How to Learn a Song

Three Methods:Breaking Down the SongLearning New Instrumental PartsLearning Vocal Parts

Having trouble learning a new song you like? Whether you're singing the lyrics or trying to play along, taking the time to get to know the song well is a great way to practice music and learn from other musicians. While having some idea of music theory is always nice, it is not necessary to learn your favorite songs.

Method 1
Breaking Down the Song

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    Listen to the song 3-4 times in silence. Don't try to sing or practice along just yet-- you'll be practicing the wrong words and melodies until you know the song well. Listen for the lyrics, the melody, and how the singer reacts to the band or backing track.
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    Learn the song's rhythm. Most music has a consistent pattern of "beats" that keeps the entire band playing at the same time. The easiest way to learn the rhythm of a song is to tap your feet along with the song. Each "tap" is a beat. In modern songs, listening to the kick drum (the deepest sounding drum) is the easiest way find rhythm if you are unsure.
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    Some genres and bands will "play" with rhythm-- changing it mid-song or "hiding" it in other rhythms. This is usually found in jazz or metal, or old song's without consistent beats.
    • Time signatures, like 4/4 or 3/2, are used to write out rhythm. The first number tells you how many beats are in a measure, and the second tells you the length of each beat. 4/4 is the most common, and it means that the song repeats 4 beats of 4 quarter notes (1 2 3 4, 1 2 3 4, 1 2 3 4, etc).
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    Find the song's key if you play a melody instrument. Any instrument that plays notes and chords is a melody instrument. Often, finding the root note is usually as easy as finding the first note played. The song's key most important part of it's melodic structure, and is the first thing you need to know to figure out a song.
    • To find a song's key, look for the one note that you can play over every section of the song without sounding bad or "out of key."
    • It can help to hum to a song. Our brains are wired to understand melody, and often the first note you will try to hum is the song's key. Find the note on your instrument that matches your humming and you have the key![1]
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    Lean how to read music. Sheet music is a blueprint for playing a song. If you play an orchestral instrument or a piano, reading music is essential to learning new songs, but all instruments can benefit from written music. Spend some time every day practicing reading music and look up notes or symbols your don't know.
    • Reading music can also help teach music theory, which will help you decipher songs that you can't find music for.
    • Guitars, bass guitars, and drums are often written in "tablature," a simplified way of reading music that tells you where to place your hands or drumsticks instead of what notes to play.
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    Learn the song by ear if you cannot buy or find sheet music. This can be difficult for some songs, but start by finding out what key the song is in and what tempo it is at. Then experiment from there with relevant scales, chords, and rhythms until you feel confident that you know the song.[2]
    • Write down the part as you figure it out so you don't forget anything.
    • Work slowly, writing out 2-3 bars of the song at a time before moving on.
    • Bring songs you are struggling to learn to a teacher or experienced player and see if they know the part or can help learn it.

Method 2
Learning New Instrumental Parts

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    Perform warm up and technical exercises to improve your play. Instrumentalists of all skill levels need to warm up to play their best. Warming up and performing exercises regularly will improve your speed, technique, and knowledge of your instrument.
    • Tune your instrument every time you play so that you learn the correct notes for the song.
    • Try new scales and rhythms in different keys and tempos to prepare for new songs.
    • Take care of your instrument with new strings, reeds, drum heads, etc. so that you get the sound you want.
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    Listen to the song 3-4 times paying specific attention to your instrument. You should be familiar with the entire song, but you need to know your instrument's part like the back of your hand. Search the internet for a copy of the song without any vocals, if applicable.
    • Playing with your music player's equalizer can help isolate your instrument. Pump up the bass, or turn up the treble to hear the drums.
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    For percussionists, add one drum at a time to help you learn the song quickly. The snare drum is often easiest to hear, so learn the whole snare drum rhythm first. Then add the ride cymbal rhythm, then move on to the kick drum, etc.
    • Get the basic rhythm down before trying any wild solos or drum fills.
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    Figure out the song's pattern. Most songs are composed of several bars of music that are repeated many times. Once you know a few "building blocks" of the song you can learn these separately and combine them later.
    • Most parts are either 1,2,4, or 8 bars longs.
    • Different parts of songs (verses, choruses, bridges, solos) often have slightly different parts that repeat. Learn each part individually.
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    Start practicing at a slower tempo, then build up speed. To make sure that you can play the song cleanly and without mistakes, start practicing the song around half the tempo you eventually want to play it. As you get comfortable, speed up your play while practicing.[3]
    • A metronome is an invaluable way to practice your rhythm and work your way up to the right tempo.
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    Play your instrument along with the original song. This let's you hear if you played each part correctly or missed notes. If you can gather some musicians together, play the song with a full band, where can play your instrument without any guidance or support.
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    Improvise new lines over what you've learned. Improvisation is the act of spontaneously composing new parts over an established song, and is the best way to know if you can play a song. By taking inspiration from the song and adding your own spin, you deepen your connection to the song and make it your own. Remember-- you need to stay in the same key and keep the same rhythm.
    • Scales are collections of notes that sound good together and are the basis for melody solos and improvisation. Play around with a scale in the correct key to start improvising. The most common scales in modern music are the major scale and the minor pentatonic.
    • If you keep the same number of beats you can change the speed by doubling or tripping your percussion hits. For example, if a song is in 4/4 (4 beats to a measure), you can play "double time" by playing twice as many notes in the same rhythm, making 8/4.
    • Play around to the original song. If you have a recording of the song, play it in the background while you try to invent new parts over the top of it.

Method 3
Learning Vocal Parts

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    Memorize the lyrics using a book or online source. Look up the words to the song if you have any confusion about what you're hearing. Keep singing along with the lyrics in front of you until you feel like you have them memorized, likely five or six times depending on the song.
    • As you get comfortable, close your eyes and sing sections to see if you have them down.
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    Practice good singing habits. While everyone is born with a set vocal "range," taking care of your voice and practicing vocal exercises can make the difference between nailing a song and struggling. And, though everyone has a set range, you need to practice in order to reach that range. to hit every note.
    • Always warm up your voice before singing.[4]
    • Try not to scream or yell during the day, as it strains your vocal chords.
    • Have a reference note on hand if you are having trouble staying in tune.
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    Break down the song into smaller parts. Practice each verse on it's own, perfecting one before moving on to the next. Mastering the hard parts instead of trying to sing the entire song every time will highlight and eliminate mistakes faster.
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    Practice as often as you can. Keep singing the song until you feel comfortable, and don't be afraid to "make it your own" with little changes and personality. try to find an instrumental version of the song so that you can focus solely on your own vocals.
    • If you can, record yourself singing and listen in to find any mistakes.
    • Play a melody instrument, like a guitar or piano, so you can sing without the backing track to guide you.
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    Find your connection to the lyrics. To make a song truly good you need to dive into why the song is important to you. Why did you choose to learn this song, and how do the lyrics affect you? By tapping into these feelings you'll start singing the song with a passion and uniqueness that will make the song shine.
    • Don't over think this -- just keep practicing until you concentrate less on the notes and more on the feelings behind them.


  • Search for lyrics so that you will memorize them better.
  • Follow up with the words when you hear them.
  • Understand what the song is about and try to make a connection to the song.
  • Listen to the rhythm carefully.


  • In most circumstances, copyright law states that it is illegal to play someone else's song and make a profit off it.

Article Info

Categories: Songs and Song Writing