Band Tips for Beginners #3

When you solo, it’s not how you say it, it’s what you say.

I learnt this in one of the most rewarding and memorable lessons I had as a youngster setting my sights for guitar stardom. (Before the days of online guitar lessons, haha!) The stardom never happened, but that is besides the point…

I used to go to the jazz supper clubs that were in many places along Durban’s beach front Esplanade. One, in particular, was at the Durban Yacht Club and a band called Jazz Machine used to play there.  I loved the way the lead guitarist played, and after a while asked Mark Kahn for lessons. Unfortunately he was about to leave for Berklee on a scholarship to study with that awesome jazz guitarist, none other than Al di Meola, so I had the opportunity for only one lesson. But of the many things I remembered, Mark told me this – and you should remember it too:

Think about it. It’s not how you say it, it’s what you say. Smoke coming from your fingers on the fret-board may be well and good, but if the audience is yawning what’s the point? Music appeals to our emotion, right? So give it emotion – hard, soft, weepy, aggro, whatever.

The ethos in this guideline is is a bit like that great scene in, I think, one of the early Eddie Murphy movies, when there’s a jive between him and some white dude:

“Yeah”, he’s like “you listen to Jimi I’m sure, but you don’t hear him.”

You might be tempted to argue that, actually, the point is the other way round: that is, it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it… Well, I’d be delighted for you to read it that way, as long as you read it right!

If what you want to say, with your solo, is:

“hey audience, just check how fast I can play!”


“betcha half of you can’t do these expensive chord progressions”,

go for it, I mean, don’t hold back!

Just as long as you appreciate that that’s just showing off. It isn’t Groove, and it isn’t really what you wanna be doing for your band’s sake. Keep those moments of self-pleasure left for the privacy of somewhere else, or your music lesson.

I am not for one minute saying don’t burn up the keyboard. I am not saying don’t play a kick-ass drum solo. What I AM saying is this: make what you say the objective. Twenty notes, played with the right timing, phraseology, feeling, touch, can be a whole lot more interesting, moving and memorable than twenty seconds of meaningless fretarrhoea.