Four stages in learning a song

I’ve been practicing my guitar a ton lately and sometimes it feels like I’m never going to “master” the pieces that I’m trying to learn.  Sometimes I think that I have gotten it down and then a complete mind fart happens and I can’t remember how to play it and have to re-learn.  After thinking about this a bit, I realized that I go through, what I call the four stages in learning a song.

Stage 1: Learning

This is the initial site reading of the song, either by tab, regular notation or just jamming along with it on CD or iPod.  I the progress to a point where I can play the piece fairly well with the music in front of me.  Depending how many times I’ve heard this song, I can progress pretty quickly in this stage.

Stage 2: Fixing and Polishing

This is where I need to sit down and work on certain parts that might have given me trouble during site reading.  I still don’t have it memorized and maybe not playing it at a slower tempo.  By the time I’m finished with this stage, I’m playing it at tempo and it’s pretty much memorized.

Stage 3:  Re-Evaluate and/or Re-Learn

I hate this stage!  This is where I think I have it “performance ready,”  I’ve been playing it practically perfect time and time again for a few days.  I’m confident that it’s ready to go and then I start to stumble and begin to forget or mess up parts of the song.  What’s frustrating is that sometimes it’s a part that I never had trouble with, ever.  I’m not playing as well, my articulation and tempo is all messed and I can’t seem to get it right.  It feels like what I learned just fell right out of my head.  Here is where I have to take a step back and re-learn the song, sort-of-speak.  I will play the song slower and make sure my fingerings are correct and use a metronome to work on the rhythm.   If I have a recording, I will listen to it over and over so it’s ingrained in my head.

Stage 4: Performance Ready

Finally ready to go.  It’s memorized and even if I go a few days without playing it, I can perform it without worrying too much about stage 3 coming back.  Here is when I can take some artistic licenses with the piece and try to make it a bit my own.

Why does stage 3 happen for me, it’s hard to say.  I have heard that lack of sleep can inhibit your ability to memorize/learn a piece.  I have also heard that maybe I never learned it properly in the first place and I was just practicing my mistakes over and over again.  I’m thinking that might be what’s troubling me. I focus so much on one section of the song, I neglect other sections.  I find it helps to record my practicing so I can make notes on what to work on.  I just have to get past watching or hearing myself play not-so-well, at times.

So how many stages do you have?  Is it two, four five, more?  What techniques do you use to overcome your stage 3?

One thought on “Four stages in learning a song

  1. i will take a song that ifeel i have down and then hit the repeat on the itune and play it till my hand falls off and then let it sit for a few days berfore going back and reevaluating it. Keep in mind that this is after the song has been successfully figured out so I dont know if that helps w/ stage three as you are right about learning your own mistakes if you play it over and over the wrong way. What this does for me is to be able to play w/out really thinking too much about it and being able to enjoy the song while playing it. Another tip is to get another player to sit in during the learning process and I am always pleasantly surprised to hear what they pick up on that I missed.

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