Songs and Satisfaction

Hello Everybody.

I may change this title. I’m not really sure how to summarise this post into a descriptive title. I’d like to share some thoughts and reflections I’ve had recently about my relationship with the guitar.

Many of you know that I’ve been quite focused on developing an understanding of the mechanics and principles of fretting hand efficiency for some time. The specifics of my study of fretting really isn’t the topic I wish to explore in this post. However, as part of this study I’ve devised a large number of efficient patterns and sequences, which I’ve been spending time practicing. The goal is not only to test my ideas, but also to take these coordinations as a basis from which I can go on to build new musical vocabulary.

For now, let’s just say that I think I’m past proof of concept for these ideas in my own playing, and that I may have become a little carried away in this exploration.

I had a bad experience at work last week, and I was in a bad mood when I got home. To try to get my mind off things, I picked up my guitar and started practicing some digital patterns. A few minutes in, my girlfriend asked why I don’t play more songs. I realise now that she was genuinely curious, and that she meant nothing negative by it. She has been regularly subjected to atonal woobledybloop nonsense for over a year, I suppose at a certain point she has to wonder what it’s all for. However, my mood as it was, this upset me.

I’ve been playing guitar now for over 20 years, and in that time I’ve learned hundreds of songs. However, I don’t learn new songs very often anymore. I could quickly relearn any song I’ve learned before, and I would have no unusual difficulties learning new songs. Honestly though, right now I’d have only a very small repetoire of songs that I would be able to perform if I were given a guitar and pushed out onto a stage this evening.

So, I thought about the reasons I don’t focus on learning songs. Several reasons occurred to me, some which I feel are totally valid, others which perhaps hint at a general dissatisfaction with my relationship with the guitar.

I am not a performing guitarist or a guitar teacher. I simply don’t need a large repetoire of songs that I can perform or teach at a moments notice. I gave up all aspirations I had to play guitar in any professional capacity over a decade ago. On one level it was a difficult decision, I had spent thousands of hours of my youth working towards that goal. On another level, it was liberating. I felt that I could finally learn and practice the things that most interested me, with the goal of helping myself to become the player I most wanted to be, rather than the player I felt I needed to be to get into bands and get gigs. In any case, there’s no professional impetus to learn songs.

Also, since I began my career, I’ve moved away from home. It’s been years since I’ve been able to meet any of my musician friends to play music together. I don’t know any local musicians, and so my time playing guitar is time spent alone. I’m really not much of a singer, and I’ve never want to be “the guy with the guitar” at social gatherings, but if I’m ever handed an acoustic guitar and asked to play something I already have a few songs that fit my voice. Not many, but more than enough for that context. There’s really no social motivation for me to learn songs.

I think more significantly, I don’t really feel any sense of satisfaction or accomplishment from learning songs, at least not those that most listeners would recognise. I always feel silly saying it, but I am an advanced guitarist. There really isn’t going to be much in popular songs which I will find difficult or challenging. For most vocal music, even the process of playing through the song in full is a bit tedious. As I said, I’m really not much a singer, and it’s not exactly engaging to sit repeating the basic verse and chorus patterns of most songs until the end, or until a guitar solo starts. I know I should at least transcribe songs regularly to keep my ears sharp, but a lot of the time this kind of practice feels like pointless busy work.

A natural idea then would be to try to learn something more difficult. Some members on this forum have mentioned they think the real test of your technique is to play through full “shred” pieces from beginning to end. At the risk of sounding arrogant, I’ve been there and I’ve done that. This isn’t to say that there aren’t pieces that wouldn’t be a challenge, of course there are.

However, on a practical level this just doesn’t make sense as a standard operating procedure. If I want to learn a Holdsworth or Gambale piece for example, there usually aren’t tabs available so I have to do it myself. It’s a big time investment just to get the notes on the page. However, most of that type of playing really isn’t possible unless you understand how the notes are mapped to the fretboard, and working through the various permutations is also very time consuming. Then there’s the time investment to practice the piece and get in under the fingers.

This isn’t “learning a song,” it’s a project that takes months. Often after transcribing and mapping to the fretboard, I’ve often heard the piece so much that I don’t really want to hear myself practicing it. If I can stay motivated and I get the piece under my fingers, I have to ask myself what has really been accomplished. I will have learned something about a favourite player’s phrasing, style and composition, which has genuine musical value. It’s obviously an excellent project for ear training and it will result in some techical improvement. One could argue that I’ve spent months learning an obscure piece that nobody else wants to hear. A piece that will take regular practice to maintain.

Personally, I feel I get many of the same benefits from studying isolated segments, learning specific licks and trying to modify or personalise them so that the influence is clear but the lick can be more than a direct quotation. I also honestly feel like I’ve had greater success in making my favourite players’ influences actually manifest in my playing by operating in this fashion and learning to imitate their mechanics.

I could also certainly challenge myself by learning some classical pieces for violin or flute, etc. If I learn from sheet music, I have to contend with my visual impairments. There’s still the difficulty of mapping the notes onto the guitar to make the passages playable, and now with no guarantees that it’s even possible. As much as I love classical music, I don’t often enjoy hearing it played on electric guitars.

