5 Things You Can Learn From Your Favorite Artists

Exercise your fantasy of being a rock star by learning more from your favorite bands.

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A significant number of musicians believe that learning cover songs is a waste of time. It's fair to say that the majority of those people don't understand the difference between memorizing and studying. You can work on almost every aspect of your musical talents by studying other artists' masterpieces. Here are 5 essentials you can study while exercising your fantasy of being a rock star. 1. Theory. Analyzing and backwards engineering music is an excellent way to learn theory and musical concepts. To name a few, you can study form, harmony, melody, scales, not to mention the emotional structure of a song. Yeah, OK, so you might have to step out of the shower and get a little involved. By using your brain to think at a deeper level you magically gain understanding of a song that's on par with your level of music theory. I want to know if the chords are in a progression or retrogression. Using this profound strategy allows you to understand music in a language you can identify with: Your favorite songs. This process happens almost naturally but does require some effort on your part. You're taking the time to memorize a song. Take the extra minute or two and dig up the scales. 2. Technical Skills. Whenever you learn a song, make practicing it with a metronome, drums or a backing track a high priority. If you're past the point where you no longer have to babysit your fingers, arguably that's one of the most important things you can do. Rhythm is a significant weakness for a lot of musicians, and even intermediate players often can't play in time. It may be easy to count to four, but do you practice it? The most effective way to get better at this is to record yourself playing the song, listen back, and compare your rhythm with the studio version. Here's an idea that could completely change your paradigm on lead guitar. Get out your iPod and play the song you've been hooked on lately. Play the vocal melody on guitar, and experiment by using different phrasing techniques and ideas. Use slides, bends, harmonics, and different scale positions to play the same melody. This could make a massive impact in your lead playing. 3. Lyrics. Be mysterious. When writing lyrics, don't be so logical. Make things random and unpredictable. Seriously. That will spark interest and provoke deep interest on the song. 4. Aural skills: There have been lengthy debates over whether you should learn songs by ear or use tabs. One was the theory that the best guitarists in the world learned everything by ear, citing Jimi Hendrix as an example. The theory is valid, but needs to be exercised with calibration of the musician's skill set. Here's why learning by ear is important. You're exercising the musical muscle: Aural skills. That's what music is made of. Obviously, it's a hearing art. You're always going to be better off by taking the harder path: Training your ear. This also explains why singers are better at creating guitar phrases - they rely on their ear when soloing instead of or running up and down a scale. Which, by the way, is astronomically better than running up down random notes on your instrument. However, all are futile if you don't practice your rhythm. The problem with training exclusively by ear is you can't run to the local guitar shop, walk out with your first guitar, plug it in and pull off I'm a Viking by ear. Beginners have to start with tabs to save time and frustration, and in the process they do train their ears to some degree, though ineffectively. A common sense guideline: No matter where you're at in music, you should always dedicate part of your practice schedule to learning stuff by ear. If you practice 30 minutes a day, spend 10 of those getting frustrated by finding notes on your guitar using trial and error. This strategy will get you massive benefits in the future. Just don't smash your shiny Squire in the process. I recently learned Steve Vai's For The Love of God note-for-note by relying on my ear and by studying performances of the song. This would have been impossible without a decent level of theory, rhythm, technique, and aural skills. 5. Creativity: If you're one of those players who fear imitating the best, I can assure you there are no monsters under the bed. One of the most effective strategies in life is to study the greatest in order to become good at something. This could be sports, business, relationships, and most certainly music. This common sense logic tells you not take fitness advice from the guy inhaling a deep-dish with extra cheese during half time. The music game is a little different because art is hard to replicate, and creativity is a complex topic. Copying artists is harmless because of the elusive nature of music. By building a vast number of licks, sequences, and phrases into your muscle memory you're essentially creating a subconscious bank of ammunition to draw from when getting hit by inspiration. If you would be on stage every weekend playing a set of shredtastic stuff, eventually your subconscious would have everything burned in, and it would come out whenever you improvise. Many musicians have the fear of becoming clones of their favorite guitar players, and go out of their way to be original and carve a new niche out of a genre. This is a lot of like training to be a pro tennis player and walking out onto a football field on game day. Forcing the idea of being original is going to prevent you from writing good music. Your best songs are going to come from being yourself, the person you've evolved into at that stage. This is obviously going to change as you draw more and more from different influences. If your self-expression consists of being completely unoriginal, your integrity should give you the obligation to be draw as much from inspiration as possible. Your life experiences and physical abilities are going to make it impossible not to riff out a brand new creation. Just be yourself, stop thinking of something new to invent, take action and that will manifest itself into something that's never been heard before. Matt Waldner is a professional guitar instructor in Minneapolis, MN. To get more free advice on becoming a rock star go to mattwaldner.com.

