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Thread: How do you memorize tunes?

  1. #76

    Default Re: How do you memorize tunes?

    What is the problem if someone can't memorize music? One can always just look at sheet music and play - isn't it?
    It can be looked at a lot like public speaking. In a public speech, someone can keep a written copy and recite a memorized address. Yet even there, if you simply read the words, without adding expression, it becomes a poor speech. And the best speakers are able to deviate from their prepared remarks and respond to disruptions without falling apart.

    A jam session, however, is more like a casual conversation. You would not have a conversation with someone who had to reach in his pocket for a piece of paper to read his lines. You would walk away from that because it would be too weird and strange.

    Jam sessions can also be seen as something more like improv theater or improv comedy where everyone riffs off the other persons lines. Scripting something like that out destroys it. Jam sessions, ideally, are not a repetition of the same canned breaks every time. Like conversation, the value is in the exchange and response, not in repeating the same tired, worn out stories for the millionth time. We all know people whose conversation is like that and most people avoid them. Conversation and jamming are a lot more fun when it is a little unpredictable and not premeditated.

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    Registered User Polecat's Avatar
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    Default Re: How do you memorize tunes?

    Quote Originally Posted by JL277z View Post
    Misc. thoughts:

    I wonder if any scientists have studied how musicians process sound, I'd bet it's a lot different than non-musicians...
    They have, I'm too lazy to search for the source information right now, but I read about it in This is your brain on Music by David J. Levitin, which I thoroughly recommend anyone remotely interested in psychoacoustics, or with a healthy musical curiosity.

    Slightly aside, somone referred to sheet music in this thread as "cheat-sheets" - I would take issue with that - the level of sophistication possible in any oral/aural tradition is strictly limited in comparison with a written tradition. The standard example given is to compare The Iliad with later "composed" classical Greek poetry - every sunset and dawn in Homer, for example is described with a stock phrase, presumably to make it easier for the reciter to remember - as soon as one gets "written poetry", the descriptive range becomes far more diverse. Equally, in a comparison of Balkan "Bards" in the 1950s, it was demonstrable that a number of them, having been taught by the same Master Bard, and believing they were repeating his renditions word for word, recite significantly differing versions of the same work (from Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer, I'm quoting from memory). This is not to denigrate the oral/aural tradition - folk music lives by constant passing-on and reinvention - there is a place for both approaches.
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    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: How do you memorize tunes?

    I started my music experience in standard piano lessons and, as a result, learned to read notation at an early age on the keyboard. Then I got into rock guitar and from there various folks styles and leaned a lot more to ear-learning. Then I started playing classical music on mandolin and honed my reading skills through reading scores.

    In terms of memorizing even fiddle tunes or even longer classical pieces, I find it more difficult to memorize the music with the sheet music in front of me. I will use it as a source (but also have been playing genres like OT for decades, so I know the "grammar" and subtleties of that. Then I put the sheet music away and as our friend JeffD likes to say, play the potatoes out of it. If I am not sure i am playing the "right" notes, then I return to the sheet music only enough to work on those parts. Eventually, the sheet music goes away and the tune remains in my brain and fingers.

    So, I actually find it more difficult to have access to that notation and easier to get it directly into my ear from listening.
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    Registered User Randi Gormley's Avatar
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    Default Re: How do you memorize tunes?

    Interesting stuff, as always. Going back to the initial thought, though, the OP asked about memorizing tunes -- which is a specific thing and related to but different from, say, memorizing words or chords or being able to improvise. A lot depends, I think, on your own training and how you learned to play the instrument. And whether memorization of other things is easy or hard. I got into acting very young, so memorizing dialogue was part of my childhood and teen years. I've always found it easy to memorize poetry, plays and passages that delight me. I've often wondered if my ability to memorize chunks of words is in any way connected to how I memorize tunes.

    I came from a single-line-melody tradition -- I learned flute and then recorder -- before I picked up the mandolin. Despite a year or two of piano playing, chords just aren't there for me. One of the posters a few pages back asked how to transfer knowledge of a tune to someone who hadn't heard it and sketched out an entire song starting with "key of c" and then a bunch of chords and whatnot. If he had been trying to teach me the tune/song, I would have been completely lost. If he had hummed the thing over the phone, I would have picked it up immediately. Or barring that, given me the sheet music in standard notation in single-line melody. I can't read tab, ABC or solfeg. Those are closed pages to me.

    It reminds me of getting/giving directions. If someone tells me "take a right at the second stop sign and if you've reached the CVS you've gone to far," I know exactly where I am. Someone tells me "go north 2.3 miles and then veer east," I'm apt to get lost immediately, since I have no idea which direction north is. I've always felt that whatever direction I'm driving is north, even into the sun at 6 p.m.

