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Thread: How do you remember all those tunes?

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    Registered User Ed McGarrigle's Avatar
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    Default How do you remember all those tunes?

    Ive been at it for 2 years. I’ve “learned” about 9 jigs, 3 polkas, 7 reels and 3 hornpipes. I’m starting to catch on a little quicker, for example this week’s lesson the A part of Monaghan Twig is coming along in just a few day,whereas I used to take a week for just 4 bars. I can play some tunes without a mistake by memory about 50% of the time ( i.e. The Hag’s Purse, THE Geese in the Bog, The Fairies, Bonaparte Crossing the Rhine) but those tend to be the more recent learns. Dipping into the back catalog can be a struggle. For example, yesterday trying to refresh Mrs. Crotty’s was just about like I never playedI it before . I had it down pretty well when we moved onto the next tune.Thank goodness for the Amazing Slow Downer!
    My teacher suggested I work on this week’s lesson daily as I do, and then alternate daily: Mondays, 2 jigs; Tuesday 2 reels; Wednesday 2 hornpipes; Thursday polkas. This seems like a good idea but given my pathetic attempt at Mrs Crotty’s I felt I had to devote more time to it today before this week’s lesson and 2 polkas.

    So, my question : How the heck do you keep all these tunes fresh?
    Last edited by Ed McGarrigle; Apr-07-2022 at 10:50am. Reason: Mistaken tune title

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    Default Re: How do you remember all those tunes?

    A few suggestions....

    1. Play with others! If you have a buddy who wants to play rhythm guitar, or you have a local jam to attend, it will help. You'll be thinking about playing at the right speed, at the right volume, coming in at the right time, etc.... and the melody will get stuck in your subconscious! The tunes I play at jams I can play in my sleep...

    2. Practice playing by ear... Instead of reading the notes, listen to a tune and play along till you get it. I find that when I learn music by ear, it's much easier to remember it.

    3. Learn to improvise. I can play dozens of bluegrass / old time tunes. Some people can play hundreds! BUT, in many cases, we never play'em the same way twice. If you remember a few notes of the song, you can throw in some arpeggios, blues licks, etc. and it sounds like you really know the song... when you actually barely remember it!

    Give yourself time. The above skills take many years to acquire (at least they did for me)
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    Default Re: How do you remember all those tunes?

    After a long while you don't remember all of them but when you hear them you know them. I have lists of hundreds of tunes that I revisit from time to time just to dust them off. When you really learn a tune it gets into your DNA.

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    Registered User Ed McGarrigle's Avatar
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    Default Re: How do you remember all those tunes?

    Ha ha
    According to Ancestry my DNA is 93% Irish. I might have missed the musical gene, though.
    I live about an hour away from any sessions but going for a listen would be worth the trip (went to hear Jimmy Keane a few weeks ago , well worth it!)
    I have one pal who might put up with me, but I really don’t know any people into Trad

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    Registered User John Kelly's Avatar
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    Default Re: How do you remember all those tunes?

    The more you play a tune the more it gets into your head, Ed. The advice of learning not only from the notation but by ear is very valuable - or at least has been in my own case. Bob's point about having loads of tunes in your head but not having them ready at hand is also very true. There are tunes I play frequently in sessions (mainly Scottish and some Irish) and at times someone will come in with a tune we don't play regularly but on hearing it it just seems to come back very quickly. What I often find more difficult is remembering the names of all the tunes I can play! I find this especially with bagpipe tunes and particularly those with four parts! With a note range of only nine notes there is a lot of repetition in music written for the bagpipes and it can be easy to get the tunes confused, but those we play more are the ones we remember best.

    Playing tunes in sets can be a good exercise too. You beging to link those tunes and anticipate each before you start playing it.

    Playing with other folk, or even playing along to a recording, as Jstring suggests, is very useful too, as is singing or whistling or humming the tunes to yourself without the instrument in your hands. Any time that tune is in your head you will be strengthening your ability to memorise it.
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    Default Re: How do you remember all those tunes?

    Ed,

    I understand how remembering so many pieces can feel daunting. Here is my approach, and it works well for me.

