In Praise of the Song

In Praise of the Song

Are you a guitar player without a song to play? If you love playing riffs and leads, you may have achieved a degree of musical success without ever having learned to play a song from start to finish. And, if so, you are not alone.

A lot of guitarists manage to avoid the sequential learning style that is often presented by a teacher or method and skip right to the parts of guitar playing that interest them the most. Avoiding whole-song playing seems to make sense not only to those players who love lead playing, but also to those who are either disinterested in singing or feel lacking in vocal skills. After all, what could be wrong with playing what you want to play?

I’m a big supporter of musicians devoting themselves first and foremost to the music they love! I am also committed, however, to helping guitarists continue to grow in those same areas and sometimes that means investigating foreign territory. I have seldom met a songless guitarist who didn’t, at some point, encounter limitations in rhythm, form and more. These are problems that can be solved simply by gaining an understanding of the complete song, including the rhythm, harmony and melody. That understanding comes most readily by learning to simultaneously sing and strum!

How do you know if you need to learn (or return to learning) to play songs?

The first clue that you might benefit from learning songs may be that you don’t want to! If you find yourself squirming at the thought, consider that your resistance may be due solely to the fact that it seems like a lot of unpleasant work! It’s never much fun to do something that you don’t feel you are good at doing, but that’s the nature of stretching into new territory. Just as when you first picked up a guitar, song playing will require an investment period that involves discipline, but as you improve, your enjoyment level will skyrocket! You will also certainly be happy for the rewards in your general musicianship – and there are plenty of them!

How learning songs will help your playing

Here is a partial list of the benefits of song playing:

Correct or tighten up rhythm by singing the melody while strumming or fingerpicking the pulse
Develop an awareness of and ability to communicate about form, including the number of measures in each section and the number of beats in each measure
Develop a heightened melodic sense and the ability to tie in to or refer to the melody in solos
Aurally connect all of the musical elements (rhythm, harmony, melody)
Strengthen memorization skills
Expand the overall feel for and response to the song (an essential in the art of soloing!
How to make it happen 

Choose a song that you like, but be sure it’s a simple song, preferably one that is written in 3/4 or 4/4 time, has a moderate tempo and no more than three chords. Use a basic strum and take your time! The goal is not to create a performance piece, but simply to learn to play a few songs correctly. Don’t worry about your vocal quality, but instead focus on putting all of the elements together.A recording device can be handy for your work and a metronome is essential. If you are not sure that your rhythm is correct, you can contact me to assist you with your method, determine your level of accuracy or help you with corrections. Also, be sure to check out Getting Started, which includes nine songs with instructions and a CD, as well as more tips on song playing.