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Thread: Memorizing Chords and Progressions

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    Question Memorizing Chords and Progressions

    Hi!
    Any tips out there for memorizing the chords that fiddle tunes have and memorizing their progression? I can remember the melodies of fiddle tunes, but I struggle with the chords. I thought about creating a playlist of tunes to jam with since I donít have a jam nearby. Is it just doing it enough so that it becomes memory or are there any other tips? Thanks!

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    Registered User Mandobart's Avatar
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    Default Re: Memorizing Chords and Progressions

    The standard fiddle tunes have very similar progressions; like I-IV-V-I, I-IV-I-V-I, I-vi-V-I.
    Not particularly inventive or memorable. Biggest problem I have is they are so alike its easy to mix them up. Attending regular jams (weekly) for the past 10 years has really helped me. I'm sure if you're willing to drive 30 miles from most anywhere in Minnesota you can find a weekly or monthly jam you can attend when the weather allows. You also could start your own jam.

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    Default Re: Memorizing Chords and Progressions

    When i started off playing banjo,back in 1963,i wrote down the names of the tunes that i was learning by ear,worked out the chords for the tunes & wrote them down at the side of the name. I also drew my own chord diagrams in a note book for reference. Even then it was a case of repeat,repeat..... It has it's drawback in that it takes time,but it has it's benefits - once you got 'em you ''GOT 'EM !!'' & every one helps with ''the next one'',

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    Default Re: Memorizing Chords and Progressions

    How often do you play through the chord progression of a tune you know? It’s natural to skimp on that since the melody is what draws you to a fiddle tune. But I find that if I play the chord progression and hum the tune out loud or in my head, it helps me understand the melody at a deeper level beyond just memorizing the sequence of notes. For one thing, it wasn’t til I got much more conscious of the chords a given stretch of melody goes over that I could start varying the melody or improvising or borrowing melodic pieces from other tunes. It was just rote memorization before. So in my experience at least it’s really worth it to try to connect the chords to the melody mentally, and if you do that, I bet you’ll remember the chords a lot better.

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    Default Re: Memorizing Chords and Progressions

    Well .. I find if I write things out I remember them better. Not notation , but chord sheets with rhythm markings by measure. Then if I play the chords and remember them in my head it helps recall the melody and sets up things I may do with it. The chords are the bones then the melody fills out the body of the tune and the words , if any, add character. R/
    I love hanging out with mandolin nerds . . . . . Thanks peeps ...

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    Default Re: Memorizing Chords and Progressions

    Well...

    I haven’t tried this, but you could use the method of loci, also known as a “memory palace”. This is the technique that people who participate in memory competitions use to rapidly memorize the order of every card in a deck.

    You can search the terms to get more information, but the basic idea is that you create a path in your mind with a number of “stops”. Then you assign a mental image to every item you want to remember—chords. So a D chord might be Dean Martin and a Dm might be Dean Martin crying. For 7th chords, you might put a hat on your character. You might make characters taller or shorter, or have them holding a number of objects, or use certain objects to represent certain numbers, to indicate how many measures to play that chord. Probably the first stop will be an image related to the title. An image of a bridge could indicate the bridge, etc. Creating a mental image of your journey for each song helps you memorize them.

    Or, you could use chord functions--I, ii, iii, etc.--instead of chords. Then you could transpose easily.

    It seems complicated, but, once you get your system down, it is the most efficient way to memorize a lot of material. If you wanted to memorize the entire Real Book, as many Jazz musicians do, it might be worthwhile to put in the up front work to develop a system like this. The more you use it, the easier it becomes. People with "normal" memories can memorize the order of a deck of chards in a few minutes, once they get the technique down.

    There are websites where people discuss how to optimize these methods, if you are interested. I think some jazz musicians may actually do this. They will chunk common progressions--like ii, V, I--and make that progression one character.

    ...........

    You could also use flash cards and just brute force it.

    ...........

