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Sep 4, 2021 - 9:13:13 AM
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73 posts since 6/16/2007
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I was ‘noodling’ around last night trying some transition licks and out popped a familiar melody - I realised it was the first few notes of ‘Little Darlin’ Pal of Mine’ - so I carried on and managed to figure out large chunks of the tune (not just the melody) from memory. I then realised it is in the Scruggs book so had a quick look and realised I hadn’t missed much of the tune and the missing parts were easy to add.

I have never played the tune before and it must be over 12 months since I last listened to ‘Foggy Mountain Banjo’ so I had managed to figure out a large part of a tune that I had not heard for a long time purely from memory after stumbling across the first part of the melody.

Has anyone else ever managed to do something similar from memory and not by listening to the tune?

Sep 4, 2021 - 10:42:14 AM
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Texasbanjo (Moderator)

USA

26391 posts since 8/3/2003

I do that sometimes. If I see the title of a song that I've heard and want to pick and sing, I look up the lyrics and figure out the chords and then see if I can play the melody, with or without all the frills.

I've heard a song on a CD that I like and will listen to it a few times, and do the same as above: listen, write lyrics, figure out chord sequence and melody. I have a pretty good repertoire of musical phrases (as opposed to licks) that will fit many melodies, so it is fairly easy to plug in the appropriate phrase for the appropriate melody notes.

The more you do that, the easier it gets. I can usually do the above at a jam and by the time I get the nod, I've got at least a simple break ready to play.

Sep 4, 2021 - 11:08 AM

73 posts since 6/16/2007
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quote:
Originally posted by Texasbanjo

I do that sometimes. If I see the title of a song that I've heard and want to pick and sing, I look up the lyrics and figure out the chords and then see if I can play the melody, with or without all the frills.

I've heard a song on a CD that I like and will listen to it a few times, and do the same as above: listen, write lyrics, figure out chord sequence and melody. I have a pretty good repertoire of musical phrases (as opposed to licks) that will fit many melodies, so it is fairly easy to plug in the appropriate phrase for the appropriate melody notes.

The more you do that, the easier it gets. I can usually do the above at a jam and by the time I get the nod, I've got at least a simple break ready to play.


I didn't even look up the chords or anything until later - after I had stumbled on part of the melody most of the tune just fell out of my fingers: I have heard the tune countless times, just not recently - it was only when I looked in the Scruggs Book later that I realised I had come up with very similar, and in some cases, identical phrases that were in the book ( and on the record) , which amazed me. I can pick out melodies easily (years of playing guitar and figuring things out by ear on the guitar) and make up my own simple breaks, but a whole tune, just like that, close to the recording, is a first for me.

Sep 4, 2021 - 11:22:15 AM
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29 posts since 12/2/2020

quote:
Originally posted by stevepearson

I was ‘noodling’ around last night trying some transition licks and out popped a familiar melody - I realised it was the first few notes of ‘Little Darlin’ Pal of Mine’ - so I carried on and managed to figure out large chunks of the tune (not just the melody) from memory. I then realised it is in the Scruggs book so had a quick look and realised I hadn’t missed much of the tune and the missing parts were easy to add.

I have never played the tune before and it must be over 12 months since I last listened to ‘Foggy Mountain Banjo’ so I had managed to figure out a large part of a tune that I had not heard for a long time purely from memory after stumbling across the first part of the melody.

Has anyone else ever managed to do something similar from memory and not by listening to the tune?


yes

 

when i was playing guitar full time, normally as quick as i heard a song in the style i played i could play it already, a 3 minute song only took 3 minutes to learn, as you hear it you know it where parts are and a very familiar chord movement. i could also think back to songs i havent heard in years and would recreate

 

with banjo i assume its because im still so far away from a high level. but i have noodled after hearing a portion of a song then got the rest. i heard the opening portion of alfred hitchcocks opening song wich is that funeral march of a marionette the other night, i muted it after the first note or two and grabbed my banjo, from remembering the song how it went before i figured the rest out in just a moment, which by the way, happens to work out really well on the banjo actually. 

 

when i was learning, playing every day, studying, playing with others 5+ hours a day after maybe a year of that i would sometimes hear something in my head i heard before late at night or even waking up in the middle of the night, i would get up and quickly work it out thinking it was such a strong melody, normally when i do figure it out its a very simple thing to play but in my mind it was something fantastical, perhaps it was the simplicity that made it so strong in my head and natural to play

i really lost a lot of that, i don't know if its my age and the changes on the mind of getting older where i lost that, creating and hyper learning, or instrument familiarity, or perhaps even some form of mental illness im past. perhaps if i kept that routine it would still work like that for me, or if i had started younger and it was more ingrained. or some part of my brain isn't active perhaps a lot of musical composure and virtuoso's have a switch turned on thru out their life i had only started to occasionally budge.

 

i say all that to say this........

