Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Do you have a tunelist?

Keep a simple tunelist and bring it with you whenever there's a chance that you'll be around music. Even if you don't have your instrument with you. Keep track of tunes that you like. You might want to add to it. Things like book names and page numbers. It makes it easier to remember tunes that you’d like to improve at. I also use mine to collect new friends' email addresses and phone numbers. Sometimes, I'll add what to get at the grocery store on the way home. It has many uses.

Speaking of remembering tunes. I hear from a lot of newbies that it is difficult to remember tunes: the name, the A part, the B part, how it starts, any or all of these parts of the whole. I take comfort in the fact that 'remembering' a tune is really a snapshot over time. Getting used to that feeling helps you to be a little easier on yourself. Mostly everyone has a process over time that they go through on the way to playing the whole tune by ear.

Let's break it down -

First I hear a tune and it catches my attention.

The name, if I hear it, either sticks or it doesn't. (Here's where adding it to my tunelist helps.)

The melody might stick, but usually only bits of the tune stick. (Here's where recording is a must, for me.)

Recognizing the construction helps somewhat. 2 A's, 2 B's? Only one part? High or low parts?

Understanding what key it's in. (This took me the longest to learn for some reason.)

Towards the end of this process, I increasingly run the tune through my head, often humming along. At first, I'll have trouble starting it off, but eventually that gets better. I find it helpful to relate it to a tune that I already know. When I was learning 'Briarpicker Brown', I can remember thinking "It's like Rose Tree, but a little different." To this day that still helps me get started. I hear from some folks who claim they recall the B part better than the A part. What the heck, if I have to doodle through a B part 'til the A part comes around, then that's what I'll do.

Around this time, I start playing it with my jamming buddies. That is to say, I can remember the name, the key, how it starts, and mostly how it goes through the end. Sometimes, I fumble around, but maybe a buddy knows the tune and offers up some advice. (Or, we get to talking about versions and where they learned it from and what part of Kentucky it came from and how they used to play it and who recorded it when and on and on. But, that's another story for later on.)

Contrary to what you might think, I'll start calling the tune at a friendly jam before I know the tune completely. There's often something synchronous about playing with others that helps a tune gel for me. Sure there are times when the tune just stalls, but more often that not, we have a good play at it. To the unknowing observer, it might sound great as though we've played it a hundred times before.

Maybe 2 weeks later, I can remember and put all the components together. I'm fond of saying that the last phase in this process is when I can fiddle the tune and raise my foot to stop it, or call out 'One more time'.

And, if I've put it on my tune list, it will be easier to call it again sometime down the road.


Fiddler said...

Glad to hear you are working on Apple Blossom...swell tune.

Ter said...

Recorded it twice. Once at Black Creek Fiddlers Reunion with buddy Larry. And, a few years back at Old Songs with David on the dulcimer. It's also in the new Portland Collection, Vol. 2.