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Hello,

what is your method of choice, if you have to learn a large chunk of sheet music (not chord changes but actual written out parts) by heart? An example would be written parts for a sax quartets or similar groups with 2h+ repertoire. These are usually well paying gigs (company events), but as a sub it is often on short notice, so it means very few rehearsals, a lot of sheet music to internalize and no or only a few reference recordings.
 

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It would be very unreasonable to expect a sub to memorize 2 hours worth of charts. Unless you're a savant, that's going to be impossible. Just read the charts.

If you must memorize, there are no shortcuts, just repetition in small chunks. I read a study where it took the average person about an hour to memorize 16 bars using various strategies. That works out to roughly 5 hours for 3 minutes of music. So you're looking at at least 40 hours of practice to memorize 2 hours worth. Are you really going to do that to sub on a 2 hour reading gig where you might get paid $150 US, if you're lucky, which works out to about $3.50 US per hour.
 

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Yeah ... nice that they are good gigs, but this is quite difficult on short notice.

Most efficient? Break up each song into sections and memorize whole sections at a time.
Pick the easiest tunes to start, and the ones they play the most.

dat
sax
man
 

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The only way I've ever memorized sheet music is by repeated performances of it, where after a few times I won't need the music. Since I am an ear player, mostly I have learned the songs by playing the records. In a few instances on instrumentals featuring the sax, I have had to break it down into 4-bar 'sections', each with a unique opening phrase that becomes the key to that section. I had to do this on King Curtis's instrumental of 'I Was Made To Love Her'. Of course, after doing it a few times it came easier and more 'flowing'.
But considering what you're up against, 'mrdavej' nailed it - there is no way to even attempt such a thing. You have to read the charts whether they like it or not.
 

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Also consider the added difficult of memorizing a harmony part which typically won't make any melodic sense. So it's not like memorizing a recognizable melody. It's more akin to memorizing the digits of Pi, especially with no recordings to listen to.

On the other hand, if you are indeed some sort of genius who can pull such a feat off on short notice, then you should be giving us advice, not the other way around.

I regularly play in big bands and quartets. We always read the charts. When I sub in other big bands or quartets, I read the charts. It's a totally acceptable practice, and whomever hires you should understand that.
 

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All that said, there are some memory savants who can basically play anything off the music once and then never need the music again.

I am not one of those people. Unless the money is really really really good (like "Hey man, the Rolling Stones just called and want me to go on tour, but I've got to learn all the sax parts in a month!" good), the standard is to read the parts (not your ordinary bar band sub gig, but something with real and strict parts). Sax quartet - if you mean sax quartets playing typical sax quartet music - no way anyone's going to play that stuff from memory as a sub with a couple rehearsals, and that stuff is full of notes, and all kinds of close harmonies where you can't just know the harmony and fake your way through it, no you have to actually play the assigned notes.
 

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The only way I've been able to memorize music is to get away completely away from reading it. The memorization doesn't kick in until I can hear it in my head and play it. Most efficient way might be to read it at first, but the sooner you get away from the chart the better.

Given that, yeah it's unreasonable to internalize 2+hr of horn parts on very short notice if they have to be reproduced exactly from the sheet music. I think you'd want a week or two at least, depending on the complexity of the music.
 

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… like "Hey man, the Rolling Stones just called and want me to go on tour, but I've got to learn all the sax parts in a month!" …
Though I've never heard you play, I'd be willing to bet it would only take you an afternoon to get it all down. I mean... it's only rock & roll...
 

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I played in a salsa band for a couple years. We got a gig in Hawaii (??? good agent I guess) for 6 weeks. The gig was a great time, but after the 3rd night the clubowner said "I don't like the horn players reading music on a stand. You have to get rid of the stands by next week or you're gone."

So the horn section (sax, trumpet, bone) spent several afternoons in our hotel room playing through the parts. Luckily we had been working a fair amount before this gig, and were familiar with them, but salsa charts are very complex. Most were very strict covers of well-known recordings. We kept the gig...

A few years later, I had a gig in Reno, as part of the relief band, doing a stage show 1 night a week. (It gave the house band a night off.) This was about 150 pages of show music, in 4 sections (there were different acts in between show numbers) and by the end of the 4th month I just turned over each section at the beginning. I did another stage show a couple years later, 6 nights a week - it only took about 2 months before I had the entire show memorized. But that's 12 times through each week (2 shows a night), times 8 weeks.

Bottom line - repetition is key, and I suspect that 4 times through, once each day over 4 days is better than 4 times through in one day. I agree that a sub for a 2-hour reading gig should not be expected to memorize the music. If you have the parts and the time, it could be done, but I would expect extra money :)
 

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Your brain would be a better place to store information than your heart
 

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"I don't like the horn players reading music on a stand. You have to get rid of the stands by next week or you're gone."
He was right. It's 'bush league' for a horn section to have to read charts. Look at TOP and Chicago (back in the day). When you're standing behind a book, you are not part of the show - you're a 'plug-in' and you can be 'un-plugged'. When you're standing there blowing your horn without charts, you can look at the audience, dance, do all kinds of stuff and GET IN THE GAME!
 

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Sure, playing without sheets is much, much better. I always thought that was required. No big deal even.
None of the horn players I meet these days seem to even know what that means.

I gave a first lesson (first week of March, so right before the COVID garbage). 20 year old kid, been playing for 5 years. Decent beginner.
He literally could not believe it. "Wait -- you just can play a bunch of songs without the music? NO WAY!"
As it turned out, I had a jazz trio songlist in my bag. 200 tunes. "Pick one." He picks, I play. We did five or six before he started to get over it.

But he got it. I got him all fired up to learn to do it too. One for the good guys.
 

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I envy you guys. My big band book has over 400 charts in it. I've been playing in that band for nearly 20 years and have only managed to memorize a handful of the simpler charts.

I have no problem memorizing the simple horn parts in a cover band. I could probably play the melodies of hundreds of standards from memory. But I could never memorize the complex, usually nonsensical inner harmony parts in hundreds of big band arrangements. Similar story for the hundreds of charts in my sax quartet. Unless I'm playing the melody, it's not going to happen. If the venue insists on no charts, then I simply can't play the gig, or am forced to fake it and make lots of mistakes.

How many big bands actually memorize all their charts? Nearly every big band I've ever seen has music stands with the exceptions of a few rare geniuses like Buddy Rich himself, who couldn't read to begin with. So how do you guys actually pull this off, and is it really worth the effort when everybody else in the band is reading charts?
 

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My big band book has over 400 charts in it.

I have no problem memorizing the simple horn parts in a cover band. I could probably play the melodies of hundreds of standards from memory. But I could never memorize the complex, usually nonsensical inner harmony parts in hundreds of big band arrangements.

How many big bands actually memorize all their charts?
Big Bands are one exception where I think charts are fine and in almost all cases, necessary. Even the great players in Duke Ellington's band used charts, aside from soloing of course. I'm not sure, but it's possible the Count Basie Band might not have always used charts; I say this because they were famous for coming up with horn riffs on the spot (just as many of us do in jam sessions).

Aside from big bands, I'm with the 1saxman; I don't like using charts. But that applies to blues/funk/R&B/R&R bands, not big bands.
 

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I read well enough that it gets me "reading" gigs but they are not my favorite.
 

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Bob Reynolds talks often about this in his great VLOGs. Here is one. Make sure to click through his articles linked to in his description as well.

 
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