Rock & Blues Essentials

What You Need To Know...but won't find in other rock guitar lessons!

How To Learn Rock Solos On Guitar

Many guitar students don't really know how to learn rock solos on guitar. They get a tab and take a shot at their favorite rock solo. Few know how to learn rock solos on guitar so that it actually it sounds like the original. Here's how...........

How To Learn Rock Solos On Guitar

Moving Fingers Or Making Music?

Recently, I had the very common experience of sitting with a student who was trying to learn how to play a rock solo, and instructing him in the painstaking process of turning the unfocused and meandering movements of his fingers into the music they were trying to create. The issues raised which were preventing the music from emerging are so pervasive amongst the student population that I feel it is very worthwhile to cover this subject.

The situation was this: student wants to learn a real live rock solo, He does 2 things:

  1. the student gets the tab off the internet 
  2. then the student looks at the series of “numbers” on the tab sheet and dutifully attempts to turn each number into a “note”.

Unfortunately, the student is not really listening to the sounds which are the result of these efforts, and is certainly not comparing them to the original solo.

The result will be that the student will move their fingers around, chasing the numbers on the tab sheet until they get bored, at which point they will dive back into one of the infinite tab collections on the net, pick another solo, and be off and running full speed ahead in order to stay in exactly the same place as a player! This is a summary description of what I have termed “horizontal growth”, learning more stuff and playing it as badly as all the old stuff!

I would like to go through the various necessary procedures that enable one to escape this cycle of mediocrity.

Understanding The Situation

First of all, we must have the basics of practice approach down, and a proper foundation to our technique. If we do not know how to teach our fingers anything, and as a result, all of our past efforts in practice have given us a tension filled and handicapped pair of hands, then we are like crippled people trying to run a marathon. If we are in this condition, we had better be smart enough to begin to travel the road to basic “guitar playing health”, and that means beginning to study “The Principles”. "The Principles" training teaches us to practice in the ​c If you are reading this article, you have only yourself to blame if you do not avail yourself of the cure for that condition.

Once we do have the necessary foundation, we are in a position to learn whatever we want on guitar. The two conditions that must be fulfilled before we can do correct practice are:

  1. Knowing the right thing to do, 
  2. ​Making sure you do it.”. 

It is important to understand that the first requirement “knowing the right thing to do” is very complex, and different for each style of guitar. While knowing how to practice is something that all players, regardless of style, must know, when it comes to specific techniques, a classical player does not have to know many of the things that a blues or rock player must know, and vice versa. So, whatever style we play, we must first of all identify the specific techniques needed for the style, and then strive to gain an understanding of how those techniques are done. (See here for a detailed explanation of what it takes to learn each style of guitar.)    

What We Need To Know For Electric Leads

In the lesson I am referring to, the student did not have this requirement fulfilled. We were working on the wonderful solo from “Black Magic Woman” by Carlos Santana. It is not a “difficult” solo, but you certainly need to have the basics down!

Those basics are:

  •     String bending in all its variations, such as pre-bending, done with each finger
  •     Vibrato on plain notes and bent notes
  •     String raking and string muting

We had to work on all these techniques, getting down to their essentials (this student has had many teachers and lessons through the years, had worked through lots of books, but could not properly bend a string!). The lack of knowing the right way to do these things was making it impossible to achieve the goal of making the music emerge.

We Must Receive "Knowledge of Results" As We Practice

The next obstacle to deal with was the lack of understanding of the specific practice approach necessary to use for learning electric guitar solos. This student was completely violating the principle of “knowledge of results”. The essence of this principle is that we cannot acquire and improve a motor skill if we do not receive some kind of feedback that gives us an awareness of how close our efforts are to the model we are attempting to copy. If we are shooting a basketball we cannot improve if we can’t see the hoop, evaluate our effort, and make corrections for the next attempt.

We must respect this fundamental law when we practice, especially electric leads. The right sound is much more elusive in here than in other styles, because of the highly individual nature of a player’s style and sound, and the actual manner of producing sound in this style, which leaves more room for error. By this I mean string bending. The infinite variety of sounds made possible by the technique of bending strings makes it imperative for students to be constantly comparing their efforts during practice to the solo they are learning. It may sound obvious, but I am constantly meeting students who don’t do this!

Your Practice Setup

When you sit for practice, you must have far more than the tab to the solo you are working on in front of you. The most important thing to have is some kind of recording of the solo you are working on, so that you can listen to it, bit by bit, as you work on each lick in the solo. The best thing is if it is on some kind of player that will also play it half speed, so you can switch back and forth between the actual speed and half speed. There are many computer programs that will do this.

That is fine if you don’t mind practicing in front of your computer. But even a simple micro-cassette player will do, they all have 2 speed recording, so you can record at the higher speed and play back at the lower. It plays back an octave lower, and many people assume that is a bad thing, but I don’t think it is. It still allows you to hear each note with its rhythmic placement, and that is the most important thing.

Whatever the means, have a full speed and a half speed version of the solo available. ​ 

Taking It Apart

However you do it, arrange to be able to listen to any part of the solo you are working on while you practice. After that, you need something to record your playing. Again, a simple cassette recorder will do. I keep two recorders near me, one to play the solo, and one to record myself. I play the original, and then I compare mine; back and forth, I “a-b” it, listen to one, immediately followed by the other.

And I don’t mean the whole solo, I mean lick by lick. Take a little piece of the solo, study it, make sure you are sure of all the notes, fingering, picking, techniques involved, and have gone over the basic movements (using the Basic Practice Approach if you are using The Principles). Then, listen to the original solo, and record yourself playing the same fragment of the solo. Now, listen back and forth from the original, to yours, noticing every detail.