    Tunes themselves are mnemonic devices. I think the more tunes you learn, the more you will recognize the changes that you “hear” in your head when you think of that tune.
    Last edited by JonZ; Aug-21-2018 at 9:35am.
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    Default Re: Memorizing Chords and Progressions

    I've been playing for a bit, so I don't know how much of this is gained by shear mileage:
    I don't hardly memorize anything. There's just too many songs & tunes.
    If I learned 1000 tunes, there'd be one that they'd want to play that wasn't in that list.
    Also, if I think of, or hear a tune/song I want to learn, I tend to learn it faster if I use this method.
    So you know what I, IV, V means.
    Key of D, it's G & A. Key of G it's C & D, etc.
    So in a typical I, IV, V or I, V, IV tune/song, there's a 50/50 chance of getting the first chord change correct.
    Listen if it sounds wrong, quickly change to the correct chord.
    Sometimes it doesn't matter. Also beware it could be a two chord tune/song.
    I've also (with guitar) strummed along in the root chord all the way through until I hear the change(s).
    It doesn't sound that bad, especially if there's another guitar playing.
    But again, if there's another guitar player, watch his/her fingerboard hand.
    Lastly; When you are playing chords you are accompaniment. You are following.
    It's better to change chords late or on time, than early.
    I heard a good carpenter covers his mistakes well.
    That's basically what I try to do.

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  14. #8
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    Default Re: Memorizing Chords and Progressions

    With enough time (not really under your control) and attention (VERY MUCH under your control), you'll begin to "hear", and maybe anticipate, the chord changes as they occur.

    For pure listening and ear training purposes, knowing the key of a song is unimportant, but knowing what the 1, 4, 5, and maybe minor 6 (or I, IV, V, vi) sound like is important. Way back when, I'd recite the chords of (admittedly simplistic) rock songs along with the car radio: 1, 5, 1, 4 etc.

    Since you've been fiddling for 20 years, it might be good to examine the tunes that you know well (meaning write in the chords if you have the tunes in notation or tab), which should reveal a few consistencies:

    - Most start and end on the 1 chord, and often the 1 note, of the key that you're playing in.
    - Most melodies (especially fiddle tunes) select the melody note on the stronger beats from the chord that you're currently playing over. In-between & less-emphasized "passing" notes are often outside the current chord.
    - Virtually every verse or major phrase in roots/popular/folk/rock and even classical music ends by going to the 5 chord before returning ("resolving") to the 1 chord.

    There are "sounds" of each chord that can be equated to the emotions that they tend to generate:

    - The 1 chord is "home". It's comfortable, familiar, safe, a nice place to chill. Maybe not real exciting, but that's okay; you're feeling content.
    - The 4 chord is a bit more exciting, a fun place to visit for a while: day at the beach, hike in the woods, ride in a speedboat. But you won't want to stay there 24/7.
    - The 5 chord is WAY more exciting: great in small doses, irritating in larger ones. It's nice to get home (or back to the 1 chord) after visiting friends. Three weeks in Paris? That's enough, thank you. Five months in the Gobi Desert? GET ME OUTTA HERE!!!!

    Not to sound TOO optimistic but: When you can feel how the melody is going, the chords start to become almost obvious.

    (Disclaimer: I'm talking/thinking "most mandolin music" here, which is mostly major key. There are lots of exceptions, like minor key and modal stuff that's outside your current dilemma.)
    Last edited by EdHanrahan; Aug-21-2018 at 11:42am.
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    Default Re: Memorizing Chords and Progressions

    Another thought that struck me - I've learned hundreds of songs over the years. I can still play most of them - tune/melody, chord progression and lyrics - from memory. One thing that cements songs in my brain and fingers is to play and sing them simultaneously. The lyrics/melody tell you where the chord changes are - you know right away when you're wrong. Many fiddle tunes have no lyrics, but singing the melody while playing using "la-de-da-de-da-da, da-de-la-de-da" (Whiskey Before Breakfast, of course, which come to think of it actually has lyrics...) does help with chord changes. Also in a jam, when playing a lead or chords I hum the melody to myself (or even just mentally) to keep track of where we are.

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    Beware of Whiskey Before Breakfast, Arkansas Traveler, and Blackberry Blossom. In certain sections, there's a chord change every beat.

    For awhile I'd look up songs on Chordie.com. But they would never be in the right key for me. Then found "transpose" is just a big word for shifting the key. I also found that many times I could simplify or correct what they had to offer. But until the pattern recognition skills honed, it's a good tool. Still a good tool for different chord progressions, outside the I, IV, V, or I, vi, IV, V, or the ii, V, I. (Jimmy Webb tunes)

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    Default Re: Memorizing Chords and Progressions

    What would the world be without harmony? Hmmm.

