Forum - Banjo Ben Clark


So…I have learned tons of new songs from this site and love the arrangements, but I’m having a lot of trouble memorizing them. I’m totally dependent on the tab. I’ve played them over and over and over, but don’t seem to be getting any closer to memorizing them. Suggestions???

Break it up into smaller parts and learn to remember one part (measure) at a time.

Try playing a measure or two at a time over and over until you have just that small part memorized (not looking at tab) and then move to the next measure.

Breaking it up in smaller pieces is indeed the way to go.

Additionally I would recommend for the future to start memorizing it in this way as from day 1 you start practicing a tune and not wait until you can play the song. I did not do this for one tune I was learning (Big Mon, 3 months ago…) because I focussed on being able to play it first and now I still don’t memorize the B-part, so 1) I knew I should have memorized it and feel stupid that I did not do it because it takes so much more time now, and 2) now that I am able to play it as fast as 220bpm, I am not not able to read at this speed so i feel i am holding myself back on progressing further with this tune (although I am proud of 220 as well!!). In the meantime I have actually learned two more songs and memorize these without any problem, and these were more complex tunes so I have 0 excuse…

The good thing about memorizing is, that you start recognizing licks in each tune, which makes it then easier to memorize a new song that uses the same lick(s). So hang in there, it gets easier over time!!

This might not be terribly helpful but this is what I do.

To learn a song, as others have said, work on it measure by measure but try to associate what you’re doing, not with some abstract numbers on a stave but with musical sounds.

So when you do a 1-4-5 forward roll, you’re not thinking of it in those terms but you’re hearing the sound it should make and then you make it. You CAN be thinking “forward roll here, 1-4-5” but at the same time you should also be hearing the sounds that come with that movement. Eventually it all starts to get mixed up so the you can think the abstract but hear in your head the sounds. Sing the tune in your head and play it as you go along.

So for instance, with beginning of John Henry I go:
Intro: I hear the four note intro and I play it. There are quite a few tunes that start like this so I hear the four notes and I play them.

Then there are the first notes of the melody. I know this is based on a C chord so I use that position. I know there is an E in there so I play that. But at the same time I hear the melody and my fingers just play it.

Then there’s a C(?) lick where you play on the 2nd string. I’ve played this a thousand times now so while I do think ‘lick with the 2nd fret 2nd string’, it’s become almost automatic. So I hear the lick and I play it.

But I don’t think in terms of those numbers on lines. I usually spend one or two days learning the tab (mostly just a day now, after 10 months of playing) and then throw it away. I use .tef a lot, as much as the tab sometimes, so that I can associate the movement of my fingers with sounds, so that the movement of my fingers makes ‘sense’. Sometimes I’ll refer back to the tab after a few days if I get stuck on some phrasing, where I hear the tune but can’t find it with my fingers.

So as I read this, I don’t know how much sense it makes. It makes sense when I play though.

So I was just working on Under the Double Eagle today and I was noticing how I memorized the song.

I don’t do it measure by measure but more verse by verse and then chorus by chorus. This makes more sense as I find it easier to memorize a complete musical idea.

I do use a lot of little ‘tricks’ to help remember things so for the first verse of this song:
There’s the intro
And then there’s a figure much like the intro to Blackberry Blossom or Black Mountain Rag but instead of going down to the fifth string, you reverse back up and then do a hammer on.
The the same thing one string over.
Then there’s a bit of the melody
Followed by 2-4 lick but with a B flat and C thrown in
Then a melody note with an open 5-1 fill
more of the melody notes
Then a G lick
And that’s the first verse.

Second verse (as is often the case with these tunes) is almost like the first so it’s easy. Then there’s the chorus…

Now, like most everything with the banjo, memorizing is hard work. It’s slow and you have to go over and over the same thing repeatedly but in the end, patience will pay off.

I agree that understanding the structure of a song makes memorization a lot easier, bluenote. When you see how fiddle tunes are structured you can see how ideas are repeated with only slight variations.

When I was a child taking piano lessons I had to memorize sheet after sheet of page music. I would set aside a day… drink lots of soda… and go measure by measure then line by line repetitiously until I had it down pat.


Soda(ie Caffeine!)
Measure by Measure.

Disclaimer: Soda is terrible for you.

— Begin quote from "hollyelee"

Disclaimer: Soda is terrible for you.

— End quote

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