Saturday, December 8, 2007

Practicing and Memorizing Tunes..Listen,Listen First

I recently came across this article on practicing and memorizing tunes..I feel it has a lot to say on the subject of learning a song and also suggest more than one way to approach learning songs.And,to me,the most important thing mentioned is...listen,listen and listen FIRST,before attempting to learn a song!So many newer students do not realize the importance of listening first before attempting to learn a tune.The highlights of this article are...(1)Listen a lot first (2)Listen to several versions of the tune (3)From the melody,get the chord changes (4)Play the song in different ways(melody only,chord only,solo style/chord melody) (5)Play song in different keys....Listen first,then play...Greg

Practicing and Memorizing Tunes (July 4, 2005)
Every guitar student I coach is encouraged to memorize a handful of standard tunes. I've found that most students will first go to a fakebook in attempting to learn a new tune. I'd like to suggest a more natural approach that makes memorizing tunes easier, is more thorough, and great fun at the same time.

Find as many quality recorded versions of the new tune you want to learn and put them on your Ipod, audiotape, etc. Listen as you go about your daily routine. Music services such as Rhapsody and Itunes are perfect for getting a hold of multiple versions of the song. Make sure that there are at least a couple of vocal versions of the tune and listen to those first so the lyrics can become embedded in your mind. The melody and the form of the tune will become familiar upon repeated listenings as well as common tempos and feels, arrangements etc. When Kenny Burrell first began to play, he seldom ever saw the sheet music to a standard. He heard the tunes on the radio repeatedly so that he could pick up his guitar and play the melody by ear away from the radio. Then he'd take his best guess at the chord changes. Most of the time he got it right but sometimes he made up his own changes that worked just as well. Some find this exercise easier than others but the more one can rely on their own ear and instincts the better. For a primer I recommend picking out simple tunes like children's songs since the melody is deeply ingrained. Try harmonizing the song in different ways.

Now it's time to sit with the guitar and sing the melody of the standard tune and find it on the fretboard. Then attempt to discern the chord changes. Sing the melody and try different chords with it or play it chord/melody style where the melody is the top note of the chord. Chances are you will be in a different key than the tune is usually played in. Other times you will be pleasantly surprised that you are in the standard key perhaps hearing it there naturally. Now open your fakebook and see how you did. I often consult more than one book in order to see what some common substitutions are for the tune and compare the written melody to what I've heard on the recordings. Often the student will transcribe their favorite version matching the phrasing and harmonies, which is a great practice.

It's a good idea to practice playing the tune in several ways: Melody only, chords only, simple block style chord/melody, and half note bass underneath the melody. Often in the course of a lesson I realize that the student cannot play the melody on its own having memorized a chord/ melody version. It's a good idea to be open to different ways of harmonizing the melody. Playing half note bass below a syncopated melody is crucial in understanding harmony and in developing the necessary independence needed to play solo guitar. Practice soloing over a pre-recorded rhythm track or to a metronome. Make sure that your initial solos are based closely on the melody. Paraphrasing the melody is a very useful skill and pre-dates the practice of soloing over the chord changes alone, typical of the bebop period.

Howard Alden suggests transposing the tune up or down a 4th or 5th in anticipation of playing it with a female vocalist. So if the tune is in the key of F try it also in Bb and C, common for vocalists. Get together with another musician weekly if possible and play these tunes from memory and transpose them! Another important concept I practice and teach is to play shell voicings, 3rds and 7ths, below the melody. Maintain a steady "four on the floor" rhythm with the shells like Freddie Greene or Errol Garner while you are playing the melody. Lenny Breau was the first guitarist to become famous for this technique. It requires a lot of hard work but as Lenny would tell you "through discipline comes freedom." Try more rhythmic comping beneath your melody and you will have created a nice, light yet full, texture by yourself or with a bassist by your side.

I find that approaching tunes in this manner develops many necessary skills and is a thorough, fun way to practice. Learning tunes can be of great assistance in learning composition so seek out the tunes that interest you the most as well as the ones that will keep you employed. Sometimes they go hand in hand! I've compiled a list of must-know standards that I'd be happy to send out to you as a Word document. Enjoy the summer and your practice time!

Steve Herberman


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