There's Always Room For Improvement
by Ryan Mueller
Recording the guitar tracks for my band's debut full-length album was an incredibly important moment in my life. This was a project that the 3 of us in the band had been anticipating for nearly 8 years. To say I was excited would be a massive understatement – some of these songs that I've invested my blood, sweat and tears into, would finally get the proper production treatment that they deserved.
With that in mind, turning it all into an album would be no easy task. We're a metal band that writes very lengthy songs (the shortest one is 9 minutes long) that are rather complex in nature – we don't write standard power chord rock riffs. With only 5 songs coming together for over an hour's worth of music, there was a lot of work to be done if it was going to sound good enough to fulfill our vision.
This especially applies to the guitar solos I wrote – when I first composed a lot of these songs, I was primarily a rhythm guitar player and didn't have much skill on lead. The solos were the newest additions to the songs and were just as ambitious as the songs themselves, which means that I had to practice my butt off so that they could sound the way I wanted on the album.
So that's exactly what I did – there were a lot of fast and tricky licks that I threw into the solos, and I would go over them "with a fine-toothed comb." I analyzed what both hands had to do down to the slightest movement, making sure that they did EXACTLY what I needed them to do, and then drilled the licks over, and over, and over, and over, and over again until they were perfect...
...and as it would turn out, I still could have used more practice. When Greg (the producer) hit record on the first solo I tracked, my muscles tensed up, my breath shortened, my fingers stuck together, my palms were sweating, my pick was flopping around and I totally bombed the first take. It's amazing how much pressure a simple record button can put on you.
I regained my composure, relaxed, drank some water, and gave it another go. I was able to nail a lot of the soloing on this album after a few takes, but there were some licks that I gave me a lot of trouble. I could hit them maybe once or twice after going over them for a while, but time is money when you're in the studio. I didn't have all day to get the perfect take, and had to accept the fact that some of the things I wrote for this album were actually beyond my skill level as a guitar player.
When you're in that situation, you have 3 choices:
Don't record the part
Replace the part with something else you come up with on the fly
Record the part anyways and do the absolute best you can do
I'd come too far to choose number 1, and number 2 seemed like a cop-out to me, so I went with number 3. I didn't play those licks as perfect as I'd envisioned, but they didn't turn out bad at all! They achieved a different vision, having a wild and aggressive bite reminiscent to what I'd hear from bands like Morbid Angel. In other words, there was literally nothing to be upset about – they still sounded amazing! 🙂
With that in mind, there are still some very important lessons for you to take away from this:
While it's great to be ambitious and to have big goals as a guitar player, be honest with yourself in terms of where you are right now. The studio is often a big wake-up call, and many musicians become humbled after seeing how much improvement they can still make.
If you're going to write and record something challenging, be prepared to invest the time and energy into improving your skills so that you can play it confidently and consistently. It was very fortunate that I was able to pull off those solos, but had I not practiced as much as I did, this whole situation could have easily gone the other way.
Strengthen your weaknesses, and take advantage of your strengths. Sometimes our best music comes from simply using our strengths to their full potential, rather than trying to play something currently out of our reach.
The last and possibly biggest lesson from this, is to keep practicing even after you think it's right. My suggestion is that when you're practicing anything on the guitar (be it a solo, rhythm, chord, etc.) and you feel like you've "got it down," give it even more attention by seeing how many times you can play it in a row without messing up. There's a very big difference between "getting it right" and "never getting it wrong"… and only one of those will make it much easier for you to make a great record.
About The Author:
Ryan Mueller is a guitar teacher and music school owner, dedicated to giving the best guitar lessons in Etobicoke.