July 20, 2008

#163: Faking solos on guitar

Bragg writes:
 
I have attended several bluegrass festivals and I have been jamming for a couple of years.  I have 50 songs or so that I play primary in Keys G, A, E, D, and C.  At jam sessions I do take a turn in singing.  My favorites are Wayfaring Stranger, Will the Circle be Unbroken, and Your Cheatin' Heart.  The skill that I know I lack for intermediate jam camp is faking solos.  However I am interested in attending.

I look forward to your recommendation.

Bragg,

I see from your newsletter signup that you're a guitar player. At our camps, we don't expect guitarists to solo, though they are welcome to try. I encourage you to attend the camp, and with the time still 4 months away, you can get a start on learning to fake solos in your own time prior to the camp.

Playing passable guitar solos on the fly is based on ear skills and a bit of knowledge of the fingerboard. The most simple kind of solo-faking is just to hold a chord with your left hand and "work" any string with your pick going up/down for a few notes at a time, and then just switch to another string and keep going. This will get you a string of "legal" if rather monotonous notes. Legal in the sense that if you're holding the chord that's active at a given time, the notes you're playing are within the chord and will sound all right, if not interesting. This kind of solo is what I call a “placeholder” solo. If you get fluent at doing the above, you are "passable" for soloing at my basic jam camp, and actually in any jam situation, as long as your fellow jammers are encouraging (which is the norm at our camps).

The other, more typical, kind of soloing can happen when you can actually find your way to the melody or something close. This is an ear skill which develops naturally the more you just try to find the melodies of songs you can hum. You do it regularly while practicing, trial-and-error style, a note at a time, and as the melody reveals itself to you, you review until you can play the melody pretty fluently by ear. As you do this with more and more melodies over a period of time, you'll find that you can locate melody notes much more quickly, often on your first guess. This is a skill you see with all of the more skilled players, and the way I've described is actually pretty much how they've all learned. If you use the simple tab in my Bluegrass Songbook that gives the melody lines to songs, you can check and see how accurate your guesswork is.

If you learn the basic scales in the most common keys, you'll see those notes are the ones that get used over and over, both in melodies and in the additional notes that are thrown in to embellish the basic melodies.

The above hints are just a starting point of course, but if you practice the methods above for the next several months, I am confident that you'll be able to try your hand at faking solos at the jam camp, with promising results.

Pete

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