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Feb 15, 2020 - 2:01:59 PM

2511 posts since 9/12/2016

Originally posted by nematode!

I used to practice all my songs/tunes every or two until the list got so long that I had no time for anything else. I then decided to write down every song/tune, individually, on separate small pieces of paper and then, drop them into a jar (and mix them up like it would be a raffle drawing). Every day I'd pull out a few pieces (songs/tunes) and after playing them, drop them into a second jar. I'd do this until the first jar was empty and then, start all over again. This way, I could get other things done too, like learning another song or working on technique, etc.
After awhile, even this got too time consuming, so I started recording myself playing each and every one, keeping the inventory on my computer. Whenever I needed to refresh my memory, I'd look it up on my computer. Now I really only record the stuff I've created, if and only if, I really liked how I did it originally and don't want to forget.

I did that jar thing for years with 2 0r 3 songs on each paper,now I just use a note book and book marker to work my wat thru ,a page at a time.

Feb 15, 2020 - 2:20:03 PM
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11560 posts since 2/7/2008

Originally posted by Im banjobruce

Ok , this has puzzled me for quite awhile now. The expectation seems to be that banjo players memorize every tune they play, yet pianist , violinists, wind instruments and even guitarists get to play by reading music ! What is the rational behind this dichotomy ?

Please don't read your music while you are performing in front of an audience. As a "sometimes"audience member I find it incredibly boring to watch someone stare at a book,  reading their music when they could be engaging their audience and displaying a certain amount of musical adeptness that I probably paid to see.

Feb 15, 2020 - 3:49:09 PM

181 posts since 2/15/2015

I have index cards with the usually played key, and chord progression written out Nashville (Gnash De ville) style in Roman numerals.

Feb 15, 2020 - 6:46:20 PM
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3509 posts since 2/22/2009

I never memorize songs, what is the point? The whole fun of bluegrass is to just make stuff up, if your playing in a band , OK that takes some memorization to keep in time with the rest, in a jam , just follow the chord progression , the melody line is nearly always within the chord, a few chord inversions ,you can find the melody notes, a bang, you have an original break before your turn to lead break comes up. I used to write down the tunes that came up in the jam and looked up tab to do breaks but that turned out to be boring , better to make up stuff on the fly. If your playing open mikes or making up your own act , a handful of tunes is all that are necessary or even possible. I’m still shocked by the amount of banjo / guitar folks that think bluegrass is like classical music and everything should be played exactly as somebody wrote or tabbed it out, including what ever key the written music is in.

Feb 16, 2020 - 8:15:18 AM

651 posts since 1/22/2004

Interesting topic!  "We're not alone."  As others have posted here,  I also know of pros who have to work at remembering tunes/songs they've not done in awhile, especially when they have an upcoming gig that includes the songs they've not done in awhile.

Like others who have posted here, I've run the gamut of trying to play through "all my songs," then "all the songs I like," then "the songs I'll likely play," then "the songs I like and want to work on."  It's quite a fluctuating list.

Like many others here, my "list" is much too lengthy.  So... here's what I'm doing as of today:

-I have two lists-vocals and instrumentals of tunes I've played and continue to like.

-From those lists, I have a shorter list of tunes I enjoy playing and new ones I'm working on.  This list is constantly in flux-and I enjoy that!

-I play by ear, so don't have tab.  However, I do keep notes on some of the more involved tunes with unusual progressions or a unique arrangement I have created.  Most of these are just chords, sometimes with the number of beats under each chord.  If I have trouble remembering my arrangement, I may include something like, "D/13" or just "13" under the "C" chord to remind me to go up the neck for a high break in C at the 13th fret.  These are just brain ticklers.  I still have to remember what the high break is...and sometimes my high break changes.  Nothing is cast in stone how a play a day I play it one way and another day I may play it differently, depending on how I feel at the moment.

-Finally, if I have a particularly difficult tune that I seldom do, but I want to remember EXACTLY how I played a particular lick, I video my playing of the lick done slowly.  These are quite short, and I file it away in a video folder.


Feb 16, 2020 - 12:51:04 PM
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10517 posts since 6/2/2008

Originally posted by loc50welder

So, I've accumulated about 30 songs in my repertoire that I can play note for note, lead and backup.  . . . 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 ? 

I've played banjo in 4 bands at various times since the late 1970s and now working on a fifth, while still playing in one of the previous ones. With a repertoire of 40 or more songs (vocals and instrumentals) per band plus all the songs that come up at the bluegrass jams it is literally impossible for me to practice every song I know or that I might have occasion to play.  And why would I? 

Band repertoire should come first, though it doesn't always.  I practice the newest songs either band is adding or focusing on long enough to remember the chords and get a solo worth playing.  I also work on songs where I think my solos could be stronger. Then I work on other songs outside my bands that I'm interested in.  These might be songs or tunes that come up at the jams I attend or songs I'm working on for my own solo banjo repertoire.  I also work on licks, phrases, and techniqe that add to my skill set.  I think my practice is a lot less focused and much more scattershot than I'm making it sound. 

