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practising songs

02 Feb 18 - 06:04 AM (#3903381)
Subject: Practising songs
From: The Sandman

I have just read the biography, Journeyman, by MacColl, he states that Peggy and he practised singing ballads and deliberately forgot verses and tried to ad lib.
I think this is a good idea for various reasons, but primarily for learning the art of keeping composed when memory fails.
obviously those people who perform with the safety net of words on stands will never be in this situation, their practising requiremets will be different, that is they bother to practise.
I am interested in other peoples opinions on what I think was an unusual practising idea

02 Feb 18 - 08:30 AM (#3903409)
Subject: RE: practising songs
From: Mo the caller

Not a lot of good if you sing in a choir.
Is ad libbing when you know the words the same as in the panic of the moment?

02 Feb 18 - 08:40 AM (#3903413)
Subject: RE: practising songs
From: The Sandman

Ewan and Peggy were fine performers who as a rule did duo gigs .practisin in a choir is hardly relevant, the whole point is that there should not be panic, that you are prepared mentally for a lapse of memory.,
Mo are you awre of alexander technique, Prof Alexander invented his technique to help perfomance as well as posture, mental perfomance as well as physical

02 Feb 18 - 08:41 AM (#3903414)
Subject: RE: practising songs
From: Jim Carroll

There's an interesting, but unproven theory (from ballad scolar David Buchan) that many of the ballads had no set texts. but were remembered by singers as stories and remade at the point of singing
I listened to Ewan sing for nearly thirty years and saw him begin to have difficulty in remembering words as he grew older.
I cannot recall a time he ever dried up in a song - he ad-libbed successfully each time it happened
He sometimes acknowledged his mistakes with a grin - but that was the only visible sign he was having problems
Jim Carroll

02 Feb 18 - 09:33 AM (#3903432)
Subject: RE: practising songs
From: The Sandman

Jim the proof of the eating is in the pudding. I think the uk folk scene has much to learn [as regards performing and writing] from Ewan

02 Feb 18 - 09:59 AM (#3903437)
Subject: RE: practising songs
From: Jim Carroll

Couldn't agree more Dick
Jim Carroll

02 Feb 18 - 05:37 PM (#3903532)
Subject: RE: practising songs
From: Will Fly

So far (touch wood) in 50+ years of performing, I rarely forget the words of a song, but it happens to most of us now and then.

One thing I never do is stop or pause or break the flow of a performance if I can help it. I'll sing something even if it's near gibberish, just to preserve the flow! An audience can be very forgiving. The secret of not forgetting words is, of course, in the thread title: PRACTISING songs - over and over again - until the words are embedded.

I suppose you could say that ad-libbing is part of the Folk Process; singer A changes the words slightly; singer B hears and copies B's version and also changes a bit. And so on...

By contrast, I played in a 1950s-style rock'n roll trio for some years, back in the 1980s, and I can tell you that dyed-in-the-wool rockers are sticklers for their music being performed word perfect. I was once taken to task very severely at a dance by an irate girl who enumerated every incorrect word I'd innocently substituted for a correct one in a particular song!

02 Feb 18 - 07:49 PM (#3903550)
Subject: RE: practising songs
From: Andy7

It's a very useful skill to be able to have the song continuing to play on in your head, even while you're forgetting the words. That way, you can accurately time some improvised words, or a humorous comment, or even a la-la-la, and then pick up the song again at the correct point.

No harm, either, in throwing in a couple of extra, unplanned bars on your accompanying instrument (if you use one), to give your memory a second chance ... not many people will realise what you've done. Or if you're singing unaccompanied, smile, maybe subtly beat a couple of spare bars with your hand, and then pick it up again!

But I agree, constant practice is definitely the key to all of this! The better you know your song, the easier it will be to save it.

