Thursday, March 8, 2012

Soloing, part 6-1: Creating a solo

When it comes to soloing, you have a choice between how much you want to improvise and how much you want to craft something ahead of time. They're not mutually exclusive and each one comes with its particular advantages and disadvantages.

Crafting or pre-choreographing a solo is often a safer route to take, especially for those newer to soloing. You get to carefully plan what you're going to do under your terms, and have the structure of the song as well as the length of your solo set in advance. This process can lead to a rock-solid solo that you can deliver again and again.

One of the dangers here is being stuck in that solo, being unable or unwilling to change what's worked so well. Another danger is when something unexpected happens (dropped bachi, mental distraction, etc.) and you're thrown "off the rails" so to speak. It might be very difficult to get back where you were, especially if the solo is metered and now there's even more pressure on you to get back before it's supposed to end. Finally, there's the real danger of artistic stagnation as you're not thinking of new things to try and you lose out on the ability to get better at improvisation.

On the other side there's playing things on the fly, improvisation. Although this is a more difficult skill to master, being able to improvise in one song usually helps you improvise in other songs, and the skill grows the more you use it. This path also makes it easier to adapt to situations that go awry, and lets you express yourself in different situations.

That being said, there's no guarantee an improvised solo will go well and sometimes things won't go the way you wanted. This can be anything from an awkward phrase to one of those dropped bachi I mentioned earlier. There's a bit of a catch-22 situation here: it takes skill to develop the ability to play through those errors, but it takes time spent improvising to gain that skill. So there's an inherent risk factor the more you improvise and often no guarantee of having a solid solo.

Like most things, the best solution is subjective. Neither extreme is ideal for most of us, but finding your own balance is part of the process. For me personally, I lean heavily on the improvised side of soloing. I have one crafted solo for a song in our repertoire, and there are a few bars in other songs I tend to insert, but for the most part I enjoy that creative freedom and the reward of taking those risks. Does it always work? Hell no! But it's the way I like to express myself.

Crafting and improvising can go hand-in-hand. Even though I think improvisation is the more valuable skill of the two, there might be times when you have to craft a solo and doing it well isn't always easy.

In my next post I'll talk about how to create solos, both crafted and improvised. If you find yourself with questions on soloing, please refer to any of my previous "Soloing" posts or leave a comment and ask me what you'd like to hear about!

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