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Feb 5, 2020 - 5:04:05 PM
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142 posts since 8/7/2014

So, I've accumulated about 30 songs in my repertoire that I can play note for note, lead and backup. What I have been trying to do the last few years is to work on a new song during the week and then play through my repertoire on the weekends. The problem is, now that my song list has increased, it is getting too time consuming to constantly play through the song list every week. I find that if I leave the songs alone for a spell, that I have to revisit the song and relearn some weaker parts. My question is, do you think it is worth my time to continue this practice of learning a new song, while making sure the old songs stay at the forefront, or should I just continue to learn new songs and techniques and let the older songs go until I need them for a playing opprutunity ? Unfortunately, I don't get many chances to play with other folks. I live in an area where classic rock reigns and most people have never heard of any bluegrass songs (outside of OCMS or Mumford and Sons).

Feb 5, 2020 - 5:05:42 PM
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142 posts since 8/7/2014

I forgot to mention, that I learn songs by ear only. I don't use tab of any kind. Just in case people were curious if I was just working from tab.

Feb 5, 2020 - 5:35:32 PM
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ChunoTheDog

Canada

92 posts since 8/9/2019

I'll be following this thread...I only know a handful of songs completely on the banjo but I was wondering this very same thing...

Feb 5, 2020 - 5:55:15 PM
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Mooooo

USA

7602 posts since 8/20/2016

If you ask a group of people what they mean when they say "I learn by ear" you're gonna get tons of answers from: The Murphy Method (not learning by ear but learning by demonstration) to listening and figuring note for note from a recording, to memorizing the melody and articulating it with their own arsenal of licks, tricks and rolls...and everything in between. And all of them valid.

One way you can try is to listen to the version you are playing over and over when you're on the way to or at work, or in your free time as much as possible. If you are working up your own breaks, record it and listen to it. This way you will have less of a chance of forgetting how you pick it, whether you learned it or figured it out. Practice the ones that give you the most problems more often, some tunes you won't ever forget.

Very interesting topic, I will also follow, since I don't know it all...and am always looking for better ways to do things.

Edited by - Mooooo on 02/05/2020 17:58:08

Feb 5, 2020 - 6:08:11 PM
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chuckv97

Canada

47651 posts since 10/5/2013

I have a list of about 60 tunes, instrumentals & songs. Some need very little dusting off cuz I’ve played them for years,,other newer ones I have to go over more frequently. I really don’t need to play an exact memorized arrangement for a lot of song breaks, but there are some I do like enough to keep memorized. The longer we play the banjo, the easier it gets to remember the tunes,,,it’s sort of organic rather than pro-active a lot of the time.
I try do 1/3 of my list every day, so that I cover them all in three days.

and I agree with Mike about listenening away from the banjo and visualizing how to play it. 

Edited by - chuckv97 on 02/05/2020 18:12:41

Feb 5, 2020 - 6:09:39 PM
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142 posts since 8/7/2014

So, when I say I learn by ear, it is a mixture of visual and audio. Primarily, I learn by listening to the recording, but if its a song with a youtube clip, I may watch the video for clues as to the playing position on the neck (not necessarily to figure out the ear, but to better understand how the original musician picked it). Some songs I can figure out in a couple weeks, others take a month or more. With all this being said though, my question still remains. Do you all constantly play through your repertoire of songs?

Feb 5, 2020 - 6:12:35 PM
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142 posts since 8/7/2014

quote:
Originally posted by chuckv97

I have a list of about 60 tunes, instrumentals & songs. Some need very little dusting off cuz I’ve played them for years,,other newer ones I have to go over more frequently. I really don’t need to play an exact memorized arrangement for a lot of song breaks, but there are some I do like enough to keep memorized. The longer we play the banjo, the easier it gets to remember the tunes,,,it’s sort of organic rather than pro-active a lot of the time.
I try do 1/3 of my list every day, so that I cover them all in three days.


This has been similar to my past practice. I divide the list in half and play part 1 on sat and part 2 on sunday. 