The only songs I'm concerned about playing note-for-note are the instrumentals I've learned for my Celtic-Americana band. We do several instrumentals I've never found tabbed out by anyone else, so I've had to work up my own arrangements. They combine melodic, Scruggs and single-string. Whatever it takes.  I can't improvise very well on Celtic material, and the tradition frowns on the type of reinterpretation that's common in bluegrass. So these are among the few pieces I attempt to play the same way every time.

As for everything else: I agree with all the experienced players who have said that as long as they know the chords to a song, they're not concerned with playing everything note-for-note the same.  I'm essentially an improviser.  Once I've learned a song and have it comfortably under my fingers, there's no telling how I'll actually play it.

Feb 16, 2020 - 8:45:55 PM
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2830 posts since 10/17/2009

I think many folks have difficulty "memorizing" via note by note set of instructions approach.

An alternative approach, separates memory function.

1. how does the tune go, that is you can mentally recall how it sounds. You could hum it, diddle it, sing it, or at least imagine it. Most folks can do this pretty well, with no special purposeful intent to memorize; and quite a large repertoire of what they can recall.. For example, for some folks, all them classic rock songs; Beatles, Stones, Elvis... as well Christmas songs. Actively singing the melody along with recording helps memory storage.

2. How to play on an instrument, what you can hear in your head. What  recalling is the technical aspects of how to play in this key, and flow, and which tech for creating this rhythm, pattern. Mostly that just is about learning your instrument, the layout. I found using a top down approach usually worked well. That is rather than linear sequence, note for note... understanding and recognizing a bit of the organization (or theory) starting with the big picture like meter, beat, accent, key, mode, scale, chords, progressions; that gets the overall gist and flow; and then working down to finer detail and nuances. Often it's about developing a rather intuitive understanding of how they connect and fit in to the big picture.

With those 2, don't really have to "memorize" individual instructions per tune/song. As long as you can recall the sound in head (though sometimes need a slight reminder of a part, but it often comes back quickly). This of course has added bonus, that makes it quicker to work out, or pick up tunes, even on the fly; as well as good base for improvising; if you can hear it in your head you can play it idea.

Feb 17, 2020 - 7:35:01 AM
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1 posts since 4/24/2018

I play clawhammer banjo. Years ago, Dwight Diller told me to pick between 25 - 30 tunes that speak to me, learn them well and make them mine. For my personal enjoyment that advice has served me well.

When playing in either large or small jam sessions many tunes come up that I have never played before or have long ago forgotten. But, by the second or third time thru, I have the rhythm down well enough to play along with everyone else without embarrassing myself. So what if I miss a note or three?

When performing in public with a group, I practice what we'll be playing and nothing else.

But in my quiet time I always revert back to my songs. That's where I find my peace.

My advice is to be selective about what you spend your practice time on, and make it yours.

Feb 17, 2020 - 7:42:32 AM
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71231 posts since 5/9/2007

I find it helpful to memorize how fiddletunes go.I like to play them for the first time in a jam,but I always go home and fine-tune the actual melody just so I know how far out of the box I am when improvising (chord substitutions and quoting other tunes,etc.) on those tunes.

Feb 17, 2020 - 2:47:21 PM
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10517 posts since 6/2/2008

Originally posted by Tractor1

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.

Improvising is not necessarily just "throwing in licks."  Maybe it can be that way on a song one has never played or worked up. Or those times somone just feels like letting go when their solo comes.


But improvising can -- and for me often does -- involve trying to render a melody.  I am not the only banjo player who has multiple ways to play any one song or tune and still play something that comes close to melody.  And to the extent that I know multiple ways to play each chord segment or even measure of a particular song, that's why I might play it differently each time.  I'll use Cherokee Shuffle as an example. Three ways that I play the first phrase are:


  1   &  2  &   3  &  4  &   1   & 2  &  3& 4&


  1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & 1 & 2 & 3 & 4&

 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &


That's just the first two measures. And it doesn't include up-the-neck alternatives.

This isn't throwing in licks. It's playing the song. And throughout the rest of it I have multiple ways of playing every phrase that anyone familiar with the tune will recognize as Cherokee Shuffle. My confidence at the moment may be the most important factor in how I choose to play anything.  The more "off" I'm feeling when I play, the simpler, more safe and "licky" my playing becomes

Feb 17, 2020 - 4:00:21 PM

2511 posts since 9/12/2016

Since you quoted me the things that you went thru shows it works good for you.Do you have a sound file by any chance?Tab without a soundfile does little for me and my limited mind.,I have trouble guessing the dynamics.I would love to here your variations.
The way I do it works best for me.I already gave my reasons.Here are my 2 lesser versions from a few years back.There is no exact Cherokee Shuffle .On tunes like Blue Skies or Swanee River the melodies are exact'' in my thinking ''I hate to not say every word every time.then put the slides and scales in around each his own

Edited by - Tractor1 on 02/17/2020 16:14:43

Feb 17, 2020 - 4:23:48 PM
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2511 posts since 9/12/2016

By the way I know you play good Ken.

