How to Learn Any Solo No Matter How Difficult. Part 1

This is a two part article about how to learn solos that you find challenging, particularly if you're an intermediate or advanced guitarist.

Ultimate Guitar
"Why don't you just F--K OFF." My computer screen had frozen for half a second, and I thought insulting my poor battered red HP laptop would make it obey my commands quicker. I wasn't really mad at the computer - my latest decision to learn a guitar solo note for note was blowing up in my face. I had decided to get the first half of the solo down in three hours - no problem for an experienced player like me, or so I thought. I soon realised this was a 40 bar beast that did not want to be tamed. I decided to take a 15 minute break, which turned into 30 minutes, a day, a week and I soon forgot all about the solo. By forgetting all about my original goal of learning the solo, my ego was doing its best to limit the damage this solo was doing to my self confidence. Sadly, my ego had turned me into a bragging five-year-old on a playground. I could do it; I just didn't feel like it right now. Not one of my more productive phases of musical learning. Today (24/04/2013) I am more than 50% of the way through learning my favourite solo of all time - "Tornado Of Souls" by Megadeth. The tactics I use (I'll get to these later) haven't changed - but my strategy has changed dramatically. My strategy for learning solos now has two main components: Baby Steps, which is covered in this article, and Rigging the Game, which I'll cover next week.

Baby Steps

"Seriously though, how long should I practice this week?" David had the look students sometimes get when they are absolutely determined to master an aspect of guitar playing. It's not too dissimilar to the look someone has when they're constipated. "Let's start with four minutes." "I can do more than four minutes; shouldn't I go for an hour every day?" It was hard for me not to roll my eyes up at this point "Let's work up to that. For this week, let's start small. I want you to practice for four minutes every day. You can do more if you want, but the minimum is four minutes." Am I attempting to commit guitar teacher suicide by convincing my students to practice less? You would think so, but I'm actually trying to emulate the teachings of BJ Fogg, an experimental psychologist in Stanford specialising in behavioural change.

Long Term Gains Vs Short Term Gains

BJ has a phrase "believe in baby steps". After working with hundreds of people in his behavioural change course, he's seen that the smaller the commitment to a new habit, the higher the permanent adoption rate. Instead of attempting to do 50 push ups a day, do one a day. The psychology behind this is that the sooner you feel like you've accomplished something, the higher the chance you'll continue the habit. Anyone can do one push up a day. In a week, increasing to 2, then three, four and so on. It may not seem like much at first, but long-term, you'll have developed a habit that is positive for you. The problem with choosing big goals first is the excuse factor - if you say you'll practice guitar for an hour a day, you automatically create the excuse that you don't have the time. That's why I recommend my students practice initially only four minutes a day. No-one is going to make big progress with four minutes a day, but it's easy to commit to 4 minutes a day. Long-term, the habit of all good and great players as being instilled: consistent, daily practice. The question boils down to this: Would you like to actually do one push up every day, or would you rather dream of doing 50 push ups a day? Or rephrased for guitarists: would you like to actually play guitar for five minutes a day, or dream of doing an hour's practice every day? Let's assume we're going to commit to playing just a little bit every day. We now have an easy, low pressure way of picking up the guitar and everyday making a little bit of progress. The next thing we need to do is make sure that the few minutes we spend playing the guitar are useful in this specific case, we want to learn new material and challenge ourselves in a sustainable way. So we need to rig the game in our favour.


Do I really only learn one bar a day? If the bar is complex, yes. If there is an easy few bars and I have time, I get those few bars. The goal is to learn the solo by taking baby steps. Shouldn't I learn to play by ear? Playing by ear and learning to transcribe are excellent skills to have, but they are not the goal here. We want to learn a solo. If you want to develop those skills, why not transcribe one bar a day? Won't this take forever? An 80 bar solo will technically take 80 days to learn, and that's if you don't miss any days. After two weeks jump to two bars a day and an 80 bar solo will only take 40 days! I have another response to that question: would you rather learn the solo over 80 days, or dream of learning it in a week? We're rigging the game in our favour, and over a year you're now learning four 80 bar solos. Over time, you'll get faster learning solos, and in two years, who's better off: the player with 12 new complex solos under his belt, or the player who has a few simple, half learned solos? For me it's the former. How does this method work for you? Have you started a new small habit that's going to work for you long term? Let me know in the comments. Hey guys, I'm Eoghan O'Neill and I'm a guitar teacher currently teaching in the West of Ireland, Galway to be precise! I'm starting a new blog, called The Efficient Guitarist. It's a blog for intermediate and advanced guitar players interested in Soloing and Advanced Acoustic Guitar Playing. Check it out!

