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Thread: Who doesn't memorize tunes/songs?

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    Registered User Sherry Cadenhead's Avatar
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    Default Who doesn't memorize tunes/songs?

    4 years into learning mandolin (my first instrument), my mode of learning doesn't include tune memorization, but, rather is solely involved with reading sheet music. Do others learn this way exclusively? Do you feel deprived since you can't easily play with others without the music in front of you?
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    Default Re: Who doesn't memorize tunes/songs?

    I am the opposite, I learn by playing with others and all tunes are memorized. Well if the melody is in my head I can play it. A few of us played a two day gig at a school with a caller for kids 1-12 and starting in the morning of the first day to the end of the second the only tune we repeated was because the caller requested it for a specific dance. That was 7:30-3:30 each day.
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    Registered User Doug Brock's Avatar
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    Default Re: Who doesn't memorize tunes/songs?

    I would encourage tune memorization from day one. It is nice to be able to play tunes with just you and your mandolin - no music stand, no sheet music.

    One argument against memorization might be that nobody seems to play any tune the same way, lol, but I think you should memorize a basic form of each tune you want to learn, just so you can focus more on the playing and less on the reading. After you can play the basic form of the tune, then you can work on making it more interesting by also being able to play it with more slides, double stops, chords, flatted notes, chromatic bits, etc. If you have any interest in learning to improvise, then you need to learn to play using your ears and your memory, without sheet music.
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    Registered User Al Trujillo's Avatar
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    Default Re: Who doesn't memorize tunes/songs?

    I don't know why I can't but for the life of me I can't remember the tune once I walk away from the printed sheet.

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    two t's and one hyphen fatt-dad's Avatar
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    Default Re: Who doesn't memorize tunes/songs?

    I play by ear. The music reminds me.

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    Default Re: Who doesn't memorize tunes/songs?

    Always sheet music for me unless I'm performing.
    Then I memorize for that performance and it's out of my head the next day.
    If I ever perform more I'll have to change that, but in the meantime my front lobes are very crowded.

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    Registered User Doug Brock's Avatar
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    Default Re: Who doesn't memorize tunes/songs?

    Quote Originally Posted by Al Trujillo View Post
    I don't know why I can't but for the life of me I can't remember the tune once I walk away from the printed sheet.
    Lol. I really struggle remembering some fiddle tunes - they can sound so similar, and folks plays them so differently. When I'm trying to memorize a tune, I try to get the chords in my head first, then look for distinctive features. For example, "generic sort of G run from low to high for a measure and a half, then a sort of distinctive few notes on the D chord, then a one-measure run in G going downward, followed by a measure with some distinctive notes on the F chord..."
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    Default Re: Who doesn't memorize tunes/songs?

    First measure or two and I’ve got the rest, though I cant do that for tunes I learned badly as a student.
    Now I can read/play at about 200 bpm, tab that is, and make no errors first time through which makes memorising much easier.
    With reading instead of listening I quite often don't know the key I’m in which doesn’t feel good -it makes me a bit more error prone.

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    Default Re: Who doesn't memorize tunes/songs?

    As a guitarist and singer, I have always played by ear. I have music training as a boy on violin, and later on piano in college, so this helps, but it doesn't factor into my typical performing and songwriting. With the mandolin the past six years, I learn from tab and tend to rely on the printed sheets for practice on fiddle tunes and classical songs. Eventually, I commit these to memory. When I use the mandolin for my accompaniment, I treat it like my guitars in that sense and play by ear. I also like to use scales I know to improvise lead breaks or intros to go with the song I am singing and chording. It is mixed, but I do appreciate printing and collecting lead sheets with tab that I can use to grow as a mandolin player. I enjoy the library on the Cafe and also MandoLessons that Barron provides. Interesting topic!

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    Registered User DavidKOS's Avatar
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    Default Re: Who doesn't memorize tunes/songs?

    Both.

    I play many folk tunes by ear; I read music for classical style and for learning new tunes I have not heard.

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    Default Re: Who doesn't memorize tunes/songs?

    I can sight read, but will memorize BG tunes, oddly I don't bother to memorize classical stuff.

    When learning a BG tune, either from ear or tab, I generally transcribe it to sheet music, and read it until I have it memorized. If I haven't played a tune in a long time I sometimes refer back to the sheet music.

    My band plays off lead sheets which is another skill entirely, I need to be able to improv and comp off a set of chords and a mostly memorized melody, without ever playing the melody itself.
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    Default Re: Who doesn't memorize tunes/songs?

