We guitar players often want to play fast.
Even at young ages, guitarists are often given the impression that faster = better.
Talent shows and guitar competitions (which are beyond silly) typically favor the fastest players.
New guitar players often focus on playing fast before they can play slow, and don’t pay much attention to what they are even playing. Part of the thought process is often ‘if I just play everything fast, people won’t notice my mistakes’.
If done at the right time in the context of a solo, playing fast can captivate an audience, and take your solo to blistering peaks.
Guitar solos should be about telling stories.
Play like a storyteller
Think about people you know who are good story tellers. Good stories usually have a set-up scene, set expectations, slowly develop, and often end with a surprise.
In addition to the story itself, a good storyteller changes their volume, tone of voice, and speed, at different parts of the story.
Now think about people who constantly talk fast. Do you like listening to them?
Don’t be a musical version of the Micro-Machines guy
Back in the 80’s, there was a super-popular brand of toy cars called Micro Machines.
Their television commercials featured John Moschitta (who was credited by the Guinness Book of World Records as being the ‘World’s Fastest Talker’) talking incredibly fast.
Even though you couldn’t understand half of what he was saying, it was interesting, and became something a lot of people talked about (and helped grow the Micro Machines brand for a while).
As time passed, and Micro Machines released commercial after commercial featuring the same incredibly fast talking, people got tired of it. It became expected, and no longer surprising or unique. People got tired of it.
I know that’s a pretty random example, but people have a similar perception of fast guitar players and musicians.
I don’t know about you, but when I’m at a show and the guitar player is constantly ripping as fast as possible, it’s cool for a couple songs, but gets old quickly.
If you know they’re going to play that fast every song, there’s no element of surprise.
There’s also only so much your brain (as a member of the audience) can take in at a time. Pop songs become popular for a reason, and a big reason is that they are typically simple. They often only container 3 or 4 chords, and a pretty simple melody.
While you might not be a fan of what are considered ‘pop’ songs (I’m usually not), the majority of people do like this type of music because it’s relatively simple.
Play like a singer or horn player
Thinking (and playing) like a singer or horn player – especially during guitar solos – can help you stand out among the herd of guitar players out there.
While on guitar, it’s easy to just constantly play, without taking any pauses. Horn players and singers have to pause. They need to breath!
Take time in your solos to breath. In addition to making your riffs more interesting, pauses are a great way to add drama to a story.
Build up to your fast riffs
Build up some of your solo by playing slow first. If you gradually build up your speed, even if you’re not the fastest player (I know I’m far from a fast player), the faster speed can make your playing appear fast relative to the slower parts of your solo.
I’ll leave you with a couple solos from Derek Trucks, who is a master at building his solos.