How long do you spend learning a song?

Discussion in 'Tab, Tips, Theory and Technique' started by schmintan, Apr 2, 2020.

  1. schmintan

    schmintan Tele-Meister

    Apr 22, 2009
    Ive gotten properly back into guitar after a few years hiatus.
    Previously, id spend a few hours learning a song, get the gist of it & improv my way through. I think however that limited me greatly as i only got better at my own licks and riffs, not learning another players vocabulary as it took too long.

    Im now being more analytical, trying to learn more of the song as its played by the author.
    Take my current challenge, moonchild by rory gallagher. Previously id learn the basic chords, probably as barre chords, get the key and blues over it when lead is required. It would only kind of sound like Rory, but it would musically sound ok.

    Now im watching live videos to see how he played it and slowing the lead down so i can get his nuances.
    In 3 days, which equates to about 3 hours playing ive already learned:
    - Rory played the rythm mostly as open chords down low on the neck. I was playing barre chords up high. Playing open makes it much more "Roryish", raw but fitting.

    -Rory incorporates a dorian elements quite a bit. I think they are an extra 6th and 9th to the standard blues scale. Again, the song now "tastes" (pardon the pun) like a Rory song when i attempt it.

    All this has increased my knowledge quite a bit, given me more options away from barre chords, learning how to harness open chords when playing under relatively high gain and also how to add flavor to lead with dorian elements.

    I probably have another 3-6 days at an hour per day to get the song down to a reasonable level.
    That means it probably will have taken me 9-12 hours total to get the tune down.

    Does this seem like overkill or Parr for the course ?
    thunderbyrd likes this.
  2. johnny k

    johnny k Friend of Leo's

    Jan 15, 2011
    I usually get tired of a song before i've learnt all the parts.
    Matthias, ladave, 8trackmind and 3 others like this.
  3. hemingway

    hemingway Poster Extraordinaire

    Mar 14, 2012
    London, UK
    Everyone's different. I have a friend who can't improvise to save his life but he will pick up the vibe and the chords of a song in minutes, then he knows it forever.

    whereas I take forever to learn covers. I'm pretty much only good for noodling.
  4. T Prior

    T Prior Poster Extraordinaire

    Mar 17, 2003
    Charlotte NC
    its an interesting question, valid, but the answer also depends on our own personal skill level. While listening, can you hear and decipher the chord structure ? Can you hear and determine fretboard positions and perhaps where the phrases are coming from ? Can you listen and say to yourself..that's exactly like or almost the same as XXX , or are we figuring out each song independently with no reference or connection to songs we already know ?

    Personally, charting a song takes minutes , after doing this for decades, many sound the same or offer the same if not very similar recognizable structures. I think many of us are listening to the structure, not the song..per sey. Sometimes when we talk about adding a new song, we may say "Its exactly like XXX, just the words are different , and don't forget the TWO chord on the 2nd verse " ! After awhile it all becomes very familiar.

    It wasn't always like this though, early on, we would sit with a record player, a guitar and paper and pencil. Lifting the needle every few seconds. Then argue about what we think we heard. Looking back we did this on 3 and 4 chord songs ! But its kool, its part of growing .

    My time today is spent on playing my parts, some players will add-lib all the way thru which is fine, its not a contest. I did that and still do. But some songs require woodshedding. I may go over my parts ( solo's) everyday a few times for a month or two. It just depends,. If I can get them into auto pilot, then I can play them comfortably on the gigs and even play AROUND them.

    A good friend who was working with us several months back on guitar, told me he had practiced XXX probably a dozen times but was still not comfortable. he asked me my routine, I laughed and said, are you sitting down, he laughed and said yes...I commented that on that particular piece we were talking about I probably ran it 500 times ! He laughed again and said..well SxxT, no wonder you lt know it and I don't" .

    while learning new songs from listening , my opinion is to try to connect it to another song you may already know and play. Connect the structure first , forget the actual song !

