Learning Songs On Guitar
Most people learn to play guitar because they want to be able to play songs. That is the fun part of playing any instrument. There are several ways to go about learning songs on guitar. The most common are printed music, videos lessons (YouTube or paid websites), TABs from the internet, private lessons with a teacher, and by ear.
Each method has advantages and disadvantages, and usually to get the best results you need a combination of several methods. Let’s break them down into two categories — free and paid — and see what each has to offer and how to get the best results from each.
If you just want to learn a specific song, printed music can be a quick and easy way to go. You can buy sheet music for single songs online and print them yourself, but they often cost as much as $5 per song. This adds up quickly. Music books (artist portfolios) are fairly inexpensive for the number of songs they include, and sometimes even support the artist through a small royalty they get when the book is sold. Music books sometimes include play along CDs which can be helpful also. But even though they often say things like “play it like it is” or “note for note” or “recorded version transcriptions” you should realize that these songs were transcribed by someone other than the actual artist, so they may not be 100% accurate as far as chord fingerings, fretboard positions, etc. They are the transcriber’s best educated guess or opinion of what the artist is doing.
In the publishing business there are usually deadlines to meet, so there is always the chance for mistakes (typos) to be included. We are all human and make mistakes. So if something doesn’t sound exactly right, it may not be. This is where using your ear can help. If you work on developing your ear, you can fix minor mistakes yourself.
Video lessons are also available for purchase from music stores and online. These can be good ways to actually see what the instructor is doing. This is an advantage over just printed music, but there is no interaction with the instructor, and you will have to do a lot of scrolling back and forth in the video as you learn. They sometimes don’t include printed music so you have to look at on screen music and then basically memorize it while learning. And of course, the transcription and the lessons will only be as good as the instructors.
There are many paid guitar instruction websites available online. I have not used any of them so I cannot comment on their value. I would imagine they vary in quality like any other business. If you go this route, do as much research as you can. Try to get recommendations from people who have actually used the site. Or better yet, see if they have trial lessons you can use to judge the quality of their offerings. And again, regardless of the video quality, the transcription and the lessons will only be as good as the instructors.
Being a guitar instructor myself, I feel private lessons are a great method of learning songs. Of course, you need a good teacher who teaches good songs. But you will get the one on one interaction you simply can’t get any other way. Still you need to remember that teachers can’t possibly teach every song you might want to learn — unless you provide the music. Even then, they may not be familiar with the song, so they will have to learn it themselves before they can teach it accurately. Which takes time. Something teachers usually have limited amounts of. But most guitar teacher already know many cool guitar songs, so they will probably know many that you do want to learn. And they can give you the tools you need to learn songs on your own. Plus you will also be learning about music and other aspects of guitar playing, not just learning songs by rote.
Not surprisingly, free is always popular. Without getting into the copyright debate of TAB websites or YouTube, I will remind you that the old saying “You get what you pay for.” often applies here. Anyone can post a video on YouTube or a TAB on a TAB website, so you have to wade through a lot of bad, incorrect stuff to find the good stuff (if it even exists.) But if you plan to go this route, here is some advice.
Once you have picked a song to learn, start with TABs or chords and lyrics depending on the song. There will probably be several versions on several websites. The thing to remember is, these websites copy TABs and chords from each other. Most don’t really care if the TABs or chords are correct, they just want you to visit their website and view their advertising. So even if a song’s TABs or chords are incorrect, they will still multiply across the Web.
Don't think just because it is posted online it is correct. This is hardly the case. Guitar TABs are often posted by guitar players who have more free time than skill. Pros are usually too busy to post TABs.
Once you have the TABs or chords, try playing it. Play along with a recording of the song if possible. If the TABs or chords sound wrong they probably are. Try another version. Keep at it until you find one that sounds close, with maybe just one or two bad chords or riffs. Take note of any tunings or capo placement if available. These are very important. If the song is in drop tuning it will not sound right in standard tuning. Or you may need to use a capo to play in the correct key.
Next you may want to check out some video lessons of the song on YouTube if available. You will probably discover that these vary greatly in quality and accuracy, with a lot of different opinions on how to play the song. Some are better than others. Again, you will have to let your ears be the judge.
Finally, the best free video resource, if available, is a “live” video of the actual artist playing the song. Although live versions can vary considerably from recorded versions, there is no better authority on how to play a song then the person who wrote/recorded it. You should be able to see many useful things like capo placement, chord fingerings, fretboard positions, etc. Tuning are harder to see, but if you see a lot of one finger power chords they are probably using some form of Drop D tuning. Also remember that a lot of metal music is played in drop tunings. If you play a chord at the same position they are playing and it sounds different, then they are probably drop tuned or using an alternate tuning.
Free And Good For You
And of course there is always the “by ear” only method. For simple songs this may be the fastest method. Before the internet and TABs, this was us older guys main method of learning new songs. It is also very good ear training. Try it.
Finally, remember there is almost always more than one way to play anything on guitar, so use your ears, and your eyes, and your fingers, and remember the goal is not to be a note for note clone/mimic of someone else, but to make music and enjoy playing. So go learn some songs and have some fun.