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Thread: How to remember tunes?

  1. #1

    Default How to remember tunes?

    Hi all,

    I have been playing only 4 months. I practice every day and I cycle through the same fiddle tunes over and over. I am improving every day and having a blast. However, all the tunes that I play are from tabs. No matter how many times I play the tune over and over I still can not remember one single tune completely. My question is, How do you all remember songs? How long does it take you all to remember a song? I have no musical background but Iím always improving and I wonder, is the art of remembering a tune a talent/gift or can it be learned?

    Thank you, Doug

  2. #2
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    Default Re: How to remember tunes?

    I've found that listening to music is as important as playing, and it helps not to set my sights too high.

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    Registered User Brian560's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to remember tunes?

    Try practicing a few measures at a time without the music in front of you. Once you can play those measures without referring to the sheet music , add a few more until you can play the whole tune from memory.

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    Default Re: How to remember tunes?

    I, too, have a hard time remembering tunes. I have used all the methods I have previously read about in this forum and they have helped, but I still find it more difficult than I think it should be. I do recommend searching through the Cafe for tips for remembering tunes.
    Once I have memorized or almost memorized a tune I put it on a list with the following; TITLE KEY 1ST TWO MEASURES WITH WORDS /NOTES. When preparing a set list I can pull the tunes I want and print out a list with the info. Not full proof but I don't go blank as often.
    I do envy those with the talent and memory to be like an encyclopedia of tunes.
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    Kelley Mandolins Skip Kelley's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to remember tunes?

    Doug, Dan gave you good advice. Listen to recorded versions of the songs you are wanting to remember. I once heard Steve Kaufman say the best way to commit tunes to memory is to play that particular tune all the way through once you learn it at least 25 times before you stop.
    Maybe use a practice session to play just one song. When I was playing a lot, I would play a new tune at a comfortable speed using a metronome, gradually speeding up until I started making mistakes and then slow it down until I started making mistakes. That worked well for me.

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    Registered User John Flynn's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to remember tunes?

    All I can say what has worked for me over the years.
    • As people have said, listening to tunes will help you remember them. Very important.
    • Try to learn to "sing" the melodies with nonsense syllables like "la, la, la" or "da, da, da." Don't worry if you don't sing well. If I can sing a melody, I can usually play it.
    • I remember tunes I learn by ear better than ones I learn from tab or sheet music.
    • It helps me to think of the "shapes" of tunes on the fretboard and the feel of playing each phrase. Like "Soldier's Joy" has a very different shape and feel than say, "Flop Eared Mule." It's like typing different sentences on a computer.
    • Get to some jams, play with other people. I remember the tunes I have jammed on the most for much longer.

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    Registered User Jon Hall's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to remember tunes?

    Humming the the tune as I play it helps me remember it. I've always found it difficult to memorize a tune from tab. I learned to music notation several years ago and I find it easier to memorize from notation than tab. I think it is because I can see visual rise and fall of the melody and the intervals between notes. I realize this can be a bit discouraging if one doesn't read notation but maybe it will be an incentive to learn.

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    Registered User Eldon Dennis's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to remember tunes?

    My suggestion would be to ease up on the self pressure to have tunes committed to memory within 4 months of taking up a new instrument and also having no previous musical background. To me it sounds as if you're progressing very well by being able to get through some fiddle tune tabs within such a short time period. I've found that learning a tune to the point that I don't need the notes or tabs takes me much longer than I would like, but eventually muscle memory begins to kick in and "memory" starts to happen. Personally, it took me a long time before I could really relax and trust muscle memory, but it eventually happened. Slow, accurate repetition will eventually get you to your goal. You're trying to learn a lot of new things all at once by taking up this wonderful instrument - be patient, put in the time and as said above, listen to the tunes you're working on. Hang in there and be kind to yourself!
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    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to remember tunes?

    I would also suggest trying some of the tunes you've played the most, and feel the most comfortable with, without looking at the tablature. You can get your brain convinced through repetition, that you can't play without the paper (or screen) in front of you. I have worked with classically-trained musicians who had all the technique you could want, but just weren't able to play without looking at sheet music –– even tunes/songs that weren't particularly challenging, and that they'd played for months with me. That was the way they'd "always" played, and without the visual cues, they were unsure and unsteady.

    Another thing that can help, is to play with other musicians; their playing will reinforce your memory, and your ears become more important than your eyes in delineating the tune. Good luck -- don't worry, it'll come! Four months is the time of "baby steps," and I'd bet that a year from now you'll be as independent of tablature as you care to be.
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    Registered User Pete Martin's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to remember tunes?

    Sing the melodies to yourself. Especially as you are learning them. You can’t play it if you can’t sing it.


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  20. #11

    Default Re: How to remember tunes?

    Lots of great advice above. I'll add this:

    We all have different talents and weak spots. I'm fairly dexterous and imaginative, but I have terrible trouble memorizing - a real Teflon brain.

    So there are two things I do that make it possible for me to play music:

    1. I learn the chords. Remembering chord progressions is a lot easier than remembering melodies. And once you know a song's chords, it's MUCH easier to recall how the tune goes.

