Tab, Sheet Music, Backing Track, Lesson, & Analysis
Welcome to a different kind of guitar lesson. The kind that needs… a table of contents?
- How This Works
- Tiny Little Soapbox Rant
- The Tones
- The Chart
- The Stems
- Practice Strategies
- The Solo
How This Works
I want to give you better tools for learning songs (and then show you how to use them).
If you click here, you can grab (for free):
- professional chord chart (pdf)
- DAW session files (Logic & Studio One)
- individual mp3s + MIDI tempo map (if you want to DIY in Reaper/Ableton/GarageBand/etc)
- my patch for HX Stomp/Helix
The DAW files are divvy’d up into stems—individual tracks for each guitar, the bass, the drums, the vocals, the harmonies, etc. This lets you isolate the part you’re trying to learn (and then create a “guitaraoke” track so you can jam with the band).
Practicing inside the DAW is also a great way to:
- slow down audio (without changing pitch of course)
- loop sections
Again, you can grab all these files for free here:
Tiny Little Soapbox Rant
(about how normal guitar instruction is failing you)
- TAB is fine. I don’t love it, I don’t hate it. There are things I wouldn’t dream of teaching without it, and places where it’s absolutely getting in your way.
- Standard notation is a tough sell. Learning it is a career-maker, but I’m guessing you’re not here for that.
- The 80/20: Let me be your guide. I wanna show you the metadata inside every song you hear.
- “Music Theory” is just giving names to commonly occurring things. Coordinates-based methods like TAB & chord shapes skip over the names.
- is cool—it lets you play something right now without getting bogged down
- is limiting—it’s a fish when maybe you need a fishing rod (and a little guidance)
- Learning those names gives you handles & hooks, so you can neatly sort it in your brain.
- Ever been in another country, surrounded by a language you don’t speak? What do you do? You tune it out.
- That’s what’s happening for most of us. There’s a beautifully ordered language that’s present in every song you hear… and you’re missing all of it.
Why do we do this?
- Ostensibly it makes it easier to learn guitar.
- That’s true… at first.
- And then it’s not.
In the medium-to-long term, we expend way more energy on workarounds than it would take to do it the
proper smart way.
We’ve plugged an outlet strip into itself, and now we wonder why it won’t power on.
What I think you should do instead:
- learn songs
- create exercises
- scale your standards
- and above all: seek joy in guitar
Eddie Van Halen is legendary for a number of reasons, one of which is his DIY gear.
Needed a guitar that was equal parts Fender & Gibson? He made one.
Marshall amp is too frickin’ loud? No prob, just gonna head to the hardware store and buy a variable voltage regulator… and inadvertently invent the brown sound.
But Finish What Ya Started is notable among Van Halen songs for a few reasons:
- he’s not the only guitarist on this track—Sammy Hagar plays acoustic
- he’s not using any of his signature guitars—this is a Stratocaster
- he’s not using his signature amps—the guitar is plugged straight into the mixing board
- he’s not tuned down a half step—standard tuning on this one.
I’ve included my Line 6 HX Stomp patch in the downloads.
Important components of this sound:
- Studio Tube Pre
- Retro Reel
- LA Studio Comp
Preamp -> Tape Saturation -> Compressor -> Reverb
You’ll probably want to adjust the gain staging to better match your guitar.
- Studio Tube Pre -> Gain
- Retro Reel -> Saturation
Not used on this song but handy to have around:
- Slapback Delay
(Tip of the cap to Steve Sterlacci, whose own ampless HX Stomp patch served as the basis of mine.)
The most basic music theory is giving names to sections—verse, chorus, bridge, etc. If you’re at all unsure about what to call things, you can read up on section names here.
There’s a lengthy intro & outro section:
The rest mostly sticks to 8-bar sections:
Only real exception is the solo, which adds another two-bar turnaround (ten bars total):
2/ Chords & Progressions
The Intro, Verse, Chorus, & Outro of Finish What Ya Started are all E7 to A7.
The Pre Chorus is B7 A7 C#m & D.
That puts this song squarely in E:
But it’s more E blues than E major:
- we’re hearing that rub between the minor & major 3rd
- the I and IV chords are both dominant 7s
- (both of which borrow a note from outside of E major)
In the Prechoruses, they tease the chord a whole step below
- where it says B, they’re teasing the A
- where it says A, they’re teasing the G
- where it says C#m, they’re teasing the B
- and of course, that D chord is a whole step below the I chord (E)
All of this adds to the bluesy dominant 7 -ness of Finish What Ya Started.
