Do you want to learn how to memorize songs on guitar quickly and easily? Memorizing songs is an essential part of playing guitar. Whether you’re in a band or playing at home, it’s important to learn songs all the way through and play them from memory. This improves your ability in a lot of areas, but it’s also way more fun to play and not have to stop and think!
I’m going to give you a step by step method of how I personally learn and memorize a piece, but first, let’s talk about memory.
The Three Memory Types
Muscle memory is what makes you able to play a chord or chord progression. You don’t really have to think about it much because your fingers “remember” how to move to play that G chord. Or how to type a sentence on a keyboard without looking. Muscle memory is formed from repetition, performing the same task over and over and over again. You can’t rely solely on muscle memory though. Different environments and distractions can cause mental stress that makes you completely forget what you’re playing. Think about someone experiencing stage fright. Their muscles aren’t letting them down, their mind is.
Auditory memory is pretty much what it sounds like: you hear something and you remember it. It’s that song or melody that’s stuck in your head. This normally happens when you hear a song over and over, or play a song over and over. Auditory memory connects the sound to muscle memory to play what we remember hearing.
And then there’s cognitive memory. Muscle memory and auditory memory are relatively passive compared to cognitive memory. You have to think about cognitive memory more. It’s knowing the key of a song. Or learning that new chord progression, and not quite being able to anticipate the next chord. This is why I put so much emphasis on common chord progressions, it makes it way easier to rely on muscle and auditory memory.
Ideally you wouldn’t rely too heavily on cognitive memory if you’re practiced up. The more you have to think about something, the less you’re relying on muscle memory and auditory memory (or your “instincts”). But all three do work together, especially when you’re learning a new song.
The Quickest Way To Memorize A Song On Guitar
One disclaimer is this will vary by person and skill level. An intermediate guitar player can learn and memorize new songs really fast. A beginner will take longer. And it’s important to remember the memorizing and being able to play the piece proficiently are two different things. But when you know what you’re supposed to play it makes practicing a whole lot easier.
Step 1 - Cognitive Memory
Ok, let’s start with cognitive memory. Before I strum my first chord I’m going to look at the song and see what I can learn intellectually. I’ll start with the key that it’s in. Next I’ll look for common chord patterns, or any repeating chord patterns in general. Seeing these patterns makes the whole process easier.
The second thing I’ll do is see how I can divide the song. Where are the verses and choruses? Does it have a bridge? You could even divide each of those into smaller sections.
Step 2 - Auditory Memory
Now listen to the song and start to play along. You’re listening as you’re playing through it. Think about how what you’re hearing connects with what you looked at in terms of key and chord patterns. You might hear patterns you didn’t originally see. You can play through the entire song a couple times, then break down each section if you need to.
Step 3 - Muscle Memory
Basically…practice practice practice! The more you practice the more muscle memory you’ll build.
More Tips For Memorizing Songs
1. Start by learning simple songs. The simpler the better when you’re first starting out. Then start to learn songs that increase in difficulty. Learning and memorizing songs is just like any other skill: the more you do it the easier it gets.
2. Write the chord progression down on paper. There’s a strong memory link to physically writing something down that you don’t get with looking at something or typing.
3. Rehearse the song in your head. I’ve known a few musicians who wouldn’t even pick up their instruments until they listened to the song a few times. Knowing how the song goes (auditory memory) makes the other parts way easier. If you can hum it you can play it.
4. Focus. The more you can focus the better your outcome will be. So find a quiet and distraction-free place to practice.
5. Start slow. I’ll test myself when I’m learning a song. I’ll play it slow until it’s smooth, then speed it up and see if I can play it at a faster tempo. Then I’ll do the whole process again.
6. Keep doing it! The more you use a skill, the better you’ll be at it. Learn new songs regularly and practice these memory skills. When you’re ready, try to record the song. You can use your phone for this, or your computer if you have a recording set up. This is a great tool to use anytime you’re learning something. Being able to listen back to your playing can be quite revealing! It will show you where you’re nailing it, and where you may need to spend more time practicing.
So go out and try these techniques on a song, and remember to give yourself grace. But I hope you do try these techniques, they’ve served me well over my guitar playing journey.
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