Michael Jackson is dead. What to do? Learn Van Halen licks!

This is not my tribute to MJ. My real tribute will to be to realize one of my lifelong ambitions which is to learn how to do a proper Moonwalk.

I did feel suddenly inspired though, to learn how to play Beat It, which does of course feature one Mr Edward Van Halen playing the solo on it. The equally iconic rhythm parts I believe were laid down by Steve Lukather, so all cool in the guitar pedigree department: now to get to the licks.  I had a copy of Guitar World which had the transcription in it and had no problem locating a video on YouTube to play along to.

I say ‘play along to’ but what I actually mean is to ‘fumble, flub and stumble along to’ – particularly the solo. The rhythm part, while interesting and catchy is quite straightforward. There are some coolio overdubs which might challenge the right hand a bit, but it’s reproducing VH’s feel in the lead which is hardest. Sure I could probably get the actual notes down after a couple of days, but man – listening to EVH’s squealing ‘wanky’ (and I mean that in a good way) feel, his grip of the strings, vibrato, use of the bar, his sense of pitch and ‘falling down the stairs’ is one thing that might take me a lifetime to replicate.

Which then of course begs the question – is it worth copying an artist note-for-note and banging out a replica? I think there’s some kudos in being able to do this and then YouTubing it, but it also depends how much time you have to devote to your instrument and what ‘musical tasks’ you must spread over that time (I have a long, backed-up list of stuff I want to learn).   I’d love to be able to play the Beat It solo as per the record but in reality this will take too much of an investment in time (I guess it means I’m not that good) for the sake of a party piece (I won’t be playing this song live any time soon either).  Better then, IMHO to learn the spirit of the solo and some key licks to get a feel for it and take away something that can be integrated back as an influence.  I spent about half an hour doing this. Some great tapping licks in there, and a nice stretchy (12-15-19) lick.


4 Responses to “Michael Jackson is dead. What to do? Learn Van Halen licks!”

  1. I completely agree. When I was playing in a band in college, there were all these guitarists trying to play VH note-for-note. I often wonder what happened to them after the VH fad faded. Whose solos are they copying now? The point of learning a solo is so you can learn from it. Not so you can parrot it.

    BTW–My band did “Jump,” and it about killed me.

  2. […] Michael Jackson is dead. What to do? Learn Van Halen licks! Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Soloing TipsMini Lesson: Into The ArenaVan Halen Heartbroken Over JacksonA look at the career of Michael Jackson […]

  3. The death of MJ has left me feeling EXACTLY the same way! I have been listening to Beat It over and over on Youtube. I can only find one version of MJ and EVH doing the song live and the quality of that video is awful (and the solo isn’t that great either in that version).

    Anyway, thanks for the article….


  4. Like @MIKE above, the death of MJ has left me feeling EXACTLY the same way.

    Incidentally, 100 greatest drum beats of all time. Countdown: from Bonham to drum machines. From Rhythm Magazine, Tue 21 Apr 2009: http://www.musicradar.com/news/drums/100-greatest-drum-beats-of-all-time-204008 mentions this:

    Ironic, but No. 95 definitely caught my eye:

    95. Beat It – Michael Jackson
    Who played it? Jeff Porcaro

    Where to find it: Thriller, 1982

    Why it’s great: Toto sticksman Porcaro is better known for his big rock beats, but keeps it super tight and super clean on ‘Beat It’ – a masterpiece of economy.

    LIke you mentioned: The equally iconic rhythm parts I believe were laid down by Steve Lukather – the Toto Connection is there. Steve and Jeff.

    RIP, MJ

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