How Do You Approach Working Up Songs?

TSJMajesty

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Like, when do you tackle the solo(s)? I have songs I'm working on to help me build my technique, that if I can't get the solo, I generally don't bother with the rest of the song. Iow, I kinda gravitate to the hardest parts first. But I'm the kind of player that likes to stay pretty close to how the entire song was recorded.

I guess I'm just curious how many of you will still do a song, and do you own thing in the solo, if it's out of reach for your current abilities, or will you just pass and pick another song? I've heard some covers where the solo was pretty bad, and my thought was they should've just not done the song.

Another thing that I focus on, is if the solo is kind of on the outlying area of my abilities, but it has licks in it that that aren't that unique, I'll bust my ass to learn it because I can then apply it to other stuff, like in my own improv bag of tricks. So in that case I'll keep at it.

What say you?
 
I'm guessing you're talking learning covers?

I know it helps me a LOT to know the whole rhythm part of the song before I approach the lead. Even though I'm a theory idiot, it helps to know the changes that are going on underneath the solo so I can expect to move to a different position. I don't tackle solos until I learn the whole song first.

For originals? Solos are the last thing I put in, after all the vocals are done. Namely because I can express more in a solo than I can in a rhtyhm guitar part and if I'm going to express something in a song, it's going to be in line with the lyrics or, in some cases, the total opposite of the lyrics (my lyrics are often double-sided/coming from two different perspectives....I just don't tell anyone). Or sometimes I steal a vocal melody and toss it in the solo, so I need for the vocals to be done first.

And the way I record; I'll get the rhythm guitars, drums, bass and keys done in one session and then track the vocals and lead in a whole different session, strictly because of that idea.
 
For me its part by part then put it all together, Solo parts always take me the longest time though a
 
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No song. No solo. :hmm


;)


Song first. Everything else after.

Because there are 2 of us playing guitar, and we are both capable, we usually see who is closest
to nailing it in our initial run throughs of a song. Or if it is a song with multiple solo sections we
will divvy it up and share the duties.

We really don't expect to nail a song on initial run throughs---even if we surprise ourselves on
occasion most songs take work. We try to get the song arrangement and structure down, and then
mess with the details later (harmonies, solos). I really don't consider a solo to be essential at the
outset. I also don't believe that crap about how bands nail it one take, or have it all down perfectly.
That's some mythical BS! Even iconic bands that say that had to have had massive pre-production
rehearsals, and ran through their own material numerous times before they committed something
to "tape," or to the stage.
 
I know it helps me a LOT to know the whole rhythm part of the song before I approach the lead. Even though I'm a theory idiot, it helps to know the changes that are going on underneath the solo so I can expect to move to a different position. I don't tackle solos until I learn the whole song first.

I feel that's a very solid notion. Knowing what is going on underneath can help us
better understand what is put over the top---even if we don't understand it completely.
 
Like, when do you tackle the solo(s)? I have songs I'm working on to help me build my technique, that if I can't get the solo, I generally don't bother with the rest of the song. Iow, I kinda gravitate to the hardest parts first. But I'm the kind of player that likes to stay pretty close to how the entire song was recorded.

I guess I'm just curious how many of you will still do a song, and do you own thing in the solo, if it's out of reach for your current abilities, or will you just pass and pick another song? I've heard some covers where the solo was pretty bad, and my thought was they should've just not done the song.

Another thing that I focus on, is if the solo is kind of on the outlying area of my abilities, but it has licks in it that that aren't that unique, I'll bust my ass to learn it because I can then apply it to other stuff, like in my own improv bag of tricks. So in that case I'll keep at it.

What say you?

Play the more melodic parts of the solo,
simplify the parts that are beyond your current technique level. And keep working on them over time.
 
i usually just write a riff with a change at home and then take it practice.

i dont like writing an entire song because then i get upset when it gets changed when the rest of the band gets involved so if i just present a riff with a change and then we arrange it into a song as a group it is more fun for everyone else.
 
Learning covers? I did this (in a way I now consider) backwards for many, many years, until one day a bass player kind of blew my mind by picking apart a chord sequence I coudn't work out, in a single listen. When I asked, "How did you do that??", he said very simply, "I listened to the bass notes." The architecture of most songs is sitting right there. Now if I want to learn a song, I listen to the bass line, then find the harmonization (essentially, which chords are major, which are minor; what is the key center?) 9 times out of 10 one will follow the other just as clearly as you expect. The rest is icing. Before this accidental revelation, I'd spend days learning riffs and fills and bits of solos and rarely if ever make my way through an entire song.

