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.