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  1. #1

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    I am looking for some good tips or techniques for memorizing music. Thanks!

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  3. #2

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    Interesting thread, curious to see what others have to say.

    My method? Listen over, and over, and over again. Sing along, sing away from the recording as well (more to myself than out loud).

  4. #3

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    Some people will say that if you don't know how a song goes, you don't know it yet, and I think those people are correct by the common definition of what it means to know a song (how it song goes).

    Some people will say say that if you have to put any effort into recalling how a song goes, you don't know it yet, as well. I think these people are also correct for a little different reason; learning a song and preparing it for performance does not really seek to memorize the song, but to internalize it.

    Internalization of a song means you know even more than just "how it goes"; it means you have played with the song, explored the song, experimented with the song, and acquired multiple perspectives of how it goes and how to play it.

    The major shortcoming of just memorizing a song is that what you have is a series of memorized elements (notes, chords, fingerings, etc.) any of whose failure to be recalled may crash the song, or your confidence.

    Internalizing a song means you can play the song within different contexts without being thrown off, your grasp of the song is resilient to interference, you can think as you play the song musically "above" the song rather than struggle "within" the song, etc.

    Also, beware of fooling yourself into thinking that you have finally "got it" after being able to play the song all the way through:

    Amateurs practice until they get it right;
    Pros practice until they never get it wrong.

    That right there really says the difference between memorization and internalization.
    "Bent my ear to hear the tune and closed my eyes to see."

  5. #4

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    I get what you are saying, but practically how does it work? For example, a song I really like is Autumn Leaves. I know the song, can sing it from memory, can sing different variations of the song and change things along while singing it. I also have four different variations of the song on sheet music, each very different than the other. When I play through them I know what to expect because I know the song so well. But in all honesty this is not making the memorization process any easiser, I just know immediately when I have played something wrong. I know the most important thing is hard work, but am I working smart as well? I am not convinced about this latter point. One can find a lot of advice on the internet about how to memorize music, but I am curious about what has worked directly for forum members.

  6. #5

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    The science of memorization is about repetition.

  7. #6

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    "Internalization of a song means you know even more than just "how it goes"; it means you have played with the song, explored the song, experimented with the song, and acquired multiple perspectives of how it goes and how to play it."

    This makes perfect sense as well. But honestly I am a low intermediate player and don't yet have the facility on the instrument to do much more than rudimentary exploration.

  8. #7

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    Quote Originally Posted by dwparker View Post
    I get what you are saying, but practically how does it work? For example, a song I really like is Autumn Leaves. I know the song, can sing it from memory, can sing different variations of the song and change things along while singing it. I also have four different variations of the song on sheet music, each very different than the other. When I play through them I know what to expect because I know the song so well. But in all honesty this is not making the memorization process any easiser, I just know immediately when I have played something wrong. I know the most important thing is hard work, but am I working smart as well? I am not convinced about this latter point. One can find a lot of advice on the internet about how to memorize music, but I am curious about what has worked directly for forum members.
    Singing it is fine.
    Can you sing the melody line in your head without singing it out loud?
    Can you sing the chord changes in your head?
    Can you play it without the sheet music?
    Can you play it in other keys without the sheet music?

    "...I know the song so well. But in all honesty this is not making the memorization process any easier..."

    What does that mean? Are you saying that Autumn Leaves is an example of you are having trouble memorizing?
    Last edited by pauln; 04-19-2019 at 04:47 PM.
    "Bent my ear to hear the tune and closed my eyes to see."

  9. #8

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    This made me think, how indeed? And I can't think of any technique! I just do... or don't. But I can't force it! Some tunes I memorized and its always there. Some I have to re- learn all the time- they just dont stick. But I was never taught any memorization tricks, do they even exist?

    Now memorizing lyrics, that would be interesting... I suck at it, but Im not a singer. Today at the gig, we had a singer in the crowd who wanted to sit in. She called Summertime. Man, Im not a singer, not even an English native speaker, but I think I know the words to this song! She didn't, she had to sing from her phone, karaoke style! Haha, it's just inconceivable, how do expect people to take you seriously?

  10. #9

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    Many classical musicians use a technique of memorizing backwards - don't read that too literally. It means memorise the last phrase, play it over and over, then the second-last phrase, etc. The theory behind this is that as you perform a piece, you are always coming to something you know better, which gives you confidence. I'm sure this could be adapted for a jazz context.

  11. #10

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    Quote Originally Posted by dwparker View Post
    "Internalization of a song means you know even more than just "how it goes"; it means you have played with the song, explored the song, experimented with the song, and acquired multiple perspectives of how it goes and how to play it."

    This makes perfect sense as well. But honestly I am a low intermediate player and don't yet have the facility on the instrument to do much more than rudimentary exploration.
    Do it anyway ; seriously, facility on the instrument is not something you wait for in order to explore music - you explore music in order to develop facility on your instrument. This was obvious to we who were self taught from day one, don't wait, the biggest fastest gains were at the beginning.
    "Bent my ear to hear the tune and closed my eyes to see."

  12. #11

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    Quote Originally Posted by Rob MacKillop View Post
    Many classical musicians use a technique of memorizing backwards - don't read that too literally. It means memorise the last phrase, play it over and over, then the second-last phrase, etc. The theory behind this is that as you perform a piece, you are always coming to something you know better, which gives you confidence. I'm sure this could be adapted for a jazz context.
    Only I would do it not with pharses but with large sections..
    Otherwise there is a risk to ruin the music...

    There is definitely a tendency to learn everything from the beginning whic makes it so people do not reall y come to an ened but memorize teh beginning very well.

    So once the form is already familiar in general it really makes sense to wrok over last sections separately.
    But I ould not splite it backwards in phrases...

    For example when we learn long poem... we can also lear some sections but we cannot lear phrases.
    It is a bit messy...

  13. #12

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    Quote Originally Posted by dwparker View Post
    I am looking for some good tips or techniques for memorizing music. Thanks!
    Try to take a long poem and figure out how you would learn it... even if you can do it easily without any method try to see what are the 'benchmarks' that you unconciously make while learning...

    This is actually the same thing... we memorize best what we understand best.

    I do not believe in other tips honestly.

    As a kid when I played classical guitar there was no xerox so I had to copy it by hand right in the class... in many cases I memorized the piece during copying process. Anyway if not - after playing it through once or twice.. for sure.

    Now it became a bit more difficult... but still possible.

    It is concetration and attention to the important points, capability to highlight more difficult places, not overlook or skip what seems more problematic for memory...

    Memory is a strange thing...


    Besides you said for example that YOU CAN HEAR if the tune goes wrong... then it is not memory that is the problem - it is convention.

    It is like you can hear that somebody says wrong words in a poem... but you can't remember the right once... it may happen of course but seldom... right?

    Probably the problem is to relate the sound with the notation/grip/notes etc.?

  14. #13

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    Quote Originally Posted by cosmic gumbo View Post
    The science of memorization is about repetition.
    You can say that again ...........

  15. #14

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    Quote Originally Posted by Rob MacKillop View Post
    Many classical musicians use a technique of memorizing backwards - don't read that too literally. It means memorise the last phrase, play it over and over, then the second-last phrase, etc. The theory behind this is that as you perform a piece, you are always coming to something you know better, which gives you confidence. I'm sure this could be adapted for a jazz context.
    my teachers in music school mentioned that, and also this idea: make a copy of your music and cut out each bar. put them in a hat and select one at random. Start there and go til the end. The thinking was if you can start anywhere in the piece, if you make a mistake you will more easily be able to keep going. Sounded cool, I never got around to it though
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  16. #15

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    Quote Originally Posted by joe2758 View Post
    my teachers in music school mentioned that, and also this idea: make a copy of your music and cut out each bar. put them in a hat and select one at random. Start there and go til the end. The thinking was if you can start anywhere in the piece, if you make a mistake you will more easily be able to keep going. Sounded cool, I never got around to it though
    but there is something crazy ib it though... probably I am basically against such method into musical education whatever it concenrs... it just makes it all a bit meaningless to me.

    Good music is semantically integral..

    actually it is against human thinking and against organization of music to begin something from any occasional point..
    what is prcaticed that way? some weird skills of memorizing whatever without and realtion and connection?

    Probably it works for someone...

    but if I have to explain that I just would have insisted that you do not memorize, you just love, understand and repeat... love, understand and repeat ...

    (and repeat becasue you love not because you have to)))

  17. #16

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    Jonah, it's not supposed to be the only way to practice it-- it's one useful exercise to try during months of learning a difficult piece. It would be weird if that's all they did. Plus it's nice to play such games just to keep your mind from going crazy practicing the same thing hours a day for months
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  18. #17

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    Quote Originally Posted by pauln View Post
    Do it anyway ; seriously, facility on the instrument is not something you wait for in order to explore music - you explore music in order to develop facility on your instrument. This was obvious to we who were self taught from day one, don't wait, the biggest fastest gains were at the beginning.
    Thanks for this. I probably need to spend less time on the method books (William Leavitt 2 right now) and just sit down and start figuring things out on the instrument, take the songs I know and transpose them into different keys, build my own variations into the songs, see what the possibilities are, etc.

