I have had a lot of people ask me lately, how to transcribe an "improvised" solo. It seems to be easy for us all to learn something that's well composed, structured and thought out. That gives us some easy ways to remember things, but it's much harder to learn something raw and unfiltered- like an improvised solo.
But doing that will help you understand how Hendrix for example improvised like he did, and it gives you a chance to steal some of his vocabulary and own it... And since I do it all the time for Guitartricks (and fun!) I've perfected my method, and I wanna share it with you, since I wish someone would have told me some of these thing years ago.....
1) Listening and Memorizing! First step is always to memorize the solo. And this is where most guitar players go wrong, because you don't need your guitar for this part of the learning process. You just need to get the song into your head so you can sing it. Sitting with your guitar for this part will just make you wanna play and therefore you'll miss details and you're not really memorizing- you're playing!
I do this part in my car. I live in L.A., so I spend a lot of hours there. But you can do it anywhere. Just don't hold your guitar!! I burn a CD with a version of the song that just has the solo (You can download "Audacity" for free online and do it there), and then you just take it one lick at a time.
Learn to sing the first lick of the solo and go back again and again until you have it (having just the solo on the CD means that you only have to press "back" as opposed to searching for it). Then you get the next lick and so on, and as you move on, the first licks become easier and easier. Don't move faster than you can memorize though. This might take a while, but it's really good for your playing, even if you never get to complete the rest of the process. This will give you a ton of ideas for next time you pick up your guitar.
2) Figuring It Out! When you can sing the whole solo, it's time to start figuring it out. So pick up your guitar and figure out how to play the lines/licks you already "know". I use a great program called "Transcribe!" for this. It's $50, but they let you try it 30 days for free. Don't confuse this part with practicing! We're not there yet- just figure out what the notes are.... This is where the Song Lessons on Guitartricks.com are extremely helpful. But the rest of the work you have to do yourself!
3) Visualizing! Then you start visualizing. For me this part happens naturally in 1), but if you haven't already visualized it, this is the time to do it. So listen without your guitar and visualize playing it- this is a great thing to do while cleaning the house or traveling etc. Here you may catch some extra details.
4) Memorizing and practicing! Now you start memorizing without the song. So try to play through the whole solo without the song playing. And when you get to something you can't remember, just go back and listen to that specific part of the song. Then turn it off and continue playing it by yourself. When you get to something you can't play- stop and practice it. I always know that I have to forget and relearn something about 3-4 times until it sticks....
When you can play through the whole song like this, you got it and you find yourself in Hendrix' or whoever you're transcribing's shoes!
5) Making It Your Own!
This is the fun part that seems to be my Guitartricks cliche. But this is where you really get to OWN all the new vocabulary, and this is where all your discipline and hard work pays off. If you don't do this part, you won't get the full payout from all the hard work you've just done.... So....
Take each lick, concept, rhythm and find out how to adapt the key, the rhythm and the feel to other musical contexts. This part you can do, even if you only learned one lick from a whole solo. Here are some concepts to think about for this:
a) Timing and Rhythm: What kinds of rhythms does this guy/girl play. For example: Stevie Ray Vaughan plays long phrases with triplets, where Clapton mostly sticks to eight notes and sixteenth notes. Try and play other licks/notes with the same rhythm. Does he play long or short phrases?
b) Scales and Note choices: What kinds of notes/scales does he use? Any cool sounding notes that you wouldn't have played? Find them and come up with a lick that uses them...
c) Tricks and Techniques: Any cool position changes? Use of pickup switch or volume control in a lick? Open string tricks?
d) Tone: What kind of tone does this person use? Lots of gain? Clean tone? Reverb/delay? Etc. Which of these effects can you use? If none at all, figure out how to adapt all your new licks to work with the tone that you like to use...
e) Etc etc etc.....
Please share your ways to learn songs! Any tips or tricks you have may help someone! Both instructors and users here on GT learn songs note for note all the time in the song lessons, so I'm sure you all have a lot of great ways to do it...
It's hard to not want to play it right away, but this is very true. When I focus and listen to a solo I hear all kinds of stuff. And don't hear! Sometimes my brain inserts notes that aren't actually there just because the preceding sequence suggests it.
Good thread by the way!
You might be interested in this thread:
They did an experiment to see if people would automatically fill in notes to a scale if they were left out. It was to test cultural differences in music and see if different cultures would include or leave out different tones.
I don't think I need to; I know I do :)
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