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  • Getting off-book, so how do you memorize songs?

    I have about 500 songs in books. A rock/pop book, an R&B/R&R book, a country book etc. I suppose I have 100 songs that I learned in my youth that I can sing off the top of my head; mostly country and folk. I have a book of about 100 pre-1950 pop/jazz songs that I use for performance right now. They are not at all the songs I memorized in my youth.

    Today, just for yucks, I closed my eyes while I played "I Got the World on a String" and got along fine until the second cadence and I couldn't instantly recall how to get to the bridge. Full stop. This would not be good on stage. For memorization to be useful to me (and it really would be) I have to have *all* my current repertory off-book.

    I realize that memorization is a talent, but surely there are proven methods even for the memory-impaired. I've asked some excellent music teachers about this and it doesn't seem to be something they've much considered. Very odd.

    Any pointers?
    Last edited by pogo97; 09-19-2017, 11:15 AM.
    All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident. Arthur Schopenhauer (1788 - 1860)

  • #2
    The only way that works for me is repetiton...sorry.
    "We are currently experiencing some technical difficulties due to reality fluctuations. The elves are working tirelessly to patch the correct version of reality. Activities here have been temporarily disabled since the fundamentals of mathematics, physics and reason may be incomprehensible during this indeterminate period of instability. Normal service will be restored once we are certain as to what 'normal' is."

    Life's journey is not to arrive at the grave safely in a well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, totally used up and worn out, shouting '...man, what a ride!'
    "The greatness of a man is not in how much wealth he acquires, but in his integrity and his ability to affect those around him positively" ~Bob Marley

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    • #3
      When I find a song I like I download the lyrics. I then lay them out in MS Word using 22pt for the title and 16pt for the rest. I then keep one copy at my business, one in my truck and one at home and I work on it. It usually takes me a few days to "get it in the bank". I then have to perform a marriage of the lyrics, my voice and my guitar.

      Now, 500 songs is a shytload to memorize. What I do? I have about a 100 songs on my list and I mix them up. I play the songs I want to play the way I want to play them but I have them down and can do them with life to them and full ownership so I never get a complaint. JMHO YMMV

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      • #4
        I wasn't clear. By current repertory, I mean the 100 or so I currently play in public. I think "I play the songs I want to play the way I want to play them but I have them down and can do them with life to them and full ownership..." applies to me, too. I just need the lyrics and chords in sight. I'm not putting any additional brain power into reading. Many of these songs I've played many hundreds of times over forty years. This is on piano, which I think is less ghastly and obvious than on guitar.

        But it does detract from eye contact. And it means that if I'm somewhere without my book, I can't play my current playlist -- more like a stew of half-remembered Kinks, Johnny Cash Gordon Lightfoot Sam Cook George Jones. I love those songs, but they're not my "brand" and I'm really prefer to play my jazz-age jazz songs in public.

        When you're memorizing, do you tackle the whole song each time at each stage, or do you get the chorus, then verses?
        All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident. Arthur Schopenhauer (1788 - 1860)

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        • #5
          Originally posted by pogo97 View Post

          When you're memorizing, do you tackle the whole song each time at each stage, or do you get the chorus, then verses?
          I start with the first verse and go from there. For some reason I always struggle with the last verse. I think it's because I burn out on working on it. You are right about the piano as far as song books. The people I see are guitarists and the have this huge book(s) on a music stand in front of them. Ugh ....

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          • #6
            Originally posted by Telecruiser View Post
            You are right about the piano as far as song books. The people I see are guitarists and the have this huge book(s) on a music stand in front of them. Ugh ....
            My favourite is when people sing their songs in alphabetical order.

            All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident. Arthur Schopenhauer (1788 - 1860)

            Comment


          • #7
            I can't remember the last time I saw a singer/guitarist using a huge book on a stand but if I did I would be a bit disappointed. Most I see have gone the tablet route wth the appropriate app. Add a black thin cover and no one but an other musician would notice. Especially when paired with an air turn pedal so the artist never even touches the tablet. I can't imagine performing without mine now.
            I have about a couple of hundred songs I rotate I guess and before a show if it's one I haven't done for a while (I always do a set list) Then couple of run through and I am ready.
            Learning lyrics doesn't come easy to me, unlike my wife who has the knack of hearing a song a couple of times and the being word perfect. So for me it's learning key words from each line, which is enough to bring that line to mind. For example, take All you need is Love, we will take it that the chorus is simple enough to already know. That leaves three verses each of 2 rhyming couplets.
            There's nothing you can do that can't be done
            Nothing you can sing that can't be sung
            Nothing you can say
            but you can learn to play the game ... it's easy.