    Its kinda like if we learned Johnny B Goode, we now knew every Chuck Berry song ever written ! Connect the dots.

    regarding solos, that may be a different deal, we may not be versed enough YET to recognize fretboard positions, that comes with more time, and listening ! But it does come.

    Great question and topic
  5. burntfrijoles

    burntfrijoles Poster Extraordinaire

    Feb 12, 2010
    Somewhere Over The Rainbow
    It really depends on its complexity. I don't always do this but it's good practice to listen to the song repeatedly to get it in your mind. If it's complex, I break it up into the various phrases. I might watch a YouTube video repeatedly. When necessary I use a slow downer like ASD or Transcribe+.
    If I learn a song it's so I can create a backing track so I have to learn the bass and rhythm or fills as well.
    When I get stuck, I set it aside for a few days or so and then come back to it.
  6. teletail

    teletail Tele-Holic

    Aug 25, 2019
    West By God Virginia
    I have a hard time memorizing, but I'm good at picking the parts. I usually "learn" the tune and then practice it a couple of times a day for a few weeks. Depending on the tune, usually 2 - 4 hours over the course of several weeks.

    I used to play guitar and keys in a band. We did Led Zeppelin Kashmir and I played the keyboard parts note for note. I can't even tell you how many hours I had in that.
  7. kennl

    kennl Tele-Afflicted

    Feb 6, 2007
    Moon Township, PA
    a lifetime
    everything learned in exploring music can be applied to songs you already "know"
    the application of this personal knowledge becomes the player's "style"
    OldDude2 likes this.
  8. bftfender

    bftfender Friend of Leo's

    Dec 21, 2017
    York PA
    if its for pay in a studio---give the key-simple progression or a lil guidance to to react for the leads & then underpin on bass

    i look for the 1 & the turn around.... then let's go

    if its my stuff....all feel & emotion ..ride it out
  9. AxemanVR

    AxemanVR Tele-Afflicted Ad Free Member

    Dec 27, 2011
    Minnesota USA
    Figuring out the key, chords and scales is one thing, but getting the exact nuances and timing of every small bend or picking attack is the hard part.

    I usually don’t start a song unless I really love it and that is what determines how much effort I will put into it...
  10. Milspec

    Milspec Friend of Leo's Silver Supporter

    Feb 15, 2016
    We are certainly all different. When I start on a new song, I normally spend a few hours on it until it actually sends me into a completely different direction. I rarely end up learning the entire song, just get the structure of it and then get interested in using that structure to create something different of my own. It might even just be a certain chord that was new which might send me off on a new path. I just never really end up wanting to learn someone else's song in its entirety.
  11. 8trackmind

    8trackmind Tele-Afflicted

    Oct 10, 2018
    Dark side of the moon
    5 to 10 minutes depending. Obviously some covers take longer. I'm not into the heavy metal stuff, so most songs are fairly straightforward.
    Paulie_Boy likes this.
  12. Tornado

    Tornado Tele-Meister

    Mar 13, 2016
    Figuring out the basic chords of a song containing quite a few chords will take half an hour two hours. Figuring out an guitar part of intermediate to advanced level in detail takes many hours.

    But I must say that for example the Queen song Leaving home ain't easy, also figuring out the basic chords of the acoustic part could take many hours.

    A guy showed me how to play it with the correct voicings and I don't know if I had been able to figure out the intro by myself.
  13. Obsessed

    Obsessed Telefied Ad Free Member

    Nov 21, 2012
    For me it all depends. I am a serious believer in learning a cover note for note and then make it my own. Some early rock seem very obvious and I can learn them in a few hours. Others have taken me up to a year with one that really honestly took me two years to get right.
  14. Peegoo

    Peegoo Friend of Leo's

    Oct 11, 2019
    Generally, as long as it takes. I can hear chord voicings and have a basic chart done in about five minutes. I've never used TAB, and I don't go online to find chord charts because that's cheating. it's the worst thing to do if you're trying to improve your ear. And more often than not, online charts are wrong anyway.

