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Soloing When You're Not Good At Soloing

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by JimmyM, Jan 12, 2020.

  1. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    WARNING: If you hate bass soloing and think it's a waste of time, this thread is not for you, so go find another or I will insult the size of your naughty bits.

    Not to brag, but I have a lot of skill :D I'm solid, I'm no speed demon but I'm pretty good at difficult parts and figuring out complex and difficult-to-play music, I can sightread pretty well, I'm great at spotting problems with the arrangements and fixing them, and I have good ideas for the most part and can come up with mostly solid working parts on the fly for most popular genres. My one drawback is improv soloing. Nobody is ever going to hear my solos and marvel at their complex and superhuman brilliance. I know...I've attempted it before and nobody marveled, though a few did give me points for the attempt. But the number one law of music is when someone says "Take it," you take it!

    So when joining this band where the lead guitarist is a monster whose crazy speed and dexterity is only exceeded by his sense of melody, I felt like a complete yutz stumbling over stuff I couldn't pull off in a desperate attempt to keep up. So I had to figure out an alternate strategy.

    Decided to rely almost entirely on being melodic. If I want to do something difficult, I stick with what I can play in my sleep and I don't reach any further beyond that without practicing it till I have it. I came across an old BP interview with a bassist who spent years backing up Les Paul at his regular Monday night gig in NYC in his later years. He said that lots of bigtime celebrity guitarists would come sit in and solo, and play crazy stuff that Les could no longer play due to arthritis, and it would come back around to him and he'd slay the house by playing the melody of the song. Hmmm...that could work.

    And it does! I even occasionally get applause for my solos now. I'll try to mix it up a tad as well, but I always rely on the melody to guide me in what to play. Turns out it's a fantastic strategy to make yourself look like you know what you're doing soloing after you just went through two minutes hearing one of the best jazz guitarists you'll ever hear.

    Another good tip I got for soloing with a fast walking swing tune came from our BL, who sings and plays killer blues guitar and harp. He said to keep the walking aspect strong at all times, don't do too much extra, and don't do something that takes you out of the walk. That also works.

    How about you all? Whaddaya got for tips for soloing when you're not the best at it?
    geof_, diegom, johnnynitro and 39 others like this.
  2. foal30


    Dec 3, 2007
    New Zealand
    Firstly is do I have anything I want say?

    Primarily I truly believe in thee concept of Joy in Repetition. Establishing a theme is crucial

    Secondly - Melody

    Thirdly - Quotes or phrases
  3. Malcolm35


    Aug 7, 2018
    I'm never given the chance to play a live solo, however, I also think that the melody or tune is always a good place to start.

    Why? People recognize what you are doing.
  4. foal30


    Dec 3, 2007
    New Zealand
    Who has played good Bass solos?

    IMO not very many people at all but I'm probably on the wrong website saying such

    I really like Paul Chambers solos
    Charles Mingus. Marcus Miller.
    The Willie Weeks one on that live Donny Hathaway album.

    Listen and 'borrow' maybe, I know I have
    Dave3, dramatwist, ElMon and 4 others like this.
  5. Bassist4Eris

    Bassist4Eris Frat-Pack Sympathizer

    If I know what I'm soloing on beforehand (and I generally do) I like to map out a strategy. It's not quite like writing a solo, more like writing a structure or a formula for a solo. "First I'll go to this part of the fretboard, utilizing this shape, and emphasize these particular chord tones." Then on to the next thing. The specifics of what I play remain improvised, but the shape of the thing is somewhat planned out.

    Dramatic shifts in dynamics can make your solo more interesting, as can leaving plenty of space.

    Don't be afraid of your own clichés. The audience doesn't know you use that lick all the time.
  6. Samatza


    Apr 15, 2019
    I think it's like talking. Some people talk really fast and really loud all the time and it gets tiring listening to them.
    Others articulate better and the words they use and the sentence structure hold your attention because you want to hear more.

    I usually start with a solo in my head and then put it down on the bass, this frees me to make up any melody I want without the physical limitations. Of course then I may have to overcome physical limitations to actually play it but well, that's progress.
  7. buldog5151bass

    buldog5151bass Kibble, milkbones, and P Basses. And redheads.

    Oct 22, 2003
    Especially with jazz, which tends to have more complex chords changes, I think the melody is always the best place to start. It gives you an easy center, and many people are surprised that bassist will actually go there. Soloing is definitely the weakest part of my playing, but the band I'm in keeps pushing them on me, so I don't have much choice but to get better.
  8. smeet

    smeet Gold Supporting Member

    Nov 27, 2006
    Woodland Hills, CA
    Variations on the melody are how jazz soloing got started. That’s how Louis Armstrong did it, and his playing still stands up today.
  9. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    Now that is the first time that I've heard someone say "the audience doesn't know" and not mean it like they're morons. Way to go, B4E! In that case, it's only because most of them never saw you or don't know you that well to know your style or when you're stealing licks from yourself, so it can't be meant as an insult.
  10. bikeplate

    bikeplate Supporting Member

    Jun 7, 2001
    Upstate NY
    Ill take one anytime they are offered.
    Kaplan and JimmyM like this.
  11. Years ago I was playing and the headline of the show (famous Jazz Saxman) came up to me after we got off stage and said... "Son, do you know how I still get all these gigs". To which I replied "no MR.X , I don't ".

