Have you ever had to learn multiple songs in a short amount of time? What did you do? Did you feel overwhelmed? Did you feel like you didn't even know where to begin? You are not alone! A few weeks ago a friend reached out and asked if I would cover down on lead guitar for a men's retreat he was leading at; the majority of my time is spent leading and traveling with ONElife Worship, so I was excited to just be the lead guitar player for a weekend! But then I opened Planning Center... I saw we would be playing 14 songs, which was awesome! However, out of those 14 songs I had only ever heard a small handful of them and only actually played a few of them before. Yikes! So, how did I process all of that? What was my method for learning all of those songs in a short amount of time? That's what I endeavor to lay out for you here. Whether you're learning 14 songs like me, or 4 songs, I believe the same principals can be applied!
1) Internalize the Song
The first thing I do when learning new songs is internalize them. I open Planning Center, I open Apple Music, and I make a playlist with all of the songs. I then proceed to listen to them over, and over, and over again. When I'm getting ready in the morning, I'm listening to the songs. When I'm driving to work, I'm listening to the songs. When I'm working out (that doesn't happen often), I'm listening to the songs. While it may begin as passive listening to merely get acquainted with the songs, after a few times through I begin to actively listen for song structure, when my instrument is playing, what my instrument is playing, what effects are being utilized , etc. Before I ever pick up my instrument I will have listened through the songs nearly a dozen times! In this regard, I know the song before attempting to learn the song. This makes it so much easier because I know both when I need to be playing and how it should sound.
"Know the song before attempting to learn the song"
2) Build Out the Presets
Admittedly, this is one step some of you could skip over -- maybe you're a bassist, or drummer, and this doesn't apply to you. Or, maybe you're a guitar player who isn't much of a tweaker and doesn't try to emulate the tones used on the original version of the songs. But for me, intentionally shaping delays and reverbs can take a worship guitar riff from bland and out of place to atmospheric and serving the mix well. In light of this, I make a dedicated delay preset (or two) for every song with my Boss DD-500. I attach each song title to a preset and set the BPM accordingly. Then I listen for the delay characteristics on the original recording and set each song preset accordingly. Is the guitarist using a quarter note delay? Eighth note? Dotted eighth? Dual delay? Are the delay repeats sharp and noticeable? If so, I may increase the delay level and and tone. Are the repeats dark and less noticeable? If so, I may decrease the delay level or feedback and roll off the tone. The same principal applies for reverbs. Truth be told, our utilization of wet effects can really make or break how well our instrument fits into the mix on a given song.
"Intentionally shaping delays and reverbs can take a worship guitar riff from bland and out of place to atmospheric and serving the mix well."
Additionally, most of the contexts I play in utilize a click track/metronome, so it's very convenient to program the BPM for each song rather than tapping the time in for each song on the fly -- most of us guitar players do enough tap dancing as it is, why not make it just a little easier on ourselves?
Once again, this is one step you could potentially skip over, but if you're a lead guitar player, I would highly encourage you to put a little time into this! Feel free to comment below if you have any questions on this.
"Our utilization of wet effects can really make or break how well our instrument fits into the mix on a given song."
3) Learn and Notate the Song
Once I have internalized the songs, made my delay and reverb presets, I then try my hand at actually learning and playing the parts. A strong foundation has been laid; I know the feel of the song, the structure, and the tones are dialed in , so now it's just a matter of getting my hands to cooperate accordingly. I predominantly learn by ear so I can usually feel out my parts easy enough, but some engineers bury the electric guitars in the mix... In this case, I have found resources like Rehearsal Mix on MultiTracks.com, where you can isolate the lead guitar from the rest of the tracks (and even change the song key), extremely helpful. With this resource you can also isolate acoustic, bass, keys, etc.
But what if you are more of a visual learner? If this is you, I would visit the Guitar for His Glory YouTube channel/website subscription; it doesn't get much better than this! On the YouTube channel you can watch great song play throughs for free, but if you subscribe to the website you have access to tablature and a lesson video that slowly walks through each part of the song, how to play it, and even the tones used. Rehearsal Mix and Guitar for His Glory subscriptions are each $10/month, but time is money and these resources are money well spent, if you are able!
In my case last week though, 14 songs was still a lot to learn in a short amount of time! As much as I wanted to, I just couldn't commit all those song parts to memory... yet. So, for the songs I was less familiar with or parts I was struggling to remember, I noted them out on a small pad of paper (as seen in the photo to the right). For some songs it was a simple tab, for others it was just the effects I need to use at various parts of a given song. I kept this small note pad on top of my amp and utilized it often throughout our rehearsal the day of the men's retreat. And by the time we were going on for our first set, I didn't even need it! However, it was still there on top of my amp as a point of reference just in case.
This is how I learn worship songs. Having a formula to follow each time has helped me to not only maximize time, but has made the process of learning new song easier and easier each time I do it! Is there anything you would add or subtract from this list? What has worked for you? Do you have a formula of your own? Let me know in the comments below!
Contributor / Dan Dameron
Dan Dameron is the Pastor of Gathering at ONElife Church in Flint, MI and Founder of ONElife Worship.