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Slowing Down, Learning, and Archiving Guitar Licks

Terry Downs

This article demonstrates the usage of two FREE software tools that will help you learn and archive guitar licks. There are better tools out there, but you must pay. The lick used here is a fairly simple lick, that I wouldn’t consider it complicated enough to require slowing it down. But I didn’t want to dive into something too complicated for the first example.

Slow that Lick Down
I spent a lot of my early years trying to learn guitar licks. I got to a point where I could quickly copy anything that was of a reasonable speed and was comprised of a diatonic scale. Chromatics, particularly diminished and augmented notes would twist my ears and made it more difficult. Then of course the faster the lick, the harder it was to pick out the notes. I’m better now with diminished and augmented phrases, but speed can be a problem.

The old record player I used had four speeds. 16, 33-1/3, 45, and 78RPM. Slowing 45s down to 33-1/3 didn’t work well at all. None of the 78RPMs had anything I wanted to learn on them. But, slowing a 33-1/3RPM record down to 16RPM was very close to an octave. The comparison note was an octave low, but it was still helpful. It would need to be 16-2/3RPM to be exact. I remember taking my mother’s fingernail polish and applying it to the stepped shaft of the motor to increase the 16RPM section closer to 16-2/3RPM. I added too much and made it worse. I tried sanding it down, but never got it exactly right. 

We are now in the world of digital signal processing. The tempo of a song can be changed without changing its pitch. There are several software tools especially made for this application that work really well, and are worth the money of you do this frequently.

I found a free software application called Audacity. It has an amazing amount of capability for free. A free copy can be downloaded here.

The processing of the audio is comprised of three steps.

  1. The song length is trimmed down to part of the song that has the lick you are trying to learn. This makes for a smaller archival size, and allows you to set your audio player to loop mode so it can be played over and over.
  2. Slow the tempo down. The further slowed it is, the more “choppy” the sound is. I often find that 30% of the original tempo renders audio that is generally useable for learning the lick.
  3. Filter out the unwanted spectrum of the audio. The guitar is in the midrange of the audio spectrum. The bass and high treble can be filtered out so it is not distracting.

The slowed down lick does not sound that good, but it is plenty adequate to learn from. Here is a video demo on using Audacity to trim, slow down, and filter a guitar lick.

(You may want to double-click on the video below and go to Youtube to play this full screen)


Here is the MP3 File of the slowed down lick.

Transcribing Guitar Tablature
They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. I guess I’m considered by some as an old dog, but I can learn new tricks. The problem is, I forget them! Short term memory degradation is really a tough thing for me. I can remember my 1st grade school bus number, but can’t remember what I did yesterday. There are licks I learned back then that I will never forget. There are licks I learn now, that I document, but look back on my computer a year later and forgot that I documented it. However, I believe anyone should archive licks. Once learned, it is good to go back and rehearse it. 

There are numerous music score and/or guitar tablature editors. Early forms of guitar tablature had a major flaw, since no time notation was included. Most of the current tablature editors allow the user to input the notes in tablature, along with the duration of the note. The software will simultaneously generate conventional music score, and use a MIDI player to playback the notes. Having the ability to playback the music is most valuable. The user can confirm the correct notes and the correct timing.

Here is a concise webpage on tablature.

I recently found Power Tab, and free tablature editor application. It has a few bugs and issues I don’t like, but what the heck. It’s FREE. The free download can be found here.

Here is a video demonstrating how to use Power Tab, documenting the slowed down lick above.
(You may want to double-click on the video below and go to Youtube to play this full screen)

I hope you find this useful.

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34 Responses to “Slowing Down, Learning, and Archiving Guitar Licks”
  1. JohnnyCrash JohnnyCrash says:

    After reading your article, I downloaded Power Tab editor. It is extremely usefull. Thanks for the tips!

  2. Bswailes Bswailes says:


    Some time back I got your DVD on soldering. It was very helpful!

    Yesterday I posted my personal opinion that you were a bona fide resource for all the members of the TDPRI forum. Then today, I saw your article on Audacity and Power Tab. Just serves to prove a point!

    A personal thanks for your well-informed opinions, and your many years of guitar and general electronics experience!

    TDPRI Member
    since 2003

  3. Terry-
    Cool sites, and better yet, free. Cain’t complain about that.
    I noticed that the Power Tab Editior doesn’t list Vista as a requirement for
    the system.
    Does this make a difference?
    Great Article man, thankx alot.-g

  4. teeveedub teeveedub says:

    Terry, I am a new member to the forum – introduced thru the Brent Mason schematics. Am half-way thru my tele build now, the wiring is complete. Glad to see this new assist. Thanks for sharing your expertise that helps so many. tvw

  5. Awesome resources!!! as a beginner and highly influenced by Brad Paisley, I find both programs SOOO useful and helpful! thank you very much for this!