Writing originals? I still have no idea. I'll write a song at random about once a decade with no idea how it happened, but mostly I just don't/ perhaps can't. I'll be watching this thread for insights.
 
Learning covers... listen to the bass notes. The architecture of most songs is sitting right there.
Great tip. I actually discovered this quite by accident.
I was outside and mostly only the bass notes could be heard (music was playing inside the house), and I realized how hearing what was going on in the bass was a key element in figuring out the song.

But that was back before tabs, and now they've gotten so much better that I don't even bother trying to learn a song by ear. I will however learn the tab, then play along with the song, because that way if there's any parts that are wrong, I'll hear them very clearly. And then I go back and usually look at the context/bass line (if I have to) to see where the mistakes in the tab are.

My ear has gotten better though, to the point that even in fast solos, I can usually tell when a note was tabbed wrong, before I waste too much time getting it up to speed. The last thing I want to do is invest time into learning a part of a song the wrong way.

But yeah, the gist of what I'm asking is in the context of covers, and whether you'll consider the solo before you bother with the rest of the song. I like to keep the solos very close to how they were recorded, so if the song has one that's gonna take too much time for me to be able to do it justice, I won't bother with the song.

To put it another way, I generally don't want to put the time into learning a song, if the solo is either gonna be beyond my abilities, or I feel I can't find something else to play that would fit.

Here's an example: Bark At The Moon is beyond my abilities, and probably always will be. I know this because I looked at the solo first. And I'm not gonna just jam my own thing for that solo (maybe some sections, but not the ending.) It either gets played right, or I don't play it. So I haven't even bothered learning the song, or the rest of the solo. (Some parts, but not much.)

Now that being said, I have learned some licks from that solo, so that I can pull from them, or variations of, for my improv stuff. I think whether or not I'm capable of doing a song/solo justice, there are always takeaways that I can and do learn, that will help my own soloing.
 
Great tip. I actually discovered this quite by accident.
I was outside and mostly only the bass notes could be heard (music was playing inside the house), and I realized how hearing what was going on in the bass was a key element in figuring out the song.

But that was back before tabs, and now they've gotten so much better that I don't even bother trying to learn a song by ear. I will however learn the tab, then play along with the song, because that way if there's any parts that are wrong, I'll hear them very clearly. And then I go back and usually look at the context/bass line (if I have to) to see where the mistakes in the tab are.

My ear has gotten better though, to the point that even in fast solos, I can usually tell when a note was tabbed wrong, before I waste too much time getting it up to speed. The last thing I want to do is invest time into learning a part of a song the wrong way.

But yeah, the gist of what I'm asking is in the context of covers, and whether you'll consider the solo before you bother with the rest of the song. I like to keep the solos very close to how they were recorded, so if the song has one that's gonna take too much time for me to be able to do it justice, I won't bother with the song.

To put it another way, I generally don't want to put the time into learning a song, if the solo is either gonna be beyond my abilities, or I feel I can't find something else to play that would fit.

Here's an example: Bark At The Moon is beyond my abilities, and probably always will be. I know this because I looked at the solo first. And I'm not gonna just jam my own thing for that solo (maybe some sections, but not the ending.) It either gets played right, or I don't play it. So I haven't even bothered learning the song, or the rest of the solo. (Some parts, but not much.)

Now that being said, I have learned some licks from that solo, so that I can pull from them, or variations of, for my improv stuff. I think whether or not I'm capable of doing a song/solo justice, there are always takeaways that I can and do learn, that will help my own soloing.
Cool catch on the bass listening. :)

I'm kind of on an opposite track in a lot of ways. For instance, I'm no longer very interested in pouring over tabs. I'll learn as much as I can by ear - simply because it's more enjoyable and feels more musical to me - and then I'll "cheat" by looking up details I just can't seem to work out myself. Those details might be part of a solo (where I mainly need to know what position the player was in; the rest will then usually follow from further listening), or a chord substitution/ inversion I had wrong, or whatever. I'd slowly been getting turned off by tablature over the years, and gravitating toward "proper" sheet music (mostly lead sheets from jazz fake books) which I figured did more to make me a "well rounded musician". But as I get older and try to be realistic about where I am vs. where I aim to be, even this seems less important than keeping my ears in shape, which in turn feels less important than enjoying myself. Squinting at tab was never enjoyable - even less so now that my eyes are getting older. :D (Weird trend: every thread on TGF today is like "The Old Man TMI" thread.)

