The process of learning a new song By Michael Korte

Struggling with learning to play songs from the beginning to the end, without getting lost in the song or making mistakes?
Here is a method, that will not only let you play the song with more security, but is also a lot of fun, will also increase your general musicianship and improve your aural skills.

The goal is, to have a detailed blueprint of a song, that you want to learn, so that you can see the structure and the order of the different parts and what they contain.

Here is how you approach that.

1) Listen to the song carefully a few times

Of course, this is very important. You need to know the song at an adequate level before you start to dive in head over heels. Separately pay attention to the general groove from drums and bass, the guitar parts, and vocals. Not necessarily in that order. For the next steps you simply want to be able to identify the instruments clearly and predict what part comes next.

2) Break it down into sections

Grab a piece of paper and a pen and write down while listening to the song. You might need to hit the Pause-Button every now and then.
Listen through the song and give names to every section that you encounter.
You can use words like “Intro”, “Verse”, “Pre-Chorus”, “Chorus” and “Bridge” or simply come up with your own system.
Pay attention to where a new section starts, which patterns repeat and give them the same names and maybe index them with something like “Verse 1”, “Verse 2”, etc., for example.

3) Look for repeating patterns

Now it is time to look closer at one section. If you want to use a tool to loop a section, I recommend Audacity. All you have to do, is to mark the passage that you want to listen to in a loop and hit “Shift + Space”.
Count the number of measures this section in particular consists of.
In a lot of songs, you will probably notice, that they consist of one chord progression that repeats a few times. For example, the section is 16 measures long. You might find out that the chords are Am, G, F, C all the way through repeating four times. You just saved yourself some work writing them down over and over again and you saved valuable storage space in your head, since the format that you need to remember is this:
4x Am G F C. (You DO know how to count, while playing a song? 😉

4) Repeat for all sections and compare the sections, that are similar.

For example: A verse with another verse. The first chorus with the second chorus. Are they exactly the same or are there any slight changes?
Doing this helps you recognize reoccurring patterns, so that you don’t need to make the work twice, if you recognize what section repeats, that you already figured out.

5) Analyse for extra passages and specialties

…like rhythmic variations, little guitar riffs and melody runs in between chords.
Now it is time to take care of some more details. If you find any specialties in your song, like runs leading into another section, or rhythmical breaks, like rhythmic variations, little guitar riffs and melody, runs in between chords, you can try to figure them out and write them down in a format that works for you. Remember, that these are YOUR notes and YOU need to understand them.
After going through these steps outlined here so far, you will fill the puzzle with more and more pieces and finally have a detailed outline of the songs structure including chords.

6) Learn the rhythmic patterns and the groove of each passage
Now that you got the song sheet ready, it is time to start learning the song properly. Since you were forced to listen carefully to every detail of the song at hand, you probably already have a pretty good understanding of how to play the

song. So, just take one section at a time and learn to play the chords and riffs in the same style as the song is played in your recording.
A side benefit of this technique: Now you probably already know the song by heart and you don’t even need to practice it a lot anymore!

It will be challenging in the beginning so my suggestion: Try without looking it up first, at least make an attempt with the method presented here, only then look it up, if you still need to fill gaps.

About the author:

Michael Korte is a guitar teacher and gives sähkökitaratunnit tampere, where he teaches his students to methodically and reliably learn to play and write their own music as well as helping them to develop the necessary techniques to enable his students expressing themselves exactly how they want to.