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Memorizing Songs (how do you make it?)


Andre Lower

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Old topic, never quite answered.

 

I am once again tangled up in trying to memorize all the chords for Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody", and having a hell of a time at it. Especially with the opera part.

 

Do you guys happen to have any method/tip/advice on how to make the process of memorizing all the various parts of a song played on keyboards easier?

 

Up to now, I am left with the usual practice, practice and then practice some more, but wonder if there is something else I could do to optimize it.

"I'm ready to sing to the world. If you back me up". (Lennon to his bandmates, in an inspired definition of what it's all about).
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Andre:

 

My piano teacher use to tell me when memorizing things, memorize each measure one at a time, starting from the END of the composition and moving forward. That way its not in a context of continuity and you memorize one measure at a time better. For Bohemian Rhadsody, I'd say if a transcription is available, do it the same way, backwards. If its NOT available, write it out yourself. Its the most time consuming thing you could do if you're not good at transcribing, I'm not.

 

Touch song, good luck. Question, are you learning it just for fun? or do you have a group of musicians that could actually sing that live?

 

Mike T.

Yamaha Motif ES8, Alesis Ion, Prophet 5 Rev 3.2, 1979 Rhodes Mark 1 Suitcase 73 Piano, Arp Odyssey Md III, Roland R-70 Drum Machine, Digitech Vocalist Live Pro. Roland Boss Chorus Ensemble CE-1.

 

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Originally posted by Andre Lower:

Old topic, never quite answered.

 

I am once again tangled up in trying to memorize all the chords for Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody", and having a hell of a time at it. Especially with the opera part.

 

Do you guys happen to have any method/tip/advice on how to make the process of memorizing all the various parts of a song played on keyboards easier?

 

Up to now, I am left with the usual practice, practice and then practice some more, but wonder if there is something else I could do to optimize it.

Learn the structure of the chords not individual chords. Also recognize where things repeat, perhaps in modified form.

 

By structure I mean looking for idioms like ii-V-I, or raising the root a semitone (C to C# dim), etc.

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Originally posted by Andre Lower:

Old topic, never quite answered.

 

I am once again tangled up in trying to memorize all the chords for Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody", and having a hell of a time at it. Especially with the opera part.

 

Do you guys happen to have any method/tip/advice on how to make the process of memorizing all the various parts of a song played on keyboards easier?

 

Up to now, I am left with the usual practice, practice and then practice some more, but wonder if there is something else I could do to optimize it.

Learn the structure of the chords not individual chords. Also recognize where things repeat, perhaps in modified form.

 

By structure I mean looking for idioms like ii-V-I, or raising the root a semitone (C to C# dim), etc.

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Originally posted by MikeT156:

Andre:

 

My piano teacher use to tell me when memorizing things, memorize each measure one at a time, starting from the END of the composition and moving forward. That way its not in a context of continuity and you memorize one measure at a time better.. . .

 

Mike T.

If you start at the END of a song and go FORWARD then you'll have a total of ZERO measures to memorize. I think you mean BACKWARDS.

In any case I think this is not only an insane method to follow, but sounds like absolutely no fun at all. Who was your piano teacher, the Marquee deSade?

 

I've always memorized songs by practicing them slowly and if they're difficult, a measure at a time gradually putting it together and then getting up to speed.

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Steve:

 

Yep, backward, not forward. memorizing isn't fun using that method, but it works because you're learning each measure for its content, not in sequence. That way the next measure is not dependent upon the previous measure in order to play the song. If you make a mistake in one measure, you won't lose your way. I balked at the method when he told me about it, but it works. Its just time consuming.

 

No his name wasn't Marquee deSade, it was GOD. :)

 

Mike T.

Yamaha Motif ES8, Alesis Ion, Prophet 5 Rev 3.2, 1979 Rhodes Mark 1 Suitcase 73 Piano, Arp Odyssey Md III, Roland R-70 Drum Machine, Digitech Vocalist Live Pro. Roland Boss Chorus Ensemble CE-1.

 

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Backwards FIRST? LOL!!! I think you are putting us on? Was that teacher in the military? It sounds like something an old military band leader I had would come up with. It's amazing the things some teachers can come up with. The content would be scrambled in reverse and it would take twice as long to relearn it forward again. And backwards means you can forget about learning by phrases or learning the harmonic progression as you memorize it as it was intended. Backwards means route learning completely out of context. Phrases can carry over the bar line and can stop short of the barline. They are not confined to measures, nor do they always completely fill measures. Music is most quickly learned in phrases not measures because barlines are just basicaly metronome markings. And if you learned measures backwards you would have to re-learn the whole thing again by re-adapting it into forward motion and the phrasing and the harmonic progression becomes all different and it takes much longer, you have to unlearn the reverse order and make sure you don't slip in to "reverse mode". It would be like an actor learning his sentances backwards, or a gymnast learning his routine in reverse, it's ridiculous. I bet there is not one well known classical artist that endorses such a method for learning a piece.

