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Thread: Memorizing a song

  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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  5. #54
    Lurkist dhergert's Avatar
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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.
    -- Don

    "Music: A minor auditory irritation occasionally characterized as pleasant."
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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.

  7. #56
    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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  10. #58
    Registered User mbruno's Avatar
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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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  12. #59
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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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  13. #60
    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 didnít 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!!!

  14. #61
    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.

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