instrumental release, "Mechanica Diablo". Hope these ideas help you in your solo composition and playing. Remember, "magic" doesn't happen by accident - it's a craft.
Michael Knight is a composer and guitar player from Floral Park, NY, who has released several independent CDs on his own label, Knight Music Productions.
His latest CD is entitled "Electric Horrorland", another musical descent into the darkest depths of the abyss.