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  1. #51
    String-Bending Heretic mandocrucian's Avatar
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    Default Re: Memorizing a song

    A lot of you folks are making things much more complicated than it should be. QUIT (or cut back on) relying on some sort of Visual "memorization", whether it's Tab, notation, or looking at your fretboard. Those things ARE NOT THE TUNE, but visual representations of it and odds are 100 to 1 that you can't look at a page of sheet music and translate into the sonic inside your head. (That skill is called "sightsinging", and it takes quite a while to acquire.)

    Just remember/memorize the tune by being able to vocalize/hum it. Hum along when you practice it on your instrument - this will help tie your ear and your hands together. Hum along with the CD in the car. If it's a song, sing the ^&*$ thing. The lyrics will burn in an extra layer of memorization.

    I don't care if your fingers can play "Old Joe Clark"; if you can't hum it (without an a instrument in hand) you DON'T REALLY KNOW IT. All you've got is rote-memorized finger movements. (and if anything throw you, or is different with the version your pals are playing, you get LOST.)

    Well, this probably comes across as harsh, but this subject has come up time and time again, and the recommendations to PUT IT IN YOUR EAR are largely ignored. Read some interviews with Johnny Gimble, one of the fiddling greats, and hear him tell how he learned tunes as a kid. Take the advice of real pro players instead of fellow intermediates and beginners. (PLEASE!)

    Niles H.

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  3. #52
    Registered User John Bertotti's Avatar
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    Default Re: Memorizing a song

    And there in lyes tue crux of my issue. I just haven’t been able to remember the tunes, playing or humming. I will need to really drill them into my head somehow.
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  4. #53

    Default Re: Memorizing a song

    I agree that the best way is to just get it into your ear and when you can hum it you’re getting there. Recently though I ran into some people who just can’t do it - and they were not up for just humming simple nursery rhymes either. Ok, if that’s the case then forget about memorizing and just use whatever visual works for you.

    It’s hard work, start with easy tunes…nursury rhymes or a fiddle tune you know and keep at it it’ll come and if it doesn’t it’s not the end of the world just have fun playing and learning.
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    Default Re: Memorizing a song

    To be fair, I know and highly respect folks who just cannot play by ear, but who make their way along anyway. Everyone has specific talents and for them, playing by ear is just not one of their talents. I have friends who cannot play a song unless it has some written form of music that they can play by. For them, sight reading a sheet of written music -- in whatever form -- is how they eventually will memorize a piece, and that's exactly how they will play the piece on into the future unless they find another written arrangement that they prefer.

    I also highly admire people who for example can sight read musical scores (and especially if they can also play by ear). Reading formal written music is definitely not one of my talents. The world's orchestras, formal classical ensembles and for that matter, most jazz and swing bands and groups, would be silent without people like that...

    But in a high-level bluegrass jam or in most old-time jams, or in most similar genre bands, that is not the normal way things operate, and in these environments being dependent on a sheet of paper in front of you prevents you from picking up all the visual cues that are passed between everyone playing. In my experience, the only reason to have something in writing in a jam is for the lyrics to songs; in that case I'd also encourage memorization, but small cheat-sheets -- often taped to the back of an instrument -- are still a common help.

    And to be fair, to people who are formally trained, many who play for orchestras and other ensembles, playing by ear -- or even wanting to -- is equally mysterious. My band and I did an hour TV show a few years ago and after the show, the studio director, who was also an experienced formal musician, glanced at our set-list and couldn't believe that we had no music in front of us. For us that is normal, but for people dependent on written music, it's very strange.

    So, if you can play by ear, maximize that ability by also learning by ear. If you cannot play by ear, learn as well as you can by written music, but learn to live without that written music as soon as possible, so you can follow all the visual events that happen in real jam and band situations.
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  6. #55

    Default Re: Memorizing a song

    Just for the sake of clarification I think there's two different things in play in my musical life: When a sideman, I never know the key, nor what's coming next. That requires my melodic break or fills. Find the key. Find the first change. (it either goes to the 4 or the 5) It doesn't pay to memorize.
    The other Thang is playing and singing a song. I treat it like a package. That is, in fact heavily rehearsed. I start by finding a suitable version, then knowing I can't duplicate it, I just do the best I can. Remember, you may end up teaching it. So . . . . that's how good you need to know it.

