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what to do when you have to learn difficult riffs?

Discussion in 'Ask Justin Meldal-Johnsen' started by Mikeus, Dec 17, 2011.

  1. Just had a guitarist join the band, great player, nice guy, his playing and experience is WAY above mine.

    We have started working on a song and theres a riff which i'm having an extreme difficulty with playing.

    My usual approach to these situations is to just practice the hell out of the part, but this time thats not really working well.

    I came up with some variations that suited the song and sounded almost identical but were easier for me to play but it was insisted by the band that it be that riff played exactly to what the guitarist is playing.

    Has this ever happened to you? And what do you in such situation? Has a piece of music ever floored you but you had to do it?

  2. Play the riff at half-time until you can figure it out.

    See if there's something on youtube that might uncover some little trick to perform it properly too.

    If you get frustrated, play something else for 5 minutes and come back to it.

    Good luck. And if the band is getting really uppity about playing it NOTE FOR NOTE, take that as a warning unless it's something you really want to strive for.
  3. jmjbassplayer

    jmjbassplayer Justin Meldal-Johnsen Gold Supporting Member

    Mar 25, 2005
    I really think that half-time thing is a good idea...I want one of those devices that does that. Could be really great.

    And yes, coming back to it after a break: I find that very effective.

  4. Yep - what they said. Slower first. Get the fingering so that it's second-nature.
    Having folks in the band "better" than me was great to become "better" myself.
    Now, I'm showing the guitar player stuff :D
  5. MrLenny1


    Jan 17, 2009
    Yes, listen to it at half time and also!!! Get the proper fingering down.
    Sometimes poor fingering will limit the ability to play the part easier/faster ...
  6. vegas532


    Nov 10, 2006
    Pensacola, FL.
    A big +1 to this. I've been in situations before with really great players and although it's a bit daunting at first, it will make you better in the end. I've seen the other side of the fence, also. I've been in a band that went nowhere fast and had to practice on my own to regain my chops after quitting!
  7. Break the song up into sections, take a few deep breaths before plowing into it and take a break from the repetition after awhile.
  8. Bullitt5135


    Nov 16, 2010
    SE Michigan
    Download a free copy of Audacity. Import an MP3 of the song(s) you are learning, and use the software to slow the tempo down to a more comfortable speed.
  9. Yeah I do like the fact that these guys are way above my level and I'm hoping that this situation will push me further. Because thats what I need is a kick in the a-s!

    I would not like to get kicked from the band because of my slight lacking of technical ability and theory in comparison to them and I love this band its like im playing with all my musical heroes. They seemed to be a little bit annoyed when I couldn't figure out the riff.

    I have been playing 10+ years, I'm mostly self taught with some tuition over the years.

    I've sequenced out the riff in a sequencer program and put down a drum track and I can slow it down.
  10. Razzmatazz


    Oct 23, 2011

    For difficults songs, I usually break them down and rehearse the hard parts individually at a slower tempo. Also, I even make practice routines with them. Sometimes It takes me a while to absorb all that information so like said I take some time off and come back after a while.
  11. Tascam made a cool little thing years ago that was a CD player that you could plug a bass into as well and blend. You could slow to 1/2 speed and EQ, etc... Kind of antiquated tech at this point, but it never leaves my suitcase an desk when I'm at home.

    I can't remember the model number or anything right now, but I can't give you the run down if you want.
  12. TASCAM GB-10 on my desk right now, use it all the time. The best thing is you can practice at any hour, and not wake the wife/kids/significant other/neighbors etc.
  13. gillento


