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Memorizing and where to start

Discussion in 'Jazz Technique [DB]' started by AMUNC, Jan 28, 2013.

  1. AMUNC


    Jan 22, 2012
    Raleigh, NC
    So I've been playing for a couple years and don't have a problem comping or soloing through changes (though that can always use work). My knowledge of tunes however is AWFUL. I've really just never tried to memorize anything. I've now realized that its very important to memorize tunes, also so I don't need a stand at gigs.

    How should I go about starting memorizing tunes? What's a list of good tunes I should start with that are common to the jazz community as a whole?
  2. AMUNC


    Jan 22, 2012
    Raleigh, NC
    Also, how do you guys get out of the walking rut? The few tunes I've tried memorizing, I get into a rut, doing the same walking lines every time.
  3. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    Richmond, CA
    This is my new learning process for tunes:

    1) Find a vocal version of the tune. Write down the lyrics and learn them. If there are no lyrics then learn the melody.
    2) Sing the song to myself and along with the recording so at least I have one chorus of verses down
    3) Take the recording and learn the melody and try not to look at the chart. Only refer to the chart when the singer seems to be singing an ambigous note, keeping in mind how its sung is usually not how it's written. The chart is just a reference, not the bible. Doesn't matter if it's in a different key - I just have to find the right note using it as a reference.
    3) Grab the chart , walk a broken line while singing the lyrics/melody. Listen to how the melody interacts with the bassline and identifying why certain chords make sense with the lyrics.
    4) Do the same as above while walking a line.
    5) Put the bass down, sing the melody/lyrics vocally while singing the bassline in my head
    6) Reverse it, sing the bassline while sing the melody in my head
    7) Pick up the bass, play 5 & 6 with the bass instead of singing things vocally.
    8) Do a combination of 3-7, alternating between playing the melody and playing a walking line at random. Be able to hit the important parts of the melody as needed.
    9) Solo while alternating between walking and playing the melody at will.
    10) Go back to 3-8. Instead of singing the lyrics, sing the proper note but use the words of the roman numeral chord number. Doesn't have to be accurate, just know where you are in the changes vs. the melody. This requires you to analyze the progressions ahead of time to know where you are in the tune.
    11) Just play and solo some more
    12) Change keys, and do the whole thing all over again.

    If I have extra time, then I'll starting doing the exercise Ed writes about here: http://www.talkbass.com/forum/f73/really-learning-tune-304843/

    I'm getting faster at this process and can start getting a strong hold on a tune after just one afternoon session with a tune. By the time I'm done I have a decent grasp on the melody and can play it. If I have spare time during the day (even when I don't have the instrument nearby), I'll keep singing the tune to myself and walk through the changes in my head. Retention is great, esp if I can start recalling older tunes without need of the chart or melody.
  4. All suggestions above are good. Here's what I do: Learn the form (number of bars, how the sections are organized) and learn the sound of the melody before you ever look at the chords. You can do this without a lead sheet, just from the recording. This way you're not using the chords as a way to keep yourself in the form.

    Then after that, memorizing the changes comes down to harmonic knowledge. If you know a lot about how chords generally work in jazz tunes, you can group large groups of chords into smaller pieces of information, making them easier to memorize.

    As far as walking "ruts", that to me is just a sign that you haven't practiced walking enough. There isn't any sage advice here. You just need to spend hours upon hours improvising, writing, transcribing, and analyzing bass lines.
  5. Sam Sherry

    Sam Sherry Inadvertent Microtonalist Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2001
    Portland, ME
    Euphonic Audio "Player"
    I'm going to apologize in advance if this comes across as 'too harsh' but:

    As far as walking "ruts", that to me is just a sign that you aren't listening enough to the people you're playing with. They aren't stuck in your rut. They're playing something different all the time that you're playing the same old shtuff. Odds are you're blocking them out instead of working with them.

