For the bored, locked-down and lonely

Activity: Finally learn to play that one song

A close-up of someone playing the guitar

Lockdown is the perfect time to pick up the guitar that has been gathering dust in the corner of your room for months. With an unlimited amount of time at your disposal there are no more excuses not to learn that one song you couldn’t quite figure out the last time you tried.This short guide wants to help you get up to speed.

What you’ll need:

  • An MP3 file of that one song you’ve always wanted to learn
  • A guitar, bass, ukulele, whatever floats your boat
  • The free version of Capo (a wonderful music learning app, unfortunately currently only available for Mac/iPhone) – available here
  • A few minutes of free time to practise every day.

What you’ll do:

Step 1: Find a tab for your song

A guitar tab is a set of easy-to-understand instructions on how to play a song. Instead of using traditional musical notation, tabs simply tell you where to put your fingers on the fretboard (you still have to figure out which finger to use for which note). They are a great way to learn new songs when you can’t read music.

There are a ton of websites out there that offer free tabs. My favourite is Ultimate Guitar. Chances are, they’ll have the song you are looking for. Give their search function a try – if that doesn’t work out you can always use Google.

A screenshot of guitar tabs

Step 2: Import your song’s MP3 file into Capo

Once you have found a tab for the song you want to learn, it is time to open its MP3 file with Capo.

Capo is an Mac/iPhone app that wants to make it easier for musicians (and by that definition YOU) to learn new songs. It can do all kinds of neat things (tempo and chord detection) but we are only interested in two features: Slowing a song down without changing its pitch and looping through the same part of a song over and over again. Let’s start with a loop.

Step 3: Add a region and make it loop.

Move Capo’s playhead to the part of the song you want to focus on. You are going to turn it into a looping region.

Keep in mind that you want the loop to match the songs structure so you can play the same part over and over again. Time to listen closely. It shouldn’t sound like a skipping record. So vary the length of your region until you get it right.
It is easier than it sounds – simply use drag and drop like this:

a gif showing the audio wave, selecting the desired section

Once you’ve added a region you can highlight it with a single click. After you’ve done that Capo knows that you want to focus your practise on it and will automatically loop it until it is deselected. Press the spacebar and practise begins. Neat!

an animated gif of capo looping the selected audio section

Step 4: Slow down and practise.

When you first start learning a song it may be too difficult to play at its original speed. Capo has you covered.

Press Control+5 and you’ll see the tempo slider appear at the bottom of Capo’s window. 50% is a good tempo to start out with – especially while simultaneously cross-referencing a guitar tab. You can go even slower if you have a hard time with the tab – sometimes it just takes time to figure out which finger goes where when.

a gif showing how to increase or decrease the speed of the loop in capo

Practise until you make it through your loop multiple times without making any mistakes. Increase the tempo and repeat!
That’s it. Good luck with that song!

Thanks so very much to Jonathan Muth for this fantastic activity! You can follow him on Twitter here.