Guitar help for the aimless picker
October 11, 2013 9:49 PM   Subscribe

Give me songs to play my guitar to

I'm, at best, a slightly more than amateur guitarist who knows a few scales, can play a basic blues and major/minor chords with a few variations. But I don't really focus on learning to play actual composed songs or care to start a band or anything. I mostly just noodle my way around a fret board by ear for fun on my own time. But unfortunately I'm running out of good songs to play along to. I've exhausted my P-Funk and Talking Heads library. I went into country for a while but soon enough it all seems the same. I'm not nearly fast enough for hard rock/metal. What long form (enough to get into a groove) rock/pop/R&B songs do you use when you don't want to play a "song" necessarily, but want to pick notes for a while?
posted by fishmasta to Media & Arts (10 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
If you want a groovy, white-boy funk kind of band that is fun to noodle around playing alongside, how about Cake? It probably wouldn't be too foreign for you. Most songs are fairly simple chord structures and funky, repetitive bass lines that are fun to try to play over.

I'm in the same boat as you- I stink, but I still love hooking up my guitar and trying to jam (and celebrating when I play a lick that sounds good). Cake has been my recent go-to.
posted by Old Man McKay at 10:09 PM on October 11, 2013

The Strokes have some good songs to play along to. Especially the first album, Is This It? Fun licks and chords to play. Though it may not be challenging enough.

Some songs by The Smiths offer a good challenge. Took me awhile to learn This Charming Man and This Night Has Opened My Eyes, but it was really fun. I love picking notes like that.
posted by morning_television at 11:23 PM on October 11, 2013

I play similarly. It might sound weird, and I have no idea if you're into it, but electronic dance music can be pretty fun to zone out and play around with. I usually just listen for a bit and let my fingers wander around the fretboard until I start hitting the right notes and work it into a rhythm, eventually finding one or two go-to riffs to improvise with. It doesn't always work and sometimes I get bored and give up, but I recommend giving it a try.

Obviously it's up to you what kind of edm you might be into, for me personally its was upbeat funky breakbeats mostly (old school jungle is pretty fun for bass too).
posted by mannequito at 11:57 PM on October 11, 2013

Dire Straits, especially at the end of their longer songs like eg Telegraph Road, Brothers in Arms. There is enough "space" to improvise around Mark Knopfler's guitar heroics if you didn't want to play just the chords or play what he's playing.
posted by pianissimo at 1:56 AM on October 12, 2013

my wife usually has radio playing somewhere or the kids are watching my little pony, so I've built up a repertoire of MLP and Kesha songs over the past x months.
posted by jpe at 5:21 AM on October 12, 2013

Chet Atkins.

He was a studio guitarist and performer, of course, and his tunes are dated, for certain. (I see from your profile that you grew up with the internet, so perhaps you aren't familiar with him. I am not being snarky. Usually, I am snarky, but in guitar matters, I de-snark. No snark here. No way. snarkless. snark free zone. )

On the other hand, his dated tunes were generally unadorned by extreme effects AND the are more than just a series of notes. He had expressive skills, great timing, left and right hand vibrato, speed variations, and ways to decorate simple sequences that are really good illustrations of how to get much more than a basic sound out of what is essentially just a basic sound. Side benefit is that most people recognize the tunes, even though many date from the 50's. A ton of people used him as an instructional prototype, including Tommy Emmanuel. Of course, especially in his early work, there was a lot of repetitive approach from song to song, but hey... 6 strings and an audience primed for pentatonic scales? No surprise.

What you can also see is signature riffs, little terminal chord progressions for ending up a tune, structural points like compatible introductions, and theme variations. All around, there's a reason he and his techniques have perpetual appeal to anyone who hopes to make an intentional sound on a guitar, and not just some two note power cords into distortion than many confuse with musical talent (sic). Most are complex enough to present a challenge, and simple enough to master on a basic level. A ton of stuff available on itunes by him.

Tommy Emmanuel is Chet on steroids and/or speed, probably both. Self-taught, too.

Also, has a ton of little instructional videos you can actually use to learn things instead of staying static.

Audacity is invaluable for decomposing guitar-intensive stuff. Looped playback, cut and paste. Handy.
posted by FauxScot at 6:00 AM on October 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Let me suggest two approaches that might appeal to you and don't involve too much in the way of a learning curve. First, think about songs that strike your fancy--especially one's that have guitar riffs that make you think "Wow, I'd like to play that." Lots of licks of this sort can be learned pretty quickly via YouTube. Just do a search for "how to play xxx" or "lesson xxx" where "xxx" is the name of the song. Even fifteen or twenty minutes of sitting in front of the computer with your guitar will allow you to expand your playing. No need to feel like you have to learn the whole song, just take a stab at the bits and pieces that appeal to you. Over time you'll be pleasantly surprised at how much you have learned in a pretty painless way.

Second, if there is a genre or style you like to jam with, do a search for "backing tracks xxx" where xxx can be "blues" or "key of e" or even a specific song. YouTube is good for this as well but you can also find this sort of thing with a more global Google (or your preferred search engine) search.

Good luck with your playing. It's all about the fun!
posted by CincyBlues at 6:13 AM on October 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

Have you thought about Nirvana's MTV unplugged set?
posted by angrycat at 7:30 AM on October 12, 2013

James Brown's 20 All Time Greatest Hits! will give you plenty of noodling time.
posted by Rykey at 8:16 AM on October 12, 2013

I'm a noodler, too. My strong point is rhythm parts, not guitar leads. To my taste, rhythm parts are interesting enough to keep me from buying a bass guitar, and my lack of skill is enough to keep me from trying emulate the run of the mill guitar gods. I do a few things when my skill set seems to be getting stale.

One fun way to pass the time is to jam with any song that uses a circle of 5ths for its basic construction. I get to play with my scales, front and back, inside and out, and after playing for over 30 years, I find that insights still show up. Sweet Georgia Brown is one example.

Quite a few Ragtime songs offer rich fodder to feed on. The licks and relationships transcend the genre. You might some serious and focused listening to such guys as Dave Van Ronk, for insight on how to work a guitar part into traditional music. Some of his work is so intricate and organic that you don't always notice his musical expertise.

Also, You Tube posters are a good source for learning a new lick. At some point the new lick may inspire you to remake a song you copied in your own vision. If you play along with chop chords for a while, you may hear a space to put your new lick--some new run out or turnaround, short fill, or what ever. Keeps you flexible, and sometimes it helps you to see stuff in the melody nobody else saw. One time I heard a guy in Hawaii play Three Blind Mice in open tuning, and it nearly brought tears to my eyes.

You might google up "passing chords" for ideas to fill in a few of those holes in your fretboard.

Also, see "Freddy Green Chords" for ways to play with voicing.

I second the motion to listen to Chet Atkins, because, well, the guitar part.

My theme here is to try to hear something familiar in a different way (what do passing chords do with a turnaround?). It seems like a small thing, but it's sort of like transposing a song into a different key, and using a different set of chord shapes to play it. You often get surprised by the sounds that come out of your instrument. The new insights affects the repertoire you've already accumulated.
posted by mule98J at 11:47 AM on October 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

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