    2. I improvise. Once you know a few chords, look for notes that go with them (a.k.a. scales) and practice just noodling around. You can find lots of note patters online. I've spent countless hours improvising. Over time, it will lead to developing a style. The only danger is getting locked into just one or two scales. Keep an open mind. And open ears!

  21. #12

    Default Re: How to remember tunes?

    1st step... Know your scales. G scale, D scale, A scale, Em scale, etc.
    2st step... Listen to a recording of the piece to wish to learn until it resonates in your mind.
    3nd step... Spend some time with the tab music and your instrument.
    4th step... Get to know the chord structure of the piece you wish to learn.
    5th step...Apply 1,2, 3 and 4...
    Many years ago I sat it on a jam with Jimmy Ibbotson from the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. He was asked how he played and remembered music. His comment was, "It's easy, when the chord structure is G, play the G scale stuff, when it's D, play D scale stuff, etc. It all works out in the end".
    Do that and you'll play the song AND be complemented on your improve abilities.

  22. #13
    '`'`'`'`'`'`'`'`'`'`' Jacob's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to remember tunes?

    Quote Originally Posted by Pete Martin View Post
    Sing the melodies to yourself. Especially as you are learning them. You can’t play it if you can’t sing it.
    Spot on. Best method I've found to learn and to teach melodies on brass instruments.

  23. #14

    Default Re: How to remember tunes?

    A lot of people when they begin either try to learn the entire song all in one chunk or to learn one note or a few random notes at a time. Neither way works well. learning one note at a time or small disconnected pieces loses the rhythm and flow of the tune. Trying to learn the entire thing in one piece overloads the short term memory and it all gets lost.

    Instead it helps to break it into phrases. Then learn one phrase at a time. A phrase is like a sentence in English. It will have a logical start and ending. It is like learning a poem or a speech one line at a time instead of trying to digest the whole thing or learn it one word at a time. If you can play the phrase 20 times in a row with no mistakes you will usually have it learned and you can go on to the next phrase.

    Almost all tunes and songs have a structure. If you understand the structure you can organize how you approach the tune and save a lot of work. You mentioned fiddle tunes.

    80 percent of the fiddle tunes are square tunes. Fiddle tunes are classed as square or crooked. A square tune is 32 measures long. To make your learning easier they will have an "A" part which is played twice and a "B" part which is also played twice so your work is cut in half already. The "A" part and "B" part are each 8 measures. To make it easier yet, the "A" part and "B" part have a certain order of phrases in them. Each part has four roughly two measure phrases. The "A" part will have a two measure call followed by a two measure answer, which is a variation on the call then it repeats the call phrase then has an ending phrase. The "B" part will have the same order of phrases. Sometimes the ending will be used on both the "A" and "B" parts. So to learn a 32 measure fiddle tune you really only have to learn six separate phrases or melody lines because each call is used twice. Sometimes five if the end is repeated between the A and B parts.

    Other songs and tunes have particular common structures as well. Rags have certain phrase structures that get used. Blues has a handful of phrase and chord structures, the 12 bar pattern being the most common. There are commonly used patterns in jazz and pop songs and country songs as well. As you listen more you will start to recognize them A lot of melodies get reused or pieces of them get reused. As you learn more songs you will start to hear a song and say hey that is just like or almost like that other song I already know. If you learn God Didn't Make Honky Tonk Angels you will find you know I'm Thinking Tonight of My Blue Eyes and Great Speckled Bird except for the lyrics. If you learn Salty Dog or Don't Let Your Deal Go Down you will find you know hundreds of other almost the same tunes.

    As others has said listening over and over and learning to recognize the patterns will go a long ways for you.

    Have fun and dig in.

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    Default Re: How to remember tunes?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jacob View Post
    Spot on. Best method I've found to learn and to teach melodies on brass instruments.
    +1 for singing it! This is one of the reasons I like songs with lyrics, because it makes it much easier for me to remember once I learn the lyrics. Even without lyrics though, I often find if I try to sing or hum a melody that I thought I knew, suddenly parts of it are incomprehensible until I go through it note by note and get it right. Then it's repeat, repeat, repeat.

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    not a donut Kevin Winn's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to remember tunes?

    For me, learning a tune by ear or visually seems to embed it in my brain much better than learning by tab.

    When I started, I lived on MandoLessons, and learned a bunch of fiddle tunes. Baron breaks each one down into bite-sized phrases and slowly walks you through each one, then strings them together. All of the tunes I learned that way got right under my fingers. Not long after that, I attended the (excellent) TaborGrass sessions and learned a bunch more fiddle tunes, but those were exclusively through tabs. I still have to go back and check the tabs once in a while to remind myself how those tunes go.

    I do use tabs once I've got a tune more or less down, but it's only to check to see if I'm playing a particular passage correctly, not to learn it in the first place. I try to remind myself that old-time and bluegrass music is primarily a handed-down form. Lots of stuff that I hear/play probably wasn't even written in any form for decades...
    "Keep your hat on, we may end up miles from here..." - Kurt Vonnegut

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    Registered User maudlin mandolin's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to remember tunes?

