In my own practise time, and while teaching, I’m often working out licks that I can’t quite “hear”. Sure, I can get the general flow of the lick or riff, but hearing the minute details can be quite challenging. This is where I turn to technology to help me.
Prior to the advent of CD’s, MP3’s and streaming, I used to use cassette tapes. Yes, I received “10 cassettes for a penny!” from Columbia House (Does it even exist anymore?). I was so excited to get my first batch of tapes, particularly the Jimi Hendrix “Are You Experienced” tape and the Weezer “Blue” album. I used to try to learn those songs by ear, playing and rewinding 3 second sections of songs over and over again. This was a good introduction to transcription for me.
Transcribing doesn’t mean you have to write down the riff or lick, though that helps if you want to review something years down the road. It simply means learning a song or riff without the aid of sheet music or Tabs.
Using casettes, I was able to get the general idea of most songs, but the ghost notes, legato vs picked, even the differences in a “cowboy” D chord vs a D barre chord, often was hidden. Trying to decipher a fast lick was nearly impossible.When I went to college, I purchased my first computer and discovered a couple different programs that allowed me to slow down .wav files and .mp3’s. I still use them both to this day:
Transcribe - My main program. I’ve used Transcribe for the last 15-ish years. Can slow down, loop, EQ, has all the bells and whistles and also has a video player, allowing you to slow down videos you’ve grabbed off of YouTube and Instagram.
Anytune Pro+ on my phone. Similar functionality to Transcribe (without the video player), but on my phone. Great in combination with an iRig for practising on the bus or dressing rooms.
Recently I downloaded “The Amzing Slowdowner” because it has the ability to slow down streamed audio from Spotify.
The great thing about all these programs is that you don’t need to retune your guitar to play a song that is in Eb tuning or an older recording that is slightly in-between keys thanks to tape machines running at not quite full speed. You can EQ out other instruments and really dig into those fast licks that fly by. Even remove a guitar solo from a mix so that you can practise along with the band without the aid of the original solo helping you along.
With these tools, and some patience, you’ll be able to learn all the licks your ears, brain and fingers can handle!