One example: at a singaround a couple of years back, during a weekend Song & Ale somewhere in Devon, I sang an unaccomapanied "I'll Take You Home Again, Kathleen". I realised, as I was approaching the end, that I'd totally forgotten the penultimate line of the last verse, "And brightest rays of sunshine gleam". So instead, I sang the ending of that verse as, "There all your joys will come again, And all your grief will be forgot." A bit weak poetically - and it didn't even rhyme - but it was done almost seamlessly, and I don't think a lot of people noticed ...

... but only possible, because the song was engraved on my memory through countless practices, at home, in the car or walking down the street, during almost none of which I'd forgotten that particular line!

02 Feb 18 - 08:09 PM (#3903554)
Subject: RE: practising songs
From: GUEST,Kristoffer Ross

Slightly off topic, but at a concert a few weeks ago, I started singing one of my fellow shanty singer's verses in Johnny Leave Her- The audience noticed, since "Oh the skipper was bad but the mate was worse" had just been done. I had a "Leave her Johnny, leave her" to rhyme in "I believe I've sung the very wrong verse." It rhymed, and we got a good laugh.
    Learning all the easy to rhyme words is a good idea. (E.G. That chair rhymes with stair, mare, bear, there, hair, air, rare, tear, impair, compare, &c...) It's how improvisers can write whole blues songs on the spot, with a subject provided by the audience, no less.

02 Feb 18 - 09:02 PM (#3903560)
Subject: RE: practising songs
From: Big Al Whittle

i think its a common technique with people who have had drama training. i remember talking to some actors about it one night.

03 Feb 18 - 04:28 AM (#3903589)
Subject: RE: practising songs
From: The Sandman

" I was once taken to task very severely at a dance by an irate girl who enumerated every incorrect word I'd innocently substituted for a correct one in a particular song!"
can you imagine what she would be like in the scratcher, there one is[to quote the queen] shouting out hit me hit me with your rthym stick, and she belts you verbally and says its rythum not rythim.

03 Feb 18 - 05:19 AM (#3903599)
Subject: RE: practising songs
From: Howard Jones

It's an essential performing skill, together with the ability (if you're accompanying yourself) to put in an instrumental break between verses and look is if it was planned.

The great thing about ad libbing folk songs is that the words don't even have to rhyme, or the lines scan. The important thing is to do it with conviction so it doesn't look like a mistake. At the very least, keep going and mumble until you get back on track.

03 Feb 18 - 07:06 AM (#3903610)
Subject: RE: practising songs
From: banjoman

I was once told that if you practice too much you get very good at practicing

03 Feb 18 - 08:27 AM (#3903625)
Subject: RE: practising songs
From: The Sandman

practising with an s, i am practising spelling

03 Feb 18 - 12:08 PM (#3903633)
Subject: RE: practising songs
From: leeneia

If the agency can find your song and tell you if it's copyright, then good.

If the agency can't find it, then you are safe if the song was published before 1923.

Re: Nelly. Black people in the south before Emancipation could be slaves or free. Unless Stephen Foster mentioned something about it in the lyrics, we will never know whether Nelly and her lover were slaves or free.

However, I once read a historical novel set in New Orleans, and the author had written "She wore the red kerchief which indicated that she was a free woman." Does Nelly wear a red kerchief, perhaps? (Aunt Jemima does.)

03 Feb 18 - 03:21 PM (#3903667)
Subject: RE: practising songs
From: The Sandman

As i reread JOURNEYMAN, what beomes evident is MacColls determination to do a job well, this is where analysing and practising are so important.

06 Feb 18 - 08:47 AM (#3904077)
Subject: RE: practising songs
From: The Sandman

Subject: RE: practising songs
From: banjoman - PM
Date: 03 Feb 18 - 07:06 AM

I was once told that if you practice too much you get very good at practicing...bollocks
practising a lot is good but in my experience it is better to practise in periods of 30 to 45 minutes at one time rather than longer periods.
practising when one is tired or run down is not a good idea, yes, how you practise is also important isolating problem parts of a song or tune is a good idea

06 Feb 18 - 09:58 AM (#3904089)
Subject: RE: practising songs
From: GUEST,Knockroe

Some great tips in this thread re how to get through a song when words fail memory. Thanks. God, I hate people using printed word sheets or, worse still, mobile phones while singing. It's gotta be from the head and heart