            And so on.

            Now I would read/play through it a couple of times then pick out a key word from each line, in this case I use
            Do - this leads me to done, I mean what else would it be?
            Sing - leads me to sung
            Say
            Game, this is the trickiest as it's not logical as the others were

            So the first verse is now remembered with my leaning just 4 words

            Next I do the same with the next verse and then the next.

            Finally I need the verse order so I take the key word from the first line of each, which in this case gives me
            Do
            Make
            Know

            And well that's the song done. I then highlight those key words in OnSong which means a split second glance if needed and I am away.

            I struggle with this and this works for me hope it might help.
            Last edited by steve mac; 09-20-2017, 02:55 PM.
            Cheers Steve

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            • #8
              I use an iPad with lyrics in a Setlists App. Its not anything like turning pages in a huge book. The app also changes patches for me on my keyboard allows me to select by touch songs in any sequence, even at random. I really never look at it much. Usually I just need that 1st word and the rest is autopilot. Most songs not on current charts I have sang so many times for so long all I need is that mental index (first word). So my "lyrics" are really just the first sentence of each verse and the chorus. A new song is different I keep full lyrics and chord names until I have it down. I have maybe 4 or 5 of those at any time. When I learn a new song, I drive my family nuts by playing it ALL the time. I do this for a week or so until its in memory. Then after a few months of playing it at gigs I either shorten lyrics in the app or stop playing it altogether. A lot of 'hits" are only that way for a short time. Songs that remain and eventually become classics are rare. A hit might enjoy a resurgence a decade or so later as a generation remembers its youth. But until then I add and drop songs often.

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              • #9
                Apologies for the shorts but, this is me with my iPad, I can't think that anyone would even notice it's there, they would be too disgusted by the sight of my knees 😀
                Cheers Steve

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                • #10
                  When I first went solo, I made the mistake of trying to learn dozens of songs quickly. The yall just melted together in my antiquated brain mush, and aside from creating some neat medleys, it was pretty much a failure. So I concentrated on a few songs, better but not stellar results. Keep in mind that I had to revisit many of the songs as I incorporated the BeatBuddy, the vocal harmonizer and the looper. But I finally just started dedicating time one song at a time.
                  "We are currently experiencing some technical difficulties due to reality fluctuations. The elves are working tirelessly to patch the correct version of reality. Activities here have been temporarily disabled since the fundamentals of mathematics, physics and reason may be incomprehensible during this indeterminate period of instability. Normal service will be restored once we are certain as to what 'normal' is."

                  Life's journey is not to arrive at the grave safely in a well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, totally used up and worn out, shouting '...man, what a ride!'
                  "The greatness of a man is not in how much wealth he acquires, but in his integrity and his ability to affect those around him positively" ~Bob Marley

                  Comment


                  • #11
                    I've given up.

                    I'll turn 70 in November. My wife and I help each other retrieve words from the mental fog that we can no longer find easily in normal conversation.

                    I don't play often enough to reinforce the songs I'll be playing at the next venue. I also don't play the same kind of venues often enough. My next gig is a pub/brewery, so I doubt the jazzy stuff will fly here. I've tried joining a couple bands with no results; each had a different set list. I suspect this goal is more easily achievable if you have a clearly defined style that works for pretty much all the places you play. I haven't found that sweet spot; mixed blessing.

                    In an effort to be helpful here . . . . .

                    I type out a new lead sheet and italicize the downbeat word in each line. 20 pt title, 14 pt lyrics, 16 pt chords, 18 pt chords that trip me up.

                    I also need keyboard preset info. Voices, layers, and splits can be important.

                    Comment


                    • #12
                      We have over 550 songs now, so there is no way I'm going to be able to memorize all of them.

