How To Master Learning Songs

If your goal is to learn a lot of songs well, this article is for you. I'll show you 3 strategies of how to learn songs faster, more effectively, and more efficiently.

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Many guitar players have told me that they spend most of their time learning songs, and playing the same songs every day. Not that there's anything wrong with that, if your only goal is to play the same songs every day for your friends, or for yourself.

But if your goal is to learn more songs, or to eventually write your own, you will need to go much further than simply learning songs.

However, for those of you that wish to learn as many songs as possible, and want to play covers and that's it, this article is for you.

It's not what you learn, how many songs you learn, how good you can play those songs, or anything like that, that will make you a better guitar player. When you learn a song, sure you'll be able to play that one song pretty well, but as soon as you learn another song, you'll still have trouble in some parts. And if you ever get to the point where you aren't struggling to master incredible solos, you'll still probably never get to be able to use those licks over other pieces of music.

But aside from the musical limitations of learning new songs, the only thing that will make you better at learning songs, is HOW you learn them. You need specific, targeted, and tactical strategies in order to learn a song efficiently, and effectively. Most advanced guitar players do use some of these strategies, but we take it for granted that we use them, and don't actually verbalize them or are aware of them, and beginners just feel lost when trying to learn new songs because of this

I will show you a few ways of how you can learn songs faster, easier, and better.

The first, and most common problem that guitar players face when learning a song, is that they learn a song all the way through, and then play it all the way through when they practice it. Oftentimes, if they mess up in the middle of the song, they'll restart playing the song all the way from the beginning.

And this process repeats itself hundreds of times until they either get sick of the song and try another song, or get frustrated and put their guitar down Either way, a lot of valuable time is wasted in this method.

The solution to this problem is to simply stop bothering to play the whole song from scratch. Whenever you make a mistake, anywhere, anytime in music, just stop playing. Stop playing, and look at where you just made the mistake. Target that one, isolated movement, and focus on practicing just that one tiny part. Be it 5 notes, or 2 notes, just practice those notes for 5 minutes, and don't start over from the beginning. This way, in 5 minutes, you will practice your weakest area maybe a hundred times, instead of just 3 times. You will find that this will help you greatly with learning difficult pieces of music.

Okay, now the second and another very common problem that guitar players face when learning songs, is that they keep the sheet music in front of them while they play it. They look at the tab, and just play straight through, all the way, without stopping Then when they don't have the music in front of them, they can't play it!

This is obviously a problem, because all those hours spent memorizing a song, have gone to waste. Sure your technique is slightly better, but that's not going to help as much as memorizing Exercising your brain is almost always better than exercising your fingers, when it comes to music.

So, a very good solution to this problem is to simply learn a bar of the song, and play through it a few times. Then when you feel it's pretty good under your fingers, close your eyes, and try again.

You'll see that if you repeat this process through the whole song, you'll have really, truly memorized it, and will be able to play it whenever you want, anywhere you want, without having the tab or sheet music in front of you all the time.

The great thing about closing your eyes is that it not only helps with memorizing songs, but also helps with visualizing the fretboard in your mind. So this is going to help immensely if you ever plan to play onstage, so you don't have to keep looking at your guitar, and if the lights ever go out, you'll be totally safe.

Okay, another problem guitar players face when learning new songs, is that they simply can't play it up to speed. They get frustrated because they keep making mistakes, and no matter how often they practice it, they just can't get faster.

Here's the solution to this: you don't have to spend hours and hours building your technique. All you have to do, is take a 3-5 note sequence, and just play through it very slowly and carefully at first (I'm talking painfully, brutally slow) watching your picking hand, and your fretting hand, and making sure the movements are perfect and as minimum as possible. Do this for about 2 minutes, and then for a whole minute, play the same sequence as fast as you possibly can. (and this time, I'm talking about forgetting how horribly nasty the string noise is, or how many mistakes you make, just play as fast as your fingers can move). But play in short bursts. Play the sequence, and then take a break for a second, and then play another burst.

An analogy of this would be if you're shooting something with a rapid-fire gun. You don't want to spray and pray. You want to shoot a small burst, and then aim again, and repeat. It's the same with this technique.

Alright, so now you have 3 great ways to learn songs better, and faster. These strategies, when implemented, will save you a lot of frustrations.

When I teach my students, I don't teach them to put your finger here, and then here. That's stuff you learn when you're a total beginner, just so you know how to move your fingers. I teach them strategies. I show them how to actually apply the strategies to other music, and how to skip all the hang-time in between that frustrates players when they're struggling to learn songs, or whatever else they wish to learn.

So if you want to learn from me directly, visit my website Guitar Lessons in San Diego, and let's get started working together to further your skills and develop your guitar playing to the level you want it to be.

