How to Learn A New Song In One Week

by Sarah McSweeney on August 6, 2014

When I hear a song on the radio that demands my attention, I make sure to find out the song title and who the artist is. Then I go home, look it up and listen to it, over and over again. Sometimes someone will request a particular song for an upcoming performance. If I feel moved by it, I will take the time to learn it. This week I am learning a song suggested by a friend called “In A Manner Of Speaking” by Nouvelle Vague.

Day 1

I listen to the song several times. First I listen to the song as a whole and hum along. Then I piece it apart. What are the lyrics? What is the guitar part? In this song the chord progression is made up of only 4 chords relatively simple chords, but what is not so straight forward, is the bossa nova rhythm. It’s syncopated and the chords are played intermittently with the moving bass part, all played on one single guitar. At first I played along and had a rhythm that would be acceptable, but it really wasn’t the rhythm that was being played. I have a sense of the melody and overall song structure, but I do not yet have any words memorized. I also notice the fascinating rhythm that the percussionist is performing shakers, one in each hand.

Day 2

I notice there are more things happening within that seemingly simple guitar part. Today I notice that the E7 chord in bar 4 sounds minor for a brief moment before it turns to major. I’m also getting a better sense of the syncopated walking bass rhythm played on guitar. Today I listen to the song on repeat during my 40 minute walk/run. I’m listening intently first to the moving bass part (played on guitar) and getting a sense of the Latin rhythm. By the end of my run I can finally sing along accurately with that syncopated rhythm. I have also begun to memorize the lyrics, one verse at a time. I listen to a couple phrases, pause the recording, then sing by memory. I repeat these steps until I can sing the melody, lyrics, and rhythm, with complete confidence and accuracy. During the day I will hum a verse or sing through the chorus when I think of it. Today I notice that the percussionist along with the shakers is also playing the kick drum. How cool!

Day 3

I Put the guitar walking bass part together with the intermittent chords and attempted to sing along. I’m still working on coordinating those 3 moving parts.

Day 4

Today the rhythm is automatic. I still have to think about the lyrics but some of the words are coming ahead of time. So when I’m at the end of verse 1, I’m already getting the words to verse 2. I don’t have to stop and wait for my memory to kick in, or check the lyrics sheet.

Day 5

I’m able to slow down the rhythm enough to notate it. I’m listening to several variations and covers for different ways to sing the melody, and even alternate words.

Day 6

I can play the guitar rhythm and sing! Hooray! I am officially tired of the song. That is a good sign that I know it pretty well.

Day 7

I performed “In a manner of Speaking” at my Saturday night gig. Luckily Doug was there to accompany me because I felt much more confident singing it when I didn’t also have to concentrate on the guitar part.  But I could do it if I had to!

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