Ask yourself “does my playing sound like the original”? If not (and the answer usually starts out as “NO WAY!”), your job is to close the gap between the two. You must discover exactly how yours is falling short, and then figure out how to fix it. Are the bends in tune? Is the vibrato even? Is the rhythm correct, and how about articulation? Your goal is to sound as good, as polished and professional as the original.

Putting It Together

After working on the solo in small pieces, and you feel your playing is reasonably close to the original in quality, it is time to start putting it together. You must do this by actually playing the solo to the rhythm background. This is something most students do not do, and it will prevent you from ever approaching a professional level of ability. You should never consider that you know a solo unless you have listened back to yourself playing it to the recorded rhythm background. For any solo you are working on, you should learn the rhythm as well, and record it at various tempos. Master the whole thing at a slow tempo first, maybe playing it to the background chords played at half tempo. The best idea is to make 4 or 5 versions of the rhythm part at different tempos for your practice sessions.

These days all students should avail themselves of the tremendous resources for study that are available; everyone should have some kind of multi-tracking software available (which can be found for as low as 20 or 30 dollars), and begin their own collection of recorded solos. You will experience great growth as a player if you do.

I am not saying that everything you practice must be swallowed whole, and mastered in its entirety. Sometimes you just might like a small part of a solo, or one lick perhaps. There is nothing wrong with just sitting down and copying a fragment of something you like, but you should still use the same approach of coma paring it, in recorded form, to the original. But along the way, you should master some whole songs, or whole solos, and prove yourself on tape. The next step, of course, is to prove yourself in a live situation by finding people to play with (of course, that means dealing with other real live human beings, and brings about challenges far beyond the scope of what I wish to talk about here!).

At the beginning of this essay, I described the process of nailing a solo as “painstaking”. That is a very accurate word, because to go through all the trouble that I am saying is necessary will seem like a real pain when you begin to do it. That is why so many people don’t bother. Those people are called “bad players”. If you adopt the practice approaches I have described, and hold yourself to these standards as a player, you will rise above the great majority of “players” who surf around the net, hacking their way through the ocean of tabs, and drifting from one mediocre result to the next. You will become a real guitar player.

Summing Up

In order to make our guitar practice give us what we want when we learn to play rock solos, we must do these things:

  1. Make sure we know how to practice effectively, in the careful, step by step, slow to fast manner that the fingers need to experience if they are going to play accurately, without crippling tension and constant the step by step, slow to fast manner the fingers need.

  2. ​Be able to easily and correctly perform the essential techniques used in all rock solos. This begins with smooth scale playing, proper string bending, and a smooth controlled vibrato. Without these, no solo we play will sound good.

  3. ​We must constantly be listening back to our playing as we practice and comparing it to the original solo. We must respect the scientific law that controls all muscle training: we cannot acquire and improve a motor skill if we do not receive some kind of feedback that gives us an awareness of how close our efforts are to the model we are attempting to copy.

  4. We must practice and master the solo in little pieces, lick by lick, or even smaller pieces. 

  5. As we begin to get the whole solo down, we must start to practice larger sections, and play them against the rhythm background of the solo. It is best to have this background recorded at different speeds.

Rock & Blues Course

Rock & Blues Foundation Course by Guitar Principles

Our Rock & Blues Course gives you all the essentials of the style, in greater detail than you'll find anywhere else.

A comprehensive course on playing electric guitar and all you need to know about the micro-details of finger action when playing Pentatonic Scales & Licks.

The Rock & Blues Course covers all 5 Minor Pentatonic Scales with GOOD, sensible, and usable fingerings, as well as the music theory behind the Pentatonic Scales.

The essential licks from each scale are covered with detailed video explanations, fingering, pick strokes, etc. A solo demonstration is included for each scale, illustrating the use of each lick, PLUS audio and video samples, FAST and SLOW with detailed verbal and visual explanations.

Also in this course is the inside details on the mechanics of a good bending and vibrato, and practice routines that will enable you to master these essential skills as well as practice routines for developing string muting, string damping, and string raking.

​​"None of my guitar instructors and none of the countless DVDs that I have purchased over the last 7 years have really taught me to bend strings. Skip your next lesson with your local instructor and check this material out if this is your situation.

This DVD will teach you how to bend strings musically. I'm looking forward to taking my next lesson from my local guitar teacher, when he gloats about how he taught me to solo so well, I can mention this DVD as the source of the real learning. I highly recommend this product and would trade a huge stack of instructional DVDs and books for it."...........
Thanks Jamie.......Shaune


Minor Pentatonic Scale #1
(Get Off The See-Saw)

The Basic Bends - Bending Technique (Finding The Right Pitch On Bends)

Our First Blues Solo - Solo #1 (Understanding the 12 Bar Blues Shuffle)

Essential Licks From Scale #1 (The Proper Shape Of A Bend)

Essential Licks - Continued

Solo #2 - Using The Essential Licks (Successive Bends - The Quick Release)

String Muting & Damping


Playing in Different Keys (The 5 Fret Rule)

Scale #1 & 2

Essential Licks From Scale #1&2

Solo #3 - Using Scale #1&2

Understanding The Notes Of The Minor Pentatonic

Scale #3

Solo #4 - Using Scale #3

Scale #4

Solo #5 - Using Scale #4

Scale #5

Solo #6 - Using Scale #5

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