39 comments sorted by best / new / date

    The 'bar-a-day' method is really helpful, not gonna lie.
    I'm wondering how long your'e looking at for "for the love of god" or any dragonforce song?
    Well, the idea is that you start off with a bar a day and work up towards learning more and more of the song as time goes on. So, it may take less time than you think. Also, iirc, "For the Love of God" (in fact, most Steve Vai) songs have a "main" melody which gets repeated two or more times (sometimes with slight variations). So, a few sections you don't have to completely (I say completely, because you will need to learn the variations) go through the process of learning.
    Not to brag or anything, but the "taking baby steps" approach really does work. The bunch of students that I teach all struggle with trying to take on too much material, and that's the same stuff I tell them. It's great advice.
    BJ Fogg here . . . Thanks for applying my work here. Fun to see. One thing that works for me in piano is to learn the song backward. Learn the last bar first, then back up one, etc. So the beginning is the last thing you learn. So for solos (which I don't do) I imagine you'd learn that last bit first, then back up from there. So by the time you're learning the first part, you can easily nail everything that follows.
    Eoghan O'Neill
    Hey My Last Words, you should be able to get any bar at a slow enough speed, but if its still technically very challenging don't worry about it - long term taking a few extra days to get that tricky bar will be a drop in the ocean. Glad you guys liked it, I really wanted to bring some new ideas into my posts.
    My Last Words
    And what if you fail to execute a given bar properly after one day?
    Eoghan O'Neill
    Well the beauty of the system is that its very flexible - I missed two days last weekend and there was no punishment or self inflicted forfeit - just keep going like nothing happened.
    Once you download guitar pro, how do you find good tablature for your favorite solos?
    i can see how this works, but you kinda dumb yourself down this way. you can learn quicker than you think, just gotto switch off and focus on how does it feel when you play it clean. save feeling..speed up a bit also when you are passionate you naturally won't put it down and it won't create stress as if you only focus on being able to play it. and then there is your ear memory plus finger memory so even if you don't remember with your left brain exactly what fret and so on (which is stupid anyway) if you allow and relax and are not afraid to "make mistakes" and actually look foward to them then it's fun and every mistake cleared is an improvement which motivates. that being said, it's not good to look at it as work. many ppl don't have the natural reasons to play guitar. they wanna impress mainly...many things go wrong from there but they wudn't picked up the guitar otherwise anyway so ...nothing wrong with impressing or competition but obv there are other reasons why to play and if you have them, you won't practice a ****ing bar a day know the thing is discipline kills passion..and with passion you let yourself decide when to play and for how long and don't treat yourself like a dog..well they often get treated wrong also when you play one bar a day you miss out on all the creative you can do when practising. i never know where it takes me, i don't have routines
    I totally agree with this method!!! I've been doing this type of thing since a young age because my dad was very into this style of start slow, learn a bit a day and keep going. I can now master solos pretty easy and quickly which is great and it's not because i'm amazing or anything, it's because I started slow and built up, i've had 11 years now of building. People should listen to this guys advice!
    I really like how this put things in perspective for me, on WHY to start slow. I'm now ready to go do 1 push up a day.
    I had that exact same problem, with tornado of souls too I got about a third the way through Three years ago...
    Eoghan O'Neill
    Hey pirate muffin Dan, hours over minutes will definitely improve you faster, the idea is to work up to that over time, rather than go hung ho for a week or two. Sustainability is key!
    It took me a while to learn this. I still think challenging yourself is crucial. But often I felt overwhelmed and just "dreaming" of accomplishing it like you said, often "learning" every note one day and forgetting the whole solo the next. Now I learn just a few measures a week. I practice it insanely slow until I realize I'm so bored of playing it that I can shred it at blazing speed. I don't even think about speeding it up, I just make sure it sounds insanely clean and musical. That with enjoying the playing makes practice sessions much more fun, effective, and less underwhelming. I'd still recommend practicing hours over 4 minutes though.
    Eoghan O'Neill
    @jbwreckfest why not try to learn the first bar today? Next week I'll put up the second half of the article, focusing on the nitty gritty of learning each bar.
    Darth Crow
    This seems to be a pretty neat method. But that "no matter how hard" part... I don't know. If there's some crazy two handed tapping or 6-strings sweep picking I just cannot play, I'll first have to master those, and THAT definately takes more than one day.
    Eoghan O'Neill
    Well there's always exceptions, I think you took one of the most far out examples though! For sure, this is an article written for intermediate and advanced players, so the assumption is you have the major lead guitar techniques down already.
    I definitely need to start adopting this, because I'm now at the point where if a solo contains one of my weak points, I may as well forget it. I find it ridiculous that I can play the the Under A Glass Moon Solo and hardly be able to play any of the Tornado of Souls Solo..
    sunburst steve
    Very good psychology being used here. Most people get stuck up on the technique or skill or scale or etc. but forget about the motivation and patience aspect.
    If someone is intermediate or advanced they are hardly going to say, "Geez I think I will learn to solo by going to ultimate guitar dot com!" You would do yourself a favor by catering to new and beginner level people. They might not start with this Megadeath solo but the concepts would appeal to them; especially thinking they can become good on playing 5 minutes a day. If I had a student that only had even 30 minutes per day, I would make them start with PERFECT PITCH or just learning to listen to the subtleties of what each individual note sounds like. In that way they will later easily pick up on the solo as they can hear it deeper than the average person. Then 10 minutes of scales and physical finger aerobics just so their fingers will go where the mind wills them to go. Last 10 minutes would be rhythm and chords. You can't become an advanced guitar player on no 30 minutes per day, that is for certain...and nobody kid yourself. If all you want is to entertain yourself or impress chicks around the 30 minutes per day. Or take it to the next level and play solos like this by practicing a couple hours per day. Within time you "might" be able to play in a little garage band. Want to be advanced and play paid gigs in clubs and cool backyard keg parties? I would suggest at least 4 to 6 hours per day, 3 to 4 times per week and 2 hours on the off days, at least for the first few years or longer. There are no real short-cuts other than learning better focus and discipline. In fairness to Eoghan, learning to practice smart, utilizing modern technology like his guitar program is great advice. An advanced technique [top]for some is to learn not to play or even think of the guitar once per month for a full 24 hours, as this Zen approach helps break staleness, re-opening the mind's creativity. ** For those of you that become advanced guitar players on 5 minutes a day...I will worship you.