    Quote Originally Posted by Al Trujillo View Post
    I don't know why I can't but for the life of me I can't remember the tune once I walk away from the printed sheet.
    I am having a more difficult time as I age. I'm 68. I find a set list with the Key, the first couple of notes, and the first 3 or 4 words of the lyrics gets me started.
    I usually learn from sheet music by starting with the basic melody, then moving forward by applying tremolo, double stops, and 2 or 3 finger chords. I'm not a grasser so chop chords are not on my radar.
    I truly admire musicians with a better "ear" than me. Therefore, I am resolved to the fact that I will never be a Thile, Bush, Grisman, or Ostruscko.
    Importantly, i do not let my lack of natural talent stop me from having fun or stiving to improve.
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    Orrig Onion HonketyHank's Avatar
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    Default Re: Who doesn't memorize tunes/songs?

    Sherry, we both started on the mandolin at about the same time. I memorize the tunes for our Newbies Tune of the Month. I think it takes me an inordinate amount of time after 'learning' the tune to get it memorized but I am retired and what's time to an old toot. But a few weeks later, I have lost them. I know they are in the "archives", but I need to dig out the tab or music and brush them up to get them going again.

    I have a folder on my hard drive that contains the tabs and music notation for every tune I have worked on, including our Tunes of the Month. I do enjoy picking back through that list and 'rediscovering' tunes that I really like.

    I would love to be able to say "Oh yeah, Congress Reel, that goes like this ..." and shoot out a recognizable replication of the tune. Can't do it now, though, without some time to brush up.

    But ... my only musical "gigs" are the Tune of the Month video every month and I do not (realistically) aspire to anything more. So, I'm ok with the situation.
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    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Who doesn't memorize tunes/songs?

    Quote Originally Posted by Sherry Cadenhead View Post
    4 years into learning mandolin (my first instrument), my mode of learning doesn't include tune memorization, but, rather is solely involved with reading sheet music. Do others learn this way exclusively? Do you feel deprived since you can't easily play with others without the music in front of you?
    I was where you are. For a long time. It can change. And eventually without effort. I don't go about specifically memorizing anything, just after awhile I remember it. But that is now, not back then. I was originally paper trained and I brought music to jams all the time.

    Its not a life sentence, and familiarity and working at it a bit now and then and you'll be fine.

    Feeling deprived, I dunno. I think not being able to read music would feel more depriving to me - but everyone is different.

    The complete musician, of course, can do both, do it all. We all have strengths and weaknesses and nobody is strong in everything, especially right away. Take your time, it will happen.

    For specific techniques to remember a tune and eventually not need "the dots", there are many. Others can perhaps help more than I. My point here is only that you need not feel deprived, or any less a musician. Those who play without music don't "have something on you." You will get there. Those who can't read music certainly have nothing on you.
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    Registered User T.D.Nydn's Avatar
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    Default Re: Who doesn't memorize tunes/songs?

    I try to memorize everything ,so I can take off and improvise on a tune..I read sheet music to learn new tunes..if you just read sheet music,how can you ever improvise on a tune? Classical stuff is another ballgame..

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    Registered User Mando Mort's Avatar
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    Default Re: Who doesn't memorize tunes/songs?

    I have played so many songs in my lifetime that if I tried to memorize them all, I wouldn't have enough space in my brain to accomplish anything else. I usually memorize things (often through the repetition of practicing) for a performance or recording, but, like BoxCar Joe, I let it slip from my brain after that as I move on to other recording or practice projects/sessions.

    Later, if I know I'll be playing some specific songs that I learned a long time ago, I just brush up for a few moments ahead of time and find that my fingers remember a lot more than my brain does.
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    Isolated enthusiast Caleb's Avatar
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    Default Re: Who doesn't memorize tunes/songs?

    I can’t read music and have no interest in learning. I’ve made a couple of attempts and to me it’s just not fun. I get that it would open up a whole world of music etc. Still not interested. I learn mostly by ear, occasionally a bit of tab to get started, and by watching others (this mostly). Then I memorize it. Different strokes.
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  27. #18

    Default Re: Who doesn't memorize tunes/songs?

    My process for memorizing is deliberate and goes like this. Listen to a recording until I'm fairly familiar with it. Breakdown the song into the overall structure like Intro (8 bars), Verse (16 bars), Chorus (8 bars), 1/2 intro (4 bars)... etc. By this point I hear the song very distinctly, like understanding a foreign language as sentences and not just sounds. Depending on genre I might make a chord chart at this point. If I'm just going for a very detailed transcription I will go directly to that and I write down every note of the part. Once it's there I will start working on memorization by taking it a couple bars at a time. I start very slowly and perfectly and speed up as I am able. The goal is to make it more muscular or athletic than cerebral.

    Sometimes I will use a prepared transcription but generally it's better for me if I just write it myself as part of the learning process. I will also make key fingering decisions during this process. Sometimes I use a guitar to transcribe mandolin music because my ear/hand coordination is much better on the guitar. It can be eye opening to "see" how a mandolin melody lays out over certain guitar chord shapes. I will note these on my transcriptions if I used a guitar.