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    Registered User lowtone2's Avatar
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    Default Re: Memorizing a song

    You can learn a tune, but then can't recall it later? Repetition. Repetition. Repetition...

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  9. #57
    Registered User John Bertotti's Avatar
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    Default Re: Memorizing a song

    Quote Originally Posted by lowtone2 View Post
    You can learn a tune, but then can't recall it later? Repetition. Repetition. Repetition...
    Yes, I have noticed within hearing the first couple notes it comes back to me. I have to be very careful though as there are a couple of parts where my fingers want to do something different, to me it seems more natural. I also noticed it to be easier for my fingers and that was because it was a small progression I had already noodled with and my body tossed it in. So progress is being made and it came down to isolating where I changed it up and then figuring out why. Once I understand that and work on that part it is getting better. The funny thing is I still need to hear the first few notes before my body realizes what it is supposed to play. I will just practice it more at the beginning to drill it in. Thanks1
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    Default Re: Memorizing a song

    A lot of players use cheat sheets for some of their favorite songs to call out. Like just a small piece of paper with the first lyrics for each verse and the key printed on it. They tape this to their instrument (either on the side or back). It's easier with a guitar (more space) but I've see it done with a mandolin.

    Another trick - pick 5 tunes that are your jam tunes. Always call those tunes at every jam you go to for a bit. Two things will happen - 1, those become your songs in that group - which is always nice (especially when someone says "oh I've been waiting for you to play X song!") and 2, more important here, you'll memorize those songs through repetition which is the only want to really internalize / memorize a song if you're trying to memorize lyrics, chords, and melodies for songs to call at jams
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    Default Re: Memorizing a song

    Quote Originally Posted by mandocrucian View Post
    A lot of you folks are making things much more complicated than it should be. QUIT (or cut back on) relying on some sort of Visual "memorization", whether it's Tab, notation, or looking at your fretboard. Those things ARE NOT THE TUNE, but visual representations of it and odds are 100 to 1 that you can't look at a page of sheet music and translate into the sonic inside your head. (That skill is called "sightsinging", and it takes quite a while to acquire.)

    Just remember/memorize the tune by being able to vocalize/hum it. Hum along when you practice it on your instrument - this will help tie your ear and your hands together. Hum along with the CD in the car. If it's a song, sing the ^&*$ thing. The lyrics will burn in an extra layer of memorization.

    I don't care if your fingers can play "Old Joe Clark"; if you can't hum it (without an a instrument in hand) you DON'T REALLY KNOW IT. All you've got is rote-memorized finger movements. (and if anything throw you, or is different with the version your pals are playing, you get LOST.)

    Well, this probably comes across as harsh, but this subject has come up time and time again, and the recommendations to PUT IT IN YOUR EAR are largely ignored. Read some interviews with Johnny Gimble, one of the fiddling greats, and hear him tell how he learned tunes as a kid. Take the advice of real pro players instead of fellow intermediates and beginners. (PLEASE!)

    Niles H.
    You seem to assume that everybody is a singer. Whether one can really *sing* a tune depends of course on his singing ability, which in turn depends on his anatomy and training (ear and vocal apparatus). Some people seem to have very agile vocal cords, perhaps because of early training. A friend of mine, who didn’t even play an instrument, could sing the trickiest bebop themes and solos. My own ability is very limited, even on tunes I wrote myself or transcribed from records (sometimes in real time, almost, or from memory).

