Last Updated: April 17, 2011 at 6:48 pm
Too many cats are resistant to memorizing jazz standards, or any music pieces for that matter-classical etudes, pop music, etc. Either the aspiring musician or student is lazy, or they don’t realize the value of memorization and truly internalizing a tune. Knowing it inside and out-the form, the melody, every chord, its arpeggio and possible chord scales, every modulation, and every unique feature of the composition.
Mingus was notorious for demanding that his sidemen memorize his tunes and their parts. He was bizarre in so many ways, tempestuous and tyrannical, a colorful and controversial bandleader, but he understood the value of memorization. Mingus required his musicians to internalize the tunes. Very little written music was handed out at rehearsals. He would sing the parts to each musician (or play them on bass) and he was fond of calling this method of conveying music “head charts” because that’s where he wanted the tunes.
When you memorize things, you stretch your brain and keep it nimble. You build syntactical pathways and expand your capacity for storing knowledge. Be it a song, sonnet, or soliloquy, when you memorize something, you learn it better, understand it more deeply, recall it quicker, and more fully commit it to the deepest recesses of awareness. And what is the result when you memorize jazz standards in this way? You play better. You free up your mind so you can focus on creative expansion, and devote yourself to interpreting, embellishing, and riffing on the tune.
So why not set some goals regarding this practice. Make them reasonable and attainable. Can you thoroughly memorize one jazz standard in a week? Or do you need two weeks, or a month? It doesn’t matter how long it takes, only that you embark upon the process. Go slow, do it right.