  6. Terry, you are one of the most valuable resources on this forum. Colt.

  7. nickrom nickrom says:

    Wow! I have been trying to learn solos from a couple of my favorites songs and been researching a few audio programs thinking I would need to purchase something for $100 minimum. Audacity is exactly what I needed. Thanks for posting this. I love this forum!

  8. sotob sotob says:

    I’ve been using Audacity on Linux for sometime and it does the trick for slowing down licks!
    Have also been trying to use it to record ideas, but it seems to clip to much and the tweaks I’ve attempted have not helped, so the search continues.

  9. Jack Wells jwells393 says:

    I’ve been saying it for years …………… Terry Downs is definitely Da Man.

  10. stoneyzoni says:

    WOW! Terry, thanks a million. This will help an old dog learn some new licks. I’ve always perked up my ears when you speak. You are a wealth of valuable information. jwells is right!

  11. pgrace245 says:

    Thanks Terry! That worked.

  12. mkorsmo says:

    Hey Terry, thanks for taking the time to put that article together, I’ve found it very useful.

    (On a side note: is another free Tab editor that has the side benefit of being able to open up GuitarPro files.)

  13. Ridge runner Ridge runner says:

    Cool ideas,I’ve been using audacity for a couple of years now..and I got powertab editor as well..
    But I was wondering if you could like do an article/lesson on counting time,because to correctly arcive licks you got to really know note values to get the phraseing correct and have the powertab editor play the lick right, for instance I know how to count 16th notes ie…”1E&A 2E&A or triplets”1&A 2&A and I’ve been working with a metrodome on my 16th note rest but beyond that and when you go to another time signature it really throws a monkey wrench into the whole process and to be honest about I really need the help counting doted notes and other note values as well.
    Really dig the HONKY-TONK ESSENTIALS and the Roy Nichols DVDs! Would love to see you A Don Rich and
    a Western Swing Junior Barnard licks DVD as well,Anyways great job just the same. Jerry

    • tdowns tdowns says:

      Thanks for the kind words. Phrasing and note duration is a big deal. Sadly, I’m more of a hunt and peck guy when it comes to that. I don’t have a very natural feel for it when it has a complex feel. I sent the Roy Nichols DVD and book to Roy’s wife before it was released for her comment and approval. One of her comments as I recall was “I knew Roy’s playing was a bit complicated, but after looking at the music, I’ve never seen written music that complicated” (or something like that). It really tried to capture the feel and it turned out to be a lot of work. I just made a snip from the first 2 bars of the “Every Fool Has A Rainbow” instrumental and linked it below. It doesn’t exactly look like something out of a church hymnal, but if you play it back on MIDI it sounds pretty close to Roy’s phrasing.

      Your’s was about the 4011th request for a Don Rich video.

  14. Ridge runner Ridge runner says:

    Ha Ha yeah love Don’s stuff too..really nice job on your work; transcribing traditional notation to MIDI for some bonehead like me is sooo time consuming I guess if a fellow fooled with it long enough he’d get better at it..Really dig the jazz touch on that song as well. anyways you take care..

  15. ScatMan ScatMan says:

    Hey Terry, Thanks for the heads-up about PowerTab. I thought it would be cool to use the tool and give back to the forum, so I started a thread crediting you and using the tool:

  16. DaveG says:

    Great article! I just started with Audacity, and it’s great.

    I’ve been using Powertab for years, even sticking with the site through the “lawsuit years”. I’ve posted quite a number of tabs there, including some country that folks here might enjoy. Search under the member name SledDawg to find them.

    A coulpe of cool things to keep in mind about Powertab:

    1.) you can import MIDI files – this can be good if you find a tune for keyboard or some other instrument on the web. It can be a bit squirrely about apportioning the voices into MIDI instruments, but sometimes it works really well. It’s well worth it to go to sites where people post MIDI files for instruments other than guitar e.g. clarinet, sax, etc. Ou can learn a lot of new phrasings that way. Or, sometimes people will post backing tracks in standard chord progressions in MIDI. Those a cool to practice to, and you can see the sheet music.

    2.) You can change the tempo anytime you want! If you are trying to learn a tune via a powertab file you’ve downloaded (say, some crazy tapping thing you found on and you can’t keep up with it, just go into the file and chang the tempo to something manageable. Bingo – it’s amazing slowdowner, but with the tab and sheet music to refer to!. Remember to note the original tempo (put it in the View > Performance Notes or someplace liek that…) so you can change it back once you master the hard bit, so you can play along at speed.

  17. jwayne says:

    This article helped me alot. I spent the weekend playing with Audacity and it helped me get my timing down with the Doug Seven Playing in Circles lessons. Thanks again – JW


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  1. [...] was convincing and I knew then that I could participate in higher levels of playing. Check out Terry Downs’ article on the TDPRI homepage to find links to free tools which can assist in applying the approach [...]

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