This lesson will refocus your attention on thinking chords and sound of chords during your solos. To get started will learn, play and analyze a rock solo based on the standard minor chord progression Am - G - F - E, (or I, bVII, bVI - V) used in many famous songs. My example is based on the surf music classic, Pipeline but the techniques and ideas you will learn in the solo will be useful to you in a myriad of musical situations as you embark on your adventures as a lead guitarist.

Earlier in the course you learned to base solos on chord tones and approach notes using standard chord shapes. This arpeggio based approach is similar to this chord shape thinking but is a more advanced refinement of it. Nothing sounds quite as amazing as playing a stream of chord tones to negotiate your way through a set of changes -this ability represents a very high level of thinking and playing To develop this skill you need to learn to think of and play chords in the form of the traditional arpeggios that all accomplished musicians practice, know and use. The print and save portion of the lesson has a compendium of common arpeggios for you practice with.

Pentatonic Perspcective

Although we are planning to play a chord based solo, the song is still in the key of A minor, when are playing rock or any modern style in this key, adopt a pentatonic point of view based on the root 6 minor pentatonic form. Remember excellent sounding solos and melodies are often based on scale fragments and chord fragment, so the box patterns are still valuable, still at the front of your mind.

Earlier we learned to look at the root 6 minor pentatinic scale form as the most important and most used version of the scale. There is a very useful upper extenstion of the scale pattern which is used to extend the range of the scale. The highest registers of the scale look like the shape of a house, so that is what I call this nice little soloing area and the larger pattern it is part of. It my memory trick.

Below we see another pattern we have been sudying and that is the one for the minor pentatonic scale notes that are not part of the main pattern played in position V. Again, we have seen the musical power of just 3 or 4 note scale passages, so we dont need every single scale tone on the neck of the guitar when we play, just a few, the notes on strings one and two of the rear extention are very useful and form a perfect box shape. I call that little scale shape the 'back yard' to remember not only a hot little area for soloing but also the larger pattern it is a part of. Use these diagrams to review these two scale extensions running your fingers all over the three scsale scale shapes, connecting them any way you see fit -and doing it over and over. To remember them, call them the 'house' and the 'backyard.

Playing The Changes

This approach is a lifesaver in those situations when you don’t know quite what to do or your favorite, first choice scale doesn't work as well as you would have hoped. Playing the changes always sounds good because each chord is addressed on a separate case by case basis. With each new chord, either a new position, new chord shape, or scale run may come to mind as a means of dealing with this new chord. Your job as a soloist is to dream up ways of smoothly connecting your phrases and individual musical ideas.

Although this technique is an effective and easy to play solos for most rock, pop and blues based tunes playing this way has always seemed foreign to many of the players I have known because lead guitarists very commonly use one scale for their entire solo, regardless of the chord changes. The best players have the ability to reflect sound of the chord progression itself to play nice sounding solos.

Classic Rock Solo In A Minor: Surfin The Changes

Just below is a full length solo based on the classic rock progression Am - G - F - E which was written an exercise to be analyzed and played as is written. The solo follows the chord progressions, treating each new chord as the new key of the song and playing a melodic phrase just for that chord as is clearly marked, the numbers in the pink boxes are the measure numbers we will need to analyze the song. Before playing the song, listen to the track as you identify the smaller individual phrases that make up the full length solo.

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Open this link to find a printer friendly version of the solo to Surfin The Changes for your music stand.

Soloing Strategy Measures 1 - 16

The first 8 bars of the solo usies the basic chord shapes as pictured above. In bars 1 and 2, I created a nice melody with the top half of an A minor bar chord by tracing out the shape of that chord with my soloing fingers, in this case the B note, shown below in grey, adds a smoothness.

Bars 3 and 4 make the interesting choice of going up in pitch to find a G chord shape to make melodies with, the C type of G chord found in position VII fits the bill. Bars 5 and 6 nicely continue the pattern of musical two bar phrases by working a few F major scale tones into the F major shape found on fret V.

To conclude the 8 bar section I went back down to the G shape found on fret V for an easy, repetitive 3 note cliche. The next 8 bars of the solo are repeats of the first 8 except to end the 8 bar section, the E minor chord shape on fret VII is close by and is a logical choice because it is in the same register -it is close by.

Soloing Strategy Measures 17 - 32

For the second half of Surfin The Changes, there is nothing fancy, just good solid rock and roll lead guitar thinking. I continued to employ the key of the moment thinking basing my creations on standard root 6 power chords as illustrated below. The two highest pitched notes in such a chord, the root and the 5th, represent that highly useful and raucous Chiuck Berry, classic rock lead sound. For the pull off note, I am using the minor 3rd C natural as the high note and for a nice pull off effect. The big news in this lick is the use of the flat 5, or Eb note located one fret below the natural 5 , E. this slide, flat 5 to natural 5 is a most powerful and useful devices in all sorts of music and is identified in my diagram by a red arrow.

