Introducing New Songs to Students

New songs are good for your perspective – they can keep you feeling inspired and eager to learn more. Often, you can chop up a new song and reuse new licks you’ve learned elsewhere. They can also help you refine and polish your playing.

But learning new material can also be a balance. You want to make sure you’ve mastered new material; don’t take on too much at once. On the other hand, you also want to keep from getting in a rut just playing the same stuff over and over; always be striving for at least one new song.

After a student learns the basics of rolls and chords plus a few standard licks, I like for them to always have at least one new song to be working on.

When it comes time to introduce new material, here are a few points I try to remember.

Some Background
Some songs have a very interesting background to them that isn’t obvious in their title or words. Plus, if you’re only learning an instrumental break, you might not even get exposed to the words. So if a song has a bit of history behind it, I like to make it known.

Medium Speed to Help Get a Feel
I play the song through the whole way, so the student can get an idea of what it sounds like. I’ll play it fast enough that it has the proper feel to it, something that is lost if you only hear a song at a very slow pace (like the pace that you usually learn it at).

Chord Structure
Next up is going over the chords to the song. Learning the chords might not be as critical to learning the melody and / or a break to the song, but it helps get a feel for the song nevertheless.

Tab – Slow it Down
Here is the bulk of the effort, whether I’m teaching the song from tablature or from example. I always slow it way down. That might seem very obvious, but actually that’s easier to forget about as an instructor than you might imagine. After all, you can play it fast, why can’t everyone else play it just as fast? 🙂

Backing Up
Last but not least is learning how to play back up to the new song. Have you ever played a break at a jam session, only to remember that you never took the time to learn the chords? If it’s a simple song, you may be able to work them out, but not always. Be sure to know how to back up any song that you know a break to!

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About Phill Gibson

I'm from Huntsville, Alabama where I work as a Systems Engineer and part-time banjo and mandolin instructor. I've been playing various instruments since my teen years. I started mandolin at about age 17 and banjo at 20. I love just about all kinds of music. In terms of banjo styles, I play Scruggs and melodic and am working on becoming more advanced with single string. I'm also working on 4-finger banjo, which is way off the beaten path. I would like to see more jazz techniques integrated into bluegrass situations; counterpoint, especially. So long-term, that's what I'm doing. I'm also very keen on astronomy, ATM (amateur telescope making), birding, christian homeschooling, martial arts, organic gardening and about 30 other distracting hobbies to a (mercifully) lesser extent.
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