3 Important Elements to Learning a Song

When it comes to learning a song, there are three important things you need to focus on: the parts of a song, the chord progression, and strumming.

3 Things You Should Know About Learning a Song

Playing Your First Song Needs Preparation!

Preparing allows us to see things in full view. This is making sure we are doing it right the first time so we’ll have a better foundation to use in our lifetime.

In this lesson, we will not just play a song but we will learn what composes a song. Understanding each part of the song creates a great impact in your dynamics, on how loud and soft you are strumming your guitar. We should always keep in mind that we are expressing an emotion and not just making any sound.

What is a Song? 

A song is a vocal music composition in which the lyrics and melody are both present. It can be anything from a beautiful melody to tell an interesting story.

The best songs have both musicality and meaning, which makes them stand out among all other music in whichever genre they fall under!

3 Things You Should Know About Learning a Song

Before you start playing, there are three basic things to know and understand before you start playing your first song on guitar.

  • Parts of a Song
  • Chord Progression
  • Strumming

Let’s get started!

Parts of a Song

Typically, the three main sections of a song are the verses, chorus and the bridge. A full structure consists of the following: Intro – Verse – Chorus – Verse – Chorus – Bridge – Chorus – Outro. Sometimes it includes a Pre-Chorus and an Instrumental before or after the Bridge.

Intro. This section is likely to introduce and establish the tempo, rhythm and the melody. It usually starts really slow and low but fast songs usually start louder.

The intro of a song is typically 8 bars long and is used to introduce the listener to the melody and chord progression of the song. It is usually played on an acoustic guitar.

Verse. The story starts to unfold in the verse. It sets the mood or emotion of a song and is usually played softer to give way to the voice telling the story. The second verse can either reinforce the emotion from verse one or bring a sudden shift of emotion, showing another development of the story. This is why you notice an increase of volume in your strumming.

The verse is the meat of the song and is where the majority of the lyrics are sung. The verse typically consists of 16 bars.

Pre-Chorus. This part is optional. it’s a verse to chorus’ transition. You will also hear the volume building up in this section. It’s used to prepare the listener for the chorus. The pre-chorus is typically 4 bars long.

Chorus. This is the core of the song. The chorus is the most catchy and memorable part of the song as it contains the main message or hook of the song. The title and every part points back to the chorus. This is where all instruments are set to play altogether in chorus with a louder volume.

The chorus is usually 8 bars long and is sung multiple times throughout the song.

Bridge. The bridge is set towards the end, after all the verses and in between the 2nd and 3rd chorus. It is usually a heightened emotion both in lyrics and sound, an extended build up from the chorus. Just like the chorus, you will hear another increase of volume, typically louder than the second chorus.

This section provides contrast to the preceding sections of the song. The bridge is typically 8 bars long and is used to create interest and tension before the final chorus.

Instrumental. Another option music arrangers would do but not necessarily part of a song. This sometimes serves as a transition to build up further or release the tension before or after the bridge. Others do a guitar solo in this section or other instruments present in the band.

Outro. The outro is your cue that the song is ending or the last section of the song. It is usually done slowing down from a repeated chord pattern of the chorus or in a sudden break if it’s a fast song. It is typically 4 bars long and usually fades out or has a sudden stop.

Aside from these sections are unseen elements we need to know before playing the guitar. Always know the time signature, tempo, key and the chord progression of the song you are playing. If you search a song on the internet, you’ll find these details right after the title.

Chord Progression Of A Song

Chord progression is a series or sequence of chords moving from one chord to another. It is sometimes called a “chord pattern”, the order in which chords are played.

The most common chord progression in pop music is the I-IV-V chord progression. This means that the first chord, the fourth chord, and the fifth chord are played in that order.

When you add strumming to a chord progression, you are playing a song.

In playing guitar, this formula equates to a song: CP + S = Song.

A chord progression plus strumming is equal to a song.

For your first song, we will be using one of the common progression used in music and probably one of the easiest chord patterns you can play as a beginner: G, Em, C, D.

Let’s review the chords,

G Major (Gmaj or G)

  • Place your 1st finger on the 5th string/2nd fret
  • Place your 2nd finger on the 6th string/3rd fret (this is your bass note, G)
  • Place your 3rd finger on the 1st string/3rd fret 
  • Play strings 4, 3 and 2 open

E minor Chord (Em)

  • Place your 2nd finger on the 5th string/2nd fret
  • Place your 3rd finger on the 4th string/2nd fret
  • Play strings 6, 3, 2, 1 open (the 6th open string is your bass note, E)

C Major (Cmaj or C)

  • Place your 1st finger on the 2nd string/1st fret
  • Place your 2nd finger on the 4th string/2nd fret
  • Place your 3rd finger on the 5th string/3rd fret (this is your bass note, C)
  • Play strings 3 and 1 open
  • Do not play the 6th string, (X)

D Major (Dmaj or D)

  • Place your 1st finger on the 3rd string/2nd fret
  • Place your 2nd finger on the 1st string/2nd fret
  • Place your 3rd finger on the 2nd string/3rd fret 
  • Play string 4 open (this is your bass note, D)
  • Do not play 6th and 5th string, (X)

It may look difficult since we are jumping from playing one chord (Em) to playing all four chords. So let’s break the chord progression into four combinations to practice chord shifting.

  • G, Em
  • Em, C
  • C, D
  • D, G

Practice shifting from chord to chord using these four patterns so you can build muscle memory. Always check your strings if it’s ringing clearly with no buzzing sound. Fret closer to the fretwire, not in the middle or on the wire and don’t use too much force in pressing your string to the board.

Don’t push yourself too hard if you’re still having a hard time changing chords. You can practice one or two chord combinations a day until you are able to play all four chords comfortably.

Another thing a guitarist should do diligently is listening to the song over and over again. 

  • Listen to get to know the song’s melody and lyrics.
  • Listen, tap along and start counting the beat so you will know the tempo.

You can do this while you’re resting your fingers from your chord shifting exercises. You can even have the song playing in the background while you’re doing household chores. Listening well will surely help establish the right strumming pattern for the song you’re playing. It is also in listening consistently that you develop a skill of identifying notes or chords by ear, to some this is a gift.

Strumming a Song

Now that we’ve identified the different sections of a song and the typical chord progression, let’s get started on strumming.

Strumming is the act of swiping your hand across the strings of your guitar in order to create a sound. To play a song, you can strum the strings with a pick or your fingertips.

The speed or tempo of the strumming depends on the song you are playing. Some songs are fast paced while others are slow.

Strumming can be done with either an up-stroke or a down-stroke. Up-strokes are when you strum from the bottom string to the top string. Down-strokes are when you strum from the top string to the bottom string.

There are many different ways to strum a guitar, but the most important thing is to find a strumming pattern that you are comfortable with. The best way to find a strumming pattern is to listen to a song and try to imitate what you hear.

You’re All Set!

Excellent job with your preparation. Now that you understand the fundamentals of playing a song on guitar, it’s time to put what you’ve learned into practice! Give it a try with your guitar!

Have fun playing your first song!

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