How to learn complicated chord progressions.

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I have posted this, previously, on an other guitar forum. I am a rhythm guitarist who has problems learning complicated chord progressions. Although I have been playing guitar for over 50 years I am not a natural musician. I don't always hear a tune in my head, and therefore prefer playing with other musicians or with backing tracks.
Give me a chord sheet and I have no problems. I know when to change chords and I know the chords I need to play, I just have difficulty learning complicated chord patterns that don't just repeat.
How would you guys go about learning a piece so you can play it without having it written down in front of you?
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  • slackerslacker Frets: 981
    I just keep playing them over and over with the chart sometimes it takes a long time.

    Try learning the following...

    Arnold lane
    Calling occupants of interplanetary craft
    Lithium
    My name is Jack
    I'm only sleeping

    And if you are feeling really masochistic

    Birdhouse in your soul



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  • FreebirdFreebird Frets: 1041
    edited September 19
    Memorize the root notes or the relative notation?
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  • Playing in a band helps as you don't often see originals bands with sheet music on stands when they perform.

    Break down the sections if its a song, e.g verse is an 8 bar pattern with 2 x 4 chords etc. Chorus, etc etc. Then play them back-to-back to see if you can remember it all. Most of it muscle memory and repetition, as already mentioned above.
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  • I have it on good authority the trick to memorising anything is to practise getting it out of memory rather than putting it into memory over and over again. So reading the charts helps a lot less than testing yourself on them, even if you fail the test very badly at first.

    Break the song down into chunks - each line of the song, say - and memorise the chunks, then practise putting the chunks together. Don't even necessarily think of it as music at first, just as actions you have to teach yourself.

    Then give yourself enough time to forget them, and test yourself knowing you'll have forgotten most of it. Which will be frustrating. 

    Don't just look at a chord sheet, actually practise trying to get the information out of your memory, like exercising a muscle - what you're doing is building a connection in your brain, and those connections get stronger with use, but you actually have to practise the retrieval, however uncomfortable it is. At first you can take as long as you like - as long as you can make the connection, you can work on making the connection easier. 

    (Obviously you can look at the chord sheet if you really can't remember, but work on trying to get the information out of your brain first - you'll make a connection between the effort and the answer, and hopefully it will be easier next time.)

    Test yourself as often as possible, for short periods of time, but the important thing is actually to fail, and then with practise to fail less often. You can even, as you get more familiar with the chords, set a metronome and force yourself to remember them on time (perhaps even faster than the actual time!) The more ruthlessly you can expose the points of failure when you're practising, the stronger you'll be when you're performing. 

    Make sure you have points of certainty - so even if you blank half a line you know you can jump back on at the beginning of the next line. 

    Very few pieces of music are totally random - there will be a logic to the chord progression, so another thing to do is notice the way that the chords move from one to the next. Patterns of chords will recur from one song to another, so as you recognise patterns, you can stick a whole chunk of chords in - the best example of that would be the ii-V-I pattern in jazz standards, which turns up all over the place. 

    When you start to get complacent, test yourself on playing the chords backwards. 

    In short-is: 1. Start by making sure you know a small number of things (say, the first chord of each line); 2. Make connections to other things (the other chords); 3. Practise retrieving that information from memory for short periods but as often as possible, making sure you've left enough time to forget; 4. Try to group things together and burn the groups into memory (so instead of trying to remember Dm7, G7 and Cmaj7 you can reach for the ii-V-I pattern in C). 

    My brain is all mushy from work, so I might just have been typing randomly for ten minutes, but I hope that helps.
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  • Good points raised above actually, and this reminds me of a couple of learners I have who are just shit at playing chord progressions in songs, either with or without a chord chart. With, they struggle to read and follow the progression, and translate the type of chord (major/minor) and how long its meant to last for (1 bar, 2 bar, half a bar, etc) within 8 bars they've lost their way and end up looking at me but unless they're telepathic they're never going to be able to guess the next chord. Without it they can't remember multiple changes at once and how to stay in time. So its a catch 22. 

    Just knowing where you are in the music is half the battle, then playing in time and for the right length is another.
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  • JockoJocko Frets: 25
    Break the song down into chunks - each line of the song, say - and memorise the chunks, then practise putting the chunks together. Don't even necessarily think of it as music at first, just as actions you have to teach yourself.

    Then give yourself enough time to forget them, and test yourself knowing you'll have forgotten most of it. Which will be frustrating. 


    That is pretty much how I have been doing it. It is not so much the pattern that is the problem but changes to the pattern from verse to verse. One time it is a minor, next time a minor seventh - that sort of thing.
    Counting and phrasing is never an issue, just knowing exactly where to go. "Doolin Dalton" was one example, but now I have it, it is a dawdle!
    At 70 years of age I struggle to remember what I had for breakfast (or even if I've had breakfast!), so remembering a complicated chord pattern is an onerous task. I am currently trying to learn one new song per week, while still retaining the previously learnt stuff.
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  • Very few pieces of music are totally random - there will be a logic to the chord progression, so another thing to do is notice the way that the chords move from one to the next. Patterns of chords will recur from one song to another, so as you recognise patterns, you can stick a whole chunk of chords in - the best example of that would be the ii-V-I pattern in jazz standards, which turns up all over the place. 


    ^ This ^ wisdom indeed
    "Working" software has only unobserved bugs. (Parroty Error: Pieces of Nine! Pieces of Nine!)
    Seriously: If you value it, take/fetch it yourself
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