Harry Likas was the Technical Editor of Mark Levine's "The Jazz Theory Book" and also helped develop "The Jazz Piano Book." Harry spends his time teaching jazz piano online and playing solo piano gigs.

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Memorization is much easier if you have an excellent understanding of theory and analysis. Instead of memorizing chord after chord after chord, understanding the function of the harmonies involved, will save you much time.

 

Melodies for me are assigned numbers (scale degrees) and I simply remember the more important 'numbers'.

 

This is the long way around the situation which will actually save time in the long run.

No guitarists were harmed during the making of this message.

 

In general, harmonic complexity is inversely proportional to the ratio between chording and non-chording instruments.

 

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Reply to Jazz+ and Dave Horne:

 

Nope, no joke. The only song I ever memorize that way I can still play to this day. It took me ages to learn it that way though. Too time consuming. I find it easier to learn music by praises, as you mentioned, and relate the chords to the melody line by inversions. I can usually pick out the melody line by the degree of the scale I'm hearing in the song. It still takes PRACTICE to put it all together. :)

 

Mike T.

Yamaha Motif ES8, Alesis Ion, Prophet 5 Rev 3.2, 1979 Rhodes Mark 1 Suitcase 73 Piano, Arp Odyssey Md III, Roland R-70 Drum Machine, Digitech Vocalist Live Pro. Roland Boss Chorus Ensemble CE-1.

 

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What a funny thread! Start at the end go forward. LOL. I think the whole idea of starting at the end, not to be confused reading each note in reverse order - hey, wouldn't that be easier if you just turned the book upside down? - is to nail the ending, which we all know is the goal at the beginning, :confused: and add to it. All too often we abandon ship after the first page.

 

What works for me, is first of all knowing that memorization is the goal from the onset. Get comfortable, listen to a recording, study the score. Leave it on the table and walk over and try to play the first phrase, or the last who cares. Focus is the name of the game.

 

In a particularly long piece, start randomly, anywhere. I find that's a real eye-opener. You think you know this piece? a-HAH. Approach it from as many different angles as you can. Try memorizing the L hand by itself, that's always tough. Depends how fanatical you are about challenging yourself.

 

If you don't have sheetmusic, then memorize the general idea and make it up as you go along.

"........! Try to make It..REAL! compared to what? ! ! ! " - BOPBEEPER
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Thanks everybody for the answers so far. It seems that nothing can be done but practicing the song over and over. Funny enough, it is truly democratic! When we see an impressive performance, we tend to overlook the fact that the player probably played that piece to oblivion beforehand. Ah, the hardships of getting one's chops together...

:freak:

"I'm ready to sing to the world. If you back me up". (Lennon to his bandmates, in an inspired definition of what it's all about).
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My band's covered perhaps 100+ different songs in the couple years we've been together. While some of 'em are easy things like "Born 2B Wild" many of them are more complex offerings from King Crimson, Yes, ELP, etc. And since my short-term memory ain't all that great anymore, there's no way I can keep all that stuff in memory.

 

But keyboardists have a HUGE advantage here. While geetarists & singers are typically running around the stage, you sit/stand there with a big immobile hunk of wood/metal/plastic in front of you. This allows you to use sheet music or note cards or post-it notes or whatever, to get through the tough sequences you can't quite remember on material you don't play every day.

 

Always do your best to memorize the material if possible. But also don't be afaid to use such assists. Two DVDs hammer this home: ELP at Albert Hall 1992, and Yes Keys to Ascension. Both Emerson & Wakeman use "cheat sheets"... these are the top guys in their field who WROTE what they're playing, and play the same stuff a hundred nights straight on tour. If they can use 'em, so can you.

I used to think I was Libertarian. Until I saw their platform; now I know I'm no more Libertarian than I am RepubliCrat or neoCON or Liberal or Socialist.

 

This ain't no track meet; this is football.

