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Not learning songs! Grr....

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Jerboa
(@jerboa)
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Joined: 15 years ago
Posts: 79
Topic starter  

First a bit of background....

I had my first lesson this past Tuesday. I originally decided to start lessons to get a handle on lead playing, techniques, phrasing, drills, etc. (and because I felt like I wasn't improving any more)

My teacher is not used to new students that know anything (he's used to tweens with their first instrument, not late-30-year-olds trying to pick up a 3rd instrument), so this first lesson was mostly to gauge what I can/can't do, and come up with something to work on for next time. Hopefully we will be on the same page soon, and have a good development plan.

Now...I actually surprised myself during the lesson. He started with...play this chord...play that chord...etc. Then gave me a basic progression, and we strummed together for a bit, and I stuck right with him. I didn't know that I could do that...play smooth changes, and identical rhythms with another guitarist.

Then he says "Wow...ok...now play me a song that you know". And then it hit me...I've been playing for 9 months, and I don't actually "know" any songs! Oh...when I practice, I do play through songs using lyric/chord sheets. But it was mostly to be able to work on 'realistic' chord progressions. Take away the sheet, and I can't play it. I might not even be able to sing it. And I know I never tried to learn to play it like the original artist.

I come from an orchestra/large band/choral background, so have spent my life reading from charts...jazz standards, orchestral, etc. Even improvising, I would have the chart right there to keep me on track following the changes.

So the plea for advice... :)

What are some good approaches to learning songs? Not just being able to play a song...I know songs that I can get through, if I'm looking at the music...

When you sit down with a new song, how do you approach learning it? Not just singing it over generic rhythms

I try to play 1-2 hours a night (usually a warm up, flip through song sheets for a while, and then start a 12-bar backing track to mangle), surely there is time in there to actually learn the songs I'm twiddling with! Right?!

There are two kinds of people in this world:
Those who think there are two kinds of people in this world, and those who don't


   
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crkt246
(@crkt246)
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Joined: 15 years ago
Posts: 592
 

What I do is look at the tab(lyrics with chords above them) and play and sing it over and over until I think I can plat it with out that tab and try to play it with out the tab. I hope this helps you. :D
Good luck and God Bless :D :D :D


   
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Misanthrope
(@misanthrope)
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Joined: 17 years ago
Posts: 2261
 

Just a couple of pointers off the top of my head: (and these are from someone who's not doing too bad at building up a "can play off the bat" list, despite a memory that would shame a goldfish. Seriously!)

- Start with songs you love - you know them better, where all the changes are, that extra line in the last chorus etc.

- Listen to them a lot, and really listen. Think in terms of Dm for a bar, then C, B for half a bar each, then A for a bar - that makes a line, there's two of those lines and then... etc. I put anything I'm learning on MP3 player so I get to hear it a few times a day travelling to work etc.

- While you're listening, say/think the lyrics along with it, and try to think ahead to what the next line is while you're doing a line. Learning to spread your concentration without letting the things you're already doing slip is the hardest part, so practice it :)

- Use a cheat-sheet for lyrics, but try and use it at the last possible moment if at all - give yourself as much time to remember as possible.

- When you're away from computer/MP3 player etc., sing the song from start to finish leaving nothing out. If you can't remember a line, your punishment is to progress no further until you do. This one works wonders for me. You can't remember the first time, so when you look it up you'll remember it a lot better than if you just ignore that line to 'come back to later', else you won't get to progress any further next time.

- If you're happy playing with your subconscious (and the song isn't about something too disturbing!), put it on headphones very quietly as you sleep. It'll bypass all this over-thinking consciousness malarky and then it'll come a lot quicker :mrgreen:

ChordsAndScales.co.uk - Guitar Chord/Scale Finder/Viewer


   
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cnev
 cnev
(@cnev)
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Joined: 19 years ago
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jerboa,

Interesting, I'm not sure I could offer you any advice but I can tell you what I've experienced and it probably won't help but hey I'm in the mood to post something.

I'm a bit older than you and other than playinmg trumpet for a couple years in grammar school and then a short stint on an acoustic guitat a little later I had no musical background, so you are well ahead of me there.

I've owned a guitar now for close to 6 years and maybe was serious the last 4 years or so.

I've always wanted to play lead guitar(until I realized there's a lot more to it than just that)so I messed around on my own for a few months learned some open chords and barre chords, a few riffs and that was about it. didn't get close to any real songs be they generic rhthyms or not.

I decided I wasn't the kind that was ever going to get good at this on my own so I took lessons. The first teacher quit after the first lesson and then the second one lasted about 4 lessons before he quit. They were young guys who I wasn't that impressed with their teaching skills but they were decent players. So I was on my own again with nothing happening for a good 6-9 months.

