3 Most Common Mistakes When Learning Songs
By Matteo Miller-Nicolato
You need specific, targeted, and tactical strategies in order to learn a song efficiently, and effectively. Most advanced guitar players do use some of these strategies, but we take it for granted that we use them, and don't actually verbalize them or are aware of them, and beginners just feel lost when trying to learn new songs because of this. I will show you a few ways of how you can learn songs faster, easier, and better.
The first, and most common problem that guitar players face when learning a song, is that they learn a song all the way through, and then play it all the way through when they practice it. Oftentimes, if they mess up in the middle of the song, they'll restart playing the song all the way from the beginning (or just keep playing through mistakes). And this process repeats itself hundreds of times until they either get sick of the song and try another song, or get frustrated and put their guitar down. Either way, a lot of valuable time is wasted in this method.
The solution to this problem is to simply stop bothering to play the whole song from scratch. Whenever you make a mistake, anywhere, anytime in music, just stop playing. Stop playing, and look at where you just made the mistake. Target that one, isolated movement, and focus on practicing just that one tiny part. Be it 5 notes, or 2 notes, just practice those notes for 5 minutes, and don't start over from the beginning. This way, in 5 minutes, you will practice your weakest area maybe a hundred times, instead of just 3 times. You will find that this will help you greatly with learning difficult pieces of music.
The second and another very common problem that guitar players face when learning songs, is that they keep the sheet music in front of them while they play it. They look at the tab, and just play straight through, all the way, without stopping Then when they don't have the music in front of them, they can't play it! This is obviously a problem, because all those hours spent memorizing a song, have gone to waste. Sure your technique is slightly better, but that's not going to help as much as memorizing. Exercising your brain is almost always better than exercising your fingers, when it comes to music.
So, a very good solution to this problem is to simply learn a bar of the song, and play through it a few times. Then when you feel it's pretty good under your fingers, close your eyes, and try again. You'll see that if you repeat this process through the whole song, you'll have really, truly memorized it, and will be able to play it whenever you want, anywhere you want, without having the tab or sheet music in front of you all the time. The great thing about closing your eyes is that it not only helps with memorizing songs, but also helps with visualizing the fretboard in your mind. So this is going to help immensely if you ever plan to play onstage, so you don't have to keep looking at your guitar, and if the lights ever go out, you'll be totally safe.
Another problem guitar players face when learning new songs, is that they simply can't play it up to speed. They get frustrated because they keep making mistakes, and no matter how often they practice it, they just can't get faster.
Here's the solution to this: you don't have to spend hours and hours building your technique. All you have to do, is take a 3-5 note sequence, and just play through it very slowly and carefully at first (I'm talking painfully, brutally slow) watching your picking hand, and your fretting hand, and making sure the movements are perfect and as minimum as possible. Do this for about 2 minutes, and then for a whole minute, play the same sequence as fast as you possibly can. (and this time, I'm talking about forgetting how horribly nasty the string noise is, or how many mistakes you make, just play as fast as your fingers can move). But play in short bursts. Play the sequence, and then take a break for a second, and then play another burst. An analogy of this would be if you're shooting something with a rapid-fire gun. You don't want to spray and pray. You want to shoot a small burst, and then aim again, and repeat. It's the same with this technique.
Alright, so now you have 3 great ways to learn songs better, and faster. These strategies, when implemented, will save you a lot of frustrations. When I teach my students, I don't just teach them to "put your finger here, and then here". I teach them strategies. I show them how to actually apply the strategies to other music, and how to skip all the hang-time in between that frustrates players when they're struggling to learn songs, or whatever else they wish to learn.
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