“Everything is true on the internet…”

Do you believe that statement?

Please say “no

Then why is it that so many people go online (places like You Tube or Ultimate Guitar for TABS) to learn a song from one source?

Then they wonder why the song doesn’t sound right.

Or worse, someone told them it doesn’t sound right.

The bottom line is you can’t do that!

Look, there really is a lot of good information out there in the world of the interwebs. The trick is, you need to know where and how to find it.

And this is especially true when learning how to play songs online.


Back when I just joined my current band, Animation a Tribute to Rush, there were a number of songs I had to add to my arsenal of Rush songs. There were many. And Rush music isn’t easy. And learning them took time, especially from scratch.

So, since it is the 21st Century, I decided to use the vast array of tools available to me to streamline the learning process. The first place was You Tube.

Wow, there is a lot of information out there on You Tube with how to play this and that. What do you choose? Start by searching: ‘<your song> guitar lesson’. Depending on the song you pick, there will be a number of videos showing how to play the song in question.

I will choose according to the following criteria in order of importance:

Original Artist

Is there one from the original artist? It could be something that they are instructing you on or it might be a recording of them playing live. This would seem the most obvious and, 8 times out of ten, it would be the best option.

You are pretty much done with your search, right?


Use your ear! How does it really sound to you?

Incredibly, learning from the original artist isn’t always the case:

  1. One scenario would be if you wanted to learn from a live version. Artists don’t always play the song the same way live as they did with the original recording. This has happened many times to me.
  2. Another, is that many of these artists are not the best teachers. I found that especially true with Rush’s guitar player, Alex Lifeson. As great as he is, he isn’t the best to teach you a song. I actually found a part he describes in Spirit of Radio that is incorrect. I mean, he doesn’t even do it that way live!

# of Views

This can sometimes be a bit deceiving but if the person has a lot of views, it might mean they were on to something. But sometimes, it isn’t. Using my Rush example I have seen many of their songs shown by guitarists that had thousands upon thousands of views, and still they weren’t right.

How could I tell?

I used my ear!

Popular You Tube Instructors

This is almost the same as those with # of views but not always.

Popular instructors are just that: they are popular usually because they show lots of songs in a wide range of styles. Here you would have to use some discernment: how precisely do you want to learn a song? If you don’t care, then maybe this is your route.

However, and going back to my Rush example, that simply isn’t good enough for me. I needed to find a better way.

TABS and Charts

Whew boy, this one is tricky. Everyone likes to think they can write a TAB chart. Problem is, most have no idea. I can’t tell you how many I have read that were flat out wrong. I often wonder if those that are writing them even know how to play.

Yes, it can be that bad out there.

If you want to try this route, you have to first play the song from the TAB. How does it sound? If you aren’t sure, play it for someone. What do they think?

Or, better yet, record yourself playing it. The recording never lies!

Try several if you can find them. How do they compare? What parts sound good and what parts do not?

Charts and Sheet Music are the same: you can’t always trust them, although I have found that you can have better luck here. Follow the same procedure as for TABS to determine how good the information is.

Answer: Take the Best of All Worlds

Pick maybe 3-5 different people showing you the same song on You Tube.

Try the same with a few charts and TABS.

It should hopefully become obvious what is right and what isn’t. When they all agree on a part (or the whole song), the odds are good that it is the right way to play the song.

If they don’t all agree, take in parts that most agree on or simply sound right to you. Discard the rest.

Then compile all that you liked and play the song.

How does it sound?

Use your ear! (Are we catching a theme here?)

If you were diligent, you should eventually arrive at something that sounds good to you.

One optional step would be to find out if the same part can be played better somewhere else on the fretboard? This has happened many times for me learning Rush songs. One example:  Alex rarely uses his little finger on many solos. I happen to use it. Therefore, since I have that extra finger available, there might be a better place to play the song than if I didn’t use it.

Of course you could learn the song from offline methods (like learning from an instructor or a book). But regardless of how you learn, you really need to use your ear and be honest with yourself if it sounds right or not. And if it is good, then jam away!

If you have any thoughts on this topic please leave a comment below. I’m not always the expert on every subject. I would love to hear from you!



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