    Oct 15, 2005
    Luxembourg, Europe
    Nordstrand pickups
    +1 on Audacity!
  14. I think there's more to be mentioned about the half time thing. I think it's more effective if when playing at half speed you "obsess" over making sure that every aspect of what you're doing is "perfect". Make sure that your timing is as perfect as you can perceive possible at that speed. Make that the next finger to play a given note is positioned as close to the string as possible. In other words maximize the efficiency of your motion. Make sure that your playing is clean with no strings ringing that shouldn't be, even for a moment. Eliminate all unwanted string noise if any. If you are going to play the part finger style with multiple digits in the right hand, make sure that the tone and volume achieved with each finger matches exactly. Play the part absolutely perfectly in every possible way. If it's still too hard to do this at half speed, slow it down even more until you find a tempo where you can repeatedly play the part with the most absolute perfection you can imagine in every aspect of your technique. Don't even worry about speeding up, just keep practicing this way for the rest of your session. Now the next day try the part again, but don't obsess over perfection anymore and try speeding it up. You may be surprised how much playing slow (VERY slow) can improve your playing. Your brain and muscles can learn good technique at any speed, but it's much easier if you go slow. This kind of practicing will help you develop good muscle memory habits that will translate into improvements at any speed.

    One note of caution is that this approach can compromise your sense of "feel", but I think that as long as you keep in mind that that will need to be there as you try to approach the original tempo of the piece you will be fine.
  15. 77jazzbass

    77jazzbass Supporting Member

    Oct 24, 2007
    Las Vegas, NV
    +1 on playing it as slow as possible. For really difficult riffs, I record the riff, then put it on a Tascam MP-BT1 and loop the riff at half-speed until I can play it cleanly at full speed.
  16. Stumbo

    Stumbo Wherever you go, there you are. Supporting Member Commercial User

    Feb 11, 2008
    Song Surgeon slow downer. https://tinyurl.com/y5dcuqjg
    Since the riff is technically challenging, I suggest taking it note by note. I mean, play the first 2 notes properly and at half speed until you get them up to speed, then add the third note, etc.

    You can also break down sections of the more difficult parts of the riff into two or three notes and practice them until you get them up to speed.

    When you have each section of the riff down, work on getting it up to speed.

    +1 for the free MP3/Wav slowdowner Best Practice. Also can change pitch, isolate the guitar/vocal/bass lines, has user definable loops and can save slowdowned loops. Note: if you slow down a tune, raising the pitch and octave sometimes allows the bass line to be heard more clearly.
  17. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    Amazing Slow Downer is cool for slowing down parts.
  18. ETThompson


    Jan 3, 2011
    +1 on Amazing Slowdowner.

    In addition to playing 1/2 or whatever slower speed, I like the technique of once I start to get it down a little, setting the tempo a tough riff, song etc, just slightly faster than I can play it and trying to keep up with it even if I make mistakes - getting the feel and keeping with it. This forces you not to 'think' but just to rely on your muscle memory and I find you can really get up to speed quickly if you do this over and over, pushing the tempo as you go.

    Hope that helps! --Eric
  19. Thanks guys! as always you are an AMAZING help.

    I can play this thing good now I can pick up the bass any time and bang it out perfect 3 times out of 5. Aiming for perfect every time because we'll be playing live soon

    So very true about the muscle memory thing. The riff involves many backwards hammer ons and 16th notes without stopping for 4 bars. I practiced it at slower, middle and and full tempos. It was uncomfortable to play at first but now it feels natural.

    Kind regards and happy holidays to all!
  20. phillybass101


    Jan 12, 2011
    Artist, Trickfish Amplification Bartolini Emerging Artist, MTD Kingston Emerging Artist. Artist, Tsunami Cables
    I started out on drums and my teacher was the famous jazz drummer and educator Sherman Furgeson. He used to always tell me if you can hear it you can say it. If you can say it you can play it. Don't put too much pressure on yourself right away to figure out the lick. Listen to it and enjoy listening to it to the point where you can say it or sing it. Then go to the fretboard and find the notes one at a time not worrying about you fingering or playing it right (in time). after you have the notes, figure out a fingering that will get you into the lick and out of the lick to the next part most efficiently. when you look at really good bass players their hand motion is minimal. Looks like they're not doing anything. One you have the fingering that you want to use 'work it up' to speed in time. either play with the song or use a metronome. This can even only take but a few minutes of your time rather than trying to do all this at once. When we transpose this is what we're doing anyway. Break the process apart and you'll soon see that you can get any lick that you can hear. You can also get the sheet music and read the part and work it up.

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