I moved to Charlotte and found a teacher down the street from where I lived. He was much better than the others and was really pushing me to learn stuff I thought was to difficult for me at the time. The best thing about him was that he would help hook his students up to play together so I got to meet a guy and started jamming with him and then 97reb from here joined us. (Charles if you read this sorry I suxed so bad atthe time)

Anyway I moved to 40 miles or so away so I stopped taking lessons from him. So another 6 months or so on my own doing nothing more tan practicing the same old chords I already knew and still couldn't play any complete songs.

I checked every where to find a teacher and even contacted the heads of the music departments at the local university. One guy suggested a teacher close to me. He was older, very good player and had very strict rules about how he taught. And that was he didn't let his students come in and tell him what they wanted to learn he prettymuch picked the songs. But it wasn't really a bad thing because I think what he was doing was working on my techniques so he's give me a bunch of Beatles songs and things (none of which I particularly liked) but basically just generic eighth note strumming. It did help and I eventually learned some songs but still not "like" the artist played them and we did start some lead stuff but then I moved again in Dec 05 back to CT. (OH yea during this time I also jammed a bit with smokingdog from this forum...again Ken sorry for the misery I put you through with my playing thanks for putting up with me)

Anyway I'm back to where I was 3 yrs earlier with a little better skills and could play a few songs but still in the I sux stage.

A friend of mine who I had encouaged to start playing was taking lessons from a local guy who had a great reputation in the area so I called him up. Problem was he was too good and there was a long waiting list to get lessons. Finally after about 7-8 months I started with him last summer and am still with him.

He may not be the best teacher in the world but I won't switch to anyone else anytime soon as a matter of fact I live about 50 miles away and still take lessons from him because I think he's that good. He has an incredible ear (claims he was born with perfect pitch and I don't doubt it), he's still playing, does studio work, ghost performances and can transcribe songs on the fly incredibly fast and he tailors lessons pretty much anyway I want.

We went through the usual play me this and that and then we worked our way into one technical exercise each week and work on one song.

The past few months I've been getting together with some guys and everyone always seems to know different songs so for the past several months I have just been working on new songs. He transcribes them note for note from what ever recording I bring in which is what I want because to me that's the best way to gauge my progress.

I've probably learned 30-40 songs over the past year working with him. We usually tab the whole rhthym part out first and then add the solo's after if they are not to difficult. Like my current one I just finished was Enter Sandman, he tabbed out James rhthym exactly as it is on the record but Kirk's solo is still a bit to fast for me right now although there is a small one-two - measure part where james just hits an E power chord and holds it so I had him tab out Kirk's part.

Of course this is all rambling and hasn't addressed what you asked, but what I do is work on the rhthym or lead with the tab (he uses a modified tab that includes the note duration so you could play the song the way he's written it without having to have the CD to hear the rhthym) Anyway as soon as I get a piece of the song done I like to take the tab away and make sure I can play it without it, not from a technical standpoint but can I remember it...that's becoming harder for an old guy like me.

But I am at the point now where I know nmore songs than I can remember. It has helped that I get to play with other people every Friday night so I'm burning some slowly into long term memory. (have to say sorry to Wes here to cuz he comes by and puts up with my horrible playing too)But I definitely have improved leaps and bounds from where I was.

My two main problems are trying to remember all the song 'exactly' not just close enough and I don't know where my learning would be if I stopped with him. When he tabs a song out for me alot of times I'll go look at twhat's out on the internet and I have never found one on the internet that has matched what he tabs out and everything he tabs out I hear on the CD's, that's why I've given up with internet tab.

What I need to do this year is get back to more technical stuff, work on my lead playing more (since I've been playing with much better players I Let them do the leads) and I'd love to start working on my ear a bit.

But he memorizing thing is still a problem, I don't have enough timein a day or a week to play through all the songs to get them back up to speed so I'm struggling with that too.

Anyway I'm sure this hasn't helped but that's my whole musical story.

"It's all about stickin it to the man!"
It's a long way to the top if you want to rock n roll!


   
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rparker
(@rparker)
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Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 5480
 

I'm not sure I play any song exactly the way the original artists do. Heck, it's tough on many levels. For example, I'm a big Stones fan. Two guitars, and I'm but one guy. Then there's the thing where even the original artists don't play the same way sometimes. It's also less fun for me. I certainly do not add value to anyone's songs, but I'm not a mechanical bore either.

