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Beginner Memorise tunes - or not?

Richard10002

New Member
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22
I tend to find that if I can memorise the music for a tune, it's much easier to play - either because I've played it so many times to memorise it, or because I don't have to concentrate on the sheet music, or a bit of both.

Is this the norm? and should memorising be a goal in itself, or is it merely a by product of lots of practice?
 

TomMapfumo

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5,219
I think that it can be both. What I find useful is when it comes to any improvisation I have also memorised the length of the piece - say 4 x 4 bars ior similar and know when to end an improvisation or a short, improvised phrase etc. - I know just where I am , can switch between the main tune and improv almost at will and can generally mess around a lot more - alter timing of various notes, speed it up and slow it down and feel very in control of what I'm doing - good feeling!
 

kevgermany

ex Landrover Nut
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I wish I could memorise the music. I once saw a guitar concert given by a well known and well respected german guitarist. First half he was reading. second half all from memory. Flowed much better and was a lot omre expressive...

Also helps when you lose your place if you are reading....
 

U CAN CALL ME AL

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1,066
Very often I find that when I know the 'words' to a tune (most jazz standards have them), I play it better as I instinctively know exactly where I am in the structure. I believe that Lee Konitz endorses this approach in his workshops?
 

jbtsax

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8,000
After learning a tune in one key it is excellent practice to take it to another key using just the ear. After having done this repeatedly, one learns to think in terms of intervals which opens the door to being able to "play by ear" without having to "memorize".
 

What

Member
Messages
314
That's one thing I have a bit of trouble with. I can play a tune many times and do fine, but when I go back a week or so later I always have to check the notes, there always appears to be something that I will miss or a note that I will flip. I don't see how I will remember the notes to full songs. I might have to take a bit more time for reviews, maybe a day a week where I play past lessons till I get it.
 

Colin the Bear

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13,063
It all depends what it is. If its a band piece and you're in a section, you have to play your part how it's written, so being familiar with the dots is enough. If you're in the pit for a run of a show 6 nights a week and four matinees it would be hard not to end up knowing your part. And if you end up on a sixth month tour with a band playing a limited repertoire , insanity may ensue.

If it's a solo piece with room for interpretation then knowing the piece inside out is essential.

I like to learn a new piece by ear. I'll resort to the dots if it has a tricky middle eight or it goes off at a tangent.

I think it's good practice when starting out to play simple tunes by ear only. Even if it's nursery rhymes or happy birthday.

I played in a Trad Jazz Band for a few years and there were rarely dots at practice and never on stage. A bit daunting when the trumpeter announces a song you've never heard or played before. A quick look over the bass players chord sheet to see what key we're in and you're in a the deep end. It's a simple format with few surprises and sax/clarinet doesn't have the lead so, follow that trumpet. Lots of long tonics and fifths and blues scale runs and rhythmic twiddles.

I try not to clutter up my memory with bits and bobs. Save your memory for those exhibition pieces. It's never too early to start learning that piece you want to end up playing at The Albert Hall.
 
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MellowD

Lost In Theory
Messages
544
I played in a Trad Jazz Band for a few years and there were rarely dots at practice and never on stage. A bit daunting when the trumpeter announces a song you've never heard or played before. A quick look over the bass players chord sheet to see what key we're in and you're in a the deep end.

Hence the item by Pete Thomas, on the Taming the Saxophone website, about the importance of understanding chord structure even though saxophones don't play chords?
 

What

Member
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314
Hence the item by Pete Thomas, on the Taming the Saxophone website, about the importance of understanding chord structure even though saxophones don't play chords?
My one jazz book talks about this too. I notice when I work within these, usually when I get frustrated about forgetting a note or two and I decide to just go off on a little musical walk about, things sound much more like music then structureless noise.
 

Colin the Bear

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13,063
The chords are the bones of a piece, the melody is the flesh and the performance is the skin.

The chords give you the shape of the piece. The melody, improvised or given, has to hang on these chords but not be limited by them. Your performance, expression and interpretation of the piece blends it all together.

Knowing how to strum the saxophone by learning chords and how they progress from one to another can be used as the basis of a melodic composition or an impromptu improvised solo and is essential when harmonising with other wind players, while someone takes a solo or the singer is taking the lead.
 

