Guitar Soloing Concepts – Playing Over a Drone Pedal

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It’s vital for any improvising guitarist to learn the relationship between chords and scales. However, sometimes it’s interesting to change ”scale-to-chord-thinking” to a more horizontal approach. A good way of practicing this is playing over a backing track with a drone, note or chord that is continuously sounded. Playing with a drone leaves room for finding out how notes and harmonies work in constant chord harmony. That way you can concentrate on finding the best sounding tones or experiment with different colors or style elements within the chosen key.

In this lesson you’ll learn 6 exercises over a meditative drone with an E5 chord voicing. There’s only two notes in the drone (e and b) so you can use different scales and chord types more freely.



Backing Track


Exercise 1 [starts at 0:03 in the video]

Guitar drone exercise 1


  • Bar 1 has an almost Celtic style ringing Emaj9(add4) chord with first and fourth finger spreads.
  • Bar 2’s first four notes imply an Eadd9 chord. The next four notes form a F#add9 chord (from the E Lydian scale), that resolves into a Badd9 chord.

Exercise 2 [starts at 0:17 in the video]

Guitar drone exercise 2


This example is influenced by bebop and gypsy jazz. Two important things to keep in mind to get clarity and speed in this example are alternative picking and rest-strokes. The Main color of this example is E dominant 7.

  • In the first beat there is a Bm7 arpeggio followed by some chromatism.
  • From the third beat on, the notes come from the E Lydian dominant scale (also know as Lydian b7 and overtone).
  • After that, there is an E11 sound in first beat, followed by E13(#11).

Exercise 3 [starts at 0:29 in the video]

Guitar drone exercise 3


This example is influenced by Bach’s lute music, but it moves forward to modern harmonies at the end of it.

  • The first four bars stay in the tonic E.
  • The fifth bar has a C#m7(b13) chord that is in this case a substitution for an Amaj9 chord.
  • The last two bars imply a B13 chord.

Exercise 4 [starts at 0:52 in the video]

Guitar drone exercise 4


The Idea in this example is to make a choral-like two-part canon.

  • The first and second bars are in B13b9(sus4) world.
  • Bar 3 contains an E7 and A7 chord.
  • The fourth bar has an A major and A minor chord
  • The fifth bar B7 and E minor.
  • Bar 6 is E major.
  • The Seventh bar is mostly B7b9(sus4).
  • Bar 8 has a turnaround: E5, Gsus4 and G, F#7 and B7.
  • The 9th bar: E7, A, Am6 and E.

Exercise 5 [starts at 1:20 in the video]

Guitar drone exercise 5


This example is mostly in the E dominant diminished scale and consists of intervallic jumps and string-skipping.

Exercise 6 [starts at 1:32 in the video]

Guitar drone exercise 6


This example consists of three-part voicings in the E major scale.

  • The first bar has an Emaj7 chord with melody-line.
  • Bar 2 voicings: E major , F#m, Emaj7, A major.


Let us know what you think of this lesson by leaving a comment below…


About The Author

Mikko Karhula (born in 1981) is a Finnish guitarist and teacher who is mainly focused on acoustic guitar. His primary style is ethno music like Balkan and gypsy jazz. Mikko works as a solo artist and is part of several bands and projects. He has composed music for Finnish artists in many different styles and composes for solo guitar from jazz to classical. Make sure you visit his YouTube channel for more videos and lessons!


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  1. Pablo GarciaOct 20, 2016 at 3:21 am

    Amazing!! Great lessons!

    • MikkoKarhulaOct 20, 2016 at 4:24 pm

      Thank you Pablo!

  2. Steven MartinOct 20, 2016 at 8:39 am

    Hauntingly beautiful meditations here. And I love the approach to exercises’ which can stand on their own as bite-sized works of art. This motivates me to practice, as each exercise is intrinsically rewarding for artistic merit. When I hear this, I imagine the ghost of Colin Walcott laying down that drone, and Ralph Towner jumping all over it, like a flea on a hot griddle. Early Oregon at its best.

    • MikkoKarhulaOct 20, 2016 at 4:36 pm

      Hi Steven! Thank you! That was beautifully said.:)

    • Buddy GrishamOct 21, 2016 at 4:13 am

      Yes! Was fortunate to see Oregon in Memphis, and then attend a Q&A session at one of the colleges the next day. Inspired me to get a sitar and a set of tablas. Only person in Ripley, MS with that claim!….This is a fantastic way to practice and/or jam.

  3. RicOct 20, 2016 at 7:22 pm

    Hi Mikko, it sounds wonderful and even John McLaughlin would love your music 🙂

    • joeyOct 21, 2016 at 4:08 am

      yes sure he will

    • mikkoKarhulaOct 21, 2016 at 2:46 pm

      Thank you Ric!

  4. antonioOct 20, 2016 at 8:20 pm

    very relaxing and elegiac sounds, but could you explain me what is a drone?

