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Thread: Memory of learned songs

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    Registered User man dough nollij's Avatar
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    I was recently shocked to realize that a few of the old standard fiddle tunes are just gone from my memory.

    Evidently, learning new songs kind of pushes the old ones out. I find if I don't practice a song for a while, it just dissapears from my memory. It's scary.

    Also, my whole recollection of a song rests on the way the first two measures or so. If I can't remember the first three notes, I don't know where to start, and I'm clueless.

    I realize that part of my problem is Polar T3 Syndrome, but I wonder what other Cafe members do to retain tunes.

    I know: practice. I know a lot of you know a billion more tunes than I do-- do you have to keep practicing them to prevent forgetting them? I can't imagine having to keep practicing hundreds of songs.

    The way the human brain remembers music is fascinating to me. How does your brain work? #




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    some people can remember songs - i can't.

    what i find helps is to remember the "hook" at least - an intro or refrain that will hopefully lead me into the rest of the song.

    failing that ... i post the more difficult to remember songs to youtube.

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    Registered User Jordan Ramsey's Avatar
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    I've definitely forgotten more tunes than I've ever learned. I think the key to remembering is making a really good, comprehensive list of songs that you can go over periodically. The average human mind can only store so much, then we need some point of reference to go off of. Maybe include the first few notes in tab or notation to jog the memory.

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    I remember tunes well. Lyrics not so well.

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    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    I absolutely deny the mayonnaise jar anology for the brain - that it can only "hold" so much. Sure I forget tunes, and remember them again at the most suprising moments, but it has nothing to do with how many tunes I know. Some days I can only think of ten tunes to play at a jam, other days I feel like a fountain, or that I am channeling some great mandolinist who is sitting at a tune library in the sky - they just keep coming out of me.

    In general I am better with systems of knowledge than I am with great heaping piles of details. Thats just me. It has always been easier, for example, to understand than to memorize. So with tunes I try and connect them together and mentally organize them. Either in sets as you might for a performance, or in types, like all the polkas I know, or per subject, like all the animal tunes I know, or by where I learned the tune, or what the tune sounds like. The more connections I can make between tunes, the more chances I will mentally bump into it again when I play the tunes around it. The more mental pathways there are to find the tune. Its not foolproof of course, but I do NOT, as some people claim, lose a tune off the back porch for every new tune that comes in the front door.



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    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Oh, and that Polar T3 looks rough. Good luck with it, its not something I would find easy to wrestle with.
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    Hey Jordon, just listened to your tunes on MySpace.......darn, it was all fine clean playing, but you put a serious hurtin' on Whiskey!!!

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    String-Bending Heretic mandocrucian's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by
    The way the human brain remembers music is fascinating to me. How does your brain work?
    Wrong question. (or at least tangental to the issue.)

    How do I make my brain work more efficiently?

    I think a lot of folks have the mistaken idea that if they can play a tune (in a particular key) on their mandolin, they "know" the tune. #Maybe they have something stashed in their muscle memory, or perhaps in their visual memory (if they have to visualize the tab or notation), but those are just training aids - the scaffolding rather than the building structure). If you can't vocalize the melody (and I'm not talking about "beautiful singing" renditions), then you don't really "know" the tune where it counts - in the audio memory.

    Run over the songs vocally without the instrument. The effort to actually vocalize the notes requires much greater brain concentration than merely silently "thinking" the tune. It's going to stick if you have to expend more mental energy, than if you "coast".

    To push it further, vocalize the tunes when you play them. Now you are having to run the digital/muscle program in tandem with the audio/vocal program. By repeatedly doing so, you connect the two together (i.e. Pavlov's dogs) reinforcing the ear>hand connections.

    For further synergistic results, attach sol-feg syllables to your melodies, with and/or without the instrument in hand. By adding the "lyrics" the language areas of the brain are drawn into the effort. This can also have the added benefit of picking up a lot of basic music theory, without trying. Do-mi-so become the "lyric" to a major triad on the I chord.

    There's a whole lot more to playing than moving your fingers and hands. That, alone, is akin to memorizing bits out of a Berlitz phrasebook.