                      The ones we do most often are memorized to the point where an occasional glance is all I need.

                      New ones and ones that we don't pull out often need more attention.

                      Since I use my own backing tracks, and since there are always distractions, (requests, the occasional bikini girl, and so on) it's good to have the songs open even if they are memorized. If something distracts me, it's easier to get back on track if the words or sheet music is in front of me.

                      I use a laptop because I call the songs as we need them and it's easier with a laptop than a tablet. Type the first few letters of the song, hit ENTER and it's up.

                      I'm going on 71 and I play to a baby-boomer era audience. They don't seem to mind the laptop. In October we start our 10th year at the same place so we're doing something OK.

                      But I also find that if I'm reading, I'll never memorize.

                      Insights and incites by Notes
                      Bob "Notes" Norton
                      Owner, Norton Music http://www.nortonmusic.com
                      Style and Fake disks for Band-in-a-Box
                      The Sophisticats http://www.s-cats.com >^. .^< >^. .^<

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                      • #13
                        During the last couple of years I've been forgetting lyrics to songs. That's because there's a lot of songs I rarely do now days that I used to do twenty years ago. Furthermore, I have a hard time thinking of songs to do without a list of songs to look at. This usually happens when I'm sitting in with a band, so I try to bring a list of songs that I know well and are also easy enough for the band to play without charts.
                        BD

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                        • Notes_Norton
                          Notes_Norton commented
                          Editing a comment
                          If I don't have a song list in front of me, I'll end up calling the same songs again and again. I think it's something about being in the "right brain" while playing that is opposed to thinking of actual words that aren't lyrics (which become articulations).

                          Notes

                      • #14
                        Originally posted by senorblues View Post
                        I've given up.

                        I'll turn 70 in November. My wife and I help each other retrieve words from the mental fog that we can no longer find easily in normal conversation.

                        I don't play often enough to reinforce the songs I'll be playing at the next venue. I also don't play the same kind of venues often enough. My next gig is a pub/brewery, so I doubt the jazzy stuff will fly here. I've tried joining a couple bands with no results; each had a different set list. I suspect this goal is more easily achievable if you have a clearly defined style that works for pretty much all the places you play. I haven't found that sweet spot; mixed blessing.

                        In an effort to be helpful here . . . . .

                        I type out a new lead sheet and italicize the downbeat word in each line. 20 pt title, 14 pt lyrics, 16 pt chords, 18 pt chords that trip me up.

                        I also need keyboard preset info. Voices, layers, and splits can be important.
                        Never give up!

                        I spent the last year and a half playing in 3 bands...my blues/swing band, my jazz/soul/R&B band and an 'Americana/alt Country/neo-pop' band as a sideman. Certainly no one size fits all there.
                        As to the song sheets...I keep the title small [10.5], and the lyrics/changes in 14pt, with the changes in blue and the 'comments' [verse #/chorus/ bridge/repeats] in bright red. Some still have their Beat Buddy/harmonizer notes at the top...14pt red
                        "We are currently experiencing some technical difficulties due to reality fluctuations. The elves are working tirelessly to patch the correct version of reality. Activities here have been temporarily disabled since the fundamentals of mathematics, physics and reason may be incomprehensible during this indeterminate period of instability. Normal service will be restored once we are certain as to what 'normal' is."

                        Life's journey is not to arrive at the grave safely in a well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, totally used up and worn out, shouting '...man, what a ride!'
                        "The greatness of a man is not in how much wealth he acquires, but in his integrity and his ability to affect those around him positively" ~Bob Marley

                        Comment


                        • senorblues
                          senorblues commented
                          Editing a comment
                          I haven't really given up . . . . although the band thing really does look next to impossible from the perspective of a keyboard player, unless it's my project. Mostly because there are too few places to play.

                          The phrasing of the lyrics of new songs takes almost as long as memorizing the words. In addition to writing the lyrics according to bar lines, I also space the words according to phrasing. That helps, along with various point sizes, italics, color codes, etc., as you've noted.

                          I've never done four sets before as a solo. About a third of the songs on my list for this next gig will be ones I've just learned or at least have never played out.












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