Mark 'Spanky' Gutierrez's Blog

It's Me.. Honest Its Me!!

Why memorize music?

Why is memorizing music a good thing?

I know lots of performers including myself that will perform with the printed music on stage with them. This is probably considered out of the norm when you consider all the mainstream performers that never ever have music out in front of them.

Why is that?

I am currently trying to memorize my music and join the masses and here are a few reasons why: You don’t ever have to worry about having forgotten your music at home! You can be the person that knows the whole tune at a jam! You can turn your attention away from the printed music and onto the audience or the other members of your group (this last little point may be the most important to me at the moment…more on this a little later). You can go outside when its dark out and play to the stars or play in the dimly lit bar! There are many, reasons why to memorize your music.

When you play in a band it is so important to listen to what and how the others are playing. If your nose is constantly in the music you might not be able to do this. I experience more freedom when my music is memorized. I can start to think about other things besides what the next note, chord or word is. If I can listen to the other musicians, one of the other players might have a great twist on the tune and I can follow the new style or whatever the change might be.

Another great advantage is just to be able to play under the stars. This is probably one of the most therapeutic things that I do for myself. Step outside on the porch and strum a few tunes to myself. There is nothing more relaxing. If you don’t memorize some music you will be straining your eyes to read and you can’t lie back in the hammock and watch the stars!!

The process: Lyrics, Melody, Chords, Repetition


I like to memorize the lyrics by thinking of the tune as a story. I seem to be able to piece the song together better as a story. Each verse can be a new chapter… and my brain kind of asks “what happens next?” and the logic of the story unfolds a little better.


Melody is a tough one for me. I know that sounds crazy but I started my musical journey of as a rhythm player. The bass line and the rhythm are the first things I hear. I have to listen or read the melody a number of times before it is truly committed to memory. This is crucial to performance as well. If I can sing the melody I can reconstruct where my chord solo is going or I can hum my way through a few forgotten words on a song that I am singing.


I will work my way into memorizing the chords next. I usually think of the chords in the context of their harmonic purpose. I don’t like to play the same chords through a whole song so I often will look for chord substitutions and inversions at this time as well. Once I have the chords that I want I will write them in and continue to practice them in the same places.

Next is repetition:

When I am done with a song …. I am almost sick of it. Repeat the song until you know it. Hmmm seems a little easy huh? Not really! Think of moving from Practice to Rehearsal. Big, Big, Difference between those two words:

Practice: during practice I allow myself to start over after having made a mistake. I will correct it make note of it on my music. If I have to I will practice tough sections until they are smooth. I continue practicing until I think I have it all down pretty good

Rehearsal: Play from memory start to finish. Never stop and start over. This gives you a great advantage over the folks that only practice. Rehearsing means that you have to do it perfectly (start to end) or find a way out of the train wreck that you might have gotten yourself into and work your way to the ending. See there is a big difference and they both serve critical roles in memorizing a song. Trust me, if you work yourself out of a few train wrecks at home it’s a lot easier to do on stage!!

By the end of this process I am pretty tired of the tune. I have to remember why it was that I picked it in the first place. Then when I play it for others either on stage or in a jam session, the response from the other folks reminds me why I liked it so much and it all balances itself out.


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2 thoughts on “Why memorize music?

  1. The way you explained this process is exactly what we Strumdingers have wanted to get since our inception 4 years ago, only yours is the clearest description of not only what we need and want, but how we can get there. Thank you, Oh Fabulous Instructor of Stringed instruments~ Blessings and a Big Howdy

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