08 Feb 18 - 05:58 PM (#3904459)
Subject: RE: practising songs
From: Banjo-Flower

I was once playing in an excellent tune (no songs)session in rural north lincolnshire UK where the tune sessions are few and far between where a melodeon player and myself were the only two playing from memory every one else had the music in front of them he leant over to me and said he did n't like to see people playing from music my reply was "do you want a session with people playing from music or no session at all"


BTW we were the only older players there everyone else had probably just finished schooling/uni

08 Feb 18 - 11:01 PM (#3904501)
Subject: RE: practising songs
From: GUEST,Kristoffer Ross

Banjo-Flower, I agree - everything has it's place, and "it takes all kinds." If we judge people before they've gotten past the learning from a book stage, they're not going to stay with us. (This is just my teenage, homeschooled millennial point of view)

09 Feb 18 - 03:17 AM (#3904515)
Subject: RE: practising songs
From: GUEST,Some bloke

A smile and a reassuring sprinkle of panache....

To be fair, with traditional songs it?s not always noticed as ad Lib because even if it?s not what you intended to sing, anyone actually concentrating may assume a variation in the song.

Which it is.

And if the performance ends up on YouTube, it may get repeated.

As I was delighted to hear when someone at a local club sang my ?version? of a verse to a song last year.

(It wasn?t forgetfulness in that case, more of a mixed audience and realising a line was coming up where coal was referred to as a black devil. I changed it on the hoof to old devil.)

09 Feb 18 - 03:40 AM (#3904519)
Subject: RE: practising songs
From: Joe Offer

I just can't get myself into the discipline of practicing songs by myself. I sing along with recordings, but that doesn't really help me master the song. What I find best, is to sing the song with or in front of forgiving friends, in a social singing situation. I learn songs much faster that way. Oftentimes, that's in a singaround group where I feel very comfortable. And usually, I'll sing from a lyrics sheet.
When I have the song down solid, then I'll add it to my repertoire to sing in whatever situation. But in general, I find I learn songs best when I sing with others.

09 Feb 18 - 04:35 AM (#3904534)
Subject: RE: practising songs
From: Will Fly

I think what you're touching on there, Joe, is the subtle distinction between singing in a supportive social environment, and performing to an audience. I make no distinction here in the work and effort required to do the singing - just to comment that the solo performer has no fallback position. He/she has to get it right.

I think that, no matter how much a musical piece is perfected in private, public performances will sharpen it and shape even more.

09 Feb 18 - 07:35 AM (#3904569)
Subject: RE: practising songs
From: Jim Carroll

After returning to my large repertoire of songs I've come to the opinion that the secret of 'learning' a song is to absorb the individual function or statement of each individual song in the first place
Words are merely vehicles to carry a story, opinion or emotion set in verse form with a tune added.
I learned a long time ago that the best way for me to retain a song was to recite it using natural speech patterns
Once you make the interpretation of the song emotionally your own, the song becomes fixed - I have managed to revive over two hundred songs I had not sung for decades with very little effort and my retentive memory has never been great
There are no "correct" versions of traditional songs anyway - they are all individual re-interpretations to one degree or another
Jim Carroll

09 Feb 18 - 09:31 AM (#3904588)
Subject: RE: practising songs

The only piece of paper I carry onstage is the set list. Everything else is memorised, and if I do forget a word or even a whole line, I carry on, not that I'm clever or anything, and laugh about it later. I'm only human, not a machine.
I don't like to see singers with sheets of paper - you may as well be reading your shopping list - it often makes for emotionless, robotic singing, sorry, but it's down to laziness. My brother, singing for 40+ years, always had bits of paper because he "just couldn't remember the words." Well, he's had a cataract operation, doesn't see so well, and is managing to remember the words just fine now!! Because he HAS to.

I rarely forget words because, I rehearse my songs over and over again.