Another reason I’ve identified, is that I find problem solving, exploring and practicing mechanics to be cathartic. I also spend a lot of time improvising over looped chords, trying to find some interesting chordal movements and freely improvising to try to find new musical ideas. I only have so much time I can spend practicing guitar, and so time spent practicing in the manner I have been will take from time that could have been spent learning songs.

With so much emphasis placed on learning and playing songs, I’d like to ask you all some questions. Do you still find learning songs to be inherently rewarding? What do you derive satisfaction from in your practice? Have any of you ever felt similarly? If so, what did you do anything to shift your focus back towards learning songs/pieces? If not, can you identify anything which you feel keeps you focused on learning songs/pieces?

I feel this might be a symtom of a general feeling of dissatisfaction with my relationship with the guitar. I feel I should be excited about learning songs the way I used to be, and that I’ve been neglecting something.

Something else has also happened lately, which conversely has been a very contradictory positive feeling. I’ll make another thread about that experience.


Very interesting read Tom thank you! I think in general one’s relationship with an instrument (if you care about it) is never easy.

On my side, as you know I spent some time in the past few years learning “shred” stuff from John Petrucci, Vinnie Moore and Paul Gilbert. It takes a large amount of time to learn and maintain these pieces in “playing shape”, and recording them “properly” for a YT cover without making small mistakes is very very difficult and can even be stressful.

These days, as you probably saw, I opted for trying to write my own music and using my heroes as inspiration. I may steal and modify a lick here and there, but I am no longer interested in reproducing their 5-min super-technical solos in full detail.

My objective is to write tunes that sound cool and a bit shreddy but are actually fairly easy to play for “80s guitar hero” standards :slight_smile: . I prefer to try and write something that is a bit more like a “song”, with recognisable melodies and riffs and maybe a short solo to ramp up the energy before the last “chorus”.

Now I am not sure if I’ll ever produce something that great and the big challenge is of course to find enough cool musical ideas, I have no solution for that at the moment :slight_smile:


Hi @Tom_Gilroy . I don’t quite have your chops or intuition, but our musical journeys are strikingly similar. Hellbent on a professional music career in our youth, took a different turn etc. I found myself nodding along to almost every paragraph. My wife often asks me why I don’t play more songs :slight_smile:

No, the opposite. For most of the reasons you mentioned (time invested when there is no accurate transcription available, figuring out the exact fingering, or finding the best when several choices ‘work’). It’s a lot to take on when you have so many other responsibilities in life. Especially if the payoff is sub optimal.

And to that I’ll add some more - I’ve NEVER once played any of the classical pieces I’ve learned flawlessly. I know we aren’t supposed to care, but it’s always really bothered me. And it’s nothing I can solve as the little imperfections were always totally random. For example, a note in measure 3 that got clipped off too early in one practice session that I never have problems with again. Some other session, not applying the right pressure to a barre chord and an inner voice note was muted, but then that never happens again. On and on it goes. So it seems not a ‘technical problem’ I need to solve, just the fact that I’m a human :slight_smile: Or maybe I just practice completely incorrectly. Who knows. At any rate, we’re talking about hours and hours of time that ultimately leaves me with something I’m never happy with. That’s a red flag (for me, personally) that I’m pursuing something I shouldn’t be.

This is only applicable to where I am right now. My focus at the moment is some Eric Johnson solos. JUST the solos though :slight_smile: To hell with the rest of the song because I know I could play those parts without much difficulty haha! Since I’ve finally got a decent USX motion, I can tackle plenty of his licks that used to vex me. There are challenging phrases within several of his solos that I can now really nail. Not every time, but most times and my success rate is going up and it’s feeling more effortless. I even find myself skipping phrases in the solos that aren’t challenging and just focusing on playing the fast runs along with the recording. It’s probably narcissistic. I don’t care though, it makes me feel good.


I haven’t yet.

I think this is the larger point. I’ve always considered myself a musician first and a guitarist second. I get much more enjoyment from writing, recording and mixing. I lack the time right now to spend on those endeavors, so at the moment I just “don’t”. But I’ve felt more and more that the instrument I’ve been in love with since age 11 is no longer what my heart desires.

Even when it comes to the music I listen to for enjoyment (which oddly I don’t even do much of these days) it is almost never guitar music. I actually enjoy what I consider ‘perfect’ vocal harmony arrangements more than even my favorite guitar music. So if I listen to music these days for fun, it’s Voctave and Pentatonix, not Eric Johnson and Steve Vai :slight_smile:

Overall I think we need to do what makes us happy. Also, I’ve noticed there are so many ‘seasons’ in life. It’s possible that some day just wanting to play songs will seem fun again. In the mean time, find what is fun and do more of that.

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Interesting post and thought provoking @Tom_Gilroy … I can’t say that its provoking positive thoughts regarding my own playing, but I think your problem is a very human one and can be seen in all areas in life - why not draw parallels with other areas of your life and try and see what feels different? Why does Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, magic or mathematics hold your attention in ways that guitar does or doesn’t seem to at present?

Much of what you have written resonates with me regarding the ‘relationship to the guitar’ and whether I need to change up what I do with it or just stop all together. I’m reading your post feeling the same as you, despite never really achieving anything with my playing - I’m hopeless at retaining songs so I have practically zero repertoire, I can’t play the things I create or songs that I would love to play because it always seems to be out of reach. Its now the point that I don’t even really say to people that I play guitar - I have nothing to show for it and nothing to offer a listener. The weirdness of it all is that if I don’t get to play guitar (when life gets in the way), I get grumpy, so I can’t say I ‘dislike’ it.

All in all, you have by the sounds of it super skills and musical ability… I think that you are probably way past trying to learn songs and should make your own stuff up (and if its niche style, then so be it and operate in those circles) or learn enough of a song and then put your own spin on it - musically stretch your legs a bit and have a little fun…

Edit: Also, are there any areas that you are avoiding? I think I recall in previous posts that you are heavily challenged by red light syndrome? Maybe force yourself into some discomfort for the learning potential - it may unlock some challenges and fruitful outcomes?

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Thanks everybody for taking the time to write such thoughtful replies.

Thanks @tommo .

I know you were very focused on that for some time. Also, as somebody who has watched your journey, the progress you have made in your playing in the last few years has been amazing to watch. I also agree absolutely that these types of pieces take a serious time investment to learn and maintain.

Yeah, I’ve seen your stuff and I’ve been enjoying it! Are you enjoying the process of earning more with this as the focus of your time?

Not a bad objective at all.

I actually spent a lot of time writing pieces and songs (with vocals and lyrics) when I was younger, especially when I shifted my focus from the electric guitar to acoustic fingerstyle guitar in my late teens/early twenties. Maybe I should devote more time to relearning my own music, maybe working on arrangements and changing the pieces that don’t fit my voice into electric instrumentals.

If you find the combination to that lock, please share it here!

Hi @joebegly . I’m sure we’re not the only ones!

I’m an absolute perfectionist too, and it really bothers me when I know I’m not getting something exactly right. I went through a period of trying to transcribe solos from my favorite players as accurately as I possibly could, trying to replicate the most minute details. My Cream transcriptions are particularly egregious, I tried to quantify all the most subtle microtonal bends, the depth and rate of vibrato, the deliberately late or early notes, everything. And most guitar players consider Clapton’s solos “easy.”

We’re all human, I’ve seen every one of my guitar heroes making mistakes during performances. Every one of them has performances where it just doesn’t seem to be working for them. I often have to remind myself of that.

I fully understand this. At a certain point, if you’re not enjoying the process, guitar practice can be a negative compulsive behavior (like a gaming addiction).

It’s funny, I spent years learning EJ’s music in the hopes that I would sound something like him. I tried to write lines that sounded like things he might have played, but didn’t. It worked to a degree, but never to my satisfaction. However, when I bought the DVD reissues of his Hot Licks videos and learned to imitate his picking and fretting mechanics, his influence immediately manifested more significantly in my playing.

I can understand that.

This got me thinking. I’m not sure that I’d say that I “love” the guitar, it seems the wrong word. I am fascinated by it. I am beholden to it.

For me, the guitar is like a book I started reading and haven’t been able to put down. I’m not really sure if I “love” the guitar or if it’s so much a part of my human experience that I cannot imagine myself without it.

I was a miserable kid. There were problems at home and I was severely bullied. I had an eye injury kept me out of most sports, and the resulting visual impairment made it difficult to read or play video games for too long. Music, and the guitar specifically, was really my only outlet. It helped me to make friends and to feel more confident in myself.

I suppose I don’t really have a word for my relationship with the guitar. Calling myself a “hobbyist” or an “enthusiast” just doesn’t seem to fit.

That’s another interesting point. I still love the music my guitar heroes have made, but I really haven’t listened to it very much in the last few years. In part, because there’s so much more music to explore, and I have eclectic tastes.

In part, it’s because I’ve heard that music so much. I can pretty much sit in a quiet room and hear the entirety of Ah Via Musicom or Venus Isle in my mind. I handle CDs and vinyl records like they are sacred, and I’m on my third copy of both AVM and VI, and on my second copies for most of Holdsworth’s solo albums.

That sounds like the most reasonable course of action. I’ll try a few alternative approaches to learning and playing songs and if it brings the fun back to the process that’s great. If not, I won’t worry too much and I’ll get back to what I’ve been finding fun and engaging.

Hi @PickingApprentice , thanks for commenting. This isn’t a very comfortable topic of discussion for me either.

Interesting comparisons actually.

