Banjo Ben

What's your process for learning new songs?

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What's your process for learning new songs?

Postby markrocka » Sat Aug 05, 2017 10:29 am

I'm betting we all have our own way of sitting down and committing a new lesson to memory. I'm curious to hear all of the various techniques people use to ingrain new material into your minds, how you practice to improve certain sections of songs, etc. Do you use any tools outside of Ben's videos, tablature, and jam tracks?
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Re: What's your process for learning new songs?

Postby markrocka » Thu Aug 10, 2017 2:28 pm

OK, if no one else wants to go first, I will. :)

First, when I find a lesson I want to learn, if Ben has recorded what the end results will sound like, which he usually does on all of his recent lessons (and releases it as a preview) I'll make an MP3 of the song and listen to it while driving around town. For me, I find it helpful to train my ear on what it's supposed to hear when the song is being played properly. An additional benefit is that once I've learned the song, it gives me a head start on my fingers learning where to go to produce certain notes. It'd be really nice if Ben released his recordings on MP3 to download and listen to (wink, wink, Ben.) :)

Second, I download the tab and open it in TefView. Then I slow it down really slow and loop one bar at a time. So, maybe 30% speed and loop bar 1. Then loop bars 1 & 2, then 1,2, & 3 and so on. Once I get to a good stopping point (if that's not the whole song) I'll start slowly speeding up the tempo. Once I can play what I've learned all the way through 3 times without messing up, I'll increase the speed between 5 and 10%.

Third (and this is actually more of a 2.5 because it goes hand in hand with #2) I watch the videos. I have 2 monitors on my PC, so I usually have TefView on one monitor and the video on the other. That way I can watch Ben's fingers and get his tips for certain runs or licks. I don't ever go just off of the tab because more often than not, Ben gives you little tricks to use that you wouldn't pick up by just reading tab.

Finally, I play the heck out of the song along with Ben's jam tracks. I'd say it's normal for me to play a song hundreds of times before I feel comfortable with it. Normally, I'll import Ben's tracks into my Cool Edit Pro software and adjust the speed down a little bit. I know Ben usually produces multiple speeds of jam tracks, but I like the ability to fine tune the speed. More than once I've been able to cleanly play a song at 97% speed, but mess up at 100%. So I'll play it at 97% until I'm able to bump it up to that final speed. Depending on the song, I may actually go to 110% speed as long as I can play it cleanly. That way it seems easy at normal speed.

Anyway, hopefully someone else has some tricks they can share. Now that I think of it, maybe this shouldn't be in the banjo section since this applies to how I learn all of Ben's stuff.
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Re: What's your process for learning new songs?

Postby mreisz » Thu Aug 10, 2017 4:13 pm

Mark, I am not a banjo guy, but I think my comments might apply regardless of the instrument. I make my first thing to watch the video. I didn't always do that, but the reason I did is that I found it helped me to adopt Ben "tips and tricks". For instance, I have a general preference for direction of a pull-off. If I sat down with the tab first, I'd play with my pulloff in my preferred direction. Later when learning it was more efficient to go the other way, it was hard to un-learn it once I had played a song even a very small amount. In watching the videos first, it caused me to at least initially try to do it as Ben instructed. This kind of goes hand in hand with the (insert loud movie announcer voice) "Law of Primacy." That is a fundamental of instruction that states that people learn best what they learn first. I find that law to be pretty helpful.
Mike

I stayed up all night to see where the sun went. Then it dawned on me.
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Re: What's your process for learning new songs?

Postby markrocka » Thu Aug 10, 2017 5:14 pm

Good stuff! Thanks, Mike!
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Re: What's your process for learning new songs?

Postby bluenote23 » Thu Aug 10, 2017 10:56 pm

Let me say first off that my methods are not so efficient. I find I can learn to play the tunes and it's fun but my playing is not sharp and crisp but in a way, I don't really care enough to really work at fixing that.

Second, learning banjo tunes is amazingly difficult because you have to memorize so much. I am currently working on learning to play the violin and 'memorizing' a violin piece is so much easier because you can hum the tune to yourself making it so much easier to remember and play. I can take a really easy violin piece (the other day in between my more difficult Suzuki pieces I learned this folk song called Simple Gifts) and play it just a few times and can then throw away the sheet music. Even with the longer, more complicated pieces, I just need to play the piece (and at this level, they are all linear melodies of some sort) a few times until I can sing the musical lines. I don't really memorize anything.

But you can't sing Foggy Mountain Breakdown. You can maybe hum a melody but you need to sing all the rolls and it's just too fast with too many notes. So I need to memorize.

I actually kind of clocked myself with the Will the Circle be Unbroken lesson and it took me about four hours before I could play without the tab.

So, first I listen to the preview of the lesson. Then I download the tab and play it through once or twice. Then I watch the lesson. So this will elucidate certain problem areas (like for instance, the third solo of the Circle lesson) and clarify fingering and technique.

Then I start to memorize the song. These days, I start by playing the song with the tab several times. So this helps me become familiar with similar and repeating parts. Then I start at the beginning and play. I play as far as I can without the tab. Then I just repeat that and extend it. So I may start with the intro and the first part of the verse, then add the rest of the verse and then a bit more until I can play the first break completley.

Then I play that a couple of times and then start adding the next break. I go back and forth. I forget stuff, I look for little tricks, repeated licks and sometimes there are parts you can kind of sing to help you remember.

So I do this until I can play the entire tune without the tab and then I repeat it over and over and over again.

Usually the next day, I'll start by playing the tune once with the tab and then play without the tab, trying to fill the gaps in my memory. By the third day, I have the tune memorized so then I just practice it.

I don't usually use .tef files anymore though I did for that third break in Circle.

The more I play the tune, the faster it will get. I don't use a metronome (piano playing induced metronome allergy). But like I said, my playing is often sort of sloppy and not too crisp. So for instance, I learned Life's Railway to Heaven back in February when Ben first posted the lesson. I still can't really hit the F in bar 23 properly. It sort of makes a 'click' and fills the timing space.

But I find it really satisfying to learn new tunes, especially the ones that Ben has posted lately as they are more difficult and contain new licks and phrasings each time which make them a challenge.
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Re: What's your process for learning new songs?

Postby markrocka » Fri Aug 11, 2017 7:14 am

Thanks bluenote! I know what you mean about having an adversity to the metronome. I have to force myself to use one. One of the things I like about using TefView is that Ben is so meticulous in writing his tabs that it sounds exactly like he plays it as far as timing goes. Not many people take the time to make their tabs so precise. It's good because when it's slowed down, that timing is still there.

Thanks for the input!
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