Learning/Remembering New songs

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RoundI
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Learning/Remembering New songs

Post by RoundI » April 14th, 2011, 6:44 am

I learn and can play a lot of songs. I have to follow along with the chords/lyrics I print out for just about all of them though. I have been playing for about 3 years and I feel I am progressing quite well. The problem is if someone asks me to play a song there are only a couple I can play without the chords/lyrics in front of me.

Is this typical?

I normally just play at home, I don't jam or play with others very often and when I do it is slightly frustrating. Is it preferable to simply pick a few songs and play them so much that I can't possibly forget them. I have no idea how people remember whole concerts worth of songs.

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Re: Learning/Remembering New songs

Post by Minotaur » April 14th, 2011, 7:10 am

Probably the two best persons to answer this are NoteBoat and Notes Norton. Notes has a repetoire in the hundreds (I don't think I'm exaggerating) and has been on tour and performing for years.

I've been playing a little over three years also and am in the same boat as you. I can play a few songs off the top of my head, but for the most part I need to see the sheets. For me it depends on how long I've been playing the song and how easy or complex it it is. Since Proud Mary, Sundown and Heart of Gold were three of the first I started working on, for example, I can play them without a sheet. And like you there are those I can play by the sheet not having played them before because I've learned so much.
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RoundI
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Re: Learning/Remembering New songs

Post by RoundI » April 14th, 2011, 7:21 am

Well it is good to see I am in good company! Coincidentally, Sundown and Heart of Gold were two of my go to songs as well for a long time. If weren't for the 700miles or so we could have a very short impromptu Jam :wink:

Currenlty my little brain is holding onto Harvest Moon,Wagonwheel and Molly's Chamber. Oh I just though of You Can't Always Get what you want as well.

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Re: Learning/Remembering New songs

Post by NoteBoat » April 14th, 2011, 7:32 am

I've never had any problem remembering songs, so I really can't give any how-I-did-it advice.

I'm sure the number of tunes I've played in my life is somewhere north of 3,000. At any given time, I could probably do a credible version of at least a few hundred of those. But for me, music is a language - as you get to be more fluent, it's like repeating a story you heard a while ago. You may not get every word in the same place each time, but people who've heard it before know what's coming. So if I can remember how it goes (as in have a rough idea in my mind of the melody and cadences), I can wing it well enough that people think I "know" the song. And in a way, I do.

There's a second level for performance. If I'm hired to do a job, I rehearse as much as I can, and if at all practical I'll have sheet music within sight. Getting it pretty close is fine for jams, but earning your pay requires stepping it up a few notches.

And then there's one more level, the one I aspire to. To really KNOW a piece of music (at least in my definition) means being familiar with all the nuances and possibilities. In complicated pieces of music, I will often discover new relationships in the voices, even though I've heard the thing hundreds of times. The better the piece, the deeper it is... and the more you can learn from revisiting it.
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Minotaur
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Re: Learning/Remembering New songs

Post by Minotaur » April 14th, 2011, 7:33 am

RoundI wrote:Well it is good to see I am in good company! Coincidentally, Sundown and Heart of Gold were two of my go to songs as well for a long time. If weren't for the 700miles or so we could have a very short impromptu Jam :wink:
That would be so ON! :mrgreen:
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Re: Learning/Remembering New songs

Post by Minotaur » April 14th, 2011, 7:36 am

NoteBoat wrote:You may not get every word in the same place each time, but people who've heard it before know what's coming. So if I can remember how it goes (as in have a rough idea in my mind of the melody and cadences), I can wing it well enough that people think I "know" the song. And in a way, I do.
Probably the reason the Muses gave us fakebooks. 8)
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Re: Learning/Remembering New songs

Post by cnev » April 14th, 2011, 9:53 am

I think it's pretty common for us mortals I have the same issue myself and if you don't play something often it's hard to remember.

I haven't been playing much with other people in the last 5 -6 months since the band broke up because the other guitar player passed away, but the 3 of us remaining decided to see if we could find a guitar player and restsart the band.

We have a guy coming by next Friday to play with us and we decided on 15 - 17 songs to play.

