Learning songs for a gig can be a daunting task. Most players don’t want to read charts onstage. It’s not very rock n roll. Most artists don’t like you reading charts either.
This can be challenging when you have 20 songs to learn in a short period of time.There must be a way though right?
From A Small Town
Let me talk for a moment about my experiences. I moved to NYC from Pennsylvania to further my music career.
I was already a working musician in my hometown. I had hit a wall as far as professional growth was concerned. I had operated a studio where I wrote and recorded my own music.
I also was playing in the are’s most successful band. The nature of either of these situations wasn’t to memorize material quickly.
I rarely had to memorize music for recording. That material gets placed in a very temporary place (short term memory). You just have to remember it long enough to play the track.
The cover band I was performing in required memorization, however we rehearsed a lot. So, this made things easier.
Fresh Off The Boat
Fast forward moving to NYC. It ain’t no joke that things move faster here. Everything moves faster! Right down to business.
I started getting gigs pretty quick;y after getting off the bus in New York. Something was different though. There were very few rehearsals and a lot of material to learn.
It’s not uncommon to learn 10 songs and have one rehearsal. And we’re not talking a four hour rehearsal either.
Depending on the pay of the gig, there may be pressure to memorize the material. Generally the high paying gigs don’t want anyone reading charts onstage. It can give the illusion that the musicians doesn’t know the music enough to breath it.
Because I hand’t really developed the skills to memorize music effectively, this was difficult for me.
I struggled with different methods of memorization. The most obvious method is rote memorization (memorization from repetition).
This didn’t work for me. I found that I could remember songs this way for the short term, but it still left some blank areas.
These blank areas were a source of stress. More gigs were coming in and more material to learn.
The expectation in New York City is to play songs like you’ve known them for years (most times you haven’t). On high level gigs, this is expected at the first rehearsal. That’s a fair amount of pressure, right?
From the sheer volume of songs I was having to learn, it would make it difficult to square away enough time for rote memorization. There were not enough hours in the day.
The Big Chill
Little did I understand at the time, the more stress I was feeling, the less I was able to retain information. Being relaxed is key to memorization. Anxiety is the enemy to memorization.
This is the key reason people tend to forget lyrics or parts onstage. They get nervous. Their body goes into protection mode. This short circuits memory recall.
So if I relax I’ll remember everything?
Not exactly. It just means if you develop good skills for coding the information, it will be easier to recall.
I bet you’re smelling a secret somewhere here. I wish it was that easy. There is no secret per se. There are techniques. Techniques that require practice.
Some things are pretty obvious. Often when people say they can’t remember songs or names or grocery lists it’s because they’re not concentrating.
We’ve all done it. While someone is saying their name or showing us a song, we’re often thinking about something else.
That is a dead giveaway that you’re not going to remember the information. Imagine a DVR recording a tv show on channel 12. During the middle of the show, you change the recording to channel 15.
Your mind is like a DVR that only records one channel at a time. Well, it’s not that simple. But, let’s try to make it that simple.
Multitasking is over rated. Everybody brags about how they can do more then one task at once. You may be able to multitask, but it’s rare you can do two things really well at once.
One of those tasks is bound to yield a weaker result.
Seems like a simple concept. But, if you don’t have a good grasp of concentration, no method of memorization will help.
Zen Like State
Let’s say you found your zen like state and are not multi tasking while learning a song. You’re ready for the final step which is coding.
At the core of my favorite technique is the idea that everything has to have meaning. It’s the only way that I can effectively memorize material.
It also helps to attach imagery and emotions. I basically create a movie in my mind for each song I memorize. Each song has a unique movie that plays out with start to finish with specific cues about the song in it.
The more graphic, colorful, ridiculous the story is, the easier the recall. This may sound kinda simple, but It takes time to understand how to include all the info you may need into the “mental song movie”
When I first started using this technique, I would get to the gig and realize I forgot to embed the key signature of the song… or who takes the first solo. Whoops.
Now, I have a formula and it works quite well. In the past two days I memorized 18 songs for a new gig. I didn’t read one chart on the gig.
Teaching The Method
I’m glad to help you develop this song memorization technique. In song memorization lessons we will discuss mental cues, long term versus short term song memory, story board memory technique for music and tips to help you strengthen your memory.