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  1. #1

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    Do you guys memorize the music you play live, whether it be by ear or charts?

    I've gone round and round with the bandleader of the trad jazz band I'm in concerning the use of music stands on stage. I don't like them personally, but he insists on them. Lately, I decided to let that debate go. It is what it is regardless if I like it or not. However, I still feel like there's a real benefit to memorizing the music. I don't feel like I really KNOW the music until I can play it from memory. Otherwise I feel like I'm just reciting it. I also feel like I'm missing out on the connection between band members and the audience when everyone's eyes are glued to their sheets of paper.

    I'm certainly not criticizing anyone for using sheet music on stage. In fact, I've been doing that lately myself. I'm just wondering if we're not really getting into the songs fully. Maybe a compromise would work. Rehearse without the charts but have them for the gigs.

    What do you guys think about this?


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  3. #2

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    I've done it both ways and for the most part it always seemed like it depended on whether I was playing by myself or backing up other instrumentalists or vocalists.

    When I would play by myself I never read anything but played everything from memory.

    Working with a duo, trio, or quartet I would sometimes use charts and sometimes play from memory. I guess my advice would be to do what works best for you in a particular situation.

    If you're having trouble memorizing pieces of music I wrote a report on visualization / mental imagery that you can get for free at the Chord Melody Guitar website.

  4. #3

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    My commentary on the situation is that I would love to be in only one group exclusively to rehearse and gig 5 times a week. Then I would memorize the band repertoire as would every other member. We would kick ass. That's kinda the way it was back in the day, and back in the day the available standard song list choice would have been much smaller.

    Now that it's 2018, and there are no gigs, but I still want to play all the time, I play in 3-4 groups a week. There is no way to memorize every song, it's just too much, and that's the boat most other active players I know are in.

    Even gigaholics like Dave Holland, or Pat Metheny can't afford to keep a full time exclusive band together, so you might even see them gigging with band members using charts. That's the reality IMO.

  5. #4

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    I am a big advocate of "memorizing" although I prefer not to use that word. I prefer to think of it as "knowing" or "internalizing". It takes practice but it gets way easier over time. In the non-pro scene it is very hard to find like-minded folks on this topic.

    Obviously knowing ALL the tunes is pretty much impossible unless there's a lot of lead time for the gig or they are very obvious standards, so these days I agree that a few charts are usually necessary, but lots of people use charts for everything or even for tunes they "know" and I feel that is a problem. I definitely think there's better music to be made the more band members "know" the tune. No question about it.

  6. #5

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    As musicians we should strive to memorize as much as possible! Especially standards of course.

    I think memorizing tunes actually has everything to do with ear training as well. Once your ears are at a certain point there is a little less wrote memorization with learning tunes and a little more “oh the B section goes to IV because the melody SOUNDS like it’s going to IV”. Of course there are exceptions and wrote memorization is unavoidable.

    Also, I don’t fault anyone for using sheet music on stage. There are situations with subbing gigs where stands are unavoidable.

    I’ve played in a full time working big band where there were so many charts (500+) that memorizing would have been nearly impossible.

    The real matter here is that I think as musicians of integrity we should be striving to memorize as much as we can. This gets us off the page and into the moment. I think memorizing within reason is part of being a good musician and performer.

    I don’t think anyone can fault you either way. But if you’re a small ensemble rehearsing the same standards each week (and they’re relatively simply arrangements) and some/all of your band mates aren’t memorizing them then maybe they aren’t practicing them! Haha

    Ok...sorry for the tangent. Summary: make an effort to memorize because it’s good. Don’t shame people for not memorizing unless they deserve it.

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  7. #6

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    Quote Originally Posted by dallasblues
    Do you guys memorize the music you play live, whether it be by ear or charts?
    I live in both worlds; I perform in two jazz groups.

    In one, everyone but me uses books 100% of the time, rehearsals and performances. I myself play exclusively by ear and have never used a book. The closest I get is when during a rehearsal of a new song I ask for the book and mark up the chords and voicing... so far, all my adjustments have been enthusiastically approved by everyone. In this group, what I hold in my mind's ear is the sound of "how the song goes" - that is all I need to know. Apart from improvisational variation, the character of the songs tends to remain consistent through time.

    In the other group, no books. About half of the songs we perform are ones I have composed and taught to them, the rest are standards that I have taught them. Once they have the basic form, progression, and melodic lines, the songs change character dynamically through time, sometimes during the performance of the song itself. In this group, what I hold in my mind's ear is the sound of "how the song is going (right now)" - that is a different kind of knowledge. Every time we play a song it is quite different from ever before.

    I like descriptors such as "internalize", "grasp", "know how it goes", etc. much more than "memorize". Memorization seems like a far too passive process for how I do it - I kind of deconstruct and reform what I hear in the process of coming to know a song. For those of you that have composed your own music, you will certainly agree that the way you "know how it goes" is much deeper and more meaningful than just memorized chart chords of other tunes. This internal integration within your own songs is similar to how I "memorize" music in general - as if I have to sort of "compose it" myself in my own mind's ear in order to "know how it goes". Then I know it similarly to how I would know if I had written it myself.

  8. #7

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    My big band has a book of about five hundred tunes, of which about two hundred are in our active gig book at any time. We also have alternate arrangements of the same tune to accommodate different singers. Any any given gig we might have as many as five subs, who may or may not have attended a rehearsal. Almost all the players play in multiple bands.

    Music stands are a requirement.

    Danny W.

    Memorizing music-ci2_8779-jpg

  9. #8

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    To sight-read musically is an important skill...

    I realized that only when I became capable to play recitals sight-reading without feeling that I lose something musically (before I had to learn to really freely play it).

    To overcome the mechanical thing and struggle while sight-reading is an important task that should be achieved.

    Actually even beyond the stage it is a great pleasure to be able to use charts and scores musically - you just put it on the stand and do whatever you feel like with it)))

    Though in jazz context it could be also important to avoid charts and sheets and play exclusively by ear.

    In my humble opinion playing from charts requires certain musical maturity.

  10. #9

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    I think it’s better to play without charts.

    I try to memorise the repertoire asap. This an sometimes take a while, but I try to get there eventually.

    There are some bands where we never use charts at any point.

  11. #10

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    The more you memorise music, the stronger that muscle becomes.

  12. #11

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    Part of experience is learning what type of emotional investment and input to put into a project.

    And also to learn that as a bandleader, sidemen never listen to what you say either :-)

  13. #12

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    When I’m playing in a reading band, I try to rely most heavily on my ear and use the paper just as a reference to the arrangement, to make sure I go to the right key in the bridge, etc. But I try to choose the chord voicings based on what I heard around me, not what the paper says. Basically, make sure the paper is subordinate to the ears.

  14. #13

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    I play in three formal groups and my own rehearsal band.

    Two of the groups have books with about 125 tunes each. I'm familiar with all of them, but I haven't memorized them.

    In a third group, the band has a book I've never seen, possibly because it's huge. I've seen maybe 25.

    In the last one, it's maybe 30 originals (not mine). I just started, so I'm reading all of it.

    I agree that the music may be better if you're not reading. But, when you get really comfortable reading and you are familiar with the chart, I don't think reading hurts all that much.

  15. #14

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    There's no right or wrong, I think. It depends on the situation you are in: If you are playing in a big band with hundreds of arrangements it would be nearly impossible to memorize all that. When playing improvised music I feel more comfortable to play without the sheets.

    On Youtube you can find this video with tips from Rich Severson for memorizing of songs:

    Have fun - Axel