I sat down with my student Richard Corrall today to teach him the Joe Satriani song “Tears In The Rain”.
When I decide upon a song to teach, I always make sure that the student:
1)Can play the whole song by the end of the lesson
2)Has the whole song memorized.
There are a couple of reasons why I believe that is important:
1)Pushing a student to learn and memorize 1 or 2 entire songs in 60 minutes, is great practice to develop strong musical memory (this is the ability to retain large chunks of song/music information in short amount of time).
2)A student’s joyful feeling and sense of accomplishment and achievement is much stronger if they can play a whole song, and not just a song snippet.
3)You don’t want to turn your student into a musician who knows many pieces of songs, but who can’t play a whole song from beginning to end adequately.
4)You don’t learn everything you can from the masters if you only learn parts of their songs.
At the end of the lesson, Richard mentioned that it was “quite hard”
He said that “the piece is physically and technically challenging” and that he was focusing a lot on really trying to get it all clean.
This remark led me to want to write this blog post to help other guitar students (or pros for that matter, who need to learn a lot of music in a short amount of time).
The gist of the lesson Richard learned is following:
“Memorization comes before accuracy.”
Yes, you want to retain the information first before you start worrying about speed, accuracy or technical issues. You want to be able to play a song before you focus on “being able to play the song well”
After all: it’s not very motivating to see yourself progress very slowly through a new song you’re learning.
This btw, is exactly why most people who start learning a song with the chart or tabs, give up on the song, when they just spent 3 hours trying to figure out the first 8 bars in a song that has intricate guitar parts.
You want to memorize the phrases, melody lines, rhythms and fingerings before you start spending time on making the performance clean and accurate. Accuracy will come naturally as a byproduct of the repetitions of the material after memorization.
Things that help to learn tough and/or specific guitar parts, or solos, and classical or arpeggio oriented pieces at a quick pace are:
1)Don’t look at the page when you’re learning a new song. Try to find a recording of it, and figure the phrases out by ear. Even better: the quickest way to learn a song, is by having someone show it to you, and guide you through the song with a driven demeanor.
2)It does help to get the chart, but only look at it if you really can’t figure something out by ear, to speed up the learning process. Once you figured it out, don’t look at the page anymore but go by memory.
3)Only conquer a couple of notes or a phrase at a time, followed by constant, focused repetitions of the phrase. Then add the next couple of notes, or the next phrase, followed by tons of repetitions, then put the 2 phrases together, followed by tons of repetitions. Keep working yourself forward through the piece of music. If you try to conquer too many notes or phrases at once, you will get lost or frustrated. Short fragments: lots of repetitions! Your focus again, is on having as many repetitions in as possible of short bursts of information, in a short amount of time. Your focus shouldn’t be on getting the phrases up to speed or clean in performance.
4)It is probably essential, in all of this, that you slow down the song you are learning to your abilities. This also helps with the memorization, as you allow your brain the time to retain the info. However”
5)Be really driven, fast and on the ball with your repetitions” but slow with digesting or adding new information. Meaning: slow down the song when learning the next/new phrase, but don’t be laid back in your focus on repetitions once you know the phrase. Have, in other words, a non-stop “Again” again” again” again.. again” again” attitude” then take your time to figure out and learn the next couple of notes.
I experimented a lot through the years with different approaches to learning or teaching songs and guitar parts, but the above really is the most effective, and most fun way.
After all: it is much more fun to learn a song when it doesn’t take forever.