    In my case and for mandolin, memorization initially came from playing from sheet music until I'd gotten it into my fingers and then trusting myself to play it without the music. that was a huge leap. But once I made the jump, then it became simply hearing something a lot, breaking it down and a quick glance at the sheetmusic to solidify either where the piece started or how a transition worked, and then there it was. Once I know a tune, I can transfer it to any key and any instrument I play because I know the melody and that's what becomes the lynchpin. Someone once told me they were afraid they couldn't pick up a tune by ear if it was played on a different instrument than the one they played. I actually don't understand how that could be -- a tune, at least to me, is a tune. I pick up stuff from fiddles, boxes or pipes all the time if it's a tune I like. for me, it's about the music, not the instrument.

    My own memorization process, however, happens inside without any verbal cues. I feel where the music needs to go and my fingers play it. It's the same with sight reading. I read the music and it directly affects my fingers without any subvocalization or internal musical monologue. I don't think "this is an e, the next note is a b" just as I don't think when I'm writing or reading "this letter is a c and the next is an a and the third is a t and that spells "cat"" Tricky rhythms in classical or crooked tunes require a bit more thought, but once I get them in my head through repetition, they're in my hands and my gut. If I see triplets, I don't have to think 'trip-o-let" in order to find the beat. I've played enough jigs that triplets become automatic. I don't know if any other musician jumps over those mechanics and moves from notes to music, but it's the way I play and the way I memorize.

    It has its hazards. seriously slowing down a tune throws me for a loop because if the music isn't there and all there are are individual notes, I'm like the centipede asked which foot comes after which. I have to hear the music in a piece in order to play it. I have to be familiar with a genre to pick up its rhythms. And I can play much better and much faster when I'm playing with someone who's a strong player in a particular genre and I can latch onto their coattails.
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    MandolaViola bratsche's Avatar
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    Default Re: How do you memorize tunes?

    Quote Originally Posted by Bertram Henze View Post
    Even in classical music, members of an orchestra don't have sheet music in front of them to sight-read the music. They have - hopefully - rehearsed it all so many times that they can play it by heart.
    That sheet music is there for two reasons:
    - backup information in case of emergency forgetfulness
    - longer pieces of music => higher probablility of emergencies
    We freelancers have to play many, many "classical" orchestral engagements that have only one rehearsal, and I have played for quite a few weddings in string quartets (often with people I'd not even played with before) for which a quick verbal run-through with the officiant was all that was done. In those cases, proficient sight-reading by all persons involved is an essential skill!

    To the topic, if I've practiced something enough times, I can't not memorize it! Indeed, I began my mandola-journey with a whole lot of Bach solo music already ingrained in my brain from my earlier years on violin and viola, so much of my practice time has been concentrated upon musical and technical execution of things already in my memory.

    Adding to my repertoire happens much as I've done it before, as sort of an integrated whole involving several factors - remembering the sound of the piece, the sheet music (being able to "see" it), and the "feel" of what my hands are doing. I can "practice" the whole experience inside my head when I'm away from the instrument, be it in a comfy lounge chair or on a stretch of boring road while driving, and it really does help in the learning process. (Often, just visualising my pick hand effortlessly doing what it needs to has gone a long way toward having this actually happen!)

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    but that's just me Bertram Henze's Avatar
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    Default Re: How do you memorize tunes?

    Quote Originally Posted by bratsche View Post
    We freelancers have to play many, many "classical" orchestral engagements that have only one rehearsal, and I have played for quite a few weddings in string quartets (often with people I'd not even played with before) for which a quick verbal run-through with the officiant was all that was done. In those cases, proficient sight-reading by all persons involved is an essential skill!
    Ah, the scenario I had in mind was rather like Karajan sculpting finest subtleties out of every phrase of Beethoven's 5th. Your story seems to be another corner of the spectrum, but I guess it's also quite far away from memorizing.
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    Notary Sojac Paul Kotapish's Avatar
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    Default Re: How do you memorize tunes?

    For me, it's all about listening, listening, and listening some more. Once I can sing the tune, I can generally play the gist of it after a pass or two except for any bits with tricky fingering, shifts, etc. If I'm lucky, and I am learning the tune from another musician (and if the situation is appropriate), I can ask how that bit goes and get it first hand. If not, and if I have a recording, I make use of slower listening via the magic of software (ASD, AnyTune, etc.).

    The rest is building muscle memory to match the melody in my head.

