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A quote that changed the way I practice guitar soloing came from Joe Pass. It was from a long time ago, so this is complete paraphrasing. Forgive me Joe! The gist was:
"Every single thing you play, you should be able to play a second time EXACTLY the way it was the first. If you can't, then it is just random finger movements that happened to work out. If you can't repeat it, it didn't come from your heart and it is not music."
This is VERY true IMO. Try practicing like that. What happens is, it FORCES you to really listen to what you are doing, because you have to play it again. Also, repetition instantly sounds like music. Listen to most great soloists and they use repetition a TON. Even if the notes aren't the same, the rhythm is. Or if the rhythm isn't, then the notes are. Repetition is one of the core building blocks you need to construct meaningful solos.
Some other approaches
- Record EVERYTHING and listen back with a critical ear. This is the only chance you have to hear you the way others do. Make this part of your regular routine. Slowly weed out the crap-isms we all have. You know, those annoying little phrases you ALWAYS play, that you CAN'T STAND! Weed them out.
- Try ONLY playing an idea as it comes into your head. If you don't hear anything, don't play for a minute. Wait until you hear something and THEN play. Remember this is practice and nobody is watching so take your time. At first, there will be big holes of silence. Before long as you improve there will be more and more actual music happening. The best part is it is ALL organically based - NOT pattern based.
- Sing AS you play a line on your guitar (a la George Benson). Make the connection between your ears, your voice and the guitar. This INSTANTLY affects your phrasing.
- Simplify for a bit. Grab a small idea and really milk it. Save the shred for flourishes that tie your ideas together. Fast stuff really doesn't say much.. it really mostly creates intensity. Would you want to hear someone speaking or singing in an intense state all the time? Likely not, plus the melodic stuff makes the flourishes SEEM faster. Not ripping on shred at all or insinuating shred is bad, just saying in general - mix it up. The best shredders do this.
- Learn other players solos - NOTE FOR NOTE using your ears - not TAB. Don't cheat or fudge, get in there are get every note. Then get the chord changes behind. Then analyze what is going on (if you dont know some basic theory, it is very helpful. Utilize sites like this to read, ask questions and generally help you understand some basics). Do this all the time and before long you will see patterns or approaches that just work. I can't understate this. You want to become a good soloist? Become a student of solos. Many genres - even ones you don't like. Learn your favs... then learn your favs favs. Jazz, Country, Blues, Rock solo and analyze. Spend a year doing this and you will be a different player on the other side no doubt about it.
- Focus on hitting chord tones as you solo. Look at the progression you are soloing over and practice nailing some of the tones as they pass by. I did a detailed post on this topic. Click here to read it. When I say "analyze" this is largely what I am referring to. What notes are being used and why do they work... likely a chord tone.
P.S. Read the below comment section of this post. John King raised some valid discussions on this topic.