I’m a purple belt in jiu-jitsu, which many consider to be the first advanced rank. I’ve been training consistently for about 4 and a half years. I have a few areas where I’m very knowledgeable and skilled, and many more where I am “competent” at best. The understanding I have of my areas of specialty is allowing me to continually expand my knowledge and skill as I explore new areas. Due to the basic nature of combat sports, I can feel my own progress and improvements, as well as my own weaknesses and limitations. It’s not unusual for me to tap good black belts when I can take them to my areas of specialty, but the overall disparity in skill is obvious when I cannot. It’s not impossible for a lower rank to tap me either, and as I’ve been improving, I’ve been feeling the target on my back growing. There are elements of problem solving, game theory and decision theory. There is a social aspect and a camaraderie. Just yesterday I was asked to teach classes on my areas of specialty by the gym owner while our head coach has surgery and rehabilitation.

With the guitar, I was also “advanced” after about 4 years of playing, but I’ve now been playing over 20 years. I have many areas where I am highly knowledgeable and skilled. It may sound arrogant, but I feel that there are specific aspects of guitar where I feel that the explicit knowledge and understanding I have developed through my research is as deep as anybody else alive. I have already explored the areas which have most interested me. Relatively speaking, all progress feels lesser. There is no social aspect at present beyond this particular forum.

I could potentially feel about jiu-jitsu the way I feel about guitar in future, I can’t be sure. I’ve been playing guitar so much longer. I will never be able to dedicate the same time to jiu-jitsu that I was able to dedicate to the guitar. I spent my youth playing the guitar. It’s also inevitable that age will limit my skill development in jiu-jitsu, much sooner than it will impact my guitar playing.

With magic, I have no real aspirations to develop any significant skill. I enjoy practicing sleight of hand (I find it cathartic), and I have a few tricks I can do convincingly well with a deck of cards. Mostly though, I’m interested in understanding the methods as I feel it gives a greater ability to appreciate the performances of others. Instead of simply seeing the similar routines performed by different magicians, it allows me to recognize the other elements of their performances, and appreciate the differences between performances more.

Mathematics is my living. Even as my interest waxes and wanes, I have professional obligations. I love my job, but I don’t do mathematics in my “off” time anymore.

If the guitar stops you getting grumpy, I think you should stick with it and try to change up what you’re doing. There are probably practice methods and tips to help retain repertoire, that might be something to look into if you feel that it’s a weakness of yours.

One could argue that I haven’t really accomplished much and that I have little to offer a listener too. If we can be happy in the knowledge that we’re playing for ourselves, maybe this shouldn’t be a point of concern.

This is probably the best course of action for me. I have written plenty of original material, much of it half forgotten, that I should probably try to remember or rewrite.

Yes, RLS is a big weakness of mine and I’ve definitely been avoiding this. I think you’re right that I need to finally confront it.

Thanks again everybody, I have a lot to think about.

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Interesting question, Tom (and good to see you back, as always).

I also don’t spend a lot of time learning songs. I think my reasons are broadly similar to yours - I’m not likely to be on stage performing a Joe Satriani song anytime soon so it would have to be a situation where I felt the means justified the ends, and it’s a lot of work to memorize that many notes just for fun. I also can’t sing to save my life (only slightly exaggerating), so singer/songwriter stuff doesn’t have much interest for me - I’ll learn a song or two every now and then to back up a friend, or if I hear a riff I really like maybe I’ll figure it out, but the idea of putting on an album and riffing along to it seems, well, weird.

So a lot of my playing is either 1) free form, free time, “shred”-y stuff, just sort of mindlessly improvising, as a very unstructured and cathartic experience, or 2) somewhat more structured jamming along with YouTube backing tracks, sometimes trying to play a very tight, concise, focused solo, but also sometimes just honing in on specific building blocks and running them at challenging speeds and sort of pushing my limits in specific areas. My fiancee also would likely prefer it if I did less of this. :rofl:

I think the one area where “playing more songs” does kind of speak to me, is writing and playing my own songs - demoing out ideas then sort of honing them over time, just chipping away at them in a DAW until I have something promising. For me I think this is the end goal, and what all the practice is building into - coming up with catchy, interesting melodic ideas that I can then weave a cool and challenging solo into the middle of. I go through phases where I do a lot more unstructured jamming, and then periods where I do a lot more writing and demoing.

So, I guess, if you’re looking for a new challenge and you feel like you should be excited about learning songs but aren’t, maybe try writing your own songs? I’m never going to be on stage covering Andy Timmons, but there’s an outside chance maybe one day I’ll be on stage playing my own songs, so there’s more of a purpose there.

(one final note - every once in a while I DO make a point of trying to sit down and learning someone else’s solo, because usually I’ll pick up a few new ideas when I do and it’ll force me to work on things that I don’t otherwise work on as much. It’s productive, though I’m not sure I’d say it’s more productive than instead focusing on my own material, and there’s probably merit to doing both. My heart isn’t in it though, it feels like a homework assignment, something you do not because you want to, but because it’s good for you.)

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Hey Tom and everyone. Great thread and replies, read literally every single word of every post.

