12 Steps to Learning Music

This is a 12-step Program to assist you in learning your music. It is only a suggestion until you find another system that is best for you.

The success of this program is contingent upon the effective listening skills of the learner much more than upon the musical background or ability to read music.

Any of the 12 steps may be repeated before continuing on to the next step. But, remember…EACH step is important to the overall successful results of learning ALL the right notes, words and timing of the new song.

DO NOT eliminate any of the steps because they may appear to be insignificant to you.

STEP 1 - Listen to the music on the master tape while you close your eyes. (This will familiarize you with notes, timing and general flavor of the song.)

STEP 2 - Watch the notes on your music while you listen to the tape. DO NOT SING YET!

STEP 3 - Again, watch the notes on your music while you listen to the tape. DO NOT SING YET!

STEP 4 - Watch the words on your music while you listen to the tape. Please…no singing yet!

STEP 5 - On a separate piece of paper, write down all the lyrics to the new song. (you can refer to your music if you need to. Now, watch your own paper while you listen to the tape. No, not yet…don’t sing, please!)

STEP 6 - Watch the notes again while you listen to the tape. Remember…no singing!

STEP 7 - Watch the words on your music while you listen to the tape. Be careful…not a sound!

STEP 8 - Try to write down all the words again on a separate piece of paper without looking at your printed music. If you have trouble, listen to the tape again while you watch the words. Then try writing it again without looking. Stay on this step until you have all the right words written without looking back at the printed music. Now proceed to Step 9.

STEP 9 - Hurray! Finally, you can add YOUR voice! Now watch the notes on your music while you hum along with the tape. Hum…Hum…SINGING IS NEXT!

STEP 10 - Watch the words on your music while you SING along with the tape. CAN YOU BELIEVE THIS, YOU ARE REALLY GOING TO SING THIS SONG FOR THE VERY FIRST TIME! However, if you have any difficulty, circle the spot on your music as you go all the way through. Then, go back and listen (don’t sing) those parts again. Happy singing!

STEP 11 - Put your own practice tape in your tape recorder. Now, on your own tape, SING the new part all the way through WITHOUT looking at your music. Bet you can hardly wait to hear this step!

Watch your music and listen to your own tape and see if you are correct. You should be WONDERFUL! But, should you have any doubt, go back and check your part again on the master tape.

Concentrate on LISTENING to the parts you circled earlier to be sure you have made the corrections.


With a little bit of luck plus all your hard work, YOU are now the proud possessor of one more selection of music made beautiful by your addition of………all the correct notes, words and timing! Composed in 1986 by: Carolyn Sexton Region #19 - SAI This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

How to Learn Music From a CD With Sheet Music

1. Prep Work

Use the tools that you have but try to get the tools you will need to make it easy on yourself. Here are some tools to use or acquire if you can.
1. A computer w/headset
2. A Part Predominate (PP) CD of the song with ALL 4 parts and a (Full) version (no part predominate)
3. Accompanied by the Sheet Music (Score) of the SAME arrangement.
4. A CD Player w/headset
5. An MP3 or Ipod w/headset (optional)
Load songs on computer, and MP3 or IPOD. These players will explain how to convert the format to work with the player. Use the CD for your CD Player.

2. Listen ONLY

The first thing you need to do is to listen to the CD. ALL PARTS. Especially the LEAD Predominate version and the FULL Quartet version. In order to learn BASS, BARI, or TENOR you MUST have a knowledge of the MELODY of the song and the FEEL of what it is suppose to sound like. Listen ONLY. DO NOT attempt to sing along at this time. Put on your PP set the Player to “REPEAT” and start listening to your part. Do Not Sing. Go to #3 and proceed while listening.
You are not only going to learn a new song in 1 week, but you are going to become a better and more quality singer for your chorus and/or quartet. Guaranteed!

