I know. I know. It’s been forever since I posted. I bet you thought I had given up on this project.
But no. I’m still here and still plugging away. The summer was difficult as there is not a set routine, and finding the time to practice proved hard, but since school has started and I am back on a predictable routine, I’ve been practicing religiously. It’s starting to pay off.
Here’s a very rough video of where I am on Best Friend’s Girl. It’s by far the most difficult solo I’ve tried to learn, but I think I’m getting there. Let me know in the comments.
Well, after about a month and a half away from my guitar, I finally have started daily practicing again. It feels good, except that I had let my callouses go away and I now have large painful blisters on my first three fingers. I’m getting really close on this solo, but I’m not quite there yet. I think another few days to a week and I’ll be there.
This was recorded on my iPhone using the front camera, so the quality is not as good as my usual posts, but I just wanted to get something quick and dirty out so my blog didn’t get too stale. Let me know what you think.
On Sunday February 13, my mother passed away after a six-year battle with ovarian cancer. She was 67. Needless to say I’ve been distracted from this project and haven’t had the time to practice like I want. However, I’m still committed to the project and have been slowly making progress on Wanted Dead or Alive.
The notes of the solo are not difficult, but it is just loaded with pinch harmonics (“squealies”) and I’m just starting to be able to learn how to generate them consistently. This one may take me a while, but the learning process will be worth it.
I’m going to try to post more often and maybe record a “progress report” so you can see how it’s coming along. Thanks for sticking with me. More to come…
After a week and a half of daily practice, I have this solo down… except… for… one… freaking… part! If you view the song here, the part I’m pulling my hair out about is at 2:22. It’s a fast-moving downward run that I just can’t play cleanly. I know all the notes, but I can’t move my fingers fast enough with enough precision to play it … not yet anyway.
So, I’ve broken out the metronome for the first time in this project. It’s not a real metronome — my iPad app AmpKit+ has a built-in one that works great. The song runs at about 195 bpm, so I started practicing that run at 120 bpm. I could do it pretty easily at 120, so I moved up to 130 and then 140, upping the tempo each time I was able to play it cleanly 5 times through at that speed. I’m now working at 180 bpm. I think a couple more days practice and I should be able to do 195 — at least I’m hoping.
This kind of problem was one that I was anticipating and actually looking forward to overcoming. Some of the solos that are still to come have incredibly fast parts, and I’ll need to have good learning techniques in place, and a heightened dexterity to be able to play them. It is the first time, though, that I’ve run up against a real wall, where I’ve learned every other part of the solo to performance quality, but can’t quite get one part. I’m sure it won’t be the last.
There’s a word in the guitar world for super-fast finger work. It’s called shredding, and certain guitarists have based their entire careers on it. It’s pretty amazing if a little one dimensional. Check out this guy to see what I’m talking about.
I know it’s been a while since I posted, and the truth is I’ve been heads down learning this solo. I feel really good about where I am, and I recorded this video in the anticipation of it being the final performance video, but I’m not quite there yet.
The issue is that David Gilmour is a frustratingly precise guitarist. His timing is really hard to match, and with the clean sound of the guitar, any mistake is glaringly obvious. While there aren’t too many mistakes in this performance, there are enough that I’m not satisfied with it. I’m going to work on it for another week and see where I am.
Thanks again to George Coller for the Strat loaner. I think it sounds awesome on this song.
I’ve been working on this solo for about four days, and I’m loving it. This is why I started this project!
Here’s an audio mix of where I am on the solo currently. It’s in pretty good shape, but I really need to get it cleaner and more polished. This also shows how I am able to record the harmony parts and mix the solo together so that it sounds closer to what’s on the album.
I’m not sure what I’m going to do when I record the video — I guess I could split screen it if I can figure out how to do that in iMovie, but either way I think it’s going to turn out very nice. Take a listen:
This project just got a whole lot easier.
I have always been a huge iPhone fan, and I’ve had an iPad for a few months now, so I’m always looking for new useful apps. I found one last week that is an utterly indispensable tool for guitarists. It’s made learning and recording these solos much, much easier.
The program is called AmpKit and it’s made by AgilePartners, the developers who created Guitar Toolkit, which I’ve had for a couple of years. It’s an amp and effects simulator that models real-world amplifiers, effects pedals, speaker cabinets and microphones, giving you a wide range of latitude in creating different guitar sounds, from simple and clean to raunchy and hard. I’ve only been playing with it for a short time, but it’s already made a huge difference in how I approach my practice.
In addition to the amp simulation, it has full recording capabilities, and I can upload audio files as backing tracks that I can play over. When I record a track, I can tweak the amp settings as much as I want after I’ve recorded it (it keeps the dry guitar signal). When I have the recording exactly how I want it, I can pull the file off via a web browser or upload it to SoundCloud. Then I can mix it in Audacity with the backing track (which synchronizes perfectly) and drop the mixed audio into iMovie to get a much better sound than I’d been getting with my camera’s crappy mic.
You can see the results on my last performance of Take It on the Run.
