Before musicians begin writing their own material, they usually learn cover songs. Here are 5 ways musicians have changed how they learn songs.

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Sheet Music

Old yellowed sheet music for piano and vocals, no lyrics

Many years ago if you learned a song you needed sheet music or a really good ear. Not every musician can read sheet music and most commercial music never winds up charted out. So how has the way musicians learned songs changed over the years?

5 Ways Musicians Have Changed How They Learn Songs

Garage band practicing

In the past 1000 years, a lot has changed in how we listen to music. In the 1930s is when vinyl records came out and became really popular in the 1950s. Since then music has gone from vinyl to 8-track to cassette to compact disk to mp3 and mp4s and now people just download the music.

Learn Songs From Vinyl


I remember back in the day seeing my uncle Duber learn songs by moving the record needle back to hear each part. That is where I got the idea. I learned the basics from my dad but it was my uncle that began showing me commercial songs. From there I was on my own.

I remember having to put quarters on the needle to keep the records from skipping but that is how I figured songs out by moving the needle back and going over the part until I got it. Then I would learn the next part and so on.

Learn Songs From Cassette

Old cassette tapes and player on wooden surface
Antonis Liokouras/ThinkStock/GettyStock

8-track tapes came along but you could rewind or fast forward them so I don't think many people used those to learn songs.

When cassettes came along you could fast-forward and rewind them which made learning songs easy. Plus, you could copy all the songs you wanted to learn from vinyl and put them on cassette so you can practice songs from a variety of artists and not ruin your vinyl.

I wore a lot of cassette players and tapes out but it was an efficient way to learn commercial music.

Learning by Tablature

Guitarist Magazine/Future via Getty Images
Guitarist Magazine/Future via Getty Images

Tablature is not a new thing for string instruments. It was first known in Europe in 1300 but learning songs on the guitar using tablature didn't get popular until the 1980s. In the late 60s and early 70s, you could learn guitar from certain artists or albums using tablature but it was rare to find anything good.

Thanks to Eddie Van Halen and several before him, everyone wanted to learn to play the guitar. It wasn't until the 80s when Guitar and Guitar World magazines came out that had how to play popular songs in them using tablature. Now there are tons of websites dedicated to tablature from all your favorite artists.

Learn By Compact Disk

portable cd player on white background

When CDs came along, learning music was much faster because you could fast forward or rewind much faster and some players had a repeat where you could mark a spot and it would play it over and over. If the song hadn't come out on tablature yet, I would grab my Sony Walkman and learn songs that way. I went through a few players but it was an effective way of learning new material.

YouTube And Cellphones

NurPhoto via Getty Images
NurPhoto via Getty Images

YouTube and cell phones have been game changers for learning new music. Often someone on YouTube has already done the work and will show you how to play the song. If not, you can watch a live video and see how the guitar player, drummer, or bass player is playing the song and figure it out that way.  Some YouTube how-to videos even include the tablature.

Learning songs has come a long way in the last 50 years and who knows how it will change moving forward but one thing for sure is, it is a whole lot easier to learn an instrument than back in the day.

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