  19. #18

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    Quote Originally Posted by Rob MacKillop View Post
    Many classical musicians use a technique of memorizing backwards - don't read that too literally. It means memorise the last phrase, play it over and over, then the second-last phrase, etc. The theory behind this is that as you perform a piece, you are always coming to something you know better, which gives you confidence. I'm sure this could be adapted for a jazz context.
    I've read about this technique several times. I'm going to give it a try with the next song on my list which I want to learn.

  20. #19

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    I agree with the repetition part. Play it 1000 times.

    I also find that memorizing portions helps. One line, one phrase, one section, and the transitions between sections. Isolate tough parts, break them down, find out why they are difficult to negotiate, find a way to conquer them - while giving yourself enough time to avoid injury.

    I've mentioned it before but Bruce Holzman teaches his students to play new music both slowly and loudly until it's mastered (using the term loosely). This helps ensure that the player is not mentally intimidated by any section, because not only can they play it cleanly they can play it boldly.

    There is a tendency to shrink from something which eludes us technically, because we know it's not going to sound so great when we play it. This loud and slow approach is one way to force ourselves through that barrier.

  21. #20

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    Quote Originally Posted by cosmic gumbo View Post
    The science of memorization is about repetition.
    Yes ... and association.

    Regardless of what you're trying to memorize, the more different ways you can think of that thing, the more likely you will retain it. So all of the techniques discussed give you a different way of associating whether it be playing in different keys, backwards, with different rhythms, times, knowing the notes of the harmonic changes, associating to a similar tune you know and noting the difference, intellectualizing ( say 16 bars rhythm changes + 8 bar bridge in whatever ) etc. Another technique, although not quite sure how it applies here, is to integrate the things you're trying to memorize into a story that will be easier to remember. The more different synapses your brain forms on something, the more likely it will retain it. This works for anything, not only music.

  22. #21

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    Quote Originally Posted by keith View Post
    Yes ... and association.

    Regardless of what you're trying to memorize, the more different ways you can think of that thing, the more likely you will retain it. So all of the techniques discussed give you a different way of associating whether it be playing in different keys, backwards, with different rhythms, times, knowing the notes of the harmonic changes, associating to a similar tune you know and noting the difference, intellectualizing ( say 16 bars rhythm changes + 8 bar bridge in whatever ) etc. Another technique, although not quite sure how it applies here, is to integrate the things you're trying to memorize into a story that will be easier to remember. The more different synapses your brain forms on something, the more likely it will retain it. This works for anything, not only music.
    Great points. Analyze it. Know the tune/piece in both top down and bottom up fashion. In other words, know it from both macro and micro analysis.

    Know the form (AABA, etc.), know the key center(s), know the changes, know the melody and know the rhythms. Conceptualize them separately, and then all together.

  23. #22

  24. #23

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    I don’t memorize tunes, but if I did I think I’d focus on the sequence of the chord changes.
    For example, Autumn Leaves in E minor:

    A Section
    4 bars: 6-2-5-1 in C Major
    4 bars: 2-5-1 in E minor
    Repeat A Section

    B Section
    4 bars: 2-5-1 in E minor
    4 bars: 6-2-5-1 in C Major
    (The B Section is simply the reverse of the A Section)

    C Section
    4 bars: 2-5-1 in E minor with a descending chromatic sequence from Em to C#7
    4 bars: 2-5-1 in E minor

    So for this 32-bar tune all you have to remember is two simple chord sequences:
    6-2-5-1 in a major key
    2-5-1 in the minor key based on the third of the major key

    This simplifies it greatly and makes it easy to transpose to other keys.

  25. #24

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    What is the content of what you want to memorize?

    Named things like chords? Unnamed things like how it sounds?
    "Bent my ear to hear the tune and closed my eyes to see."

  26. #25

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    I am working on memorizing chord melody arrangements of mostly jazz standards and some Christmas music.

  27. #26

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    "Learn the repertoire. It’s all in the songs. If you learn 200 songs, you will have no problem improvising."
    Frank Vignola

  28. #27
    Learning 7th chord inversions and quite a few altered 7th fingering for jazz actually made it much easier to learn classical/romantic pieces on the guitar. Instead "oh crap, how did this passage go exactly" "oh look, thats this m7 inversion fingering right here.
    Chord arps helped also the same way. It's much better to remember difficult stuff when a lot of that is already familiar to fingers.
    Knowing the theory helps also.
    And ears. Try to play by ear a lot - the best tip probably

  29. #28

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    Quote Originally Posted by dwparker View Post
    I am working on memorizing chord melody arrangements of mostly jazz standards and some Christmas music.
    Right, but what exactly of the chord melody arrangements are you memorizing?

