Speed of learning solos


maggior
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maggior
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07/02/2014 4:44 pm
Over the past year, I've noticed that some solos and riffs I can pick up very quickly. Within an hour or two, I'll have it all down and can play it from memory with or without a backing track. Examples of this would be Let it Be, Day Tripper, and Whole Lotta Love.

Then there are those that don't seem much more difficult, but will take hours to get one piece down, days for the entire thing. During this time I'll have to keep going back and refreshing what I had done already. It can then take a week or two for me to be able to commit it to memory to the point where I can play it with or without a backing track and feel the rhythm in what I'm playing. Hard to Handle and China Grove are examples of this.

For instance, I had finally nailed the first half of the China Grove solo the other night. I played it over a loop I recorded of the rhythm part. 10 times in a row I played it flawlessly - yes I counted!! The next day, I couldn't do it and kept messing up timing and throwing extra notes in. It's like my fingers insist on some of the phrases being different. Some of the phrases are unlike anything I've played before.

Does this get better with time? Is it a matter of expanding your phrase vocabulary to the point where everything is just a variation on something you've done before?

Lord help me if I ever decide to learn something like Fade to Black (Metallica) with it's really long intro and solo! It would take me a year :-).

Anybody else go through this? Does it get better? Is it a matter of my "musical memory" isn't what it could/should be?
# 1
Steve Barrow
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Steve Barrow
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07/02/2014 7:37 pm
Hi Rich,
It's an interesting topic, and I've found the same thing. Obviously some solos are more difficult than others. But I often react very differently to solos of roughly the same intrinsic difficulty. Like I mastered the solo to 'Let it Be' in a few hours, while it took me ages to suss out 'Rock me Baby'. I haven't got a clue why that should be - they're both short, relatively simple, and I've heard (and loved) them being played hundreds of times. So I'd like to know more about the complex relationship between the song and the guitarist - maybe someone on GT can explain, although it sounds like a subject for a music PhD! At the same time, I think it's easier to understand the other phenomenon, where a guitarist's performance of a particular solo varies from one day to another - it's probably just down to down to tiredness, stress, distraction, the kids, and (in my case) shouts from downstairs that I need to quit practising and get to the store before it closes!
Best wishes,
Steve
# 2
fretsmith
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fretsmith
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07/02/2014 9:28 pm
Ditto. Maybe this a common/normal thing? I've had the same experience(s)...especially the memory part. I can put the necessary time into learning a piece so that I'm pretty happy with it ...play it numerous times for couple of weeks ... then a couple weeks later I try to play it and it's like starting over. ugh. I admit I am very tab-dependent and have a pretty lazy/weak ear and a rather undisciplined practice regimen. Plus I was the classic stoner in the 70's and I'm pretty sure I have a brain cell graveyard in my head. hmmmm... I think I just answered my own query.

Good Luck - Take Care
# 3
maggior
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maggior
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07/03/2014 2:08 am
At least I know I'm not alone... :-).

I have to deal with interruptions too, so I understand that Steve B.

Today, playing along with the original recording I was able to nail the first half of the solo, so it's still there somewhere... It was a long road getting there though.

Yes, I'd be interested in feedback from either GT instructors or more experienced folk. I'm curious to know if there is hope to get past this. Some people seem to be able to pick this stuff up at will. I have the ability to play these things obviously, it just takes me time to get it into my muscle memory so my fingers don't feel like they are tripping over eachother.
# 4
fretsmith
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fretsmith
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07/03/2014 4:42 am
Some time back I brought up the whole "talent" subject ... maybe some people just have a propensity for music/guitar. It comes easier for them, their head is just wired for music? They can more easily communicate with their fingers to achieve what they hear in their head.

For the most part it got shot down in favor of a "with enough practice anyone can do it" mindset. I'm still sellin' the talent angle. I think some people just have something in their DNA that makes the whole math/science/art of music (or playing a guitar as it applys here) easier to digest and execute. Sure, there's plenty to be said for practice but I sure would like a little helping of that "talent" thing.

Hey Rich- how about that crazy bend in bar 4 of the WLL solo? I can't get it - I have to move up a couple of frets and settle for a 1 1/2 step bend. For a short solo it's great- looking forward to your video :) Good Luck
# 5
haghj500
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haghj500
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07/03/2014 4:42 am
You ever learn a joke or a saying one day only to forget parts the next day. I think it is normal no matter what you are trying to do.