    • joeyOct 21, 2016 at 4:07 am

      drone for me is a continuing sound to give way to an improvisation like the Indian music, at least with this example, they also have the in classical music music, sustanined instrument use for accompaniment, i don’t want to elaborate more i might get too far out for my explanation, that’s what my perception on your question antonio

    • mikkoKarhulaOct 21, 2016 at 2:54 pm

      Hi Antonio! Joey said it.
      There is instruments for example sitar, bag pipe, gudulka that has strings or pipe that play continually one or several notes simultaneously while player plays melody line. They call that tone a drone. In my example I made with e and b notes continuous chord to different track while I recorded guitar to a different track.

  5. KevinOct 21, 2016 at 3:38 am

    Wow, great guitarist and fantastic tab. Man I needed that! Thank to you all for posting, very much appreciated!

    • mikkoKarhulaOct 21, 2016 at 2:44 pm

      Hi Kevin! I’m happy that you find tabs useful.

  6. joeyOct 21, 2016 at 4:01 am

    i’m speechless out of words, i find it really amazing, glad we had talents like this, thank you for sharing

    • mikkoKarhulaOct 21, 2016 at 2:43 pm

      Thank you Joey! I’m very thankful that people seem to like my playing sometimes.
      All good for you!

  7. JohannesOct 21, 2016 at 5:27 am

    This is a great exercise!
    How did you produce the drone? And how could I make my own? For other harmonies?
    Have a great day!

    • MikkoKarhulaOct 21, 2016 at 1:33 pm

      Hi Johannes! I played keyboards through guitar amplifier with sound of grand piano, bass and choir. I added some distortion from amplifier while playing. Then I mixed them together, used some pan effects and others I can’t remember. Then I used copy and paste to get the sample longer.

  8. PaulOct 21, 2016 at 1:52 pm

    Wow great – Mikko what brand model nylon string guitar you playing in video ?

    How does it intonate up the neck ?

    My kremona Vera is nice but action rather high beyond frets 9- 12

    • mikkoKarhulaOct 21, 2016 at 2:42 pm

      Hi Paul! The guitar is Cordoba C7-CE. I had installed to it colpeadors and lower action just a little.
      Intonation depends a lot of strings. With right strings it’s quite good.

  9. Mark StephanOct 21, 2016 at 11:10 pm

    That first ex. drew me in with those wide spreads and open notes. I’ve been looking for something different to expand my horizons and this certainly helps. Thanks for the great lesson including the tonal theory behind it.

    • mikkoKarhulaOct 21, 2016 at 11:49 pm

      You are welcome Mark! Nice to hear that this lesson inspires you.

  10. AztuRiOct 22, 2016 at 6:41 pm

    Hi Mikko,
    I am a big fan of John M, and I am truly excited of your lessons. Thanks so much.
    I also go to your channel, watching your incredible Autumn Leaves version. You are like the modern day Django R….just wondering whats your favourite scales…are you a self-taught player…

    • mikkoKarhulaOct 23, 2016 at 9:07 pm

      Hi Azturi! John Mclaughlin is truly fantastic player but I haven’t listened his work so much. I have been playing variety of styles in my life but somehow playing acoustic guitar is my thing. I try not to limit my self. Trying to listen and play everything that moves me. I have conservatory diploma from years 2003 to 2006. But the best “schools” has been life with its ups and downs and passion to music that I can’t prevent.:)

  11. AndresOct 22, 2016 at 11:18 pm

    This might just be the greatest lesson I ever came across.
    Also, fantastic playing, I hadn’t heard of Mikko before,
    but I just searched him on Youtube, such amazing artist.

    • mikkoKarhulaOct 23, 2016 at 9:02 am

      Hi Andres!
      That is so nice to hear. Thank you!

  12. peterOct 23, 2016 at 1:24 am

    Thanks Mikko this is great, I’ve trying to do an electric style of this lately it’s but nowhere near as nice as this!

    • mikkoKarhulaOct 23, 2016 at 9:09 pm

      Thank you Peter! It would be nice to hear your version.

  13. LuzMarinaOct 23, 2016 at 9:10 am

    What a treat! I love the divertisty, long and fast scales alterning the 1 and 4 finger in a very open hand. The sound is intriguing, I will add to my daily exercises, despite I may use my fingers instead the pick.Thank you for the gift, I will call this section the Autum Falling Notes. Beautiful.

    • mikkoKarhulaOct 23, 2016 at 9:11 pm

      Hi Luzmarina! I consider every comment as a gift.:)So thank you!

  14. 14stringsOct 25, 2016 at 2:06 pm

    Very nice. The Electro Harmonix Freeze pedal is perfect for this stuff. Is there a way to easily print the TABS?

    • mikkoKarhulaOct 25, 2016 at 8:50 pm

      Thank you for the hint about Electro Harmonix Freeze-pedal. You can get tabs by emailing me.:)

  15. bertOct 30, 2016 at 1:01 pm

    WOW, I love the dissonant soundscape. And the odd time signature adds so much to the tone and feel of the piece.

    • mikkoKarhulaOct 30, 2016 at 6:02 pm

      Nice that you like it Bert!

  16. JoeNov 7, 2016 at 8:29 am

    You do good.

    • mikkoKarhulaNov 7, 2016 at 3:27 pm

      Thanks Joe!

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