The thrill of learning a beloved song

The thrill of learning a beloved song


Hey folks,

I know many here concentrate on composing their own music. But I’m sure all of us still play the songs of others when we practice or rehearse or just noodle around, right?

Which songs gave you the most satisfaction/thrill/excitement when you figured them out? Could be just because you love the song, or it has a difficult arrangement, or perhaps was written for one instrument but you made it work some other (e.g. piano tune transposed to guitar or vice versa).

I’m sure the list is very long for many of us-- definitely is for me. But here are a few examples, let’s see yours! And do you still get that thrill when you find your way to a song like that?

Stairway to Heaven: Yeah, the total cliche, but when I got it down cold in about '74 it earned me some cred with the cool kids. I was such a complete and total dork as pre-teenager, never one of the “in crowd”, but that opened many social doors.

Several Leo Kottke tunes, such as The Fisherman, Vaseline Machine Gun, The Ice Miner, Owls. I owe most of my ability on steel string acoustic to trying to emulate Leo’s playing, and studying his work really broadened my musical horizons.

Bruce Cockburn (that’s COE-burn): Pacing the Cage, The Whole Night Sky, and (just yesterday!) If A Tree Falls. Bruce is an incredible guitarist as well as a songwriter of towering ability, and in many songs uses slightly alternate tunings, like double-drop-D. If A Tree Falls came up on my shuffle yesterday and I had one of those “aha” moments where I could just see how it is played all of a sudden.

Eric Clapton’s Lonely Stranger (from his Unplugged album). Worked it out with my beloved brother-in-law Bob, and it became one our highlight numbers whenever we played together. Those days are pretty much over now, sadly, as Bob has been struck down with early-onset dementia and can hardly play anymore. So having this and other songs we have featured keeps him alive in my heart.

Neil Young: My My, Hey Hey. Neil is a totally formative influence on my playing, and this one came together quickly not long after that album came out. A bunch of other Neil tunes could be listed here too… I mean, I named my first steel string acoustic “Neil”!

Paul Simon’s American Tune. A beautiful but very challenging song to play. In fact, I haven’t played it in many years, so I will have to re-learn it all over again… Another one of his that I have never been able to master is Peace Like A River, from his eponymous debut solo album. It has this killer solo/break that continues to baffle me-- I know where on the neck it is, but I just can’t get it…

OK, that’s enough from me! And yes, this does still happen, the thrill is not gone… e.g. yesterday’s breakthrough on If A Tree Falls…


I started playing guitar (after drums) right around the time AC/DC’s Back in Black came out. Learning the title track was one of my life goals for awhile. While it’s pretty simple, my guitar skills had to catch up to even remotely close to Angus Young. I think it has been a strong influence ever since. For whatever reason, the AC/DC material has always appealed to me to play. I probably sharpened my chops on many an AC/DC song, and guitar in general, by putting on an album/CD and playing all the way through with each song. Yes, it’s pretty formulaic in some ways, but that helped me in terms of creating and learning riffs, analyzing songwriting, and rocking out like a crazy person. :grin:


Great thread My was “IF” by bread. Hard to remember those strange chords (and hit those high vox notes) when one has too many beers.




I started playing guitar right about the same time Clapton did that show and a LOT of what I learned early came from that album. Probably seems backwards to think that the unplugged version of Layla is the “real” version to me, but given that was my introduction to learning guitar, that’s just how it is. lol


I was almost 21 when I started on guitar. I had no clue. Note? Chord? whats that? no clue. Everything was a total mystery to me.

BUT I instantly understood tablature.

One of the first magazines I bought had the little intro riff for “Ticket to Ride” and when I played it I partially lost my mind and havent recovered yet


Great stories folks! Keep 'em rolling…


When I was in high school I watched this movie until it damn near wore out motor in my DVD player. I loved Adrian Brody’s portrait of the character, as well as the real life story.

Here’s a video clip from the movie I used to obsess over. I just HAD to learn how to play this. It isn’t hard, but relatively challenging for a kid in high school. I got it in my fingers, but didn’t really have it down until the 3rd year of college. Its Chopin’s Polonaise Brillante. Eb - Opus 22.


I learned this one the next year. I got pissed fucking mad because I was told by a professor that I shouldn’t mess with it because it was too hard for me. OMG was I gonna show her how wrong she was! lol. I was still living with my parents at the time, and just about drove them to the brink of insanity having to hear me run that main chromatic riff so many times.

I did learn it though…At the semester piano jury (which is like the final exam), the dean of the department asked me why earth I would attempt to play something that unnecessarily difficult. I pointed at my teacher sitting next to him and told him “because she said I wouldn’t be too hard!”. He thought that was funny.


The first songs I worked out that really helped me were Mississipi Queen and Sittin’ On A Rainbow by Mountain. I’d seen Leslie West live a number of times, and kind of memorized his hand positions. That gave me the foundation to play minor and major pentatonics in any key and add bends. Once I had that, I could hear the structure of most songs fairly easily and improvise a little.
The song I worked on forever was Cliffs of Dover. After years, I kind of have my own version, which is fine until I listen to the original again and realize I’ m doing the Cliff notes version of Cliffs.


i have a few favorites fo just jamming and messing around and warming up . These are songs i love and learned to play when i was young. Mostly though i tend to just fiddle about in a blues scale type thing lol.
But when i do play anything its these:

Electric: hells bells -Ac/dc
For the love of god- steve vai
Zeppelin riffs
Purple haze- hendrix
Hendrix riffs
Maiden riffs
Metallica riffs
Rage against the machine riffs

Acoustic: saucers - ozric tentacles
Change- blind melon
Darkside o.t.m - floyd
Led zeps houses of holy album riffs
Classical /jaz type riffs

Thats pretty much it.
I know other songs but they are my pleasures.

Mostly though i fiddle about composing my own and never record or finish them :+1:


Get ready to laugh and howl.

Rocky Mountian High
Grandma’s Feather Bed (got it yesterday)
Simple Song of Freedom
Universal Soldier
Kermit the Frog Rainbow Connection
Times They Are A Changin
The Eve of Destruction

I could go on…but I’ll let you catch your breath from laughing


I dug some John Denver way back when… he wrote some great and beautiful songs. One I still play to this day is My Sweet Lady, just as an instrumental. It’s another that my brother in law Bob and I featured, and like the tune I mentioned in my OP, it keeps him alive in my mind. (In the five months since I first posted this thread his decline has been even worse, his playing days are over for good now).


I have to say, all the Van Halen, ZZ Top and G’n’R songs that I slaved over, the one that I was most proud of was Satriani’s Day at the Beach

I find the song structure, technique (two handed tapping) and sound just beautiful on every level. I spent weeks learning this song and actually got it down pretty well.