    Niles H




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    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    The contrapositive of this is that sometimes old tunes rise to the top of the memory, bidden or unbidden. #I was playing for a group of seniors a couple months ago, and one of them asked if I knew the ol' Doris Day song, Que Sera, Sera. #I'll hazard a guess that I hadn't even thought of that song for forty years -- yet there it was, all shiny and ready to sing with ukulele accompaniment:
    When I was just a little boy,
    I asked my mother, "What will I be..."


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    Registered User man dough nollij's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by (mandocrucian @ Aug. 06 2008, 02:54)
    There's a whole lot more to playing than moving your fingers and hands. That, alone, is akin to memorizing bits out of a Berlitz phrasebook.
    Wow, thanks for the post-- that gives me a lot to think about. I think that's why I'm "losing" songs. The way I learn them is kind of like memorizing a section of text in a foreign language that I don't speak.

    I just play a song over and over until it gets impressed on my muscle memory. After that, I just start the first six notes or so, and the rest comes automatically. For that reason, it is very hard for me to start in the middle if I get lost-- I'm strongly tempted to start at the beginning.

    I'm looking forward to getting back to the real world and taking some lessons. I see a lot of discussion on these forums where a song is thought of in terms of a chord progression, with improvisation and ornementation added on. That's where I want to be, but for now I'm just memorizing tunes.

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    Registered User Doug Hoople's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by (mandocrucian @ Aug. 05 2008, 07:54)
    If you can't vocalize the melody (and I'm not talking about "beautiful singing" renditions), then you don't really "know" the tune where it counts - in the audio memory.
    All good points, Niles.

    Commenting on just one, though. I've always been fascinated by how often great players will insist that being able to mentally "sing" and vocalize a melody will be an indication that it's reliably playable. I'm sure they believe it as it reflects their own experience, so it's obviously true for them.

    All our brains are different, and that works from some people, but not for others.

    I grew up reading music for the purpose of singing. Choirs, solo singing, you name it. As my signature will attest, I came to seriously playing an instrument late in the game, and am most challenged by the motor skills that many lifelong instrumentalists take for granted. #

    I can often sing a piece I'm trying to learn with very little effort, but I still won't be able to play it. For the most part, being able to sing a tune gives me absolutely zero leg up on being able to play it or memorize it for playing on the mandolin.

    I had a mandolin teacher once who was totally baffled that I could sing something that I simply couldn't play. For him, it just did not compute. He was a lifelong instrumentalist.

    I'm not saying that this is universally true for everyone... on the contrary, that's the point. Everyone's learning and retention styles are completely different.

    Lee,

    you'll find that even if you think you've forgotten a tune, it'll come back a lot quicker than any tune you're playing for the first time. Just like having to go up into the attic to get it... it's dusty, out of sight, and out of reach, but it's up there. You may have to move a few things around to get to it. Once you bring it back down to the living room and leave it in plain sight, though, it'll be like it was always there.



    Doug Hoople
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    Quote Originally Posted by (doughoople @ Aug. 05 2008, 17:00)
    I can often sing a piece I'm trying to learn with very little effort, but I still won't be able to play it. For the most part, being able to sing a tune gives me absolutely zero leg up on being able to play it or memorize it for playing on the mandolin.
    playing it in the same key i'm singing it seems to help me - but not always! recalling the first inkling of a tune - its chorus or whatever ... that's the difficult part. generally speaking, if i can get at least that, it leads me on to the rest of the song.

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    Registered User Randi Gormley's Avatar
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    I find that if i can whistle the tune, I can remember it well enough to play it after a little fumbling around. Sometimes, when I play something from a book for a while or hear it enough on my mp3, it'll pop into my head like one of those ad jingles, and i'll whistle it to get it out of my head. then i seem to be able to remember it when i sit down with my mandolin later. On the other hand. there are some tunes that just don't stick at all. it's hardly a surprise to me that they're tunes i don't like particularly, just like i can remember a tune that intrigues me relatively fast. And once I have the tune in my head, i can play it in just about any key if it's slow enough. i'm lucky in that most of the music i play is pretty standard so i don't have to do much transposition.
    Several people in our group know tunes like you do, by the first few bars. they carry cheat sheets of the opening bars of a dozen tunes around in case they have to start a piece -- or they'll ask me how it starts and if i'm lucky, i'll know the tune and can start it for them. i don't think i have a particularly retentive memory -- in fact, i have very poor short-term memory on purpose or i'd go nuts at work -- but i can remember music. Not other things, though. I've taken enough Spanish, French and German language classes to look impressive on a sheet of paper, but I can't say more than a sentence in any of them.
    I've always thought of the mind as a series of boxes or rooms of different sizes. you can create all sorts of analogies that way, including opening a door or a box lid to expand your mental capacity.
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    Registered User Doug Hoople's Avatar
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    I'm glad to see this thread back on the list, as I've been thinking about it since we last left it. It's left me thinking about singing and playing and the linkages that pertain.

