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hired guns, how to learn a lot of tunes FAST?


chris c

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A question (plea for advice) to all of you hired guns:

 

I'm possibly going to try out for the keyboard spot in an existing band that playes primarily the music of the Grateful Dead (okay some of you are gagging ... put prejudices aside and bear with me!).

 

The group plays draws from a pool of about 50 tunes (ouch) that get played somewhat regularly. I know about, well, none, of those tunes, to be exact, at least in their entirety.

 

So, for those of you who have had to quickly learn at least the basic parts of a large number of songs, anyone got a secret method? A system that works for you? Tips and suggestions would be appreciated.

 

Chris

 

[ 11-11-2001: Message edited by: chris c ]

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So, there are two parts to this problem:

 

1. Learning the tunes - I've gotten pretty efficient at this lately.

a. Outline the arrangement

b. Identify the chords

c. Decide which specific/significant parts and patches need to be learned.

 

After I've finished a. above, I almost never work the full tune until I've completed c. This lets me focus on the parts that I'm missing and makes the process go by much faster.

 

Importing the audio file into a sequencer gives me the greatest flexibility for listening and looping specific parts (down to 1-2 beats to hear what's going on).

 

I (almost) always chart out tunes and bring those charts with me (good to look at on breaks). Don't forget to include the patches in your notes.

 

Rotate through a list of tunes to refresh your memory on occasion (some of them that I haven't played in years). In addition to getting those back into your head, you'll ALWAYS hear new parts, sounds, voicing, etc. later on.

 

2. Remembering which tune is which, and memorizing the parts is a bear. If I have a lot of charts/notes then I tend to not memorize them quickly. In the end I just pick a rehearsal and put the chart(s) away, make the mistakes, and then circle back to the parts that I missed. One common mistake I've seen is relying on charts too much. Charts should be a learning/refreshing tool; they certainly don't help make your performance any more musical or exciting. And... on a dark stage you may be in for a real surprise if you haven't memorized.

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Chris, some years ago I was in a similar situation. What I did was write down the names of the songs on a 4x6 card and put cord progressions and instrument settings on them. This got me through untill I was able to memorize the tunes. I used a cut down black manhassett music stand with the clip on light(7 watt bulb) over the top.(you can buy small stands ready made today). This took up very little space and gives just enough light to read the cards if the stage is dark. Even today, I use this system when new songs are used.(I dont have the time for practice as I used to). After you have the songs down, you can use the stand for set lists etc. It still comes in handy to have a song reference back up so someone in the band has the correct cords, progression or song list on stage. One last thing, use black to write with. Other colors will wash out with different stage lighting.(found that out the hard way!) :)

Kurzweil PC3, Hammond SK-1 + Ventilator, Korg Triton. 2 JBL Eon 510's.

 

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Here's what I'd do if I were in your situation:

 

First, I'd prepare a kind of "minimalist" chart for every song: Just the chord, the structure, and any melody or bass part that you're supposed to play and you find difficult to remember. I'd learn the song first, using "generic" sounds, I mean, if calls for a pad, just use one - no programming at this stage.

I'd do this for a group of, say, 15 songs, then I'd start calling titles at random and play along with the tapes. Once I'd be sure with the first group, I'd attack a second, then a third. Toward the end of this process, you should have a good idea of which sound belongs where, so you can start programming "families" of sounds, then maybe tailoring them to the needs of individual songs.

Oh, and if you have a job before you have been able to learn the whole mess, don't be afraid to tell your bandmates - 50 songs are a lot, they can't assume you're a sequencer. I'd just say, "Please avoid these eight" or so. If you aren't finished with the programming, use your "generic" sounds happily for the first concert; 90% of the people will not be able to tell the difference.

Also, I would bring my micro-charts on stage, and use a music stand with a built-in light, as Keyoctave suggested. HAVE ALL THE SONGS IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER! There's nothing worse to see than a musician frantically searching for the right page on his book. (OK, there ARE a few things worse, but you get the point) Yes, memorizing is better than reading, but you have a lot to learn, so you can use some help. Plus, I've noticed that I learn a piece faster by memory if I first read it for some time. Something to do with visual memory, I believe.

 

Have fun :)

 

marino

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First of all, I like the minimalist "lead sheet " approach ..

( chords, breaks, and licks you gtta play etc )

 

the only suggestion I would add is to do them in real black pencil ( or ink ) and then go to a copy place and have the charts blown up about 20% on the HEAVIEST paper that's practical.. and turn up the contrast to make the stuff as black as it can get to read in bad lighting situations ..

 

also , you might consider then having them put one of those plastic ring binder things ..to make your own personal "Dead" fakebook :)

 

Good Luck!

 

Phil Kelly

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Good advice, Graypencil (A man, a contradiction :D )

 

By all means put all your charts in a binder, but use the ones with the big rings - that is, you punch holes in your pages and put the rings in the holes. Avoid the ones with transparent plastic folders: If the light hits them at the wrong angle, they become IMPOSSIBLE to read.

 

Sorry for my English - I'm sure there are better terms for those things, but I hope you get it.

 

Oh, and don't forget to include synth program numbers for every song in your charts! :)

 

marino

 

[ 11-11-2001: Message edited by: marino ]

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when i have to learn a new song or songs quickly, i put the cd or tape in the car or wherever and just cram it. if you have music all the better. if not, you gotta work it out. but i found cramming (listening to the song over and over and over) helps me. if you've got a good ear you may be able to get a lot of the chords without having to spend a long session notating chords.

