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Learning and Remembering New Songs (Intermediate or Advanced)

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May 21, 2019 - 4:13:50 PM
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lanemb

USA

71 posts since 3/11/2018

After many years of studying licks, chords and backup routines I started joining jam sessions. What I found was I could play along with many tunes however when it was my turn to lead I only knew a few beginner basic leads.

So in the past several months I have focused on learning songs. I probably have 75% of the tab books on the market. But what I find with tab is I don’t readily remember the lead break until I have gone through it many times and over many days. And then I have to play a recording of the song and try to play with it to make sure I have the timing and syncopation correct. Seemed to take me forever.

I was lucky enough to meet Casey at the Suwannee banjo camp. I really liked her style and attention to detail. So I started purchasing Casey Henry’s individual song courses on her web site. caseyhenry.net/lessons.html
The site has over 400 to choose from. The hardest part is pairing down your list and determining where to start.

What I found was I could learn and remember the song in far less time than using tab. I highly recommend using this method.

Casey is constantly adding new material and is in the process of setting up a monthly subscription for those interested in receiving the new material as it is published. The subscription price will be a big savings over buying the individual new release. Send her an email (shown below) if you think you might be interested.

gibsontb11@gmail.com

caseyhenry.net/lessons.html

May 21, 2019 - 4:38:37 PM

3769 posts since 10/18/2007

Thanks. What a great resource.

May 21, 2019 - 10:14:15 PM
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BruceS2

USA

8 posts since 12/30/2017

Michael, you are not alone! I had been playing alone for years, lessons here and there, maybe I knew 20 songs...then I started jams. Reset. I shocked how little I really knew. Playing with others is the best way to up your game. I think I have 90% of all the Tab books every made:)...its overwhelming when you think about it. But I learn something different from all of them. So what I found worked best was to get the melody and the chord pattern down by listening and playing along. I-IV-V's are petty similar so after you have learned many TABed songs the important thing is you actually learned a whole bunch of licks and techniques you use to build a lead break. The trick is pulling them out of your memory at the right place. Trying this a first I could only use a few simple licks and rolls but over time the library grows and it gets easier. So now I know there is still a lot I don't know...10,000 hours is what it takes:)

I'll check out Casey, thanks.

May 22, 2019 - 4:33:49 AM
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pickn5

USA

1305 posts since 8/8/2012

I learn faster using the Murphy Method also. A few years ago I purchased a lesson from Casey. In a few months I'm going to purchase Nashville Blues from her as I like her teaching style. Keep picking.

May 22, 2019 - 4:46 AM
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Texasbanjo (Moderator)

USA

22808 posts since 8/3/2003

I think the key here is going to jams. You have to learn to listen to the chord changes, the melody and put those two things together to make a break. You will eventually have "musical phrases" (not hot licks) that you can plug into certain melody notes in certain chords and that helps immensely in playing a break on a song you've never heard.

When I first started going to jams, I was lost. I didn't understand key signatures or chord structures. A friendly jammer told me to learn some guitar chord fingerings and when the rhythm guitar picker changed chords, I should, too. After doing that for a while, I found I could "feel" a chord change coming up even if I wasn't sure what it was and then later, could get the chord change most of the time. Then I found those wonderful musical phrases that would work for so many songs. After that, it was easy to join in a jam, figure out the key, chord structure and have a decent break by the time I got the nod.

If you're going to jams, you might try what I did and see if it helps. It helped me so very much.

May 24, 2019 - 9:53:59 AM
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3411 posts since 5/6/2004

Expanding a bit on Sherry's post, I believe that an advanced, or even intermediate, player (the sole focus of this topic) should not have to learn new songs note-for-note from any source. [Again, the topic here is "Learning and Remembering New Songs"; some classic banjo instrumentals might fall into a different category.]  Even if you can't hear the chord progression, or figure out the precise melody, on your own -- and need outside assistance to nail these elements down -- an advanced or intermediate player should be able to weave together his or her own banjo arrangement once discerning, or provided with, those components.  I don't mean to rain on any instructor's livelihood, but, in my view, learning to play the banjo means learning to "banjoize" (a Harold Streeter term) the chords and melody of a song, even if you've never heard it on the banjo before.  [Not every song translates well to the bluegrass banjo, but you'd be surprised how many do.]

For this reason, I maintain that memorizing songs is overrated.  As my old teacher, the great Roger Sprung, was quoted as saying (in the Banjo Newsletter, March 2011):

"[M]ost people like to teach song by song. ... I met a guy who said he played banjo.  He said his teacher was ... 'the greatest teacher; in a year I learned six songs, and boy I can play them.'  The second he said that I knew how he was being taught, song by song.  I said, 'Do you know the names of all the chords you play?' and he said, 'Most of them.'  That's not the way to learn – unless you can apply what you learn from one song and put it on to some other song by yourself.  I don't teach song by song, I polish song by song.  I give the person the tools ... so they can do any song."

May 24, 2019 - 1:56:11 PM

lanemb

USA

71 posts since 3/11/2018

I do agree with Rich. I think I am almost there in picking out my own lead to songs. However, I find it a lot quicker to use the material available and tweak it to suit me. I can play along with most songs even those I have never heard or don’t remember. But when someone say kick one off Mike I want to really have a nice lead.

I also find the more songs I know the easier it becomes to learn or just roll with new ones. You can never know them all. Being able to fit in by ear is a must to develop. I think it comes naturally with time.

May 25, 2019 - 7:33:41 AM
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3208 posts since 3/28/2008

What Rich said. It's fine to learn someone else's arrangement note-for-note--but only if you view it as a vocabulary lesson that shows you new licks or moves that you can bring into your own playing.

