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Practice Makes Perfect

When it comes to playing an instrument and learning a new song there really is no substitute for practice. The way you go about it however, can dramatically affect the time it takes to perfect your song. I'm going to go through a few of the methods I use which I hope will help to build your repertoire.

For the purposes of this article, I'm going to assume that you want to learn and practice a new song, but the same applies whatever the music type you're learning. I'll also assume that you are not an expert at reading musical score. The single most important part of learning to play a new song is to be able to hear it in your head from start to finish. This is especially true if you are working from a chord song book. Unless you can hear in your head how it's supposed to sound, you won't get your body to reproduce the sound of the song! You'll also lack direction and won't have a point of reference to know if it's sounding right or not. These days it's easy to get a copy of almost any song you want for a small cost.

I-Tunes is just one such service where for 79p you can search for and buy the song you want to play. The number of songs available is astounding. Transfer the song to your iPod or MP3 player, or make a CD or tape for the car and play it over and over until you know it off by heart.

This part cannot be emphasised enough. Picture yourself playing or singing the song as you listen to it. By doing this you will actually be programming your mind and body to be able to play it and it will cut your learning time down dramatically. Listen to the song and keep rewinding it in small sections until you can hear the whole song in your head from beginning to end. If you're a singer keep rewinding it section by section until you know the words and can sing the notes in a way you're happy with. Personally, I love practising in the car.

I have the song I'm learning blasting out on the stereo, there's no-one around to witness my fumbled attempts to reach the high notes and I can rewind it a verse at a time without anyone moaning! Even if you're not a singer, you need to know the words and tune off by heart, so hum or whistle it instead and hear the song on your head. If you invest in an iPod or cheap MP3 player it is much easier to rewind to the beginning of a section you need to work on. Once you know the song off by heart it's time to start with your voice or instrument. Start off slowly. If you try to play a song that's new to you at full speed, you'll only wind up teaching your body to perform it wrong. Again, using the song you downloaded, you can play and learn small sections at a time.

You are much more likely to progress quickly if you do this. And of course most songs are made up of only a few parts repeated several times, so by perfecting half a verse, then the other half, then the chorus, you nearly have the whole song licked! Trying to play through a whole song from start to finish can be soul destroying. You'll feel like you're getting nowhere and want to give up. Perfecting one small part at a time gives you a sense of achievement and gives you the impetus to learn the rest. Record yourself!! Sometimes you find that you can hear on the recording what's going wrong, and how to fix it. Also you may well find that it sounds better than you thought.

I usually record myself on the PC. Nothing fancy, just the mike and simple sound recorder, but it's enough to be able to hear what I need, and more importantly it's easier to erase an embarrassing recording I wouldn't want anyone else to hear! Once you've learnt the new song remember to keep practicing it. Once a song is in your repertoire, simply hearing the song will keep what you've learnt in your head, so use that iPod or MP3 player and play all the songs you know to yourself often. 90% of the battle is hearing the song in your head before you start playing.

Sam Salmon runs I Wanted to be a Pop Star helping amateur musicians find musicians.

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