The Hardest Part in Learning a Tough Song Note for Note.

The Hardest Part in Learning a Tough Song Note for Note.

The Hardest Part in Learning a Tough Song Note for Note, is:

Patience and Self-discipline.

Let’s say that you want to learn this Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, or Greg Howe song you’re totally crazy about.
Unless you’ve been playing for ever and you have great chops and a great ear: pretty soon you’ll hit parts that are challenging.

It’s tough to resist the temptation to skip around through the song to “easier” sections, when you hit a tough spot.

The problem with that, is that you’re then dissipating much of your concentration and mental energy, having to keep track in your head of all the pieces you already covered.

Another problem with this approach, is that everything takes much longer.
This is because you waste a great deal of time having to figure out where the parts are you want to revisit, and where the sections are you want to learn next.

This approach slows down your progress with the song, which quickly gets very demotivating.
As a result: you loose interest in learning the song, and end up giving up on it.

The most successful people, are the ones who use their time very wisely.
Spending time on something you won’t end up finishing or mastering, is an incredibly waste.
Unfinished business, always soaks up a lot of time.

So how do you prevent that from happening?

How to Learn Challenging Songs or Guitar Parts More Effectively?

Here some tips:

  1. Make sure you REALLY want to learn that song before you start it.

    The idealist in me always likes to believe that, if you really want something badly enough, that you will find a way.
    It’s easier to keep motivation up when the going gets tough, if you’re very excited about the song you’re learning.

  2. All that being said: there is also something to be said about being realistic about your expectations and about your skill level.

    I’ve seen it happening before that students picked songs they wanted to learn, that were way beyond what their skill level. In doing so: they automatically set themselves up for frustration and eventually, failure.

    We all have to pay our dues, and there is a logical order to things. There are no short cuts to mastery. The one who focuses his time on searching for shortcuts, is the one who lost the way. (I was having a Zen moment here)

  3. Take lessons with someone who can teach the song to you.

    This is the easiest way to learn anything: have someone show it to you.
    Make sure that the teacher you hire, has the chops, the experience and the ear to pull it off. You don’t want him to spend your whole lesson you are paying for, trying to figure out the song.

  4. Get software that will allow you to slow down songs. Check out Amazing Slowdowner here

    This software is invaluable. It makes it so much easier to learn a song if you can slow it down. You hear the parts more easily. It’s also easier to play challenging parts along with the song if you can slow the song down.

  5. Keep training your ear.

    The better your ear, the easier it is to hear what is going on in a song, and the lesser you have to rely upon sheet music.

  6. Get the sheet music or tabs if possible.

    Learn the song by both listening to the track and following the notes on the sheet music.

  7. Work forward through the song in very short chunks of information:

    1 or 2 beats at a time, or a couple of notes at a time.
    Then practice these couple of notes only till you have them memorized so many times in a row, that you have them memorized.

  8. When you learned the next couple of notes:

    repeat/practice them without looking at the sheet music. Only use sheet music to verify on what fret locations something is played or to speed up the process of figuring out the next notes, if they are hard to hear in the recording. The lesser you look at the page, the more quickly you will memorize the newly learned phrase.

  9. Force yourself to bring up the patience, to keep moving 2-3 notes or beats at a time forward.

    Then play the newly learned stuff over and over again till memorized.

  10. Regularly jump back a couple of bars to keep repeating previously covered stuff and to put it all together.

    Repetition and constant review is key to your success here.

  11. When you start loosing patience:

    remind yourself that in the short term, this approach feels very slow… but in the long term, this is how you get the strongest, fastest result. Short term thinking is for unsuccessful people. Train yourself to become a long term, big picture type of thinker.


There is a lot you get out of learning songs this way.
You practice many important life skills in addition to learning the actual song: patience, focus, determination, organization.
Meanwhile: you also experience this unbelievably satisfying feeling of achievement that comes with achieving something great.

To top it all off: by the time you finish learning the song, you became a much better guitar player.

Every song you learn this way, is a major step forward to mastery of self.

Keep me informed on your progress. You can hit me up in the comments section below.
If you like this blog: give it a rating and feel free to also give me any feedback.
I believe everything can always be improved. I’d gladly implement your suggestions and ideas in this blog or the next.

Be on the look out for more blogs about everything guitar, music, songwriting and music education.

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