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How long does it take you to learn a song?

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Reputable Member
Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 199
Topic starter  

I thought that it might be a great discussion for everyone to know how long it takes to learn a song.

It's a difficult question because it is different for everyone, since there it depends on a lot of things:
- your level (beginner, intermediate or advanced)
- the difficulty of the song and whether it's classical, acoustic, electric
- what parts you are learning, i.e. the rhythm, solo, singing
- how accurately you want to play the song (some bands want to sound identical to the CD - "Spot on")
- what learning tools you are using (tab, fake books, books / CDs, software, songs on this web site, etc.)
- how much time each day you spend learning it

I've started on a new song (Every Little Thing Counts by Janus Stark) and am working it out by myself, since there are no tabs or lyrics that I could find on the web. I'm giving myself about a month to really get it down pat, including the guitar rhythms and solo. I've been playing for over a decade and had some lessons the first year or two. In the spectrum of guitar playing, I'm rank amateur compared with Eric Clapton or Jeff Beck, although I can play a few good songs quite well. I'd say I'm an intermediate.

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Famed Member
Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 2801

It also depends on how well I want to know the song. In the beginning, I took lessons and I would learn a song, or so I thought, but as soon as we were off that song I would learn something else and forget the first. Now, my instructor has me memorize the song which has helped alot but increased the amount of time it takes to really learn. Currently, I am doing Celtic Fingerstyle and it takes me about two weeks if I work really hard to know the song. But I have learned a couple inbetween lessons (one of which I am recording at this moment) that didnt take more than a few days.

Still I have to keep playing them or else they are long gone.

Great question PRNDL!!!


“The hardest thing in life is to know which bridge to cross and which to burn” - David Russell (Scottish classical Guitarist. b.1942)

Noble Member
Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 2171

If it's a song that is composed of recognizable chunks of song forms I already know, it's usually a pretty quick process.

It's only really when songs don't chunk up nicely into common forms that it takes very long.

Which is still much longer than my mentor. He can hear a song once and then sit down weeks later and play it.

While it makes him a great teacher (since he can recreate something I played at a previous lesson to make a point) it makes him extremely irritating as a fellow musician. It just shouldn't be that easy for anyone :)

"The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side." -- HST

Active Member
Joined: 18 years ago
Posts: 12

Great Question and thoughts to consider.

I've been playing acoustic rhythm off and on for just over a decade. Learning rhythm seems to come fairly easy to me, say several hours to a day per song. However, this last year I've dedicated (become obsessed with) scales and theory. Now I'm learning leads and melodies. Since I'm on a 4 month sabbatical (Yes! It is VERY nice, thank you for asking :wink: ), I've practiced on average 2.5 hrs a day 7 days a week. Between using Guitar Scales Method (Absolutely sold on this software program), and Guitar Pro 5 (yet another good program), Its taken about 2 weeks to learn the lead to 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps'~ The Beatles; a week to learn the leads to 'You Shook Me All Night Long'~AC/DC; and about three weeks to learn the leads to 'Brothers In Arms'~Dire Straits. Of course there not perfected yet, but I have pretty much committed them to memory and can play them without embarrassing myself too much :lol: . I find the majority of my time is spent 'perfecting' each peace. Unfortunately I am unable to improvise yet, which slows my abilities tremendously! I believe knowing and using scale theory will greatly improve anybody's improv. or copying abilities.

There does seem to be an exception. I have logged over 50 hrs of practicing scales; from memorizing the five fragments to associating the Parent to Mode and all the steps between. It has been frustrating to see just how slow my progress is in memorizing scales and scale theory. I guess I'm expecting to memorize these things as easily as I can memorize the rhythm and chords of a particular song; and this has become very frustrating to me :? My benefiting factor is that I'm stubborn and won't quit until I've 'Got It'.

Thanks for the intriguing question.

Noble Member
Joined: 22 years ago
Posts: 1735

That's a tough one but good on how you laid out the variables. If it's a rhythm song with a 1-4-5 progression it takes very little time. If it's a more involved rhythm pattern and a plethora of chords, well, it may take some time.

Learning lead to songs? Takes me weeks because I don't play scales. I think the lead guitar players have it hard learning note-for-note movements in songs.

"Nothing...can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts."

Noble Member
Joined: 18 years ago
Posts: 2261

I take a while to learn songs, and ages to learn them to a point where they stay learned after I haven't played them for a couple of weeks or so. I couldn't give you an exact timescale though as I've always got about 5 or so on the go at once.