As for learning a cover vs being able to play the solo... I don't really approach covers that way. If I love a song, I just want to know whether I can enjoy playing some interpretation of it. If I expect to perform it, I'll want to know that the interpretation won't suck, but I don't think that necessarily means playing the song note for note. Depending on the song/ band/ audience, I've often preferred to approach covers in new ways, and bring something different to the table. Of course, if you're in a tribute band, that's not going to fly. And if your focus is guitar-centric metal, new arrangements are usually not going to cut it anyway. (I don't think I'd attempt Bark at the Moon either. :unsure:)

As for this: "The last thing I want to do is invest time into learning a part of a song the wrong way."

I used to feel this way, to the point where I'd avoid working on songs because I didn't know how to play them. Which is basically a snake eating its own tail LOL. I had this fear of committing wrong notes to memory, or muscle memory. My take on it now is that it's better to practice a close approximation to a part than not to practice it at all. You can always make refinements later, and you'll still have developed technique, vocabulary, etc. from the practice you put in prior.
 
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Cool catch on the bass listening. :)

I'm kind of on an opposite track in a lot of ways. For instance, I'm no longer very interested in pouring over tabs. I'll learn as much as I can by ear - simply because it's more enjoyable and feels more musical to me - and then I'll "cheat" by looking up details I just can't seem to work out myself. Those details might be part of a solo (where I mainly need to know what position the player was in;
That's the part of tabs (Songsterr, specifically) where they're often wrong. Pentatonic shapes are laid out terribly in many songs I've seen. Plus, I have to adapt positions to fit my own abilities. Like, sometimes I'll use an open string as a quick pause to allow me to move to a different position.
As for learning a cover vs being able to play the solo... I don't really approach covers that way. If I love a song, I just want to know whether I can enjoy playing some interpretation of it. If I expect to perform it, I'll want to know that the interpretation won't suck, but I don't think that necessarily means playing the song note for note. Depending on the song/ band/ audience, I've often preferred to approach covers in new ways, and bring something different to the table.
Yeah that's definitely cool! There's a few songs out there that I'd love to do this way. Make it entirely fresh-sounding. One of them is Green-Eyed Lady. I think that sound would sound killer if made modern-sounding!
As for this: "The last thing I want to do is invest time into learning a part of a song the wrong way."

I used to feel this way, to the point where I'd avoid working on songs because I didn't know how to play them. Which is basically a snake eating its own tail LOL. I had this fear of committing wrong notes to memory, or muscle memory. My take on it now is that it's better to practice a close approximation to a part than not to practice it at all. You can always make refinements later, and you'll still have developed technique, vocabulary, etc. from the practice you put in prior.
Funny you mention this. Paul Gilbert has said that his not learning a lick "correctly" taught him things that have been worked into his own style. So yeah, there's something to be gained from this approach also, for sure!
 
That's the part of tabs (Songsterr, specifically) where they're often wrong. Pentatonic shapes are laid out terribly in many songs I've seen. Plus, I have to adapt positions to fit my own abilities. Like, sometimes I'll use an open string as a quick pause to allow me to move to a different position.

Yeah that's definitely cool! There's a few songs out there that I'd love to do this way. Make it entirely fresh-sounding. One of them is Green-Eyed Lady. I think that sound would sound killer if made modern-sounding!

Funny you mention this. Paul Gilbert has said that his not learning a lick "correctly" taught him things that have been worked into his own style. So yeah, there's something to be gained from this approach also, for sure!
When PG talks, I listen. :)

I almost went back and made a note about positions etc. so frequently being wrong in tablature. Things are often transcribed in such inefficient ways, it almost seems like a computer picked the strings/frets at random, having been fed a sequence of notes. Then again, sometimes I'll watch the original artists play a melody, and I'll disagree with their approach. If I can make a line more intuitive or physically easier to play, without sacrificing tone, I usually will.

That said, sometimes a little bit of tab (or video) is the only thing that can get me back on course - when I'm trying in vain to work out a melody in the wrong position and/or mode.
 
When PG talks, I listen. :)

I almost went back and made a note about positions etc. so frequently being wrong in tablature. Things are often transcribed in such inefficient ways, it almost seems like a computer picked the strings/frets at random,
You aren't kidding!! I've seen riffs in a solo written one way, then as it's repeated, in exactly the same position, they choose a different string for one or 2 notes, that make absolutely no sense whatsoever! Like, does anyone even check these things?

The best ones I've found are on YT, where you've obviously got a stellar player, playing the damn thing not only NFN, but also has the tone fucking NAILED! Some of those will have a tab bar running along the bottom, and they are extremely accurate. Maybe not the same positions the artist plays them, but the notes are right, and fit the positions that the guy in the video is playing them.