Feb 5, 2020 - 6:32:14 PM
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Mooooo

USA

7602 posts since 8/20/2016

No I don't play the whole enchilada every night. I play my favorites most often and add in some I haven't played in a while, and when I find one I am rusty at I will practice it until it comes back. It's a never ending cycle. But like I said, Some I never forget. Then there's some more challenging ones that I have to stay on top of all the time...Bill Keith stuff, Alan Munde...etc. But I'm listening to stuff constantly.

Edited by - Mooooo on 02/05/2020 18:46:01

Feb 5, 2020 - 7:02:16 PM
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Altivo

USA

4 posts since 1/13/2020

I use actual music notation more than tab, though I occasionally work things out by ear if no music is available.I do memorize most stuff that will be performed in public. I had many years of classical training on piano and wind instruments, so this is comfortable for me. I keep a repertoire notebook with each tune learned on a punched page and arranged systematically. Flipping through the notebook reminds me of things to play through that I haven't played in a while.

My partner can barely read music, and learns almost everything by ear. There is little point for him maintaining stacks of sheet music or tab. He keeps a spreadsheet with the names of tunes or songs, the date last performed in public, and his own self-rating on the level or his playing on that song. The ones rated "performance level" are the ones he knows best and only needs to run through occasionally. Other levels include "want to learn," "beginning," or "working." This kind of list can be sorted on any field, and easily maintained. It provides a reminder of what needs the most work, what needs the least, and what needs to be run through more times to improve confidence. You could keep it on paper, in a memo book, or in a computer document or notebook app.

My working repertoire for tenor banjo currently extends to about 40 tunes learned over the past year. Perhaps a third of those don't need constant repetition any more to keep them refreshed, while most still need a run at least once a week to reinforce the right brain muscle memory that makes them work. Because I use Irish GDAE tuning on the tenor, the same repertoire is easily transferred to the mandolin or fiddle, or even the Irish bouzouki.

Feb 5, 2020 - 7:56:48 PM
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1073 posts since 8/7/2017

Keith, I'd say examine what you want to achieve at this point in your musical career. My desired achievements has changed over the past 5 years. Some things that I thought were important became less so; once I realized that, I could move forward, musically, and not feel guilt about not being able to do some of the things I originally thought important. Music is a journey, not a destination idea.

I've wondered about the same question you posed. I've resolved it in the direction of a) there are some songs I will always be improving just because I like them enough to spend the time cheerfully doing so b) there are songs that have neat sounds, but I won't be adding them to the A list; that is I play them for fun, not for repeating at will.

Josh Turknett has ideas (and a method) on how to maintain a repetoir, check out his laws of brainjo.
clawhammerbanjo.net/the-immuta...practice/

Hope this helps.

Feb 5, 2020 - 8:06:21 PM
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350 posts since 11/5/2010

I've had to learn to love em and leave em. Probably forgotten more songs than I know....

Feb 5, 2020 - 8:26:33 PM
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582 posts since 3/1/2008

Get a video clip of each one so you want to revisit a forgotten tune. It's not important to me to remember every number I learn, but I've recorded some and was glad that I did.

Feb 5, 2020 - 9:05:54 PM
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1073 posts since 8/7/2017

Brainjo episode (law) 32 is one that deals with remembering your songs.

Another episode, which I can't find this evening, is to build a card file of your songs, and use it to structure which ones you practice, and how often you practice them. I can't remember the details...oops. But it goes something like this, I think: you play newest songs of your repertoire every day, others (which you know better) every other day, and ones you know really well at a longer interval. Songs move from every day play to, say, once a month play as you get better at remembering them. Well, since I did not do this (bad banjoist) I may have got it wrong. You could email Josh (he's a BHO member) and ask, of course :-)

Feb 6, 2020 - 4:45:28 AM
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3340 posts since 12/6/2009

