Monday, August 11, 2008

The last .9%

Hey hey hey!

Wowie Zowie, it's Monday again. Hard to believe.

But regardless of chronological conundrums (can you believe I just spelled that without spellchecker?), I've got a nifty challenge for you today.

Another insight from my trip last weekend: I was wrestling my Camaro up a realllly bumpy mountain road, listening to some Van Halen. Man, Eddie's tone, rhythm, and phrasing in this one particular song are just impeccable. I was wondering how many cats tried to cover the song, and got 99.9% there, and then stopped. Eric Johnson's Cliffs of Dover is a great example. I saw some guy on YouTube shred it up....But he was missing that final .9%

And that's an important percentage. Moreover, I don't think you can learn it from tab.

Eddie himself says that "No teacher, book, or video can teach you rock 'n roll guitar." It's in the playing along with the records, CD's, and mp3's that one picks up the subtle nuances of the genre...Any genre, for that matter. Jazz guys always insist that a student transcribe great solos and songs by ear, for example.

Looking up tabs from Ultimate Guitar, buying books, and watching videos are all fantastic ways to learn, and I use 'em all the time. However, here's the point. Don't stop once you've learned the note. The note is only part of the equation. How is the guy or gal on the recording playing the note? What picking dynamics are they using? Tone? Feel? Emotion? What's the feeling behind the note?

Figuring a song out by ear is a great way to practice this, but you can use tab or sheet music, too. Just go that extra mile to totally get it.

Take a listen to Van Halen's Beautiful Girls. It took me a few times listening to it through headphones to realize that the chorus riff isn't as big as it sounds - but the feeling behind it is, so the riff serves it's purpose, and conveys it to the listener.

Strive for that extra .9%, not to clone the guitarist, but to learn everything you can from them. That way, you can add that extra percentage to your playing, and your riffs.

Rock on!

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