    Singing a tune is the best way to memorise it. Kenny Hall, who was blind and could not rely on any written material, used to make up simple lyrics to instrumental tunes to help him remember them. A lot of well known fiddle tunes that we usually treat as instrumental actually have lyrics if you look them up.

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    Default Re: How to remember tunes?

    It (memorizing) just comes with practice ! The more you sing/play you will eventually store the information in your brain and it is memorized ! No big secret formula ! Practice, practice !
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  31. #19

    Default Re: How to remember tunes?

    All of the above and:
    -Join the Newbies or Song A Week Social forums here on MandolinCafe. Forcing yourself to make reasonable live recordings may help you.

    -start an old tune with a purpose, keep going and then write a circle in pencil on the places where you mess up. Now practice the measure before, during and after. Over and over. Think about your finger movements and the fretboard while humming the melody, why is this particular part unfamiliar?
    -no errors, metronome and slow right down. If you can’t play horribly smooth and slow, without the notation, even repeated measures for just 5 minutes, try to work out why. Focus?
    -think about finger movements of four or so notes like a letter in the alphabet, can you play the same movement transposed when the IV chord is playing and the V?

    Remember that everyone remembers differently, try everything. Then try it again. It’s just practice. Good luck!
    Last edited by Simon DS; Oct-30-2020 at 9:08am.

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    Registered User Bunnyf's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to remember tunes?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jacob View Post
    Spot on. Best method I've found to learn and to teach melodies on brass instruments.
    This has worked well for me too. It’s kinda like what I tell my husband, who is a terrible speller. He asked me yesterday how to spell RAH-diculous. I said “what?”. He said, this time louder, REE-diculous. I said to him what I often say,“if you don’t pronounce something correctly, you’ll never be able to spell it correctly”. Hearing something correctly and getting it in your ear is the first step; then get it on your lips; then get it under your fingers.

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    Registered User Ed McGarrigle's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to remember tunes?

    I’m more or less in the same boat , playing for about 6 months and have always had a hard time memorizing anything. I’ve been learning using Oaim.ie website.
    What I find has been really helpful is listening to a phrase, playing along with the tab, playing along not looking at the tab, moving along phrase by phrase after I have a phrase under my fingers and in my memory. The thing I like about the OAIM lessons is very easy to back up the video and listen repeatedly. It’s not unusual for me to listen and repeatedly play a phrase , I’d bet 50 times sometimes. Yes, that’s embarrassing to admit, but although I’m a slow learner, it’s working. So I think patience and repeating and turning away from the tab is the thing. I close my eyes and listen And try to pull it up.. Also I find when I try to remember , playing very softly seems to help me focus, don’t know why. I’ve found this method has also helped A lot with timing, especially now that I’m working on a jig and the picking pattern DUD DUD rather than just DUDU

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    Default Re: How to remember tunes?

    Check out the software program "Transcribe!" (You need the exclamation point). It is wonderful as all of the music on your computer will show up in it (i tunes, cd's, downloads).
    You can slow them down, change key, highlight sections you want to work on, loop, etc. That way you can play along without the tab and muscle memory will kick in after a bit.
    It only costs $39 and there is a 30 day free trial. Look at their website and they have links to you tube videos explaining it. I find it very helpful in many ways. No financial interest just a satisfied user.

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  36. #23

    Default Re: How to remember tunes?

    I agree with a lot of the suggestions here. I think it's best to internalize the piece first, then learn how to play it on your instrument. A book I have, "The Musician's Way" suggests using a piano to help learn the piece first, and listening to several versions of it by different musicians so that you're learning the spirit of the piece rather than just learning one way to play it.

    This week I memorized and learned to play Bach's Cello Suite No.1 - Prelude. I already knew how the very beginning of the piece goes, and learned it by looking at the TAB. The second half was much more difficult for me to memorize. I could play it while looking at the TAB, but it wasn't making enough of an impression. I had to listen to it. I broke it into sections and listened to a section several times, then looked at the music notation and TAB, and learned that section. I tend to be a little impatient and move on to the next section before really having the previous one down. But I now have it memorized.

    edit: I used the Capo app on my phone to play sections, slow it down, change the pitch to match the mandolin. I'm sure there are other apps that do the same thing.
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  38. #24
    two t's and one hyphen fatt-dad's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to remember tunes?

    I have a gift of remembering melodies. There are many melodies within my head.

    Endless entertainment too! Seems I'm always thinking of some melody - up there in my head. I walk down the hallway and a melody will accompany my footsteps. It's like practice in the head!

    When I play, those memories are still in my head - I just can't always harken them. So, for some tunes, I just remember the first few fretted notes. Once I hear those, the rest comes to me.

    We all come up with our methods, I guess?

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    Orrig Onion HonketyHank's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to remember tunes?

    Lots of good advice here! Thanks for posing the question. And if a Song a Week is a bit ambitious due to competing priorities, the Newbies social group has a Tune a Month activity going.
    New to mando? Click this link -->Newbies to join us at the Newbies Social Group.

    Just send an email to rob.meldrum@gmail.com with "mandolin setup" in the subject line and he will email you a copy of his ebook for free (free to all mandolincafe members).

    My website and blog: honketyhank.com

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