Updated: Mar 5
Enjoy music not sound clash
In this article we will cover techniques to avoid guitar sound clash when practicing. Like many musicians, I practice a lot with tabs and then later move on to play against the original song.
Well for starters the original song was intended to be a song and not a practice tune. While you can normally find backing tracks without the guitar track (on youtube or in some specialised websites), these would be either covers of the original song or versions with the guitar artificially removed.
But what would be cooler than playing a Metallica track against a Metallica music video ? We'll maybe joining them on stage, but I'm not there yet and chances are neither are you ! So for us to practice and play with our friends backing tracks are great. But playing against the original song and feeling like you are part of the band is another level of joy.
Let's then go through some general recommendations and techniques I use to then practice against the original song.
The song version
First of all make sure you can play the song well, and that you have the correct version of the song. Guitar tabs out there are a great way to learn a song, but also dime a dozen, so:
Look for comments of players who downloaded the tab and believe it matches the song closely. Most popular tab websites have that,
Check what is the guitar tuning required for the song you've selected,
Verify how many guitar parts it has. Either pick one, or find a youtube video where experts teach by blending several parts (Sweet Home Alabama by Lynyrd Skynyrd is a great example of this). Nothing more confusing, especially as a beginner, than trying to find yourself in the song while trying to hop from part to part of different guitar layers,
Practice a lot from a slower tempo to at least 100% or even 110% of the song's original speed.
Whatever part you choose to play needs to feel comfortable and natural to play or you will struggle to enjoy the experience of playing with the original song.
It's ok to learn a simpler part of the song or even a simpler version and years later come back and learn the other parts. I've done that a lot.
My routine is to go to ultimate guitar and find the tab:
Then use Guitar Pro to control the speed and loop the parts until I can play them well.
The technological alternative
One way to avoid sound clash when playing against an original song is to use what technology has to offer. There are many software packages these days that attempt to partially remove guitar parts of the original song, slow down tempo without affecting the pitch, or changing the tuning without affecting the tempo.
My preference is to use Anytune for Mac or iOS. This app allows you to load the song from a WAV file or your iTunes collection, and then apply all sorts of effects: EQ the main guitars out, remove vocals, slow it down, or more importantly, change the pitch. In my early days I would stick to songs in standard tuning as I didn't like fiddling with the tuning of my guitar (OK, I avoided songs with an F chord as well, as you do). But later I found out how many great metal songs are not in standard tuning. And changing the tuning of the guitar without a proper setup is a hit and miss process.
So this type of app will allow you to change the tuning of the song instead of having to change your instrument. I used it to slightly reduce the pitch of some old Metallica songs, and to re-tune the Highway to Hell album by AC/DC back to A 440Hz. The downside is that this is not on the fly, so not good to play with a youtube video, for example.
Other Tips and Tricks
If tuning is not an issue and you're just trying to avoid the sound clash, the two techniques I use is EQ and Pan. Plain and simple, your guitar needs to stay out of the way of the original mix.
On my effects and amplifier modeller I apply global EQ to boost that mid to high region that makes the guitar stick out. While this is particularly effective for Metallica songs (as they are famous for their scooped mids) it works well with rock and metal in general. EQ the source the other way around if you can (using Anytune, a plugin or whatever floats your boat) and your guitar will be heard well. Just avoid scooping out the bottom end as you want the drums and the bass for guidance, and don't go too hard on the mid-to-high or the vocals will be buried into your mix.
Another option that can be used in conjunction or separately is to pan your guitar slightly to one side, and the song to the other side. While this works in some cases, I'm not a great fan of this technique as the song feels unbalanced while playing, and if the original guitars are loud and many they may bury the drums and bass. A better way to do this would be to do a selective pan after a high-pass filter so to leave bass and drum references well centred.
These are some of the tricks I use to have fun and play against original songs. I trust that there are many options out there on how to do this. I like doing it as this is how the guitar greats from the 70s and 80s developed their chops: by mimicking their idols.