    I’ve posted the examples below before:

    Examples A-D are from fiddle tunes popularized by Howdy Forrester. B is from Benny Martin’s Fiddler’s Waltz. That part was the easiest of all to transcribe. The difficulty in C (Rutland’s Reel) begins with the step from e to c. F is the first section of Zambesi (from memory), and trouble begins with the chromatic passage in bars 3-4 (it would have been easier to sing in a higher range; I am of course attempting the tunes one octave lower than the fiddle). A is the second part of Brilliancy, typically bouncing on and off the open e string. F is Monroe’s Moonlight Waltz, the most songlike, owing to its range and melodic contour. I have sung it in public and was very easy to transcribe.

    I don’t understand why appeal to theory and form is making things “complicated”. Actually, it’s only when you fully *understand* a tune that you can make your own variations and interpretation (and that process, of course, aids
    memorization). Click image for larger version. 

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    String-Bending Heretic mandocrucian's Avatar
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    Default Re: Memorizing a song

    Quote Originally Posted by ralph johansson View Post
    You seem to assume that everybody is a singer. Whether one can really *sing* a tune depends of course on his singing ability, which in turn depends on his anatomy and training (ear and vocal apparatus). Some people seem to have very agile vocal cords, perhaps because of early training. A friend of mine, who didn’t even play an instrument, could sing the trickiest bebop themes and solos. My own ability is very limited, even on tunes I wrote myself or transcribed from records (sometimes in real time, almost, or from memory).
    I never "assumed" that. If you think that, then you have missed the point entirely. It's not about public performance for a barroom of plastered adoring "fans".

    It doesn't make a bit of difference, for ear training and pitch hearing, whether you sound like Chris Isaak or Tom Waits or Capt. Beefheart or Fozzie Bear; the purpose is to ingrain the pitches in your brain, by making you follow them with your voice, even if you sound like Walter Brennan or Slim Pickens!!!

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    Registered User Ed McGarrigle's Avatar
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    Default Re: Memorizing a song

    Well, I’m a beginner so …. But I’ll tell you what has recently worked for me. I’m learning Irish Trad exclusively. I have really struggled with memorizing tunes. Im a relative newcomer to the music so most tunes I learn are unfamiliar to me. But just the last couple days it occurs to me that I’ve done it. I’ve memorized Tommy Peoples
    Bm .
    First I listen to my teachers version that he records and sends me. Then I look for alternate versions ( Thanks Aidan!) on the Irish Mandolin website. I use tab and go bar by bar and bar by maybe a note or two more. Lately, I’m using the Amazing Slow Downer app. it has helped a lot! I play the tune over and over and over. For weeks.
    When I’m “close” to having it down we move onto another tune but I kept at it. Dividing playing/practice time. So as I was closing on Tommy Peoples’ we began working on Mother and Child. It feels a little bold to say but for the last 2 days I’ve felt like I got Tommy Peoples’ down.

  16. #62
    Registered User lowtone2's Avatar
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    Default Re: Memorizing a song

    Quote Originally Posted by John Bertotti View Post
    Yes, I have noticed within hearing the first couple notes it comes back to me. I have to be very careful though as there are a couple of parts where my fingers want to do something different, to me it seems more natural. I also noticed it to be easier for my fingers and that was because it was a small progression I had already noodled with and my body tossed it in. So progress is being made and it came down to isolating where I changed it up and then figuring out why. Once I understand that and work on that part it is getting better. The funny thing is I still need to hear the first few notes before my body realizes what it is supposed to play. I will just practice it more at the beginning to drill it in. Thanks1
    That's pretty common, and especially on these fiddle tunes that are all so similar. The key is...repetition. I think, and this is probably not news, playing a tune you're learning a veeeerrry slowly, and correctly, installs it in the memory better. A section at a time, from memory.

    The problem i have is putting in the work learning a tune, really learning it cold, and then having no idea what the title of the stupid tune is.

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    Default Re: Memorizing a song

    Quote Originally Posted by mandocrucian View Post
    I never "assumed" that. If you think that, then you have missed the point entirely. It's not about public performance for a barroom of plastered adoring "fans".

