Sax on the Web Forum banner

1 - 20 of 38 Posts

·
Registered
Joined
·
1,752 Posts
Discussion Starter #1
I am a very visual learner and a voracious reader. I read two or three books a week. Therefor I'm also a fairly good sight reader of music. Pretty good but not good enough. No matter how many times I go through a piece I'll stumble over a phrase much as I would if reading a story out loud. Since every pro player, excepting classical players, plays from memory I assume it must be the best way to play without making mistakes. The question is, how do you memorize a piece? I know it seems self evident but I'd be interested hearing from folks who play regular gigs, step by step how do you do it?


Thanks,

Dave
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
1,336 Posts
Once I have a piece figured out, I just write down the title on my list of working songs, and note the key I play it in. The melody, I already have memorized from wherever I know it from (1e. an old 40's movie, old time radio airings, whatever......). So, once I know what key to start in, it just kind of flows, from there. Playing the sax is very much like singing, and once you play around with scales often enough, you just kind of know, intuitively, where to go for each successive note.
Throw away the sheet music and make up tunes to play in your head, and play them. After awhile, you'll just know where to go. After that, it's just repetition.
 

·
Forum Contributor 2015-2017
Joined
·
3,245 Posts
Memorizing is not done "so you won't make mistakes".
It is done so you can think about what you are doing up there.

What I did last week when I need totmlearn Joy Spring for a gig:
Play the thing by myself a few times. Play along with the original record a few times to get the subtle things.

Broke the tune down into (in this case) FOUR lines.
First one is sort of the main theme;
second one is a lot like the first, but up 1/2 step.
Third line is different, more complicated;
Fourth line repears the first line.

Played just the first line over a few more times until I could play without the music.
Added the second line, always playing the first and then the second.
Again, until i could do it without the sheet.

Third line I had to break down into four parts. Memorized the first one; noticed that the second and third ones had a similar pattern, so i memorized those together; memorized the fourth one; tried out alternate fingerings fkr C, Bb, etc. to see what worked best. Played that damned third line again and again, piece by piece, until it seemed obvious, on inevitable, or something automatic like that.

Glued it all together for a few runs. Then put the record back on.
Without the music.

Took kind of a long time. Went flawlessly at the gig. Locked in now.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
337 Posts
I keep very brief notes on my cell phone: Song title, key, & very importantly, the 1st note!

As a jazz player, being the only horn in the small group, I don't need to strive for exact perfection. This would obviously be different if I were in a section with other horns.

Another great thing about jazz is going from one phrase to another, if you don't land on the exact note, you can use it as a grace note, or chromatically run up (or down) to the desired note. All of this takes the pressure out of the performance & causes me to relax & therefore create.

When listening to jazz greats such as Miles Davis, he wasn't married to the melody. Even when playing the head he would free play and remind you of the melody without strictly adhering to an exact duplication... again, this changes if one is playing in a section or even with one other lead instrument.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
1,336 Posts
I keep very brief notes on my cell phone: Song title, key, & very importantly, the 1st note!

As a jazz player, being the only horn in the small group, I don't need to strive for exact perfection. This would obviously be different if I were in a section with other horns.

Another great thing about jazz is going from one phrase to another, if you don't land on the exact note, you can use it as a grace note, or chromatically run up (or down) to the desired note. All of this takes the pressure out of the performance & causes me to relax & therefore create.

When listening to jazz greats such as Miles Davis, he wasn't married to the melody. Even when playing the head he would free play and remind you of the melody without strictly adhering to an exact duplication... again, this changes if one is playing in a section or even with one other lead instrument.
Exactly! Once you play often enough from your mind, you learn how to get from any one note to any other, so that there really are no major 'mistake' notes.......they're all just a way to get to the next note, if you learn how to connect them.
 

·
Moderator
Grafton alto | Martin Comm III tenor
Joined
·
28,919 Posts
Broke the tune down into (in this case) FOUR lines.
First one is sort of the main theme;
second one is a lot like the first, but up 1/2 step.
Third line is different, more complicated;
Fourth line repears the first line.
This is what it's about/. The more you understand about music theory, the easier this becomes: recognising patterns, intervals and and the compositional devices that include similarities, opposites, how phrases can repeat with slight or big variational developments.

All of this make memorising much easier and quicker than just going over and over hoping it sticks in your brain.

The same (or even more so) applies to learning chord sequences. Theory teaches you how one chord symbol relate relates to the next (or previous) and so you think in harmony as opposite to seemingly random chord symbols.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
1,201 Posts
Seems to me, the other side of the OPs questions is how to sightread more precisely; for which "memorising a piece" is one answer.

I know very little... But from the long and somewhat rambling video interview below, I picked up the idea of getting into the habit of scanning ahead, when sightreading. And, yes, I not only make fewer errors but improve timing, intonation etc. when I remember to do that.

https://youtu.be/Hvj2fD9a-b8
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
337 Posts
...recognising patterns, intervals and and the compositional devices that include similarities, opposites, how phrases can repeat with slight or big variational developments.

