Learning The Changes Of 100+ Songs - Is It Worth It or Just a Waste of Time?



  • Russell LetsonRussell Letson Prodigy
    Posts: 355

    There's a good reason we call it "playing" music. Even in the most score-bound music (say, classical) there is room to maneuver, and jazz is all about that maneuvering room, to the point that the bebop guys not only took big liberties with the standards they'd been playing at dance gigs but took those changes and wrote new tunes on top of them. That's *play*, and it's central what we admire about Django and Grappelli--or Monk or Bird or Diz or Louis. But they all started with the bones of the standard repertory before they took off running.

  • pmgpmg Atherton, CANew Dupont MD50R, Shelley Park Custom, Super 400, 68 Les Paul Deluxe, Stevie Ray Strat
    edited January 2020 Posts: 140

    IMO, the best way to develop a memorized repertoire of tunes is to first find opportunities to put yourself in playing situations with others. (See my recent post on finding/developing steady coffee house gigs.) Getting ready for Django in June can provide great motivation - but it is only a once a year deal and, unless you play with others more frequently, you will tend to forget what you have learned (although it gets easier to re-learn old stuff).

    Learn the chords first - then the head. Start with some solid goal - even one tune a week if that is all the time you can muster. And force yourself to not look at written music when playing - but to listen and watch others if you forget stuff or get lost.

    Even 20 popular tunes can get you through most jams and, if you are really stuck, keep your iPhone in your back pocket so you can steal a glance if needed, then put it away and play as best you can.

    After a jam, I find it very important to review the tunes that you had issues with and learn the parts that you did not know or forgot the same day if possible = and then call the tunes you struggled with and play them by memory at the very next opportunity so you can bake them in to your brain

    BTW, it is very common to get "jam amnesia" and forget tunes when somebody at a jam invariably asks you "what do you want to play?" Keep a list handy - and tape it to the top of your guitar or keep it handy so you are never at a loss for a song suggestion.

    Learning songs is one of the great joys of being a musician - and you can never get enough. I know some guys who claim to know 1,000's of songs - and they still get a lot of pleasure in learning a new one.

    One last benefit: Us older players like to think that learning a lot of tunes keeps the memory going strong. Hope that's true!!! I can't remember the last time I played with guys who were complaining of early memory loss (ha ha!).

    I'm always interested in jamming with experienced jazz and gypsy jazz players in the San Francisco - San Jose area. Drop me a line. Bass players welcome!
  • geese_comgeese_com Madison, WINew 503
    edited January 2020 Posts: 461

    I am fortunate enough that we have a weekly gypsy jazz jam in Madison. In addition to that I host a jam at my house about once a month. I also have some gigs lined up with the most well known GJ player in town. Lots of motivation to learn and play in addition to Django in June. I also just love learning and playing music.

    I only get about 20-30 minutes max of guitar time a day, but I do a lot of "mental practice" since I spend 30 minutes each way commuting to work. I play a song on my phone and imagine playing along and recalling the changes. I also get to listen to music through headphones all day at work, so I have these songs playing all day.

    Unfortunately, I am very familiar with "jam amnesia". I keep a list on my phone of the songs that I know to help with that.

    If anyone is interested, I am using the methods to learn from the book "Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning". It really makes a big difference in learning and retaining information.

  • Lango-DjangoLango-Django Niagara-On-The-Lake, ONModerator
    edited January 2020 Posts: 1,855

    Ok! Well, this forum has helped me refocus my scattered practice routine, so thanks everyone!

    It’s gonna be just me and my metronome for 2020...

    Im going to start with about a dozen tunes that I love to play... my favorites are the ones that have what I call “logical” changes where one chord follows another in such a way that I rarely get lost...then in a few months maybe I’ll work my way up gradually to some tougher stuff..

    Paul Cezanne: "I could paint for a thousand years without stopping and I would still feel as though I knew nothing."

    Edgar Degas: "Only when he no longer knows what he is doing does the painter do good things.... To draw, you must close your eyes and sing."

    Georges Braque: "In art there is only one thing that counts: the bit that can’t be explained."
  • geese_comgeese_com Madison, WINew 503
    Posts: 461

    Unfotunately, as many of you already know, DiJ 2020 is cancelled, but I figured I would give an update on the results of this experiment/endeavor.