3. Your Sheet Music Is Important

Second, your “Score” is your guide, like a map of your song. You do not have to be an accomplished musician to use it. Make yourself a couple of copies first of your music. When you finish, you may want to return your “music package” to the chapter for a complete refund of your deposit. While you are listening to the CD and using High-lighter pens, mark up your copy sheets. I use one (yellow, to mark the Bari notes so I can follow the notes quickly with my eyes as I am watching and listening where the notes are going). I use a pink one for the words that ONLY the bari sings. No other parts. and change to RED when the bari has a PICK-UP or SOLO part. Listen to the part and determine where the breaths are being taken. Mark them with a PENCIL line. Your director may want to change them later.
This is important. While you are listening, MOUTH THE WORDS. Again Do Not Sing. Note where tricky word combinations “tongue-tie-you”. Mark them on your sheet music. Listen how they get across the phrase on the CD. Re-write the word. It may be written long but hyphenated or shortened somehow. Now, while you are listening to your part and mouthing the words over and over, write the words of your part only on paper, in shortened form so that at a future time you can pick up this sheet of paper (whole song on 1 sheet) and sing it along with the CD.

Let’s Sing It

OK, now that you have listened to this song over and over while mouthing the words and getting your mouth to sing all these tricky lines at tempo (ALWAYS AT THE TEMPO YOU ARE GOING TO SING IT ON STAGE), marking up your sheets, figuring out where you are going to get your breaths taken, LETS SING IT. Start out softly at first. HUMMM IT. YOU SHOULD NOT TRY TO BLAST IT JUST BECAUSE THE QUARTET DOES. No one is listening. SOFTLY sing your part. Warm up your voice first 5 to 10 times through should get you to the next stage. NEVER strain your voice. Turn the volume down so you can here the singer on the CD and your own voice at the same time. TRY TO MATCH HIS SOUND AND QUALITY EXACTLY. By this I mean if he sounds like Elvis, Frank S. or Jerry Lee, SO SHOULD YOU. Try to match their “timber” and sound perfectly. ALWAYS DO THIS. Also if he goes loud so do you (Mark Music). If he goes softly, oh so softly, so do you (MM) Keep repeating and come along as your voice warms up experiment a little louder. 25 – 50 times over and over. Stop when you get tired. Drink plenty of water and keep your throat lubricated. Take breaks. put it on your IPOD or MP3 and go for a walk. NO ONE AROUND? Let it fly. Sing freely. Remember to Breath from your diaphragm not your lungs. Open your throat, raise the upper pallet of the roof of your mouth. Practice, Practice, Practice. 100 times. Practice the way you would like your audience to hear you sing.
REMEMBER: Practice Makes Permanent! So permanently cement your voice with good habits.

Got It?

Now, switch and play the (FULL) version with all 4 parts equal. Match your part. You may no longer be “Predominent” . Blend, Blend, Blend. LEADS: Lead, Lead, Lead. Basses, Baries, and Tenors. remember the CONE. Soft on top, Broad on bottom. How you doing? Are you out of the Sheet Music yet? Try It. Opps, missed one or two. Use your “Short Sheet” you made. You’re out of the wheel chair and need a crutch maybe just a cane. Keep working it. OK. Congratulations You have reached another hurdle. YOUR OUT OF THE MUSIC.
Now, put on the PP song again. Notice, Your part is on one ear piece and the other three are in the other ear piece. ONLY LISTEN TO THE OTHER THREE AND DO NOT PUT YOUR PART IN YOUR EAR. NOW WITH NO MUSIC.

Learning Your Music

One of the most frustrating tasks for some of we barbershoppers is that of learning new music ... notes and words. Not merely learning them, but 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 a learning CD/tape; rather it 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. Some of the songs were difficult arrangements. 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.

1st Sit down with music in hand and a learning CD in your player. 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 to 45 minutes depending on the length of the song.

2nd Immediately listen to the song 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 3.

3rd File the music away and put the CD in your car to rehearse during drive time. If you drive much at all you should be able to learn about any arrangement in about a week. My average is now 4 to 7 days depending on the arrangement. My office is only about 2 miles from home, so you can see I don't get a lot of drive time unless I take a long trip. One other thing that I have found helpful is to make a learning CD/tape of all your chorus and/or quartet repertoire. 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.

Duane Henry,
Member of NCHB, co-founder of the Indiana Harmony Brigade.


