How to Memorize Drumline Music

Dc how to memorize drumline music
Memorizing drumline music can be frustrating and time consuming.   Having a system in place can help make the process much easier and more efficient. Here's a proven system that you can use to quickly and effectively memorize your drumline music:

1) Sight Read Through Your Drumline Music

Some people get their music and immediately start memorizing it one beat at a time. Don't do that! Sight reading is an extremely important skill for all musicians and if you're not good at it yet, it's only because you haven't done it much. Get your music out and turn a metronome on an extremely slow tempo (40 to 50 beats per minute) and sight read through the piece. It doesn't have to be perfect - if you mess up keep playing.  Just get in the habit of moving your eyes forward and looking ahead (playing at a slow tempo gives you more time to do this).

2) Focus on Sections

After you sight read through the piece a few times, figure out the spots that are giving you the most dificulty reading. Isolate those measures and work them out so that you can read and play them at the same time without stopping. When all of these sections are corrected, sight read through the entire piece again a handful of times.

3) Bump Up the Tempo

When you can successfully sight read through the entire piece at your initial tempo, bump the tempo up 5 bpm and repeat steps1 and 2. Continue this process until you can read the entire piece about 20 bpm under the written tempo.

4) Prioritize What You Need to Memorize First

Now that you're really familiar with the piece and have worked out a lot of the areas that were giving you trouble, it's time to start memorizing. Decide which area you need to memorize first based off of your needs or goals. If your instructor told you to memorize a certain section first - do that.  If you know you're starting at the end of the piece next rehearsal - start at the end.  If you just need to learn the piece - start at the beginning.

5) Memorize One Measure at a Time

Start at the beginning of the section that you need to memorize first (eg. the beginning to rehearsal letter "A") and memorize the first measure of the chunk. Next, memorize the second measure of the section and play the first two measures from memory. After that, memorize the third measure and play the first three measures.  Then the fourth measure and play the first four measures from memory, etc. etc.

6) Play the Chunk from Memory

Once you have the entire chunk memorized, play it a few times with a metronome 20 bpm under tempo without the sheet music in front of you. Take note of any areas you have questions about or that you have a hard time playing through from a memory stand point. After you do this three or four times, go back to the sheet music to answer any questions that you have, and repeat the process until you can play the chunk from memory without question.

7) Rinse and Repeat

Work steps 4 and 5 until you have the entire piece memorized. When you have all of the chunks memorized, start piecing them together the way you did with the measures (play the first two chunks, then the first three chunks, etc.). If you have questions on a transition between chunks, take the time to just work those two sections and smooth it out.

After You Memorize Your Drumline Music

Once you have your drumline music memorized, start to really refine the way that you are playing it.  Focus on lining everything up with a metronome and making sure that your technique is consistent and you're playing with great tone quality. When you feel that you can play the piece well 20 bpm under tempo, start to bump it up 5 beats per minute at a time until you get to tempo. Continue refining any new challenges you face as a result of the faster tempo and remember to always pay attention to the way you sound as well as your rhythmic accuracy.

Put it to the Test

Use this method next time you have to memorize drumline music and see how effective and useful it really is. Give yourself as much time as possible to work through the process so that you can show up to your next rehearsal prepared and ready to play clean beats!  

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Pat McLaughlin

8 May 2013 in Education
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Pat McLaughlin

Pat McLaughlin is the founder of Drumline Chops.  He graduated from the University of North Texas with a degree in music education and is currently the percussion director at West Bloomfield High School.