26 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Beastly409
    Pretty good advice. What I like to do is focus on one part at a time. I'll take two hours and focus just on the intro, getting it to speed, getting the right sound, and usually within the next two hours I've got the whole song down (unless there's a Solo then I start with learning the solo)
    NHECOS
    The best advice here is when you say people to break down the songs in small parts. Helps a lot.
    eisaac
    DimebagZappa wrote: Poorly written and had barely any relevant info. And the info presented is pretty freakin basic stuff.
    beginners need basic info therefore this is relevant
    FThomas
    It is only "Basic" if you are not using it. There are players at all levels that would do well to review the above recommendations in my opinion.
    DimebagZappa
    Poorly written and had barely any relevant info. And the info presented is pretty freakin basic stuff.
    FThomas
    The strategy is sound. You may be gifted far in advance of me or others, but I have to follow the above advice. I learn to play fiddle solo's flatpicking on an acoustic guitar. I assure you they are not simple or slow. Starting slow and learning a few bars at a time and getting them under my fingers and in memory save me untold hours and allow me to play the fiddle lead when and where I want to play it. Total recall!
    Sulfur183
    My problem that he didn't address was that I learn part of a song one day then say ill learn the rest the next then when the next comes I don't learn the song I start another or start working on something else.
    dreamerthinker5
    K33nbl4d3 : I think the most important thing to consider for beginner musicians is GET A TEACHER! Seriously, the best way to learn is to have somebody in front of you who can tell you what you're doing wrong and give you appropriate advice based on that. If I had a teacher, I wouldn't be able to pick the songs I learned, I would end up learning the songs the teacher told me to learn. I took piano lessons and the main reason why I didn't like it was because I didn't like the music the teacher made me play. I thought this article was really helpful in making me get used to practicing on my own, and the best ways to do it.
    Rootball
    I'm an intermediate-advanced player and found your article after searching for advice on memorizing songs, and I like all your advice. In return, here's something I learned from a guitar teacher: there are 3 basic things happening when playing and singing a song. First, the fretting. Second, the other hand. Third, the singing. So what you do is practice every combination of TWO of them, i.e., fretting with singing but do nothing with the other hand, then sing with the strumming hand, but mute the frets. Then fretting and strumming together but without singing. Then all 3 things together. Repeat as needed. But after reading your article, I'm going to add a fourth thing to the other three: playing with eyes closed. Thanks for a very good article.
    mssrulez
    K33nbl4d3 wrote: I think the most important thing to consider for beginner musicians is GET A TEACHER! Seriously, the best way to learn is to have somebody in front of you who can tell you what you're doing wrong and give you appropriate advice based on that.
    Suggesting everyone has the money for that
    Mezmerus
    what about chord progression? i can memorize the solos easily but i can't memorize the rhythm chords.
    dreamerthinker5
    maltmn wrote: I'm glad you guys got value from this. I'll be putting up some more articles soon. Some will be more content rich than others. I'm just starting out in teaching so bare with me if I am not perfect yet! You will only get more and more advice as I improve hahaha Happy Practicing!
    I enjoy reading your advice, glad there's more to come!
    dreamerthinker5
    ooh noow I see how to quote people right.. I'll do it right next time, on that last comment I just copy and pasted hahaa
    maltmn
    I'm glad you guys got value from this. I'll be putting up some more articles soon. Some will be more content rich than others. I'm just starting out in teaching so bare with me if I am not perfect yet! You will only get more and more advice as I improve hahaha Happy Practicing!
    throwshapes
    I liked this article. Its something overlooks by tons of beginners. Especially the first one.
    the rocket ape
    I really like the "close your eyes and imagine the fretboard in your mind" part. After I read this, I try to close my eyes as I play guitar. And, I think that I can play smoother than before. Thanks.
    K33nbl4d3
    I think the most important thing to consider for beginner musicians is GET A TEACHER! Seriously, the best way to learn is to have somebody in front of you who can tell you what you're doing wrong and give you appropriate advice based on that.
    Metalkid94
    Thanks alot! i've had a problem with gettting super frustrated when im learning difficult songs lol so this helped alot
    maltmn
    Thanks for the comments @Sulfur183: I'd suggest trying to learn a song you really, really like, so you'll really be into learning it! Record yourself playing it too, and then listen back to it. Write down the date/hour that you finished learning it, and refer back to it the next time you learn another song. Keep doing this and you'll be surprised how many songs you learn, and how much more you'll enjoy the process!
    burndttoast
    I pretty much have/had all these problems haha. Luckily for me, guitar is just a hobby, so I don't really care how quickly I learn something. I'd certainly take the advice if I was more serious about it though.
    HarvesterofPain
    Sulfur183 wrote: My problem that he didn't address was that I learn part of a song one day then say ill learn the rest the next then when the next comes I don't learn the song I start another or start working on something else.
    This is where self-discipline comes in, and no matter how many articles you read, you have to be the one to teach yourself that. It sounds corny, I know, but the only person that can truly teach you how to keep yourself focused IS you.
    maltmn
    Finding a good guitar teacher does not always have to be expensive. You can find group classes with an excellent instructor who can teach you very effectively at a discounted rate. Perhaps an online teacher, maybe by skype would suit you as well, who would offer discounted rates, or even a less-frequent option.