Three Simple Steps to Learning New Music

One of the most frustrating tasks for some of we barbershoppers is that of learning new music … notes and words.  Not only learning them, but also learning them correctly.  However, music is precisely what we are all about.  If you are someone who always seems to be one of the last “off the paper” in the chorus or your quartet perhaps this article may help.  This will not address issues for those fortunate enough to learn from the sheet music and not require learning tracks.  Rather is for those of us who must use a part of the brain that requires seeing, hearing, and repetition.

Learning new music was a real struggle for me for several years.  Then, in 2000 I was invited to attend the North Carolina Harmony Brigade.  To participate I was required to learn 12 songs in about 4-1/2 months, and learn them well enough to hold my part in a quartet.  Most were difficult arrangements and I soon realized that what I had been doing in the past was not going to work.  The following is a process that was a result of that challenge.  If you have difficulty learning new material, I encourage you to try it.  The process initially takes about 1 to 1-1/2 hours of uninterrupted time at home.  The rest you can do during drive time.

Learning Tracks

The first step is to set down with music in hand and the learning tracks.  Listen and read through the music 10 times.  It’s also an advantage if you have headphones as your part will be more predominant and you won’t encourage others in the house to do something they will later regret by having to listen to the same song over and over again.  This is especially true if you are learning the bari part.  It’s important that you resist the temptation to sing at this point (very hard to do).  Just read and listen.  I repeat, no singing.  This will take 30 minutes to an hour of uninterrupted time depending on the song.

Tenth Time is the charm

The second step is to immediately listen and sing along 10 times while reading the music.  As you do this, make note of any measure(s) that seem to be difficult.  If these parts continue to be a problem you can go back later and work on them.  However, you will probably find that by doing steps 1 and 2 you will eventually be able to visualize certain measures, especially difficult ones, as you work on step

Drive and Sing


The third step is to file the sheet music and rehearse during drive time.  If you drive much at all you should be able to learn about any arrangement in less than 2 weeks.  My average is now 4 to 7 days depending on the arrangement.One other thing that I have found helpful is to make learning tracks on some media (CD, iPod, etc.) of all your chorus and/or quartet songs.  Playing it occasionally will keep the music fresh in your mind.  Will it work for you?  I guess you won’t know unless you try it.  I found the more I used this process, the easier it became to learn a new arrangement.  If you have any comments or questions you may contact me at

I will present, in a future article, information on how to use Audacity and Magix Cleaning Lab to assist your learning process.