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How To Learn And Master A Song

So, how do you go about learning a song? What is the best way? What are the dos and don’ts? Here is my method:

1. Listen to the song!

While this might sound obvious, it is crucial to playing the song correctly. Listen to the structure of the song. How does it begin? How does it end? If you are a guitar player, do the sounds change (i.e. clean in the verse, distortion in the chorus)? Listen very carefully to your parts. Try to isolate them and listen to them over and over. Start working on your ear. Can you figure out the parts by just listening to them? If you can’t, don’t worry. It is definitely challenging to do at first but with practice and training you will get better at it.

2. Learn your parts

As we all know now, the Internet is an amazing tool for musicians. There are tons of sites out there dedicated to musical notation for songs. Be careful! The tabs that you find may not be correct. Always try to find multiple versions of a song so you can compare them. If the tabs don’t sound right, always go back to #1. As well, there are thousands of lessons on YouTube but be careful, the same applies to them. They may not be entirely correct but they may be a good place to start. I would also suggest looking for a live version of the song by the actually band. Sometimes you can learn a lot from watching them perform the song live, especially if the camera focuses on the instrumentalists from time to time. As well as learning the parts, try to write down the structure of the song. Try to figure out how many bars each section has:

Ex. Intro - 4 bars

Verse - 16 bars

Chorus - 8 bars

Verse - 8 bars

Chorus - 16 bars

Bridge - 8 bars

Solo - 8 bars

Chorus - 16 bars

Write out a chord chart:

Ex. Verse: | G | C | G | D |

Chorus: | Em | C | G | D |

Try not to solely use lyric sheets that have the chords on top of the words. I find they tend to confuse the rhythm of the chords. However, they still can be a good resource to get you started with learning the chords.

3. Practice your parts

This three-step method will help you to master the song:

a) Learn and memorize your parts (once you are sure they are correct)

  • Practice them by yourself with a metronome

  • Start slowly and work your way up to the actual song tempo

  • Isolate any difficult sections and practice them on their own

b) Practice with the actual song. You may want to skip right to this part but don’t do it! You will just get frustrated.

  • Listen carefully to how the parts are really played

  • Try to match the parts as exactly as possible

  • Go over the structure, the beginning and ending and memorize them

c) Play the song with a friend or with your band, if you have one. This is the true test of how well you know a song. You will discover very quickly that compared to playing with the CD, playing with another person or live band is much more difficult!

So there you have it. Learning a song on your own can be a lot of work, but it is also very rewarding and a lot of fun. Of course, if you get stuck and need a little help, a good teacher can also be another great resource. ;)

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