Always Do These 6 Steps BEFORE Learning a Song!

Guitar players that set out to learn a new song often fall into the trap of only learning short segments of the song without ever learning the whole thing. Generally, this is because they ride off of the enjoyment of getting one "part" of the piece so much that they never bother to learn the entire song...

When you train yourself to only learn a small part of a song, you are feeding into an imbalance that is not only costing you a chance to have the full symmetry of learning an entire musical piece, but you fail to build higher level musical skills in the process.

I want to run through six steps that you could start doing before learning every new song. These six steps will;

♦ improve your understanding for a song when you first set out to learn it, make you feel better about how easy or how complex that new piece of music will be – before you start your study of the song,

♦ it will help you better organize every new piece that you set out to learn,

♦ and it’s going to help prevent a lot of that frustration that goes along when you’re just getting things going with learning how to play a new song on guitar.

Let’s jump into the breakdown of these six steps – right now.

1). Get an audio copy (an MP3), of the song that you want to learn. You can buy any individual song at iTunes, Amazon Music or Google Play, so getting a copy of pretty much any song that you want to learn is fast and easy!

Once you have a copy of the song, you’ll want to get it into a player that has the option of slowing the song down. There’s an app called the, “Amazing Slow-Downer” and it’s quite good, you can find that one at, …Another one that’s good is an online web-app and it’s called, “Tune Transcribe.”

2). Once you have a copy of the song as an MP3 and you’ve got an app to be able to slow the song down, the next step is to LOCATE some information about the piece.

One of the largest collections of song information can be found over at “Ultimate” Look up the song (that you’re planning to study) and find both a lyric and chord chart along with a TAB of the piece.

3). At this point it’s important to start doing what’s called the initial, “listen through” of the song. During this stage of learning you’ll want to determine how many sections the song has. Like, is there an intro.? Is there a pre-Verse, or just a Verse that leads to a Chorus? Is there a solo and does the song have a separate Ourto to it?

All of these concepts are really important because they help you form a big picture view of the song and this can be really good for determining two things..
(1) is how much of the piece you decide to study and
(2). how much of the song you might want to leave off to the side for practice at a later date.

You can organize this information really easy by simply grabbing a piece of scrap paper and writing down the various song sections. Then, make a note of which parts that you’re going to focus on first.

4). Once you’ve organized the song into its various parts for learning, the next stage is to begin study of the first section of your piece.

Normally, if the intro of the song is some kind of a really catchy riff, it’s probably a good idea to work on that part first. Riffs and picking patterns are generally quite important to slow down because they can run by your ear very quickly at regular speed and it can be tough to hear one note to the next at the original album speed.

One thing to keep in mind here, is when you’re learning picking patterns or single-note lines always pay a lot of attention to the lowest note and the highest note of the phrase.

That understanding will give you the range of the line and it will help you to understand the location on the neck of where you’re going to play the part. If you were able to find a TAB chart on Ultimate Guitar, then make some comparisons of what you figured out by ear in relation to the TAB that you found.

The TAB’s on Ultimate Guitar are all user generated, so there are no guarantees that they’re correct. So, you’ll need to go by your ear and make the judgment call of the correct notes in relationship to what sounds the best to how you hear things.

My golden rule (that I always follow), is if I can play along to the original recording and it sounds really great, then I’ve most likely got it, (and I am playing ), the correct notes.

5). The next thing to consider is what key the song is in. And obviously, this can be a tough area to get down if you are not aware of the basic principles of; key signatures, scales and chord harmony.

So, it’s always a good idea to have a regular routine in place for studying the theory until you memorize theory principles. Every piece of music is composed around key signatures. And, quite often a song will drift between a keys Major and Minor tonality.

Like for example, a song might start in Minor, have a Verse that’s also in Minor, but then switch to a Chorus that’s in Major. Or, all of that could just as easily show up in reverse – and this can happen in any song that you’re leaning.

So, if you’re good at how to organize chord types, and scale tones (so that you can spot the key forming), you’ll be able to take a lot of the guess work out of song learning by simply testing different chords of the key as you hear each section entering.

Let’s try this with a made-up song example of a Verse and a Chorus so that you can understand for yourself – exactly how all this works.

Verse Example:

Chorus Example:

6). The last step is to make an itemized breakdown covering exactly how each section of the song you’re studying moves - part by part, through the entire piece.

Now, if you’ll recall, back in Step 3, we organized our song sections. But, now we’re going to fine-tune everything in greater detail.

For example, if there’s an Intro and it lasts for 4 bars, write that down. If the Verse happens next, and it has 8-bars but they repeat, jot that down as well. Maybe there’s a Chorus with 8-bars and another Verse, but that Verse doesn’t repeat – write that down.

Perhaps, after all that we get an 8-bar guitar solo with a 4-bar Bridge... Whatever the structure is, write it all down so that you’ve got a formula to follow as you’re learning the entire piece – section by section.

Example Breakdown Chart:

Not only will this help you understand the layout of a song much better, but you’ll also have a section by section flow-chart of the song so that as you’re learning the whole piece, you’ll stay on top of everything in a more organized way than as if you never bothered to map out the piece using the sections and bars layout.

So, if you want to start learning songs on your own, absolutely apply this six-step method… When you’re learning any song - having a method like this comes in real handy.

Back when I used to play in a lot of top-40 bands (and work the clubs), it wasn’t uncommon where I would get a call, and get asked to learn 30 or 40 songs in a week to step in as a side-man in a band for a weekend booking in a bar, or at the casino.

When you’ve got to organize a lot of songs like that - having a system like this one I just described - goes a long way to speeding up the success of learning each piece.

So whether you’re just learning one song, or you’re having to learn a collection of songs, this method is fantastic for moving the whole process along much faster and much more efficiently.



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