All of this make memorising much easier and quicker than just going over and over hoping it sticks in your brain.

.
This is SO true! Quite often we find the tip jar is fed by ability to cover requests. Out vocalist has an astounding library in her head, as well as lyrics from her cell phone, & the guitar guy carries an iPad.... that leaves Mr Woodwind over here the assignment of doing a full form solo over top of a song I don't know & have never ever heard.... The trick is as Pete says, recognizing patters & repetitions ....However let me add one valuable tip, as a jazz player I naturally "play behind the beat" meaning I 'm not always on the downbeat. The beauty of this style is, if it's a tune I don't know I can allow the bass to hit the cord before I have to commit to a note!!! Most of the time I have anticipated the change, but if it did go unexpectedly, I follow where the bass leads me.
 

·
Distinguished SOTW Member, Forum Contributor 2017
Joined
·
6,086 Posts
Skip a step - If you learn a tune by ear, you are automatically memorizing it as you learn it.

I only read music when I don't need to memorize it. Reading while playing engages my brain too fully for me to have any processing power left for a third task (memorization)

I use the tried and true method of learning it from a recording note by note if necessary. (usually it's not)

I sometimes scribble the first few notes in the margin of my set list if there is a concern. The band I play with the most does not allow music stands on stage even though we have a horn section.
 

·
Forum Contributor 2017
Joined
·
7,488 Posts
I isolate the part as best I can put headphones on and listen and play along until I get it. Simple parts are easy but longer complicated passages/solos/licks I like to transcribe so its committed to memory twice.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
1,752 Posts
Discussion Starter #11
Thanks for all the input. I think I see what you guys are talking about when you say you look for patterns. Pete mentions having an understanding of theory. I've always struggled with that part of it. I was never able to memorize all the trigonometry formulas when I was in school even though I ended up being a land surveyor for a living. I had to use cheat sheets. Learning theory for me is much like that for me. For some reason when I start reading books on theory my eyes glaze. The part about patterns, intervals and compositional devices that include similarities makes sense. But when you start talking about it using Roman numerals and such it just doesn't stick in my brain. Maybe I'm too old to learn at this point.

As Fader said, you just skip a step by learning by ear. I'm going to work on that a lot more. Doing what I've been doing hasn't worked. I think there's a saying about doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. After 50 years of doing it the same way maybe it's time to try something new.

I do read ahead when I sight read and it does make it much easier, especially after you have the muscle memory in your fingers from playing the piece a few dozen times. I need to do like one of you said and throw the sheet away once I reach that point. Then go on and practice it until I really know it. Thanks to all of you. It was enlightening.
 

·
SOTW Columnist, Distinguished SOTW Member
Joined
·
23,016 Posts
I need to do like one of you said and throw the sheet away once I reach that point. Then go on and practice it until I really know it.
There's your answer, based on my experience. One thing I learned a long time ago: I can read a tune 100 times and if all I did was read it off the sheet, then I still don't have it memorized and can't play it without reading it. OTOH, once I start playing it by ear, without the sheet in front of me, I end up learning and memorizing it fairly quickly. What I usually do is to start with the recording and try to figure out the melody directly off the recording. To do that it helps a lot to first figure out the key center and get some idea of the song form. At some point I might 'cheat' and look at the sheet music to check certain notes. But then I get away from the written music asap. Then once I have it memorized, what really seems to cement the tune for me is to play it (by ear) on the bandstand, either at a jam session or with my band. I suspect for a lot of us (I know it's true in my case) the music is more readily absorbed and memorized when you use your ear instead of your eyes; it's an auditory thing, rather than visual.

Bottom line; play it over and over by ear until you can't play it wrong. And play it over and over in your mind when you're away from your instrument. The only downside is you might get burned out on the melody from so much repetition, but that's not such a problem with a truly great melody.

Knowing the chord progression, song form, harmony, etc, is also very helpful as Pete mentioned. And it is essential for improvising on the tune.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
5,241 Posts
Since every pro player, excepting classical players, plays from memory
Classical ensemble players generally do not play from memory, although even here there are plenty of exceptions. I've never seen an orchestral player not use sheet music, but you can find many memorized performances by quartets or quintets. In this respect, classical players are just like other musicians. E.g., big band members play from charts too.

Classical soloists, however, often play entirely from memory, sometimes with mind-boggling results. Yo-Yo Ma gave a concert in which he played all six of Bach's cello suites -- 36 total movements! Everything was memorized.

I recently memorized the soprano/tenor solo from Bolero just for kicks. As you might expect, a key tool was trial-and-error repetition, but I think an important part of the memorization process is recognizing that, once you have learned a piece well, it's already half-memorized. That is, your fingers do much of the work automatically, without constant conscious intervention from your mind. The written music becomes more like a cue than a detailed map to be followed. You just have to organize your reflexive actions and let them carry the rest of the load as well.
 