    It doesn't make a bit of difference, for ear training and pitch hearing, whether you sound like Chris Isaak or Tom Waits or Capt. Beefheart or Fozzie Bear; the purpose is to ingrain the pitches in your brain, by making you follow them with your voice, even if you sound like Walter Brennan or Slim Pickens!!!
    Then, what are you assuming? What exactly does "vocalizing", "humming" etc. mean if not producing the actual notes with your vocal apparatus, whether gruffly or sweetly? What you and Pete Martin are actually saying, in my case, that my command of the guitar (after 64 years) and mandolin (after 54) is necessarily, and inevitably limited by that of an instrument on which I have NO training.

    But I see I'm repeating myself. I said all there was to say in my post of Nov-11-2018, 6:41am

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    Registered User Simon DS's Avatar
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    Default Re: Memorizing a song

    People have heard me play a tune on the mandolin and they’ve said, ‘oh, beautiful, how do you remember all those notes? I wish I was as talented as you are!’
    But it’s the people who are close to you and have heard you practicing, practicing, practicing who say,

    ‘Dude, if I’d practiced as much as you have I’d probably be a lot better than you!’

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  20. #65

    Default Re: Memorizing a song

    Quote Originally Posted by lowtone2 View Post
    The problem i have is putting in the work learning a tune, really learning it cold, and then having no idea what the title of the stupid tune is.
    Hear that, ya. I've never liked keeping track of songs/tunes - i could only name with certainty the Bach I play. I couldn't name the last hdgr fiddle tune I learned - something or other about "the devil." All of the folk forms I play in, the pieces are longer, some raga-like. I improvise a lot, like with forro, blues/boogie woogie, gypsy, .. I know a lot of the jazz & pop titles, but that was long ago, but i'd rather jam with a drummer and just improvise on some form for a 1/2 hour. I gave up writing anything down 5 or 10 years ago.

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    Default Re: Memorizing a song

    There’s a point to singing a song (or humming or scatting or whatever vocalizing you can do) when you’re trying to learn to play it: you are born with everything you need. No fingerings, no mechanics of tuning an instrument or holding it. None of that stuff that gets in the way of learning the song (or tune or melody or whatever you want to call the sequence of pitches).

    Listen to the song repeatedly and sing/hum along with it. When you get a good feel for it, sing what you can without the radio or CD or MP3 playing. Then go back and sing along with the track. Over time you’ll get comfortable with more and more of the song and once you can go through a whole verse then grab your instrument and play what you’re singing. It’s a lot of repetition but as time passes and you’re doing it, later songs will come to you faster.

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    Default Re: Memorizing a song

    Quote Originally Posted by ralph johansson View Post

    But I see I'm repeating myself.



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    Default Re: Memorizing a song

    If only Niles would stop beating around the bush. Of course, he's right. There's no way I can play a tune that's not in my head already. I think that's true for most of us. Maybe classically trained sight readers don't have to know it but I'm not one of those.
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    Default Re: Memorizing a song

    Quote Originally Posted by John Ritchhart View Post
    If only Niles would stop beating around the bush. Of course, he's right. There's no way I can play a tune that's not in my head already. I think that's true for most of us. Maybe classically trained sight readers don't have to know it but I'm not one of those.
    But "having a tune in one's head" is in no way the same as being able to "hum" it. I've written several tunes in my head while out running, for instance.


    Humming, by definition, means singing with your mouth closed. Singning means using your voice as a musical instrument. Singing a melody means producing those notes, on pitch and in time on that instrument. What both Niles and Pete Martin say is that your ability on mandolin is inevitably limited by your ability on that instrument. Let's expand on my previous example, Fiddler's Waltz:

    Click image for larger version. 

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    I transcribed the first of these examples decades ago, without difficulty. The first four beats, transposed an octave lower cover what was in those days my entire vocal range, and the next few bars rise another third on top of that -- all in one breath! The second section is an unbroken sequence of eighth notes, none of them repeated.
    It took much more of an effort to transcribe, hence I have it firmly ingrained in my head. But I don't even know how to start praticsing, or what to practise, to be able to sing it. It's extremely busy.

