By Michael Korte
Learning songs has a lot of hidden advantages and positive side effects for your general musical skills. You don’t simply learn to play a song. If you do it the right way, you can also increase your aural skills, which means the ability to instantly play what you hear or what you imagine (pretty crazy, huh?).
If you approach it in the right way, it also improves your song writing skills and creativity, because you understand how your favourite songs work and how they are structured, what chords and harmonies are used, and some more.
You will be confronted with different ways to play chords or melodies or passages in general, which forces you to learn other ways of playing and discover your guitar and your fretboard navigation skills, which means learning all kinds of ways to play for example the same chord in different positions, which in turn brings more versatility into your playing and you sound less boring and more unique overall.
By dividing a song into its parts and structuring it, writing out which chords are used and figuring out the key, in which a song is written, you indirectly increase your music theory knowledge in a directly applicable way, so even music theory is not as dry anymore!
Your playing abilities and repertoire of techniques will increase as well, because you will be introduced to a lot of new playing techniques, while you are playing your favourite song. So not only will you learn about a new technique, you will also have a way to immediately apply it, which is a huge motivator, because you discover something new that you can play right away or after some practice.
How to apply to get the best effect?
Be aware: The beginning will be hard, so take little steps. Use freeware like Audacity, to loop a small section of a song and start by trying to figure out 1 second after another. Figure out chords, vocal lines, other melodies, everything you can. This can be very challenging in the beginning, so I advise you to count your victories, no matter how small and celebrate them. You will get better with this over time, but this makes your start easier and a bit more comfortably.
Here is a specific method, that you can apply for your purposes. Let us assume for now you have 30 minutes of practice that you can dedicate to learning songs.
Plan for example 15 minutes a day to try to figure out how to play parts of a song.
That is your workload and when you have completed that without distracting yourself a lot, you were successful, and you can feel proud of yourself. Period. Don’t set goals yet, that are quantifiable. For example, “I want to figure out the first 1 minute of this song”. It is too soon for that, if you never did that before and you might get discouraged. So, take it easy, enjoy every small victory.
At the end of the week check on the internet and compare. Then in the next week, learn to play the song properly.
This method will get you a long way on its own.
Here is one last piece of advice:
Record yourself playing the song to check if everything sounds as you want it to sound. At the same time, you can already start figuring out the next song by ear. So, 15 minutes of figuring out a song, the next 15 minutes practicing the song from the week before.
This is a cool, fun way to stay connected to your guitar and stay in or get into the habit of regular practice over the long term.
About the author:
Michael Korte is a professional musician and guitar teacher who is passionate about helping his students at his Kitarakoulu Tampere to find their truest potential in creativity and technical playing abilities. He teaches song writing and improvisation, alongside application of high end metal and rock guitar techniques.