09 Feb 18 - 09:36 AM (#3904589)
Subject: RE: practising songs
From: BobKnight

Sorry folks - that was me in the posting marked "Guest" above.

11 Feb 18 - 03:22 AM (#3904881)
Subject: RE: practising songs
From: GUEST,Some bloke

Have to agree with Jim Carroll. Knowing, appreciating and having story line knowledge of what the song is trying to say, especially when it tells a story, as ballads do, helps you remember them. I sang Streams of Lovely Nancy for years before finding out what it is all about. Far easier to remember it now.

I suppose that?s why I used to struggle with Sweet Thames Flow Softly. The verses would have been easier if the geography of the river flowed with the names locations but they jump around and don?t follow a story till the end. That took perseverance and bloody mindedness to ram it in my skull. Still, forty years on, it?s still there I suppose.

Word association is the main trick I use. When I sing Recruited Collier for instance. To this day, I can still struggle to sing ?stubble field.? As I?m getting near to it, I still concoct an image of Barney Rubble, rhymes with Stubble.

And the rest....

11 Feb 18 - 07:13 AM (#3904923)
Subject: RE: practising songs
From: Andy7

Mnemonics are useful for remembering guitar chords.

For example, one song I play has the sequence C Em F C F C D G.

I remember it as CEltic FC (Football Club) + FC DaGgers (Dagenham and Redbridge).

11 Feb 18 - 08:30 AM (#3904942)
Subject: RE: practising songs
From: Jim Carroll

"Sweet Thames Flow Softly."
Me too - it has no real narrative form to follow and geographically, it's all over the place
Fortunately, most English and Scots traditional songs have a set, usually chronological narrative
Some Irish lyrical songs can present a problem
Jim Carroll

12 Feb 18 - 03:15 AM (#3905112)
Subject: RE: practising songs
From: The Sandman

here is what i suggest for sweet thames.
I met my girl at Woolwich Pier beneath the big crane standing
And all the love I felt for her it passed all understanding
Took her sailing on the river, flow sweet river flow
London town was mine to give her, sweet Thames flow softly

Made the Thames into a crown, flow sweet river flow
Made a brooch of Silver town, sweet Thames flow softly

At London Yard I held her hand, at Blackwell Point I faced her
At the Isle of Dogs I kissed her mouth and tenderly embraced her
Heard the bells of Greenwich ringing, flow sweet river flow
All the time my heart was singing, sweet Thames flow softly

Limehouse Reach I gave her there, flow sweet river flow
As a ribbon for her hair, sweet Thames flow softly

From Putney Bridge to Nine Elms Reach we cheek to cheek were dancing
A necklace made of London Bridge her beauty was enhancing
Kissed her once again at Wapping, flow sweet river flow
After that there was no stopping, sweet Thames flow softly
Gave her Hampton Court to twist, flow sweet river flow
Into a bracelet for her wrist, sweet Thames flow softly

But now, alas, the tide has changed, my love she has gone from me
And winter's frost has touched my heart and put a blight upon me
Creeping fog is on the river, flow sweet river flow
Sun and moon and stars gone with her, sweet Thames flow softly
Swift the Thames runs to the sea, flow sweet river flow
Bearing ships and part of me, sweet Thames flow softly
since it is as jim said all over the place geographically, why not think of verse 2 and3 in alphabetical order,
verse one I Met, london yard second
putny bridge third, the fourth verse is defintely the concluding verse

12 Feb 18 - 03:16 AM (#3905113)
Subject: RE: practising songs
From: The Sandman

yes i have always had problems with molly bawn

14 Feb 18 - 10:45 PM (#3905810)
Subject: RE: practising songs
From: GUEST,Thebarleymow

Glad to see that I am not the only one who works and works at getting the words of songs beaten in to my memory. I have always considered it essential to thoroughly know the words of a song. It leaves you free to then sing the words with feeling and tell the story. To do otherwise is an insult to the listeners - in my opinion.
I do not have a good memory and I have seen me take months to learn the words to a lengthy, or awkward song. But it must be done. Then of course the musical accompaniment has to be arranged, learned and added in. Once this has been perfected, the only thing remaining is to perform in public and have all the mistakes appear (an inevitability), be remembered and be eliminated before the next performance. Such is as it should be.
So many sessions are now like being in a library with books and sheets of paper everywhere. If i (with my poor and enreliable memory) can do it, then so can others - if they make the effort.
Well, that’s my rant over for the day - ha!

