I've been learning some hard rock/heavy metal cover tunes (Priest,
Scorpions, etc.) to play with a drummer. We had an initial rehearsal last night, and it went pretty well until it came time to play the solos (ones transcribed from the record, not improvised). I got lost pretty quickly, even though I had been practicing them along with the records.
My question is: How do you recommend learning/practicing solos from recordings? I know you need to play along with the record initially, but this can become a "crutch" as I learned last night. Is there some way to incorporate priciples from Chord-Tone Soloing to do this (metronome, chord tracks, etc.)?
The same thing happens to me too, and I can't claim any special secret knowledge for preventing it, other than maybe the philosophy that long term memory is assisted by multiple perspectives on the same information: physical, aural, visual, verbal, etc.
Here are some things I do to try to learn a solo well enough that I can pull it off on a gig or rehearsal the first time and every time. I'll do some or all of these things depending on how important the gig is and how much time I have to get ready.
First: everything you said. I practice without the recording as soon as possible and only check back with it if I am totally stuck. I make my own backing sequence to play over, and also play it with a metronome only. I always try to practice the solo and each lick in the proper time, even if I am alone. I do not skip the rests or empty bars to save time. The song structure has to march by in my head like a treadmill.
I try to find the easiest and most obvious fingerings for everything and practice it the same way every time so it becomes muscle memory.
I will put my guitar aside, and slowly visualize the solo being played, one note at a time.
I sing the solo away from the instrument, bit by bit; usually singing scales first for about 5 minutes before I start.
I will intentionally set up situations to test my ability to play the solo while I'm distracted. I'll play it while I'm talking or watching tv at the same time.
Teach the solo to someone else if you get the chance; carefully explaining where to put each finger for each note as you play. Or just teach it to an imaginary student using the verbalization method.
Once I know a solo I practice it frequently, but only once through at a time. Make it similar to the live situation, where you can't back up if you make a mistake. Force yourself to plow on through, just like you'd have to on a gig. The best memorization comes from playing something on the gig several nights a week for months, so emulate that situation. That is a mixture of feeling the pain of blowing it in front of a crowd, and then going back and reviewing it later so that it hopefully it doesn't happen again.
Intentionally screw with yourself by dropping out or improvising a couple bars, then jump back in with the real licks from the original solo. You want to be able to jump back in after a dropout. Practice it starting from all different places, not just from the beginning.
Other things I do: I usually write the solo out by hand when I'm transcribing anyway, but if I learned it from sheet music I'll put that away and write it out again from memory. It takes time, but it helps you really know the ins and outs of each phrase, what beat it starts on, and all its details, because you have to count it all out and write each pitch. Then I read the thing I've written. Then I put it away and go back to it only if I am totally stuck at remembering it.
When (not "if") I forget it, I try to figure it out again without using the paper or the recording. It's usually in my head somewhere as melodic memory, but maybe with no muscle memory attached.
I play it super slow, counting the beats aloud so I really know it.
Also try playing it faster than the original (but still in time with the metronome). This is a good one; it forces you to really get the thing down to reflex.
Transposing the solo to another key can be helpful for getting your ear trained to control your fingers, but you want to be careful that you don't let multiple fingerings get you confused.
After doing all that, I'll still mangle it a few times before I start getting it right in front of an audience with consistency. At that point, I'm almost EXPECTING it to suck, and am about ready to give up. Then it starts coming out perfectly just to spite me.
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