In this instalment of the “Learn Songs Better, Faster” Series, we will be looking at the third part of the learning equation “Retention”.

In other words, what makes you remember songs and techniques better, and be able to replicate those things over and over again. Lets get straight into it!

Form Patterns in your Mind for Retention

Patterns are everywhere in life, from quilts to traffic signals, boxing moves to padlock combinations, right down to your very DNA. Music and Guitar are no exception to this. Music is literally littered with Patterns!

Our brains are a ridiculously awesome tool! It see’s something, then can instantly compare it to another thing it has already seen. It then forms an association between the new thing, and the existing thing, and can comprehend the new thing. An idea, thought or opinion can then be formed and stored in your brain (This is the quickest non-sciencey way I could explain this). Which also means that you can use your brain to remember better, by associating patterns on the guitar with things you are already familiar with.

If your interested in the more complicated science behind this stuff, check out this great article over at the “Seeing Complexity” website – The human brain is a pattern recognition machine it’s a great place to start on this massive topic.

Patterns can refer to a Chord Diagram or Scale Shape, Chord Progressions, A Sequence of Notes (Solo’s are made of many sequences of notes, or small “patterns”), or Song Form e.g. Verse-Chorus-Bridge-Chorus.

To give you an idea of how you can use patterns, I’ve drawn some red lines on these Chord Diagrams so you can see what I’m talking about.

A Major Chord RetentionA Major - a Short Line or Squished Fingers
C Major Chord RetentionC Major - a Diagonal Line or Hockey Stick
D Major Chord RetentionD - a Triangle

Repetition and Frequency

In 7 Habits To Make Guitar Practice Enjoyable, we touched briefly on Frequency when we looked at Picking up your guitar every day. But along with Frequency, you also need to make sure you are using repetition in your practice.

When you’re practicing a difficult part of a song, don’t just play it once, twice, maybe ten times and move on. You would be far better off practicing that part 30, even 300 times in a session if it is needed. Pace, Accuracy, and Retention all play a crucial part, and it’s important to keep them in mind while using Repetition.

Practicing an extra 5-10 minutes a day, could be all it takes to double your productivity and reach your goals faster!

Break the Song into Smaller Parts

So you’ve learnt the song and you’ve been playing along to it for a couple of days. But there are still some parts that just aren’t working how they should. You’ve tried playing the song slow but still no progress…

You’ll find that combining Repetition, Slowing the Song Down, and Breaking the Song into Smaller Parts will speed up your progress, and ensure better accuracy while giving your brain time to process all of the smaller patterns. This could literally save you hours, days, years even.

Repertoire Practice List

Keeping track of the songs you have learned is not only a great way to keep motivated. It helps to see your progress, and will make it easier for you when starting a band. It doesn’t have to be complicated either, just the name of the song and band/artist is enough.

One of the most important parts of this, is that it gives you a reference to go back to. You can use the list to remind you to go over songs you haven’t played in a while. It can also inspire you to play more songs by other musicians if your stuck playing the same things over and over again.

Using this list in conjunction with Goal Setting (seen in Learn Songs Better, Faster Part 1), will bring you closer to your goals in a shorter amount of time, providing you are making small incremental steps towards it every day.


Analyse RetentionAnalyse the Song

This goes far beyond breaking a song into smaller parts. In fact, it’s more about understanding the mechanics of a song. Once you “know” where all of the puzzle pieces fit, and you are familiar with the fretboard, you’ll be able to play fills, licks, solos or riffs over any chord changes in that song comfortably.

Here’s some questions to ask yourself while analysing a song;

  • What is the Song’s Form – Verse, Chorus, Verse, Chorus? Is it one long verse?
  • How many completely different sections does it have?
  • What is the time signature, tempo and feel?
  • What key is the song in, and what scales are used?
  • What Chords are used?
  • What Chords are implied?
  • What Arpeggios can be played over those chords?

To Sum It All Up

We have covered heck of a lot over the last three posts. So to recap, here are all of the tools to use if you want to “Learn Songs Better, Faster”!


  • Listen to the song again… and again… and again… and again…
  • Find the Song Chords, Sheet Music, Lead Sheet or Tab
  • Use Your Ears and Practice Along to Songs
  • Learn more songs… start with easier ones
  • Seek Guidance
  • Get out of your Comfort Zone


  • Fretboard Familiarity
  • Finger Independence, Strength and Accuracy
  • Use Tab or Score Software
  • Slow the song Down
  • Chance your mindset
  • Don’t just practice songs! Practicing scales, chords and arpeggios is just as important


  • Form Patterns in your Mind
  • Repetition and Frequency
  • Break the Song into Smaller Parts
  • Repertoire Practice List
  • Analyse the Song

Time to Take Action, Lets do a little Experiment!

Over the next week, I wan’t you to choose two tools from each of these categories (Pace, Accuracy, Retention) and start implementing it into your daily practice. Write in the comments below “I’m In”.

Once the week is up, give everyone an update on which tools you chose, and how you feel it has effected your practice or progress.

You now have the opportunity to help others “Learn Songs Better, Faster”. I’m here to help as many guitarists as possible, and you have the power to help me do that.

If you enjoyed this series of articles or found them helpful, please share them around.

Learn Songs Better, Faster Part 3 – Retention
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