What Kinds of Songs Sound Good Played Solo?

Decemberists

This past week I shot my next premium song lesson, Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here.” It was a real coming-full-circle experience for me, having learned it when I was 14, and played it countless times with friends and strangers and girls-I-liked-who-just-wanted-to-be-friends over the years, and now teaching it to members of Heartwood Guitar.

It got me thinking about why this song continues to be so popular–with young and old alike. And why some songs work so well on solo guitar and other just don’t. And why learning to play songs solo is SO IMPORTANT.

Some Songs Just Don’t Work

Stairway to Heaven, for example, is notoriously hard to play solo. No one plays Stairway unless they’re on stage with a band, or showing off at Guitar Center. Even if you know how to play every guitar part, pulling off Robert Plant’s banshee wailing is beyond almost all of us, men and women included.

AND that’s a lot of words to remember.

AND those chord shapes are a real test of endurance on an acoustic guitar.

AND you’ll have to skip the guitar solo if you’ve got no one to play rhythm.

And that’s a crying shame.

The Perfect Solo Song

“Wish You Were Here,” on the other hand, is one of those songs made for solo performance.

It’s easy to sing–both for most men in the original key, or for most women by simply slapping on a capo.

It’s played using easy open chords.

And here’s the kicker: The instrumental part–that classic riff that starts the song–is one of those rare gifts from the guitar gods that can be played by mere mortals on solo guitar.


Performing “Wish You Were Here” with my student Wesley at Seattle’s Royal Room in 2018

Why the World Needs You to Have a Repertoire of Solo Songs

Whenever I teach someone a song–in person or online–I always try to anticipate how they’ll play when I’m not around. If they play in a rock band, I’ll teach them guitar parts that will sound good with the band backing them up.

But most of us don’t play in bands, and unfortunately, we live in communities where remote controls and game controllers have replaced musical instruments. Most people in the United States don’t even SING anymore.

We as a species are increasingly cut off from one of our main sources of community-building and spiritual sustenance.

You, my friend, are part of the solution–but you need to be able to hold your own. When you play music, you can’t count on other people joining in. So if you want to take your music out of your bedroom and share it with friends and family–because it’s fun, and because our culture is in dire need of it–you need a repertoire of popular songs that you can play start to finish.

Even if everyone else is just mumbling the chorus.

Join Heartwood Guitar today and start building that repertoire.

16 New Charts Added

I’ve just completed an overhaul of Heartwood Guitar’s backend (the stuff under the hood you don’t see), which has enabled me to update the site quickly and easily. To celebrate, I’ve added a bunch of new chord charts.

Charts with an S have strum pattern videos. Become a member to get instant access.

Adams, Bryan – Summer of ’69 S
Beastie Boys, The – No Sleep till Brooklyn
Beastie Boys, The – Sabotage
Eurythmics – Sweet Dreams S
Foo Fighters – Cheer Up Boys Your Make Up Is Running
Foo Fighters – My Hero
Guy, Buddy – Let Me Love You Baby S
Hendrix, Jimi – Voodoo Child (Slight Return)
Kristofferson, Kris – Me and Bobby McGee S
Lynyrd Skynyrd – Free Bird
McPherson, JD – North Side Gal S
Metallica – Master of Puppets
New Pornographers, The – Twin Cinema
Petty, Tom – You Wreck Me
Thompson, Richard – Dimming of the Day
Who, The – I Can’t Explain

Big thanks to my good friend Joe Walker of Deft Digits for charting “Free Bird” and “Master of Puppets”–those were beasts!

Almost $1k in Donations–Thank You!

The 2018 Christmas Carol Songbook was a huge success, bringing in $942, which I split between two worthy causes:

The RAICES Families Together Fund, which works to prevent the cruel separation of children and their parents at the U.S. southern border, and

Seattle Children’s Hospital’s Uncompensated Care Fund, which helps cover the care of sick kids here in Seattle.

Huge thanks to everyone who donated: Laura, Tony, Chris, Dave, William, Blake, Philip, Chase, Meghan, Frederik, Letty, Cynthia, James, Steven, Lonny, Elizabeth, Andrew, David, John, Derek, William, Todd, Stuart, Mark, Clint, Jim, Michael, Paul, Barry, John, Kenneth, Craig, Ryan, Jon, George, Sable, Maggie, Bohdan, Anthony, Jack, Donna, Michael, and John.

Seattle Children’s Hospital

RAICES

Another song lesson video: “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen / Jeff Buckley

Here's my latest free song lesson video: A beginner lesson on Leonard Cohen's amazing "Hallelujah." My arrangement is inspired by the gorgeous Jeff Buckley cover.

If you enjoy it, please subscribe to my new YouTube channel.


Here's the chord chart.