From reading your posts, while you have played for a long time, not too much of that time has been spent just working on solos, so your fingers have learned to jog, not to run yet. When the movements and new patterns become more automatic, your brain will spend less time/resources making them do what you want. Not watching your fingers as you move them, may help you advance faster than you currently are. I always connect more and play better when my eyes are closed, playing chords or lead. The strings and frets don't move, get to know your instrument.

I think there is "muscle memory" and "brain trust" in the muscles to do the right thing, before it all works in harmony. For me playing with my eyes shut works on both at the same time.

When I finger pick my mind hears what it wants and my right hand just makes it happen. I can watch it and think of another sound and it just does it. Of course that's not true for a new patterns.
# 6
bbzswa777
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bbzswa777
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07/03/2014 6:05 am
I've experienced the same kind of thing. Perfect example right now:

I've been working on the solo from Beast and the Harlot by A7X. I would say the difficulty level is somewhere in between intermediate and difficult, and it's actually pretty fast. Add the fact that I've only been playing 9 months and you can see why I struggled!

But anyway, I started out playing the solo at 50% speed. I use The Amazing Slow Downer to slow down songs or speed them up so I can play along to them. I started out at 50% over a month ago, and after practicing it every day, I'm not up to 88%. Almost there! And there are some days where my fingers know exactly what to do, and then there are some days where I'll throw in an extra note which throws off my alternate picking towards the end of the solo (the hardest part). But I found that after a couple days of slowing back down and playing it over and over again (like 100 times), my fingers now know exactly what to do. It's like second nature, I don't even have to think about it. When it becomes that natural, it's so much easier to speed up. Also, realistically, I've probably repeated this solo a couple thousand times by now! I'm sure an experienced guitarist could learn it much quicker. But my skill level was low going into this.

Another thing I noticed is that while it's smart to spend the majority of your time using a backing track or metronome, it's a good idea to sometimes just play with none of that. Especially while you're trying to play a piece faster than you have before. When you don't have to worry about timing or a drum beat, you can really just focus on your hands and moving your fingers faster. But then of course you want to eventually go back to playing to a beat.

I hope that helps in some way!

(*by the way, most of the tabs out there for this song are wrong, very wrong. The most accurate I've found is actually the game Rocksmith, which I slowly paused over and over again to write down the tab from the game. Cause I don't play the game anymore. So if you want an accurate tab let me know!)
# 7
maggior
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maggior
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07/03/2014 4:47 pm
Lots of great input here. There's definitely a talent angle...just like with anything. Some people have to work harder than others to learn, just look at students in college. Anybody can learn to write software, but it comes much easier to some people.

So we are really talking about memorization...which I was never good at :-). I was always a "look it up" kind of guy. My grades in history class were never good :-).

Using a drum beat or a backing track makes it easier because I can identify specifically where a note should be hit or a phase should start or end. This helped me with the China Grove solo.

When I was going over China Grove yesterday, my fingers just seemed to go where they needed to, like you described Hagh. Getting to that point is good because you can then put some nuances in there. The flip side is sometimes if you start thinking about what you are doing, you lose it :-).

Something else I try to do is when I'm listening to the song is visualize the fingering while listening.

Slowing things down is a great help too to "get it under your fingers"...good point. Once you get that you can bring it up to speed.

@fretsmith - for that wild bend in the WLL solo, I am probably not getting to the right note - I bend up as far as I can, which might be a little about 1.5 step. I'll have to listen again. I'm also not playing it exact - but it's very close. I fake my way through the open position pull offs, which at point sounds like I'm playing it the right way. I'll revisit that because that's a technique I want to learn - I have to develop the coordination.


One other question...does learning theory help memorizing things like solos? I've read that it helps classical pianists. My theory is weak, but I will know what key I'm playing in. In the China Grove lesson, Anders points out that the first half is played using the E major pentatonic scale and moves to E minor pentatonic. Knowing that just means if I get balled up, I can improvise something that will at least be in key.
# 8
maggior
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maggior
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07/03/2014 4:53 pm
Originally Posted by: haghj500You ever learn a joke or a saying one day only to forget parts the next day. I think it is normal no matter what you are trying to do.

From reading your posts, while you have played for a long time, not too much of that time has been spent just working on solos, so your fingers have learned to jog, not to run yet. When the movements and new patterns become more automatic, your brain will spend less time/resources making them do what you want. Not watching your fingers as you move them, may help you advance faster than you currently are. I always connect more and play better when my eyes are closed, playing chords or lead. The strings and frets don't move, get to know your instrument.