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For me: If I can play it back in my head or hum it while driving to work, then playing it will just be a matter of figguring out where to put my fingers once I get back home to the keyboard. So, if I'm learning something new I'll put a copy of it on a casset and play it over and over in the car. A good way to use otherwise 'wasted' time. I can't immagine how anyone could remember how to play it on the keys if they can't at least hear it played it back in their head first. But maybe some people can...
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I watched an old Santana VLD last night with Chester Thompson on the keys. A couple of camera angles revealed (gasp) cheat sheets.

 

There is nothing wrong with using a cheat sheet. And if it is "a" song that is giving you problems rather than all songs, then maybe it is just a song that does not flow in harmony with your mind or expectations. Just chart it and use those many hours it would take to memorize the song on improving chops or memorizing 10 other songs.

 

Robert

This post edited for speling.
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Originally posted by Hooper:

For me: If I can play it back in my head or hum it while driving to work, then playing it will just be a matter of figguring out where to put my fingers once I get back home to the keyboard...I can't immagine how anyone could remember how to play it on the keys if they can't at least hear it played it back in their head first. But maybe some people can...

Hooper, that is precisely the point: I can sing to you every single note of absolutely every song I like once I hear it four or five times. Gift or curse, that is how my ear-brain connection works. However, "figuring out where to put my fingers" has nothing to do with that. Knowing how every note sound simply does not make easier to memorize the positions of your fingers. That is the core of my aversion to learning music theory. (Oh boy, I can already sense Dave Horne shifting in his chair...)

 

The way things are, singing is second nature to me (just a question of vocalizing the notes so clearly registered in my memory), but playing (i.e. making the instrument reproduce the notes I have in my head) is much harder, and involves a dull and tiring memorization through practice, and practice and practice.

"I'm ready to sing to the world. If you back me up". (Lennon to his bandmates, in an inspired definition of what it's all about).
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I don't know why anyone way be so shocked to see a cheat sheet or a music stand in front of a musician. They were standard in the big band days, although most of those songs needed precise arrangements to be played properly with all the instruments involved.

 

I have a music stand on my KB, I usually don't put very much sheet music on it when I played live. I primarily used it for a lyric book that had other information on it, like what patches to use on certain synths, drum machine tempo (in case it got changed by accident), what patch to use on my harmonizer, things like that. When your song list gets pretty long and you don't play a lot of the tunes on a regular basis, its easy to forget the particulars.

 

Sue: you can laugh at the idea of memorizing a piece of music from the end forward, but you don't start by playing it backwards. Its when you've already learned the song and want to commit it to memory that you use that method. It works. Now, turning the music upside down, I'd have to work on that. :) Seems like that would be a natural for you though. :D

 

Mike T.

Yamaha Motif ES8, Alesis Ion, Prophet 5 Rev 3.2, 1979 Rhodes Mark 1 Suitcase 73 Piano, Arp Odyssey Md III, Roland R-70 Drum Machine, Digitech Vocalist Live Pro. Roland Boss Chorus Ensemble CE-1.

 

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I was laughing at the Steve's point, the end forwards...Next...

 

Working through a difficult phrase a bit at a time and building backwards solves execution problems, 100% of the time. It's not a new idea. So does playing a sequence ad infinitum til you run out of keys. etc. What's new to me is the concept of memorizing a piece after you've already learned it. Start memorizing it the moment you set eyes on it.

 

Originally posted by MikeT156:

Sue: you can laugh at the idea of memorizing a piece of music from the end forward, but you don't start by playing it backwards. Its when you've already learned the song and want to commit it to memory that you use that method. It works. Now, turning the music upside down, I'd have to work on that. :) Seems like that would be a natural for you though. :D

 

Mike T.

"........! Try to make It..REAL! compared to what? ! ! ! " - BOPBEEPER
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Hmmm... Emerson and Wakeman AND Thompson, ALL using cheat sheets?!?! I've also seen Camilo and Corea and Hancock doing likewise. Buncha damn amateur hacks :D

Originally posted by Rabid:

I watched an old Santana VLD last night with Chester Thompson on the keys. A couple of camera angles revealed (gasp) cheat sheets.

Robert

I used to think I was Libertarian. Until I saw their platform; now I know I'm no more Libertarian than I am RepubliCrat or neoCON or Liberal or Socialist.

 

This ain't no track meet; this is football.

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Maybe this has been brought up before but another thing that comes into play here is Muscle Memory.

 

"I can sing to you every single note of absolutely every song I like once I hear it four or five times. Gift or curse, that is how my ear-brain connection works. However, "figuring out where to put my fingers" has nothing to do with that. Knowing how every note sound simply does not make easier to memorize the positions of your fingers."

