Learning Guitar Parts

My grandfather came to one of my shows, and couldn’t believe that we had memorized all of the music we performed. (We had performed a 2-hour set that night.) He is not a musician, so I explained that the more songs you learn, the more you start to find similarities that make each new song manageable. And if you’ve been performing the same songs with the same group for a while, they become routine.

I teach guitar lessons on Mondays when I’m not performing, and kids will always bring in print-0uts of the guitar parts they want to learn. They sit there and slowly go over the part note-by-note, and I have to stop them and tell them there’s an easier way:

  1. Identify the major sections of the song. This means figure out what order the verses, choruses or other structural parts are in. Write it down.
  2. Learn the choruses. This material is typically the same whenever it repeats in the song. It’s also typically the most recognizable to the listener.
  3. Learn the verses. The guitar parts may vary from verse to verse, but usually not much. (Words are a different story….)
  4. Learn all additional structural parts. This could include instrumental breaks or guitar solos.
  5. Put all the structural parts back together the order you wrote them down.

These points are geared toward the learning of instrumental parts, but could also work for vocalists. This is a much simpler way than printing sheet music off the internet and trying to go through the pages note-by-note. You may need to read the page to figure out what exactly is happening during each part, but breaking the song up into manageable sections will simplify the learning process.

Obviously there are lots of ways people learn songs. What experience do you have learning songs? Did I leave anything out?

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