Now, on to the memorizing thing. I'm like you. Tons of chord charts sitting right beside the amp, but I remember little. Sure, if I focused on a much smaller subset of songs, I'd remember 'em. In fact, I've taken this approach, but it never sticks. :oops:

Roy
"I wonder if a composer ever intentionally composed a piece that was physically impossible to play and stuck it away to be found years later after his death, knowing it would forever drive perfectionist musicians crazy." - George Carlin


   
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DrunkRock
(@drunkrock)
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Joined: 16 years ago
Posts: 159
 

What I do is work bar by bar. I will practice one bar (A) until I can play it perfect 5 times in a row. I will practice the next bar (B) until I can play it perfect 5 times in a row. Then I play both bars together until they are perfect 5 times in a row. So the system is.
Ax5
Bx5
ABx5
Cx5
ABCx5
etc

Once I have the part memorized, I will perfect it by playing with a metronome until I get up to tempo. I only consider a song learned when it's up to tempo.

Speaking of which, I am off to perfect another. Good luck.


   
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cnev
 cnev
(@cnev)
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drunk,

sounds like that works for you it's a little too rigid for me I just play it till I memorize, then when I think I have it down fairly decent I play along to the CD...find out I'm usually way off and then either parctice without the CD if I know where I'm messing up or just keep playing along with the CD if I think I playing it correctly just not at the right tempo.

The learning part starts out very slowly until I have the section memorized. although I'm impatient and tend to rush things a bit.

Learning songs now has gotten much easier, the hard part is remembering the older songs I learned 6 months ago.

"It's all about stickin it to the man!"
It's a long way to the top if you want to rock n roll!


   
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Wes Inman
(@wes-inman)
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Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 5582
 

Very interesting discussion. You know, some players spend all their practice time on technique. They will tap for hours upon hours until they can tap as good as Eddie Van Halen. Or they practice scales forever, or theory. I think people lose sight of the goal. And there is only one real goal. To play songs :roll: .

I ran an Open Mic a few years back, we would get all kinds of players with different skill levels. I remember this one guy would come in and go up to the mic. Then he would tap, and man, he was awesome. He knew how to tap many different ways and he had it down. He was great at tapping. But know what??, this guy could not play one single song! Not one. We had him play on a few jams and he just tapped away, it was all he could do. It was impressive at first, but after 10 minutes it was old and you could see this guy couldn't really play guitar at all. It was almost useless.

You've got to play songs. Nobody cares how fast you can shred, or how you can rake arpeggios at lightning speed. People want to hear songs. People will listen to a player who can strum simple songs well and sing. They will pay good money to hear that. They will not pay to hear you play arpeggios or tap.

You have to start simple. Learn lots of simple songs like Knockin On Heaven's Door.... G, D, Am, G, D, C over and over. But strum it well and learn to sing it. Learn as many songs like this as possible. Start a notebook full of simple songs. Just write the lyrics with the chord changes over it. Now if you are at a party and someone asks you to play you should be able to play plenty of simple songs. People do not care how complicated a song is, in fact, most people like very simple music. The Beatles played super-simple music for the most part and look how many records they sold. People do not care how well you tap.

Don't know what to say about memory, you just have to put the written music away and force yourself to memorize the music and lyrics. Just like anything else, the more you exercise your memory, the better it gets. So start simple and grow from there.

If you know something better than Rock and Roll, I'd like to hear it - Jerry Lee Lewis


   
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vink
 vink
(@vink)
Prominent Member
Joined: 17 years ago
Posts: 722
 

People want to hear songs. People will listen to a player who can strum simple songs well and sing. They will pay good money to hear that.

So true ...so true. And so hard for someone like me who can't sing if his life depended on it. This has been one of my big challenges with guitar (the other being not having enough time, and hence finding some other people to play with who can also sing.)

--vink
"Life is either an adventure or nothing" -- Helen Keller


   
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Rum Runner
(@rum-runner)
Reputable Member
Joined: 18 years ago
Posts: 424
 

Wes, you have a good point about learning the songs and not making it overly complicated. I for one have been taking lead guitar lessons for the past 2-1/2 years, and I had been working strictly on technique most of that time- learning different licks and such. So I concentrated on that and didn't learn too many songs by heart (so when I once told someone that I didn't know any songs by heart he said, "well, then, play something by Journey! ;-) ). Anyhow, that was my choice- I didn't rerlly need my teacher to teach me songs; I can teach myself songs. I just chose for a couple of years to focus mainly on the techniques of playing lead guitar because that's what I wanted to learn.