I don’t read tab or sheet music so I guess some would say I play by ear. Playing by ear to me isn’t so much playing note for note. Playing songs that you like and finding the melody from memory places on the keys played could be considered playing by ear. Early country and bluegrass wasn’t in any written form when a lot of us started out. We heard something we liked and just tried to imitate it. Or sometimes with recordings played over and over at slow speeds. But then most stuff ended up played not note for note but the way you interpreted it. Probably what those older banjo masters you hear have styles of their own and the ones you want to copy. I would suggest not worrying note for note but more what you hear and you wind up playing in your own interpretation….it’s called style. If all banjo players played something note for note bluegrass would become real boring quickly….IMHO.
Learn your tab, learn the music, learn your instrument and then do it to what you hear….the beauty of folk, country, bluegrass, the blues, jazz…. We all can’t paint pictures like Rembrandt.
whats really satisfying with our music is, you can have something in your head...walk by your instrument pick it up and play that something in your head.

Feb 6, 2020 - 4:59:23 AM
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m06

England

8398 posts since 10/5/2006

In regard to personal repertoire - i.e. those favourite tunes I could start at a session - I find that there's a natural limit to the number that I can remember at any one time. In my case actually not that many. Over time some new tunes drift 'in' and others drift 'out'.

But they're not really 'out'; what I find is that at a session if a fiddle player kicks off a tune that I once knew by heart but have not played for a long time and have 'forgotten' it comes back pretty quick with that sound prompt. Often the first phrase does it or some other internal hook phrase. In other words, tunes we have learned tend to go into some memory 'halfway house', but the act of having learned them means they can be recalled as a whole much more easily. Sometimes it's kind've spooky how our fingers will suddenly move adeptly over the fretboard on a tune we'd thought we'd lost. Clearly a tune stays in there somewhere!

I guess the process is the same or similar to the one when we suddenly, without thinking, blurt out a fact or an answer to a question from something we'd learned in a school physics classroom when we were 15, but hadn't used for decades or realised was still recallable. The wonder of our brain and the power of learning.


True, the other solution is the total independence to be able to pick up tunes on the fly, then we never need to concern ourselves with numbers or even keeping a personal repertoire at all. But I realise that is not what the OP is asking about on this thread. And even when we can pick tunes up on the fly we're still likely have our memorised favourites.

Edited by - m06 on 02/06/2020 05:12:36

Feb 6, 2020 - 5:16:48 AM
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Texasbanjo (Moderator)

USA

23946 posts since 8/3/2003

I'll chime in here with what I do. I probably know over 200 or more songs..... all by ear, no tab. First, let me say I play/sing more vocals than instrumentals, and I think vocals are easier to learn and easier to remember. I have a song book that I go through each day and play maybe half a dozen or so songs, maybe more, maybe less. It usually takes me a couple of weeks to go through all the songs in my book and then I start over.

When I get a new song, it gets more time than the others until I have it clean, clear and up to tempo, then it goes in with the rest of my book and I work on another new one and so on.

Don't know if that would work for you, but it helps me to remember those songs by playing them through maybe once every week or two.

Feb 6, 2020 - 5:19:57 AM
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Eric A

USA

444 posts since 10/15/2019

Tabs are no panacea. I've learned from tabs or by ear, either way. I've written down a few tabs that I learned by ear. But the problem is that I'm very improvisational. I try something new in a song practically every time I play it. So if I'm going to write down more tabs in an effort to remember more songs, which version do I write down? I end up with one tab, but then a whole lot of asterisks, footnotes, and side scribbles that basically say "this part can be done like this, or like this, or like this, or like this". It gets to be a mess and a lot of work. Whether it's a tab or a recording, it's just a snapshot of a moment in time, never a final finished work.

So...no, I don't have an answer for you, and I feel your pain.

Feb 6, 2020 - 5:20:12 AM
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2512 posts since 9/12/2016

The one thing that one can't buy and no magic shortcuts for practice in my opinion,but I don't ask anyone to agree

Feb 6, 2020 - 5:50:52 AM
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pickn5

USA

1417 posts since 8/8/2012

Interesting thread, I'll continue to read this one. I have a few tunes that I can't remember the break to, even though I know the chords and lyrics. I guess I should start working on improvising. Suggestions please.