I can definitely agree with that perfectionist streak you discussed. A lot of song learning for me isn’t fun because I simply don’t want my own version of things, I want what the artist did to the tee. So the only way I found I could be satisfied was learning a lot of their licks like you mentioned here:

That way, you have small, digestible challenges that you can easily learn over a long enough time period. I really am exhausted of the mentality that you have to “learn songs”. A lot of times with the shred players that are idolized on the forum, the only way to have immediate access to their technique is to take one of their most used and efficient licks and milk it for all its worth; their stuff is way too complicated to jump into an entire song. In fact, when I converted from my old alternate picking technique to my new PG/Anton technique, I only saw success when Is started with one or two note phrases. Boneheaded rock licks or downpicking or whatever. No exaggeration. Funny how those things actually see the light of day, but the diminished sweep tapped arpeggio or whatever sits on the shelf forever.

Re: song learning. I went through a period in 2018 where I learned a metal album more or less front to cover, and it was one of the most miserable musical experiences I’ve ever had. And that was WITH the artist’s direct transcriptions which often ended up being wrong in many places. I just remember sitting their poring over live performances and just thinking “This is all so pointless. These guys change everything every show and here I am trying to deduce some sort of commonality to their note choices that doesn’t exist lol.”

So yeah, 3.5 years ago was the last time I ever tried that.

Now? I’m trying to balance between things I know I need to do and just having fun. Unfortunately, I see myself as a studio musician on the side in the future for technical metal, and the brutal reality is I have to spend so much time drilling things that most people would consider unlistenable.

It’s a constant battle.



In short, maybe teaching the new kid will wind up revealing something to yourself? And also maybe hold off on the pressure of expecting a new direction, as if it’s a burden you have to carry or that you have to know the path. Sometimes answers come when you least expect them, and it could very well be in the form of a new perspective based on firsthand experience with teaching someone to whom the guitar is foreign and exciting.


I guess one additional thing I’ll add here is that I’m a very… I’m someone who has a very highly analytical, intellectual, possibly over-intellectual aspect with most things in his life, professionally and with hobbies. When I pick up a guitar, it’s a rare opportunity for me to turn that off. I think that’s also a factor in why I’m less interested in learning other people’s music, and just going at it viscerally.

I suspect from prior conversations Tom is pretty similar to me in that respect, save that he’s WAY more analytical when it comes to guitar than I am (and almost certainly a better player for it). I just like to make noise. :smiley:


Thanks. I don’t always have time for the kind of writing I do here, but I’m usually still reading.

It’s nice to know I’m not alone on this, and that my reasons are similar to the reasons of others.

I spent a lot of time trying to learn how to sing, I even took formal lessons. My singing definitely improved, but I had to accept eventually that I just don’t have a great voice. I have a small repertoire of songs that fit my voice reasonably well, but I’ve otherwise given up on singing.

I’ve never really liked playing along with albums, though I did it a bit when I was younger to practice songs. The idea of doing it now is not at all appealing to me.

It seems a few of us have significant others who are irritated by our practice habits!

I can understand the appeal of this. I think my RLS is the biggest reason why I’ve avoided the recording/demoing process, but the other side of it is that there’s a lot to learn about the process. I really don’t know much at all about DAWs, plugins, drum programming, mixing, etc.

I agree that this it’s probably best to focus my efforts in this direction, and learn what I need to learn about recording/etc to make this feel productive.

I’ve certainly had this feeling also.

Hi @guitarenthusiast . I agree, very good discussion so far. I really appreciate that everybody has taken the time to write such great responses.

I feel the same a lot of the time. I wish I could relax my standards at least a little bit. I’m very slow at transcribing. Not because I’m not good at it, it’s not my strongest suit but I have decent ears. I’m just such a perfectionist that I have to spend a lot of time convincing myself that I’ve heard something correctly, and I try to understand every detail. Then, it drives me crazy if there’s something I cant quite figure out, like a difficult chord voicing or a fast passage that’s obscured by effects. Even if I can come up with something reasonably close, it sours the whole experience for me. I’m aware that this is ridiculous but it’s how I feel.

I absolutely agree on the benefits. Also, since the intent is to demonstrate influence and build personal vocabulary, rather than to have a “perfect” recreation, I find that I can relax the perfectionist part of me and the whole process is much less stressful. Why I can’t apply that mindset to the entirety of a solo or a song, I genuinely don’t know.

That reminds me of another interesting point. The “shred” guitarists that are idolized all have their own idiosyncratic mechanics and their own personal vocabularies which fit those mechanics. For any of them we can name, we can point to something they do extraordinarily well, but there are also many things they cannot do. We just assume they can “play anything”, and we assume that anything they have modified to better fit their playing is done purely for the purpose of musical self expression.

Yet, we don’t give ourselves the same pass. When we have to modify anything to better fit our playing, it’s because we can’t do it the way they did. We get upset that we can’t alternate pick like Paul Gilbert, can’t sweep like Frank Gambale, can’t play legato like Brett Garsed, can’t play as fast as Shawn Lane, can’t play pentatonics like Eric Johnson, can’t use the vibrato bar like Jeff Beck, etc.

