Playing music is about playing songs. Most of us were inspired to pick up the guitar by great songs played by our guitar heroes. So, why do so many of us have such a hard time learning to play complete songs?
Think about it. Do you sometimes learn most of a song but then get stuck on a couple parts and end up not ever completing it? How many songs are you really able to play from start to finish?
Being a guitar teacher for many years, I’ve noticed that not learning complete songs affects intermediate and advanced guitar players nearly as much as beginners. There are many good guitar players that do not know many songs all the way through. They can play some parts (usually the main, beginning part to the song) but not much more than that. What these players are missing is a simple, orderly way to analyze songs and reduce them into small, easily-practiced parts that can be mastered individually and then assembled into the complete song.
Beginning guitar players are often overwhelmed when trying to learn new songs. Memorizing all of the chord fingerings and learning to play all of the chord changes smoothly can feel like a major task. Most of my students have felt this way—it is very common. I have found that the best way to learn all the chords in a song and master the different parts and chord changes is to use a simple, systematic approach to analyzing and memorizing all of the pieces of the song. Using this approach will allow you to learn songs quickly and with much less hassle and aggravation and results in you learning the song all the way through from beginning to end.
So, why do most guitar players have so much trouble learning complete songs? There are many reasons:
• Most don’t know how to identify and practice the most difficult parts of the song.
• They just play easy parts (for them) of the song and skip the parts that are hard.
• If they do try to play the hard parts, they make mistakes on them each time they play them—this is majorly frustrating as a guitar player.
• They start playing at the beginning of the song every time they practice it.
• All of these things cause them to get stuck in a loop of not finishing songs. These guitar players simply give up on the song because they get frustrated and pick something different to try to learn and continue the whole process of not learning complete songs.
• Consequently, they never learn any song all the way through from beginning to end.
Now that we’ve identified the problem, let’s look at a good solution.
How to be a “Finisher of Songs”
Most of the chord changes in songs will be fairly easy for you to learn and play. You will still have to practice them, of course, but usually there are only a couple chord changes or parts in most songs that will give you the greatest amount of difficulty and trouble. So, along with noting the large amount of repetition in most songs, know that all parts of the song will not be equally difficult to master.
Playing complete songs does not need to be an overwhelming task. There are many songs that have lots of repetition of the chords and chord progressions in them—and most songs only have a few parts (verse, chorus, bridge etc.) Because there is so much repetition in most songs, there are really not that many different chords in them. Listen to some of your favorite songs with a critical ear and notice that you will hear a lot of repetition of songs parts, chords and melodies in them.
If we think about the song in this way, the thought of learning entire songs becomes much less overwhelming. Remember that there are usually not all that many chords in most songs and that you will only have to practice some of the song parts more than others. So, the answer to playing and mastering entire songs is based on using a really simple practice method so that you will be able to:
• Easily take note all of the chords you will need to know to play any song.
• Figure out which of those chords you will need to memorize and work on the most in order to master the fingerings.
• Put together a targeted practice plan for the chord changes in the song so that you can conquer all of them in the shortest amount of time.
• Get all of these pieces in place and play the complete song with less practice time.
These are the steps for learning and mastering chords, chord changes and playing complete songs:
1. On a piece of paper write the names of all the chords in the song. Use the sheet music to go through the entire song and list each chord one time.
2. Make diagrams of all those chords in the song that you just listed. Diagram each chord one time.
3. Look at all of the chords in your list. Note which ones you are already can play and the ones that need to be learned.
4. Now go through all the chord changes in the song one by one and write them out. List each chord change once.
5. Go through each chord change listed and figure out which ones are the hardest for you to play. This is the most step is the most crucial part of this practice plan.
Most of your practice time will need to be spent practicing the chord changes that are hard for you. This is the key to this lesson and to learning complete songs: Working the chord changes that are difficult for you to play and practice them until they are easy for you.