What to do with those darn guitar solos

Boy, if I had $17.5o for ever time this happened: I’m arranging right along, plowing through the phrases, really happy and excited for the final product, when all of the sudden I reach a dead end in the song I’m covering. A blistering guitar solo. A scorching shred session. A demonic demonstration of jammitude. And I’m left wondering how my tenor IIs are ever going to sing those 32nd notes.

If you’ve ever experienced this problem, fear not. The following will provide an ample explanation of the different options available in such a situation. The fact is, voices often simply can’t reproduce the sounds of really fast guitar solos, nor can they always cover the range necessary to emulate them properly. But in many cases, this ends up being a blessing in disguise because it forces the arranger to think creatively, innovate, and develop fresh material in the solo’s place.

What you do decide to do with the musical interlude is of course entirely up to you, but should be influenced by several important factors: the complexity of the original solo, the abilities of the group for which you’re arranging, and the desired difficulty of your piece. If we want to break down the possibilities into general categories, I’d do it like this:

  • Write in basic chord progression with intention of individual improvisation.
  • Transcribe solo note-for-note as four-part block interlude.
  • Omit solo section completely.

I’ll be using several examples from some of my arrangements for the UNC Achordants as reference points along the way.

Option 1: Improvisation

Improvisation is probably the most popular solution to the a cappella guitar solo problem. This is the birthplace of the “beer-neer” jam session. The idea is that one person can “fake” their way through the solo much more easily than could an entire group or section. After all, it is a “solo;” why not give someone the spotlight? It’s hokey as hell and can get awkward if not done well, but it allows the arranger to preserve the song structure while making it relatively easy for the group to learn.

Check this out: it’s the Saved By the Bell theme!

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