 

doggone banjo fun, sometimes it easier then other times

Sep 4, 2021 - 11:31:28 AM

73 posts since 6/16/2007
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quote:
Originally posted by 5thstring_retainer
quote:
Originally posted by stevepearson

I was ‘noodling’ around last night trying some transition licks and out popped a familiar melody - I realised it was the first few notes of ‘Little Darlin’ Pal of Mine’ - so I carried on and managed to figure out large chunks of the tune (not just the melody) from memory. I then realised it is in the Scruggs book so had a quick look and realised I hadn’t missed much of the tune and the missing parts were easy to add.

I have never played the tune before and it must be over 12 months since I last listened to ‘Foggy Mountain Banjo’ so I had managed to figure out a large part of a tune that I had not heard for a long time purely from memory after stumbling across the first part of the melody.

Has anyone else ever managed to do something similar from memory and not by listening to the tune?


yes

 

when i was playing guitar full time, normally as quick as i heard a song in the style i played i could play it already, a 3 minute song only took 3 minutes to learn, as you hear it you know it where parts are and a very familiar chord movement. i could also think back to songs i havent heard in years and would recreate

 

with banjo i assume its because im still so far away from a high level. but i have noodled after hearing a portion of a song then got the rest. i heard the opening portion of alfred hitchcocks opening song wich is that funeral march of a marionette the other night, i muted it after the first note or two and grabbed my banjo, from remembering the song how it went before i figured the rest out in just a moment, which by the way, happens to work out really well on the banjo actually. 

 

when i was learning, playing every day, studying, playing with others 5+ hours a day after maybe a year of that i would sometimes hear something in my head i heard before late at night or even waking up in the middle of the night, i would get up and quickly work it out thinking it was such a strong melody, normally when i do figure it out its a very simple thing to play but in my mind it was something fantastical, perhaps it was the simplicity that made it so strong in my head and natural to play

i really lost a lot of that, i don't know if its my age and the changes on the mind of getting older where i lost that, creating and hyper learning, or instrument familiarity, or perhaps even some form of mental illness im past. perhaps if i kept that routine it would still work like that for me, or if i had started younger and it was more ingrained. or some part of my brain isn't active perhaps a lot of musical composure and virtuoso's have a switch turned on thru out their life i had only started to occasionally budge.

 

i say all that to say this........

 

doggone banjo fun, sometimes it easier then other times

I have similar experiences on guitar - more than once I have heard something on the radio in the car and picked up a guitar and played it when I got home, but the banjo is different..... I'm getting there.....

Sep 4, 2021 - 12:37:50 PM
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2639 posts since 4/5/2006

It has been my experience that there comes a time when one is able to pull a break seemingly out of nowhere, simply from recall. To accomplish that requires listening to a lot of BG music, but the more you listen, the easier it becomes. Although perhaps not a spectacular break, first time out of the box, it can always be refined at a later date.

Sep 4, 2021 - 12:38:02 PM
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Players Union Member

janolov

Sweden

41207 posts since 3/7/2006

I bought my first banjo in 1966, but was not very successful in learning. I played some simple strumming, basic strum and simple three-finger rolls for a long time. During the first years of the 1980''s I hade time to focus more on the banjo. Then I met my wife and I took a break from banjo during more than 20 years. At that time I could play a handful of tunes rather good. 20 years later i took the banjo from the wall and tuned it up, and I remembered all these ten tunes without problem. I didn't need to look at old tabs, and I remembered them in my muscle memory. The only problem was that there took some time to softening up all joints in the fingers and hand to play smoothly.

Sep 4, 2021 - 12:58:25 PM
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12268 posts since 6/2/2008

quote:
Originally posted by stevepearson

Has anyone else ever managed to do something similar from memory and not by listening to the tune?


Sure. It's what having an ear and playing by ear is all about.

But I'd qualify that a bit. While I think it's common and no big deal to be able to play something that works as a version of a song one may have heard a while back and maybe never actually learned, practiced or played, I suppose it's less common to play from that type of deep memory a banjo solo that closely matches something an artist may have recorded and the player may not have paid close attention to.

On the other hand . . . you're talking about a Scruggs solo. And while I'm not denying the greatness of Earl Scruggs, part of his greatness is his creation of banjo vocabulary. It is no criticism, but simple fact, that Scruggs repeats a lot phrases or licks, especially in solos where he's rendering melody of very similar three-chord vocal songs. (Someone got seriously flamed in a Hangout discussion many years ago for making the same point, but in a much more critical and denigrating manner.)

So maybe it's not so surprising that an experienced player would, without intention, come up with a solo that hits some of the same licks and phrases as they heard Earl do. 

If you're relatively new to banjo, then it is a big deal. You've internalized the modular-reusable nature of banjo vocabulary and can assemble the pieces into something that a more accomplished banjo player would actually play.

Congratulations.

Sep 4, 2021 - 1:44:10 PM
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4359 posts since 12/6/2009

Ken explains it perfectly. experience gained by amount of time involved should allow for a multitude of improvising to the point where it can almost be a natural reflex. The beauty of playing by ear is the ability to hear anything and picking up your instrument and replicate what you hear. Bluegrass, country,  and a lot of folk etc is basic and lets you create. The old saying; "three chords up and down the neck"....... will play 99 percent of what you hear with our music BG.