    Yes, in the beginning, all you do is learn and remember the chords for tunes you play. It's great if you can learn songs and sing them while playing chord rhythms. Also, your idea about playing chord rhythms to tracks is a good practice, especially for instrumental tunes with no lyrics. Listen to, and try to feel the chord changes. There are no short cuts other than ones you might find for yourself; for me, it was singing and playing a guitar, figuring out chords to the songs I heard on the radio or on my dad's record player as a kid. I don't presume that everyone learns by singing & playing, though. Your ideas in OP sound about right. Forget about a "magic bullet" and have fun working on it.
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    Default Re: Memorizing Chords and Progressions

    That has always been a problem for me also. What wound up working (most of the time) for me was to learn the melody and then the chord progression as two totally separate songs.

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    Default Re: Memorizing Chords and Progressions

    Quote Originally Posted by Mark Gunter View Post
    There are no short cuts other than ones you might find for yourself...
    There are techniques that will help you learn faster.
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    Default Re: Memorizing Chords and Progressions

    There are no short cuts other than ones you might find for yourself
    Quote Originally Posted by JonZ View Post
    There are techniques that will help you learn faster.
    These two quotes illustrate one of my favorite concepts - We're all self taught. Some of us just take advantage of more resources.
    Mitch Russell

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    Default Re: Memorizing Chords and Progressions

    I find the more I play with other musicians on a regular basis, the more patterns of chord progressions become clear. This helps tremendously when transposing to a different key when the vocalist can't reach that high note as well.

    Other resources concerning theory help too - I've been digging on Garage Band Theory (NFI) for awhile - not as intimidating as it sounds...
    Despite the high cost of living, it still remains popular...

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    Default Re: Memorizing Chords and Progressions

    Quote Originally Posted by onassis View Post
    These two quotes illustrate one of my favorite concepts - We're all self taught. Some of us just take advantage of more resources.
    +1
    Technique, theory and fun, fun, fun. I love playing, studying and sharing MUSIC.
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    Default Re: Memorizing Chords and Progressions

    My own opinion is that straight forward memorizing hasn't worked and isn't fun. Its really more an organic thing that takes time.

    Three things have helped me immensely. Just my experience. If you have done some of this, please bare with.

    - playing scales. You gradually "get" the sounds and intervals glued in your head. When you hear a tune you can start to recognize where a particular phrase sits, "oh thats a fifth up", etc. At least I did.

    - Listening to the tunes a gazzillion times. Get so familiar you can sing the tunes, or even see the tunes.

    - learn to read guitar hand - I mean, learn to read the chords off the guitar player. Always a good reference, and their is bound to be a guitar player around. Just watch out for the guitar player's capo. Ahhhh.


    No real short cuts I have found. It takes about a decade to sound like you've been playing 10 years.
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    Default Re: Memorizing Chords and Progressions

    A good post there Jeff !. The value of'' listening over & over'' can't be emphasised enough ,& i'd add to that - playing the tune over & over,even when you have the melody firmly in your head,you still need to build in 'muscle memory' to go along with it. That's the way we learn to change chords at exactly the right time. Ultimately,it's the old principle of practice,practice,practice,whichever way you do it, & there are NO easy options,although some folk will find it easier than others - the ''exceptional few'',will seem as though they were born with it,& they possibly were born with a specific aptitude for music. That's been covered in another thread,
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    Default Re: Memorizing Chords and Progressions

    [QUOTE]Ultimately,it's the old principle of practice,practice,practice,whichever way you do it, & there are NO easy options,although some folk will find it easier than others/QUOTE]

    Reminds me of something I heard recently - not sure who to give the credt: "The difference between amateurs and professionals is amateurs will practice a song till they get it right, and professionals will practice till they can't get it wrong..."
    Despite the high cost of living, it still remains popular...

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    Default Re: Memorizing Chords and Progressions

    Quote Originally Posted by mugbucket View Post
    "The difference between amateurs and professionals is amateurs will practice a song till they get it right, and professionals will practice till they can't get it wrong..."
    Sometimes there are “sayings” like this that sound true, but then you think about it...

