Why You Should Be Playing Along With Your Favorite Recordings

January 27, 2016

One of my most vivid memories, and one that I tell to my students all the time, is me staying up late playing along with CDs. I remember bouncing in and out of my room, checking to see if you could hear my stereo from outside the door, so I could get my stereo as loud as possible for me to play to, without anyone else hearing it. I stayed up for hours and hours on summer nights (and maybe a few school nights as well) playing to the songs I loved, never giving up until I started to get them under my fingers.

 The reason I always bring this up with my students is because I really believe this is one of the biggest factors that helped me learn guitar, and I think every aspiring musician needs to do this.

Here’s a few quick reasons on why I think doing this is so helpful:

You’re Basically Playing To A More Fun Metronome: Let’s face it, sitting down and playing to a metronome isn’t necessarily the most exciting thing in the universe, but we know it’s good for us. If you’ve read my other blogs, you know I’m a big supporter of playing to the metronome, even if you have to sort of force yourself to do it; it’s absolutely essential to becoming a solid musician. While I definitely don’t think it could act as a complete replacement, the truth is, a lot of the things that a metronome can help you with, playing along with a recording can help you with as well. The drummer of the band is basically a fancier metronome, and everyone on the recording is playing to him. 9 times out of 10 the drummer in the studio is playing to a metronome anyway, so even though you’re a few degrees separated from it, the metronome is still at the root of what you’re playing to. This will help you with your timing, as well as well as show you the progress you’re making with playing at various speeds.

You’re Learning To Play With Other People (At Least Sort of): Though there is no replacement for getting on a stage and playing with other musicians in a live setting, playing along with a recording can still prepare you for certain things that throw Bedroom Only Musicians off. You may have a part nailed down perfectly by yourself, but can you still play it when someone else is playing a completely different part at the same time?

It Teaches You Form: One thing that I find some of my students struggle with is even though they may have all of the parts of a song down, they have trouble stringing them together in the right order. Playing with a recording solves this almost instantly. Your brain has to learn the glue between the sections just as much as it needs to learn the sections themselves, and falling on your face a few times while playing to a stereo is better than doing it up on a stage. Eventually, you’ll start to notice similarities in the forms of a bunch of songs which will help you with other songs down the road, as well as with writing your own.

It’s A Great Motivator: Often times in songs, we have some sections that are pretty easy for us, and some sections that are pretty tough for us. When you’re just playing on your own, we tend to skip over some of the parts that are hard for us, so we can play the musical and fun sounding parts we have down. Playing to a recording really motivates you to nail down those hard parts so you can play with the whole song. If a difficult section is jammed in between some easy ones, you bet you’ll work harder to nail that down so you can get that one big chunk of the song down. This is also going to motivate you because you’ll be sounding so good with the easy parts, you’ll stay interested in the song, giving you more time to perfect the song as a whole, rather than just moving on.

It Teaches You Nuances: Yes, it’s very important to get everything down technically, but even more importantly, we need to sound like musicians and not robots. Playing with a recording really allows us to see not just what our favorite musicians play, but how they play it. These feelings and ideas will creep into your own style as time goes on.

It’s Easier Than Ever: We don’t have to a do a lot of hunting nowadays to find a song you want to play along to. Going online will get you pretty much any song in the universe that you can just play through your phone or computer speakers. You no longer need to hunt down a physical copy. So what excuse do you have?

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Do you have any fond memories of playing along with your heroes? Leave a comment below!

Happy Practicing!
Mike Lowden
Guitar Instructor/Co-Owner
Falls Music School

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