Learning Versus Knowing a Song
By Jon Nicol
It’s one thing to LEARN your part of a song. It’s another thing to KNOW it.
One of the biggest mistakes we make as worship musicians is to stop at LEARN.
When I KNOW a guitar solo or riff of a song, I can play it smoothly and with feeling. If I’ve only just LEARNED it, I might hit the right notes but fail to really turn it into music.
If I've stopped at just learning the tenor part of a song, I think more about how I sing it than worshiping God through the harmony and the lyrics. But if I know it, I don't have to think about the mechanics of it. It just rolls out.
Learning a piece of music simply gives you the ability to play it. When you make the extra investment to know it, to internalize it, that gives you the ability to shape the notes and rhythms and chords into music. You can play it with your mind free to worship, and lead others in worship.
Fixing the Mistake
Take one personal practice session and ‘learn’ the song. Then give it a rest. Spend another practice session getting to know it – moving it from conscious compentence to unconconscious competance. That doesn't mean you can play it in your sleep--well, actually almost. You want it to become second nature.
For some, the move to conscious competence to unconsious competence is easy. For others it's a lot of work. It just depends on how you learn and process music.
Over-Fixing the Mistake
Realistically, can you do this with every song? No, especially if your team performs specials and new songs often. In that case, you’ll want to figure out the where the diminishing return occurs.
The “law of diminishing return” in music preparation looks like this:
Let’s say a perfect execution of a song is a “10” – right notes, in the pocket, with feeling--just spot-on perfect. At the other end of the scale is a first-time, mangled-up, sight-read mess. That’s a “1.”
Let’s say you need to learn a song for Sunday. If you practiced it for 5 hours, you might be able to make it a 9 or 10, that is, nearly perfect. But you could likely practice it for 90 minutes and still play it at a 7 or 8–i.e., really well.
Is the extra 3½ hours to play it a notch or two higher really worth it? It might be. But let me argue that often, it probably isn't.
That’s what you need to decide when it comes to learning songs.
If it’s a song that will be in your rotation each month for the next year or two? Or maybe this is going to be recorded for a worship album or a special service that requires flawlessness? Then yes, invest the time.
But if it’s a on-off, “sermon tie-in” song that will likely never be repeated, put the time in it to “knowing it” well enough without over-investing yourself.
A few practical steps
- Create a practice schedule for yourself, both before and after rehearsal. Commit to it in the same way you would commit to a team rehearsal.
- Be realistic with the song load you need to learn. Be intentional about what you invest heavily in and what you don’t.
- Resource: 12 Tips to Memorize Songs
What do think:
Should we strive for 9s and 10s? We're worshiping the Almighty God - doesn't he deserve the absolute best?
Or...on the other hand, is the extra investment really a good stewardship of our time?
Love to hear your thoughts on this!
Post graphic: Joao Critis, Stock.xchang
April 9, 2012Tweet