Just like being put on the spot, soloing freaks most people out at first.
I recall, not too long ago, I was so self-conscious whenever I had to take a solo, you start to sweat, your hands shake and they definitely do not go even half the speed you’d like them to! Know that feeling? Yep, we’ve all had it before!
For years I struggled with the concept of a drum/cajon solo, and the reason I never understood the concept was because I allowed fear to rob me of the exciting experience of getting comfortable with it and learning to concentrate on my ‘inner music’ and letting it out.
I still struggle with the fear of soloing and it’s a process, but there’a a few things one can do to get started and more comfy with it:

1. Find a way to mentally and verbally express what a solo is so it makes sense to you.

What helped me was to think of a solo like I would think when I construct a sentence or a paragraph using words (in music, rhythmic and melodic figures) and using emotion (same as when you talk, using dynamics, feel, interpretation). Before you can speak sentences that makes sense, you would need to have learnt some vocabulary and understood some grammar rules, the same in music, you need to have some rhythmic and melodic figure you know and to ‘play’ the ‘musical’ sentence you wish to say. I don’t know if that works for you, and perhaps I am not getting my simile across very well, so find something you can compare a solo to so that it makes more sense to you.

2. Identify your ‘tools’ or ‘ rhythmic vocabulary’

Think of different rhythmic patterns that you can play comfortably and use them like words or building blocks, for example, throw in a triplet feel over a 4 subdivision, or use a paradiddle or roll (can be rudiments, little fills, tricks, different sounds, changing the subdivision and feel of your groove, ostinato patterns, co-ordination etc….and don’t forget to incorporate the use of silence in your solo to give it air!). You don’t need much for a solo but you need to be a little bit creative for making a solo, thats the whole point. It does help if you have some more knowledge and you can technically execute it, so If you feel you lack ‘rhythmic vocabulary’, you need to learn more rhythmic figures, and the best thing is to find some solid teaching material.

3. ‘Write’ your first solo

Memorise and write down (if you can) a very short 8 or 16 bar solo, using a sequence of rhythmic figures (words) that you can play and practise it. Once you have mastered the solo you wrote at a reasonable speed, add a few bars of groove before and after the solo as though you are playing with a band and then your solo moment comes, making sure you keep the tempo from start to end. Once you are comfortable with going from groove ito solo mode and back again, write a new solo, even if you use the same rhythmic figures on different beats/ swap them around ad more ‘air’ with silence etc.

4. Be patient and don’t be afraid to make mistakes, you’re learning!

You would need to have some vocabulary to play or ‘say’ that sentence, and, like any language, you need a lot of practise to become fluent. But above all you need to let yourself be completely free to really hear what is inside you that you want to bring out, it’s a creative growing process too! Be prepared to screw up and get back up, even in front of people! Remember that you are learning and to walk, be patient with yourself!

5. Forget everything, enjoy expressing yourself and let the music flow from within

At the end of the day, solo’s are not some ‘compulsory barriers in music to mess with you and make you feel stupid if you can’t do it’! It is a time/place/moment where the artist joyfully gets a window to freely express themselves without much or any restrictions, it’s meant to be fun, a celebration and an expression of music, and for drummers this is specially fun, we can mess around with the beat without the guitarist glaring at us! 🙂
The only way to truly be ‘soloing’, no matter the level, is when you are so saturated with love for what you are expressing in that moment, that you are completely free from fear.

My best advice is to love solo’s, to do it often, face it with courage and kick fear in the face.

It’s a heck of a lot of fun, once you get over our fear and uncertainty!
Why not try to make an 8 bar solo this week? Let me know how it goes!
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