10 Tracks for Improving Your Guitar Technique
Here are ten songs that are not only well known but also well suited for adding an array of guitar techniques to your playing. The list runs the gamut from acoustic to electric, from soft rock to heavy metal. These examples are useful to both rhythm and lead guitarists.
“Purple Haze” (1967)
Although much has been said about the guitar solo, it’s the opening guitar riffing that puts this one on this list. After a few measures of tri‐tones, the main and most recognizable riff begins by sliding, bending, and hammering its way through E‐minor pentatonic scale patterns, in a manner not too far off from another Hendrix song, “Voodoo Child (Slight Return).”
“Stairway to Heaven” (1971)
This Led Zeppelin classic is a cornucopia of guitar styles and techniques. Guitarist Jimmy Page made use of acoustic guitars, electric guitars, and even 12‐string guitars in the studio. There are soft moments, like the song’s delicately fingerpicked introduction, and moments of high intensity, like the guitar solo and final verses. It runs the dynamics gamut in a way few songs do. This is also one of the few songs that is good for guitar players to learn all parts.
“Free Bird” (1974)
This national treasure from southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd clocks in at over nine minutes long, with more than half of it an extended guitar solo. It starts out as a power ballad, with Gary Rossington adding the song’s main melodic hook on slide guitar. At 4:42, the tempo picks up and lead guitarist Allen Collins takes over.
What follows may very well be the longest recorded guitar solo to ever become a classic rock radio staple, one that triggers an air guitar frenzy whenever it’s heard. The number of bends is enough to shred anything but the most well‐callused fingers, and the rate at which you must repeat pull‐offs is fast enough to spark a fire.
More than anything, the solo is a master class in motifs, because each section is highlighted by short, repeated melodic ideas.
“Wish You Were Here” (1975)
This one makes the list because of the acoustic guitar solo that begins at 0:58. Though properly playing all the bends using an acoustic guitar with typical, heavy‐gauge strings like you hear in the recording is difficult, it becomes fairly easy to play when you use an electric guitar, or an acoustic guitar with extra‐light strings that don’t have a wound G.
In fact, when played with light, electric‐gauge strings, it becomes one of the best ways to ease your way into lead‐guitar playing because of its simple use of hammer‐ons, pull‐offs, slides, and bends, plus its slow tempo and the amount of space between phrases.
“Hotel California” (1977)
Three words: extended guitar solo! It’s the tasty licks by lead guitarists Don Felder and Joe Walsh that give you goose bumps and leave you hanging on every note. Both men are masters of phrasing and put on a clinic as they navigate the chord changes with bends, slides, hammer‐ons, and pull‐offs.
Felder starts out the solo section that begins at 4:20 and then hands it over to Walsh at 4:46. After each one has made a pass through the whole progression, they trade licks back and forth before coming together to create the most memorable harmonized guitar line in all of rock ‘n’ roll. This final part consists of two guitars a third apart using pull‐offs to play triads that outline each chord in the progression.
“Dust in the Wind” (1978)
This song remains a guitar staple, with its fingerpicking pattern being one of the most common and useful to know. Similar finger patterns are used in “Blackbird” by The Beatles and “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac.
“Pride and Joy” (1983)
Although this song features great guitar solos that are worth taking a look at, the focus here is the main guitar figure based on a boogie‐woogie‐style walking bass line. It has two main elements that make it unique:
Instead of cleanly picking each note in the bass line, Vaughan strikes multiple strings with each downstroke, being sure to mute everything but his target note.
Vaughan lifts his hand on all upbeats and strikes the first few open strings with upstrokes, emphasizing the short/long feel of the shuffle and further adding percussive impact.
“Master of Puppets” (1986)
Considered to be one of the best thrash metal songs ever, this Metallica concert staple from the band’s early days in 1986 is loaded with heavily distorted and palm‐muted riffery, the kind suitable for head banging and whipping around your long locks. At over eight and a half minutes long, the composition also includes pace‐changing interludes featuring clean electric guitars and harmonized, melodic lines. True to the song’s dynamic structure, the intermission doesn’t stay subdued for too long before breaking into a full shred‐fest led by lead guitarist Kirk Hammett.
“Sweet Child o’ Mine” (1988)
The Guns N’ Roses guitarist, Slash is a guitar legend. The opening guitar riff is a good exercise in string skipping. The two solo sections between the verses are great examples of using pull‐offs, hammer‐ons, slides, and bends in a major key to play simple, lyrical lead lines.
The song gets more exciting at 3:35 as the music changes keys and Slash weaves his way melodically through the E harmonic minor scale in haunting fashion. Finally, at 4:03, the volcano erupts, and Slash unleashes one of the most devastating and face‐melting solos ever put to tape.
“Tears in Heaven” (1992)
The whole piece is played without a pick and features a finger pattern that is fairly simple and intuitive, with moments where you claw at a chord piano‐style, and moments where you alternate your thumb and fingers. Instead of using typical chord shapes, you play unique voicings that include inversions, partial chord forms, and alternate bass notes. On top of all this is the two‐guitar interplay with hooky hammer‐on, pull‐off, and slide fills.