    Ed Fuqua said it best when he talked about how you need to 'play with the band on the stand with you instead of playing with the band in your head.'
  6. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    Richmond, CA
    Ruts can be easy to break too. Sometimes all you need is to repeat a few notes to generate some momentum or pedal to create tension in the solo. Something that can allow you to sit back and listen to whats going on so you can respond to it.

    Repetition is your friend.
  7. Don't memorize a tune. Learn a tune. There is a difference.
  8. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
  9. Phil Smith

    Phil Smith Mr Sumisu 2 U

    May 30, 2000
    Peoples Republic of Brooklyn
    Creator of: iGigBook for Android/iOS
    But what about muscle memory?
  10. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    Richmond, CA
    It's overrated.
  11. Phil Smith

    Phil Smith Mr Sumisu 2 U

    May 30, 2000
    Peoples Republic of Brooklyn
    Creator of: iGigBook for Android/iOS
    Until you need to execute something on your instrument.
  12. I'm mainly an unwashed bluegrasser so take anything I say with a grain of salt but that strikes me as an apple/orange thing. I see muscle memory as more about positions and shifting. Playing music is a different thing.
  13. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    Richmond, CA
    Muscle memory does a poor job of helping me hear the guide tone lines through a standard, maybe on the first time I ever played that very tune. It doesn't help me that great with retaining the melody when I have to transpose it through multiple keys, or when someone calls a key that I didn't practice it in. It doesn't help me expand my ears. There's nothing to execute if I don't hear that stuff in my head. A virtual non-starter.

    Mind you, semantics is everything - I didn't say that it's useless, I just said it's overrated. If you learn the tune in your head, know it inside out, it's yours. Muscle memory alone is not enough, esp when the physical sense atrophies cuz you haven't played that tune in 6 months.
  14. Rhythmman535

    Rhythmman535 Supporting Member

    May 9, 2007
    Rochester, NY
    If you can find a jazz jam session you will hear some of the common "standard" tunes because they will be played more frequently including the blues and tunes based on rhythm changes which are a great place to start. Pick one or two that catch your ear and, as mentioned above, learn the melody. The simpler the better. Also learn to play the chords in rhythm on bass even if it's just Root/Tenth Doble stops. Eventually you will be able to hear the chord progressions as you play the melody and you'll be able to hear, or better yet sing, the melody as you play the chord progressions. All of those hours practicing scales and arpeggios will pay off in developing your walking or soloing bass line because you will begin to hear how they can be connected.

    Imagine your Mom showing you how to walk to and from school when you were a child. then you meet some friends and you want to walk and hang out with them even though they take a different route. Eventually you realize that they both get you from point A to point B and you can even stop at the store for some candy without getting lost.

    Once you gain some confidence then buckle down and start transcribing some bass lines. It is the absolute best way to learn but it can be intimidating because it is a tedious task especially when you're first starting out but if you stick with it you'll be surprised how much you will absorbed the vocabulary in the process.
  15. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    What memory do your muscles have that your ear doesn't?
  16. contrabart


    Mar 19, 2010
    Best way to memorize tunes is to not read. Play along with records, don't read. Practice tunes at home, don't read. Practice with bands, don't read. Sit in at jam sessions, don't read. Force yourself to use your ears.
  17. punkjazzben


    Jun 26, 2008
    The best way I've found to memorise tunes is practice, practice, practice... obviously. But, more specifically, one useful way I've discovered for memorising tunes is to distil them down into their most basic harmonic structure. Take a simple Jazz Blues in F as an example:

    F7 |Bb7 |F7 |C-7 F7|
    Bb7 |Bo7 |F7 |A-7 D7|
    G-7 |C7 |F7 D7|G-7 C7||

    Now, break that down to Roman numerals (if you're not sure about this, stop reading and go find out about Roman numerals and chords).