The other thing I hate about tabs are the rhythms. You can recognize what the artist is doing as, say, a quick hammer-on/pull-off within the sequence of notes he's playing, and he does it several times in various positions. It's basically played as a triplet, but the notation will be all these funky, dotted-16th/32nd/dotted-16th, or whatever. Or a 16th followed by 2 32nds. It's just a freaking triplet! Definitely software.
 
The other thing I hate about tabs are the rhythms. You can recognize what the artist is doing as, say, a quick hammer-on/pull-off within the sequence of notes he's playing, and he does it several times in various positions. It's basically played as a triplet, but the notation will be all these funky, dotted-16th/32nd/dotted-16th, or whatever. Or a 16th followed by 2 32nds. It's just a freaking triplet! Definitely software.
Yeah, the lack of (or at best, separation of) rhythmic information is part of the reason I started favoring notation over tab (before finally concluding that I'm too late/lazy for either LOL.) Of course notation tells you almost nothing about technique, position, etc. You've got to work that out by ear and from experience.
 
Like, when do you tackle the solo(s)? I have songs I'm working on to help me build my technique, that if I can't get the solo, I generally don't bother with the rest of the song. Iow, I kinda gravitate to the hardest parts first. But I'm the kind of player that likes to stay pretty close to how the entire song was recorded.

I guess I'm just curious how many of you will still do a song, and do you own thing in the solo, if it's out of reach for your current abilities, or will you just pass and pick another song? I've heard some covers where the solo was pretty bad, and my thought was they should've just not done the song.

Another thing that I focus on, is if the solo is kind of on the outlying area of my abilities, but it has licks in it that that aren't that unique, I'll bust my ass to learn it because I can then apply it to other stuff, like in my own improv bag of tricks. So in that case I'll keep at it.

What say you?
i always learn things in sections. it's always easier to learn chunks.

i also take the approach of looking at 30,000 feet first before going more granular.

1. figure out what key the song is in. know the diatonic chords and scales for this key.

2. identify the different sections. verse, pre-chorus, chorus, bridge, intro, outro, etc.

3. start writing out the chords in each section.

4. start working on each part.
 
Of course notation tells you almost nothing about technique, position, etc.
This is not necessarily correct. Notation that is written specifically for guitar can tell you everything you need to know about these things. Upper-case Roman numerals indicate position, encircled Arabic (regular) numerals tell you what string to play a note on, and Arabic numerals with no circles around them tell you which finger to fret with. There are also notations specific to string bends, barres, glissandos, etc.
You've got to work that out by ear and from experience.
Given that many things a guitarist may have occasion to read will not have been written by or for guitar players, this is a very useful skill. Before I try to sight-read a piece, among other things I'll look for the lowest and highest notes in the piece. This will guide me in identifying what position to start in and where to make position changes.
 
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For me, the most common way to figure out a song when I cannot do it by ear is by loading the MIDI file at the DAW. Then I can listen the chords or the solo note by note by audio-scrolling at the piano roll. I've used Guitar Pro tabs for some complicated solos, but I prefer the DAW. I also like to load the original song into a track and sync it with the MIDI

I also purchase some backing tacks from karaoke-vesion.com and load the separate tracks at the DAW. Very helpful for figuring out separate parts, or mute the guitar track to play along. Quite often they also match with the MIDI file of the same song.
 
This has been a crazy evolution for me. My first band, we all got together and jammed til we had the rough structure of a song, then tweaked it til we had it where we wanted it. Second real band, my first actual professional one, I was the vocalist and the other three guys would each write a song on their own - then we would get together and mash all three into one, discarding parts that didn't fit, keeping ones that did.

A few years later I was the guitar player and main songwriter in a band and I would work the basics of a song out in my head, play it for the drummer and he and I would get the beat set. Then we'd bring in the bass player and tweak it from there to get a final version.

Nowadays, I'm in 3 bands at once (a one-man band, two online bands). We lay the drum tracks and build the guitar parts over those, then add the bass and vocals. It took awhile to get used to doing it this way, since I'd spent decades coming up with riffs and having the drummer lay down a beat under them. Now, it's the other way around, which can be challenging, but also brings out cool inspiration.

Leads? I don't do those. :idk

One of my three bands, Ghost Shadows, has a lead guitar player and he just wails over top of whatever riff we decide is where the solo goes... he's said more than once he literally just blares the song in headphones and pulls some #$#@ out of his @$$ til it sounds killer. :rofl
 
i take a 30,000 foot approach first before going to the minutia. that means learning the key, tempo and basic harmony/changes of the song. then getting more granular, like figuring out how many guitar parts there are, and what the dominant or main ones are. then getting into things like the sound that i should be using, which dictates the gear i choose. the solo is always the last thing.
 
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