How to Practice Guitar: 

 "Secrets" of Success! 

"Black Dog" Guitar Lesson: Timing and More

May 25, 2018




Timing, bending, semiquavers and more!


In this blog post and accompanying video I run through the standard problems that crop up regularly when working through the guitar riff from Led Zeppelin's "Black Dog" with students in lessons.


There's a big difference between memorising the notes that make up a guitar part and *really* getting them learned.  You'll know that already if you've ever tried playing something that's weak in front of other people. 


My recommended method shows you how to practice Black Dog to make things strong enough to hold up in any situation!



Here's the video ...



Black Dog Lesson - Timing and more!

 Click to play



The issues raised in the video are not only relevant to this particular riff but have to relate to just about anything you'll ever play.  Strengthen your skills on this song and see them strengthen for many other things too!  We're not just learning another lick, we're gaining *real* improvement!





Two sections


Today's challenge includes the two main (strongly related) sections from Black Dog.  I usually call them the "A section" and the "E section" referring to the chords each fits over.


The "A section" is covered to some depth in the video, and more so in the coaching sheets provided to subscribers in the appendix of my free Crash Course in Taplature.


Here I'll mainly focus on the puzzling "E section" below which I demonstrate in the video from 13m5s in.




Instruction overload!


Below I show the crazy amount of requirements we could find in even a single looping bar of 8th notes.  Any issues at any stage can drastically limit your ease of playing and how your end product sounds so it's worth knowing how to spot problems early! 



Phew! Over 50 instructions to play a few simple notes well! 



I focus on the most common trouble spots associated with the "A section" in the video.  Click the following links to jump to the relevant section:



- Placing the riff correctly ... timing issues


- Getting the 1st finger bend right!


- Fingering efficiency for a better sound


- Finger preparation (finger independence/tension)


- Getting the semiquavers right! 


- Putting it all together!





Complex Timing - Overthinking things?


 Let's talk about the notorious "E section" of Black Dog which gave me the most trouble for the longest time!  If you Google "black dog strange timing" (click to view) you'll find quite a lot of discussion of this section and it can appear very complex.  Don't be fooled! Without doubt the best way to learn and understand the riff correctly is to view the whole thing as a simple 4 count!



The right way to view things!  Building block 1




Bash for cash!


While at university back in the mid 1980s I was challenged by a guitar playing friend that I couldn't play this "E section".  At that point I agreed he was right but proposed a bet to learn it by the next afternoon.  The amount staked was £10, a sizeable sum for an impoverished student back then so the pressure was on!


Disappointed to find that I could make little sense of the timing, I set about repeating the notes parrot fashion hoping to etch it in well enough to stand up under examination.  By the next afternoon following at least 6 hours of brute force repetition I felt ready.


When my friend came to test me out he was more than a little surprised to find me playing it with apparently no problem and good to his word he paid up.  I knew I'd got away with it, but wasn't quite sure how!



The right way to view things!  Building block 2




What had I learned?


I won the money, but felt no other benefit from the time and effort I'd put in on this riff.  Soon afterward I'd lost the ability to play it (the way I'd learned it makes for a very short term "fix") and years later when this started coming up in lessons I realised I still had no idea as to its structure, was wholly unable to explain how I'd "learned" it and that musically at least, the time spent on the challenge had been wasted.


One day I made the effort to sit with a slowed recording and finally made the sense of it which I'm outlining here; however it wasn't until I began using Taplature in lessons that I found I was able to get others doing it too!



The right way to view things!  Building block 3




 Building blocks!


As ever the Taplature approach is to chop things down into bite sized pieces and learn them well before building them into the whole. When practiced as recommended, with the foot tap and out loud count as the foundation, things become properly absorbed into the correct part of the brain so that they stick strongly ... forever! 



What's more, they can be easily adapted to become musical or rhythmic "vocabulary" you'll now find you understand how to use in other situations!



The right way to view things!  Building block 4



The accompanying video from 13:05 (click here to play) shows the four lines making up the "E section".  Once you can play each in isolation, looping back into itself, you can begin bolting them together.  If the whole feels too complex try pairing line 1 with line 2 as a loop, then line 3 with line 4 as a loop before finally putting these two halves together to make the full four lines; however to get the rock solid understanding we're after, it's essential to examine each from different angles like so ...




"Leading in" and making effective loops for practice!


One important point I talk about in the video is the "lead in" or "pickup" taking us to beat one of our riffs.  The technical term for this (which you'll probably never need to use) is "anacrusis".



In the video at (03:15) I demonstrate the following loop.


"A Section" - Line 1



Here we've taken the "anacrusis" (ringed in red) that leads into line 1 and put it in place of the last three 8th notes of line 1.  This basic idea allows us to create any number of relevant loops and is a powerful way of gaining the focus we need to absorb patterns deeply, getting to know how everything fits together inside and out!


We can use this approach with any piece of music to examine the "links" that glue each line into the next, giving a greater level of insight into how things fit together and therefore a higher measure of mental strength!




All angles covered!


I've added plenty of examples of this way of twisting and turning lines to dig deeper in the Black Dog coaching sheets sent free as part of the package "Discover Taplature" to all subscribers of the Taplature blog.



These free coaching sheets break things down further and let you

track your progress as well as offering further advice.

Watch yourself improve!



Once you can play all the examples in the coaching sheets up to target speed (150+bpm) you'll know the tricky bits of both sections like the back of your hand meaning that when it's time to perform, they'll flow out easily!






Old Swanner.




Any comments, problems or questions relating to this article? Join me here in this thread in the Taplature forum.


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Click here to learn what else Taplature can do for you!



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