How To Play Guitar Solos That Rock Part 3: Expressing Intense Emotions In Your Solos

By Tom Hess

If you want to play killer guitar solos that are highly emotional, you must be able to identify which of the following pairs of notes sound the most similar – Do this right now. (I’ll explain why in a moment).

- Don’t use your guitar for help -

Pair No. One: Contains a C major chord accompanying a single G note played as a melody followed by an E minor chord with a G note played above it.

Pair No. Two: Contains a E major chord accompanying a single A note played as a melody followed by an B flat major chord with an E flat note played above it.

If you are like a lot of guitarists, you think pair number one sounds most similar. However, this answer is way off! Here is why this answer is wrong:

Pair #1 has a G note being played over both the E minor and C major chords. Although the same pitch (G) is being used, this pitch does NOT sound/feel the same when played over each chord. The reason why is the G note is functioning differently: It functions as the fifth over C major and the third over E minor. The fifth and the third sound completely different.

On the other hand, the E flat note and the A note actually create the exact same ‘feeling’ even though they are different pitches. This is because they are both fifths: A over E major is a fourth and E flat over B flat major is also a fourth.

To ‘hear’ what this sounds like (how the same note sounds different when played over different chords), watch this video:

How To Quickly Make Your Guitar Solos Sound More Emotional Using This Concept

Listen to the following audio sample and complete the steps below. This audio sample contains a single note (E) being held for several minutes.

Click here to listen to the audio sample

First Step: Allow the E note backing track to continue playing while you play these chords on top of it (let each chord sustain for 5-10 seconds): B major, F major, F# minor, F# major, E major, E minor, A major, A minor, C# minor, C major, D major, D minor. Imagine this like playing a single note guitar solo above every chord.

Second Step: If you’re already familiar with the way in which chords are constructed, you are aware that the E pitch functions differently when played over each chord in the sample above. Now, identify the function of the pitch over each chord. Then decide which function sounds the best to your ears. For instance, if you enjoy the feeling that occurs when you play an E note over a D minor chord and recognize that E played over a D minor chord is a ninth, you will always enjoy the sound of a ninth when played over any minor triad. As you learned in the video above, the function of a note will always sound the same regardless of the pitch/chord being used.

With this in mind, it is important to learn how to recognize the sound of other note functions as well (not just your favorites). However, you should begin by identifying the ones you like first, then expand and learn the others.

If you aren’t sure how to build chords (with music theory), do the following:

  • Pay very close attention to how the E note above ‘feels’ when it is played over the different chords from the first step. Once you learn music theory concepts applied on guitar, you can delve more deeply into the details behind why certain chords create different emotions over the same note. This will help you apply the information so that you can create emotional guitar solos any time you pick up your instrument. For now, simply get accustomed to the different feelings that occur when the E note is played over each chord change.
  • Make yourself a much more knowledgeable guitarist when it comes to the topic of music theory (and its application) by studying with an excellent online electric guitar teacher.

Third Step: Write down on a piece of paper the specific emotions you associate with each of the pitch functions (feelings) above. This step is crucial, because it will help you to remember these concepts and give you the ability to use them creatively in your guitar solos. Don’t worry about whether the emotions you write down are right or wrong, just think of your own terms for describing them. You should ask yourself the following: “How does it feel to ME when a ninth is played over a minor chord?” It’s not too important what words you use specifically, just make sure you understand the emotion you feel.

After you can identify the feeling of each function from above, it’s time to incorporate this knowledge into your guitar solos. Begin by mapping out the notes in the chords of your favorite backing track (that you like to solo over). Identify the notes in each chord and pay close attention to which notes are shared in common with more than one chord.

As an example, consider this chord progression:

A major, C major and F major, the E note occurs in both the A major and C major chords. In A major it has the function of a fifth, while in C major it functions as a third. Also, the C note occurs in the F major chord as a fifth (and the root in the C major chord). While soloing over these chords, take advantage of the common tones between the chords and their changing emotions. Hold these shared notes longer just as the chords begin to change, and you will shock anyone listening with the different feeling created as the note changes its function.

Of course, you should not ‘always’ be using this method in your solos. Doing this all the time will cause your soloing to become predictable and stale.

Although the concept you learned in this article IS very powerful and will help you improve the quality of your guitar solos... it is only the beginning! If you really want to become a killer lead guitar player, you must master the ability to make your listeners ‘feel’ exactly how you want them to feel with every note you play. Learn more about how to make your guitar playing emotional.

Author's Bio: 

Tom Hess is a professional touring musician, recording artist and online guitar teacher who teaches guitarists from all over the world in his online guitar lessons. On his website,, you can get additional free tips about guitar playing, guitar playing resources , mini courses and surveys.

Watch this guitar solo video to better understand the ideas in this article.