Tell me if this sounds familiar...
I used to dread that moment at parties when someone would see me and say
"Hey! You play music? Go on! Play us something!"
I knew a few songs, but had to have the sheet music in front of me to play them.
And the one song I did have memorized? I didn't really like playing it, and always stumbled in this one part.
The problem with relying on sheet music...
Sheet music is great for learning complex classical pieces.
It's great for playing in a symphony or a big-band, when you have to play a part just so.
But are you playing in symphonies, or complex classical pieces?
Neither am I.
And I think we shouldn't be relying so heavily on sheet music.
The solution involves learning and memorizing a song correctly. And correctly means not relying so heavily on sheet music.
Doing so leads to knowing a song. And when you know something, you can recall it, and play it whenever and wherever you are. You get to express the song through yourself, not just play the notes of the song.
Think of yourself as a great movie actor.
To truly deliver your lines convincingly, you need to not only have the lines committed to memory, but for them to be a part of you.
Be more like Brando instead of a news anchor.
I'm here to show you how to do that.
Step By Step: How to Memorize a Song
In the videos below I explain my methodology for knowing a song. I explain the steps necessary to learn and memorize the song.
Watch the video, and read the steps below the video.
Step by Step:
Put away the accordion
Listen to the song on repeat until you "know" it.
Knowing a song means being able to hum it or sing it. This may take you a few minutes, a few hours, or likely a few days.
Without first knowing the song, there is no way to play the song from memory.
Find the song's chord chart
Play the song's chords with your left hand while you hum or sing the melody. You want to make sure you understand the song's timing, know the song's chords, and are able to put the two together.
Here is the sheet music for Ode To Joy and Mary Had A Little Lamb.
Play the song's melody
Using a playback exercise (the type I provide on Accordion Love) or sheet music, play the song's melody. You should know the melody from the previous steps. In this step you are finally playing the melody with your fingers.
It's at this stage that you are paying close attention to fingering, difficult passages, phrasing, etc.
Begin memorizing lines
Only now, in step 4, do you begin to memorize the melody, line-by-line. Play a few notes from playback or from sheet music, and then play them back again without the sheet music.
Repeat this exercise for an entire line.
Don't attempt to digest the entire song. You are just committing to memory a single line or phrase of music.
Pause, digest, repeat
Time and patience are your friends. Trust that your body is learning by you giving it time to digest the music you just gave it.
After memorizing a line, go for a walk. Have a nap. Sleep. Then, come back to the lines you memorized.
Can you still hum the melody?
Do your fingers play the line smoothly? If not, where are you stumbling, and what can you do to correct that passage?
If everything worked fine, memorize the next line.
Example: How to Memorize Ode To Joy
Have a look at the video below to memorize the song Ode To Joy.
Ode To Joy Sheet Music
Looking for more effective ways of learning songs?
I have an entire section of song learning tips and tricks over on the Lessons side of the site. Sign up for a free 3-day trial, or Login now, to access them.
Hello again Ronen, would you mind explaining how to play the last line of Ode to Joy. bars 11 AND 12. Playing the left and right together.
Greetings Ronen, Just watched the Ear Training Introduction and did the 9 exercises and the first one of the 14 More Exercises. I like this and plan on doing more. And I like your explanation of memorizing a song: this is very helpful. It all makes sense. Now I need to put it in practice. Am planning on subscribing in the next few days. I recently became a part of a group that is rehearsing in the back patio of a member’s home (practicing social distancing): me with two guitars and a bass guitar. They have a wide variety of songs they are working on and I’m enjoying the challenge of learning all of them as fast as I can. So all your tips and teachings have been helping me. Thank you, Tim Griffin
thank you for the simple but clear steps in returning to the accordion after a forty year absence
Thank You so much for this great information. I’m a classical trained musician and sheet music has always been a requirement fit me. I’m reciently retired and have decided to work on some light pip and rock music for a change as well as begin to learn Accordion. I have never been much good at memorizing or playing by ear but have always wished I could just be free to play without all the sheet music . Looking forward to watching more of your videos
Great to hear, Ron! Let me know how it goes and if you have any questions.
I find these playback exercises are really helpful in building your memory for melody: hand ear coordination exercises
My sister has been wanting to play the accordion, which is why she's thinking of buying one so she may start practicing. Well, it's interesting to learn that she must understand the song's timing before she can master it through her ears. Thank you for also sharing here that she must know the melody from her previous steps.
Hi Rachel, so, it's not mandatory, but it really helps to "understand" the song and "know it" before playing a note. Sheet music is one part of out toolkit when it comes to learning songs.
So, I've gone through the beginner lessons and the emailed videos from the last week and it's been slow going with not much progress. I find the hand-ear coordination quite difficult. I'm still trying to pitch the first notes of the exercises (no 8 seems to be really difficult and I can't work out why), and the intervals after that are not coming at all easily.
When I got to the videos above, the prospect of ever playing the Levan polka without the sheet music felt like a fanciful dream. I tried the playback method and decided to go back to the hand ear exercises to try and get that better, and stick with scales and arpeggios for present.
I'm now wondering whether I want to play without sheet music or not – undecided, but hanging in there.
Hi, I'm Beatriz. I live in Colombia and I plan to purchase an accordion. Is a 48 bass the best choice for beginners? Do I need to have a music background to take your tutorials? I played the organ when I was little and remember very little. But I think I have a reasonable good ear for music. I appreciate your advice. I was excited to find your website today. I've been looking for an accordion teacher.