Have you too been a guitar fanatic in your teenage years? You too had those Guns n Roses posters all over your room and the metallic trousers, leather jackets, and funk jewelry occupied most of your wardrobe? Well, then you surely must have wondered watching your favorite guitarists live about how they keep playing songs after songs for hours without having a book in their hand? Is the human brain so powerful or these guitarists are just extraordinary people with exceptional human skills?
The truth is – it’s practice, practice, practice, and grinding your cognitive skills to a level where memorization is no more a secondary process but a primary process of your functioning. That’s just how guitarists live their lives and become iconic figures on stage. How to memorize guitar songs is not a complex process.
Let’s look at it more to understand this better.
Why is memorizing music so important?
It is almost impossible for a guitarist to build his repertoire and play music seamlessly on stage unless he masters his techniques. Memorization is the key to mastering the skills and the right way to burn the specifics and details into the brain.
Musicians are not superhumans. They can’t go on entertaining you with their best performances if they continuously keep looking at sheet music in front of them. The key to wonderful music is being able to focus on the tonal quality and the hearing part than the reading part on the stage.
Superior level of concentration
As a performer on stage, you need to be deep-rooted into every nuance of your art. When a musician is deeply involved in playing out every piece from his mind into the real world, he will no longer be focusing on the reading part and thus his concentration level will be at the optimum.
Supreme presentation and performance
This is a big reality check. For a guitarist, it is of prime importance to play any kind of music on a public platform. Imagine the embarrassment when you have difficulty memorizing a particular song that you are asked to play, being a world-class musician. To be a top-level performer, you need to hone your skills to the level that playing every song becomes the easiest thing in the world.
When on stage, a guitarist has to make sure that he can deeply entertain a crowd for hours. This means creating mesmerizing music without having to feel burned out or getting stuck up anytime in between. It is only ideal to play memorized music in multiple styles for hours if you aim to be a top-class musician on stage.
The repercussions of not memorizing Music: How a Guitarist fails
The consequences of not being able to memorize music can be detrimental to a musician. Almost like non-exercise can be detrimental to our health.
What gives greater artistic freedom to the performance technique of a musician is the ability to use his memorizing power. It is this power that helps them master their improvisation skills and help them render a performance that becomes memorable in every aspect. As an audience you would only enjoy a guitarist who is playing his heart out to you rather than focusing on reading music and getting lost in his performance altogether.
What are the right ways to memorize music? Let’s look at some of the foremost ways :
TIP 1: The Art of Repetition
Memorization concepts play a big role in performing on stage like a pro. Although as an audience we may not understand, there are so many techniques involved in playing music that a superb level of memorization is not just essential but mandatory.
When we focus on a habit regularly and keep practicing it diligently without fail, it becomes an etched piece of our memory. And this etched piece creates magic, and it is this magic that musicians are yearning for. Can we ever imagine Jimi Hendrix reading a piece of sheet music and playing guitar to us, not right? Because in order to perform on stage and be a world-class performer, massive repetition and having a deep understanding of how the chords, melodies, and lyrics all work together in unison.
Music is a science and so is playing the guitar. It is a skill to recall instantly the formula of a scale, the fingering for a chord, or simply the name of notes on the neck. This comes with a whole lot of improvisation and songwriting practice.
Some specific practice methods can effectively do this memorization.
One of these methods is brutal repetition or rote memorization. When a musician takes the steps to learn the chords, melodies, and lyrics of a particular song and does it on repeated mode, it will be engraved into his memory like a piece of concrete. A good way is to break up the song into pieces and then go about learning and working on each piece separately until it becomes a united piece.
The most effective way to memorize the set is to learn each song, write the set, and practice repeatedly if a musician wants to learn a set of songs to play in a performance.
The best thing is always to practice all the songs in an entire set multiple times over so that the musician is more confident in his ability to recall all the parts he needs to play from memory when he steps on stage.
TIP 2: Play it by the ear and make learning easier
Let’s put this straightforwardly. The act of listening to a piece of music repeatedly and attempting to transcribe that through an instrument is a great musical exercise, and this is what it means to learn by the ear. This is almost like how a child learns to take baby steps when he or she just joins the school. We write and summarize, right?
When we listen to something on our own and try to learn it by writing parts of it, we learn it more efficiently than a teacher just handing over a textbook to us. The same is with musicians too.
If a musician listens to a song, transcribes it, and then writes it down in some format, it makes him easier to penetrate it deeper into the memory. Learning by the ear is such a special way of memorizing music. I bet any guitarist would agree, how much easier it is to learn a song by simply hearing it out multiple times himself than by reading from a book or a lesson.
TIP 3: Tuning of chords
Playing and singing can feel complicated and feel much like cooking and baking with both hands at the same time if a musician doesn’t know how to match the chords of a song. This is not a complicated process, but pretty simplified if we look at it closely.
When attempting to commit a piece of music to memory, it is imperative to understand the relationship of all the elements. Any talented musician will agree that the relationship between chords, melodies, and lyrics and how they move, change, and relate to each other can pay massive dividends when performing on stage.
Also, many songs follow this pattern and many musicians love practicing and memorizing this way. It is much easier for someone playing an instrument and singing simultaneously to change chords and lyrics all on the same beat and it is a fun process, too.
TIP 4: Music theory to the rescue
Let’s just say when the light bulb moment happens, music theory becomes a superpower! With knowledge of music theory under your belt, you can cut through the noise to find what information is going to be helpful to you where memorizing is concerned.
A guitarist will enjoy playing more and express himself better when he has a better understanding of music theory to help him out at critical stages.
Music comprises of scales and within these scales lie chords. A musician can find chords that sound great to the listener’s ears when played together. Where memorization is concerned, the guitarist does not even have to remember the exact chords while playing music. He simply learns with time, the scale associated with a particular song, and then further identifies the chords related to that scale.
Additional tips to help your memorization process:
- Start it simple. Pick up simple songs first, which are easier to learn and gradually, as you learn more, move to the difficult ones. This is essential so that you don’t feel lost.
- Make sure you write and learn. Writing the chord progression down on paper is the best process of memorization.
- As they say – if you can hum it you can play it. Before you even pick up your instrument, make sure you have already played it over several times in your head. This is exactly how a pro is created.
- Keep your concentration levels high. Don’t get distracted. Keep your focus and don’t get overwhelmed.
- Keep practicing. There is no shortcut to success. Keep at it. Learn with passion, put on all your hard work, and before you even know it, you will be play out to a packed crowd at a leading concert.
Everything is hard in the beginning, but it is important to not get overwhelmed and stick to the process. It is important to learn like a child and memorize like a child, even for a guitarist to memorize his songs.
This is the same as learning to swim or learning to ride a bicycle. Both don’t seem easy and it requires certain skill sets to become a master at them. But once learned, we are simply jumping in rivers and cycling through mountains without a second thought. This is the power of memorization and the more we focus on the elements rightfully, the more we master our cognitive skills to become masters of our instruments. If we truly understand, how to memorize guitar songs is a process in itself.
Every guitarist is a guitarist only as long as he keeps learning and keeps memorizing.