When learning a new song...


Senior Member
I seem to have developed a lazy mind. I have found, when learning new songs, if I go through the song and count out how many measures for the verse/chours/lead/verse, Count where the stops are, etc... I seem to understand the song better. However, my laziness set's in where, when learning a new song, I want to just keep playing it and playing it, and not taking the time to count things out.
Do any of you have and comment to the counting part? Variations?


unless i'd really had some trouble, i never really counted out the song in that way. i just listened until i became familiar with it, then played it. i'd say, whatever works. for me, it's always been more of a feel-thing.


Senior Member
Me too mate- I also just play it till its in my head!
But I take not of for example- the break comes after the piano solo, or the singer sings the words xxxxxx after the axe chord change...mental notes and it works--shortcuts that may help you!


Senior Member
When I'm learning a new song I don't listen to the song, I absorb it. I have a natural instinct that if I listen to a song I mainly listen to the drum part and will try to figure out the drum part and start to tap it on my legs. For example, my dad was playing this metal song I hadn't heard and I started listening to it and by the time the second verse came around I was tapping along to it. I try to keep measures out of when I'm trying to learn a new song because I just hate measures, sheet music, drum tabs or anything like that. I know thats kinda screwing me over because I'm still in school band but thats just how I play. when I'm in my room I usually play the song on my computer or ipod, grab my drum sticks that I keep in my room, and air drum. It's actually kind of weird because, for example I'm learning the song Withered by Atomship, and I saw one drum-improv of the song listened to the song 3 times and I sat down and played it pretty well, not to toot my own horn.

But thats just what I do.


Senior Member
So I think my answer to myself is... for me, I am better at knowing exactly were eacy change/break/lead/chorus/verse etc... is, by counting. My memory sucks. So, for those of you who listen, listen, listen.. My memory is bad enough, for me, to learn by countingl.


Gold Member
If I have lyric sheets, I will chart out the important drum breaks, accents etc. This has become the easiest way for me to learn a new song. Otherwise I focus on the drum tracks a few times through and then pick up on other key instruments or vocals that are tip-offs to drum part, accent or change in the song.

I have a tendency to underplay so I make a note-to-self to force myself to overplay on tracks that have more pronounced or dynamic drum parts. I did this on one song with The Steve J. Walker Band and I thought I overplayed it but the final track came out great.

con struct

Platinum Member
Songs, well most songs, are made up of sections. Verse, chorus, hook, solo break, and so on. All you have to do is identify each of these sections and see how they work to make up the song. 8 bar verse that repeats, 8 bar chorus, another verse, then an 8 bar hook, then a 16 bar guitar solo and the whole thing happens again, for example. Then you've got it nailed, it's yours to have fun with.


Junior Member
I'm not in school. In fact, I'm 63 and have been playing professionally since about 1963. I've found that knowing how to write out simple rhythms and having the discipline to count beats and bars is vital to knowing the structure of any song.

I use a shorthand that I developed out of self-preservation. So, if it's an 8 bar verse with a sync on the 8th bar, I'll write it like this:

- 7 - (then score the syncopation or lick)

I also use a capital "I" identify the intro, which typically becomes the hook or recurring theme. Then, when it comes back up in the song, I can just write a capital "I".

I use standard abbreviations: V = verse; C = chorus; B = bridge; Coda = the ending

I've seen over the years that many drummers have minds that move too fast to memorize all the patterns in a song. I'm surely that way. So, the ability to create a "structural chart" is essential to quickly playing at a professional level.



Pioneer Member
Lately when I am learning a new song, I resist the temptation to start playing the song to early in the process. I concentrate on listening to the song 6 to 10 times before I even start playing it. I avoid playing the song incorrectly this way and then having to overcome it later when I want to get the parts right.

