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Just recently I have begun to learn the tuba. For a band I am in, I am required to memorize 5 pieces. Each piece has a length of about 1/2 to 1 full page. However, I only have 20 days to memorize all 5. As I have never had to memorize music before, how do you suggest I go about it? Should I focus on one piece until I have it down pat and then move on to the next, or bounce around between songs each day?

Thanks!

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  • One technique that can help is to look for structures in the music. Don't just learn the notes, be aware of what scales are used, the harmonies, sequences, patterns, repeated sections. You can do a lot of this work at times when you can't play, just by looking at the music.
    – PiedPiper
    Commented Jul 11, 2019 at 11:09

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I'm also an almost newbie tenor sax player, an amateur choir singer, and a complete newcomer to this forum.
I think a good way to memorize songs is (exporting and) playing them with a mobile app, then listen to them all day trying to sing on top. This way you make the songs yours.
There are some good mobile apps that let you import standard MusicXml files (which you can export/convert from desktop programs). I personally use Android's PhonicScore for choir songs (no advertisement, I have nothing with them). Or use MuseScore player.

When you sing each song it's easy for you to find the parts you sing wrong or those where you have any doubts. From that point you can read the music sheet or listen to that measure in the app. DON'T corrupt the song in your mind, always listen to the real one when you face the smallest doubt!
Usually, the less intuitive parts of a song are precisely the ones which make it special. But also are the parts one uses to reinvent BAD. The strange notes you'll have doubts about when singing or playing, surely will be the most relevant in the song.

This way, singing the songs all day, next time you play them on your instrument you'll have half of the work already done: you know the song! You know its rhythm, you know where the hardest parts are, etc. You can free your mind to concentrate almost exclusively on fingering.
Playing tuba the rhythm is very important, (imho) you could miss a note but never the beat or cadence! :D

Imagine how easy for you will be to (learn to) play a song you know well, say 'Happy Birthday to you' :)

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    singing wont help you know the fingerings Commented Jul 11, 2019 at 16:47
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    I agree, but if you have the song in your mind you'll be able to focus exclusively on fingering when you try to play it. It works for me. I cannot practice with the instrument the whole day, but I can advance my knowledge of the song by singing it everywhere. Commented Jul 12, 2019 at 9:32
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    Lots of music is not singable Commented Jul 12, 2019 at 13:40
  • perhaps. May be decreasing BPMs could help Commented Jul 15, 2019 at 7:31
  • Also tenor saxophone player. Remembering and being able to sing the Pink Panther theme has not helped me play it from memory :) I think your strategy only works for simpler pieces.
    – Pyromonk
    Commented Jul 17, 2019 at 4:13
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I’ve had to memorize several different pieces in short amounts of time before, and I’ve tried different things.

Definitely do not wait to start on the second one until you finished the first one. If you do that, you have to memorize each piece in only four days. If you work on all of them every day, then you have 20 days for each piece.

Do start by playing all of them at least once a day. If you can have two separate practice sessions a day where you play through all five in each session, that’s best. So if you really want to do this ASAP, get up earlier and play all five first thing in the morning, twice if you have time, then also play all five once or twice again before you go to bed.

After a few days of that, you should start to have parts of each piece memorized and other parts that aren’t sticking as well. Keep playing each piece all the way through and then go back and repeat the parts that aren’t sticking a few more times.

Also make notes in pencil on the pages about things that you keep forgetting or that trip you up. Actually write those notes - the process of writing helps you remember because it has to be processed by your brain differently.

If you have to play 100% without the sheet music after 20 days, then at least five days beforehand or as soon as you think you can, start playing through all five without the music. When you get stuck, look at the music and then close it again and play what you got stuck on. If you have time, go back a second time and try to get through the part you forgot.

Absolutely do not miss a day of practice and absolutely play every piece at least once a day. If you can’t practice morning and night all days, that’s ok, just make sure you get at least one run through of everything every day.

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    Nice answer. I just want to add that it's not enough to just have the sheet in front of you and not look at it. You have to turn it around or put the sheet away so you have to move more than just your eyes. After having looked put it away again. Everything else will give you a false sense of knowing the sheet. Commented Jul 10, 2019 at 16:46
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    The poor neighbours, with tuba practice first thing in the morning! Commented Jul 11, 2019 at 12:54
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If you're quite limited for practice time, you should focus on how your practice can make you most useful to the band. If there's parts where you are prominent (there aren't may tuba solos, but there are plenty of times where you'll walk the bass down with a big ol "bum bum bum bum".) Make sure you have these down pat.