MellowD

Lost In Theory
Messages
544
The chords are the bones of a piece, the melody is the flesh and the performance is the skin.

The chords give you the shape of the piece. The melody, improvised or given, has to hang on these chords but not be limited by them. Your performance, expression and interpretation of the piece blends it all together.

Knowing how to strum the saxophone by learning chords and how they progress from one to another can be used as the basis of a melodic composition or an impromptu improvised solo and is essential when harmonising with other wind players, while someone takes a solo or the singer is taking the lead.
Wow - thank you so very much Colin. I love the way you have framed this. I actually understood and was stunned by how you have made it accessible to me at this early stage of my learning. Think I'm going to have to print your statement off as a quote to remind myself to keep it structured in my mind.

Cheers!

Mel
 

tengu01

Member
Messages
725
Colin the Bear couldn't have said it better.

I used to (and still do have) some troubles with my sight reading. I learned to play by ear and so memorised a good number of tunes.

The way I think about it is like telling stories. Some people are great at reeling off stories from memory. Other people can read really well. Then you've got some people who can read off the page and still make the story jump out and come to life. I think without being able to read music, it's like loving great stories without being able to read books. They both have their place and use, but one definitely complements the other.

Having a good ear for a tune or the ability to play songs from memory helps when reading new tunes. As I read the tune, my mind and ear are searching for the tune or shape of the melody, which helps the piece flow better in my head.

Although you didn't mention it in your original question, others in this thread have mentioned knowing the chords of a song. I didn't think was so important when I started playing sax, but onceI wanted to learn how to improvise properly, it gave me a framework and structure. A great teacher I had once made me play all the arpeggios of a tune I thought I already knew. Suddenly I felt the shape of the song as well and it was a great help in being able to make more informed choices when improvising.

Going back to your original question - whether learning tunes should be a goal in itself or will just come as a byproduct of loads of practice, I would say both. If you play a song long enough, you will remember it. However learning tunes exercises different musical muscles.

If you can hum it, you can progress to working it out using just your ears. In jam sessions or where you don't know the tune, being able to pick up the key tones/chords quickly is just an extension of trying to work out a tune that you hum/hear.

Good luck and I hope that you feel you're question has been answered by all the other quality answers above!

:)
 

MellowD

Lost In Theory
Messages
544
Although you didn't mention it in your original question, others in this thread have mentioned knowing the chords of a song. I didn't think was so important when I started playing sax, but onceI wanted to learn how to improvise properly, it gave me a framework and structure. A great teacher I had once made me play all the arpeggios of a tune I thought I already knew. Suddenly I felt the shape of the song as well and it was a great help in being able to make more informed choices when improvising.

In jam sessions or where you don't know the tune, being able to pick up the key tones/chords quickly is just an extension of trying to work out a tune that you hum/hear.

:)
Now I'm truly looking forward to learning lots more about this. I have stacks of guitar and mandolin books at home with chord details in them, so to be able to use these pieces of music with the sax as well is a real treasure (especially the mandolin stuff). My sight reading is fairly good, but I'm still at the stage of learning sax without any improvisation yet, so this is something that really intrigues me regarding using the chords in that process now.

Clearly I have some even better stuff to look forward too! :D
 

Colin the Bear

Well-Known Member
Messages
13,063
It's a handy trick to be able to read guitar / piano chords a tone up for Bb. Worth practicing. Used to save all that writing out but probably you can get a printout off your phone these days. Ask a guitar player to play it a tone down and you'll get a long or a puzzled face. Not so bad these days for a modern keyboard player. A flick of a switch is all that's needed.
 

old git

Tremendous Bore
Messages
5,545
It's a handy trick to be able to read guitar / piano chords a tone up for Bb. Worth practicing. Used to save all that writing out but probably you can get a printout off your phone these days. Ask a guitar player to play it a tone down and you'll get a long or a puzzled face. Not so bad these days for a modern keyboard player. A flick of a switch is all that's needed.
Pedant's hat on.

Two flicks of a switch as it changes pitch a semitone a time.

As for the original question......................damn, forgotten it.
 
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