[Dixielandjazz] Re: Memorizing Tunes

Barbonestreet@earthlink.net Barbonestreet@earthlink.net
Thu, 13 Jun 2002 15:13:30 -0700

Rob McCallum wrote:

"Just wondering what approaches people have found successful for memorizing tunes.  For me, it's always been like pulling teeth.  I much prefer having one eye on a lead sheet, which is, of course, taboo in most situations.  Having been brought up learning music in the school system, even with jazz, we were always reading and always permitted to read the changes.  Consequently, I've always had a tough time breaking away from that."

It is a common problem that many of us have. How do you develop ears? For me, it has always been tough to play the lead, until I started working in a trio where I had to play the lead.

Ears can be developed, via Jamey Aebersold's 104 play along records. Check him and them out at www.jazzbooks.com

For ear development, be sure to get Volume 3, the II / V7 / I progression. It will force you to hear various changes as you play along. He has many other play alongs which will help you memorize leads of various jazz standards.

Me, I force myself to use Thelonious Monk's technique. Listen to the tune as played by someone. Do not read the lead sheet or the chord chart on that tune. Play along until you have it down cold.
That is how he forced Coltrane, Rouse, Hawkins, Mulligan, Griffin et al to learn his tunes. He corrected any note or chord mistakes that they made after the fact by telling them what to play in that particular spot. I read the lead sheets after I ear learn the tune to correct any note mistakes.

It is fairly easy to ear most tunes. You may get into trouble with it on the more esoteric stuff, (like the bridges on "Have You Met Miss Jones" or "Cherokee", or the opening line on "Four In One")
unless one fully understand half step and whole step changes up and down.  

But still, there are only so many chord changes out there and eventually you hear almost all of them.
And for those few exceptions, you can always use the chord chart or lead sheet.

Best way I know of to learn tunes is to play them on gigs. In my trio, the guitar knows about 2500 songs cold, so I can call stuff I'm not 100% familiar with and he bails me out when I get in trouble. There is no substitute for just playing.

Steve Barbone
PS. Having rehearsed with Tex Wyndham almost once a week for the past 11 years, I find that I can play harmony and solo on almost all of the 1500 OKOM tunes in his book, by memory. We rehearse with chord charts, but I only allow myself a quick look and maybe a chorus or two before I ear them.(I was tempted to add 500 songs or so to the "seldom played" thread but thought better of it) :-)