    I think that Niles is right, that singing a tune is essential to being able to play it.

    What I'd like to know, though, is what is required to tie singing memory to playing memory.

    I was really intrigued, at this year's Symposium, by Andy Statman's observations about how to play scales and modes, with the intention of hearing the quality of the intervals.

    It seems really obvious, but being able to hear and sing something, and then being able to reproduce these things in our playing, seems to be a basic and fundamentally necessary skill.

    I'd love to know the most direct path to adding playing skills to hearing and singing. Hearing and singing are easy to me. Playing is not.



    Doug Hoople
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    String-Bending Heretic mandocrucian's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by
    I'd love to know the most direct path to adding playing skills to hearing and singing. Hearing and singing are easy to me. Playing is not.
    Read my post again.

    NH

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    +1 for the singing / memory connexion. It's always been interesting for me to play with folks (my fiddler is one, a symphony guy)who can read anything I put in front of them, no matter how hard or twisted rhythmically - but they can't play a tune we've been doing for 5 years without that piece of paper n front of them... and the way in is to sing it. Related topic: It's no accident that many jazz players sing along with themselves during solos - it just engages a different part of the brain. I know a jazz pianist who not only sings along wiht his solos, but sometimes will play octaves using left & right hands, and he says he lets his left hand lead, and it all comes out differently...
    No matter how many tunes I learn, I can always play Dave Clark 5 tunes perfectly! (maybe they're hard wired from my youth.)
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    Registered User Doug Hoople's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by (mandocrucian @ Aug. 08 2008, 21:23)
    Quote Originally Posted by
    I'd love to know the most direct path to adding playing skills to hearing and singing. Hearing and singing are easy to me. Playing is not.
    Read my post again.

    NH
    I got your post quite thoroughly the first time, Niles. The specifics of your recommendation, at least in the case of singing along, don't pertain to me.

    On re-reading, the gist is to "know a piece of music more completely and more intensetly." Perfectly sensible advice.

    What I'm hoping to find is a way of strengthening the connection between singing and playing, so that I can benefit from the tie-in between the two. At present, I don't.

    A lifelong instrumentalist will have better traction with the singing approach simply because singing is a secondary skill, and because secondary skills are likely to be filtered through the lens of the primary skill (playing).

    Since singing, for me, because of a lifelong practice of it, is the primary skill, and instrumental playing, because I've been at it for a more limited time, is the secondary skill, the crossover benefit to me is apparently much lower.

    I'd still like to find an approach that strengthens the link, as I agree with you that it is potentially quite powerful. Just doesn't work for me. Yet.



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    String-Bending Heretic mandocrucian's Avatar
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    <span style='font-size:8pt;line-height:100%'>vocalize the tunes when you play them. Now you are having to run the digital/muscle program in tandem with the audio/vocal program. By repeatedly doing so, you connect the two together (i.e. Pavlov's dogs) reinforcing the ear&gt;hand connections.</span>

    Well how long have you tried this?

    Primary and secondary skills isn't the issue. It's wiring the two together and which came first doesn't really matter. #Of course, if your motor skills are so low that everything else goes out the mental window when you have to concentrate on fretting, then you need to put in more time on your instrument. However, even with beginning instrumentalists, adding the "voice" helps put the ear&gt;hand wiring in a foundational level (which will have big time benefits later on). This is about the brain, not the hands.

    NH

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    A even forget the words to Happy Birthday.

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    This topic is very exciting to me. #Although I still struggle with the mechanics of playing I am good enough that I have begun to try memorization. #Niles' post is like a strobe light going off in my head. #I WILL try this.

    One question having never sung sol-feg except while watching the sound of music. #In sol-feg, what do you do about accidentals? #For example, "John Henry", my version is in "C" but has a flatted "Tee" and a flatted "Me". #What's the lyric for this?