  • "Allow me to give you my personal perspective about this kind of weekend  For having just experienced the Indiana Harmony Brigade this past November. The eXtreme Quartetting Brigade is truly a high for anyone who loves to quartet. The fellowship, ringing chords and just plain enjoyment of singing with your  fellow Barbershoppers is what it's all about. I was very apprehensive when I  first decided to go, specifically regarding the time needed to prepare. Ten songs is a lot of music to learn really well and... I just didn't know what  to expect!  However, when I arrived, I realized this was a quartet singers place  to be. There was no question everyone was very dedicated and knew their music. It was without a doubt a most fulfilling experience for me. In fact, if it weren't for my role as the coordinator of our Harmony University's Quartet  College, I would be a part of the HUXQB this summer."

  • "Thank You! In your modesty you placed most, if not all, of the credit for the success of IHB on others. While it is true that the others were necessary for the weekend to happen, the bulk of the inspiration, hard work, and "invested hours" fell on your shoulders. It was great...great meals...great fun...great music...and great fellowship!!! I was amazed at how well it was planned and coordinated. I'm sure there were glitches, there always are, but they must have been minor and unknown to most of us...what a feat of organization! Above all, I appreciated the opportunity to sing with some of the best quarteters (is that a word) in the district. It was a privilege and a joy that I probably would not have had otherwise. Again, thank you both for your dedication to barber shopping and persistence in organizing the Inaugural IHB. You have earned my greatest admiration."

  • "The Brigade weekend is truly a blast for all!! To fellowship and just plain enjoy what it is we do. I was apprehensive when first invited to the IHB. Will I have time to be prepared and are these guys just plain crazy? I didn't know what to expect. Other than what AH told me and he's kind of vague sometimes. What a dedicated group and I feel that this year's over all chorus level was very high. That chorus could've scored well in any contest, that's the truth!!!” It has been a fulfilling experience for me. I'm looking forward to the next one and, becoming an actual member next year. I just wish more champs, district and international, would step up and enjoy it with us. I'll see what I can do in that department. See you all next year."

  • "I love Brigade more than anything in barbershopping. This is absolutely the best barbershop event of my year. I am a two time District Champion, and an International Quarter Finalist, and I will tell you that this is NOT just another event. Fortunately, I was able to see the vision of Brigade through the eyes of Duane Henry and Terry Silke. I knew before going that this could be the best thing to happen to barbershop in our area ever!"




  • "Thanks for this wonderful present you have given to us. The idea sounded good when you originally described it, but this turned out to be a significant highlight of my Barbershop career. I'm indebted to you, my friend, for this experience. You've done a good thing here and made a true impact on this hobby. Not everyone gets a chance to do that. I'm very glad you took that chance."

  • "Thanks!!!!!!!!!!!! Duane, and please pass on my heartfelt thanks to all who helped you bring this event into being. The weekend was A truly Great Experience that will be remembered and replayed in my mind throughout the year. Our chorus went to the Lafayette Tippecanotes Guest night Tuesday and it was all we could talk about."



  • "What can I say??? What a terrific weekend. I have to admit that I have been having a little barbershop burn-out lately. Did you and the guys change that! It was just what I needed to recharge my batteries on this great hobby of ours."

  • "Great all round. Everyone was prepared."

  • "One of the best barbershop events I ever attended."

  • "I want to do it again next year!"

  • "Great singers, great company, well organized."

  • "It was better than my wildest expectations."

  • "The event exceeded my expectations. I'm glad I went. Everybody I sang with was prepared."

  • "Everyone I sang with was well prepared."

  • "It was better than expected and I expected a lot."

  • Jim DeBusman
    Music Educator, Quartet Development & Promotion
  • Tom Baird
  • Garry Texeira
  • Bryan Hughes
  • Jerald Hatton
  • Ben Geesa
  • Chris Wood
  • Richard Flint
  • Joe Kane
  • Dave Bonnell
  • Frank Fedarko
  • Garry Warlow
  • Steve Delehanty
  • Duane Henry
  • Doug Pratt