Observations About Guitar

I’ve been thinking this morning about my general impressions about learning new songs on guitar. This might be hard for non-musicians to understand, but it’s a pretty big conceptual step to go from playing bass to playing guitar. Whatever you may have heard, playing bass is not like playing lead all throughout a song. Bass is a different animal altogether. I’ve been playing bass for around 27 years, and while I’ve tinkered on guitar enough to be comfortable on one and have played lead guitar on my own songs, I’ve never thought of myself as a guitar player. I was always a bass player who was laying down a guitar track.
So, the point is that to play guitar well, especially lead guitar, it means stepping into the mantle of guitar player and thinking like a guitar player. I guess an obvious example of that would be that instead of sitting at the root of chords and progressions, you have to be slightly ahead of everything. Or if you prefer military terms, it’s like going from being the pilot of a B-2 bomber to piloting an F-22 fighter. You just can’t fly those critters the same way. Savvy?

Now, about that whole “observations” thing. I had a few thoughts that I wanted to jot down. Not that I expect anyone to care. I’m amusing myself. So don’t start thinking that I consider these revelations or anything.

  • Clapton is a lot easier to play that I ever thought it would be. I love the guy’s playing, but when playing leads he mostly rolls notes around. Not that everything he plays is a breeze to play, but conceptually it’s an easy approach to understand. Clapton’s not so much about technical finesse as emotional resonance. That’s why Clapton can play three notes in a scale over and over and bring people to their feet. Wonderful Tonight is pretty easy to play, but takes restraint. White Room isn’t hard to play, but is the complete opposite conceptually. To make White Room work, I think you have to imagine a wall of Marshall amplifiers behind you.
  • Lynyrd Skynyrd leads are a lot harder to play than I expected. I’ve nailed big parts of the leads to Sweet Home Alabama and Simple Man, but in each there are parts that I just haven’t been able to grok.
  • Tom Petty is fun to play. There are some elements of the leads that I haven’t nailed down just yet, but the signature licks are more texture than technical. In other words, the parts of the leads that people will respond to are sections I’d consider sound-scape licks. Either way, both Running Down A Dream and Mary Jane’s Last Dance are fun to play.
  • Charlie Daniels is … well, Charlie Daniels. I pretty much already knew how to play Long Haired Country Boy. It’s not that hard. But the version I have is a live version with an acoustic lead break, so I’ll probably have to make that one up as I go along. Or I might download the album version and give it a run-through.

Today and tomorrow morning I’ll be working on Break Down by Tom Petty, the slow version of After Midnight by Eric Clapton (although I think I have the original J.J. Cale version around here somewhere), Margaritaville by Jimmy Buffet (not hard, but there are some things that’ll have to be done differently because there are no actual lead guitar breaks, and it’ll take some wiggling to figure out a convincing way to play an accordian solo on guitar). I’ll also be going over Long Haired Country Boy again to be more familiar with the album version.
Yes, I’m coming down to the wire where learning these songs are concerned. Especially since we’re having a party tonight and there are some chores to do. But it’s always been tradition to learn things at the last moment, then jump into the deep end of the proverbial pool and hope for the best. So far that approach has never failed me. This might be the first time, I concede, but I don’t think so.
I hope if the guys read this they don’t think I’m unreliable or anything. I’ll bring it when it’s time. I always have. Hopefully, whatever blemishes and mistakes there are in my playing will be taken with a grain of salt. After all, last week I was a bass player who hadn’t played in a band since 1995 or so. This week I’m a lead guitar player auditioning for a band. That’s a big step. It’ll take me a few weeks to really shake things out and get up to speed.
Besides. My damned fingers hurt. So there. Slave driving bastids.

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