Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Memorizing Tunes

I’m curious to hear some ideas on learning how to memorize tunes that I’ve learned from tab. Someone recently told me I shouldn’t be using tabs at all but I think that’s how I learn best plus hearing how a tune goes. (He also told me I should play with my eyes closed which is fine for tunes I do have memorized! Still tricky tho.)

I do have 8-10 tunes memorized and I’ve been playing for one year. Learning a new tune takes a fraction of the time now but memorizing it doesn’t come as fast as I’d like it. Would love to hear your experiences. Thanks!

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I try and do in phrases. Take up a few measures at a time and repeat lots of times. Then move on.

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I’ve been playing over three years now.

Here are a few ‘tricks’ I have used to help memorize a tune.

Try to identify the parts that repeat or are similar. Ben always points these out ‘…now this part, you’ve already seen before in measures…’ so try to catch them as you are going through the tab.

Try to use licks and phrases that you’ve played over and over (like a G lick or a 3-2 pulloff or that 2-4 open first thing) and use these as anchor points for your memorizing.

Try to identify simple rolls over chords that you know.

Really though, as you learn more tunes and gather more technique, the most important is to be able to ‘sing’ the tune in your head. Eventually you’ll get to a point where you hear in your head what you’re supposed to play and your hands will (well, at least more or less) play it.

As you have already found, it does get easier and easier. Keep at it and practice all you can!

Having spent over 25 years as an educator … my experiences tells me that we all learn in different ways. With music it should be the same. I never attempted an Economics lecture from memory … I always had notes in outline format to be certain to explain ideas, concepts and principles. The thing about most of the songs in the bluegrass genre is that they are absolute and unchanging.

To learn a new song I lean heavily on tabs, lyrics and chords … it might take me several dozens of iterations before I can play through the entire song without sneaking a peek at some part. Many a time I’ll be playing one song and because the melody is so similar I’ll unconsciously segue into another song. How about Worried Man Blues and Mountain Dew … almost the same of everything.

Isn’t it fun though?