If I really think about it, these aren’t fair comparisons. For all of them, there is something I can do at least as well as them, usually something I’ve developed by studying one of the others. I don’t compare my hybrid picking to Paul Gilbert, my alternate picking to Brett Garsed, my vibrato bar use to Frank Gambale, my sweep/economy/swybrid picking to Shawn Lane, my legato to Eric Johnson or my speed to Jeff Beck. We focus on the comparisons where we come out lesser.

I understand this absolutely. Why should we bother learning and playing a song or solo verbatim, if the artists themselves don’t play them the same way themselves? Why do we hold ourselves to a different standard?

The atonal woopledybloop nonsense I’ve been practicing to develop new motor patterns is almost certainly unlistenable to most, yet I’m doing it in the hope that it can form a basis from which to build new vocabulary. The stuff you’re drilling might not be enjoyable for most to listen to, but I’m sure it’s leading to a skill set which is valuable to your goals. I’d be willing to bet you’re much more capable at downpicking than any player I’ve mentioned in this post, and certainly much more so than I am (because I literally cannot do it at all).

I don’t mean to diminish anybody who feels comfortable using that word to describe themselves, and certainly not you specifically! Honestly, I’m not sure that the word “fits” for you either, but I suppose it’s for each of us to decide what labels we’re comfortable with.

Great points, thank you. I think reading that did me some good.

I’m not sure if I can turn off that side of myself, at least not in the context of guitar.


Same exact thing with me. I was blown away by all the technique involved in singing! I improved my tone, range and flexibility during ~2 years (and lots of practice) with a very good voice teacher. Alas, at the end of the day, my voice just doesn’t sound all that interesting. Plus, the things it is suited for is not really what I’d like to be singing.

Yeah, I spent a whole lot of time ~2010 learning how to record and mix. It’s one of the absolute most enjoyable parts of music for me. Even after learning the ins and outs though, I find the process of recording things that I am happy with takes LOTS of time. More than I have due to other responsibilities. I mention this because as you’ve indicated regarding your perfectionism, recording and mixing could end up being a huge rabbit hole for you. You may become very hard on yourself when it comes to getting the perfect “take(s)”. You may be even more hard on yourself when it comes time to mix. My demos sometimes underwent 50 - 100 different remixes. A strong indicator I have some type of personality disorder lol!

All that said, I’d bet technology has advanced a lot since I got into doing (hopefully) pro-ish sounding home demos. Things are likely now much more plug-n-play, which should make the mixing stage easier. Plus, the amount of free information (and likely presets) is staggering these days. Maybe you could jump into it more quickly than I did. I’m sure @tommo would give you some good tips for how to get up and running too. His recordings sound great. The fact that he can have 2 young children, play things that would make Paul Gilbert and John Petrucci do a double take, and have a full time job, indicate he either doesn’t sleep OR that it is in fact possible to get good sounding recordings without sinking 5+ hours per day into it :slight_smile:

Sounds again like me. Why can’t we just learn to be happy? lol! I just had a thought about this - have you ever put significant time into trying to lower your standards? I have not, at least not intentionally. The closest thing would be during my time as a guitar teacher. I was into more “respectable” music than my students brought in. Hearing it day after day, I learned to like some of the more poppy mainstream stuff they brought in.

But for your transcription example, you could do something like imposing a time limit on yourself and getting it only as good as you can hear it in that amount of time. For me and my classical guitar examples, I could maybe not worry about mistakes and purposely try to focus on something like phrasing. Intentionally, over and over. We’ve all put 1000’s of hours into learning guitar, on an individual basis at that. Plenty of us admit over and over that we are perfectionists and that we know it creates some problems for us. Have we ever tried addressing it though?

This is a really excellent point. I was thinking something similar the other day. As amateurs, we tend to spend a lot of time imitating our heroes. Naturally there isn’t just one of them we enjoy, so we tend to pursue many of them. As we’ve learned about the mechanics involved in their various styles, this is often demanding more of ourselves than they are actually doing. You didn’t come right out and say this (though I’m sure it was implied) but I’ll state it plainly: we don’t get upset with Eric Johnson because he can’t sweep like Gambale. We don’t get upset with Brett Garsed for not being able to pick like Steve Morse. Yet we expect ourselves to be able to do all this. AND…

Most of these players are extremely intuitive and came into professional music careers at a very young age. Sure, they were amazing prior to the world learning who they are. Still, while most of us work 8+ hours per day to pay the bills, they’re writing, or touring, or practicing. Constantly crafting their art. It really is not a level playing field. We should ease up on ourselves :slight_smile:

For me, I know why I do this. The solos I’m emulating I usually view as ‘perfect’. I’ve too heard live versions of the same solo and noted differences. In many cases, I like the recording better. I consider it a snapshot in time that is pure magic and I want to recreate it. When I do, I am happy :slight_smile: When I don’t…I try harder…over and over and over again haha!

I’d say the fact that they stick around, this indicates we’ve got someone really good :slight_smile: Overlooking annoying things about someone else is part of love :hearts: On the flip side, if we know we are being irritating, we can invest in a good set of headphones.

Absolutely this.