 

pray for peace,

"Consider how much coffee you're drinking - it's probably not enough."
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The Grateful Dead stuff is cool to play -a lot of great tunes, you should have a lot of fun. When I was in the similar situation, I learned that some of the tunes were connected together, and had the big "epic" jams in between. ( China Cat Sunflower>I Know You Rider, Scarlet Begonias>Fire On The Mountain, etc... )These always got a lot of mileage, so check with the band about that. Also the Dead went through several keyboard players, but IMO the definitive versions were with Brent Mydland (79 - 90), whose playing I learned to really respect & enjoy. The majority of the tunes are pretty easy harmonically, but are a little tricky in terms of arrangement.

You might want to single out a few of these ( the band will know ) and put some time into that. Mostly just get used to the open ended style, and keeping your ears open. Patches shouldn't be a problem, some good electric pianos and hammond sounds will get you started.

 

Have Fun & Good Luck,

 

Dogfur :D

Woof!
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When I came back into playing with a band, I had to learn 40 tunes in 20 days, and hadn't played seriously in 10 years.

 

I also used the 3x5 card trick, with the basic chord progressions and patch settings. (I still use the cards to this day, since we draw from a pool of about 150 tunes, along with the normal standards that get requested)

 

What works great for me is to get those 3x5 card notebooks. They come in 50 pages, and are on a spiral wire bindings.

 

What I do is velcro the 3x5 card notebook to my top keyboard. The first page is an 'index' - listing the name of the tune along with a page number. If someone requests some tune we haven't played for 9 months, I can just quickly find it in the 'index', and flip to the page number for an instant refresher on the chord structure.

 

Good Luck!

-Gregg

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I agree w/everything posted so far. I recently joined a band and had 22 tunes to learn, some were pretty tough Steely Dan, Jeff Beck tunes.

 

I "crammed" them as much as I could, had special CDs with the tunes in the order of the set list. I listened at the gym while working out - another 5 hours a week. While driving, background while working, so that the arrangements were locked in my head.

 

As I learned the tune, I would visualized playing along with it. As it started, I'd pull up the patch(es) and figure out which keyboard(s) I'm playing. Some of these had horn and string parts in addition to organ or piano parts, so it gets pretty busy.

 

For shedding the tunes, I'd let the CD rip and catch up as quickly as I could for patches and eventually, I could get in on the start of the tune. I'd randomly seek to the middle of tunes and play to see how well I knew the arrangement.

 

I would jot down any patterns to help me memorize and then block those patterns for the arrangement.

 

There's no other way to get there but to shed those tunes.

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I went through this quite a few years ago when I joined an established band whose keyboard player had given notice. Two weeks to learn 50 songs. The base player and I charted every song onto 3 by 5 cards. I did not use a binder. Instead I arranged the card by the play list for the sets and this seemed to change every night. As said above, use black in only. Write big and clear so you do not have to lean over to see the cords. My cards were laid on the bottom keyboard of my stack so no one in the audience ever saw them. Also, make sure the band gives you a tape of the original songs, and if possible, a tape of the band playing those songs. It does not have to be a studio quality tape. Just stick a tape deck on the mixer one night when they perform and hit record. This way you also learn their arrangements and timing. I wish I had a tape when I joined that band. One day I asked for one and the guitarist kept insisting that I was given a tape. The drummer pointed out that the tapes were actually given to the keyboardist they hired just before I tried out for the band. Once they got the tapes back from that person and gave them to me it really helped.
This post edited for speling.
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David,

I'm ashamed to admit I've only recently heard of "the Nashville number system." I'm familiar with the system used by jazz musicians of assigning numbers to chords denoting their function (e.g., the classic II / V / I progression), and use it myself in analyzing jazz tunes. Is the Nashville system you refer to the same thing, or similar?

 

Chris

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Chris,

 

How about just downloading the widely available General MIDI SMF (Standard MIDI File) of each of the songs you want to learn and then either charting it from there, or using it to play along with both to learn the song, and/or help with as you play with the band until you learn the songs?

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I've been a "Nashville cat" since 1988 and when I first got to town, the number system seemed silly to me. After all, I was a "trained" musician and I could read a chord chart. Well, I've changed my mind about that. The Nashville Number System is by far the easiest short hand for plowing through material, whether in the studio or on the bandstand. And, yes, it's based on standard music theory. I'll try to illustrate. A chord chart may look like this:

Intro 1 5 1 1 (one bar of the one chord, one of the five, and two bars of one. The locals call that intro "fifteen-eleven.")

Verse 1 4 1 1

4 4 1 1

5 4 1 1

Minor chords are designated with a minus sign after the number: 2- 6-

9 Moog things, 3 Roland things, 2 Hammond things and a computer with stuff on it

 

 

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oops---hit the wrong key.

When a bar has more than one change, it ends up in parentheses (1 4) That's two beats each. If you want three beats of the first chord, you draw a line underneath and mark out the beats:

(1 4)

______

iii i

You get the idea. If the the chord has an alternate bass note I'll use a diagonal slash: 1/5 (One chord with the fifth in the bass) but set them vertically like a fraction for clarity. For more complex chords, I'll add superscripts (smaller numbers to the upper right of the main number.) For more complex rhythms, I'll draw the line underneath the numbers and actually write our the rhythm.

The beauty of the system is that when you're in the studio and the singer decides at the last minute that it needs to be a 1/2 step higher, you don't have to rewrite the charts. Just hit that transpose button!!! ;)

I'd be happy to elaborate if anyone wants more info.

Best of luck learning the tunes. Around here we usually have to learn 20 songs in 3 days. Shed the tapes, write out the number charts, learn the solos, create the patches...

K.

9 Moog things, 3 Roland things, 2 Hammond things and a computer with stuff on it

 

 

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