Edited by - pickn5 on 02/06/2020 05:52:35

Feb 6, 2020 - 6:07:22 AM
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236 posts since 4/14/2017

Repetition is your friend when it comes to remembering and leaving anything alone too long is your path to forgetting. Since you'll be adding things all the time, you'll probably have to prioritize which things you want to remember (and therefore practice long enough to remember). Ancient fiddlers in Ireland had over a thousand tunes memorized, so you can put a lot in your memory, but keeping it there is mainly a matter of repetition. Of course tab and/or written notation would be like adding more memory to your brain, or not needing to rely totally on memory. Recording it as you do it could have the same effect, but playing a tune at regular intervals, no pun intended, would be the best way to keep anything memorized.

Feb 6, 2020 - 6:14:28 AM
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506 posts since 7/10/2012

My rep is not that extensive, but every once and a while a tune comes back to mind unexpectedly and I am happy to have recalled it. I really like the idea of making videos of myself playing a tune I like and just keeping them handy for reference. You could also use them to listen and visualize as another poster suggested. Think I might try this...

Feb 6, 2020 - 6:38:55 AM
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2512 posts since 9/12/2016

a note I made to myself ,write them down play them until you are sick of them.then play them all once a week

Feb 6, 2020 - 7:17:47 AM
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1603 posts since 2/10/2013

I play my complete playing repertoire at least every other day. You don't have to play a complete tune, but at least play the "breaks" for every tune a few times. Frequent use improves and maintains memorized information.

New tunes and problem areas are played almost every day. After I have memorized a tune, it moves to playing repertoire. I try to play my melodic tunes every day. It seems to improve my playing technique.

The "use it or lose it" principle applies to memorization.

Feb 6, 2020 - 7:19:15 AM
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3349 posts since 3/28/2008

For most bluegrass (Scruggs-style arrangements, especially; less so with melodic stuff) the memorization doesn't need to be--and I might argue, shouldn't be--at the note-to-note level. A successful Scruggs-style rendition is not a reproduction of a fixed set of notes in a particular order. It is a reconstruction based on higher-level templates like chord structure, melody notes, and right-hand rolls. 

If loc50welder is trying to remember fixed set-pieces, that's not the way the whole enterprise  works. If, on the other hand, he's memorizing those higher-level things, and basing his breaks on those anew each time, that's all well and good. Even if I play a break note for not the way I've played it in the past, it feels to me like I'm generating it from lower-level rolls, licks, etc., guided always by the musical and physical "grammar" of bluegrass banjo.

That said, learning things note for note can be good for some purposes, like seeing how a particular player deals with various musical situations, and getting more of his her style into your own playing, or generally giving you new ideas. And being able to nail a Scruggs (or Crowe, or Reno, or...) break can give you some "street cred" in certain circles.

But the goal is vocabulary building, not memorization in the literal sense.

Feb 6, 2020 - 7:22 AM
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71 posts since 4/17/2014

I made a list of all of my tunes and then placed them in a simple spreadsheet that I printed out. Every time I played a tune during practice, I checked a box on the spreadsheet.

It was this very simple representation of how often I practiced tunes and which ones were getting left behind. It also made it a little easier to pick something to practice. As others have said, you tend to focus on favorites you play often and new material. This helped me commit so of those tunes that didn’t fall into either category to memory. At least when I went back it didn’t feel like I was starting from scratch.

Feb 6, 2020 - 8:14:16 AM
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2512 posts since 9/12/2016

I am in the minority ,in the fact that I'' don't like'' to put my time into the'' improvising ''mode. In other words ,,throwing in licks. I do have a few laying around for --forgotten or flubbed passages.
Anyway on ''great melodies'' I try to get them nailed ,then it goes to the cleaning up and adding embellishment----- but staying with the'' burnt in'' version.

just make it say something,

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