Jam School Activities

Learn a Song from a CD

Starting Point #4 in the Series


To learn a song on your instrument by listening to it on a CD, MP3, etc.

What You Need to Know Already:

Things to Help You With This Skill:


Learning songs from recordings is the time-honored way for most pop musicians to learn their craft. Like most skills, it takes practice to be able to do it quickly and efficiently. Why learn it? Because the vast majority of working pop bands learn their songs this way. There is no written music and every band member is responsible for their individual part. In fact, you'll find that when playing in a band you will rarely play the melody. That's usually the singers' job. You have to pick out the parts for your instrument from the record. It's the same process, but a little more advanced than melody playing. This will help to prepare you.

While a song can be 'crammed' if necessary, it is better to listen to it repeatedly before learning so that you know it well enough to sing it. Songs are much easier to learn when their melody is in your memory. One good thing about recordings, though, is that you can start-stop-start-stop as much as you need to. Depending on the speed and/or difficulty of the song, you might even want to slow it down with a computer program like Transkriber.

As far as the song itself goes, this exercise will provide you with some real-world challenges. Among them:

Playing pop tunes on a band instrument can be complicated. You need a clear, discernible melody and many rock tunes lack this. Other songs have melodies, but they may fail to follow the major scale, or modulate to different tonal centers. These are best avoided when making first efforts. I have selected songs to try according to the following criteria:

Songs are grouped by artist, and the following information is provided:

Use the Major Scale Transposition Chart from the Transpose A Song activity to identify these elements. Then transpose those items for your instrument, if you know how to do so. If not, click here for a band instrument transposition chart.

Step 1 - Select a song that's familiar. Anything in this collection that you know well enough to sing or hum, should be okay to play. (NOTE: For your first try, I suggest selecting a song with NO ACCIDENTALS.)

Step 2 - Check the key of the song on the chart, and then use the band instrument transposition chart to determine what key it's in on your instrument.

Step 3 - Check the starting and ending notes for the song. These will be expressed as numbered scale elements. If you're not used to using the numbers, go to the Major Scale Transposition Chart and see what notes the numbers correspond to in your instrument's key for this song.

Step 4 - Once you've found out what key to use on your instrument, run up and down the appropriate major scale a few times.

Step 5 - Start playing song along with the recording. This may involve a lot of start-stop activity. That's okay. If you have difficulty, stop playing and listen to the recording once or twice. Then try playing again. If you run into notes that don't match with your major scale, check the list of accidentals for that song. They are expressed as numbers, and you can get the notes by looking them up in your instruments key on the Major Scale Transposition Chart.

Step 6 - This process is known as hacking, and you're not expected to get everything right the first time you try. Instead, you hack at it over and over until you have learned the song.

Click here to walk through the process on a song.

Songs to Try

This section contains the info necessary to try playing these songs along with the CD. They have been selected especially for this activity. Give'em a try.

Play Along With Kenny G. Holiday Albums

The Beatles

Song Key Starting Note Ending Note Accidentals
All My Loving E 4 1 none
Can't Buy Me Love Bb 1 1 b3, b7
Hard Day's Night G 3 b3 b3, b6, b7
And I Love Her E/F 2 3 none
Yesterday F 2 3 #4, #5
Nowhere Man E 5 1 none
Yellow Submarine F# 3 1 none

Elvis Presley

Song Key Starting Note Ending Note Accidentals
Don't Be Cruel D 6 1 none
Love Me F 3 1 b3, #4
Love Me Tender D 5 1 none
Jailhouse Rock Eb b3 1 b3
All Shook Up Bb 5 1 none
Heartbreak Hotel E 5 1 b3, b7
That's When Your Heartaches Begin Bb 5 1 b3, #5, #6
Blue Suede Shoes A 1 1 b3, b7

The Beach Boys

Song Key Starting Note Ending Note Accidentals
Surfin' USA Eb b7 1 b7
Surfer Girl D/Eb 5 1 none
Fun, Fun, Fun Eb 6 1 b7
Do You Wanna Dance? Bb 5 1 none
Help Me, Rhonda Db 5? 1 none


Patsy Cline

Song Key Starting Note Ending Note Accidentals
Walkin' After Midnight C/Db 5 1 b3
Crazy Bb/B 3 1 #1, #2, #4
I Fall to Pieces Bb 5 1 none
She's Got You F 3 1 none
Faded Love Eb 1 1 none

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