    HE said , "Its because I spend so much time playing and playing around the melody".... One of the great improvisers in Jazz.

    You doing great I'm sure....best of luck with your continued journey!
  12. bolophonic


    Dec 10, 2009
    Durham, NC
    What would happen if you walked into the melody? I have always been a no-solo player, but this thread might change all that.
    GonzoBfiddy and JimmyM like this.
  13. Hevy T

    Hevy T Supporting Member

    Jan 11, 2011
    Lethbridge, AB Canada
    Cliff Williams solo in Jailbreak is EPIC!!

    I suck at soloing but I do try to make something work when I have to.

    All Right Now is one I love to play with. There's tons of room for expression in that tune

    I find that guitar and bass are like polar opposites. So while the guitar shines by playing busy, fast blurring scales, I find that with the bass less is more.

    Sometimes in the right hands you can get a real lead solo out of the bass like Lee, Claypol and Enthwhistle. But the KISS philosophy also works. Keep It Simple Stupid
    Last edited: Jan 12, 2020
  14. callofcthulhu


    Oct 16, 2012
    Just keep bending until you hit a note that works.
  15. jellymax

    jellymax Don't fry any wooden fish Supporting Member

    Nov 29, 2006
    SF CA
    chord tones on strong beats are a great way to start off.

    just like walking, the soloist should outline the chord changes. the next chord may
    share chord tones with the current chord. but it is the chord tones not shared that
    will outline the movement. cheers
  16. Wasnex


    Dec 25, 2011
    When I was playing in jazz trios, I was expected to solo quite a bit, but it was usually a negotiation (pretty much every tune). When the time came, whoever was calling the shots would look at me and I would either nod yes or no. To be honest I won't repeatedly work in a group where this is not the way things are run. I don't have a problem with stretching myself and taking chances, but I don't enjoy falling flat on my face and I also don't like being handed only the crap solos that the bandleader doesn't want to play on, especially if he/she never looks my way during charts that I like to solo over. Maybe I am just difficult ;).

    As far as playing the melody. That's a strategy that is recommended as a stepping stone for learning how to solo, but I don't think its a strategy you should use too frequently on a gig. Normally a tune starts of with the head, and then you don't hear the full melody again until all the solos are done. So IMHO when you hear the melody a second time it's sort of a signal that the song is coming to an end. So yeah, it can be cool, but not all the time.

    If the song is so fast that all you can do it walk and someone asks to to solo...walk it brother! It will be just fine.

    IMHO people have the wrong idea about just how impromptu solos actually are. Good jazz musicians spend endless hours analyzing and reviewing changes, and exploring/practicing ideas. I don't think most musicians are making up much on the spot. They are basically playing a stream of consciousness, but they are drawing on a library of licks they have worked up previously. Even if they are playing over the changes of a tune they have never played before this is true. Perhaps it's a new tune, but it's likely that the chord progression is made up of the same building blocks as some other songs they know inside and out. So IMHO the secret is listen to the greats, and study and practice a bunch of tunes....I should probably take my own advice.
    Correlli, 40Hz, Road Hat and 11 others like this.
  17. Samatza


    Apr 15, 2019
    Yes, that's largely true. You can't play what you don't know and practising improvising over changes is a good way to develop that vocabulary. Once you've built your library of phrases and licks you can apply them to the changes.
    Also learning the melody is a great place to start, it gives you the motif of the tune and you base your solo around that motif, sometimes even quoting a phrase from another memorable tune.
    I always try to play that solo in my head and then transfer it to the bass, this gives me a sort of mind to hand familiarisation so if I can hear it, I can play it... mostly.
  18. oren


    Aug 7, 2007
    Salem, OR
    Sounds like you’re on the right track! I think trying to state melodic and rhythmic ideas clearly is where it’s at for bass solos. I’d much rather listen to Charlie Haden or Wilbur Ware solo than some guy playing a million notes.

    I was watching this video today of a master class with the great guitarist Peter Bernstein where he talks about building solo lines based around ideas from the song’s melody, which makes the solo really fit the song more than just being about running the chord changes. Inspiring stuff.
  19. If I need to do a jazz solo over chord changes I'm not familiar with; I remember that a slow and simple speech can be as effective as (sometimes even more effective than) a fast and complex speech - and I pick the former.

    Some helpful tricks in my toolbox are;
    • Coltrane patterns - simple yet effective
    • Emphasizing chord tones and critical tensions (like that #11 or b13)
    • Creating a seamless flow via target notes
    • Phrasing
    • Canned 2-5-1 ideas (like diminished over dominant)
    • (last but not least) remembering that I'm communicating via my instrument and focusing on my story instead of chops
    As Herbie said, "Music is not about music, it is about life".
    Road Hat, IamGroot, Kaplan and 7 others like this.
  20. Heyturnup


    Mar 28, 2016
    I don't solo unless someone makes me. I play bass so I can play bass lines. So the other night at a jam session, I got the nod, and basically played a busy bass line. I didn't try to do what other instruments do, I did what my instrument does. Drummers play drum solos, and people love them, so why should I not play a cool bass line for a solo. Maybe someday when I'm a better player, I'll have a different opinion.

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