    On April 1st, the email came out regarding the cancellation of DiJ 2020 and at that point I decided to stop learning more songs and playing through the songs on my list. At that point I was up to 110 songs that I felt comfortable with. All of April and May, I shifted my focus from rhythm to lead. This past week I decided to go back through my list of 110 songs and see how man songs I coule recall. Surprisingly, I only forgot about 20% of the songs.

    Although it seemed like a crazy idea, it gained and learned a lot by doing this. Things I noticed/learned were:

    -It is a lot of fun just playing rhythm! I would make YouTube playlists of the songs and pretend I was playing rhythm for Tchavolo, Bireli, etc.

    -You start seeing all the chord progressions that are common in songs in this style.

    -I have started hearing the changes and progressions better when listening to music. For example, I was watching the Thomas & Friends kids show with my kids and I started hearing the A part of Rhythm Changes chord progression clear as day.

    -Learning all the chord progressions makes it even easier to learn new songs.

    -I felt "freer" improvising since I no longer had to look at the music while improvising. Although, when you get lost it take a little longer figure out where you are. But since your ear is a little more developed, you can hear where you are in the song and get back on track.

    -It came in handy when I was asked to sub for a gig since I already knew the changes to a lot of songs. I only had to focus on intros, endings, and arrangement instead.

    -You get to play along in jams for pretty much the whole time since you know the songs already.

    It may seem like a crazy thing to do, especially for a non-professional musician, but I highly recommend doing it if you have the time and inclination. The benefits were definitely worth all the work.

  • bopsterbopster St. Louis, MOProdigy Wide Sky PL-1, 1940? French mystery guitar, ‘37 L-4
    Posts: 513

    Great to hear all the work paid off. It’s not crazy at all. When your focus changes from the nuts and bolts to the dynamics, and the other players, that’s when music is made.

  • billyshakesbillyshakes NoVA✭✭✭ Park Avance - Dupont Nomade - Dupont DM-50E
    Posts: 1,306


    I missed this thread the first time around but I seem to remember when @djangology did a similar thing about 18+ years ago and wrote about it on his djangology blog. (If anyone remembers those days when there were far fewer resources about Django's music on the web.) A quick check of his page shows he still has 100+ tunes.

    I've started a similar thing, trying to learn a bunch of songs and their heads. I do about one a week, sometimes 2 if the chords are a similar pattern to another I already know.

    If you haven't heard about "spaced repetition", it might help you retain some of those songs (although w/80%, it sounds like you are good!) Here's a chart that illustrates the concept, you can find info on this all over the place, especially for learning foreign languages or for test prep. Its all about learning, then reviewing over time at various intervals. You can keep learning new heads to those melodies but if you can't practice them all in one session, you can figure out when and which to review each day/week etc.

    The cool thing about learning and the brain is that getting tested is far more effective than just reviewing your notes. So, your weekly jam is sort of a test. If you remember all (or most) of a tune and are able to work through it, you are far more likely to remember that song for the future than if you give your chart a quick review before the tune.

  • geese_comgeese_com Madison, WINew 503
    Posts: 461

    Spaced repetition is one of the main points of the book I mentioned earlier, "Make It Stick". Ever since I switch my way of learning guitar to what is recommended in the book it has helped a lot. The way I used to learn is probably similar to a lot of people and that was just by playing it over and over until you felt like you got it. Doing it the "Make It Stick" way is a lot more work but the results are much better.

  • Posts: 4,732

    I can't believe this much time passed since you asked that question. When I read your update where you said you dedicated April and May back to working on soloing, I was like "wait, well did he not work on this memorizing business at all??". Then I went to see when you posted this first...damn.

    Every note wants to go somewhere-Kurt Rosenwinkel
  • geese_comgeese_com Madison, WINew 503
    Posts: 461

    Thank you for the kind words, @Buco.

    In addition to practicing on the guitar, which I can only do for a max of an hour a day but it usually is just 15-30 minutes a day, I also do a lot of mental practice. I have playlists of all the songs and I when I listen to them I visualize playing the song or think of a chord chart/grille in my head. Since I commute to work on the bus, I get all the time to "practice" without a guitar then when I can play guitar I try to call what I was mentally practicing that day.

    It also helps that I just love this music and I end up singing or thinking about it throughout the day with or without the music playing or having the instrument in my hands.

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