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Improve Your Skills > Musicianship > How Do I Become Musical?

How Do I Become Musical?

Dear Jamie,

Hello. My name is Aaron. I am 14. I play guitar EVERY day since I’ve had it. Even when I go on trips, I bring a guitar. I know tons of chords, i know tons of things about the guitar.... but when I try to make up my own solos, I CAN’T!

Everything I do sounds like some nursery rhyme, or sounds like a bunch of notes plugged together. THERE IS NO MUSICALLITY. So..... how do I get solos to sound like solos?

Thank You,


Hi Aaron,

Well, first of all, you have the right attitude as far as your enthusiasm goes! I would never consider going on a trip without bringing a guitar! Your question is a good one, and a common one. How do we acquire “musicality”? Here is (part of) the answer.....

Being good at soloing is the same as being good at speaking. The most important thing about being a good speaker is not HOW you speak, it is WHAT you are saying! It is whether or not you HAVE anything to say. If someone is giving a speech, and just moving their mouth because they want to make sounds, well, listening to them is not going to be much of an experience.

If someone is soloing, and just moving their fingers around because they want to make sounds and look like they are playing the guitar, we are going to say they are “unmusical”. This is because they are speaking without having anything to say. Many people are like this when they solo. Their fingers are just running around doing scales for no reason except keeping busy. Almost everyone starts this way, but you don’t want to stay that way!

This leads to a very practical suggestion I will make to you. As an exercise, try soloing and only play slow notes. Play a solo using only whole notes, for instance. But focus on FEELING what you are playing/saying. Don’t worry about being fancy. In fact, it is much harder to be “musical” and be simple about it. My favorite songs are the ones written with 3 chords that still manage to be great.

Some guitarists say so much with so few notes. B.B.King, Slash, come to mind. First, it is WHAT they are saying that moves the listener, then, it is HOW they are saying it. Many people focus on the HOW before they ever ask whether they have anything to say!

Music is emotion. Having something to say musically means making music that turns YOU on. If it truly gives you pleasure, it will also give pleasure to others. If the music you make does not give you pleasure, it will not give pleasure to other people.

This may sound obvious, but it needs to be said, and understood. So often, players will “make music”, write a song, play a solo, and they never stop to ask themselves if THEY are really being turned on by the music they are making. You must ask yourself this, and if the answer is no, then keep searching till you do find what gives you pleasure.

Fortunately, Aaron, you have asked yourself this. So you are on your way to finding YOUR satisfaction, your musical expression, and then giving that to other people.

Here are some other suggestions:

Start a list of solos you love. Learn to play them as best you can. Do this with 10 solos, then 10 more. STUDY them. Take them apart. When you come across a part you love, ask yourself “why is that part so good”? Why is that part speaking to me? Why is that part giving me pleasure?

Your goal, in your playing and soling, is to give yourself the same pleasure you get from the music you love. Right now, you notice that you don’t, and that is good, that is a starting point.
This is how great musicians write great music, they keep searching for that feeling, they reject what does not give them that feeling, and they don’t stop till they find what they want.

Find examples of solos that speak to you. Study them, learn them, sing them. In this way, you learn the language of music. You will begin to think musically. You learn the language of music the same way you learn any other language, by spending time with people who speak it, and at first, copying them, and gradually having something to say yourself.

At one time, when I had only been playing classical guitar a short time, I didn’t feel my playing was very musical. I started listening to a lot of classical music, symphonies, chamber music, as well as guitarists. After awhile, I noticed I began to become “musical”. I began to have musical “opinions”, and musical “feelings”. I began to learn to speak the language of music by listening to others speak it, paying attention, copying them, and experimenting myself.

How do you know when you are thinking musically? When the musical thoughts you have GIVE YOU MUSICAL PLEASURE! It’s the same reason you like the music you like - it is speaking to you, giving you musical pleasure.

As you learn and study each solo, you will notice certain things over and over. First, you will notice what is called “phrasing”. A phrase is a musical sentence. It says something, musically. Consider the solo to Stairway to Heaven. That is a perfect example of good phrasing. It is one sentence after another, each one carrying “musical meaning”. Also, each phrase builds and develops as it moves toward the ending climax. That is another characteristic of good solos.

Study the STRUCTURE of solos you love. This is called FORM. Study how these solos are put together. Try copying these same procedures yourself.

One last suggestion. Put on the background track you are going to solo to, and instead of picking up the guitar, SING a solo to it, just using some syllable like LA. This allows your musical feeling to come out easier, and makes you less likely to simply let your fingers run around doing patterns they know already. FEELING is the key. Remember, music is emotion.

I hope I have given you some good ideas to pursue, Aaron, good luck!

Jamie Andreas

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