Transcribing guitar solos

It wasn’t until a few months ago I realized the importance that transcribing music has on becoming a good musician. You often hear people say "oh, I just learned by ear, but I don’t know all the theory and stuff." For years I thought music theory and scales were the most important ingredients in becoming a musician who can improvise and express themselves through music. It’s unfortunate it took me this long to realize that learning existing songs (and transcribing them) is just [if not more] important, than the theory, scales, and chords.

So now I’m spending quite a bit of time learning a number of songs that really resonate with me. I have a number of guitar heroes I would love to learn from, but the one that is really touching my soul lately is Santana. There is just something about his tone and the emotion he is able to express with a guitar. Awesome! For where I am on my journey of learning to transcribe, it’s also nice that he uses lot of short licks. I’m certain I’ll focus on Henry Garza and Warren Haynes (The Allman Brothers Band & Gov’t Mule) at some point too – they are some of my favorites.

Well, I’ve realized there are a couple of tools that are invaluable when transcribing music. The single most important one is Transcribehttp://www.seventhstring.com/!. I found out about this from Justin, who is also a huge proponent of transcribing. When I first got started, I was using it and Guitar Pro 5. While Guitar Pro is a great tool, because I’m not that proficient with music notation (specifically timing) yet, I find it tedious to use it while I’m learning the song.

So I’ve since started using another approach to learn the guitar parts … a text editor. I’m sure I’m not the first to take this approach, but consider how I’ve transcribed the lead guitar part of the intro and the 1st and 2nd verses of Put Your Lights On by Santana and Everlast.

Chords: Am Asus2 Am, C Cadd9 C Cmaj7, G G(w/extra 5 on B string) G, Am, G

213po212 210  
38/39 412 39 312  
28 25c 37 37 37  
37ho39 410  
Hey now, all you sinners  
Put your lights on, put your lights on  
28 /3937 35 37/39  
Hey now  
39 37 39 28 28  
All you lovers  
18 17 28 25 /210  
Put your lights on  
/37 /37 /37 /37
Put your lights on  
/37 35 47 45 47 35 47

I have no idea if this is actually correct, but it sounds right to me when I play it. Okay, let me explain this notation – it’s really simple. In each set of numbers, the first number is the string and the 1 or 2 numbers after it are the fret number. There are a couple of other things in there too:

po = pull off  
ho = hammer on  
/  = slide up to
\  = slide down to
c  = curl (half tone bend)  

So the first note is the C on the 13th fret of the 2nd string then a quick pull off to the B on the 12th fret of the 2nd string, etc. Obviously, like tab, I’m not capturing the timings or fingerings, but I’m okay with that until I get good enough to use Guitar Pro as the initial tool.

You could argue that I could still use Guitar Pro since I’ll end up using it when I’m all done anyway, and I could just use 16th or 32nd notes and ignore the fact that all the bars will be incomplete, but I’ve found this approach has lot less friction (and distractions) and let’s me get a lot transcribed quickly.