I purchased the AmpKit LiNK adapter ($29.99 from Amazon) that allows me to plug my guitar directly into my iPad and connect a headphone or external amplifier to monitor the output. I like to stand my iPad up in the dock connector and use the dock’s audio out to run to my amp or headphones. It’s a sweet setup that makes me much more efficient while practicing and recording.
They are supposedly coming out with a universal app that’s built for iPad in addition to the iPhone, and I can’t wait to see how they use the additional screen real-estate. The iPhone version looks a bit pixellated and cramped on the iPad. I hope they also consider adding the ability to share set-ups between users and moving pedals and amps between different installations of the program (ie, on my iPhone).
Note: There are two versions of the program, the free version (AmpKit) and the paid version (AmpKit+ for $19.99) — they are exactly the same except that the paid version is bundled with a good collection of amps and pedals, while the free version has only a couple. Both allow in-app purchases to add to your collection. Note that if you purchase an amp or effect in the free version it does not transfer over to AmpKit+. (I was able to get a refund from Apple, but it’s still kind of a hassle).
I really thought this one would be less challenging. That’s why I put it as solo #4. I thought I would breeze through it, especially after learning the Nirvana song and Go Your Own Way, each in under a week. I’ve been practicing Mississippi Queen for 12 days, and I still feel like I’ve got a week or more to go before I’m ready to perform it.
Here’s are a couple of reasons this one is taking longer than I thought:
- It’s longer than the others. At 2:29, this is more than twice the length of the other solos I’ve learned. It also has a lot more notes. I was actually still learning pieces of the song a couple of days ago.
- There’s a lot to remember. I’ve got it memorized, but when I play it, I tend to mix up a part or play the wrong piece. It’s frustrating when I’m practicing, but when I perform it, I’m going to blow a gasket when I mess up at two minutes in. I don’t want to even try to perform it until I can play it through without forgetting or mixing up sections.
- It’s freaking hard. Most of the song I can play without too much trouble, but the section at the end that intersperses solo and rhythm is giving me tremendous heartburn. I know what I’m supposed to play, but in the heat of the song, my fingers won’t do what I want them to do.
I know this is all part of the grind of practice, and I’m not complaining — I’m putting in a minimum of an hour every day, and I’m still enjoying every minute of it. I just wanted to let those of you who are following along why I haven’t put up my performance of this “easy” song. It’s not as easy as it looked.
I have never spent much time learning someone else’s work. I played cover songs in Second Glance before, but in all those cases I made it a point not to try to sound too much like the original. I “made it my own” as they say, and thus I only had to approximate the original. I’m not ashamed of that. In that situation, I think it was the right thing to do — we weren’t a cover band, so we wanted to bring our own sound to the songs.
But with this project, the point is to learn the solos as the original guitarist played them, and it’s definitely challenging. Tonight I had a breakthrough moment with this first solo. It’s that moment where you not only know the notes the guitarist is playing, but the intent behind the notes. You suddenly understand the way they are supposed to be played. It’s that moment where it all makes sense and you understand what Brian May was thinking when he crafted the solo.
I don’t want to oversell the moment. It wasn’t a life-changing epiphany, but it was enough of a genuine breakthrough that I wanted to write about it. I’m only at the foot of this tall mountain that I’ve set myself up to climb, and each encouraging step makes it seem worthwhile.
As far as learning the solo for We Will Rock You, it’s still pretty sloppy, and I’m only half-way through the hard part, but I “got it” tonight in a way that I hadn’t been able to the last few times. I had forgotten how much joy there was in working on something until it clicks. I’m glad I’m rediscovering that.
My guitar came back from the shop today, so I figured I had to go ahead and practice. My goal throughout this project is to practice an hour a day. This is highly ambitious given my work, family and community duties, but I figure it’s better to set an ambitious goal and fail, than to succeed at mediocrity. I put in more than an hour today, and I’m happy with where I am.
My guitar had been at Austin Instrument Repair for 10 days. It’s a Gibson Les Paul Studio, from 1991. I hadn’t played it in probably 12 years, since my second band Love Blender broke up. There was a ton of rust on the frets, a lot of the hardware was broken or missing, and the pots were all crackly. But Richard Fry fixed it up nice — the only thing keeping it from looking brand new is the wear I put on the paint in a couple of spots. He even fixed a small crack in the head that I had put there when I swapped out the original machine heads for Grovers.
I’ve gotten the basic structure of the solo down. It’s got three parts, a brief “power chord” introduction, with the last part of that played up on the neck. Second, there’s a set of arpeggios centered around the A chord up on the neck, and then there’s a series of repetitive power chords at the end.
I worked a lot on playing “clean” power chords, which means when I pick each string slowly I get a clean note. I wasn’t succeeding very well, and this is partly because I’m rusty and partly because I was always a little sloppy with power chords, since there’s usually so much distortion and effect on the guitar, most people can’t tell. But Brian May is playing it clean, so I’m going to try to do the same.
The arpeggios are going to take some time, but in my brief practice today, I did not feel they were out of reach, and that has given me a much needed sense of confidence on my first day of practice.