Another reader question and answer, this time about composing melodies for guitar solos.
…I was wondering: do you think notes up first before you get a cool run to practice or how do you make up these melodic surreal sounds?
“Melodic surreal sounds” — I love it!
I wish I had a genuinely instructive answer to this question, but I’m not really sure where my melodies come from. However, I can outline the steps I take to get there — perhaps they will work for you, too.
When I have a solo to do, I loop the solo section in my recording software and improvise over it until something “clicks.” (Clickage is totally subjective, of course!) Theory isn’t relevant for me at this stage; I play by ear, only resorting to theory if I have absolutely no inspiration whatsoever and need to take a more analytical approach just to get rolling.
Sooner or later, an idea will emerge (from wherever the heck they come from) and then I record it. Sometimes I can do a solo all in one sitting, but if I’m not feeling inspired it can take several sessions before I’ve got enough ideas. If inspiration is lacking, I’d much rather shorten a solo than spend a lot of time filling up the measures with uninspiring wankage that isn’t fun to play.
Additionally, if it’s hard to play an idea up to speed, I use a program called Transcribe to loop the backing at a slower tempo , increasing gradually to where it should be.
That’s really all there is to it, but here are some of the general principles that I keep in mind:
- Go for strong notes rather than weak ones, particularly at the beginning and end of phrases.
- Add unexpected-but-cool notes if possible.
- Go for melodies and phrases, rather than widdly, meandering stuff.
- “Just say no” to uninspiring chords — or change them until they work!
For some backings it’s easy to come up with a ton of ideas, for others it’s a royal pain. It helps to have chord progressions with lots of “movement” in them. If you’re familiar with the solo section from the Stream of Passion songs “Haunted” or “Embrace the Storm,” those are good examples of what I mean by chords with “movement.” In “Haunted” I think I even asked to change one of the E minor chords to major to be able to add more movement. A more mainstream example would be Steve Vai’s “For the Love of God.” Lots of movement there.
Finally, if you just can’t make the chords work for you (or aren’t allowed to change them), I’d decline to play on the song. Life is too short to play over shitty chords.
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