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Lesson Series

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Sam Bell - The Bluffer’s Guide To Playing In A Covers Band Part 3: Soloing

Lesson Notes

** As featured in issue 49 **

So far in this series we've taken a look at the quickest way of getting into figuring out and remembering large numbers of songs for cover band sets. We have also looked at ways of breaking up familiar chord shapes in order to create parts that fit both sonically and stylistically with the music we are recreating and playing with other musicians. Today we are going to look at something that we side guitarists will only really be expected to do 10% of the time during a regular set list however something that all guitarist love doing - soloing.

Now while a lot of the columns in this magazine talk about soloing approaches, guitar licks, harmony and so on, I feel sometimes the real essence of a good solo is a mixture of good rhythm, simplicity and delivery. As guitarists we have all done it and we have also all experienced it. The band is going through a Blues tune of some kind, the singer looks around to the guitarist giving him the solo cue, the guitarist hits the solo boost and proceeds to open the lick duffle bag and empty a whole bunch of badly organised licks all over the sonic floor. It’s a mess. The guitarist's face is scrunched up, the hands are moving and there is sound coming out of the guitar. The solo ends, everyone knows something just happened, but can’t quite figure out quite what, or remember the song they were originally listening to before the notes started being shuffled around. I have done this a lot…it took me a lot of doing this to realise and understand what I was doing…I wasn’t paying attention to the song, melody, vibe or anyone else in the room for that matter…I was on my own guitar ego trip trying to sellotape a whole bunch of ideas together and hoping they had musical value of some sort!

I am here in an attempt to help guitarists not have to suffer the pain of doing this - and maybe also to save some people's ears in the future.

Let’s take a look at a few very deceptively simple tricks that will have you creating tasteful improvised solos for your cover band sets.

Your Audience

As a guitarist it’s easy to forget that other people may not play guitar in the audience, or even really understand who Scott Henderson is and what he has done for Jazz Fusion music. If you’re playing Mustang Sally…well, it’s probably not best to start getting all the altered Fusion licks you know out of the bag over every chord change! Whilst this is lovely sounding to most of us musicians and people who enjoy that style of music, unfortunately your audience may not have the same appreciation for your avant garde rendition of a classic Rock and Roll solo. Simplicity is always best, and being aware of the style you are playing in is key. If your band is covering the rest of the song closely to the original, then your solo should reflect and compliment that. So be aware of some of the choices you are making. Sometimes you have to pretend to be another guitarist in order to get into a certain stylistic frame of mind. Your solo will please the audience, your band and also yourself and your developing musicianship. Not to mention your ability to convincingly play other styles.

Rhythm/Note Choice and Licks

Having licks is very helpful but in the scenario I played out earlier in this column, throwing as many of them in as you can all over the place isn’t effective. You can get away with sticking with one or two very simple short ideas for the majority of most solos. Unless you are playing certain Rock songs, most solos will be between 8 and 16 bars long. I find it best to think of solos as a mini composition within a song which reflects what has happened and helps the listener through to what is about to happen. You can do this by quoting the vocal melody from the chorus and make some fills in between, or you could use the rhythm of a beat/hook in the song to base your phrases around. I am not suggesting that guitarists can’t have a bit of spotlight time within a solo section and if the song calls for it, it's absolutely fine to go for a bit of a shreddy widdle, however keep that stuff simple! A short smooth fast flurry of pentatonic 16th notes in a familiar sequence is going to hit the audience much more than a slippery Satriani legato line, squeezing in seven to nine notes per beat and not particularly ending anywhere memorable.  This is not a dig at that style of playing, but it's something to be aware of. I think the idea really is not to overload your listener with flash - the flash becomes more effective when used less. You will feel more in control, happier and audience members are going to be able to relate and enjoy what you do a lot more.


Please remember that this column is about being in a professional covers band. I am not shunning musicians who push technique and harmony to the next level. What I am trying to get across is that when you are in a covers band, you can get a bit of spotlight time, but it’s not all about your guitar playing or being a guitar god, save that for when it's for your solo project! It’s about being a part of something much bigger, creating a vibe with the whole song. Your solo should add to the song and push the message across to the audience. Now and then you may get a spot to do your thing, when this happens, go for it. But remember some of the restraint tips I have given you here, it will make your soloing a lot more effective and appealing musically. I really hope this helps and resonates with some readers. If not, I am sorry if I have offended anyone! I'll see you next issue for another instalment of Bluffers Guide!

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