It's been so fun releasing these free song lesson videos over the past couple weeks. I remember the excitement my blog generated almost 10 years ago--at that time, there wasn't a whole lot of support for guitarists on the internet, especially if you were just starting out. I'm sensing that same excitement again. I'm loving producing the lessons, and people are loving learning from them.

Thanks for all the great feedback!

Song Lesson Video: “Let Her Go” by Passenger

Here's my first-ever free song lesson video: "Let Her Go" by Passenger, for beginning and intermediate guitarists who want to learn how to both sing and play the song. This gorgeous tune is already hugely popular, and now that it's the soundtrack to Budweiser's cute Super Bowl puppy-and-horse-are-buddies commercial, the hugeness will only expand.


Here's the chord chart.

Some background...

For the past year and a half, I've been shooting footage for a video-based beginning guitar course I'm calling "Rob's Totally Awesome Guitar Crash Course." The course won't be done until this fall, and in the meantime, I'm hungry for feedback.

So I've decided to shoot some free song lessons on the side: Stuff I can release, and get feedback on, now. Any feedback y'all give me on what's working and what's not would be tremendously helpful. Should I make more of these?

Words of encouragement motivate me to make more free lessons like this one. Share with your musical friends, and thanks for checking this out.

Free Christmas Caroling Songbook

Rob's Totally Awesome Christmas Carol SongbookThis past Saturday I attended SMooCH, a fantastic fundraiser concert for Seattle Children's Hospital. Macklemore headlined. Free drinks and food. It was a religious experience.

Well, religious except that I was freeloading. The ticket was a gift from a student, I took advantage of the open bar, and I didn't give a dime.

We're on a tight budget this year, so I'm not kicking myself. All the same, the generosity I saw at the concert made me want to do something to give back this year.

Here's the result: Rob's Totally Awesome Christmas Caroling Songbook. It's free, it's professional-quality, and it'll get you singing with your family and friends quicker than you can say "Wenceslas".

And if you dig the book and can spare a few bucks, please consider donating to Seattle Children's Hospital. You can read more about their Uncompensated Care Fund on the download page.

Go to Songbook Download Page

Thanks, and have a magical Christmas.

Looking for an Awesome Practice System

checklistMusicians and teachers, I need your help.

Have you used a system for tracking guitar practice that really motivated you or your students to stick with it? I’m hoping to integrate a proven tracking system into the online guitar course I’m creating. Plus, it’d be awesome to use something like this with my private students.

I know how to teach students to practice mindfully and develop good muscle memory. And I understand the motivational power of providing performance opportunities for students. What I’m looking for is some kind of checklist, or point system, or game that will help students measure their progress and amplify their sense of accomplishment.

Bonus points if you can point me toward websites that have used a system like this.

Can’t wait to hear your ideas.

We Have A Winner

Congratulations to Wesley for winning the 2013 Summer Cover Competition. Wesley won a $100 gift certificate to Musician’s Friend.

Here’s his incendiary performance of Link Wray’s “Fire and Brimstone” that earned him first place.

You can see the full results and the other competitors (who were also excellent) on the Summer Cover Competition page.

New Chart: “Fires of Edinburgh” by Nick Keir

Cowgate Arch
The Cowgate Arch of George IV Bridge, Edinburgh, 1860
Source: National Galleries of Scotland Commons

Here's a special treat for traditional music buffs: A chart for a gorgeous, epic tour of the history of Edinburgh written by the obscure Scottish songwriter Nick Keir.


"Fires of Edinburgh" by Nick Keir (the first of the two songs)

Transcribing this song was a big task, but immensely rewarding. Almost always there are lyrics available for the songs I chart, but because this is an obscure tune, the lyric-deciphering was up to me. And because I knew nothing about Edinburgh before the project, getting the many place names right required that I dig deep into Wikipedia. I had become a musical archeologist for a day.

What I unearthed brought the song to life: The "trail of gunpowder," for example, refers to the murder of Mary, Queen of Scots' second husband, whose house, located near the catacomb-riddled Cowgate neighborhood pictured above, was destroyed by a gunpowder explosion but who appeared to have been strangled, his body unmarked by the explosion. Discovering these details was a thrilling treasure hunt.

The musicianship and songwriting is top-notch. Keir (who, according to YouTube comments, tragically died recently) was a skilled flatpicker, playing fast, clean arpeggios at the beginning and ending of the song. The melody in this song is lovely, and his voice is clear and honest.

I don't expect I'll ever teach this song again, and I'd be surprised if more than a handful of people will ever use the chart I've posted. But those who do are in for a great adventure.

New Chart: “Crocodile Rock” by Elton John

Elton John

30 Charts in 30 Days continues!

Up next we have a paradox packaged in a bubblegum wrapper: Mr. John is yearning for those golden days of his youth, when he and Susie used to rock to…the song he just wrote.

Careful, Elton–just because no one’s created a black hole while writing a song doesn’t mean it can’t happen.

Here’s the chord chart.