·
Forum Contributor 2017
Joined
·
7,488 Posts
I find vocalizing the part from a recording if you can find one helps to solidify it once you can play what you hear
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
1,752 Posts
Discussion Starter #15
There's your answer, based on my experience. One thing I learned a long time ago: I can read a tune 100 times and if all I did was read it off the sheet, then I still don't have it memorized and can't play it without reading it. OTOH, once I start playing it by ear, without the sheet in front of me, I end up learning and memorizing it fairly quickly. What I usually do is to start with the recording and try to figure out the melody directly off the recording. To do that it helps a lot to first figure out the key center and get some idea of the song form. At some point I might 'cheat' and look at the sheet music to check certain notes. But then I get away from the written music asap. Then once I have it memorized, what really seems to cement the tune for me is to play it (by ear) on the bandstand, either at a jam session or with my band. I suspect for a lot of us (I know it's true in my case) the music is more readily absorbed and memorized when you use your ear instead of your eyes; it's an auditory thing, rather than visual.

Bottom line; play it over and over by ear until you can't play it wrong. And play it over and over in your mind when you're away from your instrument. The only downside is you might get burned out on the melody from so much repetition, but that's not such a problem with a truly great melody.

Knowing the chord progression, song form, harmony, etc, is also very helpful as Pete mentioned. And it is essential for improvising on the tune.
I started on a piece I've worked on before. I think I get what you guys are saying about patterns etc. I could only get so far from memory of playing off the sheet music. I'm starting to be a believer that I won't really remember how to play a piece until I can do it w/o reading. Thanks for all the thoughtful advice, JL.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
1,752 Posts
Discussion Starter #16
Classical ensemble players generally do not play from memory, although even here there are plenty of exceptions. I've never seen an orchestral player not use sheet music, but you can find many memorized performances by quartets or quintets. In this respect, classical players are just like other musicians. E.g., big band members play from charts too.

Classical soloists, however, often play entirely from memory, sometimes with mind-boggling results. Yo-Yo Ma gave a concert in which he played all six of Bach's cello suites -- 36 total movements! Everything was memorized.

I recently memorized the soprano/tenor solo from Bolero just for kicks. As you might expect, a key tool was trial-and-error repetition, but I think an important part of the memorization process is recognizing that, once you have learned a piece well, it's already half-memorized. That is, your fingers do much of the work automatically, without constant conscious intervention from your mind. The written music becomes more like a cue than a detailed map to be followed. You just have to organize your reflexive actions and let them carry the rest of the load as well.
As I said to JL in my previous response, I've started working on some of the ideas you guys have shared. Even after less than an hour of playing I can tell that playing from memory allows me to be more aware of tone, dynamics, articulation, etc.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
1,752 Posts
Discussion Starter #17
I find vocalizing the part from a recording if you can find one helps to solidify it once you can play what you hear
I do that. I also play a tune I'm learning on repeat when I'm driving around just to learn how the original artist phrased it. Thanks again to all of you who have commented for your thoughtful replies.

Dave
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
392 Posts
Consider also that you might want to set a different objective:

In the recent past I was on the Board of a world class brass band and I did a lot of listening to the musicians. Here are some of the themes:

1). You are going to make mistakes. You will never be able to eliminate 100% of the mistakes.
2). Don’t memorize music so you can play it from memory. Know the music so you can spend most of your efforts on dynamics and the ‘organic’ development of the piece in the ensemble.
3). Practice improvisation as a technique to over come the ‘mistakes’ you hear.....because you are going to make them.....but the audience is not going to know you made a mistake if you stay within the fluency of the song.

The most important part of the music is not the collection of notes the composer and arranger put on the page, so don’t kill yourself attempting to achieve perfection in that area.
 

·
SOTW Columnist, Distinguished SOTW Member
Joined
·
23,016 Posts
I've started working on some of the ideas you guys have shared. Even after less than an hour of playing I can tell that playing from memory allows me to be more aware of tone, dynamics, articulation, etc.
Nice to hear from someone on here who is open to advice. I think you've got the idea. My hypothesis (but certainly not enough good data available to elevate it to the level a theory!) is the reason you are more aware of all those things is due to the fact you are using your ear/mind exclusively, rather than your eyes. But with the caveat that different people learn in different ways. So it may be that some can memorize more readily by reading the music; I've yet to run into anyone who has made that claim but it could be true. You have to find what works for you.

I'm also a voracious reader....of books.

Bjroosevelt makes a really good point above regarding mistakes. They will happen. One thing you learn to do on the bandstand is keep playing right through those mistakes; don't let them distract you. When improvising, sometimes you get lucky and the 'mistake' turns out to sound better than the 'right' notes. Of course if you are trying to learn a tune and you make a mistake while practicing, you'll want to repeat what you played and clean up that mistake.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
1,201 Posts
Nice to hear from someone on here who is open to advice.
Don't underestimate how much of the ideas and advice folks post gets tucked away in the heads of some of us who read more than post. It is appreciated, though.
 
1 - 20 of 38 Posts
Top