Edited by - overhere on 09/04/2021 13:46:33

Sep 4, 2021 - 2:02:39 PM

73 posts since 6/16/2007
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quote:
Originally posted by Old Hickory
quote:
Originally posted by stevepearson

Has anyone else ever managed to do something similar from memory and not by listening to the tune?


Sure. It's what having an ear and playing by ear is all about.

But I'd qualify that a bit. While I think it's common and no big deal to be able to play something that works as a version of a song one may have heard a while back and maybe never actually learned, practiced or played, I suppose it's less common to play from that type of deep memory a banjo solo that closely matches something an artist may have recorded and the player may not have paid close attention to.

On the other hand . . . you're talking about a Scruggs solo. And while I'm not denying the greatness of Earl Scruggs, part of his greatness is his creation of banjo vocabulary. It is no criticism, but simple fact, that Scruggs repeats a lot phrases or licks, especially in solos where he's rendering melody of very similar three-chord vocal songs. (Someone got seriously flamed in a Hangout discussion many years ago for making the same point, but in a much more critical and denigrating manner.)

So maybe it's not so surprising that an experienced player would, without intention, come up with a solo that hits some of the same licks and phrases as they heard Earl do. 

If you're relatively new to banjo, then it is a big deal. You've internalized the modular-reusable nature of banjo vocabulary and can assemble the pieces into something that a more accomplished banjo player would actually play.

Congratulations.


I'm not actually 'relatively new' - I just haven't played/ studied a lot until relatively recently. I got my first banjo about 30 years ago and being unemployed at the time was able to practice all day every day - I managed to wear the tips down about one eighth of an in on a pair of Dunlop picks! This was practicing roll patterns and simple tunes from the Hal Leonard book 1 over and over and then I moved on to the Pete Wernick book - all in all this first period lasted about 12 months then I got married, had children and sold the banjo (which I've always regretted). Started again about 15 years ago for a very short time then nothing until about two years ago so I probably have, in real terms about 3 or so years. I had realised the modular nature and am familiar with, and can play a lot of the common Scruggs licks with little thought, but still surprised myself with coming up with nearly a whole tune by being familiar with it just by listening- any breaks I have come up with so far have been fairly simple and refined over time by changing licks. I think all those years of guitar by ear have helped my banjo playing.

Sep 4, 2021 - 2:06:26 PM

808 posts since 10/4/2018

Yes, I have done this many times. I also find it pretty easy to play melodies that aren't part of the Bluegrass catalog that work pretty well while I am noodling away.

Sep 4, 2021 - 2:55:53 PM
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12268 posts since 6/2/2008

quote:
Originally posted by stevepearson
I'm not actually 'relatively new' - I just haven't played/ studied a lot until relatively recently. I got my first banjo about 30 years ago  . . .

In that case, it's coming back to you, despite your long layoff and on-again-off again approach.

I experienced the same thing after a 20-year layoff from 1987 to 2007.  I'd been playing for 15 years when my 80s bluegrass band broke up and I entered a period of playing only 2 or 3 times a year, mainly with non-bluegrassers.  Resumed in 2007 when my bandmates in an acoustic-electric band wanted me to play banjo on some Celtic material for St. Patrick's day at a pub where we had a regular gig. The band is no more, but I've been re-focused on banjo now for 14 years. Even played in a band from 2010-13.

All my banjo vocabulary came back. I still have the ability to work out pieces by slowing them down.  I've actually learned more and can play more advanced material than I could before. What I've gained in that regard, my 70-year-old hands have lost in speed.  Can't have everything.

Sep 4, 2021 - 6:50:44 PM
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12268 posts since 6/2/2008

quote:
Originally posted by janolov

. . . I took a break from banjo during more than 20 years. At that time I could play a handful of tunes rather good. 20 years later i took the banjo from the wall and tuned it up, and I remembered all these ten tunes without problem. . . . The only problem was that there took some time to softening up all joints in the fingers and hand to play smoothly.


Wow. When you posted this, I was offline composing my wordy message -- posted 20 minutes after yours -- that says the same things:  20-year layoff, the music memory came back, but my hands can't pick as fast.

I wasn't copying you! I promise!

Edited by - Old Hickory on 09/04/2021 19:05:16

Sep 5, 2021 - 7:46:53 PM
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3901 posts since 3/28/2008

Back in 1984 (?) I came up with an up-the neck melodic arrangement of "Temperance Reel". It was pretty much EXACTLY the way I've heard most people play it since. The thing is, I had no idea where or when I'd heard the tune, why it popped into my head, or what it was called. (IIRC, I asked Barry Mitterhof between sets at a performance of Tony Trischka and Skyline in NYC a short time later, and he enlightened me.) I remain puzzled by the experience to this day.

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