Memorizing tunes is a fact of life for any gigging musician. Over the years I've come across a system that works pretty well for memorizing songs in a hurry.
1. Start with the chords. Since guitar is primarily a rhythm instrument, I'll start by memorizing the chord progression(s) of the tune. The Nashville Number System is INCREDIBLY helpful here. You tell me what's easier to remember...verse - 1564, chorus - 4465. Or...verse - Ab Eb Fm Db, chorus - Db Db Fm Eb? Bonus tip: write out a quick chart of the tune. It's good ear training, plus it will drive the tune deeper into your memory.
2. Make note of any signature licks or parts. Most tunes have some sort of signature guitar hook, be it a riff, a rhythm pattern, a unique tone, etc. Recreate these signature parts as closely as possible. If you're making charts, write a quick note about any of these signature parts.
3. Memorize the groove. One thing we guitarists often tend not to think a lot about is the groove. This is a HUGE oversight. I can't tell you how many times I've worked out tunes, but failed to commit the groove to memory. When the downbeat came, I knew the progression, the tones, and the signature guitar parts, but couldn't for the life of me remember how the tune was supposed to FEEL. In cases like this, the first couple bars were me finding my way in the dark...not fun. Now I always make a point to learn the drum pattern. If you know rhythmic notation, write out a bar of the drum groove as a reference.
There it is - my 3 step process for memorizing tunes in a time crunch. I should also note that above all, LISTENING is your best friend. I usually give a new tune 2-3 thorough listens before I try to play along or write a chart. This streamlines the learning process and usually leads to a near perfect first playthrough.
I hope this helps!
Do you have any tips for learning songs? Leave a comment below!
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