    Imagine you were successful in memorizing one... when you play it, what are the things that you are actually recalling from memory?
    "Bent my ear to hear the tune and closed my eyes to see."

  30. #29

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    I'm guessing you were looking for some evidence based learning techniques for memorization of musical passages. There have indeed been many studies on memorization techniques. I can only pass on one off hand, and only from a non science user's perspective.

    Many memorization techniques use the idea of "chunks". Rather than trying to learn long passages note for note, you break up passages into short familiar phrases. Imagine the song is built of Lego bricks. It is easier to remember that the melody is a "blue" brick, two "red" and a "blue" again than to remember sixteen notes. Obviously what you call your short phrases (numbers, colors, shapes, "Bob", etc) is up to your learning style.

    For me, four six or eight note phrases work best. Songs often have short common building blocks that get reused across many standards, so they become familiar. Eg. a minor triad ending with natural six, or a 5-4-3-1-3-4 in major.

    You can get a primer on "chunking" from Wikipedia here:

    Chunking (psychology) - Wikipedia

    But science based memorization is a whole world you can lose yourself in. There are even hobbyist who compete learning long strings of information. Melodies are just one subset of the things they memorize. A little online research and I think you will be amazed.

  31. #30

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    Quote Originally Posted by pauln View Post
    Right, but what exactly of the chord melody arrangements are you memorizing?

    Imagine you were successful in memorizing one... when you play it, what are the things that you are actually recalling from memory?
    The notes from the piece of sheet music, so I can play the piece as notated from the music by memory. I can memorize music, and have done it many times on both the guitar and other instruments when I was younger. Now that I've started playing again after a long hiatus, it now seems to be more challenging to do this then it was in my teens and early 20's, hence my question. Folks here have given a lot of good advice which has been much appreciated. Thank you.
    Last edited by dwparker; 04-21-2019 at 08:56 AM.

  32. #31

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    Quote Originally Posted by dwparker View Post
    The notes from the piece of sheet music, so I can play the piece as notated from the music by memory. I can memorize music, and have done it many times on both the guitar and other instruments when I was younger. Now that I've started playing again after a long hiatus, it now seems to be more challenging to do this then it was in my teens and early 20's, hence my question. Folks here have given a lot of good advice which has been much appreciated. Thank you.
    From my perspective, you are not internalizing the music by memorizing the score (you are not learning "how it goes"). I would suggest taking a break from sheet music and spending some time learning songs directly from recordings, with just the instrument, by ear.

    My favorite version of "Drown In My Own Tears" has 72 chord changes for each cycle of the three minute long form... internalization of "how it goes" is needed in order to play songs like this... depth and grasp of playing something like this isn't at the "notes" level.
    "Bent my ear to hear the tune and closed my eyes to see."

  33. #32

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    Quote Originally Posted by Rob MacKillop View Post
    Many classical musicians use a technique of memorizing backwards - don't read that too literally. It means memorise the last phrase, play it over and over, then the second-last phrase, etc. The theory behind this is that as you perform a piece, you are always coming to something you know better, which gives you confidence. I'm sure this could be adapted for a jazz context.
    I learned the method described by Rob MacKillop from Robert Paul Sullivan when I was studying classical guitar at New England Conservatory, and I have employed it for all of the music that I seriously study ever since. The adaptation I developed while studying improvisation with Charlie Banacos is to take the last bar and play it cycle 5 in all 12 keys before moving back one bar. After I get to bar one, I do the same thing with two bar segments, then four, then eight.

    Contrary to what some others might say, this method saves time. The structure of the music gets internalized deeply. A happy byproduct is that you deconstruct the music, and then re-construct it on the day that you play it from first bar to last.

    There is also no substitute for sheer repetition, as several people pointed out. Set a goal for yourself, play the piece 10 times a day for seven days for example. It’s amazing how much more musical it becomes once you have overcome the “just getting through it“ phase.

    I hope this helps.


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  34. #33

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    I admit I use a lead sheet a bit too much when learning a tune. Sight reading it is my starting point, the way I lock it in to memory is to...try to play it from memory. I stumble, fumble for a chord or note, but when I find it, it seems to be retained better. I try to mix up inversions, etc. especially with chord solos, because learning by rote memorization can lead to the unintended consequence of "pattern thinking", where you know how to play a song only one way, and not really know the changes. Kind of like learning pentatonic scale patterns and not knowing what the notes are.