Learning Covers

July 9, 2008 8:04 PM

What are your tips on learning others' songs, especially a lot of them in a short amount of time?

I got myself in a bit of a bind, one that will be familiar to many of you. I agreed to do a couple of different projects at around the same time without thinking about the dates too much, and now I'm trying feverishly to memorize fourteen cover songs in the space of about two weeks. MeFiMu seemed like a good place to go for some advice.

Some details: I'll be playing guitar on all of them, and singing on about half. About half of them are published rock songs I can find tabs for on the internet, the other half are some rather complex originals.

Maybe there's no great advice to be had besides "listen to them a lot and try to play along", but if you have suggestions I'd be grateful for them.

Also sorry if this belongs in AskMe. . I'm newb.
posted by arcanecrowbar (7 comments total)

If you want to fire me an Mefimail, or list the songs here, I'm sure I could work some of them out for you - its about my only natural talent. I can work out the chords quick enough, but the fiddly-diddly lead bits you might be on your own for.
posted by Jofus at 2:46 AM on July 10, 2008

Alas its the fiddly bits that are holding me up. Figuring out what the notes are isn't that hard, it's memorizing small transitions, second endings to parts, etc. and remembering the song's flow from beginning to end. Probably there's no shortcut for this, but thank you!
posted by arcanecrowbar at 10:36 AM on July 10, 2008

I listened to a radio interview with ?uestlove of the Roots. He was talking about learning something like 100 songs for a string of shows that they had to perform. He said, basically, "18 times". Play each song, 18 times in a row. Devote a few hours a day to a song and play it 18 times in a row. He said that you won't forget them after that many times. It would clearly require discipline to do it. But I would trust his advice on that one.
posted by dobie at 11:17 AM on July 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

This might be ugly.

In Metaphors for the Jazz by Randy Halberstadt, he explains what he says is the most efficient way of learning a song.

Play the first 2 bars four times. Play the 2nd & the 3rd bars four times. Play all 3 bars together once. Play the 3rd & the 4th bars four times. Play all 4 bars together once. On to the 4th & 5th bars. Continue to the end of the song. Here's a picture which may make things more confusing:

====4 TIMES-====................................
...............====4 TIMES=====................
..............................=====4 TIMES=====
posted by Bearman at 12:39 PM on July 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

It depends on the context. Also, you don't mention if you're solo.
I had to do this a few years ago, for a friend's wedding. Me and 2 other guys played, basically, all my friends favourite songs (he gave us a list.) We had the luxury of rehearsing 3 or 4 times before the day and figuring out that guy#1 could play the crazy harpsichord solo from "In My Life" on his guitar if I sang the vocals or I could do the harmony for whatever Police song we did if guy#2 could do the bass riff...that kind of thing.
If you can't play something, let the another guy do it or do something that covers the fact that you can't do it.

If you're solo, then strip the song down to it's bare essentials and just project or imply the part that's giving you trouble. If you sing it honestly and play it in your own style, nobody's going to care if you nailed the wanky solo. Just get the gist of the song and play it a bunch of times, as others have suggested.
That said, I have huge stage fright and my mind wanders in a live situation so much that even focusing on "remember the words, remember the words" causes me to forget the words and make dumb faces and panic when I fuck them up. A few weeks ago I backed up my brother at a big live show he played and he made cheat sheets for lyrics, but never used them. I think that just the knowledge of having them at his feet relaxed him a bit.
Good luck!
posted by chococat at 3:35 PM on July 10, 2008

Thanks all, I'm going to try a simpler variation on Bearman's idea, and try to get the main gist without sweating the details too much. Now its just repetition, repetition, repetition . . . :)
posted by arcanecrowbar at 4:33 PM on July 10, 2008

Yep. Just to repeat what everyone else said, its repetition.
posted by Jofus at 11:58 PM on July 10, 2008

« Older Good recordist reading?   |   Reveal your secrets Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments