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3 Tips How to Learn and Retain Music Faster

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How to Learn and Retain Music Faster and Have a Deeper Understanding of What You Know

Learning to play the guitar can sometimes be a difficult and even emotional journey. Perhaps to our friends and family we sound like instant rock stars when we pick up the instrument and bang out some song they know from Youtube, but they cannot really understand all the hard work and hours of practice that went into becoming the musicians that we have become, unless of course, they themselves are musicians.

When I was first learning how to play the guitar, all my energies was focused on the technical aspects of learning: Understanding which fingers go where, in which order, and then getting the notes and rhythm up to speed. When my favorite guitarists and musicians talked about how they learned their craft, or revealed their private practice routines, during print or radio interviews, I always listened with special interest.

This is why I was intrigued to come across this article by Elliott Klein on He covers several tips on how to learn and retain the notes faster and really understand what it is exactly that you’re playing.

His first tip really uncovers how we as guitarists, even those of us who read sheet and tab music, rely on shapes and visual patterns when we learn or write songs.

The first tip is on how to better understand what you’re playing, and that is transposing. When learning a new song, especially something along the lines of classic rock, or at least riff-oriented, guitarists have a tendency to rely on shapes or fret numbers. For example, learning a song that goes D-G may result in thinking “triangle shape followed by G shape.” Or learning a song like “Cocaine” by Eric Clapton may result in thinking in fret numbers for power chords, (sing main riff) “7-7-5-7-5.”

This is a good method of learning if you need to learn something RIGHT NOW, as it’s the simplest approach. But what happens when the singer has a cough and needs to sing “Shook Me All Night Long” in E instead of G? Awkward silence. You can’t use a capo in every situation.

So after you learn any song, whether it be classic rock or a jazz standard or a pop song or even “Cowboys from Hell” (You should be able to play that in drop D), try to play it in at least one or two different keys. It’ll force you to think of the notes/chords in terms of their musical relation to each other, instead of their physical relation. Then you’ll be able to play the bottom line in the “Shook Me All Night Long” chorus riff in any key and be every singer’s dream.

His second tip is actually the only thing I ever learned from my own father, who was also a guitar player: “Every performance is worth 10 rehearsals”. It really brings to bear that no amount of practicing can or will never elipse the adrenaline of  a live performance.

The second tip mostly applies to using new scales/soloing. The tip is to learn something to the best of your ability, and then immediately perform it. This performance can even be to a video recorder or family member, because the same instincts arise. As soon as the adrenaline kicks in mid-solo and you realize, “Oh crap, I didn’t know this as well as I thought,” you also realize, “But I do know enough to make it work.” Although it may not be an inspiring performance, you’ll come away with a few new tricks on how to get the most music from the least amount of information.

His third and last tip is right out of the textbooks on learning, and that is sleep. My wife is pianist, and when she was preparing for a performance, should would actually place the score under her pillow while she slept! She would read through the score before bed, and then again when she woke in the morning. But Elliott is a little more practical: Make sure you get enough sleep!

If you’re learning a lot of new material in a week (for example, trying to learn Bb, G and Db harmonic minor all over the fretboard and be able to transition seamlessly between them while soloing), it can become overwhelming fast. Learning as much as you can until you hit that mental wall where you can’t learn anymore is a perfect time to put the guitar down and take a nap. Not a three-hour nap, but 30 minutes or so.

Letting your brain relax gives it a chance to store what you just learned. When you wake up, you’ll have the information committed to memory and a bit more energy to keep shedding. Just make sure you don’t nap too long or you’ll have a hard time going to sleep that night!

And so there you have it! I would love to hear some of YOUR tips and tricks for learning and retaining music FASTER, and creating a deeper connection with the music that we play. Hopefully these 3 tips on how to learn and retain music faster move your further on the road to becoming a better musician!

Source: Guitar World

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