The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #106314   Message #2195396
Posted By: PoppaGator
16-Nov-07 - 01:00 PM
Thread Name: Do you sing from Memory?
Subject: RE: Do you sing from Memory?
In my younger days, I never worked from any kind of notes, never even taped a card to my guitar as I've seen many performers do.

Now, I was singing on the street back then, subject to wind, etc., and without a music stand or any such structure to hold a crib sheet. I was out there performing for hours at a time, and if I skipped a verse or sang lines out of order while working a new number into my repertoire, that was no problem, just part of the learning process. I'd just keep repeating until I got it down. It's not like I was under any kind of scrutiny, that's for sure.

At any rate, until quite recently, I would never have considered using any kind of cheat sheet. If nothing else, it would detract from maintaining eye contact with the audience.

When I restarted my long-dormant performing "career" just over a year ago, with monthly one-hour coffeehouse appearances, I was persuaded to start referring to notes. There's a music stand available on the little stage, and many of the players use it. I was advised to "just treat it like practice" as I slowly began to regain confidence, stage presence, etc. ~ and indeed, some of my fellow amateur performers at the Neutral Ground Coffee House are rank beginners, only slowly developing their skills and their repertoires, many using every imaginable type of "crutch" as long as they feel the need. (Others are true pros, established groups and soloists using their monthly slots more or less as rehearsals where they can pick up a few bucks passing the basket.)

At age 60, I sometimes need to peek at the words, and can't predict just when. Of course, the longest and wordiest songs on my list are the ones most likely to give me brain-freeze. Back in my younger days as a street singer, I made it a point to regularly sing a number of very long songs (notably Dylan compositions like "Tom Thumbs' Blues," etc.) just to pass the time. Even though I had so many songs firmly committed to memory for a good 3-5 year period, I cannot feel confident about keeping the lines and verses in order today, not without peeking at the lyrics once in a while.

I've begun to play another freebee venue regularly, a weekly open mike allowing just two songs per participant. There's no music stand there, and I generally pick my two songs from among those I really know well. Thankfully, there are enough numbers about which I feel sufficiently confident to sing without notes, and more of them as time goes on. I do hope to be able to abandon cheat-sheets completely sooner or later, but I recognize that advancing age may make that difficult if not impossible.

Incidentally, while I feel the need to periodically "peek" at lyrics, I never have any such problem with chords, or fingerpicking patterns, bass runs, etc., etc., or anything musical. I simply can't imagine taking a number onstage without knowing how to play it on my instrument, and I was really surprised to see someone's comment above that they needed a cheat-sheet chord chart.

Well, different strokes for different folks, I guess. Maybe the fact that I don't read music has something to do with my greater confidence in my playing than in my memory for lyrics. Also, long before I've learned the lyrics of a given song (by repeated singing), I will already have worked out an instrumental arrangement and played it over and over and over...