    I have a couple hundred songs that I like to play, so I listen to them regularly via my phone, I have a playlist with all of them. I regularly shuffle them and just play them in the background as I do other things. Raking the yard? I'm listening to them. Making coffee? I'm listening to them. Walking down to get the mail? I'm listening to them. I use Bluetooth ear buds, so I am not driving anyone else crazy, and I can still do anything else that requires attention. And, then I sit down and play a couple hours a day. Sometimes I focus on a piece that needs work, most of the time, I play whichever random piece is selected.

    Now, one big difference is that you play along with others, and I generally play for an audience of one, just me. However, knowing the pieces in my head because I have heard them so often makes them easy to remember later. I already know the next note or phrase because I have drilled it into my subconscious by repetition.

    Start with a smaller playlist and see if that helps.

    Good luck, and have fun!
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    Registered User Paul Cowham's Avatar
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    Default Re: How do you remember all those tunes?

    Quote Originally Posted by Bob Buckingham View Post
    After a long while you don't remember all of them but when you hear them you know them. I have lists of hundreds of tunes that I revisit from time to time just to dust them off. When you really learn a tune it gets into your DNA.
    I agree Bob. It seems to me that there are (at least) 2 levels of knowing a tune; a) knowing it really well so you are able to lead the tune in a session or b) not being able to recall the tune instantly, but when someone else plays it you are able to join in.

    There are many tunes that I've sort of picked up by osmosis at sessions that I can join in on, but fewer that I have sat down and learnt to the point that I can lead them. As others have said, playing regularly with other is a great thing to do - and more fun than practicing on your own.

    If you go to a session Ed, try recording it and listen to the recording as much as you can, the likelihood is that many of the same tunes will be played the next time you go to the same session.

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    Default Re: How do you remember all those tunes?

    All of these insights are absolutely true Ed. I would not feel bad about 'progress' if I were you. In fact I'd be pretty happy about it. I think you are doing just fine.
    One thing I have noticed is that the tunes I really worked at, the difficult ones, seem to be recalled more quickly.
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    Registered User Randi Gormley's Avatar
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    Default Re: How do you remember all those tunes?

    One thing i've noticed is that a lot of tunes are similar in part -- there's a lot of borrowing between similar types of tunes (which is why it often takes a few bars to figure out what someone's playing) -- if you can find some of those similar patterns -- runs or arpeggios or that sawing fiddle thing so many reels have -- you'll have the start of being able to play a piece of a tune, and being able to play a piece can translate into playing more of it until it's in your repertoire. That and, frankly, time on task and playing out with others. Attending workshops is also a huge gift if you can do it.
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    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: How do you remember all those tunes?

    Play with others as regularly and as often as possible. Play and rehearse with a band, attend a weekly jam session or two, invite folks over to play some music and adult beverages, do as much as you can.

    The stuff sticks. Without trying it sticks.

    I mean we are all different, sure, but the more you play with others the more the tunes will stick. You are not trying to compete with others, just to best your former self.

    I am in particular blessed with a kind of pattern recognition. I remember, for example, hundreds of telephone numbers from my past, even though we don't need to remember phone numbers anymore. And i am forgetting whose numbers they all were! So I remember tunes pretty easily. And for ever for the most part. Unfortunately I often forget the names of the tunes. But in playing something will pop in my head and I will play it and someone will say they haven't heard that in 20 years and I'll say, great, but what did I just play?
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    Registered User Simon DS's Avatar
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    Default Re: How do you remember all those tunes?

    Here’s another answer but it’s NOT intuitive:

    METRONOME!

    Beginners, and even intermediates Will occasionally Play the measures that they know well a bit faster, and then slow down for the measures they don't know so well. Using a metronome will give you a little bit more time to advance you're thinking why are you are playing the measure you know well. It's like typing, you start with individual letters, then words, and then a whole sentence will flow. In music you think about (and remember) notes, then melodic phrases, whole parts, and then finally you will remember the whole tune.

    The metronome will also force you to think in real time, and not inside that A4 sized piece of white paper with dots on it.
    Look up ‘ chunking’ too
    People have different objectives, and I respect that. I'm describing the ability to pick up an instrument and just play it.

    Try learning to type with a metronome (without looking) just as a mental exercise.
    Good luck!
    Last edited by Simon DS; Apr-12-2022 at 12:58am.

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    Default Re: How do you remember all those tunes?

    The best thing IMHO is to play with other instrumentalists and specially ones who are better than yourself, I regularly play in a session with a very fine fiddle player, he pushes me all the time and I'm sure this improves my own playing on mandolin.

