How Not to Get Overwhelmed by Learning a New Song

This article addresses common problems that a beginner guitar player will face when trying to learn new songs. You will learn how to break a song down and learn it in chunks that will allow you to learn songs fast and efficiently.

Ultimate Guitar
Most beginner guitar students first start out on guitar by learning songs they enjoy. However, this method of learning can be very detrimental to beginners. When a beginner picks a song to work on, they don't take into account what their current skill level is they just consider what songs inspire them the most.

They find tabs for these songs on various tab sites or purchase the sheet music for the songs. They take a look at the music and get overwhelmed by the musical aspects they are unfamiliar with. This could be anything from complex rhythms and partial chords to time signatures, solos or anything else unknown.

Pieces that cannot be learned quickly intimidate many players, especially those who are beginning. They see all the different parts and are not sure where to start and what exactly to practice.

This article will help any level guitarist navigate their way through a song, so they can learn any song they want to.

The following is for the beginner level guitarist who picks songs that are beyond their skill level:

Not everyone reading this article is going to be a beginner. In case you are, I'd like to address the nasty habit most beginners have. Picking a song that's way too complicated or difficult for them to learn.

I understand how you feel. When I began playing guitar, I wanted to learn all the shredding solos and cool mainstream songs, but they were too much for me at the time. I spent months on them and got nowhere.

So how can you learn the songs you want to learn right now?

In order to tackle a song that is too complex right now you will need to strip away some of the layers of the song. By stripping down a song, I mean removing some of the pieces that are making the song complicated or overwhelming to you at this very moment.

Stripping down songs has many benefits. First, learning songs is a lot like problem solving. By stripping down songs, you give yourself the chance to isolate multiple problems. You can work on each of these problems individually until you understand them. Then you simply apply them together.

For example, take a look at the progression for "Wonderwall" by Oasis looks like this:
Many beginners, who try to learn this song, take one look at this and get overwhelmed. Then they try to play it a couple of times and realize they cannot, only to then give up on it. This song is actually fairly simple, but for most beginners, there's a lot of new material here.

There are three areas that cause people to get overwhelmed when they attempt to learn a song:
  • The notes or chords
  • The rhythm
  • The nuances
It's easier for a beginner to pick up this progression for "Wonderwall" by simply breaking down the three major area's that are prone to causing this overwhelming feeling.

Working on the chords:

The chords in this song are not the most commonly used chords. It is possible a beginner may have never worked with these chords before. Simply get rid of the partial chords, change the rhythm to just straight quarter notes. In doing this you'll get a chance to work on these individual chords by themselves.


This song has a lot going on in the rhythm section. It's possible that many beginners/ intermediate level players have never worked with a rhythm like this. Take away the chords and work on just the rhythm using a single note. In doing this you’ll get a chance to work on just the rhythmic aspect of the song.

Nuances (Partial chords):

You can work on the partial chord section of this song very easily as well. Simply stay on one chord and work on isolating only the specific strings they are playing.

In "Wonderwall" by Oasis, one of the biggest reasons people get overwhelm are the nuances – partial chords.

A partial chord – for those whom are unfamiliar – is when a guitar player only plays part of the chord, instead of the full chord.

The way to make this progression less overwhelming is to simply remove all the partial chords by playing the entire progression using the full chords instead.

When you start to become more adapt at the isolated parts, you can begin to apply all these segments together and play the actual song.

This process of stripping away the musical elements of a song will help you grow much faster on the guitar than you would if you just tried to mangle your way through the piece. You can use this process when you work on any song for the rest of your guitar-playing career.

By Chris Glyde

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