Learn to Play the Sweet Child O' Mine Wah Wah Lick Guitar Lesson
The screaming lick as the "Wah Wah" pedal is kicked in towards the end of Sweet Child O' Mine ties together a cascade of bends, slides, hammers and pull-offs to make a real showpiece in the middle of the final guitar solo of the Guns 'n' Roses' masterpiece. In this lesson we'll take a look into how we can break it down into 6 bite-sized pieces for "easy" learning.
Click to hear the lick!
Anyone can learn to play this;
*if* it's approached well!
A lick like this might look overwhelming to begin but when approached in a systematic fashion there shouldn't be anything in there that's too far out of reach for anyone. Below we'll examine one step-by-step path using Taplature towards playing the full lick via first mastering 6 smaller building blocks. All the examples are demonstrated in the video underneath and will be linked individually throughout this article:
Click to view the companion video to this article!
Breaking it down!
As ever we'll chop the full lick down into more manageable (but still fully representative) loops whose top speeds (those at which we can play them 100% perfectly!) we can measure individually. Monitoring these top speeds shows up very clearly where any weak spots lie meaning that we can focus in where work is most needed until even the most awkward section is playable up to speed ... and beyond!
We'll examine 6 individual loops which, once each is playable individually, will build easily into the full lick.
1. Into Action!
Here's our first representative loop. The two semiquavers that "lead-in" to the lick have been plugged into the end of the bar so we can repeatedly "pickup" the one beat in context. I think they may be picked on the record but I like playing them using the hammer-on shown.
Loop 1 (Click here for demonstration)
The original runs at 125bpm so we'll be aiming to get this and the other loops examined here up to at least that speed. That might take a while and so the attached measuring boxes perform an invaluable task; they let you know if your practice is actually working to improve that speed (i.e. your ease of playing it) ... or not!
2: Making things loop better
Our first loop covered beats 1 & 2 and our next loop could be to put beats 2 and 3 together (see below). Try it though and you'll find it doesn't flow very well; we end up using the same finger we need to begin the loop again but on a different string! That's never satisfying.
I've twisted things a little here, changing the exact timing of the bend. This gives it an extra layer of focus and also potentially offers some new musical "vocabulary" to the student. Below I've replaced the fret 11 note at the end of the loop, which was making things awkward, with an easily reached plain fret 10 note on the B string ready to "bend onto" beat 1 as the foot taps. This often adds a little mental strength to the bend (cementing in the pattern that the bend goes up while the foot goes down). Of course later on we'll need to reshape things to match exactly the original recording but for now here's my recommended 2nd loop:
Loop 2 (Click here for demonstration)
3: Slippin' and a Slidin'
Here's where this one starts to get greasy! Our 3rd loop is pulled directly from the full lick but we'll need to tinker with the fingering a bit to get it running smoothly.
In the full lick we'd finish with finger 2 but that would make it awkward to start the loop off again. Although it will probably feel strange to begin, I recommend looping this by finishing with whichever finger you'd pull-off from fret 11 to 7 with; for me that's finger 4 but many will prefer to use finger 3.
Loop 3 (Click here for demonstration)
4: "Peck" a Note to Ease the Way
This section is tricky to loop exactly as in context since there's a big position jump. I get round that by introducing what I call a "woodpecker" (pick mute). We mute the string with the pick while lifting the hand (currently playing at fret 15) and aiming the next finger to be used (for me it's finger 4 here as shown but you may differ) at fret 11.
Loop 4 (Click here for demonstration)
The mechanics of the change of hand position here are similar to what we do when changing chords. We "steal" a note to get ready (in this case behind the cover of the "woodpecker"). Again the pattern isn't exactly as it's played in the context of the full lick but it's fully representative of the challenges at hand in this little section! 3 notes in a row with the same finger (from the end of the loop through the first two notes) as shown may be brand new to many of you so this level of examination is essential to get familiar!
5: Peck Again!
Our 5th loop could have been be taken verbatim from the full lick but I think it works a little better if we again replace the final note with another "woodpecker". Without this slight tweak we'd need to use a slightly different fingering to cycle from the last note back to the first.
Loop 5 (Click here for demonstration)
6: Through the Magnifying Glass!
Until now we've seen nothing but straight semiquavers (16th notes). Our 6th loop doubles the speed briefly into "demisemiquavers" (32nd notes). Underneath we'll take a look at the Taplature way to deal with those if they're new to you.
Loop 6 (Click here for demonstration)
Examining "demisemiquavers" (32nd notes)
32nd notes might sound scary if they're new to you but when viewed as we're about to see them there's nothing too frightening about them. Let's focus right in on the 2nd beat of the above loop and "magnify" it to 4 times its size. Now one beat is stretched to fill 4 but the shape and sound of the notes remains exactly the same; all that's actually changed is the count and foot tap!
2nd beat of loop 6 "double-magnified" (Click here for demonstration)
Now the same ferocious looking single beat packed with action is reduced to some much friendlier looking 8th notes. There shouldn't be anything to fox you here rhythmically so you can concentrate on keeping your legato strong. See here for the Taplature way to deal with any problems in that area!
Dropping back a level of magnification compresses the 4 beats of 8th notes into 2 beats of 16th notes. Notice again that only the count and foot tap change! Only 2 of the notes shown here are actually semiquavers but it should be beneficial to count out the whole 2 beats using a full 16th-note count (click here for an easy primer on that topic if this is new to you).
2nd beat of loop 6 "single-magnified"
Zoomed Fully Back Out (but also in)!
Viewing at a similar size but now zoomed back out into demisemiquavers (32nd notes) once again all that actually changes is the foot tap and count.
Foot tap to place these 5 notes across one beat! (Click here for demonstration)
There's not a strictly defined way to count 32nd notes (as YT music theory guru Adam Neely explains here) but I always like to try making the count match the rhythm whether by adding the "d" seen above as an extra syllable to the semiquaver count or by using something like the coloured words written in above that help visualise what's being played.
Building It Up!
With all the 6 individual loops functional we're ready to start putting it all together. A useful next step is to take each of the 2 bars that comprise the full lick individually but to loop them in the following manner, setting up the recognisable "lead-in" for each line using the notes from the end of the other bar and inserting a "woodpecker" to allow us to wrap around seamlessly:
Although each bar above has been tweaked slightly for practice purposes, the two together cover pretty much everything required to make the full lick now shown again below:
Finally Putting it All Together!
With all the component parts now in order, we're ready to build the full 2 bar lick and get that working and hopefully over time, up to the record speed of 125bpm (and more ideally, to allow us a comfort zone that means things will hold up under performance pressure!)
The full 2 bar lick built from our loops (Click here for demonstration)
(How else will you know for sure if your guitar practice is paying off?)
Grab your free Sweet Child O' Mine Wah Wah Run progress sheets here:
We all have good and bad days. When we're practising and playing lots it's easy to assume we're getting better at guitar. Big mistake! That works the other way as well; sometimes we think we're not improving when we actually are! There's only one way to know for sure whether what we're practising is paying off ... prove it! Your measurements of the top speed at which you can play something perfectly reflect your ease of playing of that "exercise", riff, lick or song. Make those measurements faster and you're better at guitar! Approaching things like this means we replace hope and frustration with expectation ... and results! You can download your own progress sheets for the examples in the above article when you subscribe for free to the Taplature website. Put down your markers and start watching yourself improving today!
Wherever you are right now with the examples shown doesn't matter so much. It's where you are tomorrow, next week, month and year that counts! Any queries or problems? See you in the comments below or in the Taplature Forum!
Enjoy! Old Swanner.
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