49 comments sorted by best / new / date

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    chrisweyers
    Thanks dude! I think this is definitely a direction I need to start moving toward!
    lespaulmaster
    Great Article, Especially Item 3! I like being mysterious. No,I mean when I try writing, the ending words seem logical, too obvious because I'm trying to rhyme my lines. I can make better progressions and melodies but writing the songs is the hardest for me. Thanks Matt. Great Job!
    liam1107
    so true, to any beginner this is probably the easiest way to learn theory, by analyzing your favourite songs, it makes theory way more interesting, and you learn it way quicker... one thing to watch is make sure you dont analyze things too much, you can end up making a carbon copy of one of your favourite songs, a thing i know all too well about. article is great! batman symbol out of 10!
    Shark17
    Yeah, this is exactly how I learned guitar. Started off with reading tabs straight from the site, but now I can play almost anything by ear.
    mojosarmy
    Great article, concise and inspirational! And 3 is right there, it's just short. But important.
    Unispex
    I can honestly say that I've learned more in this article then I have during all of my other visits to this site. Thanks, man.
    JohnnyNutman
    this was a good article. i developed my basic skills by just learning songs from my fav bands & playing along with their cd's. the first point was something that i picked up myself, but is something everyone should do. it really helps to understand what it is ur doing if u figure out the keys, chord progressions, harmonies etc. used within a song to see how they piece it all together.
    Let It Be0o0
    Good article, the only thing that annoyed me was 'jimmy hendrix' but blame that on my small bit of OCD
    Rockinguitar
    Fantastic Art, MattWaldner. Yeah, I've got good ear and learned most of my stuff through trail and error like that first. But I wouldn't be nearly as good as I am now if I hadn't listened to artists like John Petrucci. Heck, thanks to them I've written solos that I've still got to grow into!!
    Noremad
    This is a really good article! Thanks for taking the time to post it!
    DeadxEndxEmpty
    it's funny that I learned how to write songs, including the emotional content of them, fully without ever learning somebody else's songs. I guess it's suppose to help, but I myself have found that you just end up with a lot of musicians that sound the same.
    whatbox!!!
    very well written article i'm going to apply this right away also may i request an article on transcribing by ear i run in to chalenges with that especially when dealing with bands that use lots of effects like minus the bear and portugal. the man
    PeterTheMob
    really good tips at technical skills and creativity. I'm doing that all the time and I must say it helps! 10/10
    Maggot4lif3
    guys u will find three is there at the bottom of 2. 3 usually does come after 2. and its only a small bit so open your eyes please
    greenwoodfan93
    Maggot4lif3 wrote: guys u will find three is there at the bottom of 2. 3 usually does come after 2. and its only a small bit so open your eyes please
    darkfire_storm wrote: Freunleven wrote: A good article . . . . but what happened to number three?Diablo1986 wrote: Where's 3?Wasp wrote: It does seem to lack a number three. Other than that, good read.nigeltheginger wrote: number 3. Improves your maths no end how could you all have missed the part about lyrics? i know its short, but cmon, take a second look before you all jump on him about forgetting a number he certainly didn't forget.
    Irony. Oh dear if you actually read the comments you'd notice that the author had acknowledged the fact that he missed no. 3, then added a short piece on vocals. Oh and nice article, 10 out of 10!
    darkfire_storm
    Freunleven wrote: A good article . . . . but what happened to number three?
    Diablo1986 wrote: Where's 3?
    Wasp wrote: It does seem to lack a number three. Other than that, good read.
    nigeltheginger wrote: number 3. Improves your maths no end
    how could you all have missed the part about lyrics? i know its short, but cmon, take a second look before you all jump on him about forgetting a number he certainly didn't forget.
    me_llamo_juan
    I took off some point for not including 5 things like you promised. Otherwise it was good. But I'm just kidding, that was good.
    MaXiMuse
    But what with point 1 - 2 and 5 if the song is jsut an Am - C - G song? If you listen to Porcupine Tree or something it`s different. What happened to point three btw?
    Wasp
    It does seem to lack a number three. Other than that, good read.
    becker89
    wonderful article. i can tell that i learn a LOT from my favorite guitarist,jason becker. if you`ll check the becker thread in the forums, you`ll see i put there many stuff i transcribed by ear,arpeggios that he showed,fingerings he used,etc`.
    Wolffgang
    Ich sehe's nicht auch... Es gibt keine drei... fick drei... But I loved the part where you said that by analysis you gain a level of understanding on par with your level of theoretical understanding; I'm so with you on that one. It's amazing how your appreciation for the music you love deepens as you understand its construction more thoroughly, and concurrently how you can apply it to your own writing. Theory doesn't kill soul. It's weird how when you copy the phrasing from a song you like, whether consciously or unconsciously, how obvious it is to you, but not the people you show it to. Great article.
    IROn 5L1nKY
    I'm not going to ask where point number three is, because that would mean I'm copying everybody else... no, wait, I really wanna know WHERE IS IT??? besides that, I'm printing out this article and showing it to all my musical friends. Very useful...\ I commend you sir, for an excellent article.
    EREV777
    Diablo1986 wrote: Where's 3?
    its there, trust me its there "lyrics"
    MattWaldner
    Oh god... I forgot number three. Or did I. Maybe It's part of a conspiracy, a secret you absolutely must know. Ok here it is: 3. Lyrics. Be mysterious. When writing lyrics, don't be so logical. Make things random and unpredictable. Seriously. That will spark interest and provoke deep interest on the song. Really, the article should read: "4 Things You Can Learn From Your Favorite Artists." The missing number 3 was an honest mistake. But that is a good point on writing lyrics. My bad on the missing number. Thanks everyone.
    Taargus
    Very well done. This was very helpful, and I thank you for taking the time to write it.
    osXtiger
    Places tin foil hat on head* It's a conspiracy! Nahh, just kiddin' about. This is a pretty good article, I've always thought about those things and had rough ideas about them. But this clears things up for me quite nicely, Thanks Matt!