How To Learn A Complex Piece Of Music On Guitar

Tommaso Zillio

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learn complex music

Learning a new piece of music could be absolute pleasure for some guitar players, and complete hell for others. In fact, most guitarists do not really know what to do when they have to learn by heart a long, complex piece.

The goals here are to:

  1. Minimize the amount of work and time required (after all, why spending a month learning a song when you can do it in 2-3 days?)

  2. Making the performance as effortless and fluid as possible (without forgetting "what comes next")

  3. Learning the piece permanently so you avoid having to study the same piece from scratch in future (you may have to brush up on the details, but you remember most of it)

There are a few basic ideas that guitarists (and not only) use to learn a new piece of music:

  • Most guitarists rehearse the piece by playing it from beginning to end. This can work, but it wastes a lot of time. In fact if you do it this way you put a glass ceiling on yourself: you limit yourself to short simple pieces, and it becomes impossible for you to learn any piece that is longer or complex, or both.

  • Some people break the piece up in short sections, and then they learn each section by itself. This works better than the above, but when they play you can still see that they 'stumble' on the hard parts.

  • Some guitarists use a smarter strategy. Not only do they break up the piece in smaller parts, but they also spend more time on the 'hard' parts of the piece. That's even better than the previous idea, but very often they end up sounding like they are playing "one lick after another"... because that's exactly what they are doing.

So what should you do?

In the video below I guide a student through making a memorized piece more fluid, and we talk about how to rehearse the piece in the shortest possible amount of time for maximum effectiveness.

I also share some "tricks of the pros" that I learned while working with a theatre company (actors are super-professionals and hard workers when it comes to rehearsals, we musicians definitely have something to learn from them)

As you can see, the "cue-to-cue" rehearsal technique (or "Q2Q" in jargon) can be a powerful way to practice a long piece multiple times in a very short amount of time. This idea alone can save you days and days of rehearsals on a new piece.

Have fun learning new music! And if you want help being able to writing your own music, check out this killer course on harmony on guitar: knowing how harmony applies to your instrument is important if you want to compose anything that goes beyond "cowboy chords".


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