I think there is "muscle memory" and "brain trust" in the muscles to do the right thing, before it all works in harmony. For me playing with my eyes shut works on both at the same time.

When I finger pick my mind hears what it wants and my right hand just makes it happen. I can watch it and think of another sound and it just does it. Of course that's not true for a new patterns.


Good analogy with the joke.

Yes, I've been playing a long time. During that time I played many of the same songs over and over again. I would also learn snippets and riffs. I never did focus on learning entire songs, both rhythm and lead. That's the difference I think...especially for lead. I can run playing rhythm, but jogging on lead. At least my jogging pace is increasing :-).
# 9
Kasperow
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Kasperow
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07/03/2014 7:30 pm
Hey, Rich. You're not the only one who feels this way. I've not exactly played for anywhere near as long as you, but in my now 2 years of playing, I've found that some riffs and licks come much easier than others. Generally, to me it seems that slow, melodic parts of solos come easier than faster shred-parts (might be that it's because of my lacking speed, but it might also just be that I have an easier time memorizing slower, melodic parts...). In fact, it only took me two attempts to learn the lead parts for "Without You" by Mötley Crüe perfectly, and 4 or 5 attempts to learn "Knockin' On Heaven's Door" as played by Guns N' Roses. On the other hand, anything that involves Arpeggios or stuff like "Eat The Rich" or "Livin' On The Edge" (both by Aerosmith) just keeps avoiding me, no matter how hard I try!

It's annoying, but I intend to get those faster tunes that I'd actually enjoy playing Live into my finger-tips, no matter how long I'll have to practice to get them there :)

Just keep going at it, and you won't have much to worry about :)
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# 10
JeffS65
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JeffS65
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07/04/2014 11:22 am
Something to keep in mind, when you learn another's solo, you are playing their timing and sense of melody and not your own. That means it will never be as note perfect as the originals.

Take for instance the songs the instructors have on this site. They are awesome and this is a site full of talented instructors. But, when you learn that lesson, you can hear a slight variation from the original simply because it is not the original artist. It's no less awesome though.

You are trying to emulate the time and feel of another person, that is very hard.

To the part of the conversation about 'talent'. Talent helps but I'd had a great friend and music mentor a great many moons ago point out that great players play constantly. Steve Vai can probably play anything by anyone, but he practiced an insane amount of time in his life.

This means that he has played different styles of timing, bends, vibrato and melodic patterns. He has that catalog to draw from. I'm guessing none of us here can claim that...so we draw from whatever amount of time we've invested.

That said, a natural feel (talent) for the instrument does help and makes the take off a little quicker. However, guitar rarely has any shortcuts. Talent only gets you so much before you have to do something to improve it.
# 11
fretsmith
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fretsmith
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07/04/2014 4:33 pm
"...so we draw from whatever amount of time we've invested."

Well put Jeffs
# 12
maggior
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maggior
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07/04/2014 5:17 pm
Originally Posted by: JeffS65Something to keep in mind, when you learn another's solo, you are playing their timing and sense of melody and not your own. That means it will never be as note perfect as the originals.



This is part of the reason I'm investing time to learn other solos. I want to expand my own timing and sense of melody. Often I find combinations of things I would never have thought of myself.

You are right that the amount of time you have to invest in learning has a big bearing too. Realizing that helped with my motivation because it helps me keep my expectations of myself realistic.
# 13
maggior
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maggior
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07/07/2014 12:15 pm
So now I have the first half of the China Grove solo down...and of course I think "what was so hard!" :-). I also have found that my improvisation has gotten better.

There were some subtle timing things in this solo that I'm wasn't used to. Same thing with another solo I've been working on - Whole Lotta Love.

For China Grove, I kept wanting to put other notes in there, Whole Lotta Love I kept feeling like there wasn't enough "space" to get all of the notes in.

For me personally, this proves out the importance of learning solos and *striving* to get them exact. I say striving because there are cases where I will say "good enough" so I can move on and not get totally buried. For instance, the 2nd mini solo in WLL has a bunch of pull-offs that I still have to get my head around. In the mean time, I do hammer-on and pull-offs that feel more natural to me and sound VERY close.

So I've learned that it's worth putting in the effort to learn solos to help expand your vocabulary, get your fingers used to different patterns, and get your brain and fingers used to different timing. I have to believe that as you learn more of a variety of solos, it will get easier to learn new ones. In the end, it takes what it takes :-).
# 14

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