Getting Started – Soloing in Jazz

How do you start a solo in a jazz setting?
Especially when playing with a band. You want to keep your bandmates on their toes, so you don’t want to be predictable. Here are ten ideas for starting a guitar solo in a jazz setting:

  1. Motif Development:
    • Begin with a simple motif (a short, memorable musical idea) and develop it through repetition and variation. This creates a thematic foundation for your solo.
  2. Call and Response:
    • Start by playing a phrase and then “answer” it with a contrasting phrase. This creates a conversational feel, engaging the listener from the outset.
  3. Quote the Melody:
    • Start your solo by quoting a line from the song’s melody. This grounds your improvisation in the context of the tune and provides a familiar point of reference.
  4. Use Space:
    • Begin with a few well-placed notes and leave plenty of space. This builds anticipation and allows your phrases to breathe, setting up a dynamic contrast for what follows.
  5. Rhythmic Variation:
    • Start with an interesting rhythmic idea, such as syncopation or an unusual subdivision. This can create an engaging and energetic opening.
  6. Chordal Approach:
    • Start your solo with chord voicings or double-stops rather than single notes. This can add harmonic richness and texture right from the beginning.
  7. Use Dynamics:
    • Begin softly and gradually build in volume and intensity. This dynamic approach can create a sense of drama and progression in your solo.
  8. Blues Influence:
    • Incorporate bluesy bends, slides, and phrasing in your opening. The blues is a key component of jazz and can add a soulful, expressive quality to your solo.
  9. Modal Exploration:
    • Start by exploring a specific mode or scale that fits the chord changes. This can give your solo a distinctive flavor and harmonic color from the beginning.
  10. Rhythmic Displacement:
    • Play a phrase that starts on an offbeat or unexpected part of the measure. This rhythmic surprise can grab the listener’s attention and create a compelling starting point.

Experiment with these ideas to see which ones resonate with your personal style and the musical context of the piece you’re playing. Each approach can lead to different pathways and developments in your solo, helping you unfold your musical story in unique and creative ways.