I am guitarist and when I am working in solo or practicing of some master of performance or someone else on guitar I always have some doubts if am I in the right way. Because sometimes is painful to take some solos.

Do you try to play note for note or just extract phrases que you like and play in your own style? Do you play by ear or read the sheet music?

What is the best way?

closed as primarily opinion-based by Matthew Read Jul 21 '16 at 19:26

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • 1
    What do you mean by 'painful'? – Tim Jul 19 '16 at 23:02
  • I mean difficult, hard, arduous or hard-working. – Edu Pelais Jul 20 '16 at 13:07

What you're asking is not too clear. However, if you want or need to faithfully reproduce a solo, the best way is to listen to it many, many times, and try to copy it exactly.Even considering the tone, effects used, etc. It will depend on how good a player you are and how experienced you are as to how well that works, and how long it takes. If it's for a tribute band or an exam., then you'll need to get it spot on.

If it's for a cover band, then the parameters change, and you can perform the number with your own nuances and added bits, so there is a degree of flexibility there, and accuracy of reproduction is not deemed to be as important - they want to hear your 'take ' of the number.


The best way to learn a solo depends on your current ability and your preferred learning style. Since I don't know either as it relates to you, allow me to offer what I personally do when learning a solo.

I perform mostly covers either solo or as part of a duo or full band. When covering a solo, my goal is to play something that the audience will recognize as the song I am playing. In other words something that "sounds" authentic.

I very rarely attempt to play the exact note for note version of a guitar solo on particular recording. There are several reasons for this. First, even the original artists will often change the solos from one performance to the next. Often these changes are subtle and barely recognizable unless you do a forensic analysis by replaying the recording and or slowing it down. Sometimes the change is more noticeable. I think it makes a live performance more interesting if the solo's are played different than on the record. Sometimes what they do in the studio is difficult to reproduce on stage and that will often account for the difference between the live version and the studio version of a song.

Another reason that I don't feel the need to analyze and learn a note for note transcription is that I don't feel like spending that much time learning to play a solo note for note. Instead I would prefer to spend my learning time learning another cover.

I don't think the audiences I play to would notice if I play the solo a little different than the original artist - as long as it's close. Nor do I think they expect me to play it EXACTLY like the original artist. But if I only knew a handful of songs and could not play any of their requests because I was busy learning the exact note for note solo instead of learning new material - the audience would notice that.

Finally, in many cases I don't have the same effects, or same type of guitar, or the skill level necessary to pull of an exact duplicate of what I may hear on a particular version of a particular artists performing a guitar solo. So since I know that no matter how much time I spend trying to sound just like Stevie Rae Vaughn on a particular solo, I recognize that I never will - so I try to get close - but make it my own interpretation.

I am a play by ear learner and don't do well with tabs or sheet music. Most tabs available on line are nothing more than someones interpretation of how the piece was played and as you know, with a guitar, there are multiple places where any given note in any given pitch class can be played.

Another point to consider is that there are always alternate ways to play any solo on a guitar and the way it is played by one artist on the video, might not be the easiest way for you or I to play the same solo. I personally have very short fingers so I can't always make the stretches some guitarists make. Therefore I have to adapt the way I play a solo and where I play it on the neck, to what I can practically do given my physical limitations.

My ultimate goal is to create a reasonably authentic, recognizable rendition of the songs I cover - with the entertainment of the audience as my primary goal. I also like to have fun. Spending hours trying to learn the exact note for note version of a guitar solo complete with the same effects, bends, slides and other nuances, is not my personal idea of fun.

Some folks may enjoy getting it exactly like so and so played it on such and such concert as seen on a particular YouTube video. There is certainly nothing wrong with that if that's your thing. But personally, I would not fret (pun not intended) about getting the solos to sound exactly like what you hear on the record or how they did it on in a particular live show. Keep it simple and mostly - keep it fun.

  • Thanks a lot for your answer. It's a pitty my vote cast is less than 15 and I still can't vote here. With my habilities and mainly my goals with guitar, I must say that I can't play note for note. For me it is impossible and a little bit estressful. I appreciate the guys who has this hability of playing solos equals of the original tunes. – Edu Pelais Jul 20 '16 at 21:22
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    All fair points. There are very few solos that I feel are 'definitive'. One such is Hotel California. Since there was only really the one that was the hit, whenever it's played, it's pretty recognisable. So, any other version 'just isn't right'. Even the original guitarist had to re-learn it for a concert many years later! Most solos/songs have various different recordings, with huge differs, so doing your own take is often the best way. Room 335 (Larry Carlton) has been re-recorded many times through his career, and each one has a lot of variance with the others, adding interest. (Cont.) – Tim Jul 21 '16 at 8:29
  • (cont.) but it's sometimes fun to emulate something exactly. Teaching at Diploma level, we need to equip a candidate with the propensity to reproduce a solo such as Gilmour or Peter Green would play. This incorporates playing firstly the track exactly as per record, then going off on one exactly as they would do, with similar but not copied phrases, tones and nuances. Actually very difficult to pull off in a one off live exam situation, but fun in a way, nevertheless! – Tim Jul 21 '16 at 8:34
  • I agree. A deeper study of guitar playing on a much more advanced level should incorporate learning some solos note for note as a learning tool if nothing else. And yes there are some solos or riffs that must be faithfully reproduced. In addition to Hotel California another one that comes to mind is Sweet Child O Mine by Guns N Roses. There are countless others where the guitar riff is the main hook of the song. But for a beginner experiencing some difficulty getting some solos exactly right, for most songs, they need not become frustrated at not playing it exact. – Rockin Cowboy Jul 22 '16 at 14:58

When initially learning, or if trying to play an exact cover, you will want to copy the artist's style, and try to learn it note for note, including all nuances.

Once you can confidently play a range of pieces, you will realise you are developing your own quirks and style, and you'll probably change notes, licks, bends and timing.

If it is painful, you may be doing it wrong, or you may just need more practice. Worthwhile looking at your technique to understand why it hurts you.


Use all the resources you have. I would get the tabs from a source that is reliable like books or magazines. You can also go to YouTube and find the most trusted videos of a demonstration. I find going with a video at full and half speed can help. Use a combination of both and you will be fine. You also don't have to be note for note on every solo. Some people don't have the speed or dexterity to perform some phrases in solos.


It is definitely best to try to play it by ear. Sheet and tab can only convey so much, as it can't really capture the tone, nuance, emotion, feel, etc. So learn to play by ear and your skills will last a lifetime, versus playing tabs which will fade if you don't practice for 5 years...but if you can play by ear, you'll always be able to play.

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