The only way to get really good at improvising guitar solos (aka: improv) is to play a LOT of solos.
I realize that's not a very glamorous answer, but it's the truth. But, where do you start and how?
Something that will help you get off to a great start to making up your guitar leads is to learn at least one scale. The video demonstration of this lesson at the end of the blog uses the A minor scale.
All you have to do is play any of those notes, in any order, as many times as you want, any way you want while playing over a backing track. If you go to YouTube and search for A minor backing track, or C Major backing track, you can solo over those tracks with the A minor scale.
Here are some examples found on YouTube you can use:
Something to help your solos sound more pleasing to the ear is to always listen to resolve. What I mean by that is to listen to how the notes sound when you're playing around the scale, and when one note sounds really nice, let it ring out for a bit.
When you resolve something in music, I look at it like you are going to a note or chord that sounds like what you are playing is now complete, or finished.
A lot of music is about causing tension, then resolving, or releasing that tension. So, when you practice your solos, always listen for notes that sound like there is no tension and hold that note, letting it ring out for a bit.
When practicing over the A minor backing tracks, something you can try is to start on an A note. The locations of the A notes in the scale shown above are the 5th fret on the low E string, 7th fret on the D string, and 5th fret on the high E string.
Hit an A note, then start playing notes around that A note, then come back to the A note and let it ring out for a bit. Because A is the root note of the key it should resolve nicely most of the time.
You can also try this with a C note. The key of A minor and key of C Major are relative. They both share the same 7 notes: A, B, C, D, E, F, and G.
The C notes in the scale shown above are found on the 8th fret of the low E string, 5th fret of the G string, and 8th fret of the high E string.
Once you become comfortable with starting and stopping on either A or C, try using your ear to find notes that sound good against the chords you are playing to, and let them ring out for a bit.
Allowing your notes to breathe will help to create more memorable solos and leads. The Tao De Ching says that "great music spares notes". This is true, because the spaces in between notes are what help give music life.
What I'm getting at is that it's important not to cram in as many notes as possible the entire time you're improvising. I'm guilty of this, as is nearly every guitarist when they first start making up their solos.
It's perfectly fine to play fast lines of notes in a solo, but they will be more memorable when spaced out.
To help get used to this idea, and to help train your ears to know when you just resolved your phrase, play slow. REALLY slow! Let your notes ring out for about a second or more. Really give your ears time to hear just how each note sounds against the chords you are playing over.
After playing slow for a while, and you feel comfortable with this, then you can try incorporating some speedy licks into your solo. Just remember to space them out so they sound more memorable and extra impressive!
Watch the following video for demonstrations of the ideas mentioned in this lesson.
John Taylor - guitar and bass instructor for Mile High Shred.