The potential of chords in your acoustic guitar playing extends beyond the obvious uses that we have with them regarding rhythm playing. Yes, of course they are great for strumming and accompanying a vocal line, however a not so common use of chords is as a tool for soloing on your acoustic guitar.
To what degree you use chords in your soloing is up to you, you can use them to the point where your solo is predominantly chords only, known as a chord solo, or you can use them more sparingly, and sprinkle them amongst your single note lines. Both approaches will really lift your soloing to a whole new level, bringing all sorts of cool and unique dynamics and textures to the lines you play.
Bringing an element of chords into your solos will build the tension and release factor. Tension and release is what makes music appealing to both yourself and the listener. Without it your solos will be left sounding dull, boring, and generally uninspiring to both yourself and the listener. Chords are one tool that will bring tension and release to your soloing, and this is one reason why you will want to consider them when creating or improvising a solo on your acoustic guitar.
There was a time early on in my guitar playing when soloing on the acoustic left me frustrated and discouraged. No matter how hard I tried, I just didn’t sound any good. As far as the electric guitar was concerned, I was fine, but soloing on the acoustic sounded like something was missing.
After some time, and hours and hours of doing the same thing over and over again, hoping that my acoustic soloing would magically transform itself into something that actually sounded good, I discovered that I needed a new approach.
I needed some tools that I could use to make my soloing on the acoustic sound decent. Playing notes for the sake of playing notes, and trying to use every scale under the sun, wasn’t doing it for me. Chords were one such tool that could bring something different to my acoustic guitar soloing, something that would really lift it to a whole new level.
Using chords in your soloing is not obvious to most guitar players because they are generally only thought of in a rhythm sense. However chords will also sound great in your solos, adding some really nice contrast and texture to the single note lines you play.
Your soloing on the acoustic will take on a new life with just this one element, when used well, leading to you feeling so much more confident when it’s time to rip out a solo on the old acoustic.
It’s important to note that we are not talking about full chord shapes like the ones you use in the progressions of the songs you play such as bar chords and open chords. At least not in their usual form. These would be much too big and awkward to use in your solos. What we are talking about here are chord fragments.
When you take a larger chord form, such as a bar chord, and break it up into smaller pieces, these are known as fragments of that chord. You basically end up with several smaller chord shapes to work with instead of one large one. A great way to think about and organise these fragments, so that they are under your fingers anytime you wish to use them, is to view the larger chord as the “parent” and the smaller fragments you break that chord into as the “children”. All you’ll need to know is which children belong to which parent. More about this shortly.
Let me show you exactly how you can go about adding chord fragments to your solo lines, bringing new life to them.
Here is a typical 4 bar excerpt from a solo:
There is nothing wrong with how this sounds, however it could sound a lot better by adding some chord fragments like this:
This is just one of the many creative ways you can use chord fragments to spice up your solo lines on the acoustic guitar. They alone will bring a whole new dimension to your acoustic guitar soloing.
You will notice that several times the fragments used in the solo excerpt above are approached a fret above or below from where that fragment is. There is also an instance in the 4th bar where the fragment is approached chromatically (one fret at a time) from below.
The difference in the sound of both examples should be obvious. There is a lot more depth and texture to the solo when chord fragments are used.
Parents And Their Children (Sorting Out Your Chord Fragments)
The better you can visualise where each chord fragment is coming from, the better you will be able to apply them to your own soloing. We need to know which fragments (children) belong to which of the larger chord forms (parents).
Let me break down the example from above for you:
Chord progression used:
C Am G F
Chord fragments used:
Above, I have matched the fragments with the larger chord forms that they are derived from. I like to think of the larger chord form as the parent and each fragment that relates to it as a child.
Knowing which fragment relates to which chord form, or which child belongs to which parent, is absolutely vital in having the ability to visualise these on your fretboard. This way you will be able to use them in your soloing, in real time, without needing to give it any thought whatsoever.
Now that you’ve had a taste, it’s time to really get stuck into this great approach to soloing. Let me show you 5 awesome ways you can create chord solos on your acoustic guitar with this free ebook and audio download.
About the author: Simon Candy owns and runs his own guitar school, Simon Candy School Of Guitar, which is based out of his hometown of Melbourne, Australia. Here, he coaches, trains and mentors students of all ages and levels in a variety of styles. Simon also offers high quality acoustic guitar lessons online.