So you’ve taken a few guitar lessons or have taught yourself some basic chords. You’re tired of playing those simple little kid songs from your beginner guitar book and want to learn your favorite tunes.
Where on earth do you start?
The key is breaking down the song into bite-sized pieces. Give yourself a chance to learn a segment of the song first, then move on. Take frequent breaks so you don’t burn yourself out.
Follow these six simple steps and you’ll learn new songs more effectively and quicker than before.
1. Listen to the song a few times to get the feel
The point of this step is to feel the groove of the song, not every note, chord, or strumming pattern. It’s to hear the dynamics. It’s to understand where the song is going. What are the other instruments doing? Are they all moving together, or are the rhythms off just enough to create a unique, syncopated feel? No matter how well you think you know the song, don’t skip this step because each time you’ll hear new things.
2. Write down the overall song structure
Most songs can be divided into three simple parts that repeat: verse, chorus and bridge. For example: V1 – CH – V2 – CH – BR – CH – CH. Often the bridge is a slight variation of the verse or the chorus. Instrumental sections between are usually fragments of one of the main three components. When you break it down, you’re really only learning 2-3 parts and stringing them together. This is far less intimidating than trying to learn one long progression.
3. Fill in the chord progressions for each section
If you know your basic chords, I’d suggest trying this by ear first because it’s important to practice ear training. I used to be amazed by people who can do this (because I couldn’t) but trust me, it gets easier with practice. If you’re inexperienced or a beginner, just search for “song xyz guitar chords” in Google and you’ll find something. I’ll post later about the best resources for finding chord charts online.
4. Practice each section independently
It’s more effective to learn each section before trying to play the whole song from start to finish. Work on one part several times until you get it, then move on to the next. A variation of this is learning the first part, then the second, then playing the two together. You would then repeat this step with the third, fourth, etc. sections until you’re done.
5. Put it all together
This is the most fun part. If you’ve done a good job of steps 1-4 then this should come fairly easily. Try to play the whole song along with the recording. Don’t worry about getting it perfect. Just play through, don’t lose the groove, and enjoy the song you’ve worked so hard to learn. If you get stuck on a certain part, go back to step 4 and work on it.
6. Put down the guitar, and do something else for a while
I can’t stress enough how important this is. Our human brains, as powerful as they are, do better when subject matter is learned in bite-sized pieces and with frequent breaks. Spend 30-40 minutes on the song, take a break of at least 10-15 minutes, and hit it again later if you’re ambitious.
When I first started playing guitar, I thought I could master everything in one sitting. I’d play, and play, and play, and play…until I lost track of time. Sometimes this worked, but most of the time I ended up frustrated.
Not every song will go smoothly, but many will. More challenging songs may require you to repeat individual sections several times, but dividing the process into chunks is more manageable than tackling the whole thing at once.
Question: What are your experiences with trying to learn new songs? Feel free to leave a comment below.
** The featured image for this post is courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net / jscreationzs