How do you learn songs?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by keithconn, May 9, 2002.

  1. Hey everyone -

    Question: How do you learn songs? I am going to be playing with someone(guitarist) and need to learn a number of songs. This is my first time(except christmas) where I am learning songs. Mostly I have been taking lessons and going through bass lines, chords, scales etc. I have been trying two different methods and would like to know if anyone has any tricks etc. The music is standard pop-rock stuff.

    First method: Like playing drums, I try to learn the beat, or count along. But I get lost pretty fast doing this, and have to try real hard to not listen to the 'music.'

    Second method: Learn the 'song', or how the bass should sound and go on feel more than anything else. Problem with this is when the changes come up, etc ... But this seems to work better overall.

    If you have a way of making this easier please let me know.

  2. Okay, there are a number of factors, the main one is experience. How long have you been playing? If i want to learn a song I put on the record and try and play by ear, picking it up as i go along and repeating bits i dont get. Now, I used to use tab, and still do for stuff i just cant get (which isnt much im happy to say). Tab is good to begin with, but i wouldnt rely on it, as it is sometimes wrong.

    What songs are you learning. If it's blink 182 or something such as where the bass parts are simple it's easy, and you should have no problem. If you are learning "tommy the cat" or something by primus or chillis i would get the tab and use it to help you through the songs.


    I know this doesnt cover everything you asked, but my brain is tired.
  3. thrash_jazz


    Jan 11, 2002
    Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
    Artist: JAF Basses, Circle K Strings
    If you're covering songs, the best way to do things at first is to learn the song note-for-note and then make changes if you like.

    Get a copy of the song and listen to it, bass in hand. If you know your scales, etc, you should be able to figure out the key and chord progression fairly easily. (Stick to root notes until you've got it)If you get stuck, try sliding around on the fingerboard until you find the right note.

    I'm assuming you're going to be doing standards here. If it's something like Primus, for example, (like drmike said) that's a lot tougher to figure out by ear... Look for some form of written music, be it tabs, notation, or a chord chart.

    If all else fails, get someone to show it to you. There's no harm in that. :cool:
  4. Gabu


    Jan 2, 2001
    Woodland Hills, CA
    find a program for download called "slowblast". That enables you to slow down songs without altering the pitch. It's a great deal for breaking down and learning difficult parts.

    good luck!! :)
  5. I know a program similar to "snowblast" it's called Power Tab. It's a tab program which allows to you actually write out the tab in most instruments you can think of. And then allows you to playback the song to hear what it sounds like (without effects though). I'm probably going to get flamed for this but I've used it in the past to learn songs, you can slow the tempo down, listen to just the bass part (if there is another part tabbed) and many other things...PM me if interested.
  6. wulf


    Apr 11, 2002
    Oxford, UK
    As others have commented, it depends on the kind of songs you are learning; one extra point to bear in mind is that if's its beyond your ability to play, it will be beyond your ability to accurately transcribe. For example, if you've never learnt about harmonics, you're not facing a learning curve should you try to work out 'Portrait of Tracy' - it will feel more like an overhang ;)

    Not that you shouldn't try - learning how somebody else has approached their role in the music is (IMHO) much more enriching than hours and hours spent running up and down scales - but there's no shortcut to experience.

    Presuming you've got something a bit more approachable to work on, the first thing I'd do is play the song lots of times. If you've got the cd - or even better, have the song in an electronic format like .mp3 or .wav - that will make it a lot easier.

    If I've got time, I'll have the set of songs I'm working on spinning round all day. I won't be directly studying them, but they'll be sinking into my consciousness; this also helps me to understand the whole song rather than just zoning in on the bass line.

    Next I'll sit down and start listening to the song a bit harder. Try and get a sense of the task at hand. Are there only a couple of riffs (and maybe one or two fills thrown in) throughout the whole song or is the bass playing some kind of melodic, always changing pattern. I'll also be looking for the structure of the song (eg. verse, verse, chorus, verse, bridge, chorus to fade, or whatever) and trying to identify the pulse and feel.

    Eventually I'll pick up the bass, but by then I'll have a good idea of what I'm aiming for - I should be able to sing along with the bassline throughout the song. Finally, now I've got a structure to work with, I can start filling in the details by playing around on the bass, once more working from the big picture (what's the harmonic structure, where does the bassist seem to be playing, what kind of techniques are being used) to the specific details of the exact notes and timings.

    That sounds like a lot when written down, but the general principle is get the outline first and then fill in the details. Repeat until you've got it down well enough for your situation. If it's a song you already know in a style you're familiar with, you might be able to play along straight away; if you're working with musicians who take a relaxed approach to covering songs, there's no point (apart from building your own skills) to trying to learn every nuance.

    Hope that helps,

  7. brianrost

    brianrost Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2000
    Boston, Taxachusetts
    Having nightmares thinking of trombone tab :eek:
  8. cassanova


    Sep 4, 2000
    I learn them by ear. I listen to the song(s) I need to learn over and over and over again before I even pick up my bass and try to learn them. Then after I do that, I get my bass and play the song. *I usually have a good idea of how the line goes because Ive listened to it* but 1st thing i'll usually do is outline the root motion of progression. Then I'll play the transition notes inbetween them.

    If you dont know you're scales its going to be alot harder for you to learn a tune by ear. And will be a hit or miss task. So at the very least I hope you know one octave ones.
  9. cassanova


    Sep 4, 2000

    do you have the slowblast or slowgold demo?
  10. Thanks everyone for you helpful advice.

    I guess I should have been more specific when asking my question. I will be learning stuff like Led Zep, Pink Floyd, Radiohead, TomPetty, etc. Nothing that hard. But still, I've only been playing for just over 6months - even though I am 29(late bloomer). Its a very relaxed situation, but I still want to know the songs, and be good, even if I don't know all the parts. I do take lessons, so instead of the usual jazz/blues theory(which I am completly lost in) I may start asking to learn some Pop/Rock stuff for a change.

    I'm getting a CD from the other guy with all the songs, so I'm going to spend a lot of time listening to it, getting a real feel for what the bass is doing in each. Its going to be a challenge for me, but I realize that playing with someone else is the best way to get better.

    - Just as a personal note of acomplishment, I went back to one of my first books last night and to my total suprise I cooked through the entire book, playing everything by sight - perfect! I was pretty psyched to see that progress had been made. Sometimes I just start feeling really bogged down, and it was fun to see that I had infact gotten a lot better-

    Thanks again everyone!
  11. crazy1


    Feb 6, 2002
    I play a couple pink floyd and they are pretty easy to figure out by ear. Led Zepplin is a little more difficult, but possible. I usually try and learn by ear and if I get stuck then I go to tab for help. Tab is not always reliable but sometimes good for those parts you just can't grasp. By the way I am a late bloomer too. I have been playing about 8 months and I am 30 and a girl. My hubby plays guitar and he helped me learn. Good luck to you!