 

When you play a riff or a passage the little neurons in your fingers,hands and brain have to fire in a specific sequence to make the muscles move your fingers correctly. By repitition you can 'burn in' that sequence into muscle memory which facilitates running the sequence the next time. Of course, you do that by practicing. One way to practice more intently is to practice playing the sequence at a faster tempo than you will eventually really be playing it.

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You can try my method: Play the song a thousand times. The first 30 times you'll find problems with some chords, but after 100 times repeating the same "f...ing" song, you will remember it. Of course it's a good idea to prepare a mental structure of the song. When you play it you wouldn't be worried about which chord is the next, just how to play that one to make it sound the very best.
Somewhere deep inside of these bones, an emptyness began to grew.
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IMO this is NOT a good idea except for pros who can truly play time. We play what we practice, and if we practice at a faster tempo we'll likely head for that tempo when playing. This causes the entire band to rush, unless they don't - in which case everything will sound disjointed as one person keeps trying to tug the band into faster tempo and the rest of the band focuses on pulling him back.

Originally posted by Hooper:

One way to practice more intently is to practice playing the sequence at a faster tempo than you will eventually really be playing it.

Given the natural tendency to play faster as the adrenalin kicks in, I always get my bands to practice more slowly and focus on making it groove at the slower tempo.

I used to think I was Libertarian. Until I saw their platform; now I know I'm no more Libertarian than I am RepubliCrat or neoCON or Liberal or Socialist.

 

This ain't no track meet; this is football.

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I learn songs by ear and usually create a quick chart with chord names. Very rough chart, no measures indicated. Just the changes. I may reference it a few times until it is committed to memory. There are a few songs that I do not play frequently and I keep those rough charts in one of my gear cases to be ready if they come up on a whim. If a song has particularly strange chords that are hard to memorize, I tape a little cheat sheet to my keyboard with just a couple of chords for reference.

 

I have on occasion used the Patch Name in one of my keyboards to provide me with chords. This is a good way to keep it available and not have a piece of paper floating around. The only limitation is the number of characters and also I have done this on generic/staple sounds like piano. Otherwise, I could have a 4-way split set up with a name like EM7A6bm9C#m7 and I would never know what sound was there upon casual glancing.

 

I have an aversion to playing gigs with full charts and so everything I learn becomes part of what I call "Project Memorize." The horn players in my band have a deep-seated aversion to playing without charts, so we have ongoing controversy as to which method is more professional and appealing from an audience standpoint.

 

Regards,

Eric

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The method I use depends on whether I'm learning to play a piece by rote "just so", as in a solo piece, or whether I'm learning to be able to play it in a band -- including dealing with the possibility that the vocalist goes into the bridge early or whatever, and also, usually I'm trying to remember a ton of tunes quickly in this stage.

 

First, memorizing by rote.

 

Assuming you're reading the piece and can play it reasonably well with the music in front of you, now put the music away and do your best to play it. I mean REALLY try to play it without the music; try as hard as you would if you needed to play it and didn't have the music.

 

Research shows that we remember things better by trying to remember them -- even if we fail! It's yet another case where "trying" counts, in spite of all those pundits who say "Don't TRY it, DO it!"

 

After a few times all the way through doing the best you can, THEN pull the music out and look for the places where you stumbled. Play those measures a few times with the music. Then put it away and try again.

 

BTW, I don't read music, but I still use this method. Instead of reading music, I struggle with charts, usually of my own making, or I play a recording of the original I'm transcribing. Other than that, the method is the same.

 

The goal is to get the music into my fingers, so that my head doesn't have to be engaged to play. When I reach that stage, I keep my head engaged, but at an entirely different level -- dynamics, expression, emotion, etc. That's when playing the piano starts to really become playing music.

 

I'm no great keyboard player. My technical chops are weak compared to most any pro and even most good amateurs. But lots of folks think I am pretty good, and I think that's because I strive to put myself in this mode of playing the music rather than the notes, and I avoid (in public, that is) stuff that's technically too hard for me to be there while playing it -- even if I can "pull it off" with concentration.

 

For learning a song in ensemble:

 

Like Dave said, study the structure of the song. Sure, there are a few places where the voicing is crucial, or there's a lick or two that have to be played just so -- use the method above for those spots. But in general, really think through the progressions, play different voicings as much as possible, and best of all (though I usually don't find the time) work it out and practice it in one or two other keys.