So much of this song is dealer’s choice—Eddie is improvising inside a framework.
The one constant is this little riff here:
The most important thing here is this rhythm.
Mess it up and all is lost.
Get it right (but flub the occasional note) and you’ll be fine.
Sounds like this:
Visually, what you’re hearing is this:
Each instrument gets its own track—guitars, bass, vocals, drums, etc.
This lets us hear a guitar part in isolation, loop it, and slow it down. Once we’ve learned our part, we can mute that track and play “guitaraoke.” You can also send these to your bandmates so they actually show up prepared for rehearsal.
If you use Logic Pro X or Studio One, you can grab my session files.
(If you’re already in a committed relationship with another DAW, you can also grab the mp3s & MIDI tempo map.)
All the sections are named, and there’s a 1:1 correlation between measure numbers on the chart and in the session. If you hear something tricky going on in measure 13 in Logic, it’s going to be written in measure 13 of the chart. If you see something that doesn’t make sense in measure 48 of the chart, you can go directly to measure 48 in Studio One and listen to it.
This 1:1 relationship lets you work much faster, and frees up a ton of mental bandwidth.
Looping & Slowing Down Audio
You can find detailed instructions here: Logic | Studio One
1/ Focus On The Fundamentals
How to get a lot better in 5 minutes/day
2/ Chart vs Ear vs TAB
Is a hammer better than a torque wrench?
It depends. You can’t frame a wall with a torque wrench, and you can’t seat a head gasket with a hammer.
No tool is the single right tool for all jobs.
What job does the chart do?
It’s a map, not a photograph. It’s a deliberately low-res rendering of reality. We use it better understand reality.
It makes the form clear:
- What are the chords?
- How long is each section?
- Are there rhythmic hits and/or rests I need to play?
What job does my ear do?
It fills in the details of the chart. It helps you unpack reality. Practically speaking, the chart might show E7, but your ear is in charge of answering:
- what voicing of E7?
- what kind of rhythm?
- do these notes ring out, or are they deadened?
Can you get someone to show you every detail of a song? Sure, but in doing so, you deprive yourself. Your figure-it-out muscle atrophies.
What job does TAB do?
Lick is too fast or too difficult to figure out? TAB is a perfectly fine tool for explaining it.
TAB rarely has rhythm embedded in it, so it’s not good for explaining the WHEN of a riff or lick. But it’s great for conveying coordinates—the WHERE of a riff or lick.
- TAB sucks at showing rhythms. It’s lousy at conveying the form of a tune. It can be a crutch that causes your listening skills to wither.
- Notation is unwieldy for showing guitar-specific techniques like bends, hammer-ons, etc.
- Your ear might not be up to catching the nuances of a fast passage or complex chord.
3/ DAW practice
In the Logic & Studio One session files, all the sections are laid out—verse, chorus, etc. It’s easy to loop a section or even a few measures.
That’s perfect for this song: Eddie plays the lick, but then improvises the bits in between.
There’s a balancing act here: how do we learn as much as we can from Eddie’s brilliant playing without trapping ourselves in a cage?
Can we learn enough about the guitar’s role in this song to approach it like he does? ie play the riff and then improvise some cool bits.
100%. Here’s how:
- Loop a two measure section.
- Solo the guitar.
- Slow down the audio as needed.
- Figure out what Eddie plays. (Your ear is probably good enough to suss this out, but fall back on internet tab as needed)
- Play it in a loop for no more than 5 minutes so it’s dialed into your fingers.
- Tomorrow, review it once or twice, and repeat this process with another two-bar section.
But Josh, wait—I thought you were gonna show me how to play every note in this song?
You don’t need a fish, you need a fishing pole. I’m even showing you where to find the fish. Trust me on this one, getting slightly uncomfortable here gives Future You vastly more confidence.
Eddie makes liberal use of chicken picking on this.
It’s a term that gets tossed around with abandon to vaguely mean “country guitar playing.” But that’s not what chicken picking is.
Chicken picking is percussive hybrid picking.
Hybrid, meaning “pick & fingers.” Percussive, meaning we snap strings into the fretboard & use left hand muting to:
- stop notes immediately after picking them
- play deadened strings
There’s a whole (free) course on it here:
You can grab the SoundSlice’d TAB for this here.
That’s A Wrap
Thanks for hanging with me. Don’t forget to grab all the files if you didn’t already.