How to Get Organized Before Learning New Songs: Learn Faster and More Efficiently

This lesson will demonstrate a simple strategy you can start applying right away so you can learn songs faster and more efficiently.

Ultimate Guitar
Good day, all you self-taught guitarists!

This post is a little different from my usual long-form lesson. Instead of a conceptual article, this lesson is more tactical and will demonstrate a simple strategy you can start applying right away so you can learn songs faster and more efficiently.

So a few days ago, I became absolutely captivated with James Jamerson's bass performance on Marvin Gaye's legendary track, "What's Going On." I immediately knew what song I would study for the week and I dove right in.

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Without realizing I was doing it, I went through a little ritual that helps me get organized and find all the learning materials I need before attempting to learn a new song or musical concept. This is something I've done for years and not only has it made me a better, more efficient self-taught player, but it has also saved me a TON of time.

I stopped myself and figured, why not share this strategy with you guys?

See, before I started doing this, I found it hard to navigate the seemingly endless sea of online guitar and bass instructional material. I found that I would spend more time trying to locate decent sources than I would spend actually learning them. My focus would often get interrupted when I'd need to find a more accurate tab or a better video lesson. I didn't know what types of sources would make the learning process easier and more enjoyable, and when it came to learning songs, I felt like I was grabbing at straws. This sadly resulted in a spotty, semi-accurate understanding of how to play the songs I was hoping to master.

Over time, I developed this strategy and found that by simply getting organized before learning a new song, I could save a lot of time and stay more focused and efficient.

In the video below, I'll show you my 10-minute ritual.

The video shows you how to:
  • Select a variety of quality sources that make for a fully dimensional learning experience;
  • Strategically organize these materials so you'll be more efficient with your practice time;
  • Understand when to use each resource and why they're useful.
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Although I use a bass track as an example in this video, you can apply the same strategy to anything you want to learn on guitar, whether it's a song, new technique, or new style.

The video is admittedly a little rough around the edges since it's my first attempt at a screenshot demonstration, but I hope you find the strategy useful. Overall, it has been a huge time saver and has boosted my progress as a self-taught player.

Share what you think in the comments below. Do you have any tricks for improving your practice efficiency?

About the Author:
By Zach Pino. If you like this approach and want to get a little more specific with how you can apply it to your own playing, I have something extra for you (free of charge). Click here to get access to my free e-guide, the Zach Pino Guitar Game-Changing Guide to Learning Songs as Quickly as Possible. The guide gives detailed step-by-step instruction on how to get organized and how to learn songs faster and more accurately so you can really start seeing the results you want.

12 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Most efficient way to practice? Listen to a song and play what you hear.
    I don't know if efficient is the right word, but if you're able to learn by ear it is a great skill definitely.
    I'd certainly go with efficient, since you learn everything you'd learn from a tab plus you develop skills that are much more useful. Not saying that tabs aren't good, I think it's a great way to learn.
    Well.. it's effective, not efficient. At least at the start, tabs are way more efficient, since you need to start developing your ear. So learning a song by ear will take much longer than looking up tabs (at the start). It will progress through time, of course. But most of the time, looking up tabs will save you some time minus the lack of accuracy sometimes.
    I personally try to learn the song by ear first, and compare what I figured out with a tab when I'm done. Trying to figure out which of the two versions is closest to the actual song is a great exercise, to me at least.
    It's completely subjective to the player. Something like chords that i don't know would take me a long time to figure out, while a song that uses familiar notes and chords would be relatively quick
    Excellent lesson. I try to find a version with the guitar track removed so i can play along with the actual track rather than just mute the guitar pro track and play along with that version.
    The best technique is the one that works for you. Try everything you know/hear of and eventually you'll find it!
    Good video and suggestions. I do agree with Niamorq. By starting with the tab, your mind might be slightly closed to different voicings, positions, etc. Unless struggling by trying to learn by ear, I would wait on using the tab until later in the process.
    Great lesson! Very informative and interesting. I have various strategies on different kind of songs but it can be good to have just one strategy to spare time for sure!
    Zack, I am not a computer whiz kid and didn't understand the following: When you highlighted an item in Google there was a yellow circle? How do you save an item - guitar tab or lesson into Google and then then sort them into a list? and then access the lesson or tab?
    Great video.It helps me think a little deeper into songs.I play mostly acoustic guitar. Thanks. I use simular ideas such as knowing people that give reliable lessons.Although I am able to pick a lot of chords out by ear,most of the time,I recently started using Chordify(for my ipad) and Sonic vizulizer(for my PC),Chord ESTIMATES. These help with chords I can't hear with my ear.Using a PDF chord chart can help when The "estimated chord" is not the correct one. The chart also helps make the fingering of progressions flow better and easier. What are thoughts about these "chord estimaters".