    Tune names often come in handy for conjuring up the tunes themselves, because so many have built-in a built-in mnemonic in the rhythm of the words that match the rhythm of a phrase somewhere in the melody.

    When I first started learning fiddle tunes, they all sounded the same to me. Then, over the years, I came to discover that even though many tunes are indeed quite similar, each melody has its own little quirks and turns that give it a distinct personality. Now, many hundreds of tunes and many years later, I realize I was right the first time.
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    Default Re: How do you memorize tunes?

    The key to memorizing is understanding. I remember tunes by understanding them, how they're constructed hamonically and rhythmically, what makes them work, what determines their character and makes them worth learning at all.

  11. #84
    coprolite mandroid's Avatar
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    Default Re: How do you memorize tunes?

    get so I can whistle or Hum them, 1st. Un like the OP who may be trained to sight read

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    Registered User JKA's Avatar
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    Default Re: How do you memorize tunes?

    Having given this some thought, I would say the easiest way to learn a tune is by loving it and wanting to play it. Then practice small sections at a time. Move onto the next section when you're note perfect then play them together...repeat adding a small section each time and hey presto. Got love the tune though...that's the incentive
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    Registered User sblock's Avatar
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    Default Re: How do you memorize tunes?

    There are several rather different, and usually distinct ways to perform a musical piece on an instrument:

    1) Sight-read the written piece, working from standard notation, ABC, tablature, solfegio, or any other form of musical notation. This obviously requires you not only to read and understand the notation, but to know it very well, and be able to translate it into the physical actions required to produce the necessary notes in real time. There is no need to remember any of the notes being played, in principle. Furthermore, advance familiarity with the musical piece helps in the performance, but is by no means required.

    2) Play the melody directly from your "musical memory." This requires you to first have the tune stored "inside your head" somehow, that is, to be familiar enough with the music to be able to hum it, or sing it, note-for-note. As humans, we're all born with an intrinsic capability of remembering simple melodies (and other sounds) in this fashion. Playing from musical memory also requires an ability to translate the notes that you "hear" in your head into the physical actions necessary to produce those same notes on the instrument. This process of generating music is often just called "playing it by ear," and some people can do this very quickly and accurately, if required. Registering the melody for a tune in your head can be done deliberately (by carefully working at remembering it) or automatically (by sheer familiarity, arising from repetition).

    3) Play the melody from "muscle memory." This requires you not only to have the tune stored in your head as a melody (see #2), but also stored in a kinesthetic manner, as a kind of tactile learning, which allows you to carry out a specific sequence of physical motions to generate the right notes on the instrument. Just like musical memory for a melody, the learning involved in committing something to muscle memory can occur more-or-less "automatically" through lots and lots of repetition (practice), or it can be enhanced by deliberate learning.

    A good many of us who play and perform folk or jazz music are pretty familiar with at least two of the three of the items above. And classically trained musicians know all three inside and out. Furthermore, it's pretty easy to get them all mixed up, because they're not mutually exclusive, and are often being exercised at the same time.

    That said, you certainly don't have to be able to sight-read (#1) to perform music. We all know that. But you do need to have a fairly well-developed sense of musical memory (#2), and if you've ever played the same piece a whole lot, to the point of genuine familiarity with it, then you've certainly also developed a good muscle memory (#3). Nearly all music professionals who perform on a regular basis rely heavily on both #2 and #3. And most classically-trained musicians use #1, #2, and #3. If you improvise a lot, then item #2 might be your best friend: the ability to go straight from some musical idea in your head to the production of those same sounds from your instrument. And if you play a anything resembling a standard repertoire (like bluegrass, swing jazz, ITM, old timey, folk, and a lot of classical ensembles), then item #3 is a very important part of the way you regularly remember -- and produce -- familiar pieces of music.

    Also, as we have read in this thread, there are even some folks trained in notation (or solfegio or tab) who seem to visualize that same notation in real time, even when not sight reading it, that is, when they produce music by means of #2 or #3. This is fairly uncommon, but it is certainly not abnormal. It is almost certainly a by-product of their training.

    So this is how we remember, and produce, music. We have musical memory. We have muscle memory. And we have formal training (and this can be turned into memory by remembering an image of the notation, but this is not common). They all come together, and they all rely on lots of practice.
    Last edited by sblock; Aug-31-2016 at 5:28pm.

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    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: How do you memorize tunes?

    Quote Originally Posted by Eddie Sheehy View Post
    We have an Old Time jam that runs from The Fiddlers Facebook.
    What is "The Fiddler's Facebook"? Is it online? Never heard of that book.
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    Default Re: How do you memorize tunes?

    crawl before you walk, walk before you run, repetition/practice,practice,and yes practice repetition

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    Default Re: How do you memorize tunes?

