Speed Work and the Metronome

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.

Solo #8 Journey Lights 2:02 – 2:34

Here’s the song — the solo starts at 2:03.

Bear with me through this lengthy story. This song brings a strong memory to me every time I hear it, but it takes a while to tell.

In the summer of 1982, when I turned 15 and had just gotten my learner’s permit, I experienced one of the central adventures of my youth. It was well known to the boys of San Marcos High School that every summer, Texas high schools would send their top drill team girls to Southwest Texas State University (now simply Texas State) to participate in Drill Team Camp.

The girls were holed up in Falls Hall a featureless dormitory facing University Drive, one of San Marcos’ busiest thoroughfares. One afternoon, two friends and I drove down and “chatted up” some of the young women as they poked their heads out of the dorm windows. My friend Hunter was a pretty smooth operator and persuaded a couple of the dancers to sneak out with us later that night. All we had to do was figure out how to get them out without their chaperone knowing. We talked about it and decided we would bring a ladder so they could climb out of their second-floor window.

I seriously thought they were joking, but I snuck out at 11pm that night and drove down to the dorm with an aluminum extension ladder crammed into my parent’s 1979 VW Bus. My other friend Bob decided it was too risky and declined, but Hunter was gung-ho and the girls were true to their word. We propped the ladder up against the side of the dorm in full view of the entire town and they climbed out of the window.

We drove out to 5-Mile Dam, a secluded swimming hole on the Blanco River. It was dark and we were the only ones there. Hunter took one of the girls off into the woods to do who knows what (ok, I think I know), leaving me in the van with the other drill team majorette, whose name I don’t remember, but I think might have been Beth.

I slipped my favorite mix tape into the casette player and we talked. And talked. And talked some more.  I knew that I should make a move, but I couldn’t work up the guts. Then “Lights” by Journey came on the stereo, and I knew this was my chance. It was the perfect moment. I swiveled in the driver’s seat and looked at her. Her young, pretty face was lit up by the radio’s light.

“Beth,” I said.

“Yes?” she replied, looking at me expectantly.

I paused. “Do you like Journey?”

“Um, sure…” she said. I imagine she sounded disappointed, but who knows?

And that was it. The moment passed. Hunter and his girl emerged from the trees and we drove back to the university. When we got back to the dorm, the girls invited us into their room, which they shared with two other dancers. Of course, we wanted to go, but didn’t like the idea of leaving the ladder propped up against the side of the building for anyone to see. So we climbed into their room and pulled the ladder up through the window after us. We sat on their beds talking, with my Dad’s extension ladder stretched out on the floor, until 5 am.

I had another adventure trying to sneak back into my parent’s house at 6 am, but that’s another story and I’ve already written too much. It’s probably for the best that nothing unwholesome happened with Beth, but I’ll always think of “Lights” as a reminder of missed opportunities in the midst of boyhood adventure.

Journey’s guitarist, Neal Schon, was and is an amazing inspiration to me — both before I became a guitarist and since. As much as Steve Perry’s voice, the guitar work on Journey songs is essential to creating their signature sound — Schon’s playing is always distinctive and technically brilliant. Lights is certainly not the most difficult Journey solo I could have chosen, but the meaning the song holds for me won out over my desire for a challenge. There are certainly some difficult parts, but I think I will get it down fairly quickly.

Although Neil played a Gibson Les Paul during the time that Lights was recorded, he went on to design and sell his own line of guitars, one of which is shown below.


Backing Track: http://www.guitarbackingtrack.com/play/journey/lights.htm (Not great, but the best I could find)

Instructional Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v2W9rytIv4M

Tabs: http://www.ultimate-guitar.com/tabs/j/journey/lights_ver2_tab.htm

Performance: Shine on You Crazy Diamond

Sometimes the best way to improve something is to not practice it. I’ve know about this phenomenon since I was a gangly 14-year-old kid who used to go to the arcade every day and try to set the high score on the Tempest machine. I would get slowly and steadily better at it, but it was only after I went on a week’s vacation and came back to machine after a break that I bested my high score, and by a substantial margin. The brain needs some time to process skills.

Last week, I spent 4 days away from my guitar (not by choice, just due to circumstance), and when I came back to it this past weekend, I had improved my ability on this solo, so much so that I felt comfortable recording it today.

David Gilmour’s style is something I don’t think I could ever fully match, but let me know if you think I came close.

Progress Report: Shine On You Crazy Diamond

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.

Solo #7 Pink Floyd Shine On You Crazy Diamond 5:12 – 6:28

There isn’t a good YouTube link to the whole studio version, but this live version is as close as it gets. Here is just the solo in case you don’t want to sit through a 13-minute song: Shine On You Crazy Diamond Solo

I heard my first Pink Floyd song sitting on the red carpet of my family room in Madison, Wisconsin, when I was about 9 or 10 years old. I wasn’t a fan at first — my Dad played Dark Side of the Moon for me and my brother and I thought it was long and boring, and some parts were downright creepy — the ticking clocks, and heartbeats and screaming maniacs and all that. But my Dad was a huge Pink Floyd fan, and he bought each new album and played them for us as they came out.

