If you’re anything like me, free time is at an absolute premium. Between my day job, my family, helping my wife’s business and life, I just don’t get that much free time which means I really want to get the most out of my time with the ukulele.
Lately I’ve been thinking about how to learn songs faster. In the past I’ve been far too guilty of getting distracted and not having a system in place but I think I’ve finally found a system which works for me, and hopefully it will work for you too.
It boils down to just four tips and here they are…
One Bar At A Time
Now this may sound like the most obvious tip in the world and in some ways it is, but let me explain a little further.
Take the song you’re learning one bar at a time. Once you have the first bar down, move on to the next. Thank you captain obvious.
What I try and do here is not play the bars I know over and over. So let’s say that there’s a song I’m learning and I’ve go the first 4 bars down fine, but I’m having a few issues with bar 5.
Normally, and I’ve heard plenty of people doing this too, I would play through the first 4 bars, get to bar 5, struggle my way through it and do the same again.
In fact I got brilliant at playing the first few bars of songs and then not being able to play the rest.
More recently I’ve stopped doing this. I focus on the bar I’m having issues with and purely work on that. Don’t keep repeating bars that you already know, it’s just eating up your practice time.
This is a similar technique to my 60 second chord changes tip which is also about focussing time on the actual problem at hand.
An important part of learning a song is getting it memorised. With the tab in front of you, it’s too easy to just look at the tab and play along. There are songs that I just cannot play without the tab.
Here’s a video of me playing the theme tune to Father Ted a few years back, look at my face. I’m reading the tab as I’m playing. If you took that tab away from me, I wouldn’t be able to play the song.
Fortunately I’ve learned the error of my ways and I don’t do this any more. Once I think I’ve got a bar down, I put the tab away and try and play it using my memory and my ears.
If I get it wrong or can’t quite work a part out, I get the tab back out. Look at where I was going wrong and put the tab back away again.
The beauty of this is, you’re not just relying on your memory, you’re actually using your ears too and that’s very important.
When your memory lets you down, you’re forced to try and work out what the next note or chord might be.
Connecting The Bars
Now you’re learning one bar at a time and trying to use your memory, there does come a point where you need to fluidly connect bars together.
It’s no good just being brilliant at the individual bars if you can’t smoothly transition from one to another. Fluidity when playing music is incredibly important.
Once I start to get the bars down, I spend time on connecting them together, again focussing on any particular areas where I’m having trouble.
Use A Metronome
The final tip is to use a metronome. The reason I introduce the metronome at this stage is that I find it a little too restrictive earlier on in the process.
I like to know that I can play the bars before I try and get the timing absolutely bang on.
One reason I can do this is that I can read timing in music, I understand note duration and I tap my foot as I play to help keep my timing good.
If your timing isn’t great and you don’t read music too well or tap your foot then I would recommend introducing the metronome slightly earlier in the process.
My post on getting started reading music should help you get a basic grasp of understanding note duration which is a great starting point.
It can be difficult to correct a passage that you’ve already developed muscle memory for.
For those that have never used a metronome before, I wrote an article about speeding up your playing which details exactly how I use a metronome which should help.