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    Default Re: How do you remember all those tunes?

    Quote Originally Posted by Dave Hanson View Post
    The best thing IMHO is to play with other instrumentalists and specially ones who are better than yourself, I regularly play in a session with a very fine fiddle player, he pushes me all the time and I'm sure this improves my own playing on mandolin.
    Dave H
    This quote brought all kinds of memories. The clear fact that playing with 'someone better' offers all kinds of benefits. Psychologists call it 'modeling' but I have heard it called 'the handrail' by other musicians. BTW that 'better player' probably did work with a metronome.
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    Default Re: How do you remember all those tunes?

    The same way to get Carnegie Hall.............practice, practice, practice.

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    Default Re: How do you remember all those tunes?

    Slightly different situation but similar frustrating result, as in, "I feel your pain!":

    Besides more free-form fun, I've been playing in a mandolin orchestra for the past 5-6 years. Started on mandolin, but a second guitar was more critical so I switched. Now however, we have 4 good-to-excellent guitar players and some retired mandolinists, so I switched back. 2nd mandolin is often more complicated than 1st (riffs, fills, harmonies, counter-melodies that sound little like the melody), and what might have been an easy transition is, uhmm, not so much. Even though we're playing from sheet music, trying to shove 9 jigs, 3 polkas, 7 mazurkas and 3 tarantellas down my throat all at once has proven to be VERY daunting. I've come to realize that getting familiar with only 2 or 3 at a time is a better way to go.

    OTOH, I can still pull up 90% of my college rock band's repertoir from the mid-60s, words and all. Must be that "repetition" somebody mentioned!
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    Default Re: How do you remember all those tunes?

    I envy people who can read well and play as they encounter a score. My best method involves playing along with either a recording or a music notation audio file audio so that my better skills in 'playing by ear' are used. I suppose that going slow, as I AM slow in reading, help in gathering patience and realizing the details.
    To further complicate issues I've also gone from one instrument to another. The only sane approach to this situation is to develop focused and effective skills in practicing.
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    Registered User Ed McGarrigle's Avatar
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    Default Re: How do you remember all those tunes?

    I’ve decided to revise my strategy.Daily turnover of tunes isn’t working because I only get about 4 bars “back” . I didn’t grow up with The Music, so virtually every tune is new to me and there are no sessions less than an hour away. I try to increase my familiarity with listening to The Liz Carrol station, The Rolling Wave and Irish Music Stories podcasts, recently purchased the new Aggie Whyte collection and Tunes from the Goodman Collection. So getting more familiar with tunes in a broad way. also go to The Irish Mandolin website quite a bit.

    So, I’m going to give each genre 3 -4 days to get refamiliarized with 2 tunes from different genres: Work on this week’s lesson the Monaghan Twig and go back to Mrs Crotty’s and The Fairies. Then probably finish up on Monaghan’s Twig and revive Tatter Jack Walsh’s and Six Penny Money.
    Just be reconciled to it’s a life times work
    Thanks for all the suggestions
    Ed

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    Default Re: How do you remember all those tunes?

    Warning this can be annoying for family etc, but when you've finished practicing with the instrument, wander about a while running the tune out loud with "diddly dum de dums". Split up your practicing into smaller chunks so you keep it manageable. Only do the tunes you've just being doing, say the tune name before you begin, & check yourself that you're getting it right. Then go back and have another run through with the instrument later (say the name of the tune before you begin).

    I have no idea why it works, but verbalising the notes (out loud, not in the head) just makes them stick that much better for me.
    It can annoy the tits off anyone nearby, so maybe a wander up the garden so only the neighbours hear you .

    There's another advantage in that you can say to folks, do you know "XYZ" it goes ldiddly dum de dum" and give them the full As & Bs
    Anyway, that's my excuse for wandering around mumbling tunes like an eejit.
    Eoin



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    Default Re: How do you remember all those tunes?

    Quote Originally Posted by Ed McGarrigle View Post
    ... I didn’t grow up with The Music, so virtually every tune is new to me ...
    Excellent observation! Reminds me of, uhmm, me playing in a mandolin orchestra.
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    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: How do you remember all those tunes?

    From personal experience, YMMV.

    I can read, and I collect tune books. I have tune book acquisition syndrome. Additionally I have very often written out new tunes when I get back to my room after a jam. So I have three ring binders of tunes I have written out, so I would not forget them. And boxes of recordings from jams I have attended.

