I used the chart in Ex. 7 for a gig I did with John Oates. It’s a quick-and-dirty arrangement of Curtis Mayfield’s “It’s Alright.” I wasn’t exactly sure what key John wanted to do it in, so I used numbers. In the key of C, it’s very easy to read. The rhythmic hits are an essential part of the song, so I wrote those in as well.

When there is an existing chart, I will quickly make my own notes and adjustments to fingerings. If the part is difficult to read on guitar, I may cheat and write some parts out quickly with tab. The chart in Ex. 8 was from a session I did with Harry Shearer, and it’s a very simple line that I doubled with bass. However, if I would have played it as written, it would have resulted in a very uninteresting guitar part. I abandoned the written line at the verse and went with a rockabilly part. Just writing out the tail end of the phrase was enough for me to know to go to the rhythm part on the verse. I’ve recreated the part so you can study the chart and follow along.

Sometimes you don’t have the luxury of being able to write out a chart, or you don’t want to use them on the gig. There are other ways to cram for a gig as well. Once, I was working with Boz Scaggs and I had one night to learn about eight songs with very specific guitar parts. I created a playlist in iTunes and put the songs with the guitar parts isolated on endless loop and just fell asleep listening to the parts. Sounds crazy, but it worked!

I hope some of these ideas and tips will be helpful to you should you find yourself in a time-sensitive situation. Just remember: There’s more than one way to get through it, and the bottom line is, whatever works for you is usually the best way.