    Sometimes nailing the feel of a tune depends on playing chords/notes in the right places on the neck. The note registers are important to getting the same flavor from the music, so if something sounds off, I'll shift gears and try different things. Conversely, if there's a particularly difficult passage or run I'm having trouble with, I'll try it in several places on the neck. I usually find a position that makes it much simpler for me.

    If I'll be playing the tune with other guitarists, I learn all the various guitar parts. That way I can do whatever the other players aren't doing.
  15. medownsouth

    medownsouth Tele-Meister

    Feb 22, 2020
    Tri State, MS
    Some songs I never stop deep diving
    Teleman likes this.
  16. Dismalhead

    Dismalhead Poster Extraordinaire

    Feb 16, 2014
    Sacramento, California
    I have OCD and I (somewhat unwillingly) apply my OCD to some of my musical habits, including performing. I'll play a song a thousand times until it's perfect every time. I don't do note-for-note often though, unless I consider it to be essential to the song. To the chagrin of my significant others, sometimes I'll play the same song over and over again for hours, days, weeks.
  17. Downshift

    Downshift Tele-Holic

    Jan 16, 2006
    My playing got a lot better when I started taking the time to learn songs note for note.

    If you only learn the basics, and input your own improvisation over it, you'll only ever have the same basic tools. If you learn someone else's note for note, those note choices and techniques find their way into your toolbox to use in your own way.
    Popejocko and rickthescot like this.
  18. T Prior

    T Prior Poster Extraordinaire

    Mar 17, 2003
    Charlotte NC
    We should learn as much as we can handle. We are very divided on this topic. Some say we are nuts and its a waste of time to learn things note for note, which in the scheme of things is probably NOT note for note but something close and identifiable .

    Why does it matter, if someone wants to woodshed and learn something ICONIC, how is that a bad thing ?

    Growing up , listening to the Ventures, Chuck Berry , then the Stones etc...this is how MILLIONS learned how to play guitar in the first place !

    here's what I do know.

    An Iconic song, pick one...any song with a massively KNOWN and recognized ICONIC guitar solo. You pick it.

    Go out and play that song on the bandstand, rock out..have fun. Play your own thing, don't waste your time learning the ICONIC phrases, as simple as they may actually be.

    Take a wild guess who knows we ain't playing it right. The first people that know are your bandmates. They may love what you are playing but they also know its NOT the song phrases. This is the point where we, as rocking out guitar players are living in a small window, regardless of how good we may be.

    As mentioned correctly in an above comment, when we always play our own thing, with no direct influence to the song at hand, we end up playing the same thing on every song. Groundhog Day. Unless of course we have 3 or 4 hours worth of totally different solos in our arsenal ! I know I don't !

    Yep, here it comes again Blues at the 5th fret, bending the 2nd string at the 8th fret , how exciting !

    Even SRV emulated Jimmy on certain Iconic songs, think about that for a moment.
    Last edited: Apr 4, 2020
    Skub likes this.
  19. brookdalebill

    brookdalebill Tele Axpert Ad Free Member

    Nov 15, 2009
    Austin, Tx
    Personally, not long.
    I have lots of experience.
    Some of the folks I play with never learn the stuff they perform.
    It’s important to me that my audience recognize the tune I’m covering.
    It takes me longer to get lyrics than chord changes, intros and solos.
    I actually have very little trouble with lyrics, it’s the song’s construction/arrangement that sometimes trips me up.
    I can usually own a new song in 10–15 minutes.
    Skub likes this.
  20. beagle

    beagle Friend of Leo's

    Jul 20, 2010
    Ditto. As long as it takes to be recognisable. Remembering all the words of seven verses and in the right order, may take a little longer...
IMPORTANT: Treat everyone here with respect, no matter how difficult!
No sex, drug, political, religion or hate discussion permitted here.

  1. This site uses cookies to help personalise content, tailor your experience and to keep you logged in if you register.
    By continuing to use this site, you are consenting to our use of cookies.