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Michael Casswell - Pro Concepts Season 3 - Part 7 - Openers

Lesson Notes

** As featured in issue 30 **

Hi everyone. In this guitar lesson I want to explore a subject I have called 'Openers'. An 'Opener' is a guitar lick, line or phrase that starts your guitar solo. Every good guitar solo should have a start, a middle and an end and every good improvisation should ideally take the listener on a bit of a journey, so having a few good opening ideas at hand that introduces your guitar solo is always a good idea. It immediately lets the listener know that they are going to like what you do next and it gets their attention.

Obviously there are a million and one ways to start a guitar improvisation, but I personally try to avoid the dull, tired, generic phrases and that get used time and time again. The typical tone below bend into a root note has its place, as does the minor 3rd Blues bend to a root note, but unless you follow these up with something particularly musical and creative, you really are showing a huge lack of imagination. So I think how you start a solo is quite a big consideration, and is something to think about if you haven't thought about it before.

If this is something of a weakness in your playing, then you might want to consider actually having a mental stockpile of ideas that you can execute at the front of a solo. Most phrases and licks can be adjusted to suit many musical genres and moods, and if you had, let's say, 10 great opening ideas in your muscle memory, this would get you through many an 'on the spot' solo. The opening ideas you actually use can come from many places. They could actually be part of a learnt solo from one of your favourite players, or preferably they could be something you have composed and come up with yourself that you feel sounds cool and reflects what you want to say on the guitar. There is no right or wrong way with this as long as you are aware that other guitarists and musicians form judgements on your playing very quickly, so a good start to your big solo, whether learnt or improvised, is fairly important if you want to run with the big guns.

Sometimes the 'less is more' approach can be the perfect musical choice. It shows taste and restraint and gives your improv somewhere to go. The big trap with this is that your touch, tone, vibrato and string bending has to be really very good to make this approach work how it should. Even though the less is more approach can work great, try to avoid tired and over used licks. Think more about repeating phrases, or call and response ideas, or even playing around with the main hook line. Whatever you do, the detail is always your touch, feel and vibrato when you  go down the 'less is more' road, which is a road that isn't used enough by many players out there today in my opinion.

In the tutorial I explore some possibilities from A dorian over a chord sequence I quickly played in to my TC loop pedal. The chords all diatonically belong to Gmaj, and when you strip away the extensions and colourations I tend to add to stock chords, we end up with Amin / Cmaj / Gmaj / Bmin. As I said before, there are a thousand ways to approach this subject and I played a few ideas on the day that to me sounded musically strong over this type of sequence. In real life, I personally wouldn't over think starting a solo and just used my mood, experience and instinct to hopefully play something four times out of five that counts as a good opener. Where I might want to think more about it is when a solo is going to become something permanent, as part of a recording, so you are welcome to take a listen to my album "Complaints about the Noise" to hear how I try to avoid obvious clichés in solo openers, solo middles and solo endings whilst still trying to remain exciting and tasteful. When it comes to instrumental music, especially instrumental guitar music, everything we look at in Pro Concepts becomes relevant and magnified, and hopefully my album illustrates this in some small way.

I am honoured and humbled to have received some emails from Steve Lukather about the album. He used the words, and I quote, "Bad Arse"...... which I think is a musical term for "not bad"!

Try to consider your opening phrases when you play and try to avoid the bland, and the world will be a better place!


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