I remember being at a Paul Gilbert clinic as a teenager. He said something to the effect that you can walk into a music store, buy a PGM and a Laney and you can learn sound like him on guitar, but nobody can walk into a music store and buy Robert Plant’s voice or David Coverdale’s voice. He said also that he’s often felt a conflict between his guitar playing and his singing, and that it took him some time to learn how to fit them together musically.

I just don’t have a great voice, and I don’t feel it’s often complementary to my guitar playing.

That is indeed a probable outcome.

If so it’s one that we probably share.

Actually, I’d really appreciate that. Any suggestions on where to start @tommo ?

I genuinely never considered that this might be achievable through deliberate action on my part.

Exactly. This is not at all a reasonable standard to impose upon ourselves, and yet we do.

I’ve definitely had that exact reason. The funny thing is, once I have completely transcribed a solo, mapped it to the fretboard and learned to play it verbatim, I’ve often killed some of the “magic” of the solo for myself. At least for some time, but sometimes I never quite hear the solo the same way again.

This means that some of the most special music to me, is music I actively want not to know how to play. For example, The 4:15 Bradford Executive is probably my favourite Holdsworth solo.

It’s 12 years for us this month.

Actually, the headphones might be the problem. Most of my “musical” guitar practice is plugged into S-Gear listening on headphones. Nobody really hears that but me. The annoying patterns I usually practice while sitting in the living room, plugged into a MicroCube.

Great post, just honing in on this because I have a call I need to hop on in 4 minutes -

You’d be surprised how little you need to know about this srtuff to make music - progams like the recent versions of EzDrummer can really do a lot of the “creation” of a drum part for you, and something like EzMix can allow you to basically create a “good enough” mix with very little thought.

And, because the temptation to feel like you need to “do it yourself” is always high… you can also outsource a lot of this stuff these days, hire someone over the net to either produce a drum track MIDI for you or a recording of real drums, and then send someone else that and a DI of your bass and guitar playing and they can mix it for you. I enjoy the process of doinfg this all myself, but there’s no reason you HAVE to.

Excellent, excellent point about how no one expects Brett Garsed to pick like Steve Morse, so why should we expect that of outselves.

I think when my better half started saying my playing sounded like a “hornet’s nest” was when my alternate picking started to come together so I was doing a lot more fast alternate picking, so perversely I think the fact she didn’t like it much was a GOOD thing. :rofl:


I personally use Reaper as DAW [kinda underdog of DAWs, developed by the same guys that did WinAmp back then], but of course everyone swears by what they use :slight_smile:

If don’t yet have a preferred DAW some of the good things about Reaper are:

  • it has a 60-day free trial period and a full license is $60, significantly less than most competitors
  • it can run 32 or 64 bit plugins in pretty much any format (VST, AAX, AU etc.)
  • there is a lot of documentation in YT format: see here for a starting point: How to Watch My REAPER Videos - YouTube
  • The user interface (known as “theme”) is fully customisable and you can find a lot of very well made themes on the reaper website.

To learn how to use it, I would just start by trying to do stuff and only searching for the appropriate tutorial when you get stuck.

I know you are already covered on the Amp Simulation side of things with S Gear. Dunno if you have a bass but Reaper has a fantastic pitch shifter, you can lower a guitar DI by -1 octave and send to a bass amp, it does the job pretty well (if not very well!).

For drums, before spending money on EZDrummer I’d recommend to look into the (free!) MT power drums. It sounds pretty good and has a lot of nice pre-made beats and fills that you can use to “write” pretty convincing drum parts:

BONUS: this is if you want to have fun building your own drum machine in Reaper by using some free samples. IT was pretty fun to put together :slight_smile:


Wow great post @Tom_Gilroy.

After starting to play again this year after an 8 year break I’ve rekindled my love for the instrument again but in the past year have found myself having several deja vu moments and feelings.

I always tried to learn my heroes solos and songs but as I get older I find I’ve forgotten most of them, for example, Vai’s For The Love Of God I used to know note for note, now I can hardly stumble my way through it unless I have the tab in front of me.

I have tried to relearn a lot this year, and of course experienced those same frustrating feelings when I find I can’t play those solos like I thought I could. It’s dejecting and can get me down so again I found myself re-examining what I want from the guitar. There’s just not enough bandwidth or storage available in me to learn whole songs anymore, unless they are simple.

For me I just wanna to play for fun, theres no one watching or listening anymore, so it’s self satisfaction that matters.

To be able to shred and riff and improvise stuff and be happy with my ‘style’ is what I want, I just wanna feel good about playing; so I’m not necessarily learning solos note for note anymore, I’m happy just learning some licks and phrases and improving my technique and music theory knowledge so I can improvise some cool stuff over a simple backing track.

If I do record something it’s either something for this site, although that’s rare, or a song that only gets shared with my close family, and that’s hard enough to do with my antiquated setup and ability.

In a perfect world, I would have my own recording studio and spend each day creating music that people listen to and like enough to pay money for.
At least 45 years in, I now know what I would like to do with my life :wink:, it’s a bit too late to make it happen now though, especially in this modern world of music not being worth what it used to be and my age and ‘lack of coolness’ being against me.