    I do find it a bit harder to memorize bluegrass tunes on the mandolin that are just constant streams of swinging 1/8th notes. For example Billy in the Low Ground and Temperance Reel can twist into Temperance in the Reel Ground. I cannot play Jerusalem Ridge and Lonesome Fiddler Blues back to back, maybe not even in the same day. I feel like I can memorize guitar pieces more quickly because I have more experience with it and I am deeply familiar with the layout of the neck at all times. When I'm playing melodic guitar I still "see" the chords in the melody and every phrase is related to an octave shape where I don't really do that on the mandolin so much. I am desperate for acquiring that familiarity on the mandolin. I'm not sure if the instrument is very well laid out for it or not.

    A key for me to memorize something is to know the chords and how the melody relates to them. This helps avoid the linear recitation that many people get trapped in where they can't pick up in the middle.

  28. #19

    Default Re: Who doesn't memorize tunes/songs?

    My first teacher made me memorize BG tunes. When done deliberately it takes me a week or so to memorize a tune so it sticks.
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  29. #20
    Registered User Louise NM's Avatar
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    Default Re: Who doesn't memorize tunes/songs?

    I have come to the realization that I don't learn well by ear, and that memorization of music is not one of my sharper skills.

    Memorization shortcomings go back to childhood. It seems like as a kid I had a harder time memorizing pieces for recitals and contests than many of my peers did. While I am able to memorize pieces, especially if they are shorter, simpler, and I have them well in my head, memorization skills, for better or worse, won't ever be my party trick.

    Learning by ear is connected to memorization, I think. I can easily sound out a tune I know, but with something unfamiliar the A part has flown away by the time the B part comes around.

    I wonder how different this would be if my musical life had taken a different path. I have played a number of instruments since the third grade. Never was exposed to the Suzuki method, which stresses learning by ear at first. As an adult, I've spent 35+ years playing in orchestras. When you are handed a 15-page part for a symphony, a four-page overture, and another eight-page piece, all for a concert in a month (and you have another concert with different group in the meantime), memorization skills are not what you need.

    Having come to mandolin—and through it, other types of music—just two years ago, I've brought to it the skill set I already have. Put standard notation in front of me, in treble or alto clef (mandolin or mandola), and I can sight-read it easily, even difficult repertoire. A Celtic fiddle workshop or mandolin group, trying to learn a new tune by ear, I'm hopeless.

    Do I feel deprived? Kind of, yes. There's a whole world of music out there that I can't easily join. It's eye-opening, being highly competent in one area and being so utterly incompetent in another part of the same field. I'm in a group that plays for contradances—jigs, reels, waltzes. A few of us only read, others only learn by ear, some do both. It's fascinating to be part of such a diverse bunch. No right or wrong, no better or worse, just very different learning styles and ranges of experience.

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  31. #21

    Default Re: Who doesn't memorize tunes/songs?

    Quote Originally Posted by Louise NM View Post
    I have come to the realization that I don't learn well by ear, and that memorization of music is not one of my sharper skills.

    Memorization shortcomings go back to childhood. It seems like as a kid I had a harder time memorizing pieces for recitals and contests than many of my peers did. While I am able to memorize pieces, especially if they are shorter, simpler, and I have them well in my head, memorization skills, for better or worse, won't ever be my party trick.

    Learning by ear is connected to memorization, I think. I can easily sound out a tune I know, but with something unfamiliar the A part has flown away by the time the B part comes around.

    I wonder how different this would be if my musical life had taken a different path. I have played a number of instruments since the third grade. Never was exposed to the Suzuki method, which stresses learning by ear at first. As an adult, I've spent 35+ years playing in orchestras. When you are handed a 15-page part for a symphony, a four-page overture, and another eight-page piece, all for a concert in a month (and you have another concert with different group in the meantime), memorization skills are not what you need.

    Having come to mandolin—and through it, other types of music—just two years ago, I've brought to it the skill set I already have. Put standard notation in front of me, in treble or alto clef (mandolin or mandola), and I can sight-read it easily, even difficult repertoire. A Celtic fiddle workshop or mandolin group, trying to learn a new tune by ear, I'm hopeless.

    Do I feel deprived? Kind of, yes. There's a whole world of music out there that I can't easily join. It's eye-opening, being highly competent in one area and being so utterly incompetent in another part of the same field. I'm in a group that plays for contradances—jigs, reels, waltzes. A few of us only read, others only learn by ear, some do both. It's fascinating to be part of such a diverse bunch. No right or wrong, no better or worse, just very different learning styles and ranges of experience.
    Hi Louise, you could try this if you want to:
    play/read two measures and then wait more than about ten seconds, and then play it again with eyes closed? And then again for three measures?
    Another type of memory (I guess) is air-mandolin where you do exactly the same thing as before, ten seconds etc. but there’s no mandolin. You just have to imagine it’s there and feel where your fingers go.
    -and thanks for the encouragement, I’m one of those ones who cant read notation

  32. #22
    Registered User Sherry Cadenhead's Avatar
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    Default Re: Who doesn't memorize tunes/songs?