Now, after all this time, I have chosen to start focusing some of my time on songs while still devoting some tome to learning to play lead. But, I don't want to lern just the chords and the singing- after all, what did I spend the past two years learning lead for if I'm not going to use it? So, my approach,I decided, was first to learn the chords and words, but then once I had that down to then develop the song further by throwing in any signature riffs or short solos, or to embellish the song with maybe an alternating bass line or some other such thin, much like David Hodge does in his Lessons for beginners and Intermediates. So I am making the song sort of a project. I can learn the basic part pretty fast, but then i take some more time and develop it. So I have started using that approach and I know maybe 10-20 songs by heart (but, alas, none by Journey) and a few of those I do things in addition to the basic chords. The neat thing about this is you put a song in your repertiore rather quickly, but then it continues to grow over time.

Some songs I work out the chords and leads to by ear, since I can't find tab to a lot of them. This is good for ear training. I'd like to do about one of these a month, if only the chord part.

But Wes is right, in the end it's all about learning songs. I took up guitar to play songs, not to play just riffs or such.

Regards,

Mike

"Growing Older But Not UP!"


   
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Denny
(@denny)
Reputable Member
Joined: 16 years ago
Posts: 452
 

Unless you have a real dislike for them, you might want to start off with some country songs. Nice and slow, and 3 chords. You just have to have the desire and then work on it. It will come. Oh yeah, start with songs that you already know the tune. You'll be surprised how quickly things will move along. Good luck.

Denny


   
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mmoncur
(@mmoncur)
Estimable Member
Joined: 15 years ago
Posts: 168
 

Here's a page I stumbled across the other day that has lots of easy folk and country songs to play.

http://setiathome.ssl.berkeley.edu/~aparsons/guitar/guitar1.html

It's just a list of chords / lyrics, so it helps if you've heard the songs before, but I was surprised how many I could strum well enough for my wife to sing along.

Also, when I'm learning songs, I try to play each one at each practice session. I start out playing the song without opening up my binder and looking at the sheet music, and see how far I can get. Then when I stumble I get out the music. This encourages me to memorize them, although it has the side effect that I learn the first part of the song really well and don't know the last part at all in some cases...


   
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unimogbert
(@unimogbert)
Estimable Member
Joined: 15 years ago
Posts: 174
 

What I do is look at the tab(lyrics with chords above them) and play and sing it over and over until I think I can plat it with out that tab and try to play it with out the tab. I hope this helps you. :D
Good luck and God Bless :D :D :D

This is pretty much what I do.

I've been cruising the web for chords/lyrics/tab to songs that I like. I print them and work on them. The songs are old ones that have been burned into my brain (probably by my mentally singing them while I ran long distance in college) so they are like old friends. Then I work on the chords. Then I work on some embellishments with fingerstyle technique and I play & sing them over and over.

My wife thinks the result is pretty good. I'm happy with the result. And I don't play for or with anybody else. So I'm good :-)

I am working on expanding but this is how I've worked up some real pretty songs. (I have more Don McLean songs than anything else. Moldy oldies but I like them.)

I bet you know some songs you like that are pretty straightforward. Start there.
Good luck!

Unimogbert
(indeterminate, er, intermediate fingerstyle acoustic)


   
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Blueline
(@blueline)
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Joined: 15 years ago
Posts: 1704
 

First a bit of background....

What are some good approaches to learning songs? Not just being able to play a song...I know songs that I can get through, if I'm looking at the music...

Based on what you said, it seems to me that you need the sheet music in front of you to be able to play a song. I apologize if this is not the case, but it sounds like you do not know that D should follow the A chord if you are not looking at the shhet music.
That said, you are playing stricly from sight, not from memory or "knowing" the song. Repetition should take care of that. You should obviously start with songs that are familiar to you. Songs you can sing and know the lyrics by heart. Being able to sing the song will give you a good refference to know what chords you should be playing at any given point.
When you sit down with a new song, how do you approach learning it? Not just singing it over generic rhythms...I try to play 1-2 hours a night (usually a warm up, flip through song sheets for a while, and then start a 12-bar backing track to mangle), surely there is time in there to actually learn the songs I'm twiddling with! Right?!

Strumming or taking broad strokes while singing a song is a great way to start. What's wrong with that? Once you know the generic rhythm by heart, you can zero in on the fills or learn how to accent.

Teamwork- A few harmless flakes working together can unleash an avalanche of destruction.


   
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Rahul
(@rahul)
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I think the main aim of music is to have you 'feel' it.

So, if you get a feel at anything you are playing, go for it. And when it comes to guitar, its you who matter the most (if you play only for yourself).

Having said the above, learning songs is one of the most basic and natural way to get a feel of the music. Thus most of us want to play songs, rather than complex instrumental pieces or anything else.

Start by simple chord sheets arrangements and you should be fine.

Good Luck.


   
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