This question kind of falls under how does one study music, and how that translates to a place where one can than play a song they actually want to play.

I understand that practice makes perfect, but I have a hard time to remmain encouraged to continue studying when it seems I'm playing the same songs over and over again. Is rote repetition of a song really a good way to learn to make music on an instrument or just a good way to memorize a song?

How do I get from clumsily trying to find the notes on my instrument to actually playing a song I want to play? I can sort of see how repeat play of song can teach you where the note is, but is it like language, where you feel like you are saying nonsense for months until all of a sudden it "Clicks" and you can't really explain what is different, or is there a way to get to that point that may help me feel like progress is being made?

How does one measure said progress?

  • There won't be a click point. You practice the fundamentals and read chord charts, notation or tabs for the song you like and play along to it. Learning any instrument is a never ending process and you can only get better as you learn more
    – scrowler
    Commented Jan 9, 2015 at 4:04
  • Maybe this question is too broad. I think it strongly depends on the instrument you want to play (and on the "difficulty" of the song you want to play). But to give a small "guideline" I usually just try to play the song. When I spot difficulties, then I try to get the theory behind it and try to practise the correspondent technique
    – MartinK
    Commented Jan 9, 2015 at 9:15
  • 1
    Get a teacher, and write down a list of songs you love that you would like to learn. The teacher will pick the best ones for your level of ability. A teacher will also increase the speed at which you progress. Commented Jan 9, 2015 at 16:01
  • If you're playing rock or blues, etc. then learn basic theory, develop some chops, and get out there and play with others - jam and experiment in a context where you're not ashamed if something doesn't work right. Just do it - don't worry about particular songs - just jump in - that's how you learn to play music.
    – Stinkfoot
    Commented Jan 11, 2015 at 2:34
  • Probably the best thing to do is try to get explicit as you can about your goals. pick up any guitar book and play any song? play with others, regardless of genre? Gimme a lil help here :-)
    – ari gold
    Commented Jan 26, 2015 at 20:38

5 Answers 5


Tim's pretty much got it there, but I just wanted to add there I don't really think there is just one way you should learn. I've been playing guitar for over 10 years now, and I've met all sorts of different musicians who've learnt in different ways.

It all comes down to personal preference, which can be daunting for a beginner because you don't know what you prefer! My opinion would be to find a good teacher, of whatever instrument you're playing, who you enjoy playing music with! Some people will tell you that you absolutely should learn to play by learning the grades of guitar/piano/whatever, and getting your grades 1 to 8 and the tests passed, however I learnt with a teacher who said no, let's not do that, let's just play the music you want to play and I'll teach you the techniques as when they're needed and you're capable.

It's a tough road, and trust me, there'll be times where you want to give up, but please, please keep at it, whatever way you end up learning, it'll be worth it in the long run!


To an extent, it will rely on many different factors. How musical the student is, what other musical experience he has, what instrument it is, whether he's learning from music are several of them.

Rather like a child reading from a book, a beginner can sound stilted, and not play fluently. If it's just one piece, the more times it's practised, the smoother it becomes. If that learner has some musicality anyway, this should come sooner.

The instrument will have some bearing for many reasons. A piano, for example, will play in tune on the right notes(!). Compare with a violin which will play 'in the cracks' and not sound conducive to being in tune. A guitar in tune will generally play notes in tune, which can be bent out of tune by beginners (and experienced players - that's another story!).

Learning from the music presents two tasks - reading the dots and finding them on the instrument.Simultaneously. So the process for a beginner is pretty tricky.

Once several notes are known, you can start to try to play tunes by ear. This will underline the fact that certain notes belong together - they're scales in keys.

Learning tunes is always the books' favourite. But once a tune is learned by heart, that's it. No - try playing it quickly, slowly, quietly, loudly, with another player, etc.

Rote repetition of a song isn't necessarily the best way to learn. On guitar, for instance, play the same tune in different keys, assuming there are no open strings.Once that tune is learned, move on. Visit it a week later - if you can't play it properly - you haven't learned it! Play without the dots. Lots of tunes in books are short, so in the early stages, several tunes will be tackled quickly. Probably better than trying to learn a two page song. That comes later.

The answers to this question are going to be diverse, I hope. This is a start.


I'm all for studying with teachers, but if you want to take ownership of your musicianship you should also spend some time in self-directed study. Play along with the music you like to listen to on your iPod or whatever you use. You will feel lost at first but keep at it. Try different things and listen for whether it sounds good. Study chord progressions. Don't focus on mastering a song at a time but rather experiment with a playlist. Repeat each tune 4 or 5 times and move on, you can revisit individual tunes the next day. I find that having a big playlist and putting it on shuffle, playing along for an hour or so each day, works best. After a few weeks of this you will start to develop a sense of how to play along without having music dictated to you. Hope this helps - the important thing is to have fun with it.

  • I like this answer a lot - I was going to answer something similar. You need to mix it up and focus more on the big concepts in theory than on individual songs, and play along with and experiment with music you like. Using playlists with different genres, styles and favorite songs to play along with are a great way to learn how to play real music.
    – Stinkfoot
    Commented Jan 11, 2015 at 2:30

The important things about practising stuff is improving and learning. One experiment worth trying is taking it down three notches: pick out some stuff you already mastered some time ago. Now play it perfectly. Once you play it perfectly, record it and listen. Anything to improve left?

You'll find as you retry "really easy" stuff and/or listen to recordings of it that this leaves more of your attention for actually listening into what you do rather than spending all your focus on producing it.

It turns out that there is a lot more to do than hitting all of the right notes at approximately the right time. Practising on the same stuff repeatedly will at some point of time free mental capacity for working on those aspects.

The problem is that to dial back the level at which you are playing requires reaching some reasonable level first. And if you don't see the point on repeatedly working on the same stuff, chances are that you are not actually developing an idea what can be improved.

Most of the improvement you attain happens while you are practising rather than under supervision. So the teacher does not really know in advance what might or might not make something "click" with you.

  • what are 'three notches'?
    – Tim
    Commented Jan 9, 2015 at 13:30

Not sure what instrument you are trying to learn but I am a big fan of learning to play an instrument by learning to play songs you personally like as opposed to learning "When The Saints Go Marching In" because it's in a lesson book. Learning an instrument takes dedication and practice and it is easy to lose interest if you are only learning to play songs you have no interest in. If you are taking lessons and your teacher is not open to teaching you how to play simple beginner arrangements of songs you want to play, you might want to consider a new teacher. If you are trying to learn on your own, you might find useful videos on You Tube that teach you how to play particular songs. Just go to You Tube and type {Name of Song} guitar (or piano or flute) lesson in the search bar. You might have multiple versions to choose from so pick one that seems more on your level and if not that song, try another that you are interested in learning. Or find someone who plays the instrument you are learning and ask them to create a simple arrangement for some songs you like and show you how to play them. Good luck.

  • How did you know that I could play "When The Saints Go Marching In" on anything, even though I kind of hate this song?
    – Mallow
    Commented Jan 21, 2015 at 20:13
  • @Mallow Seems to be a song taught in many beginner music instruction books. The only time I ever hear it is when I'm in a music store and a student is playing it. Commented Jan 21, 2015 at 20:32

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