Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Paul Murin of The DeadPhish Orchestra on Memorizing Music

Paul Murin
Paul Murin, the lefty guitarist for the help > slip > tweezing Colorado band the DeadPhishOrchestra, has a website designed for the intermediate to advanced guitarist called High Country Guitar.  On this site Paul covers practical music theory, improvisation, composition, the Caged system and more.  Much of the info he teaches is universal - beyond just guitar - if you know how to interpret it.

Being the leader of a tribute band that effortlessly merges the disparate music of Phish and the Grateful Dead, Paul knows a thing or two about the playing of two of my favorite guitarists – Trey Anastasio and Jerry Garcia (and Bill Frisell!).  One thing I'd love to some day study is the music of Phish, especially their improvisations like the unbelievable music they are making on the spot each night on this remarkable summer 2014 tour, if my abilities and comprehension will even allow for this.  Since Paul gives Skype lessons, he might be one of the best sources for this knowledge and understanding.  

But for now, I thought I’d share several excerpts from a blog entry on High Country Guitar about Memorizing Music.  For the full original post click here.

Memorizing Music
"I found that playing jazz standards and trying to learn them from memory improved my overall memorization skills because it forced me to learn to use my ears above all."

"You have to make an effort to memorize music.  It does not just happen. You could play a song a thousand times with the sheet music in front of you, but if you haven’t made a conscious effort to memorize it, you’re very likely to forget it on the 1,001st time if you put the sheet music away."

"You’re probably making plenty of mistakes anyway, even with the sheet music in front of you, and you’ll play whatever it is much better and more consistently if you just memorize it."  

"I find it a lot of work to read sheet music while I’m playing anyway…it’s much easier to put in the work memorizing a tune for a little while; then you can put away the sheet music for good and just play the tune. But to do this, you have to consciously say to yourself, 'I’m going to memorize this thing,' and really make an effort to do it."

"Another thing I notice is that I can think I have something memorized after spending some time working on it, but then if I put it down for a day or two, when I go back to it, I’ve forgotten it all over again. So when you think you’re done memorizing something, keep in mind that you might not be as done as you think."

"As I see it, the memorization of music happens on three different levels: Aural (how it sounds), Intellectual (the theory behind it) and Physical (the fingerings and movements required to play it)."


Aural
"When musicians refer to being able to hear something, they are really talking about the ability to recognize what they are hearing, musically. If I had to rank the three aspects of memorization, I would say that this is the most important, and in fact as I write this piece, I realize that all three of these methods really point back, in some way, to your aural skills, a.k.a. your ears.”

"The best musicians have amazing ears. A great jazz improviser can hear a melody and instantly play it back to you, as well as instantly recognize a chord (or chord progression) and come up with melodies to fit it on the spot."

"So, yes, you should be able to learn to hear a G chord change to a C chord. And, yes, it’s possible to be stone deaf and still have good ears."

"Once in a while somebody will try to tell me that they are tone deaf.  I doubt this condition even exists; if it does, I have never seen it, and I’ve taught a LOT of different people. Some people might have a little more ablility than others in this area; some are just good at it while others have to work at it. But I’m fairly certain that ANYONE can learn it."

"In general, good ears, combined with a solid knowledge of how the sounds are laid out on the fretboard, makes it much easier to remember a piece of music."

"One of the best ways I have found to practice my ear training is to try to play melodies that I hear…TV, radio, Christmas songs, anything.  Phish fans may have already noted that Trey Anastasio has often spoken of this as being a valuable practice tool. It helps you learn to recognize intervals, and it also helps you be more creative with your own melodic ideas because it breaks you out of the usual guitaristic patterns."

"All in all, I think it is important to be able to sing any melody that you play, and play any melody that you sing. It follows, too, that if you can’t sing a melody that you are planning on playing, you probably can’t play it very well either. Practicing this helps you make a much quicker connection between what you hear in your head, and what you actually play on your guitar. It follows, then, that if you can really memorize what a song sounds like down to the minute details, you can memorize how to play it."

Intellectual
"When I refer to the intellectual aspect of memorizing, I am referring to the math behind the music, i.e. the theory behind it. What are the chords? What is the chord progression? If the part you are memorizing is melodic, are there chords implied in the melody? What are the interval leaps within the melody? What scale(s) does the melody come from? This is all information you can use to help you memorize a complex piece of music."

"In music school, one thing I had to do frequently was to memorize jazz standards. As an additional tool to help us memorize the songs, they would have us transpose them into different keys from memory, without sheet music. In a 32-bar song where the chords change every measure, or even half a measure, this can get pretty complicated. It would be virtually impossible to do this on sheer memorization alone. Instead, you begin to look at the chords in terms of Roman numerals (the I chord, the V chord, etc.). You also begin to think in terms of intervals, rather than just chord names. And finally, when you start to get good at it, you just start to hear the chord change in your head – and when you get to this point you often don’t even have to really think about what key you’re in, or even what chord you’re playing, you just hear the chord and play it."

"It can still be incredibly useful to think in these mathematical, intervallic terms. Just don’t ever forget to pay attention to what these chords and chord changes sound like while you practice them."

"Take songs that you think you know well, and play the chords in a different key (without writing them down!). Start simple, with I-IV-V progressions and that kind of thing, then go to more complex songs. Again, you might be surprised how difficult it is if you haven’t done it much before, but the more you do it the better you get at it."

Physical
"The physical aspect of memorization has to do with the fingerings, fretboard positions, and hand movements required to play a given part."

"One thing to pay attention to when you are praciticing a difficult passage: Make absolutely sure that you are practicing it the exact same way every time. If you’re paying attention, you might catch yourself using a slightly different fingering on consectutive passes through the same part (and I’ll bet that those are often the EXACT spots where you are making mistakes). This will certainly impede your muscle memory progress."

"Also, when you find yourself consistently stumbling over a certain part, make sure you practice that part from a measure or two earlier; very often when we have problems with fingerings, the problems are starting during the approach to that point in the music, and not just at that point itself."

All quotes above are from Paul Murin.  Any bolded text is my doing.

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