As every guitar teacher will tell you, one of the best ways to learn how to solo on guitar is to put plenty of time into practicing either with a fellow player or to guitar backing tracks (or jam tracks, as they are sometimes called). What are guitar backing tracks? For those unfamiliar, a guitar backing track is usually a recorded rhythm section, often times based on 12 bar progressions, in a particular key, which is designed to allow a musician to freely solo over in order to improve solo technique.
Not all backing tracks are suitable for soloing, however. The internet is filled with many poor examples of backing tracks which are often times cluttered with too many instruments, sound poorly, include wrong chord changes, and are just too fast.
Good guitar backing tracks will sound clear, do not present too many instruments, and offer a good range of keys (major and minor) which will allow you to properly work your solo technique.
Tips for good practicing over guitar backing tracks:
1.) Learn Your Pentatonic Scales-
Mastering the Pentatonic scales (in both major and minor) is the best way for a new guitarist to learn how to properly solo. By simply learning 5 (five) patterns which correlate to different root notes, you can travel the entire length of the fretboard and never hit an incorrect note. Mastering the Pentatonic scales is the backbone of your soloing skills, as more complex scales will then add or subtract various notes which will allow you to tailor your sound to various styles.
2.) Spend Equal Time Playing over Major AND Minor Progressions-
Far too many guitarists just focus soloing over minor pentatonic chord progressions. You need to release early that the same five patterns used in the minor pentatonic scales can be shifted to easily allow for major progression playing. Do a simple search for major and minor scales on Google and print out each form. You should, over time, commit these to memory in order to help yourself master the guitar.
3.) Listen to yourself-
Hopefully you have some way to record your solos while practicing over guitar jam tracks. Good guitarists know how to solo; great guitarists listen to their own playing and figure out ways to improve. When listening to your solos, try to find ways to improve your playing and avoid bad habits.
4.) Proper Fingering-
It is critical that you practice all of your guitar scales using proper fingering. If you start getting into bad habits where the wrong fingers are being used, you will start to transition slowly between scale forms, be unable to utilize advance soloing techniques, and will slow down the overall speed of your solos. Proper form is critical.
5.) Do Not Over-Solo-
Anyone who has been to a live local rock show has seen this phenomenon: A local guitar gets his opportunity to solo and instead kills the audience with a blasting of notes and speed that bores a listener after a few bars. Basically, it can take years to master the phrasing of your solos. Keep in mind that white space (or rests) are just as important to your solos as the notes you hit. A player who spaces out their solos will be able to build intensity and focus instead on rhythm changes to keep things interesting.
6.) Listen (and copy) Your Favorite Players-
There is absolutely no shame in dissecting the solos of your favorite guitar gods (Slash, Jimmy Page, Hendrix, Mayer, etc.). By slowly learning licks and phrases you will learn what constitutes a great solo and some of it will bleed into your overall sound over time. It is important to listen to a wide range of players and styles (blues, jazz, rock) while keeping your own voice original.
Below is a list of the best free sites we have found that offer good quality Guitar Jam Backing Tracks. Print out your scale charts and spend as much time as you can working on your solo skills. Remember to have fun and the rest will fall into place!