When the chord progression switches to G, so does my thinking and so do my note choices, I am only trying to play over a G chord, not demonstrate an encyclopedic knowledge of chord-scale relationships. I am still using the wonderful and memorable the flat 5 to natural 5 slide to nice effect but using E,. The natural 6th of G as this is another well known and loved major chord musical device in use by guitarists in virtually every style. For the subsequent F major and G major my thinking and note choices were the same, sliding around the 5th and flat 5th, and using the natural 6th of the key to make a plain old chord sound more interesting.

For the Emi chord, again, Nothing fancy just bouncing up the "E" string alternating the notes of the E minor scale with the open E number 1 string, crude but effective and lots of fun. This could be called a relatively simple solo, with obvious note choices and basic positions. Why then does it work so well? Because the strength in this solo is its simplicity, obvious note choices paired with strict timing and rhythm.


Play Along Track

For working on the solo, and for developing your own original ideas, a backing track for the tune appears below.

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Arpeggios: Theory First

Use the diagram below to review the standard music theory associated with major, minor and dominant 7th type chords. To repeat, having this information at your fingertips sharpens your mind and therefore skills.

Arpeggio Practice

Learn the 3 basic chord sounds, major, minor and dominant, as root 6 and root 5 arpeggios as I have illustrated below. Treat the example like favorite songs licks and melodies as you train your fingers to smoothly negotiate the patterns. These exercises are also here to train your ear, make sure you are concentrating on learning to hear the arpeggios as representative of the chords they are derived from.

C Major Root 6

C Major Root 5

C Minor Root 6

C Minor Root 5

C Dominant 7 Root 6

C Dominant 7 Root 5

Major 7th & Minor 7th CHord Arpeggio Practice

Review Theory First

Use the diagram below to make sure you understand the spellings and formulas associated with the major 7th and the minor 7th arpeggios.

Below are play along exercises designed to teach you the musical sound and proper fingering and playing feel for major 7th and minor 7th arpeggios which are deeply associated with jazz guitar playing. Don’t make the mistake of pigeon holing these arpeggios as belonging exclusively to the jazz idiom however, they are useful in all styles –the only limit is your imagination.

C Major 7 Root 6

C Minor 7 Root 6

Musically Speaking

Your focus here has been understanding the musical sound, physical shape and fingering feel associated with the most common arpeggios. To me, technical information only has meaning if I can relate it to something musical right away, so lets play some music with arpeggio driven riffs. Thinking of and playing arpeggios when soloing is similar to turning standard chord shapes into licks, but is more interesting, advanced and sounds direct and musical.

Of course, the clever and interesting use of approach notes will increase the range and usefullness of any arpeggio just like they do to the basic shapes of guitar chords when we are making music out of chord shapes. Accomplished soloists, who know how to play the changes, can express the quality and flavor of a series of chord changes in their single note guitar solos. The use and knowledge of arpeggios enables a player to express any chord sound as a series of single notes. These single note lines are very useful when you encounter an unusual chord, or a chord that doesn't seem to fit in the tonic key of a chord progression. This will enable you to play a solo that is definitely and very clearly reminiscent of the sound of the chord progression.

The example below clearly and firmly establishes the C  major tonality by vamping between a C major 7 and a C 6 chord, two chords in the key and family of C major. The C  major 7 arpeggio is used as the basis for the entire solo is traditionally one of the first and most favored jazz flavored lick among teachers and guitarists. As opposed to scales, arpeggios have greater distances between their notes, this causes the bouncy, broad and bright nature of arpeggios. The track has space for practice immediately following the solo, listen to the recorded example, then try to recreate the solo note for note, learning how to use the arpeggio.

Arpeggios have great potential when it comes to creating small little riffs and great lead to contribute to an arrangement. This type of shortened or song oriented lead guitar playing is an essential and natural part of creating background parts, rhythm guitar grooves, fills, 2nd guitar parts and counter melodies. The C dominant 7 based lines below are played in response to the C  dominant 7 tonality being established by the bass and rhythm guitar.

This lead work creates a nice 2nd guitar part, meant to compliment, enhance and work with the busy, 'strumming away' sound of the rhythm guitar. Since a second strumming pattern would make the track sound cluttered, I thought more of a 2nd guitar part, not a full on solo, but a tasty little line meant not to clash but to bring out the full flavor, quality and funky character of this C7 vamp. Both of the musical examples provide ample solo space for you to experiment with the sound of the arpeggios.

As you learn these licks and learn how to create your own licks, have the musical sound and overall sonic character of the arpeggio in your head. Build on your core, essential knowledge with a clear mental image of the C7 fingering, the sound, its layout on the fretboard and the relationships between its individual notes.