    Therefore, to say, as Pete Martin does, that "if you can't sing it you can't play it" is extremely poor pedagogy. Why not explain how, point to books and exercises that
    help you develop that ability. In an earlier thread Niles referred to an article by he famous flautist Sir James Galway, that clearly illustrates the importance of early
    training in singning. He relates how he and his classmates were drilled in singing arpeggios and scales.

    A final femark: Niles repeatedly conrtasts "humming" or "vocalizing" with reliance on "muscle memory". I've read up a bit on he topic, and learned that there are
    several groups of muscles involved in breath control and control of the tension in your vocal cords. Hence, in pitch control.

  25. #70
    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Memorizing a song

    Folks! Everyone is right! And what works for you works for you! I use all methods and certainly started with ear playing and never bothered with transcribing. These days and getting into some complicated and crooked Québécois tunes I tend to learn various versions from reliable notation and then listen to excellent players’ renditions over and over. I essentially live with the tune. I also try to put the notation away and force my muscles to “remember” it. One recent tune took me close to two weeks to get it to the point where I finally played it yesterday in a big chaotic jam.

    Oh, I also when practicing play other tunes and keep testing to see if I can remember how the target tune goes. Sometimes it works better to try to start the B part.
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    Default Re: Memorizing a song

    Ralph, you don't need to sing, just make a jazz noise

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    Default Re: Memorizing a song

    Quote Originally Posted by Kenny View Post
    There’s a point to singing a song (or humming or scatting or whatever vocalizing you can do) when you’re trying to learn to play it: you are born with everything you need. No fingerings, no mechanics of tuning an instrument or holding it. None of that stuff that gets in the way of learning the song (or tune or melody or whatever you want to call the sequence of pitches).

    Listen to the song repeatedly and sing/hum along with it. When you get a good feel for it, sing what you can without the radio or CD or MP3 playing. Then go back and sing along with the track. Over time you’ll get comfortable with more and more of the song and once you can go through a whole verse then grab your instrument and play what you’re singing. It’s a lot of repetition but as time passes and you’re doing it, later songs will come to you faster.
    I seriously doubt that anyone was born with the ability to, e.g., sing a two-octave arpeggio or scale, or an unbroken sequence of 80-90 eighth notes (as in the exampes I gave). But undoubtedly some people learn very fast, because they started early in life, or because of pecularities in their anatomy. I've already compared with whistling. I was undoubtedly born with two lips, a tongue and a pair of lungs. Teeth probably came later (not sure after these 70+ years) but at least by an early age, I had "all that was needed".Yet I've never been able to produce even one musical tone whistling. And there are songs and sections of songs that I (mentally) transcribed in real time, but am totally incapable of singing. Well, I'm 77 years old so it's probably too late to learn, also I have amassed enough material to occupy me for the rest of my life. But maybe here are beginners out there who could benefit from an instructional video. If my examples are too esoteric, you could exemplify with some more familiar tune like Devil's Dream, Fisher's Hornpipe, or Sailor's Hornpipe.

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    Registered User John Bertotti's Avatar
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    Default Re: Memorizing a song

    I look at it this way. If you have the ability to sing, hum, whistle, arm pit fart, I don't care, in tune and it helps you learn the tune then by all means do so. If you don't then find something else. That's what i have taken from these posts going back and forth. In the end it seems repetition and good practice habits are the best way for me, but I can hum and make noises close enough to help as well. Sadly I can't armpit fart at all so that avenue is lost to me. I'm heartbroken over it, really!
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    " I'm sorry, but I'm not allowed to argue further unless you've paid!"

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    Default Re: Memorizing a song

    After following this thread for awhle, and since I'm already an old cat trying to learn new tricks, I have signed up for an "Ear Training" add on course at ArtistWorks. I'm anticipating it will help me in the singing and tone recognition areas, but have very little hope it will help on the armpit fart side.

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