When I want to learn more difficult songs faster, I right out a simple chart. I'll use the Billy Ward Method or sometimes the Nashville Number System if I want to be more aware of the melody and chord changes. I don't really use the charts so much, but writing it out has me internalize the structure a little better and I can get the song down in 3 or 4 passes.
Often, I find that I'll only start thinking of playing a song (like a Muse song) after I've been listening and tapping away at it for months. By that time, I'll know it so well that I can rip it out at rehearsal no problems and the guys will start trying to play what they know of it too.


Platinum Member
i can learn a song by playing it over and over again, but i don't really learn it until i memorize the structure of the song. i have to know how the intro goes, how and where the verses, choruses, solos, and bridges go, where the stops are, and how the song ends. if i don't have that stuff memorized, i don't really know the song.


Silver Member
It's a combo. You have to be able to both "feel" the song and have a basic understanding of song structure. If you can't readily go "okay four measures of this then a coda" and the like, then it's going to be dang difficult to work your way along through less "obvious" songs.


Junior Member
I agree that learning the structure of a song (verse, chorus, etc.) can help a lot to get the basics of a song down. However, with some styles--such as progressive metal--there are certain songs where "standard" structure is minimal. There may not always be a chorus that repeats itself throughout the track, rather, the song plays out like a story with something new/different always coming up next, and with many progressive songs extending past the ten minute mark, memorizing can get tricky. I find that what works best for me in these situations is a combination of:

  1. Breaking the song into shorter, more manageable sections and learning them one by one. For example: 0 to 3 minutes, 3 to 6, and so on (or wherever the more natural breaks occur).
  2. Remembering some of the lyrics and guitar melodies to help "tip you off" as to where you are in the song.
  3. Flat-out listening to the song many, many times.

I don't think the memories of any two people are exactly alike, though. Everyone really just needs to find what memorization process (or combination of processes) works the best for them. I know I've heard that when recording, some guys need the melody in their headphones whereas some can lay down an entire drum track with nothing more than a click, remembering every break, fill, everything on their own. Personally, I envy that second group.


Senior Member
learning new songs can be frustrating if they're hard or complicated. if it isn't something that you just can't groove to or figure out without counting, i usually like to transcribe the sheet music or at least acquaint myself with all the changes by getting used to the song (listening to it alot) or by counting it out like you.


Silver Member
My method is fairly simple:

1) Listen to it about ten times in a row until I really have the thing internalized. Tempo, dynamics, etc.

2) Just learn the first verse up through the chorus/bridge or whatever. That usually has me set with the various different parts of the son pretty solidly.

3) In the case of really strange sections or areas where the drum part isn't just dragging along behind the other instruments, count. No reason not to count until you get a better feel for it.

4) Slowly march along from there. Same as I learned stuff on the piano.

Matty G.

Senior Member
Knowing how to read and count rhythms is helpful. So is playing other instruments like guitar, bass, piano, and being able to sing.

I took a lot of theory and musicianship in college, too, which was challenging for me, but cleared up a lot things, like chord progressions for example, of which I had awareness but not understanding. I remember the first time I could hear chord movement, understand it, and sometimes even know chords instantly, or figure them out quickly on the piano.

Plus, I've done a lot of orchestral/legit percussion, musicals, big band chart reading, which is all count, count, count. And I've had to memorize long recital pieces. I also teach several days a week, and write on forums :), and that forces me to verbalize what's in my head, resulting in an even greater understanding.

It's hard to tease apart, but all that stuff is swimming around my head, making endless connections when I listen to or learn a song. Sometimes too much. I'm in the dentist office, listening to muzak and thinking, "this song has a 2/4 bar in the chorus, or that's a 1,6,2,5 turnaround. Wow, Rudolph the Red Nose Reinder is AABA... etc."

Some songs I can learn instantly, some after a few listens, some stuff is much harder, like soloistic stuff, that requires laborious transcribing.

I'm just endlessly fascinated by music, as many of you are, and that has driven me to check out a wide variety of music and investigate its traditions. So, do I count? Yes, but I also have about a thousand other guideposts to go by.