Recently, I’ve found myself having to learn a lot of new songs. Between playing at church and playing for other artists, it’s starting to feel like that’s all I’ve been doing lately. Fortunately, learning new material is something that I really enjoy! Growing up playing in church really taught me the value of preparing for each service and showing up ready to bring my best. It’s something that we require all of our musicians to do here at New Life and I believe it’s something every musician should work towards. When you arrive at a rehearsal or service with the songs memorized, it gives you more freedom in your playing and allows you to focus more on worship. With that in mind, I thought I’d share a few tips on how I like to memorize songs.
1. Listen- I know it seems simple, but the first step to learning a song is to actually listen to it! Listen without trying to play along. Just listen. Listen two or three times before you start trying to play anything. When we are playing and listening at the same time, we tend to miss key details that are important to the parts we are trying to pick out. As you listen, try to identify the parts that really make the song what it is and make mental notes.
2. Write it Down- Even if it looks like chicken scratch and you never look at it again, sometimes just writing a simple chart of the song can really help you lock the structure of the song in your mind. There have been many times when I’ve found myself picturing a chart in my head while playing a new song and it’s saved me from making some serious mistakes.
3. Play it-Play along with the song several times. Get your timing, tone, groove, and feel to really fall in line with what’s happening on the recording. Pause it if you need to, but get to the point where you can play through the whole song with out making a mistake or pausing. The only way you’ll be able to consistently play it live is if you can consistently play it in the practice room.
4. Listen one more time- Just to make sure you’re not missing anything:)
5. Play it again- This time, play the song from memory while listening to a click/metronome set to the tempo of the song. This will really seal the parts in your head and allow you to hear yourself more clearly than when you’re playing along to the recording. Sometimes the recording can trick us into thinking we’re tighter than we really are!
All together, these steps may take somewhere between 20 and 30 minutes, but the commitment is well worth the reward. Give it a shot and see if you notice a difference next time you’re working on a new song!