The guitar solo ‘gear’ system
Hello there guitar ninja students! I hope you are all well and looking forward to the performance evening. Today I want to give you a few tips for soloing if your phrasing or solo playing is in a bit of a rut. This article is less about learning scales, licks and patterns and more about having a reliable system in order to generate ideas. I was first introduced to this gear system during my time at BIMM London and thought it’d be awesome to show you guys as I found that after awhile using the system I was generating better ideas then ever before. So let’s jump into it.
Every guitar solo you have ever heard uses this system, no matter how fancy the scale, time signature or key (though most guitarists don’t even know they are doing it). There are three distinct gears that all players use in order to generate their solos. Remember all the best solos are about phrasing. A solo should be seen as having a conversation with the audience built up of different ‘phrases’. Like any conversation you don’t want to ramble for too long and need to leave space so that you can get a breath in, you should defiantly have this approach to your solo writing.
Let’s start with the easiest gear to use and that’s gear one. Gear one is anything that uses a single note. This could be just simply picking the note itself, a harmonic, vibrato or sliding in to it. As long as the note is ringing out with plenty of space then its gear one. Single note ideas are best used to either give you a bit of air in the middle of a phrase or at the end as a ‘full stop’. A good way to get to grips with this is to try playing whole notes along with the chords. Start with playing the root of each chord, then the thirds, fifths and so on. This will give you an idea of how the note you are playing is affecting the underlying melody of the chord. Below I have written some examples of single note ideas:
Gear two means anything melodic. What techniques you use here don’t really matter as the main goal with this is to create something melodic and memorable. David Gilmour from PinkFloyd is a master at this. This can be the hardest gear to use, as coming up with something that’s got a nice feel to it and is memorable is a skill within itself. The best ways to increase your skill with this gear I’ve found is to take a simple phrase (about a bar long) and develop it, then once you have the phrase developed you then add on another phrase, then before you know it you have a two bar melodic phrase!
The example below is a one bar melodic idea, then the idea developed and finally the idea with another phrase added on.
Gear three is pure shred territory! This is all about anything shape based and quick. In a way gear three isn’t as hard to use as gear two simply because the melodic content of what you’re playing (I.E. the notes) doesn’t matter as much as it goes by so fast that the listener won’t really notice, as long as you’re in key of course! Popular techniques during this gear are: tapping, legato and sweep picking. As long as you’re confident with scale shapes and spend a month or two practicing with a metronome you’ll be using this gear quicker and more effectively than you think.
Below is an example of a quick legato shred lick
Ways to Practice
With all the gears covered let’s talk about the best and most fun ways to practice this. I’ve found this to be one of two ways. The first is to find or record a backing track that lasts around 8bars (or you can of course use a section of a song) and write a solo over it. However, in order to force you outside your comfort zone find a way to randomly generate the numbers one to three(bits of paper, random number generator etc.) for each bar and use each number/gear that you have picked out. I did this earlier and came out with the following over each bar.
1 | 2 | 1 | 2 | 3 | 3 | 1 | 2
Feel free to use the above structure in order to practice it to begin with if you want to get a feel for it.Secondly, is to take a solo you are familiar with and as each phrase is being played see if you can guess what gear the guitarist is playing. Write it down on a piece of paper as the solo plays and don’t be afraid to loop certain parts and go over them again. Now then, there will be a bit of discretion with this. And some parts of a solo might be ambiguous so don’t worry about having an educated guess. And if you get really stuck just message Rorz or myself with what solo you’re looking at and we can help. Also Eddie Van Halen’s gear three for example will be different than BB King’s so take genre into account when doing this. Here are some solos to study to get you started:
Mr Crowley by Ozzy Osbourne
Killing In the Name by Rage Against the Machine
Master of Puppets by Metallica
That’s all for now. Thank you as always for checking this out and for supporting The Guitar Ninja. Good luck to all those performing!
Written by Chris Ward
Written by Chris Ward