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?