How to approach learning a song

notes

 

One of the skills I often find myself teaching is how to approach learning a song from notation/tab. Take the wrong approach and you can end up frustrated and wondering why a piece of music is eluding you. Before diving into a piece of music I would suggest the following strategies:

  1. Listen to the piece of music several times. This is particularly important if the song has any tricky rhythms. If there are different versions of the song by other artists then listen to them also. You may also find it useful to find out more about the band/songwriter and the context in which the song was written. This may help you put the required feeling into playing the piece.
  2. Divide the piece up into sections. Learning a piece in chunks is a proven way to commit something to memory.  Some music will have titles for each section eg. section A,B,C etc or Verse, Chorus. If this hasn’t been done for you then look for double bar lines. Double bar lines are used to indicate the end of a section. Once you have done this take it section by section.
  3. Isolate any technically difficult parts. A phrase might be a bit quick for you or have a challenging rhythm, whatever the difficulty isolate such passages and practice them independent of the piece. If possible play them to a metronome and gradually increase the speed by no more than 5bpm. If you have the technology you could also slow down the recording and loop it. Picking is often the main barrier to the effective playing of a lead guitar parts, make sure you’ve opted for the optimum picking pattern.
  4. Look at the notation as well as the tab. If both notation and tab are present then you need to look at both. Tab is a very accessible but limited method for writing music. Ideally you should be looking to the tab to guide you on rhythm and expressive techniques/dynamics.
  5. Deal with frustration positively. Instead of feeling like giving up, ask questions to help you overcome problems. If you can’t execute a passage at speed or keep making mistakes, then ask what technical issues could be the cause of the problem rather than allowing negative self-talk to fill your head.
  6. Perform! Practice performing it at home or record it to listen back to.