Why You Should Learn Guitar By Playing To The Recording

Learning Guitar From The Record

So a student asked me the other day, “What is the great benefit of playing along to the recording?”  Well, there are a ton of great benefits to playing along to a recording, whether slowed down or at full-speed.  In my professional opinion, there are only three ways to demonstrate you can play a song (besides playing it with a band).  You can either play it all the way through, in time, with a metronome, you can play it all the way through with the recording (at any speed), or if it is a vocal tune, you can play it all the way through while singing.  While there are many benefits to playing with a recording, here are four big ones.

1.)  It’s more fun than playing to a metronome or alone without singing, but requires less concentration than both playing and singing.  If you’ve tried to play anything to a metronome, you know it can get pretty dull.  Listening to a click for an hour straight can be akin to laying in bed listening to a faucet drip onto a pan.  Playing the song by yourself without lyrics is likewise dull, as most songs are a handful of chords repeating over and over.  Conversely, singing and playing requires you to be so subconsciously comfortable with the guitar part, that you can use the conscious center of your brain to focus on the lyrics and the melody.  In playing to a recording you get the thrill of actually performing a favorite piece of music, while still being accountable for playing parts right.  If you are playing a part wrong, you are going to hear it and be able to stop to address it.

2.)  Rhythm, Tempo and Time.  It’s not uncommon for a student to think they know a tune well, only to have me put on a recording and have them fall apart.  They might not be able to perform a difficult section at the same tempo as the rest of the song.  Or they might have an extra pause in their strum pattern that they didn’t notice when playing by themselves.  They may be rushing the tempo or dropping beats.  Playing to the recording allows one to hear when they are ahead, behind, pausing or struggling to keep up with a section.

3.)  Looping.  If you are using a program such as The Amazing Slow Downer, you’ll be able to create a loop of the more difficult sections so you can rehearse them over and over.  Repetition is the key to learning any muscle memory skill and looping a section is a lot more interesting than trying to play it to a click.  Once you have that section mastered, you can go back and play the whole song, confident in your ability to perform the hard parts.

4.)  It’s complete.  The worst habit I see among both guitar teachers and students is thinking they have learned or taught a song when they have really just learned or taught their favorite part.  I can’t tell you how many students I’ve had tell me they can play “Back in Black” or “Crazy Train,” when in actuality they can only play the first four measures.  Both of those songs are at least three minutes long, and if you can’t play some guitar part during all three of those minutes, I hate to tell you this, you can’t actually play that song.  Playing to a recording forces you to learn every part of a song so that your not just staring at the wall waiting for the parts you know.