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Is Memorizing Song Worth the Time and Effort?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by Sean150, Oct 12, 2020.

  1. Sean150


    Jul 18, 2018
    I have been playing for a couple of years now and I am having trouble figuring out how much time and effort I should be putting into memorizing songs.

    When I started out I memorized a whole bunch of songs (50ish); however my goal is to become better at improvising and composing more than playing in a cover band. As I spend more time practising fretboard memorization and rhythm exercises I am finding it difficult to find the time to learn new songs and maintain the memorization of the ones I know. I find this especially tough because I am now focusing on figuring out how a bass line is constructed vs. Memorizing Tab.

    So my main question is if there is a benefit to memorizing and maintaining a large number of songs if one isn’t playing them live?
  2. Seashore


    Jun 2, 2019
    Stay sharp on what you care about. You can always brush up on previously learned material if it's called for, it's a bit like riding a bike IME. Don't burn yourself out or sacrifice your other musical goals just to keep songs under your fingers.
    Atshen, eriky4003 and Sean150 like this.
  3. Learn to recognize the intervals of what you're hearing, and where those intervals are on the fingerboard. Then you don't need to memorize particular songs, as you'll be able to hear where they are going.
    Sean150, fearceol and MCF like this.
  4. BAG


    May 5, 2014
    New Zealand
    I have difficulty recognising the sound of different intervals and early this year I started making cheat-charts of songs that, for whatever reason, I can't recall easily. What prompted me to do so was that my new band does quite a few songs that I did in my last band but in very different keys. I found it easier to refer to basic charts with scale degree rather than the chord names and doing this has helped me hear progressions, and in turn intervals, much better.

    Initially I tried using roman numerals but they aren't as easy to read at a glance on a tablet so now I just use numbers with a little m for minors.
    For instance, "Your Sweet Lovin" by Sweet Appalachia looks like this for me......
    1___5___1 4___1 5
    (Ignore the underscoring.... I had to add that to keep the numbers apart as this site seems to like removing more than one space)
    Now all I need is a quick glance and I'm (usually) good to go in any key. Not only am I now hearing progressions better but the added bonus is that the songs I've charted now seem to stay in my head better too.
    Sean150, byacey and Malcolm35 like this.
  5. Malcolm35


    Aug 7, 2018
    Good question. IMO NO. I always played from fake chord sheet music. Why? That was what the band directors handed out. We all played from the same sheet of Fake Chord sheet music. That way we all were together. I am/was a hobby bassists so I did get to take my music stand on stage. All of the band members played from a music stand... Relax, until they start paying you money you can have a music stand on stage.

    One band was old time Country and here I followed the chords finding my root note on the first 5 frets of the neck and if I needed to go beyond just pounding roots I then relied upon the major scale box and added chord tones, i.e. R-3-5-b7 if the fake chord was showing a dominant seven chord. If a minor 7 chord was active it's spelling would be R-b3-5-b7. So following the chords and play notes of the active chord was what I did.

    How many notes of the chord is dictated by the song and my/your skill level... Roots and a 5 will play a lot of bass.

    Now to do this you need to know how to read fake chord sheet music, know where the notes are in the first five frets of your neck, know the spelling for the chords you will be running up on, (R-3-5-7) so you can do something beyond pound roots, know where all those 3's and 7's are, and the major scale box pattern will come in handy. Then there is that rhythm thing you and the drummer lay down for the groove everyone else will follow.

    Another band was Praise music and here I used Nashville Number sheet music. Praise is 99% roots to the beat so Nashville Numbers fit very well with Praise music. Do a Google. video, chas williams, nashville numbers - Bing video

    So to your question I did not memorize, but, I played from fake chord, or Nashville number sheet music. To do that I had to learn the things I touched on above. I saved all my music in a binder and when the song list we were going to use for this performance was given I pulled what was needed. Lot of the guys now use an electronic gig book and take that on stage.

    Good luck.
    Last edited: Oct 12, 2020
    mikewalker and Sean150 like this.
  6. fearceol


    Nov 14, 2006
    When I saw the title of the thread I assumed that by "memorising" a song you meant learning it by ear. Not so...according to the above quote.

    In my opinion any time spent learning songs by ear without tab using trial and error definitely IS worth the time and effort and will greatly supplement any other learning.
    mikewalker, Sean150 and Lobster11 like this.
  7. Lobster11

    Lobster11 Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Apr 22, 2006
    Williamsburg, VA
    I don't see any benefit of memorizing songs unless you're playing them on stage and not wanting to (or being allowed to) use cheat sheets. Your time will be much better spent working on the things you've been working on. Once you learn "how a bassline is constructed," as you put it, you'll be able to remember and/or reconstruct lines that you haven't committed entirely to memory -- and also be able to improvise around them when desired.
    Sean150 likes this.
  8. Sean150


    Jul 18, 2018
    Thanks everyone for your responses. It really helps to receive feedback from other people that I am moving in the right direction; especially being self taught.

