How to create the solo of your dreams

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Improvised or prepared?

What's best: A totally improvised solo or one that is carefully prepared and structured in advance? I used to not like the improvised solos very much. "Go home and come up with something worth listening to" I thought to myself whenever I heard Jazz players dive into mass quantities of, what seemed like, random notes. But at the same time I was convinced that you should be able to improvise your way thorugh a chord progression and be able to come up with a cool solo on the spot. Then later in my life I seemed to get bored by the neatly aranged set of notes that came from prepared solos.

The best of both worlds

But Yngwie Malmsteen seems to be able to combine the two. He doesn't prepare every note but rather the overall structure of the solo - And then he improvises to fill in the blanks. This, to me, is one of the most effective approaches I've come across. You get the best of both worlds: The melodic structure that the ear likes so much, while maintaining the wild unpredictable emotional essence of the solo.

The old way of doing it

If you prepare every note, your solo wont vary in essence from the song it's in. The song is a set of prepared-in-advance notes and chords that sounds about the same everytime they are played - and in order for the solo to be really interesting it has to offer something else. When people started to improvise in Jazz music, they basically played the melody of the song and then made small and large alterations to that melody. So they kept the basic structure of the song, while adding something new to it. That approach quickly turned into solos that had nothing or very little to do with the melody.

Two Neo Classical Diminished Arpeggio Variations

The first part of this lick is an Malmsteen classic with a very special sound to it. The second part is a variation of the first. Look closely at the slow part of the video to get a hold of when to pick, when to slide and when to do pull offs.

The cool thing is that you can "steal" this part of Yngwies playing without sounding like him. It's another lesson that you can learn and apply to your own unique playing style. There are two approaches you can use to implement this strategy in your own playing:

1. The Jazz method

The first one I've touched upon already: Play the melody of the song and make spontaneous alterations to it along the way. If you're a beginner this is a very, very effective way to build a good solo in very little time. But there's another version of this idea and it is this: Create your own melody and improvise over that. Instead of playing the melody of the song, come up with a new one for the solo. Create a little composition of your own that really sounds good.

Think about composing a little song, within the song. Make sure that it's easy and comfortable for you to play and that it doesn't have lot of wild, fast runs in it. Then record the chord progression and play the melody over that until you can do it with your eyes closed. Then, when you're ready, begin to improvise and create small and large alterations to the melody. Then move on to bigger ones, then leap into longer runs and come back to your melody. Make sure that you never move so far away from you melody that you can't find your way back to it again.

This approach will add unbelievable structure and logic to your solos and it's so much fun to do. You'll always have that safe place to return to while creating improvised solos and never loosing your place. You might spend an hour going through this process, but when you show up at rehearsal, people wont believe their ears.

2. The Yngwie Method

Yngwie uses a somewhat similar approach though he doesn't create a whole melody. He figures out how to begin and end the solo in the coolest way possible. This might be just a note or an arpeggio that he goes to when the solo begins and ends. This might be a simple decision as to what high note creates the coolest sound. Then for the solo itself he has a general idea of where to go when. What scales, arpeggios or sequences to play where - but the rest is improvised. This gives him the freedom to preserve his over-the-top flamboyant playing style while maintaining a logic musical direction to his solos.

Try combining what I wrote about in my last article with these two methods. Sing the ideal solo you hear in your head. Then figure out how to play that solo and then lastly, practice changing that solo on the spot. Improvise on the basis of what you've created. This will give you some real power. If you've never done any of this before, please try it now. Then record the result and judge for yourself. It might be the best solo you've ever played. And it's uniquely yours, it's fresh and new, and it's improvised.