A student just asked me the question from the “Ask Adam” page.
“Adam…..I have a problem of remembering songs I’ve already learned
when they haven’t been played in a couple of weeks…usually when I’m
concentrating on new material. How do you keep it all under your fingers?”
When I learn a new song, or am writing a song I have to almost have to “forget” every other song I know.
For example, I recently came up with an arrangement for “Killing me Softly” and I had to
play nothing but that song for a week.
It was as if the new song eclipsed anything else I’d every played – but of course I have to have old repertoire ready to play for concerts.
Here are 4 tips to keep in mind for keeping your old arrangements “fresh”.
Before we talk about practicing, it is key to understand the “4 levels” of learning.
(I cover in the Stevie Wonder Vol 1 DVD, and I’ll recap it here:)
Level 1. Unconscious Incompetence: You don’t know what you don’t know.
This is where you are before you start a new piece.
Level 2. Conscious Incompetence: You find out what you don’t know.
Like..”oh wow that’s how he plays it, ooh that’s tricky, but I can see how it’s played” and so on.
Level 3. Conscious Competence: You know it consciously.
Once you have started working on the piece, you find that if you pay attention you can get through the piece pretty well.
Music at this level usually falls apart on stage if you are nervous, because you are using your conscious brain to control your hands. Any distractions can take your mind off track resulting in an on-stage musical train wreck.
Level 4. Unconscious Competence You know it subsonciously.
You’ve practiced it enough that the piece of music is in your unconscious mind, and literally “in your hands.”
Like when a drunk customer collapses, you know you are at the bridge of “Misty” and keep the song form 🙂 without skipping a beat.
You are not really “remembering it” – it plays itself. This is the level of “you can play it in your sleep” – i.e. you have driven it into your subconscious mind.
This comes from repeat, repeat, repeat the piece.
Let’s say for now that there are 2 flavors of “guitar practice sessions.”
Some practice sessions will be “creative” (focus on one ne songs) and other sessions will be “running your repertoire” (several songs).
On the “running your repertoire” sessions, your practice sessions could have the alternating rhythm “older tune / newer tune” so that you don’t neglect old tunes.
You have to “dust off” music that you have had at “level 4” at one point in the past just to maintain it.
(The Best Solution)
Get a small gig where you have to play long enough that you are required to dig up old songs and play them for people (coffehouse, restaurant, bar, concert, art gallery)
I call this best because it’s like having a trainer show up at your doorstep, you gotta play whether you want to or not and you gotta fill up time – 2 or 3, 45 minute sets.
It’s a little more hardcore than just “playing when you feel like it.”
Of course not all of us want to do gigs. If that’s the case, just use TIP #2 – alternate “older tune / newer tune” in your “repertoire running” practice sessions.
Either way, you have to review old pieces as well as learn new ones.
I suggest a song list, a written practice plan or journal and put a little focus on “running repertoire” – not only the “shiny new fun” songs!
Please comment below to let me know what you think!