How To Remember The Songs You've Learnt To Play On Guitar
You already know how to play some songs. You've learnt the chords, the rhythm, the riffs etc. However, actually recalling how the songs go without the music in front of you is an issue isn't it?
There's nothing more embarrassing for a guitar player when they are asked to 'play something' for friends or you're at a jam and you just can't remember the song.
You may know some of it, but there's just one section you can't remember how it goes. No matter how many times you have gone through the song from start to finish on your own.
Now many 'older' guitar players cough up the excuse that 'my memory is shot' to cover up the real reason as to why they can't remember songs without a sheet of paper in front of them. And in rare circumstances this maybe true. But if your memory is actually that bad, you're likely not to remember a simple G chord. Fair enough?
This guide will lay out 3 easy steps you can take to remember the songs you learn. Doing so will help you to confidently play songs without having to rely on sheets of paper, bluetooth assistance, or excuses again when opportunity presents itself to share your skills with others.
The bottom line is, if you can't remember songs, and you are mentally sound, it's simply because you just haven't done them enough times. This is the root cause of why you can't remember the songs you play. That plus, how you have gone about learning songs on your guitar up until now.
So let's leave the excuses behind and get to the good stuff - having fun, playing and sharing music with others shall we?
If you've been caught by the 'how's that song go again' syndrome, fortunately there is a simple solution that you can start today that will quickly give you the ability to remember the songs you want to learn.
In order to help you save face, and be everyone's favourite guitar player, I want to share some sure-fire steps with you how to learn and remember ANY song you choose to play.
These steps don't involve rocket science, or long, drawn out, boring practice sessions. Even if you are extremely busy and only get 5-minutes a day to get your hands on the guitar. You can do this.
The only requirement is you must do one thing only...
And that's to do the actual steps!
3 Must-Have Guitar Tools
Before we get in the actual steps there are 3 things you're going to need to have in place. The right tools to work with...
These tools are over and above the obvious guitar tuner, strap, pick and strings, and will make the process of learning and memorising songs so much easier for you.
Tool Number One: A song slow downer software app.
Some of these apps only work on certain platforms. So choose the one for your preferred platform. The song slow downer software programs that I recommend are Capo, Transcribe or The Amazing Slow Downer. There are more on the market of course, so choose what you feel most comfortable with using.
Song slow downer apps cost between $20 - $60. However the return on investment, and the small learning curve to learn how to work them, is going to quickly far outweigh the initial outlay. I recommend getting the full version of the software as you as you can.
Tool Number Two: You must have a recorded copy of the song you are learning (no streaming service or using YouTube here)
You will need an mp3 version of the song, as you are going to load (import) the song into your song slow downer software. Keep your songs in a folder or library of some sort on your computer. This will make it easier to have an account of the songs you have learned. Or when you need to create a setlist for your upcoming campfire gig.
We have some much information vying for our attention that it's simply not practical to keep it all in our heads. Plus as adults we have more demands and responsibilities to contend with the younger folk. So this little pre-planning is going to save you a lot of time down the road.
Tool Number Three: A copy of the TAB or sheet music of the song you're learning.
Unless you can work songs out by ear you will need some type of printed music. Internet sites like "" "" or "" are great resources for TAB or sheet music.
Yes it will cost you a few bucks. But it's often less than a cup of coffee or a feed down the club.
You can also look on Amazon or Kindle if you want a book to learn a bunch of Tom Petty or Beatle songs.
Steer clear of the 'free' offerings littered over the net. The paid options are more accurate. And will save you a ton of time when you learn it right the first time.
Once you have the above tools sorted, with the song imported into your software and you have the printed music in sight, you are now ready to go. Grab your guitar. Throw the strap over your shoulder and/or fire up the amp and start memorising those songs...
The Simple Process To Remembering Songs
There are 3 simple rules to follow. 3 rules that will help you learn a lot more songs faster.
With your chosen song imported into the software, you must first choose a section of the song that you want to work on. It can be any section of the song. But small enough so you can loop it. This loop can be any length that is comfortable for you. Generally my students have said it works really well between 1- 4 measures at a time. This of course is relative to whatever you're working on.
A good rule of thumb is whatever you can remember without looking at the sheet of music.
