Learning challenging guitar parts can be frustrating.
We’ve all been there – working on a new song and hitting a riff or solo that seems impossibly hard. It’s easy to get stuck grinding away at that one part for weeks or months. Or even worse, making the biggest mistake and giving up on the song completely.
In this lesson, we’ll explore a smarter approach to tackling tricky guitar parts so you can keep moving forward and enjoy the music as you go.
Step 1: Identify the Problematic Part
When you encounter a difficult part of a song, don’t just hammer away at it over and over.
Take a step back and analyze what specifically makes that section hard to play.
Is it a:
- tough chord shape,
- fast picking pattern, or a
- complex rhythm?
Look deeply to identify the root of the problem.
Let’s say you’re working your way through a fingerstyle Delta Blues number that is mostly within your reach.
But then you hit this turnaround:
Ask yourself what makes this tough? It’s likely the dim7 chord shape with the 6th string bass note and the slide into this chord.
Tough part identified. Now, on to the next step.
Step 2: Simplify and Substitute
This isn’t an avoidance tactic.
If this part aligns with your guitar goals, you should come back to the tough part and improve it over time. But simplifying the part can help you enjoy the entire tune while you work on the tough part. More on that later, but for now, let’s simplify the example above.
Remember, we’re assuming that the dim7 chord shape and the slide-ins are difficult for you. So, we’ll replace the chromatic bass line with a single open 6th string. This allows you to play an easier chord shape on the top three strings instead of the complicated dim7 grip.
Then, we’ll cut the slide-ins altogether.
The slide-ins are a nice touch, but they aren’t easy to nail reliably. So, for now, leave them out. You’ll end up with something like this:
The goal is to remove the obstacles but keep the structure and essence of the part.
Time for a Check In
You could stop here with simplified version and enjoy the tune, but check in with your guitar goals before you settle.
If you’re happy picking along with a song that is mostly there, then you’re done. Play this simplified version and enjoy the music. There’s nothing wrong with that.
If you want to improve your guitar skills you should probably keep going. Push yourself difficult parts because this is where you build your skills. This is where you level up.
Let’s keep going to the next step.
Step 3: Add Back Difficulty Gradually
Now that you can play the song with the simplified part, reintroduce small elements of the challenging part. Add these back bit by bit to steadily ramp up the difficulty.
Find the middle ground of the example by adding the bassline and playing the original rhythm in Bar 2.
Here’s we’re playing the descending bassline without the full dim7 chord on top. Plus, we’ve still left out the slide ins.
Drill those two elements to level up and conquer this part.
Enjoy the Song First, Improve Later
Learning challenging guitar parts takes time.
But don’t let hard techniques stop you from enjoying a song. Simplify difficult sections so you can play through the full piece first. This keeps things fun while also building skills. Later, revisit trouble spots and gradually increase complexity.
With this approach, you can overcome tricky guitar parts without burning out or giving up.
But remember, if your goal is to improve make note of the hard parts and make sure you do two things:
Revisit and refine.