Ask yourself, "What is this lick/move doing, in this place?" Is it covering a 1511 turnaround? Is it leading you from a 1 chord to a 4 chord? Is it a banjoistic way of rendering some particular melodic fragment? Identify the context, and you can use the lick or move whenever that context arises in other songs.

Even when they play a tune pretty much the same way every time, it's important to understand that experienced bluegrass players are not reciting a fixed text each time they play a piece. They are actively reconstructing the tune/break, based on the tune's template in their heads and on their own banjo vocabulary.

It's like how you tell a joke. There might be a few "signature licks"--maybe the beginning ("So this guy walks into a bar...") or the punchline ("Come on, boys, we're almost home!")--that you'll say the same way every time you tell it, but mainly you have a basic plot in your head and your fluency in your native language lets you construct the exact wording anew each time.

Edited by - Ira Gitlin on 05/25/2019 07:35:01

May 25, 2019 - 1:10:42 PM
Players Union Member

Neil Allen

France

771 posts since 6/15/2014

quote:
Originally posted by Rich Weill

Expanding a bit on Sherry's post, I believe that an advanced, or even intermediate, player (the sole focus of this topic) should not have to learn new songs note-for-note from any source. [Again, the topic here is "Learning and Remembering New Songs"; some classic banjo instrumentals might fall into a different category.]  Even if you can't hear the chord progression, or figure out the precise melody, on your own -- and need outside assistance to nail these elements down -- an advanced or intermediate player should be able to weave together his or her own banjo arrangement once discerning, or provided with, those components.  I don't mean to rain on any instructor's livelihood, but, in my view, learning to play the banjo means learning to "banjoize" (a Harold Streeter term) the chords and melody of a song, even if you've never heard it on the banjo before.  [Not every song translates well to the bluegrass banjo, but you'd be surprised how many do.]

For this reason, I maintain that memorizing songs is overrated.  As my old teacher, the great Roger Sprung, was quoted as saying (in the Banjo Newsletter, March 2011):

"[M]ost people like to teach song by song. ... I met a guy who said he played banjo.  He said his teacher was ... 'the greatest teacher; in a year I learned six songs, and boy I can play them.'  The second he said that I knew how he was being taught, song by song.  I said, 'Do you know the names of all the chords you play?' and he said, 'Most of them.'  That's not the way to learn – unless you can apply what you learn from one song and put it on to some other song by yourself.  I don't teach song by song, I polish song by song.  I give the person the tools ... so they can do any song."


Rich, are you aware of any online lessons that specifically take this approach? I would ideally like to obtain a copy of Roger Sprung's CD that you reviewed in your blog post, but I don't feel like bothering an elderly gentleman at home and asking him to mail a CD across the Atlantic, even if he is still contactable by phone.

Ideally, I'd be interested in any instructional method that specifically walks through this process of "adding the melody to the rolls" rather than the opposite approach that seems to be so much more common, of "adding the rolls to the melody", which I am having great difficulty getting to work.

Any suggestions would be appreciated.

Thanks.

May 26, 2019 - 8:27:57 AM
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3411 posts since 5/6/2004

You raise an interesting question. I haven't spoken to Roger in some time and, frankly, don't know his current situation (he turns 89 in August). By nature, Roger is someone who'll want to keep playing, teaching, and selling his CDs (including his instructional CD) for as long as he can. That includes taking anyone's call from anywhere. [He doesn't use a computer or email.] Some years ago, friends set up a website for him (I helped with the contents of his "Instruction" page) with the intention of allowing people to buy his CDs online. Unfortunately, that site is now gone. [As a result, the links to his site in several of my BHO blog entries -- including to two instructional audio clips -- no longer work.]

I'm not well-versed in what online lessons are available. But I can recommend two books that do teach you how to add melody into, at least, a forward roll. [The three rolls Roger teaches on his CD, and demonstrates how you add the melody of six songs into each of these rolls, are all forward roll variations (although they are each quite distinct).]

The first is Janet Davis' Splitting the Licks.  On page 8, she shows where melody notes generally fall in four rolls, including the forward roll.  Then, in the second step of her process, she adds a song's melody to a forward roll on those roll notes.  The second is Jack Hatfield's You Can Teach Yourself to Play Banjo By Ear.  He does the same thing but in a more incremental way.

If you can master a wide variety of useful roll patterns, it isn't particularly hard to figure out where, in each roll, the melody fits most naturally.  Then just catch the melody in those spots when you play that roll.  However, please remember that this is a means to an end, not the end itself.  Your ultimate goal, I believe, is to have all of those patterns (both the finger patterns and the distinctive sound pattern each roll offers) so firmly imbedded in your subconscious that you need only focus on the song's melody and the "feel" you're trying to express, and your well-trained fingers will connect those melody notes in such a way as to accomplish this.  In other words, you practice adding the melody to lots of rolls in order to internalize lots of interesting ways to connect each melody note to the next.

May 26, 2019 - 5:13:29 PM
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69224 posts since 5/9/2007
Online Now

I agree with Sherry.
For me the foundation of a tune (especially the never heard before jam tune) is the chord progression.
I find all melody and harmony imbedded in the chords.There are other notes that lead the ear into the chords as in Black Diamond.

I rely on quick assimilation of the chord progression.

May 27, 2019 - 11:07:26 PM
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Tommy5

USA

3313 posts since 2/22/2009

I found Casey’s method almost useless in learning new songs. The look see what I’m doing and follow along goes in one my ears and out the other. I’d rather have tabs so I can see you is what actually going on ,then make my own version of the song, but we all have different learning styles.

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