If you're working on some simple chords you're strumming, you maybe able to handle an entire verse or chorus section. Whatever the length of the loop is right for you, Rule #1 is to 'chunk it down'
With the loop set up, simply press play and the software will keep repeating that measure or section, until you press stop. However this is not quite the time to start playing along with the song yet.
You must do rule #2 before you begin to play along. Rule #2 is to slow the tempo down. Most memorisation problems for the classic older rocker or strummer comes from the information going by too quick.
Slowing the music down will give your brain the time to assimilate the information and to pass the directions onto your fingers.
How much do it slow it down? There's no arbitrary number here. It's a process of experimentation to see what is comfortable for you.
A good place to start is maybe 5-10 bpm less than the song's tempo. The slow down software with have the song tempo information and controls to do this. However If that's too fast, keep going back in 5bpm increments until it's comfortable.
Don't be afraid to go slower. Once when I was working on some flatpicking phrases, I had to cut the tempo down by 50% for the information to sink in.
Once the tempo is set and you can hear the phrases, you should find it way easier to keep up with the music while looking at the printed page of music.
Th next rule is where the magic happens. Where the real fun (and work begins). And when done correctly, it will allow you to recall any piece of music you learn.
Learning songs is like anything we have done in life. Doing it over and over until the muscle memory kicks in - eating with a knife and fork, learning to drive or brushing our teeth.
It's all done through repetition. And Rule #3 is repetition. Work that phrase, that measure, that song section over and over. Having rules 1 and 2 in place, makes rule #3 a breeze.
The section is small enough not to take up a lot of brain real estate. The pace is slow enough, so you can comfortably keep up. And doing the repetitions allows the material to effortlessly slip into your memory banks of its own volition. Nothing is forced.
Making practicing songs simple and stress free.
When doing repetitions, there are 2 choices you can make. This is, of course, dependent on how much time you have for practicing.
You can choose to do a small amount per day and build it up over a period of time. Or you can stay with the section until you get it for that day.
My students usually prefer the first option as this mimics your natural learning process. A little bit each day just like when you learnt to walk, talk or learnt how to tie your shoes. The choice is completely yours though.
Putting It All Together
This system of practicing songs works well for anything you learn on the guitar. It can be used for strumming patterns, chord progressions, arpeggios, guitar licks, riffs as well as lead guitar solos and techniques.
Literally, any part of any song you're learning.
Bear in mind that some things will naturally come to you quicker. Other items or sections, are going to take longer to lock in. What you get quickly today, may take you several days next time. It's all part of the process. So don't beat yourself up if you still can't remember it after 10 minutes.
Once you have one section down, you now have a further 2 choices. Sort of like those old adventure books where you can choose what ending you want.
You can take the chunk you've worked on and build this section up to the tempo of the song. Or if you choose, work on several sections with the above steps separately. This could be the next two measures that follow your first chunk. Or the next 2 chords in the progression for instance. Then you would join chunk A with chunk B and work this larger section up to tempo.
The great thing about this system for you is that is flexible, to suit how you learn.
Try it out today with one song that you know reasonably well, except for that one section you are weak in. Put it to the test. Don't put too much pressure on your self. This is all new to you. It may take one practice session or several sessions for you to remember the entire song.
Our brains work best when given small amounts of information at a time to consume. If after several attempts it's still not locked in, consider breaking the chunk down further.
You may be just taking on too much at once. Experiment with it to find what works best for you. And remember above all, to play with it. It's very malleable. Time friendly. And user friendly.
I'm confident you'll find, that this way of learning songs, will make remembering them so much easier for you.
The 3 rules above: 1) Chunk It Down 2) Play It Slow and 3) Repetitions are from my CPR Guitar Practicing Framework. It has helped many students to quickly get songs off the page and into their brains and hands.
To learn more about the CPR Framework™ and how you can benefit from implementing it into your daily guitar practice so you can quickly learn and retain songs, you can schedule a guitar lesson with me here. Whether it's an acoustic song for around the campfire or a classic rock number you are learning to get to that jam with your mates, we'll take the song you're working on and together we'll fix any problems that are keeping you from your goals.
Author: Allen Hopgood
Allen Hopgood has been playing guitar since 1983 and has been offering guitar lessons for the classic older rocker or strummer since 2012.

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