Say if I had one day to learn a medium difficulty song and I haven't even looked at it. What is the most effective way of learning the song the best I can in, let's say 4 hours? No rehearsal, just playing the song live the next day. This question is mostly for playing in a band where they have the general idea of the song but it is focusing on me or the player and i want to keep this question general

  • I've downvoted because this question lacks a lot of context. I reserve to reverse the downvote if/when it is edited :) – Some Dude On The Interwebs Jun 22 '15 at 14:06
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    Are you playing solo or with a band? Will the band know the song? Are you playing an instrument? If so what? Are you the drummer, guitar player (lead or rhythm) are you going to sing (lead or background)? Will you have the ability to have sheet music or i-pad on stage or must you play from memory? Will you perform to a backing track? All of these details will help with providing a more useful answer. – Rockin Cowboy Jun 22 '15 at 16:30

Hah. This may benefit from some context (Genre? Situation? Are you the soloist?).

Assuming you'll be playing an instrument in an amplified rock/pop combo:

  1. Metronome metronome metronome. Practice separate hands, practice each section separately, each bar at all sorts of crazy tempos. Slow, medium, insanely fast. You never know how caffeinated the drummer will be tomorrow.

    Bonus: start learning/practicing the piece from the end.

  2. If the genre allows it, don't be afraid to simplify parts, "fake" or rearrange. In particular, first "fake" it, then go deeper. It's better to play decently a simplified and/or half-improvised version than screwing up majestically while trying to pull off an insane widdly-widdly solo. If you are transcribing, don't be too anal.

  3. Annotate your sheet with cues from other instruments and from the lyrics. Getting lost is one of your worst enemies. "Oh, that's the third verse, where the guitar does that run, right" can help you a lot.

  4. The band will change the structure. Those bastards will have 8 extra bars for the solo and they won't even know they have added them themselves because hey, they've been playing like that from the start. Be prepared for that.

  5. Be wary of of playing along with a CD. It can give you a false sense of security. Also, the band you'll be playing with may or may not sound like the CD.

  6. Practice with cotton in your ears and a diesel engine running next to you. With any luck, it will still suck less than the on stage monitors. The monitor engineer will be no good.

  7. Do whatever it takes to keep cool. Be relaxed. Look relaxed.

  8. If all else fails, just lower the volume of your instrument to the minimum and nod along, then blame it on the FOH engineer. "Hey, I could hear myself just fine, a shame you folks in the audience couldn't hear me."

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    Upvote for making me laugh! Having played in several bands as lead vocalist and rhythm guitar - I can attest to the validity of all of your points. – Rockin Cowboy Jun 22 '15 at 16:25
  • @RockinCowboy: thanks. I think we all have learned those at some point :) Note to OP: despite RockinCowboy's hilarity, it's all serious advice, especially 8. Don't be afraid to use it, unless you are the soloist. It does not make you a cheater, it makes you a professional. Really. In general, nobody will remember or talk about the balance being a little off or one or more accompanying instruments being barely audible, but boy people, even non-musical people, can spot the guy playing in the wrong key and do remember it :) – Some Dude On The Interwebs Jun 22 '15 at 17:02
  • Oh, and by all means don't waste time with achieving a nice tone, and if you are a keyboardist just use presets, programming is verboten, just use presets - you can rely on them to sit nicely in the mix. There won't be time for a proper soundcheck, nobody will give half a shit about miking you up properly or even giving you room for your pedalboard. You'll be lucky if they give you an amp to plug in, and it typically will be a small combo if you usually bring along a 4x12 or a 4x12 if you bring along a small combo. – Some Dude On The Interwebs Jun 22 '15 at 17:12

Just play it over and over again. There's not much anyone can say here. You can play it until you learn the notes and the positions, thus your hands moving automatically and then see where you make mistakes and focus on those parts.


I'd probably use a metronome and start slow and speed it up when I feel comfortable. This question might not have one best answer because each person probably has different areas of most difficulty. For me it's timing, hence the metronome. Playing along with a recording of the piece is also a good quick learn trick, if a recording is available.

  • I would be very very very wary of playing along with a recording. I find that trying to be able to work with a minimum of stimuli (aka just playing through the piece to a metronome while barely hearing yourself) best approximates the situation you'll have to deal with on stage. I'd avoid cozying up jamming to a nice and polished recording like the plague. The band will sound nothing like the Dire Straits live album you jammed along with in your headphones. – Some Dude On The Interwebs Jun 22 '15 at 17:15
  • I can hear rhythms a lot better than I can read them. My last minute cram sessions have been immensly helped by playing along with someone else's playing. The band sounding different has never been a distraction for me. – Todd Wilcox Jun 22 '15 at 18:22

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