Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Memorizing Lesson

I was wondering if anyone had a great technique for and old man like me to memorize new songs.
I don’t know what the norm is for memorizing but, I seem to take months on a simple song and feel like this is just way to long. There has got to be a better way than what I am doing now - which is repetition. Any help is greatly appreciated!

bite off smaller pieces…a measure or two at a time…when that is memorised, then add the next.


Definitely agree with @fiddle_wood. To build on that recommendation, what helps me is using the .tef files with the free TEF viewer. You can slow things down, and also highlight and loop the areas you’re learning at the moment. For me, it goes something like this.

Speed = 25%
Highlight 1st bar and play it on loop until I know it.
Highlight the 2nd bar and play it on loop until I know it.
Now highlight the 1st and 2nd bars together and play them on loop until I know them.
Highlight the 3rd bar…

I’m sure you see where I’m going with this. Then, once the whole song is in the old noodle, I start speeding up in 5% increments until I’m finally playing at full speed.


I’m old. I agree with @fiddle_wood and @Mark_Rocka Don’t bite off more than you can chew , work on it and go back for the next helping. Before you know it you be done and onto the next cake.

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I think that by training your ear for sounds, learning songs becomes much easier.

  • Try drilling the I IV V chord progression into your mind. Hear how those sounds relate to each other. Train your ear to hear them.

  • You can do the same thing with tones/notes of a chord - hearing the I III and V tones of a chord.

Once you develop your ear for tone patterns, learning songs I think becomes easier. In lots of cases, you can hear how the song goes without even “learning” it, you just hear it and can play it. This is especially true for old time and older bluegrass songs. Some of the newgrass stuff gets kind of chordy, so harder to do for sure.

So all that to say, techniques the others pointed out for sure, but I would layer on some specific exercises to help train your ear to hear arrangements, making them easier to learn.

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For instrumentals only repetition seem to work for me.
For songs, I form an image of what the verses describe and the words come to mind easier then as I play the mini slide show in my minds eye.

1.Blue night I got you on my mind
2.Blue night blue as I can be
3.Blue night cause I’m all alone
4.Blue night all by myself

You might try the method Mr. G presents in his “Counting 4/4” lesson. Seems like a good idea I will try. For me a lot of times it is hard to pick out the melody in the confusion of notes presented in tab. I think playing along with Ben works pretty well too. That has helped my foggy memory.

Hi Mole

This is a common problem when trying to learn banjo from TAB, All your focus is on trying to pick the right strings, making sure your fretting the strings in the correct position and reading the TAB ALL at the same time.

That’s a lot for the brain to process one might think but if you add another element LISTENING to the equation it changes everything. That’s why I would encourage you to use TablEdit or TefVeiw rather than the PDF file, that way you can then listen to the TAB, makes the job of finding the melody that much easier.

As children we learn to read and write using sight and sound. Our parents/teachers would show us a picture and would sound out the syllables. T H E _ C A T _ S A T _ O N _ T H E _ M A T :cat2:

If you are playing banjo then it is a long process but it gets easier and easier.

At first, you really just have to memorize. Try to pick out cues, like ‘that 2-4 slide thing’ or ‘that 2-3 hammer thing’ to help you remember. Especially, try to pick out the bits that you have played in other songs and learn to recognize these similarities.

Like others have said, do bit by bit. I would usually try to start with the first verse. Play as much of it (usually one or two bars) as I could without looking at the tab. Then add bit by bit until I could play the first verse. Then play that over and over and over. Then add the second verse etc.

This is WORK (some may be lucky and can just play the tab it will sinks in but for me, that doesn’t work). This doesn’t take 2 or 3 minutes but an hour or two, NON-STOP. But if you really work at it, you could learn to practice the tune without the tab in maybe two, two hour sessions.

At a certain point, you’ll be able to sing (either out loud or in your head) the parts you play. At this point, you only need to really memorize the tune (like say, you would memorize a Beatles song so that you could sing it in the shower) which is much easier than trying to memorize ‘dots’ (the tabbed out markings).

Importantly, try to think less and less in terms of ‘dots’ or more and more in terms of sounds; think in terms of what sounds your fingers make when they do certain things. Again ‘memorizing’ a Beatles song is easier than say, memorizing a Shakespeare sonnet (for most of us) because one, the Shakespeare, is abstract while the other is more directly relatable (if that makes any sense!!?)

But at the start, it’s just hard WORK.


Thanks to all for the help! You all have given me some great places to start with my memorization of melodies of songs. I do pretty well with the rhythm of songs and can go to jams and do that - play rhythm but, never the melodies.
I will work with all these suggestions!
Also if anyone knows of any jams sessions in Central Florida I would love to hear about them. I think it would be beneficial to play with different folks, although I love the ones I get to jam with now.

Thanks again mipen

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