    Quote Originally Posted by UsuallyPickin View Post
    1. Passively listen while driving or doing other work
    2. Learn to hum it
    3. Figure it out on an instrument
    4. Actively listen some more with instrument in hand for the specific instrument nuances and anything I missed
    5. Work those up
    6. Play it a bunch to smooth it out
    yes - that's true for me too
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    Default Re: How do you memorize tunes?

    I play in some ensembles that always read, some that never read, and some that do both. Melodies are the easiest to play by memory, orchestra parts are almost impossible. There are piano pieces (with both melody and accompaniment) that I have read for 35 years and will never memorize, yet the Gershwin Preludes are so darn difficult that I had them memorized long before I could play them. I play some rags on the mandolin (just melody) that have a chord at the end of each section. My ear leads me through the melody just fine, but I have to consciously REMEMBER what chord is at the end.

  18. #91

    Default Re: How do you memorize tunes?

    Quote Originally Posted by Eddie Sheehy View Post
    It's a great resource for Mandolin Kickers... as is Auto Spellcheck...
    Lol. For those who don't know... presumably Fiddler's Fakebook, available from the usual sources such as Amazon and Elderly, etc.

    Never did quite know why melody-and-chord books are referred to as "fake" books, seems like melody and chords pretty much includes the essential stuff, nothing fake about that, if one can play the actual melody (especially with fiddle tunes) and the correct chords, what else is needed? Suppose it would be different for piano players or choirs or orchestras or something though, no complex scores included, maybe that's where the term "fake" comes from... dunno... wait a sec, huh, this is interesting: StackExchange says:

    "The first "fake books" were in fact sold and distributed illegally, but that is not why they were called Fake Books. Each piece of sheet music in a Fake Book is merely a "lead sheet" of just the melody and the chord progression. It is not a full arrangement with parts written out for each musician. Consequently, musicians look at a Fake Book lead sheet and they have to "fake" their parts, or make them up as they go along. This is essential to jazz, but it was not that way originally. ..."
    So, melody and chord progression, that oughta cover it for fiddle tunes eh? Er maybe no, let's see there are other things that can't be easily put onto paper in a limited number of pages... the multitude of variations including different bowing options, alternate endings, etc... huh. Guess the answer is more complicated than I'd thought.

    -----------------------------------
    Edited to add:
    Anyway, historical stuff aside, the Amazon link currently features the "Look Inside" option where you can view a limited number of sample pages of the book to see what's in it. Useful. I actually bought this book (from a regular brick-and-mortar music store) a few years ago, didn't find it quite as nifty as I'd been hoping because a lot of the tunes I already knew and/or didn't like all that much, but it's still a good resource and I was able to learn some stuff from it. In my case, the first thing I did with the book was trim off the glued binding, and wire-bind it instead (I have a twin-loop wire-binding machine) so that the pages would lay flat when I was trying to read it. Then later I digitized just the few tunes that I still wanted written copies of (mostly for the chords), and put them on my Android tablet (app MobileSheetsPro) and discarded the paper book, I dislike things that take up too much storage space. (recovered packrat here lol)

    P.S.: Looks like Amazon now has a Kindle version as well, that might be good although I haven't got around to trying any Kindle stuff, no idea how that works.
    Last edited by JL277z; Sep-01-2016 at 7:17pm.

  19. #92
    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: How do you memorize tunes?

    The Fiddler's Fakebook is a fantastic resource of tunes, with a discography for each tune. It was "all the rage" before the Portland tune books became "all the rage".

    Speaking of which, I have held Portland tunebook jams at my house, called Portland Tours. Lots of fun and a great way to get to know what is in those books. The third volume has recently been published and I need to have a Portland Tour for it.
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  20. #93
    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: How do you memorize tunes?

    I have probably the original edition of the Fiddler's Fakebook. Actually I believe that it originally was spiral bound mine is. The good part is that it has multiple genres of fiddle tunes. My main books I refer to are the Milliner-Koken book, the two Old Time Fiddler's Repertory (Missouri tunes), Dear Old Illinois (tunes from Illinois - hopefully to be back in print some day), Harry Bolick's Mississippi book, the Portland Collection (primarily contra dance tunes) and the 4 volumes of the Waltz Books.

    I have used the Fiddler's Fakebook but many of the tunes are transcribed almost too accurately from a particular recorded version and may not be the version that my fellow fiddlers are playing. More than often I just learn from recordings.
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