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I have no musical knowledge, am just able to hold a few chords. I am trying to learn the classical guitar tab of a song i really like. I see in the tab many combinations of notes being played together(sounded at the exact same time). My question is, are these note combinations something i would see in other songs. I generally have a very good memory, but classical guitar music really intimidates me. Would an understanding of music theory make songs like this easier to learn? Or is this really just going to be about memorising finger placements?

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There are several questions here, all subjective. So it may need editing. Learning new songs can be hard - it depends on your skill, aptitude, practice regime and teacher.

Yes, note combinations will occur in other songs, in the same key and genre, as they are harmonies from notes that blend well in that (and other) key.

An understanding of musical theory MAY make songs easier to learn - some folks like to know how things work in order to make sense of them.

Others will quite happily learn a song 'parrot fashion', and be able to play it just as well as someone who has theoretical knowledge. But - they will have to go through the same process with each song they learn, as it's not easy to pick up patterns this way. And their repertoire will be limited by this process. It's the way a lot of guitarists learned, at least initially - myself included. Sadly, it often prolongs the learning process, and doesn't make one an adaptable player.

All subjective stuff, sorry!

  • I don't think that's subjective at all ! Whther or not the note combination is used elsewhere is a plain fact .. Even basic understanding of music theory will unliock where the notes are used commonly elsewhere. And the Parrot Fashion thing is a fact too - I think you've nailed the answer (+1) but I don't see it as subjective – user2808054 Sep 8 '15 at 9:26
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It is a long way. Learning a few chords is not a bad start, but learning music theory and doing a lot of exercise to transfer the theory into practice on the guitar will definitely ease your job.

For the very first songs that I play, I had no music theory except for major and minor scales that I remember from elementary school recorder lessons, and it was OK to memorize the finger placements because the songs were relatively easy.

After learning some scales and chord transitions and doing a lot of practice you will be able to recognize a pattern in a single song itself and among different songs. I too am not in that level of expertise but if you can grasp every detail in music theory, I think you will be able to reason 95% of the placements and moves on the guitar.

Also, please use sheet music. Websites that only provide tabs and chords are the biggest struggle that you will have if you want to learn classical guitar.

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When I first started to play classical guitar, I found a few things that helped:

  • A good book (or three!) that goes from "easy" to "medium", so I had a progression of songs to learn
  • Both tab and notes. The tab helped me learn where to put my fingers, but the notes are a lot easier to glance at while I am playing (because the brain doesn't have to process numbers), so I can keep track of where I am in the song without having to memorize all those notes. Just keep forcing yourself to watch the notes, not the tab, while you practice, and your brain will pick it up.
  • There are plenty of pieces called "studies" in classical music. These repeat a technique throughout the piece so you learn it faster, while still being (usually) very musical and not boring to play. I found it easier to get my fingers around a study than a performance piece, which allowed me to "make music" as opposed to just play notes a lot sooner, and was more fun.
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The difficulty of learning a new song is based upon many factors, some of which you already named.

  • The musicianship of the player, a veteran player will learn new songs with less difficulty than a brand new player.
  • The players musical knowledge or lack there of. Knowledge of intervals, chords, scales, arpeggios, and progressions greatly decreases the difficulty of learning new pieces of music.
  • Level of finger memory. (This is slightly different than mental understanding). The higher number of chord, interval, arpeggio, and scale shapes and patterns your fingers know and can play automatically without thinking about them hugely decreases how hard it is to learn new pieces. Where as learning first time chords and fingerings for a starting guitarist can make learning new music much harder.
  • The quality of the instrument being played. Poorly made instruments can be hard to play and can be a great source difficulty and frustration in learning new songs. This is especially true of guitars. Guitars with buzzes, high action, dead spots, can increase the difficulty of learning a new song.
  • The ability to read both sheet music, tab, and their respective notations makes learning new songs less difficult.
  • Time spent and the disciplined habits of the player effect difficulty. More time spent on a dedicated daily practice regime will make learning new songs easier. Whereas, poor habits and mismanaged time will increase difficulties.
  • The style and complexity of the music, the composer, and the time period when it was written all play a factor in how easy or difficult a piece is to learn. Paganini for example will be light years harder to learn than anything Elvis wrote.
  • Use and availability of tools such as video aids, teachers, online tutorials, books, chord charts, etc. can reduce the difficulty of learning new songs.
  • Time Signatures. Exotic time signatures like 5/4 or 13/8 would increase difficulty as opposed to something like 4/4 which would be easier to learn.
  • Rhythmic structures. Simple quarter and eighth note patterns are easier to learn than things like syncopation and triplets over 16ths.

Many other things could also be considered in determining how difficult a song is to learn how to play. One would have to take these into consideration in order to assess how hard it is to learn a new song or new songs. Growing in and making improvements in any of these items will make learning new songs easier.

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As you learn more tunes, you'll see how combinations of notes come into play frequently. Clasical guitar may differ from 'pop song' guitar in that the picking style and chord structure may well be more intricate and kind of a one-off, but it's still going to be based around a theme which may crop up elsewhere - perhaps subsequently. Eg "Air on a G string" is v similar to "Whiter shade of pale". No coincidence !

If you were to learn some straightforward songs with a bit more than the traditional 3 chords like ..err.. (first thing that comes to mind) 'Can't buy me love' by The Beatles, that involves a few major and minor chords, some very common themes and some slightly less common. That may be all you need in terms of theory to spot that the relationships in a chord's notes re-appear in other areas.

If you then move back to classical music, it could well be that you start to view it as an embelishment of the more simple kinds of structures. That depends o the piece though.

Some may still feel like it's a piece standing out on its own and the only thing to do is learn it note for note.

Generally speaking, the more musical material you learn, the more familiar it all starts to feel as a whole. Some parts will remind you of others- for example many pop songs use the same chord structure maybe in a different key.

This will all help with learning the more intricate classical stuff. It'll help with dexterity and your musical ear of course too.

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Music arranged (or originally written) for classical guitar usually has several voices (think for example the soprano, alto, tenor, bass of choir). Perhaps most common is a melody line, a bass line, and arpeggios or chords that fill in the middle. Good video tutorials tell you to identify and become familiar with the melody line. That way it is easier to highlight this when playing everything together.

Generally it is easier to identify the melody on the musical score than on the tabs. The melodic rise and flow of that line stands out more; these notes usually have an upward stem. The bass line moves less, with longer notes (whole or half notes). And the stuff in between has a repeated pattern.

Beginner piano scores can be easier to use. The melody stands out on the upper (treble) stave. I also look for vocal scores, or arrangements for instruments like the flute if I just want to play the melody.

I also find it easiest to play songs with a distinctive melody, ones where I can 'hear the song in my mind' after just a few notes. Ones that depend more on a distinctive rhythm are harder, especially when I am slowly picking my way through the score or tabs.

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