How to learn music quickly and thoroughly


This post is intended for musicians who often need to learn and/or memorize music quickly.  Any working musician is required to learn a steady stream of new music for his/her gigs, and it’s often necessary to learn material simultaneously for multiple gigs.  By developing a focused and efficient method, one can learn music quickly and thoroughly.   Knowing the music inside-out will make you comfortable and confident on the gig, which is recipe for tapping into your best musicianship & deeper creativity…. achieving this on the gig is the name of the musician game.

Before we begin, two very important thoughts:  

To learn music in a short amount of time, it’s necessary to put other distractions on hold.  CLOSE YOUR INTERNET BROWSER.  Put your phone on silent mode and place it in another room.  Don’t deal with texts, emails, and internet while learning music- it will save you time and improve the quality of your learning session. Seriously.

It’s best to learn music on a song by song basis.  If you must learn 10 songs, learn one at a time.  Do not start listening to the second song until you’ve learned the first.

Ok let’s get to it:  

STEP 1:  Just Listen

Before you tackle the analytical thinking about melody, chords, form, groove, etc it’s SUPER important to just listen to a song!  Focus on the the lyrics, the mood, the feelings it evokes, the ‘vibe’, the sound.  Dance to it.  Be a listener, an appreciator of music instead of an analyzer and judge of it.  Let your intuition do the listening,  If you’re tight on time, listen to the song ONCE with this mind set.  If you’re not cramming, the more you listen in this mind set, the better!

STEP 2:  Chart it out

Once you feel that you have a soul-based understanding of the song, it’s time to look under the hood and discover the structure and order of this piece of music.  This can be done with an instrument in your hand or without it, up to you.

The idea here is to put the song on paper.  You don’t need to know how to formally write music to do this.  I encourage you to develop your own short-hand version of writing charts for yourself.  The shorthand chart exists to give you key information about the song (groove, form, tempo, chords, breaks, hits, intros, endings, etc.).  The attached photo above is one of my shorthand charts, and it shows my charting method that I’ve developed over the years.  The chart IS something that you’ll be able to read at the gig, but the goal is to play the gig without charts.  The chart is a KEY step to learning music because it allows you to VISUALIZE the song.  So much of playing and creating music is based on shapes.  I’m not trying to be philosophical here, but factual.  The brain uses shapes, images, and visuals to interpret and remember music.  When you’re at the gig playing the song chartless, you’ll may notice that you visualize your shorthand chart to ‘see’ what’s coming up next in the song.

STEP 3:  Commit it to memory

Now that you understand the nuts & bolts of how the song operates, it’s time to put all of that information on the chart into your brain.  You can do this by listening to the song and following along on your chart.  Take a minute, without the song playing and memorize the chart… then listen back without the chart and visualize what is happening in the song as you listen.  You’re now bridging the gap between your intuition, analysis, and memory.

STEP 4:  No more charts

It’s now time to cement the music in your mind and body.  Pick up your instrument and play through the song with the record.  If you fumble, stop and figure out what is giving you trouble.  A chart can be a crutch, and many times you won’t realize how well you actually know a song until you’re unable to follow your cheat sheet.  It may seem that your conscious understanding of a song is the true measure of how well you know it, but the subconscious mind and intuition absorb information in a way all their own.  Playing a song down will show you what you’ve absorbed.

STEP 5:  Full circle

In order to play newly learned music with deep inspiration, you must hear it as you did in Step 1… as a curious, non- judgmental listener.  After you’ve digested the song, casually listen to it.   Play it during your commute, when you’re doing the dishes, or cleaning the house.  This pushes the song deeper into your subconscious and intuition, and will give you easier access to that ‘magic’ we chase as artists.  When music is played from this plane, it is charged with self-expression, soul, and excitement; exactly what both you and your audience are looking for.

Josh GiuntaComment