So the 3 of us have practiced about 2 hrs or so for the last three days and man there are a few a remember well but I forgot so many of them even simple ones like Day Tripper. The only good news in this is that after spending 10 mins or so on them it seems to come back although I need to practice a bit more some are sloppy. The practices have been a bit eye opening and I know I need to get it together by next Friday or this guy will be gone after that.

But I had the same problem when I first started I never thought I'd be able to remember a whole song. I've never really tried playing much with the music in front of me though. I kind of just plug away till I have it down.

Now that I'm trying to work out the solo's I'm running into the same problem and it's compounded a little by nerves. I play some of tthe shorter solo's in songs we have done but now that I am trying to learn the longer ones when I play them by myself right now I can remember them then when the couple times I tried to play with the guys for some reason I forget the notes about halfway through. I'm pretty sure I can get it down but it's beginning to frustrate and stress me out.
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Re: Learning/Remembering New songs

Post by Alan Green » April 14th, 2011, 2:29 pm

RoundI wrote: The problem is if someone asks me to play a song there are only a couple I can play without the chords/lyrics in front of me.

Is this typical?
You'd be surprised. I always make a point of keeping the music open in front of me for tunes I've been working on even when I know I can play them through without looking at the music - some days it all just goes horribly wrong and it helps to have the music there for that extra couple of weeks (maybe even a month or so) to help when your ego gets in the way.

I forget how a bit goes in Bach's "Air On A G String" last week. I've been playing it live in concert since January last year, but I had to dig out the music because I got to a point and I just had no idea how it went. I could hear it, I just couldn't get my fingers to make it sound like that.
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Re: Learning/Remembering New songs

Post by Chris C » April 14th, 2011, 4:11 pm

RoundI wrote:
I normally just play at home, I don't jam or play with others very often and when I do it is slightly frustrating. Is it preferable to simply pick a few songs and play them so much that I can't possibly forget them. I have no idea how people remember whole concerts worth of songs.
Given your playing pattern, not having much of a memorised repertoire would probably be pretty much normal. Memorising whole concerts is a professional skill, so it's hardly surprising that we don't all have it automatically. It's a bit like an actor learning an entire play - the rest of us just wouldn't ever put enough hours in to develop a skill like that. Not all actors and musicians seem to get all the way there either - I've heard of plenty who have 'cheat sheets' tucked away out of the sight of the audience or camera. :)

I don't stress about memorising songs - if it happens that's fine, but if I'm playing at home or with friends then a music stand is always OK. Two things that I have found though:
  • 1. Unsurprisingly, I find words much easier to remember than instrumental music alone, so I do better at songs that have lyrics attached that I can sing.

    2. If I've learned the song slowly and accurately in the first place, then I'm much less likely to stuff up the recall. It seems that the subconscious is just as good at remembering all the wrong moves as the version you were aiming at - so when crunch time comes and it has to delve down into the mental soup to find a quick answer it can easily pull up the wrong one. I've always been bad at rushing things and making mistakes as I learn. But if I do what's recommended and start the learning slowly but accurately, and then build up gradually on a solid foundation, then I'm much more likely to not just remember the song - but actually remember the right version! :wink:
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Re: Learning/Remembering New songs

Post by Johnny Lee » April 14th, 2011, 7:13 pm

Yeah, I don't think it's absolutely necessary to know every song you learn cold and be able to play it on command. But I do think there's something to be said for building your base repertoire so that you'll never be at a "loss for words" when someone sees you with a guitar and wants to hear a little something. There's nothing more annoying than not being able to remember anything of substance to play when you're around others. It makes your time spent practicing almost seem like a waste. On the other hand, if you've got a few songs you really OWN, you'll feel pretty confident in any situation guitar related.