    I7 |IV7 |I7 |V7 I7 |
    IV7 |#IVo7 |I7 |iii7 VI7 |
    ii7 |V7 |I7 VI7|ii7 V7 ||

    1 4 1 5-1
    4 #4 1 3-6
    2 5 1-6 2-5

    Now, this not seem any easier to remember, but it's the little things that count. Instead of trying to remember what the actual chords in the last two bars are, you just remember it ends in a two-bar 1-6-2-5 turnaround. Kind of like a phone number. And the most useful part is that if you know the basic harmonic structure, you can transpose it into any key.

    This is how I managed to memorise Rhythm Changes all those years ago. I always seemed to have difficulty getting starting; once I was going it all came back. So, using this method, I just kept it in the back of my head that Rhythm Changes (generally) starts with 1-6 2-5 3-6 2-5. The whole middle section is just a bigger 3 6 2 5.

    Now, with regard to walking, I would suggest going back to basics.

    I used to do something I called 'sequencing', inspired by the way a lot of horn players seemed to have a catalogue of licks and melodic lines that would reoccur in their solos in different songs - think Charlie Parker.

    Pick a chordal or 'scalular' walking pattern (like 1-3-5-3 or 1-5-1-1/2 into the next 1) and walk over an entire head with only that pattern. Then pick a new pattern and do it again. Get more complicated. Then do alternate bars. Then do cycles of four different patterns over four bars. Then add rhythmic embellishments. And so on. However you experiment with it, the basic building block should be predetermined one- or -two bar walking patterns.

    The idea is that you build up a store of very short but very solid walking lines that you can draw on, combine, and alter on the go. At the very least, it means you can have a whole lot of 'safe' lines for when your feeling unsure about what to do over changes.

    My 0.00002c.


    This site has a good list of some pretty ubiquitous jazz standards, plus the changes for them in a couple of keys - http://www.learnjazzstandards.com/index-of-jazz-standards/index-of-jazz-standards/

    Some that I would get started on straight away:

    Jazz Blues in at least F, Bb, and G (covers a lot, like Billie's Bounce and Now's The Time for the most obvious examples)
    Rhythm Changes (which is the basis for a truckload of other tunes - Anthropology, Cotton Tail, Dexterity, Oleo, and on and on and on)
    Autumn Leaves
    All The Things You Are
    Blue Bossa
  18. +1

    Also, thinking of the chord relationships will help when transposing into new keys. It's much easier to think of a ii-V in F than knowing a tune in Eb and transposing the ii-V up a step.
  19. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    Richmond, CA
    Roman numerals are great for transposing and getting to know a tune - a part of the path to learning it. Still, the melody is indispensible. I'm getting to the point where I'm starting to be able to just hear changes against the melody, as if it's an alternate melody and just play accordingly. Ideally to the point where I can stop having to remember the Roman numerals and just play in a way where everything falls together naturally.

    There's no way I'm going to remember all the roman numeral relationships for 50 songs after learning them and not playing them much after a year. Learn the melodies, the lyrics, how the tune flows regardless of key, and retention is far better.

    I'd be real careful of sequencing. Do it too much and you sound very mechanical. Improvisation is more than just stringing a bunch of licks together. I did this too and after a while, every time I played a Rhythm changes tune, I'd sound the same. Same ol motifs and licks chorus after chorus. I dont like it when my solo for Steeplechase sounds just like the one I play for Oleo or Anthropology. Especially when half my licks is just what falls under my fingers (read: noodling) and not what I really hear in my head. I like my notes to respond to my environment and my band mates, hopefully most of the time not something I worked through in the 'shed and decided to apply it during performance.
  20. punkjazzben


    Jun 26, 2008
    You're right with regard to sequencing in solos, although that's not to say the technique can't be used to great effect. John Coltrane was a master. But while walking, I actually think a small amount of repetition can be if great benefit to the rest if the band. For example, even if the rest is improvised, throwing in the same line at the end of each head can sometimes be useful.