Doing that works well though (for me at least), as I learn 5 or so songs in the time it would take to learn a couple if they did them one at a time, and it stops me getting sick of any one song :) I cycle through them quite quickly (2 or 3 times through each and then on to the next), that just seems to drum them in a lot better. Plus it gives me a chance to think about how I can string songs together into a setlist, you get a feeling of what goes well together.

Another good tip is to have them on your MP3 player when you're out (or stereo when you're working/driving etc.) and really concentrate on what's happening when. Give yourself a running commentry of what's going on - "end of the second chorus coming up, this is where it goes into the funky bit" kind of thing. This one's good for learning lyrics too, especially if you're thinking the line before it's sung rather than just singing/thinking along. - Guitar Chord/Scale Finder/Viewer

Noble Member
Joined: 20 years ago
Posts: 1468

it depends on how well you want to know the song. i once asked the questoin here, how do you know when you know a song? the best answer i got was from dave h. who said that songs are like people. you know them to various degrees; some you know a little and some you really know well.

i found that i thought i knew a lot of songs but i didn't really know them because i usually couldn't remember them. this year my goal is to have ten or so songs that i can play and sing to at the drop of a hat. so i've been learning mostly the same songs that i started out with a few years ago but now i want to "really" know them. they're mostly simple, easy songs but it's taking me a long time to get each one just the way i want it and to be able to sing to them.

songs i'm working on right now: blackbird, after the gold rush, heart shaped box, redemption song, tequila sunrise, a face in the crowd, stairway to heaven, just a song before i go, eleanor rigby, thinking about you, freight train. i want to add in one or two nirvana songs and one or two white stripes. if i can "really" know all of these, play and sing up to a pretty good standard then i'll be happy with my progress for the year.

Prominent Member
Joined: 21 years ago
Posts: 724

To learn the rythym, chord changes and lyric about two hours. Lead or melody work is another story, that could take as much as a week or more.

Tim Madsen
Nobody cares how much you know,
until they know how much you care.

"What you keep to yourself you lose, what you give away you keep forever." -Axel Munthe

Active Member
Joined: 20 years ago
Posts: 7

haha, like you said it depends on a lot of things.

i'm a beginner, but it REALLY depends on the song. i picked up Black Sabbath and Fly By Night (by Rush) in all of 15 minutes each, but other songs (*cough*anything with barres) i can barely get through a verse.

when i play bass (my true love) on the other hand, it can sometimes take me weeks before i can figure out everything that's going on, and months before i am able to play something perfectly. that's what i get for my love of songs with melodic, non-repetitive basslines... *sigh*

but no really, Black Sabbath is like the easiest song in the world to play. and you get to palm mute!

Illustrious Member
Joined: 20 years ago
Posts: 10264

I came across a tab for Layla - acoustic - last week. All it gave was bare chords...took me about 1/2 an hour to get the changes properly, and about 10-12 further goes to get through it without a single mistake, spread over about 2-3 days....

Two years ago, when I joined GN, it would have taken well as becoming a better guitarist, I'm also learning to THINK.....

:D :D :D


"Sometimes the beauty of music can help us all find strength to deal with all the curves life can throw us." (D. Hodge.)

Noble Member
Joined: 18 years ago
Posts: 1882

how long it takes to learn a song.

I'll get back to you if I ever manage it. :?

I wrapped a newspaper ’round my head
So I looked like I was deep

Estimable Member
Joined: 18 years ago
Posts: 63

It takes me 4 minutes and 33 seconds.

Honorable Member
Joined: 18 years ago
Posts: 536

how long it takes to learn a song.

I'll get back to you if I ever manage it. :?
me too :cry:

Estimable Member
Joined: 18 years ago
Posts: 113

3 days
1 day for instrumentals, another for lyrics and putting them together, and another to half arse practice it while watching tv :-)

Zacharias Wolf

Estimable Member
Joined: 21 years ago
Posts: 99

It depends on the song. Learning the chords usually takes me about 10 to 15 minutes. Learning the lead can take me about half an hour or more, depending on the complexity of it. If it's too complex, I learn what I can and improvize the rest of it! I normally play country and truthfully, a lot of it isn't really that hard.

"And if you don't know where you're going, any road will take you there." -- George Harrison

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