15 Feb 18 - 10:48 AM (#3905900)
Subject: RE: practising songs
From: Severn

I find it good to learn songs while walking, getting a verse down and gradually adding more. It also lets me set a desired pace and comfortable key for the song and gives you plenty of time to choose what to emphasise and doesn't make me a slave to the version I learned from, while enabling me to check back to my original sources to brush up on things without wanting to go back to singing it in the source's key which may have been uncomfortable for me. I'll still have my own way of things down pat in my head and can make needed adjustments or readjustments. Luckily, I have a nearby lake to walk around, pausing when I pass other people.......

15 Feb 18 - 11:05 AM (#3905903)
Subject: RE: practising songs
From: The Sandman

I often prectise whilst walking also driving, washing up, or in bed

15 Feb 18 - 12:33 PM (#3905926)
Subject: RE: practising songs
From: GUEST,Some bloke

I used to practice in bed. More places to hide my stash.

I'll get me coat

02 Mar 18 - 06:52 AM (#3908957)
Subject: RE: practising songs
From: FreddyHeadey

In an interview with Martin Carthy by Jon Wilks on Grizzly Folk
"...Do you have a method of remembering those ballads? When you launch into a song with 30-odd verses, are you relying on visualisation or something?

Erm… I’ve just got good at organising them. Sometimes it feels like a film script. “That scene notes a change of scenery, so go to there.” But when you’ve organised it in a particular way, then it becomes very personal indeed.

To forget it in performance is almost unthinkable, but that’s not to say that it doesn’t happen. It happened fairly recently and I said, “Sorry, I’m going to have to stop. This has gone.”
Instead, what happened was that I started to speak the story, and then the line came back to me so I dived back into the song again. I’d seen people do it and wondered how they did it, and on this occasion, spontaneously, I did it.
The thing was, I wanted to tell people the story, and just by telling the story, the line I wanted came to me.
I can’t guarantee that will work every time. I think it worked because it was spontaneous......." 

thread for the whole MC/John Wilks interview

13 Mar 18 - 05:56 PM (#3910929)
Subject: RE: practising songs
From: CupOfTea

It's completely understandable that folks don't want a song performance "read" off a sheet, or, heaven forfend, a digital device. I've been annoyed at that myself, but I don't see it as an absolute rule. I like to have my "cheat sheet" available even if I don't use it, because there are times when I just blank on what comes next, even on things I've practiced extensively. I'd rather have a glance at my mnemonics than have to skip a critical verse or blow a punchline sort of ending. I don't want to endure someone trying to play/sing something only vaguely familiar from the page or device. If someone has MADE THE EFFORT, but still needs some props, that's a different thing to me.

I've not been performing much beyond open mics and sings, and do get a bit sweaty nervous still. I don't want to be known for only the top 20 songs I have strongly in memory, and enjoy sharing as wide a range of songs as I can. So the first couple times I trot out a new song I've been working up, I've got key words or chord patterns where I can see 'em. If it's a song I know well enough to sing, but haven't done for awhile, might have to look up the chords or what key I do it in. Saves me from having a "Frank Harte moment" - though he had extensive lyric sheets he used in workshop settings. I don't have his standing to try the patience of folks searching for a key or lyric. Is it so bad to want an expanding repertoire, if it means occasional lyric sheets? Can we save the purist judgements for professionals who get paid decent bucks?

I like the answers above about wanting to have a session or not - being one who is slowly moving from sheet music to memory at Irish sessions, because I find it harder to remember what something starts on without words.

Joanne in Cleveland who has been known to make lyric sheets for song alongs