    One of the biggest mistakes that amateurs make is sitting on the same tunes for too long. Every time they get out their instrument, they play tunes they already play well, which does not move their skills forward.

    Pros have to practice to a certain level of performance readiness, but I think what describes their practice most accurately is that they work specifically on the parts of tunes that are hard, with clear goals for how they will improve those parts. Most of them do not have the time to go through entire tunes over and over again as their main form of learning.
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    Default Re: Memorizing Chords and Progressions

    "The difference between amateurs and professionals is amateurs will practice a song till they get it right, and professionals will practice till they can't get it wrong..."

    Quote Originally Posted by JonZ View Post
    Sometimes there are “sayings” like this that sound true, but then you think about it...

    One of the biggest mistakes that amateurs make is sitting on the same tunes for too long. Every time they get out their instrument, they play tunes they already play well, which does not move their skills forward.

    Pros have to practice to a certain level of performance readiness, but I think what describes their practice most accurately is that they work specifically on the parts of tunes that are hard, with clear goals for how they will improve those parts. Most of them do not have the time to go through entire tunes over and over again as their main form of learning.
    This is very true. However efficient and targeted practice enables the pro so he 'can't make any mistakes'. I think of the "saying" as a test as to wether I've learned the tune or not. (Guess which one usually shows up. )
    Decipit exemplar vitiis imitabile

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    Default Re: Memorizing Chords and Progressions

    Yeah. The saying isn’t wrong, but I think people could take it the wrong way.
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    Default Re: Memorizing Chords and Progressions

    Quote Originally Posted by JonZ View Post
    Yeah. The saying isn’t wrong, but I think people could take it the wrong way.
    I believe the original context was regarding on stage performance as a band/ensemble. Not my intention to sell it as the ultimate answer to the thread, just thought it was clever and somewhat relevant.
    Despite the high cost of living, it still remains popular...

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    Default Re: Memorizing Chords and Progressions

    Thank you everyone! This has been very helpful!!

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    Default Re: Memorizing Chords and Progressions

    Other folks have spoken about this before in the thread, but let me summarize some of the thoughts and try to simplify things a bit. When you're first starting out, you simply learn (i.e., memorize) a few of the chord progressions to the fiddle tunes whose melodies you already know well. That gets you started. It's not that burdensome. You practice making these changes at full playing speed, over and over, until they become automatic for you. After a while, you'll reach a second stage of advancement, when you begin to notice that there are specific patterns to most of these chord progressions, regardless of the key. So instead of thinking about a given chord progression as -- for example -- D-G-A-D (in the key of D) or A-D-E-A (in the key of A), you start to think of it as I-IV-V-I instead ("Nashville notation"). That system works for all keys, and you no longer need to memorize any particular set of chord names (which change every time you transpose to a different key), but learn the chord relationships, instead. After a while, at the next stage of advancement, you start to hear the chord changes in your head while the music is played. You start to realize when the tune's melody is supported by the tonic chord (I), when it goes to the subdominant (IV), the dominant (V), the relative minor (vi), and so on. You also start to become familiar with a lot of standard patterns, like I-V7-I, I-II-V7-I, I-IV-vi-V-I, etc. When you reach this stage, you'll find that you won't have to memorize names of chords anymore! In fact, you may not even need to memorize any chord sequences, either. If you know the melody, then you will simply hear the changes, irrespective of the home key.

    Oldtime and bluegrass fiddle tunes are mostly pretty simple. With a bit of practice jamming, you'll soon reach a stage where a fiddler can play an unfamiliar (to you) tune once or twice through, and you will quickly (1) figure out the tune's key without being told, and then (2) hear the melody in your head well enough to back it up with the right chord changes in real time. Guitarists do this all the time, and so can mandolinists. Every so often, there might be a "suprise" chord that will throw you, but it's usually not too hard to figure that out, too. Examples of "surprise" chords are the C chord in "Staten Island Hornpipe (D)" and the Bb chord in "Snowflake Reel (D)."

    To recap: Start out by memorizing a few chord sequences by chord name (A,B,C...). Then, switch to learning these sequences by their relative chord roles (I, IV, V, etc. = Nashville number names). Finally, learn to hear the changes as the melody is played. Eventually, all you'll need to keep in your head is the tune's melody, and possibly a "surprise" chord or two. It actually gets easier and easier!!

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