The next Pink Floyd album my Dad played caught my attention, though. The opening song on Wish You Were Here began with a slow, methodical build with subtle organ tones, with sparse bluesy guitar licks layered over. The first nine minutes of the song were all solo, alternating guitar and keyboard, and David Gilmour’s clean, poetic style made a huge impression on me. His solos were like verses unto themselves, and when the vocals did come in, his interspersed guitar work played like a counter-melody that was haunting and brilliant.

Over the years, I’ve grown to love Pink Floyd, and David Gilmour has become my favorite guitarist. Others might have faster licks, but his brutally clean tone and silky smooth playing makes each solo a story. I can’t even hope to match his style, but I hope to get close enough to do the song justice, and I’m very excited to be learning some of his techniques.


David is known for this signature black Fender Stratocaster. I no longer own a Strat. I have been playing a Gibson Les Paul Studio for all the previous solos, but there’s just no way to get the same tone out of my Les Paul, especially since a tremolo bar is required to match the solo. My good friend George graciously let me borrow his reissue ’57 Strat, so I can come closer to the Gilmour sound. It’s been a joy noodling around on the Strat so far, and I can’t wait to dive more fully into the solo.


Backing Track: http://www.guitarbackingtrack.com/play/pink_floyd/shine_on.htm

Tabs: http://www.911tabs.com/link/?272481

Instructional Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_sZpeOG8EzU


Pink Floyd performing the song live, sans Roger Waters: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5G5pIta5CNU

Performance: More Than a Feeling

I loved learning this solo. It’s such a classic song, that everyone knows, and it’s hard enough that I feel like I’ve really accomplished something. Because this solo has a harmony part, I recorded it twice and have included both parts through the magic of “picture in picture”, which thankfully iMovie makes ridiculously easy.

I think I got pretty close to Tom Sholz signature “Boston Sound” using the Ampkit+ app on my iPad. It really makes practicing and recording these solos a breeze. Let me know how it sounds. I’ll be announcing solo #7 in the next few days.

Where You Been?

Just a quick post to let you know what I’ve been up to. I’ll try not to go more than a week between posts again.

Since my last progress report, I’ve been practicing as much as I can, but some days I’ve missed practice due to a work deadline. I also had to borrow a guitar (thanks George) since I broke one of the machine heads on my Gibson. I’ve ordered replacement Grovers, but they haven’t come in yet.

I’m pretty much ready to record “More Than a Feeling” but I want to wait until I get the new machine head installed before recording it. So look for that in a couple of days. Thanks for hanging in there and following along.

Progress Report: More Than a Feeling

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:

AmpKit: My New Best Friend

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).

Solo #6 Boston More Than a Feeling 2:27 – 3:02

Listen to the song here.

Boston’s 1976 debut album was already 4 years old when I first heard it as a high-school freshman. It was an album built for a turntable, with the epic “Foreplay/Long Time” capping off the first side. I was already a big fan of other arena-rock icons like Styx, Journey and Foreigner, but Boston had a sound that was unique and mesmerizing. No other song typifies that sound better than More Than a Feeling.

The main reason for that unique sound was guitarist Tom Sholz, who pulled an amazing tone out of his 1957 Gibson Goldtop and the “Rockman” preamps and equalizers that he invented. The signature “Boston” sound is maddeningly hard to recreate, especially in the solos, where Tom layered harmony leads over the main lead to give the guitar a full, rich sound that is literally impossible to create with one guitar.

I’m going to go ahead and learn the harmony parts and play and record the solo twice to try to match the sound as close as possible. The vibrato during the bends is going to be the hardest for me, but that’s a technique that I need to master for some of the more challenging solos that are coming up.

I find it interesting and ironic that “More Than a Feeling” has become self-referential. It has become that “old song they used to play” that makes me nostalgic and instantly brings me back to my teenage years. It’s songs like this that planted the seed in me to become a guitarist, and playing the solo is going to be like living out a fantasy. I sincerely hope to do it justice.


Instructional Video: http://www.vanderbilly.com/Guitar-Lesson-Boston+-+More+Than+a+Feeling+(solo),7149,1.html

Harmony lesson: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rZTI88P3GrY

Tabs: http://www.ultimate-guitar.com/tabs/b/boston/more_than_a_feeling_solo_ver2_tab.htm

More tabs: http://www.songsterr.com/a/wa/song?id=311

Backing Track: http://guitarbackingtrack.com/play/boston/more_than_a_feeling_(3).htm


The original music video. I firmly believe Boston’s drummer Sib Hashian was the inspiration for “Animal” from the Muppets.

Rare video of Boston performing “More Than a Feeling” live in 1979: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5AlzsP4jN1E

A demonstration of the “Rockman” sound: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6jPcvUBD5vE