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Learning New Songs on a Deadline

We play a lot of wedding receptions with Piano Fondue, and as a result, I often have to learn some new songs for first dances and the like. I’d like to share some tips and tricks I use for learning new songs quickly. This is for learning by ear – if you have the sheet music in front of you it’s kind of unnecessary. I usually just have a lyric sheet in front of me for this type of performance. [bonus tip – for memorizing lyrics, write them down a couple times]

  • First, don’t cram the day of. It’s very hard to keep a song solidly in your head from only one impression – even if it’s a few times through. Unless you are certain that you’ll have the chance to listen to the song immediately before performing it, this is risky. Any tune you hear between listening and performing will start to contaminate the memory. If some sort of emergency crops up, and you only get one day, then try to take breaks between listenings – an hour is good, making sure to listen to other songs in between to really solidify the song.
  • Ideally, I like taking five days to a week to really get a song solid. I don’t know the brain science behind it, but I find that if I don’t listen to the song every day, but take a day or two off in between, the second listening is much more effective – must be some sort of long-term vs. short-term memory thing.
  • Pay close attention to the bridge and try to learn it first. The bridge is usually the toughest part to get solidly since it typically only happens once in the song. Try to remember how it goes while listening to the first couple verses.
  • If you can play an instrument, play along with the song. It will help solidify any weird changes in the tune.
  • Try to sing the song by yourself between listenings. Singing along with the recording isn’t usually as helpful – you may start relying on cues that won’t be there when you perform it live.

Good luck. If there is one tip that I would recommend above the others, it’s putting space between listenings. It does wonders. Keep singing!

-Josh

Do you have any tips for learning music quickly? Share them below!

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