Type in the name of just about any song into Youtube and you can find a video of somebody explaining how to play it on guitar.
Say you want to learn something like the Sweet Child o Mine solo. What’s stopping you?
Just go on Youtube and find the video. Obviously you’ll have it down by the end of the evening.
Fancy learning Eruption of a Sunday afternoon? Just pull up the video and get on it bro.
The Tornado of Souls solo? No problem, just gotta find out where to put your fingers.
Or how about Black Star by Malmsteen? Pfft, easy. Just need a video tab to walk you through a few of those lightning runs fret by fret.
Whatever it is, any song in the world, there’s a video for it, and all you need is to look it up.
Then you’ll totally be able to play it. Right?
Sorry bro. It doesn’t work like this.
Let me give you some background on video tutorials. I started music and guitar years before days of Youtube, and video tutorials are not a new idea.
When I started playing there were only instructional tapes (VHS) and DVDs.
In the classic instructional tapes a production company would invite a famous guitarist in to the studio to film them talking about different aspects of their style and demonstrating techniques they were well known for.
These tapes were cool, inspiring, and became well known among serious guitarists for how advanced and challenging a lot of the ideas and playing examples were.
Some of the old tapes even became something of an in-joke among guitarists, because the guitar was so advanced that the average player often couldn’t make head-nor-tail of most of the content.
Enter... the note-by-note walkthrough
Later on, companies started to produce DVDs where a guitar instructor would walk-through how to play famous songs by famous players.
It was around this time I found out that a company had just brought out a tutorial DVD for my favourite band, so I ordered a copy.
The series was called “Learn to Play”, and the box promised it would “teach you to play five tracks” and “learn every riff and solo note for note”. I got started as soon as it arrived.
I watched the tutorials lots of times, pausing and rewinding them, tabbing out specific bits to practice them with a metronome, and based my practice routine around the songs. All the things you’re supposed to do.
After many weeks and eventually months of trying with the DVD, I realised I was no further forward. I had accomplished very little beyond things I could already play.
Having a note-for-note walkthrough video hadn’t actually brought me any closer to the level where I could actually play those solos!
Now the tutorial videos are free and they’re on Youtube rather than on physical tapes and DVDs, but the point is exactly the same as the one I discovered many years ago.
What is it? Let’s cut to the chase:
You are only able to play songs and solos that your current guitar skill level will allow you to play.
Please take a moment to re-read that, and let this fact sink in:
In order to be able to play a particular song, your skills need to be equal to or above the skill level which that song demands.
Imagine any song that you want to learn. If we consider only the technical aspect, any song you could think of contains certain guitar techniques required to play it.
Imagine we took all of the techniques present in a song, and assigned each one a number rating in terms of their difficulty or ‘advanced-ness’ on a scale of 1 – 100.
Imagine we were talking about a song section involving hammer-ons, for example. A basic hammer-on from an open string to the second fret might score a difficult rating of 1 – e.g. the simplest use of the technique.
But a very fast run of thirty notes that are all played with hammer-ons, starting from the 5th fret of the low E string and going all the way to the 17th fret of the high E string might score a 90 or 100.
It’s the same class of guitar technique, but at vastly different levels of difficulty. Do you see where I’m going with this…?
Imagine the progression of skills is like the steps of a giant staircase reaching up into the sky. We have a staircase for “Picking”, another for “Hammer-ons”, another for “Pull-offs”, and for “Slides”, “Bending”, and all other techniques.
The first step is the easiest entry level of that skill, but the skill level gets higher and higher as we move up the steps.
If we thought in this way about all the different techniques involved in playing a particular song, and gave each one a ‘difficulty score’, we could imagine a profile of the skills needed to play that song.
Maybe it would look something like this, for an example song:
Of course we can’t actually put exact numbers on these things, but the concept is absolutely true:
Any song you could want to learn exists at a certain level of difficulty.
And this fact doesn’t seem to occur to a lot of students.
As a player, YOU have a certain skill level with the techniques you know. And it’s as simple as this:
If your skill level is significantly below the skill level required for the song then you won’t be able to play it.
For example, imagine you had a skills profile like this and you attempted to learn the song above:
How do you think that’s going to go?
It's not going to "go" at all, is it?
Imagine you’re playing a video game. Your character has built up a certain number of EXP points, and you need whatever EXP to play the next stage. It’s very like that.
And this is the mechanics of why – 99% of the time – trying to learn a song note-for-note from a video feels like walking through quicksand. It’s because you’re trying to leap far too far in one go and the skills gap is too high.
Have you ever noticed that the unanswered question in all note-for-note tutorials is also the most important thing you really want and need to know:
How do I get to the LEVEL where I can play that? … … ?
This is why, instead of flitting between songs and solos that you haven’t yet developed the technical skills to tackle, the focus of your practice needs to be on continually raising your skills.
This is how to get really good really fast.
Why do guitar players think they can skip an actual learning process and just look up random videos to some the most difficult guitar songs and solos in the world?
Isn’t that a really ridiculous idea when you actually stop and think about it?
But now you’ve seen what’s going on behind the scenes, and why this won’t work.
Build your skills up step by step and sooner than you think you will be able to play what you want. Try to jump to the 100th floor without laying any of the foundations and I guarantee you will become incredibly frustrated.