 

Once again, you'll be playing the music rather than the notes. Well, at least you'd be playing the chords rather than the notes! But you'll be able to adjust if any curves are thrown, and it takes less time than the by-rote method above (especially since a lot of simplification usually happens in the process).

 

Given the piece you're talking about, a combination of the methods is probably best.

 

I agree with Mike too, btw -- nothing wrong with having the music there. Most good players don't rely on it much, though -- mostly it's a reminder, and something to put them in the same mental state they were when they learned.

 

"State dependent learning": you recall best when you're in the state you were in when you learned. Therefore, if you get drunk when you play out, be sure to drink when you're practicing! [This announcement paid for by Budweiser. Drink responsibly.]

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Then you can join the growing number of users of high-tech 'cheat sheets':

 

Jordan Rudess (Dream Theater)

 

Mike Garson (David Bowie)

 

They both use the FreeHand Systems MusicPad Pro , clearly on stage in the case of Jordan. No shame in having your music in front of you for reference, and with this system there's no fear of sheets falling off the stand or blowing away at an outdoor gig (been there, done that :freak: )

 

Cheers,

SG

P.S. I'm not affiliated with FreeHand at all... just really dig their product.

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Sue:

 

I agree with what you said. Songs like Fur Elise are very repetitive, so even though you've learned how to play it with the music in front of you, once you take the music away, you have to keep track of how many times you play a repetitive phrase before you go to the next section, or the piece will not be played correctly. There's no cut and dry "rule" that works for every piece.

 

I do agree with what learjeff said about trying to remember it without the music in front of you helps you remember it. It takes the music crutch away. I do that, and go back to the music to review what I just screwed up.

 

Mike T.

Yamaha Motif ES8, Alesis Ion, Prophet 5 Rev 3.2, 1979 Rhodes Mark 1 Suitcase 73 Piano, Arp Odyssey Md III, Roland R-70 Drum Machine, Digitech Vocalist Live Pro. Roland Boss Chorus Ensemble CE-1.

 

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Originally posted by MikeT156:

Sue:I agree with what you said.

well one of us has obviously lost it

 

Songs like Fur Elise are very repetitive,
as are your posts

 

so even though you've learned how to play it with the music in front of you, once you take the music away, you have to keep track of how many times you play a repetitive phrase before you go to the next section, or the piece will not be played correctly.
blahblahblahbl

 

There's no cut and dry "rule" that works for every piece.
yes there is, dammit. Study, listen, play, play, listen, study.

 

I do agree with what learjeff said
HAH! I wonder what learjeff has to say about that

 

..trying to remember it without the music in front of you helps you remember it.
surely that bit of insight deserves a flag of some sort

 

It takes the music crutch away. I do that, and go back to the music to review what I just screwed up.
I bet you do!

 

 

 

Mike T.
:D
"........! Try to make It..REAL! compared to what? ! ! ! " - BOPBEEPER
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Mike, wake up. I'll let you in on a little secret. My initials are SS. And my secret service is to keep you honest. Well, somebody has to do it. ;) I'll be on my way now.
"........! Try to make It..REAL! compared to what? ! ! ! " - BOPBEEPER
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Well Sue, I see the holidays have kept your sense of humor as brash as always. Is it something you put in the cookies? I know it can't be Canadian water.

 

You're method of learning music is enlightening.....Study, listen, play, play, listen, study. Did you think of that all by yourself? :) Watch you don't hurt yourself.

:bor:

 

Mike T.

Yamaha Motif ES8, Alesis Ion, Prophet 5 Rev 3.2, 1979 Rhodes Mark 1 Suitcase 73 Piano, Arp Odyssey Md III, Roland R-70 Drum Machine, Digitech Vocalist Live Pro. Roland Boss Chorus Ensemble CE-1.

 

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Originally posted by MikeT156:

 

Sue: you can laugh at the idea of memorizing a piece of music from the end forward, but you don't start by playing it backwards. Its when you've already learned the song and want to commit it to memory that you use that method. It works. Now, turning the music upside down, I'd have to work on that. :) Seems like that would be a natural for you though. :D

 

Mike T.

Oh, that's what you meant! It seemed like you were suggesting learning it backwards for the very first learning. Yes, I have heard of singers doing their phrases in reverse order after they think they know a song, they do it by phrases though, not bar by bar. And that does make sense for memory strengthening.

Harry Likas was the Technical Editor of Mark Levine's "The Jazz Theory Book" and also helped develop "The Jazz Piano Book." Harry spends his time teaching jazz piano online and playing solo piano gigs.

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