Learning To Play Songs Using Guitar Tabs
The main goal for writing this article is to give you some tips for making it easier when learning other peoples songs using guitar tabs. But first, a little background on what it is to be an emotional player….
As a teacher, I always have students asking me to teach them how to play songs by such artists as Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Slash and many other really famous guitarists. Many of these great guitar players are what I like to call “Emotional Players”. When they write and play music, they do so without much thinking or understanding of what is actually going on with the song.
They are playing from the heart and keep trying new things until they end up with a song, lick, chord progression or whatever there looking for. Sometimes this comes very naturally to a player and sometimes it does not. Regardless of the writing process, something to keep in mind is that when a person writes a song, it is most likely easier for them to perform it and play it again for others than it is for someone else to learn and perform it.
Although this may seem obvious when you think about it, a lot of people don’t take that into consideration when learning a song.
Now the tricky part comes in when you, the fan, student or whatever, wants to learn this song. Most people will either learn a song by ear or by finding some form of sheet music or guitar tab.
If you are going at it by ear, then you just keep trying things until it sounds like the tune. If you are going to learn a song by finding a guitar tab for it, then there is a whole different approach that you will need to take.
If it is a good quality guitar tab that you are working with, then you will most likely find that learning the song is a lot harder than you thought because there are so many little changes and differences between the parts. This is because most good tabs will transcribe the song exactly how it is played on the recording.
What you need to remember is that emotional players rarely play the same thing twice, there are always little changes that happen between takes. This can leave the person learning the tune very confused because it’s hard to understand what it’s like to write emotionally and let the music come out of you without thinking about it. When you’re learning another person’s song, you will be approaching it with a whole different mindset than the person who wrote it.
Let’s take the song “All Along The Watchtower” By Jimi Hendrix for example. If you look at what he plays during the 1st verse Vs. the 2nd verse, you will see that they are totally different. The chord progressions are the same, however the lead parts that Jimi plays are different.
Both parts sound great over the chord progression so they are just two different ways to play over the chord changes. The frustrating part for most beginners comes in when they try and learn every little detail of every part.
Now if you are a perfectionist or in a cover band, then it’s important to play the song as close to the original as possible. However, if you are just wanting to learn the song for fun, then what I suggest doing is to first learn and play just the basic chord progression. Once you are comfortable with this, then try and tackle the more difficult and advanced parts.
Another situation to look out for is when you have a bar of music with a lot of single notes that are very close to one another. The trick here is to understand that all these single notes are usually part of one single and basic chord.
Instead of strumming the chord, it’s played by breaking up the notes. To look at an example check out the main verse riff to Metallica’s “Fade To Black”. At first glance you see single notes all over the place.
I’ve seen many beginners approach playing this with just one finger. Now step back and look at it like a group of chords. You will see that the chord progression goes Am, C, G, Em. If you put each of these chord shapes down before playing the part, you will see that you have almost all the notes right under your fingers, all you need to do is play the right strings and your golden.
These are just a couple examples of what to look out for when working with tabs. There are certainly many more tips and tricks you can use to make the process of learning songs quicker and easier but these are the two biggest situations that I see people having the most difficulty with. Keep practicing and learning new songs and the process of using guitar tabs will get easier and easier.