    (I spent a whole week in Scotland playing in sessions during the day, which I attended with a little recorder. I would spend the night writing out two or three of the tunes I had learned that day, and the next day go back to the sessions with a bigger repertory. I was crazy hungry for it.)

    So, if you can read that is something to try.

    Also interesting however, is that knowing I had the tune recorded or written out somewhere really reduced my anxiety when I forgot a tune at a jam. It wasn't lost forever, it was somewhere in my room. And 9/10 times just that quick drop in anxiety caused some relaxation in my brain, and the tune would come back to me. This feeling that nothing is lost forever really helps me, to the point that I rarely have to go "remind myself" of a tune I used to know, if I can just avoid panick and remind myself its not a disaster, nothing is lost forever.
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    Registered User Simon DS's Avatar
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    Default Re: How do you remember all those tunes?

    That’s a good point JeffD, I tend to print out a tune or tunebook that I’ve decided on (1000’s so far). I get them from .abc files so I can be sure that I’m playing the rhythm right.
    Then I record them (300+), and sometimes go over them again. I should play them more often because they’re very enjoyable, but I tend to concentrate on learning new ones and getting them up to recording level.

    I have tried in the past to play them without looking at the A4, once I have them in my head, but I’m a bit lazy and tend to just read the tune even after I know it, so muscle memory isn’t always autonomous.

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    Registered User DougC's Avatar
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    Default Re: How do you remember all those tunes?

    Ed has a plan. Horray. I like the other plans mentioned by more experienced players too.

    As I sit in my room here, I'm looking at a bookshelf full of CD's, Irish tune books and my own transcriptions of (who knows?) hundreds of tunes organized by type and then key/mode.

    The best asset however was (and still is) quick access to any tune via the ABC program. Really, it taught me Irish music thru many hours of review.

    The Amazing Slow Downer is still very useful, however quick search and access of tunes is not as swift. The difference is that the professional recordings revealed the subtle sounds of accents, ornaments and other methods used.

    Nowadays I'm trying to get used to youtube as a 'practice companion'. There seems to be more set up time involved but it does have the visual aspect, helpful in watching someone's hands, for example.

    I feel 'more secure' (like Jeff) when I have 'my version' of a tune neatly printed out with Finale notation software. There must be hundreds of Finale files too.

    Beanzy has my favorite method - verbalizing the names and notes of the tunes. It works very well however it is difficult to create the habit of talking aloud when, socially you know it is kind of weird.
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    Registered User DougC's Avatar
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    Default Re: How do you remember all those tunes?

    Some tunes are associated with others, so you get kind of a 'package deal' if you learn one of them, the others come too. The Tarbolton set is just one example.
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    Registered User Mandobart's Avatar
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    Default Re: How do you remember all those tunes?

    It got a lot easier for me when I began to understand basic song structure. Most rock, folk, blues, bluegrass, country music follows predictable patterns. When you learn those patterns (the vocabulary or "sentence structure" of these genres) you don't have to remember. It's like speaking your native tongue. You don't have to think about what words come next, you know.

    The hardest part for me is remembering the subtle distinctions between similar songs. Its easy, for example to merge Forked Deer with Whisky Before Breakfast.

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    Registered User foldedpath's Avatar
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    Default Re: How do you remember all those tunes?

    Quote Originally Posted by DougC View Post
    Some tunes are associated with others, so you get kind of a 'package deal' if you learn one of them, the others come too. The Tarbolton set is just one example.
    Arrggh! Somewhere I saw a T-shirt with words that said "Free the Tarbolton Three!"

    It's certainly the way it's played in Irish sessions, thanks to Coleman's early recordings. Personally though, I love the Tarbolton but I'm not a fan of the other two in the set.

    A while back I discovered that the Tarbolton was part of the Cape Breton repertoire too, and usually played with different tunes than the classic Coleman set. There is a Buddy McMaster album where he plays it in a set that goes: Hughie and Janet's March -- Warlocks (strathspey) -- Tarbolton Lodge -- Alistair Hunter. So that's how I've been playing it. In a mixed Scottish/Irish or Cape Breton/Irish session, people are likely to know at least some of those tunes.

    Other recordings that have led to classic sets are things like the early Bothy Band albums, and Lúnasa sets are sometimes heard in my area.

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