Most guitar tabs suck. If you've ever found yourself looking at a tab and scratching your head because there's no way in hell it's right then welcome to my world. Free Internet tabs especially suck.Transcriptions done by people who are good at it can be great, artists that help by sending video of themselves playing the tune to the transcribers help immensely. Tabulature can start you off, and save you some time, and give you some choices, but if you want to play that thing right, and you suspect it's wrong in the tab, then you gotta figure it out yourself.
1. Find some fast crazy semi-impossible guitar lick you want to play in MP3 format.
2. Get ahold of some slow-down software for the PC like Transcribe or The Amazing Slow-downer that allow you to slow music down but keep the pitch. Regular audio programs lower the pitch when they slow a waveform down, kind of like playing a 45 on the 33 LP setting of your record player(gee what's a record player?).
3. Using the slow-down software you've loaded your MP3 into, isolate and loop a 1 to 2 second manageable lick that you can keep in your head and eventually hum to yourself. You have to be able to recreate it by hearing how it goes in your head and keep it there.
4. To help do this SLOW IT DOWN but maintain the recorded pitch. Select a section and loop it.
5. Listen to it until you can hum it to yourself. If you can't slow it down some more or shorten the length of the snippet of the lick you're listening to.
6. Identify where it's being played on the guitar neck. If it's high or low, that's easy, if it's mid range and you can do the same lick on several spots on the neck, listen for wound strings verses unwound. Check for ringing open strings. Look for areas in the minor pentatonic scales where it is easiest to play. Get a live video of the artist and watch the hand position at the part in question (music videos are not good for this, the video is often used out of sequence and shows the guitarist's hand down at the nut when he is playing some wailing note high up the neck - IDIOTS!). Identifying where the lick is played eventually becomes second nature, but it's the hardest thing when you're starting out. Sometimes the easiest way to play it is not what is on tape (like the rhythm part for Eric Johnson's Cliffs of Dover, most misplayed thing on the planet).
Here's a bit I'm trying to learn. It's the start of the second set of solo breaks from "Juice" by Steve Vai. It's a fiddly little bit and I want to nail it.
Here it is at 100% speed, looped 4 times.
02 Juice Lick 100 by Zartimus
Here it is at 50% speed. Now you can see where everything goes
02 Juice Lick 50 by Zartimus
If you're still stuck, check it out at 25%.
02 Juice Lick 25 by Zartimus
You can hear the pick scrapes indicating picked notes. No pick scrapes and the general direction of the notes (up or down) indicate pulls offs and hammer ons. Bends are easy to hear. Right hand tapped notes have a weird attack overtone to them and become easy to hear after awhile. Same for slides and other types of slurs. Note groupings with bends and pull offs are dead giveaways to position.
If you want to be really cool, get a free tab program and write it out, so you don't forget. plus it will give you something to upload to guitar forums and get made fun of by people!
I don't know what I'd do without slow down software! When I was a kid I remember learning Hot for Teacher (Tab Mags were just starting out i the early to mid 80's) by putting it on my turntable and adjusting the speed until I got it running an octave slower. ACK! Later on I had a fostex 4 track which could do analog pitch shifting. Thank god for computers!
Here's a vid of Steve Vai playing it. He hits it at about 2 minutes :20 seconds.