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How the heck do I learn to play songs?

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Eminent Member
Joined: 15 years ago
Posts: 17
Topic starter  

I've read the lessons on here, looked at tabs, read song books, but I still don't understand how to get the tone that the original player has. I don't know how to get the right timing. Help me!

Edit: I've been listening to "Wish You Were Here" by Pink Floyd for a while (after reading the lesson), and I want to try it..but my electric guitar is getting repaired (the neck was bending :O) and all I have is my acoustic which is too loud to play... : /

Any tips for this song?

My guitars:

Reputable Member
Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 186

Hi Damien. I'm afraid I don't have any quick solutions. Ironically, I'm watching a Floyd concert on tv as I type this and they are playing Wish You Were Here.

Getting a full song down can be very frustrating, especially in the beginning. Your first question was about tone. This can be tricky because you're normally not playing on the same caliber equipment that the original artist is. Also, you probably don't have as much as they do.

As for rythm and timing, there are many song-specific video lessons out there. Search Youtube for the song name + guitar lesson and you'll often find some video instruction. There are also song-specific lessons here at Guitarnoise. Here is a link to the lesson for Wish You Were Here:

Good luck!

Reputable Member
Joined: 15 years ago
Posts: 334

Hi Damien - my advice is that the original tone is the last thing you want to worry about. I just saw a show on TV about Tommy Emmanuel (Australian guitar genius), and he was talking about his 'sound'. When recording, he has 3 different sized amps, he mics them all up front and back (right in the back of the amp), and out of these 6 different sounds, he mixes his own. He also probably - similar to Bruce Springsteen - records the same track with different guitars, electric, acoustic etc.

As for getting the song exactly right, I personally don't care much for that either. As a 'beginner', I can play many songs, but few sound anything like the original, they are more or less my interpretation of it. That's half the fun of playing other people's songs, you can adjust them to suit your style.

As for the timing, get a metronome and use it at all times. It really helps with keeping time and getting your feet used to tapping along as well. Start slowly with each song and build up the speed once you are comfortable with your current one.

I am surprised that you say your acoustic is too loud. I find that when strumming with my fingers (thumb for downstrum, index finger for up), I can play without disturbing anybody.

WYWH is a great songs, the intro is a challenge but well worth it, and the strumming is actually not too hard. Good luck with the song. Keep at it, your persistence will pay off.

Noble Member
Joined: 16 years ago
Posts: 1089

As for getting the song exactly right, I personally don't care much for that either. As a 'beginner', I can play many songs, but few sound anything like the original, they are more or less my interpretation of it. That's half the fun of playing other people's songs, you can adjust them to suit your style.

Not to mention that the original artists almost never play the song the same way twice. Especially when they play live. Neil Young does Heart of Gold to a small audience and does not play the same way he does on the original recording; at the Concert for Bangladesh and the Concert for George (OK, I'm a George Harrison groupie :lol: ) not one song is played the same way as on the original recordings.

In the beginning (not that I'm too far away from that :oops: ) I drove myself nuts trying to get the exact strumming rhythm and sound as on the recordings. It just ain't gonna happen, nor do I think it should. I think it's better to adopt your own style.

It is difficult to answer when one does not understand the question.

Estimable Member
Joined: 16 years ago
Posts: 168

For what it's worth, "Wish You Were Here" was the first song I could play all the way through. The intro isn't that hard once you realize the 3rd and 4th fingers stay on the same frets the whole time, and the rest is open chords. I didn't learn the solo (the bit over the intro) until a few months later, of course.

There's a lesson here at guitarnoise, and a good video lesson on Youtube from Justin Sandercoe.

Honorable Member
Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 557

hi mate

the most important thing to be able to play a song is to fully understand its different parts. This mean to be able to recognize'em in the song (which is the verse chord progression? how many times is it played for each verse? what about the chorus?? etc.) and to understand their rhythm (does chord change on the beat or are anticipated? which is the main rhythm?). After you did this, you could try to learn them individually (better with a metronome) and at the end you could put'em all toghether and try to play alongside the record. Of course after a while some songs are quite easy for your current ability and could learn them a bit faster. Don't forget that at the beginning you could be able to play a part slower than the record and so it could take a while to get the song together.

i.e. I'm learning Iron Maiden's "Run to the hills". Ok it's an intermediate-advanced heavy meyal song but it is made of several parts: an intro which is repeated six times, a verse with a fast sixteen notes rhythm at 160 bpm, a pre-chorus, a chorus (both of them mainly made of sustained chords), then back to the sixteen notes rhthm for the solo (but on a different progression), a bridge with a different quaver rhythm and a different progression, then back to the chorus. And we're talking of a 3 minutes and a half song. I can play the intro, pre-chorus, the chorus, the bridge, but can play the verse only at 130-140 bpm (instead of 160) so i'm not able to play the full song.

Having said so, the first thing to do is to learn a few rhythms so that you could recognize them in the songs you wish to learn. Spend more time than you can with rhythms because to get the ability to play on time is the key to learn songs