Identify any patterns in the music that make it easier. If it's beginner level, or marching band, you're very often going to have simple hi-low-hi-low style beats which you can rather easily memorize.

And most importantly, don't sweat it. You'd be amazed how good your brain can be at remembering once you start playing, even without the music. Make sure you try it without the music at least a few times before your big show, and you should be just fine.

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  • "focus on how your practice can make you most useful to the band." Best advice in the entire thread, IMO.
    – Mike Ellis
    Commented Jul 11, 2019 at 20:42
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Definitely bounce around between songs. Reliable memorizing works... a bit like painting: put on a layer, let it sink/dry, repeat. If you try to slosh on all the paint at once on a spot, it'll just get smeared over irregularly. You'll end up mixing that piece up with the others. Whereas if you practice from the start switching between the songs, you'll properly memorize what's different about each of them.

(For technically difficult stuff, it can be a different story, but that doesn't seem to be the issue here.)

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That's a very broad question, and I might not be the best person to answer it, as I never deliberately memorise any pieces and always take the sheets with me (so does my teacher).

It depends on how your memory works to begin with. The majority of people are strongly visual and find it easier to memorise what the notes look like on paper as an image instead of remembering how they sound or what progressions they follow. If you are one of those people, try to memorise what you see on paper. For me personally that method wouldn't work. I am audial/kinaesthetic when it comes to memory. The majority of sources online say there is no such thing as muscle memory, but I know the difference and stick to instruments with keys and frets, because the sense of touching the instrument affects how well I can play it. So you should first identify what memorisation technique works best for you.

The rest depends on repetition and atomisation. You should study the pieces, identify the techniques the composer used (and why he did it), find repeating sections and try to recall each identified section from memory after playing it once. This works for practising music too, not just for memorising it: breaking it up into logical parts eases learning.

Playing all pieces together (in the order you are going to play them with the orchestra) seems to be very helpful as well. I find it easier to recall scales if I play them in the succession I have learnt them in, for example. I know, because I basically had to learn them from scratch after I started playing them chromatically as opposed to following the circle of fifths.

Last but not least, it is important that you sleep well, rest and do not "overpractise". According to modern research, there is no benefit in practising for more than 25 minutes in succession - it's just a waste of time that can damage you physically as well.

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    I have a hard time believing that 25 minute figure. I know from my own life that I can learn faster by having longer practice sessions. Tom Morello practiced 8 hours every day when he was in college and he said in a year he went from being a beginner to being better than all his friends. I’ve had students who play their instruments for hours every day and they progress much faster than my other students. Commented Jul 10, 2019 at 0:13
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    I'd wonder if a musician who can't remember how things sound had really chosen the right hobby! Commented Jul 10, 2019 at 6:49
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    @ToddWilcox If you want to be really good there's nothing wrong with practising 8 hours a day. But research shows that you can learn even more in those 8 hours if you take a 5 minute break every half hour.
    – PiedPiper
    Commented Jul 10, 2019 at 8:45
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    @ToddWilcox I wonder if it's not so much long long one's practice session is, but instead how long one practices any one thing. For me, one hour of practicing the same scale is 40 minutes of wasted time. But 20 minutes of working on a scale followed by 20 minutes of practicing a piece followed by 20 minutes of practicing chords (for example) works great. But people aren't all the same; there are probably some who can focus and improve when spending hours on the same thing. Commented Jul 10, 2019 at 21:49
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    @topomorto, oh, sorry, I took it the wrong way completely. I apologise. A lot of musicians, especially successful ones, rely strongly on photographic memory and reflexes. Then there's a reasonably large group that "plays by ear" but can't even read sheet music. I was surprised too, the more I got into the musical world. Not "listening" to music is sometimes helpful in a band environment, because you don't get distracted by the sounds other people are making that much. It took me personally a very long time to get used to having others play with me, and it still puts me off occasionally.
    – Pyromonk
    Commented Jul 11, 2019 at 13:10
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One more thing: Getting the rhythm rock solid is your top priority. When asked, every accomplished musician I know will say something like "I'd much rather play a wrong note at the right time than play the right note at the wrong time."

It's especially true for bass instruments.

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