Another benefit I've noticed with really knowing a song is that you can actually springboard off it to write your own stuff. If you ever get stuck, any song you've studied well can be used as inspiration for coming up with new tunes, riffs, progressions, etc. There's a lot to be said for the benefits of truly OWNING a piece of music. My own focus has been more on doing this than it has been on the quantity of songs I learn. It's helped tremendously.
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Re: Learning/Remembering New songs

Post by Chris C » April 14th, 2011, 8:11 pm

Johnny Lee wrote:
There's a lot to be said for the benefits of truly OWNING a piece of music. My own focus has been more on doing this than it has been on the quantity of songs I learn. It's helped tremendously.
It sounds like we have a similar approach to music. I'm much more interested in making up my own stuff than simply learning how to copy existing songs, note for note. A big part of that is learning how music itself works, 'under the hood' as it were. Once you've got a few good clues about that then you can start to improvise or 'arrange' something around whatever you do have available. I definitely do try and learn at least some songs right off the page, exactly as written, but I don't tend to stick to the script for long. The more comfortable you are with that process, the less of a big deal it is if you can't remember precisely how one section goes - you've got a better chance of getting away with a substitution. At least that's my hope.... I can't claim that I always pull it off just yet.. :wink:

It's also very handy to have some of your own songs to fall back on, because you can play it however you like and always have the approval of the composer! :)

Chris

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Re: Learning/Remembering New songs

Post by Johnny Lee » April 14th, 2011, 8:28 pm

Yea, that's actually what kept me going for the first few years, composing and coming up with my own stuff. Because at the time, I was clueless about how to go about learning guitar and wanted to learn everything at once. So needless to say, i didn't get very far. But despite the frustration, the little bits I did pick up allowed me to be quite creative with my compositions. And the fun of doing that kept me going. Otherwise, i'd probably have quit for good.

And it's also cool because I can claim to be a "songwriter" to my buddies :mrgreen:
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Re: Learning/Remembering New songs

Post by rparker » April 14th, 2011, 8:52 pm

I started listening to music after the first set of tubes in my ears back around 1970 or so. I heard music and muffled singing. I got into the bad habit of listening to the melody, not the song. The ears had more work on them and eventually was left to higher powers just how long a cold was going to take ab ear out - or both - and revert. Long story short, I heard the main choruses and such, but never the whole songs. Playing music is making remember the whole song, which is a whoel different challenge right now. I'm a cheat sheet man, but getting better and better at it.

As far as the ear, my ear surgeon now-a-days up at UNC-Chapel Hill is gifted. I can hear the words with clarity and ease now, but I've spent the first four decades of music listening just picking out the melodies and not the lyrics. Tough habit to break. To me, the song is the melody. It's very much reflected in my playing style and what I enjoy.

Sometimes I read songbooks to learn how to play songs and sometimes I'll just read the lyrics for whatver poetic value they may contain. Heck, many times these are songs I've heard a hundred times and am getting my first cover to cover introduction the that song's lyrics. I do ths mostly at night as I fall asleep. I've had my 6 dose of medication by that time of day and find notes I've written for myself. This morning's note was the White Pages Acoustic Book and I told myself that "Take Me Home country Roads" in a key I never tried. My note was to try it. do I did it, and it workd great for me. I fixed my song sheet and whallah. Worked great for me, and now it might be in my repetoire for the old folks homes gig(s) if the doc can ever get my head stable enough. (next vist - 28th) In the mean time, practice when it doesn't hurt too badly to sing and play into the mic. Getting better, and I'm getting more and more comfortable with knowing most of the 30 songs well enough to recver decently if I lose my place.

That's my story, FWIW.

Oh, and others write that they learn a song by sussing it out for themselves. It's a learned or aquired skill. I've read somewhere - maybe in this thread - that learning the chord changes and the lyrics at them may trigger memory. Maybe someday.
Roy

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Re: Learning/Remembering New songs

Post by jason brann » April 15th, 2011, 1:46 am

i find it's easier to remember a song if i learn the song by ear.

that's all i got.

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Re: Learning/Remembering New songs

Post by Nuno » April 15th, 2011, 5:44 am

I write a list of tasks weekly and I include songs that already know in that list to maintain them in memory. So, I play each song every X weeks. I am doing it in the last few months and it seems it works.

Also, if the song is more or less complex (many jazz standards) I try to analyze the chords looking for relationships and chord sequences. It also helps to memorize. Usually I have no problems with melodies and solos. In fact, I keep playing many etudes of BYCU and I was studying that book 5 years ago.

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