    Thanks, Louise! I've enjoyed reading over all the responses to my post, but you really hit the nail on the head for me! Maybe you and I are the only ones in the Café who don't memorize and/or play by ear. Of course, you have many more years of experience than I, so I hope you're not offended that I've put us in the same camp.

    My first attempt at memorization was at a local music camp last summer. I was provided the sheet music for some basic tunes in advance so I could memorize them. I spent hours and hours and wasn't great, but thought I might be able to get through those particular tunes at the camp. At the camp at the end of each day we got together in informal groups and went around the circle introducing tunes. Mine was Angeline the Baker (my best of the ones I had memorized), which I attempted twice. I was unable to join in on any of the other tunes (although I did attempt the chords) and was feeling pretty dejected by the end of the camp. After talking to myself (a lot!) after the camp, I decided to start in again, working on those earlier tunes and trying to add new ones here and there. I now do a fair job of Old Joe Clark, but probably not up to speed and would probably crash and burn if playing in a group.

    I think, for me, I need to just stick to written music. I practice an hour a day and have played solos in church over the past year. My teacher is encouraging me to join a community orchestra in the fall. Not sure a mandolin would even be welcome, but maybe I could at least participate in rehearsals.

    I don't mean to be a whiner - and I know playing on a regular basis with others who jam would be a help, but sometimes there just aren't enough hours in the day, week, month, etc. to do it all.

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  34. #23
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    Default Re: Who doesn't memorize tunes/songs?

    I learn stuff for our band, but find it handy to have the chord progression blocked out in case I blank for some reason, I just look over at it and am ready without having to ask . For the mandolin orchestra I don’t bother memorising , for the fiddle orchestra I try to get the tune at least memorised, but sometimes the harmonies and arrangements need the dots. For my duet stuff we memorise the current batch of songs and tunes. But some 4 tune sets of dance tunes can need playing out before getting them in my head fully, so I’ll have them on a stand for those.
    For folk tunes and stuff to play at a jam or session I’ll normally only play by ear, maybe with a chord cheat sheet if they’re not typical. However I’d have no problem bringing along lyrics & chords as a safety net to the folk club to share a new song or tune rather than risk a blank.

    I suppose it depends on the intended situation whether it’s better for me to allocate the time to memorising them, or to just play them and move on to the rest of the things I do. The accompaniment for songs I always learn, as I need to focus on the singing and harmonies. Time is tight so it’s a question of what is worth working up. There are many tunes and songs I only know from having learned them by ear and I’ve found myself wondering where I left the dots, only to realise I never got them in the first place. That’s awkward when I had intended to email them to someone so we could have a go next practice anyway the main thing is to play out and be comfortable doing that. Whether you use the sheets or not really doesn’t matter, better to bring it and share the tune with confidence rather than get flustered and be inhibited from doing so again.
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  36. #24
    Registered User Randi Gormley's Avatar
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    Default Re: Who doesn't memorize tunes/songs?

    I was paper trained on flute and then on recorder so when I taught myself mandolin, it was by reading standard notation. Since I didn't play anything that required improvising, that wasn't a problem. When I began playing ITM, it was by reading music and I did that for maybe four or five years. But if you play the same tunes for years, they start getting into your hands and brain and before you know it, you're not actually reading the music any more, just using it to check key signatures or remind yourself what the A to B shift looks like. Making that leap from standard notation to memory is a huge psychological jump. I know people who have done it deliberately, people like me who did it as part of a natural progression and people who, despite playing their instruments for a good decade, still can't make that jump. I may think the ones who don't sight read particularly well and don't do ear training are missing out, but they seem perfectly happy. At least they're playing.

    Me, I don't deliberately set out to "memorize" a tune simply to memorize it. If my fiddler friend is partial to a tune, I'll pick it up so I can play with her. My-husband-the-guitar-player and i will pick up a book of session tunes and play them (from the sheet music) one after another, but if there's something that sounds really cool, I'll learn it simply because it's cool. If a tune keeps coming up in session, I'll learn it because it's more fun if I play than if I sit around a table with my mandolin in my lap. sometimes the impetus to memorize a tune is because of necessity, not academics. And it does depend on whether you play by yourself or with others.

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    Default Re: Who doesn't memorize tunes/songs?

    I used to use index cards as a cheat sheet which showed me the tempo, the first two measures and sometimes a few descriptive words. By the time I got through two measures I always knew what I was playing well enough to fake myself through.
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