Tips to Learn Songs Faster On Guitar
So you’ve been practicing and working hard on your instrument. The hours you’ve invested into mastering your craft are starting to pay off and you’ve decide to take the plunge and learn that song you’ve always dreamt of being able to play. However, you might find that despite your new found skills, you still run in to difficulties. There might be a specific section that trips you up, the structure might be confusing and you’re running out of patience. Don’t dismay though, we’ve all been there and sometimes all you need to do is take a different approach. In this article we’re going to explore some techniques to help you overcome these obstacles and hopefully give you the breakthrough that you need!
I know this might seem obvious, but listening to the song you’re trying to master is key to success. I don’t mean putting it on while doing the dishes or fighting through the crowds whilst commuting, I’m talking about active listening. Active listening is when you are solely focused on what is happening in the song. Before you even sit down at your instrument, find somewhere quiet where you can listen to the music without any external distractions and can really absorb the music. Listen to all the melodies, not just on the instrument that you play but within all aspects of the song. Hear how the instruments communicate with each other, familiarise yourself with the groove, listen to the vocals and lead lines carefully, taking note of how they change from section to section. The idea is to memorise all aspects of the song until you know what happens in each part without having to listen to the actual song. Once you are confident that you know the song like the back of your hand, then it is time to sit with your instrument and start learning. Doing this is going to save a lot of time having to go back and check if you are playing certain parts right because you know exactly what its supposed to sound like. You will be able to use your musical ear more accurately and be familiar with the structure and melodies, thus playing with more confidence.
Break It Down
With some exceptions, most songs are built up of repeating sections or progressions that make up the structure of the music. It might be difficult to hear when listening to the song as a whole, but due to the mathematical nature of how music is created, certain patterns start to emerge that you can use to break down the song and can change your perspective on how difficult a piece is to learn. Let’s take the classic ‘Wonderwall’ by Oasis and dissect the structure.
(Oasis – Wonderwall)
At first glance this might look like a lot of sections to learn and follow, but you might just find that some of these sections are exact repeats of previous ones. For example, all the Verses are made up of the same chords, same goes with the Chorus and the Bridge. You’ll also find that the Intro uses the same chords as the Verses and the Outro uses the same chords as the Chorus. So what we can do is identify different progressions in the song and assign them a letter. If we use A for the progression used in the Intro and Verses, B for the progression used in the Bridge and C for the progression in the Chorus and Outro then the structure of the song starts to look a little bit like this.
A – Intro
A – Verse 1
A – Verse 2
B – Bridge
C – Chorus
A – Verse 3
B – Bridge
C – Chorus
C – Outro
Here we can see that this song is actually only made up of three differing sections, all we have to do is arrange them in the right order. By looking at songs in this way it breaks them down into a more manageable structure and definitely makes things look less daunting. So try and find these patterns and see how they arrange themselves in the songs you want to learn. Learn each section independently then work on stitching them together in the right order. This will create you a basic framework from which to work from and help you on your way to playing the song through from start to finish. Once you have a firm grasp of the different sections, then you can go back and start adding in extra details like chord inversions or extensions that will bring the song to life.
Isolate The Difficult Parts
In my experience, I have found that there is often one section in a song that you find more difficult than the rest. It can be incredibly frustrating every time you get to that bit and your playing falls apart, knocking your confidence for the rest of the song. In these scenarios, I find it best to isolate the difficult sections and practice it in detail. Slow down the tempo and repeat the difficult part until you can play it accurately and confidently at a slower pace. Once you are nailing it every time, slowly increase the tempo until it flows naturally at the original tempo. If you’re feeling dedicated, increase the tempo further than the original song until you can play it faster, then when you come to putting it back into context at the original tempo, you will be able to play the section with more confidence!
I find myself using this point a lot when writing about music in general, but genuinely this is crucial to progressing as a musician. Be patient with yourself and don’t be disheartened if you can’t play things perfectly first time. The saying ‘practice makes perfect’ resonates for a reason, it takes time and repetition to master an instrument. So if you find yourself getting annoyed or disheartened when learning songs, take a step back, have a break or work on something else. Getting annoyed at yourself is totally counter-productive and will only hinder your progress.
I hope these tips help you overcome any obstacles that are preventing you from achieving your musical goals. It’s human nature to try and push yourself hard when learning anything, but pushing yourself too hard can be detrimental to your confidence and your playing. Don’t run before you can walk, break things down into manageable sections and practice in detail. Taking your time to learn things properly is going to save you from beating yourself up if you can’t play it quite right just yet!