What a Stanford Experimental Psychologist Can Teach You About Playing Guitar Solos Part 2

How to Learn Any Solo Part 2

This article is part of a series. See Part 1 here.

I was watching an interview with top Experimental Psychologist BJ Fogg a few weeks ago. He was talking about how, for health reasons, he wanted to drink more tea. He assessed the system around him-he had no teas, and the only way he could boil water was to microwave it in a Perspex container. Being an expert in behavioural change, he knew this system would fail (the game was too hard to win, long term). He decided straight away to get all the equipment he needs. (I don’t really understand how a man 45+ doesn’t have a kettle, but I digress)

He bought a kettle that boils water in record time. He buys ten flavours of teas, strainers, everything he needs.

Two weeks in, he’s drank tea every day. He’s rigged the game in his favour.

Rigging The Game

So, let’s dig into the tactical side of things. What system can we create to rig the game in our favour and make it as easy as possible to learn a new solo, one bar at a time? Here’s my current system:

Strategy #1 – Guitar pro/Power tab

This is the game changing tactic right here. Instead of listening to the solo at full speed, trying to sync it with the paper tab, I use guitar pro to play it out for me. It plays a little bit like a karaoke machine, and it makes it easy to hear straight away whether the tab is correct or not. Faster solos tend to have parts that sound weird out of context, so being able to instantly verify that it’s correct is a huge time saver.

It’s also superior to listening to a slowed down version of the song, because you get to see the solo move note for note, just like karaoke. You can also loop specific sections that you find difficult.

Click here to see how I use Guitar Pro

I don’t see as many power tabs online as I used to, but it’s a good free option if you don’t want to buy guitar pro.

Strategy #2 – Stop! Break it down.

The first thing I do is slow everything way down. If the piece is at 160 Bpm, I put it to 60. Remember, you want to rig the game in your favour. Speed will come naturally later with good technique. I have a phrase I like to tell my students – there isn’t a single piece of music in the world you couldn’t play flawlessly if you slowed it down enough. I’m not playing at 100% yet, but it’s a start, and an easy start at that.

Strategy #3 – Looping

I also like to loop the bars I’m learning. For the unfamiliar, this is where I set guitar pro to repeat a bar over and over. It sounds just like when a CD breaks and plays the same 5 seconds of music over and over, except you can control where and when the CD skips. This means I can get a bar in about 1 to 5 minutes, depending on the complexity. Having played for years, I can see patterns quickly, but even a beginner can memorise by rote with one bar a day. I’ve rigged the game so it’s easy to learn the solo. No transcription, just sit down, hit play and copy.

Strategy #4 – Clean It Up

This is probably the most ‘obvious’ one. Make sure it’s really easy to read the tab. The goal is always to make it super easy to learn the bar, so you should be able to read it quickly and easily.

This method has made a real impact on my ability to learn solos. I’m halfway through Marty Friedman’s Tornado of souls solo and I love it. Learning has been a breeze with this method (rigging the game) and as someone who’s never really learned solos before this is a nice change.


Do I really have to learn the solo so slow?

I like to start at that speed to make it really easy, but once I have it memorised I like to play faster. Make it fun!

How do I loop a bar in guitar pro?

The short cuts in GP6 are the [ and ] keys, but you can also go ‘Bar’ > ‘Repeat Open’ > ‘Repeat Close’. You can also loop larger sections, for speed training later on.

How tight should my rhythm be? Should it be just like the solo?

Yes, the solo played at a slow speed should be just that – the solo played at a slow speed. I do make exceptions for when there are long rests – I skip those.

If I know the section is going to require a lot of work later, like if it’s insanely fast and moves between triplets and semi quavers, I don’t worry about getting it perfect. Notes in the right order will do for now for the very technical passages. Later on, we can perfect the rhythm, but right now let’s keep the momentum going – let’s just get that tricky triplet bar in the right order and come back and perfect it later.

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