A song is generally comprised of several sections (ex. intro, verse, pre-chorus, chorus, bridge, interlude, outro, etc.)

Of course, not all songs follow the same structure; but every song can be divided into sections.

Here Are Your 3 Keys to Success

Key #1: Divide the Song into Sections

First and foremost, don’t try to play the song from beginning to end.

Aside from browsing through the piece to see what you’re up against, you’ll want to learn and practice each section as a separate entity.

How to divide the song into sections:

First, designate a letter name for each main section (ex. Intro = “A”, Verse 1 = “B”, Pre-Chorus = “C”, etc.)

This will help you to see the big picture in a manageable way. (Later on, your goal will be to master each of these sections independently of one another.)

Next, number each measure within each section (ex. measure 1 of the intro = “1”, measure 1 of the verse = “1”, measure 1 of the pre-chorus = “1”, etc.)

This will help you to take each section in bite-sized pieces.

At this point, you will have a name for every measure in the entire song.

For example, the 4th measure (“4”) of Verse 1 (labeled “B”) would be called B4.

Key #2: Practice One Measure at a Time (and RELAX)

This is of paramount importance, especially with challenging pieces of music.

Practicing one measure at a time will allow you to focus on every aspect of your technique and play with as little tension as possible.

Even if you’re simply reviewing a part you’ve already learned, you’ll now have a chance to observe yourself with a critical eye, ear, and hyper-awareness of any tension in your body (not just your hands).

Side note: I’ve seen students flexing their ankles while trying to play a difficult passage and it actually hinders their playing. How do I know? Because when I pointed it out and had them relax their playing suddenly improved!

Key #3: Practice Linking Measures Together

Once you’ve practiced two adjacent measures, try playing through them without stopping

Do you notice a “hiccup” at the transition point between the measures?

If so, it’s because you practiced each measure without yet having practiced the transition.

How do we solve this issue?

Easy.

Practice the point of transition between the two measures.

How to Practice the Point of Transition

Smoothly connect the last 2-4 notes of the 1st measure with the first 2-4 notes of the 2nd

You’ll want to spend as much time on this point of transition as you did on each individual measure.

Yes, it’s tedious and I hate it too, but I know it works.

That’s why I recommend using a timer and setting it for 2 minutes.

Repeat the transition over and over, playing slowly, carefully, and RELAXED.

A word of caution:

If you’re tempted to speed up and see if you can do it faster, stop immediately because you’re likely reinforcing bad habits. This is a sign that you’ll want to start using a metronome while practicing.

If you’re tempted to speed up and see if you can do it faster, stop immediately because you’re likely reinforcing bad habits. This is a sign that you’ll want to start using a metronome while practicing.

Once you’ve smoothed out the transition, play through both measures only as fast as you can play perfectly and effortlessly.

Remember: speed is a byproduct of accuracy; not the other way around.

You can be the fastest racecar driver in the world, but if you can’t control the car then you’re going to crash every time…and that won’t win many races. (The story of the tortoise and the hare still holds true.)

Continue this process for each pair of measures in section A.

After doing this, you will be able to play smoothly, effortlessly, and flawlessly from the first note to the last note of the section

Troubleshooting

If you’re still having trouble, try the following:

  1. Start linking 3 measures together (ex. 1-3, 2-4, 3-5, 4-6, 5-7, 6-8).
  2. Then link 4 measures together (ex. 1-4, 2-5, 3-6, 4-7, 5-8).
  3. Now try playing all the way through the section.

 

A Few Words on Mindset

This may seem like a lot of work, but it can actually be a very meditative and stress-relieving experience if you let go and surrender to the process knowing that IT’S GOING TO HAPPEN.

Whenever I feel anxious or frustrated with my playing, I’ve learned to take a few deep breaths (while I’m repeating a phrase or exercise) and say to myself, “I’m allowing it to happen.”

What exactly am I allowing to happen? I’m allowing my hands and fingers to move effortlessly.

As Classical guitar virtuoso Pepe Romero famously said, “To play the guitar well is easy, to play the guitar poorly is difficult.”