Anyway, what I say is don’t sweat the small stuff and, the simple fact is the more time you spend with a guitar in your hand the better you will get and more of ‘you’ will be transferred to your playing style. To be able to express yourself and enjoy playing is what matters.

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I have both reaper and cubase. I prefer reaper. It’s just as good as any daw, easy to use, and extremely well documented.


Cool post and I respect all your posts and knowledge on this forum. You definitely have more experience on guitar than I. I used to play in a busy agency cover band for a little while; classic rock, pop, dance, Top 40 stuff. I like to think im better than average at guitar playing, but honestly, you don’t need excellent guitar playing for a Top 40 cover band. It most definitely helps, but someone who’s been playing for two years could survive because the crowd doesn’t know what’s going on. But after some life changes, i no longer play in the band, but I do plan to play live again in the near future. And I LOVE being as good as possible for what is arguably a simple musical project. When it comes to music and guitar, I honestly think Im more of a fan of performing and playing live than actually being the next Shawn Lane. I’ve realized when I don’t have gigs to practice for, I don’t practice as much. I practiced a lot lot more with consistent gigs and being active in bands. Im not worried though becuase it would all come back. As for learning songs, Im with you that learning full songs is annoying. I only learned full songs when playing in bands and for shows; outside of that I just pick certain licks or phrases that I want to learn. When I learned solos for the cover tunes, very rarely did I do anything note for note; maybe a similar style or feel but Im not a fan of going crazy to get a solo note for note because like you said, even the original artists do it differently every time live! Only solos I learned really close note to note would be something like Sweet Child, Crazy Train, Don’t Stop Believin, etc… the ultimate classics haha.

Blockquote we don’t get upset with Eric Johnson because he can’t sweep like Gambale. We don’t get upset with Brett Garsed for not being able to pick like Steve Morse. Yet we expect ourselves to be able to do all this. AND…

So true man. There is not one person who can do it all better than everyone else. I feel like most of the top players found what their strengths were and just milked it! They wrote songs and parts to fit their strengths. Maybe this is a product of having access to so many sources of talent these days via youtube, instagram, etc… We can just constantly see it all and then develop those unrealistic expectations.

Rereading this thread and this is so true and it can be toxic. Thinking the best players can play every genre, every type, anything very well. But it’s not true and it’s unrealistic. I’ve definitely made the assumption that they can play anything. I know you said you’ve done jiu jitsu but are you a UFC fan? I’m a huge fan of UFC and I’ve trained a bit before in the past but I see something similar yet different in UFC and possibly sports overall. It’s not really an apples to apples comparison, more so just providing a new thought for discussion. But In UFC very few fighters are very well rounded. Most guys have a very strong base in one skill and then get the others up to speed the best they can. But the best matchups are made when one guy is amazing in one discipline and the opponent is amazing at another discipline. It’s not an assumption in the ufc that every fighter is highly advanced in every skill set. Yet with guitar, we just think they’re good at every sub-skill set.


this is the problem i am facing currently. i love gypsy jazz, and the rest stroke. however i kind of want to delve into flamenco picado, but i know if i do this i sacrifice my time learning more gypsy jazz stuff, and honing my technique further. guitar can be dangerous because there are so many different ways to pick it can drive you insane. this is why gypsy jazz was so refreshing because it is one way, and there are no fancy trick string changes it is always downstrokes. which in the beginning can be like a hold on what a minute you can’t be serious are you insane moment, but when you actually just get over that it makes learning things so much simpler on the brain. i mean the music itself can already get quite complex so to let my brain think less about technique the better so i can actually learn how to play a song, and how or why this note or that note was chosen. but now i kind of know how picking works for my body, and i can see the intuitive brain unlocking, and being able to have the conscious connection of what my hands are actually doing that i want to try another technique. :laughing:

the bad part about trying to learn flamenco is i have to compare the resources I have in the gypsy jazz community to the flamenco community. I mean you just go do a little digging, and the vast wealth of learning material available for the gypsy jazz community is so impressive that it is very hard to switch. just try to find some serious flamenco teaching realms, and the switch almost seems pointless. but having a very firm grasp of technique even further i might can get over this hurdle, however there is no guarantee.

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Toxic is exactly the right word.

I followed MMA for a long time, I think I started watching in 2009. It’s how I became interested in learning Jiu-Jitsu. A few years ago I decided I really couldn’t justify staying up so late to watch events live (time difference is a problem) and it was too difficult to avoid spoilers. I haven’t really been following the sport since about 2019.

This is absolutely true. Even limited to just Jiu-Jitsu, people have different strengths and weaknesses. I’m a mid-late stage purple belt now, and I’m definitely not a “complete grappler,” but I’m a legitimate problem for good black belts if I can get to my strongest areas.

Some injuries aside, I feel that starting Jiu-Jitsu has helped me to progress in guitar, mostly due to shifts in mindset and approach to training and skill development.

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It sounds to me like you’re doing what you want to do for reasons you find compelling.
I don’t see a problem.