How do I play melody of a song on guitar?
Question: How do I Play the Melody of a Song on the Guitar?

I know a bit about scale pattern, music theory and strumming, but when I try to play melody of a familiar song. It takes me hours or a day to find the correct notes through trial and error. One of my friends listens to a song for the first time and play…What should I need to improve? 

I’m really impressed that you’re pursuing this… most guitar students aren’t this committed.

Bad news: This is hard to do.

Good news: Here’s a way to make it easier…

Here’s what to do…

Pick one song

Just one. Make it a simple song that you know REALLY well (Happy Birthday, Jingle Bells, the Star Wars theme song).

I know that you’re really excited.

I know that you don’t really want to learn the melody to Jingle Bells.

I also know that if you’re struggling… you need to start with something simple. 

Just try plucking out a simple melody.  Don’t read music.  Don’t use tab.  Just your guitar and your ear. 


Make Sure you have that Melody Memorized

You should be able to easily identify it.

You should be able to hum it in your sleep.

You should NOT be able to play it yet… just know the sound.

There is no use in attempting to play a song that your don’t really know (at least not in these early attempts).


Find the Root Note of the Song

Find the root note of the song OR find the first note of the song. This is the first tricky part.

You need to match the the note/pitch.

This is where a lot of guitarists struggle (especially if you have no experience or musical background). I’ve found the best way (for me and my students) is to sing along with the first note of the song and try to match that pitch/note on your guitar. Be patient and don’t rush.


Turn the Song Off

Once you’ve found the first note (i.e. your starting point), turn off the song. Don’t try to learn/play while the song runs at the same time… it’ll just mess you up. Instead, start plucking it out by memory (remember tip #2… you gotta have this thing memorized). Be patient. Every so often turn the song on and compare your work with the recorded song.


Practice (correctly)

Use deliberate practice. I’ve written A LOT about deliberate practice here. Basically, if you want to get better, you need to practice properly. This is where most amateur/bedroom guitarists get it wrong. Practice with specific intent. It should be painful (for your brain) and focused.

Repeat. After you’ve mastered your song. Pick another. And then another. The best part about this process is that it gets easier. It’s a skill that you develop and that comes naturally. It doesn’t have to take years or thousands of hours… but it does take time and it does take work.


(Jake Posko does Online Guitar Lessons and Coaching as well as in-home lessons in the Annapolis, Maryland area including: Annapolis, Edgewater, Severna Park, Pasadena, Crownsville, Arnold and Kent Island, inquire about lessons by e-mailing him at

(photo credit: Ray Che)

(This question was originally posted on Quora)