I actually play the C shuffle with one lick improved now and probably slower

Many  great players put forth a small percentage of the known  melody ,but are great for being good at what they do. Some get scaringly close .

I think in terms of non players,When I play lady Madonna or Star Spangled Banner I want them singing along. After I get done I love to hear'' I didn't know you could play that on the banjo''.

Edited by - Tractor1 on 02/17/2020 16:43:53

Feb 17, 2020 - 5:16:46 PM

10517 posts since 6/2/2008

Originally posted by Tractor1

Do you have a sound file by any chance? Tab without a soundfile does little for me and my limited mind.,I have trouble guessing the dynamics.I would love to here your variations.

No, I don't have any sound files, Tom.  I haven't recorded myself very much.

I might write these out in TablEdit, which you can play and hear.

Do notice that I included the beat counts for each of my two-measure tabs. So if you count "1 & 2 & 3 & 4 . . ." etc., you'll know on which count to play each note.

Also: The third alternative I posted is my interpretation of the version played by Peter Schwimmer.  My first two alternatives are just basic Scruggs-style with nothing tricky at all.

Feb 17, 2020 - 5:54:36 PM
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2511 posts since 9/12/2016

Don't table edit on my account. The real deal like you did on Redwing is about what it takes to make me smile.There are many good ones online doing that old shuffle.Here is my 4 memorized parts of it's first cousin ha ha


Feb 18, 2020 - 3:54:15 AM
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2830 posts since 10/17/2009

Originally posted by Im banjobruce

Ok , this has puzzled me for quite awhile now. The expectation seems to be that banjo players memorize every tune they play, yet pianist , violinists, wind instruments and even guitarists get to play by reading music ! What is the rational behind this dichotomy ?

There are no rules about such things. I don't see any dichotomy of instruments, but there exists different mindsets about playing music... slightly different goals about playing music.

The musicians you mention are might be more classical technicians; goal is focused to execute "as written" instruction, true to the composer. Note that top concert soloists typically perform without.

In other, like more folk world musicians, including  guitar, piano, fiddlers and wind instruments;  most often learn and play by ear; and getting to "know" the tune. (not just memorize) Notation is simply not generally needed. Unlike classical musicians, their goal isn't simply to execute "as written" - but to bring themselves into the music, interpret and adapt the material to their own way, in the moment., and/or who they are playing with; focusing on "listening" to music, and giving it personal meaning. Staring at note by note instructions, (or just trying to execute from note by note memory), often gets in the way, noticeably lacks or falls short of all that other focus.

In a similar way that often when people read from scripts vs if they are telling a story or joke the know by heart, that has personal meaning to them.

So it's a bit about your goal of playing. Some people satisfaction is simply to execute the notes, "as written".   It's your banjo... can do what ever you want.

Edited by - banjoak on 02/18/2020 04:07:54

Feb 18, 2020 - 8:48:41 AM
Players Union Member



1 posts since 10/2/2015

I stared learning the banjo 5 years ago with a great teacher that taught me to read Tablature. Last year I took up the tenor banjo playing Celtic (GDAE tuning) and learned to read sheet music (such as for piano playing). My point is that if I forget the fingering, I can always look it up in my books and play it again. Learning to read music is worth the time.

Feb 18, 2020 - 9:25:53 AM

2511 posts since 9/12/2016

I think sight reading melodic style banjo would require a much better mind than mine. The left hand placement moves too quick.Of course there are probably those that do.

Looks like you got yourself some likes there where you requoted me. Ira and I ran this kinda topic once before.He is a great player.I wish they didn't have those damn likes sometimes ,

I  get tired of the'' either or'' . Not   improvising is mentioned as'' still not there ''by folks selling lessons. I always feel a need to say ,I think either way has endless potential

Edited by - Tractor1 on 02/18/2020 09:42:12

Feb 18, 2020 - 10:10:33 AM

2511 posts since 9/12/2016

the second sentence above got away before I noticed it was not directed at Ken. I am an even worse ''typer''

Feb 18, 2020 - 12:46:33 PM

10517 posts since 6/2/2008

Originally posted by Tractor1

Don't table edit on my account. The real deal like you did on Redwing is about what it takes to make me smile.There are many good ones online doing that old shuffle.Here is my 4 memorized parts of it's first cousin ha ha

Thank you so much, Tom.

You have some tasty rolls in your Cherokee Shuffle "cousin" and a nice rendering of melody in Lady Madonna.

Tabbing a few lines in TablEdit is probably more convenient for me than recording.  Maybe tomorrow.

Feb 19, 2020 - 3:34:46 PM

71231 posts since 5/9/2007

When I learn from tab or learn a strict melody I then use my ears to color it and "make it mine".

Feb 19, 2020 - 3:51:13 PM

2511 posts since 9/12/2016

I have certain arrangements I really like ,that I got from Craig Duncan's fiddle book.Some others in the book I really didn't sync with

Feb 20, 2020 - 8:41:12 AM
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71231 posts since 5/9/2007

I don't hesitate to alter a tab to fit my ear and hands.

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