    Thanks,

    Julie
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    String-Bending Heretic mandocrucian's Avatar
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    Major scale: Do Re Mi Fa So La Ti (Do)

    b - X - #
    n/a - Do - Di
    Ra - Re - Ri # (prouncounced: rah-Ray-ree)
    Me - Mi -
    (Fe) - Fa - Fi
    Se - So - Si
    Le - La - Li #(pronouced: Lay-Lah-Lee)
    Te - Ti

    The only inconsistancy in the change of vowel sound with lowering a major scale tone is with Re, and this is due to the historical development of the system, which predated the addition of the chromatic alterations.

    Mi = prounouced "mee"
    Me - prounced "may"

    Niles H

    "Old Joe Clark" first phrase: so la te la so fa mi #
    te (tay) = b7

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    Registered User alanz's Avatar
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    I too have difficulty remembering how to start a tune.

    When all else fails... read the instructions &lt;s&gt;

    I guess that's why they invented sheet music.
    I look at the notation, start playing a few notes... and it comes back to me.
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    Registered User groveland's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by (mandocrucian @ Aug. 10 2008, 12:55)
    b - X - #
    n/a - Do - Di
    Ra - Re - Ri # (prouncounced: rah-Ray-ree)
    Me - Mi -
    (Fe) - Fa - Fi
    Se - So - Si
    Le - La - Li #(pronouced: Lay-Lah-Lee)
    Te - Ti
    I don't know sol-feg either. #"Take the A Train"?

    So - Mi So Do Mi Si -
    La - La Li Ti Mi So Se Fa Ra Do Mi

    Are there syllables for notes occurring outside of the one octave? #(Do we use the same syllables we listed above?)When the tonal center is held in abeyance, do you use syllables relative to the original tonal center, or to the new tonal center?

    Very interesting stuff.




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    Registered User man dough nollij's Avatar
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    The idea of singing melodies to implant them in memory is fascinating. I bet I have two thousand songs in my head, but I only have the "muscle memory" to play a few dozen.

    Very often, I will get a song stuck in my head, and I can hear the whole thing. The other day it was Heard it Through the Grapevine, and I could definitely tell it was the Creedence version.

    It's like part of my brain is a tape recorder. Those songs that pop up and get stuck in my head frequently do so unbidden-- I don't have to have heard the song for it to appear.

    By singing the melody, I'm implanting it in my mental tape recorder, rather than storing it in the part of my brain that memorizes muscular movements. Whooda thunk?

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    Registered User Doug Hoople's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by (mandocrucian @ Aug. 09 2008, 14:57)
    <span style='font-size:8pt;line-height:100%'>vocalize the tunes when you play them. Now you are having to run the digital/muscle program in tandem with the audio/vocal program. By repeatedly doing so, you connect the two together (i.e. Pavlov's dogs) reinforcing the ear&gt;hand connections.</span>

    Well how long have you tried this?

    Primary and secondary skills isn't the issue. It's wiring the two together and which came first doesn't really matter. #Of course, if your motor skills are so low that everything else goes out the mental window when you have to concentrate on fretting, then you need to put in more time on your instrument. However, even with beginning instrumentalists, adding the "voice" helps put the ear&gt;hand wiring in a foundational level (which will have big time benefits later on). This is about the brain, not the hands.

    NH
    Yes, this is about wiring them together. What you're talking about, Niles, is acquiring a pretty significant skill as a prerequisite to making this work properly.

    If the singing-mind-muscle connection is not already established (for whatever reason), then results can be long and slow in kicking in.

    The singing/playing concurrently part can be difficult.

    The solfege part can be even harder. This skill is extremely useful once attained, but it's no piece of cake to master. College music majors spend their first two years working on this, and the bulk of them give it up as soon as they can. Not that it's smart for them to give it up, just a measure of how difficult it is to make this skill a real working tool.

    In the meantime, in my case, the disconnect between my voice and my playing is startling. I still think this has a lot to do with establishing deep and complete neural pathways for music long before starting instrumental studies. The mechanics of tying them together have proven fairly elusive.

    I'll give it another crack.



    Doug Hoople
    Adult-onset Instrumentalist (or was that addled-onset?)

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