Technique: Your way of learning a song accurately

Have any of you been in a moment where you're puzzling over a song that just can't get right? You look at the music and try to play it, but it just doesn't fit? Been there, done that. I kinda puts you off, too.

When I started to play Soldier's Joy, I realized that (this is beginner) the first bit is in fact an arpeggio! Pieces of the puzzle came zooming in, and I could play it perfectly.

Sometimes I improvise, which usually is creative, but I do stick to the music.

How do you work out your songs? There are so many techniques out there!


  • Hi Kimberly, and welcome to the forums. Good question.

    I tried learning Soldier's Joy when the compilation for it was announced a few years back, but I just couldn't get my head around it, so I gave up on it.  I had a lot on my mind at that time.  There have been other tunes and songs that I just couldn't figure out despite my playing them over and over again via a recording. The easiest way for me and a LOT of other people to learn a new tune or song, is to break it down into parts / phrases and play just ONE part / phrase until I get it right and into my memory. Then move on to the next part / phrase, get it right, and so on.  Repeat. Repeat. Repeat, until I get it right and into memory --- muscle as well as brain memory.

    On the fiddle, I usually improvised and didn't always play by the notation. Sometimes I didn't have access to the notation. I personally wouldn't have played a tune in public that I have improvised too much, because the audience may know that particular tune, and they may not like my playing of it if my improvisation of it roams too far from the original.
  • Hey Great Scott,

    I see what you're saying. Getting it drilled into your head by playing it over and over again is the key, same with playing it bit by bit. I do do that.

    Thanks, great technique!
  • I've tried doing everything note-for-note, but apparently that works for some, but not for all.  I guess it all boils down to what you want.  These lessons here on BGD are usually modeled after some of the great fiddlers, both current and from the past, and they are great sources of learning.  I guess then we all have the luxury of learning from the greats, as presented by our Bluegrass Daddy, as only he can break them down and teach them.  Once we learn, we have options...we can preserve these tunes exactly as played by some great fiddler, or we can get the sketchy idea of the tune down and then just improvise on our own with it, finding our own version.  Of course none of this would have to be static...we as musicians are always at liberty to take liberties with our music whenever we choose.

    I usually like to improvise in my own way.  I'm not too worried about what anyone listening thinks, but I do take in criticism and consider it, in case I'm way off base with something and need to change...generally, though, I like to play it however it makes me feel happy, hoping somehow there will be others who are made happy by hearing it.

    But I do try, while learning, to get the notes as I hear them and see them played, as close as I can get...I gotta know what it is I'm trying to, whether I can actually play those notes as they are or not...I like to at least understand what it sounds like before I go to "fiddling around" too much with it.

    I remember seeing an interview with the guitarist, Chet Atkins, one time.  He was saying he always explored the easy way to get to things he wanted to put into his playing...avoiding the hard stuff.  Well that hit home with me...I'm like...ok, if Chet can, so can I .  And I always search for the way that'll be easiest for me to get at least close to what it is I'm trying to do.
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