Minimize The Memorizing

I recently had a student tell me he had a book that had EIGHT variations of one song in it. The book was presenting the material as if it was instructional material. My response to him was how many pages of information do you think you can memorize note for note until your brain runs out of room? Trying to memorize all of that would be a COMPLETE waste of time for your purposes. Perhaps a better approach is to go through and pick out a FEW things you like and incorporate them into your own playing rather than trying to memorize pages and pages of material.
I also explained it to him this way-I had four different riffs that would fit a D chord that I gave him. So if he plugged in a different riff each time he had four “variations” on the song. Once you master the riffs you can plug them in any sort of order you would like, so the “arrangement” is not the same each time.
People make the mistake of thinking that each variation has to be completely different. It doesn’t, you can change just little pieces each time. Regardless of what you think you will leave the listener with the impression that you did something “new.”
In fact I will argue and say if they are completely different then your overall musical statement will lack coherency. It will be the equivalent of somebody rambling. There is NOTHING wrong with repeating things, in fact you should. Repetition is a KEY component of great music, it gives the untrained listener something to latch onto.
Instead of memorizing ten different ways to play the same song, seek to understand the song on as many levels as you can. Find the important melodic figures within the song and create something from them. Get to the point you can spontaneously play with those figures on the fly. Understand the chord sequences and be able to spontaneously create melodies off of the chord sequences. Once your vocabulary (riffs/licks) grow for each chord, you can practice swapping riffs in and out at different times and have MANY variations that way.
If you truly understand the song and underlying harmonies you can create an INFINITE amount of variations without having to memorize countless bits of information that are played precisely the same way for endless amounts of “pages.”…otherwise you are just Clogging up unnecessary space in the ole brain that can be used elsewhere.

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