    A few of you mentioned learning by ear. I have done this with a few licks but haven’t put a lot of time into it yet. Are there any good tips for getting the most out of this?
  9. Lobster11

    Lobster11 Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Apr 22, 2006
    Williamsburg, VA
    One useful (and fun) way to work on learning by ear is to sit down with your bass and try to figure out the melody to simple songs that are etched in your memory, such as children's songs, TV show themes, and Christmas carols. These kinds of melodies are great because you can hear them in your head -- you don't need to listen to a recording -- and it will be obvious when you're right and when you're wrong. At first this can be a slow slog, trying to pick out one note at a time, but with practice (like most things) it gets easier over time.
    Sean150 and mikewalker like this.
  10. two fingers

    two fingers Opinionated blowhard. But not mad about it. Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 7, 2005
    Eastern NC USA
    If composition/collaboration is your main goal, memorizing others' songs won't be a great use of your time.

    However, I would still squeeze in time to LEARN some covers (even if you don't memorize them). You'll pick up some things that will serve you well as you find your own voice.
    Sean150 and eriky4003 like this.
  11. JRA

    JRA my words = opinion Supporting Member

    :D if your memory even works for you in that way --- mine doesn't! the tunes i'm likely to remember (instant recall) are tunes that i've played hundreds/thousands of times in live playdowns (e.g., real book tunes). best memory tool = playing the tunes night after night!

    memorizing tunes is a good test of your memory skills (maybe) but doesn't have many advantages for you re: the concepts you need to learn that could actually help you play the instrument better.

    i voted "no." good luck with the important stuff! :thumbsup:
    Lobster11 likes this.
  12. fearceol


    Nov 14, 2006
    Pick easy songs and play along, stopping and starting the song as required. Blues even if you are not a fan, is a great genre for this. Yes, it sounds like...and is.. hard work. I started playing bass back in the Jurassic period, :D before tab and the internet came to be. Ironically, I am eternally grateful, for it forced me to work songs out by ear. As a result I seldom, if ever, have to resort to chord sheets or tab when learning a song for a covers band. In my opinion, this skill is one of the most beneficial ones to work on. As @Lobster11 says, it is hard at first but with practice gets easier. Time well spent.
    Lobster11 likes this.
  13. RickyT


    May 29, 2015
    Dee Why
    I don't think you should "memorize tabs" as you put it. But I think learning songs, riffs or licks from your favourite players is important. It's how you learn to write, how you learn to improvise....by stealing a little from everyone you listen to ;)
    And I find it fun to sit down and play through an album of my favourite tunes.
    Sean150 likes this.
  14. mambo4


    Jun 9, 2006
    Don't think of learning songs as an exercise in memorizing for performance, think of it as vocabulary building. Spend as much effort learning the chord progressions, analyzing how the bass line relates to the chords and the key, and figuring out how to transpose to a few other keys. This converts a song you have simply memorized into a set of tools in your toolbox.
    Sean150, RBrownBass and Lobster11 like this.
  15. eliascalles

    eliascalles Supporting Member

    Sep 12, 2013
    Yes. If any activity involves your brain, music, and your instrument in your hands then there is a benefit. But like all things there is a cost. Only you can speak to it's value.

    memorizing songs can be helpful beyond any immediate need to play those songs from memory. The more songs you internalize the more your understanding of progressions, substitutions, harmony, melody etc improves. The more time you spend with your instrument in hand the more comfortable you get. That said, if you have time constraints and memorizing songs is preventing you from practicing other, more immediately useful things then it might not be something you want to spend too much time on.

    sorry that wasn't really a very helpful answer, but really it's on you to judge the value as only you know what your priorities are. cheers!
    mikewalker likes this.
  16. BAG


    May 5, 2014
    New Zealand
    For me, this doesn't necessarily work. I have to keep playing songs to remember them. Some songs I've played hundreds of times, but then not played for a year, will find me approaching the bridge and wondering where the hell it goes. Sometimes the muscle memory bails me out, other times I'm lost. Since I've been charting songs I've gotten better at recognising where the song will go..... but having a chart on my tablet to glance at helps enormously. It certainly works much better, for me, than looking at chord names.

    This was particularly noticable the other night. For over 5 years I gigged a trio with my two daughters. Our last gig was over 12 months ago and we've hardly played any of those songs since then. She come into the studio the other night and sat down to play a few songs with me. We'll..... there was a couple that we had to stop and check the chord progression because for the life of me I could not recall the bridge. o_O
    JRA likes this.
  17. QweziRider

    QweziRider Supporting Member

    Sep 15, 2008
    Northern Nevada, U.S.
    Using my wife (an oboe and English horn player) as an example, I would say not really. If you're playing the same sets 100+ times per year, yes, it's a good thing to do and will happen naturally. But if you do a song and move on to something else and don't play much live, then no, I don't see the benefit. She's been doing just fine that way as an orchestral player for 30+ years - play it and move on.
    Sean150 likes this.
  18. JRA

    JRA my words = opinion Supporting Member

    ;) same with me --- i sure wasn't trying to imply that i never forget stuff! :D
  19. buldog5151bass

    buldog5151bass Kibble, milkbones, and P Basses. And redheads.

    Oct 22, 2003
    Memorizing, no, but it's always good to learn as many songs as possible. It's fun, it develops your ear, and it gives you ideas, even I you never perform them with a band
    RBrownBass likes this.
  20. Mili


    Nov 14, 2015
    No, I think memorizing tabs and notes is useless.
    The important thing is learning the form,progressions, riffs, runs....in a analytical way. You should find what's going on and learn those key elements.
    Actually I'm doing that for one of RHCP Albums.
    Good luck.
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