Friday, May 23, 2008

Name that tune

I've touched on this before, but I want to revisit it again. I had a conversation with a friend of mine awhile back about her distress at not being able to recall tunes. Specifically, being able to start tunes strongly enough. So, I've been percolating about that for a few months now and here's some more thoughts.

How is it that we learn new tunes, and add more tunes to our collections? First up, I could not have a head full of tunes without my tune list. Here's a link to one of my early posts, (yoiks - January of 2007!) where I talked about how keeping a running tune list can help keep track of the tunes.

Here's some other thoughts...

I never knew I needed an iPod until I got one. It is an audible tune list. I have made a few playlists that help me to listen to tunes that I'd like to learn. I've also named my festival recordings with the key in the title, making them easier to sort. So, I have a batch of A tunes, or D tunes, etc. that play in a row. The association by key, I think, is another brick in the memory path.

Another brain muscle exercise is a name-that-tune sort of game that came with my iPod. You hear a tune and are given 4 title choices. The quicker and more accurate you are, the more points you win.

And, last but not least about the iPod virtues, it is such great fun for me to go out walking with my fiddle tunes in my ears. Yes, I know, I used to feel a little miffed to see all the 'antisocial' folks with their earbuds blocking out the world. But, I'm right with them now. Oh, it's not so bad as that... I'll pull one out when I need to attend to other humans, or tricky traffic intersections.

Test yourself, even without listening. In my spare moments, I try to think of a tune. I might be nowhere near my fiddle, but I might as well try to eek out what melody I can. This can be frustrating, of course, but it's the work part of the whole process, seems to me. If I try to pull a tune up in my head, but come up blank, I will then go looking for it on the iPod, or in my iTunes if I'm sitting in front of my computer.

Recognize when the little bits bubble up and take advantage of those learning opportunities. First thing in the morning? There seems to be something about waking up that makes bits and pieces of tunes bubble up in my head. I consciously try to catch them and name them. And, again, if I'm blanking on the name or key, and admittedly, I have a lot of time on my hands, I'll go have a listen and try to identify an association that will help in the future.

Associations... we don't recall tunes in a vacuum. We recall other bits of info around the tunes, if you will. Where did we learn them, who was playing, was it outside on a sunny day, was it in some smokey (ick) pub, was it the first time we got the hang of a particular string crossing? And, so on. Oh, and everyone's favorite: "That sounds like the B part of Sally Ann, but different." Or, "That's got that ascending part like Quincy Dillon's High D, but different."

Review... I remember back to my piano lesson days. I'd have about 3 - 5 new pieces to work on, some exercises like scales and variations, and at least one piece for review. So, with the fiddle, I'll revisit some tunes that I know quite well. More often than not, I'll find something that will help me with my newer tunes - a bowing or fingering pattern, or something rhythmic that will form an association between the old tune and the new tune.

'Play' even when you don't have fiddle in your hands. I've progressed with playing by ear enough that I can mimic playing notes without holding a fiddle. When I'm working something out on a new tune, I find myself playing a non-existent fiddle. It's getting cold here in Hobart. I wear a fleece with long sleeves that can cover my hands. No one's the wiser.

Recognize when you get the little bits right and have a little pat-on-the-back moment. That positive reinforcement goes a long way toward building confidence. I still think it's a good idea to play tunes that are not comfortable yet, and to start tunes that you're not entirely sure of. Remember that my focus is on friendly jams. I'm not advocating that you take a flying leap off of a cliff while on stage or when you're trying to impress someone. But, when you're in friendly surroundings, just keep at it. You're learning more tunes and tune names, probably more than you know.

More on this in the archives from September 07, "Never be afraid to start a tune you don't know".


Matt McConeghy FS I-10 said...

I guess by now I have about fifty or more tune books, some of which have 500 or more tunes. Although there are many duplicates from book to book, the duplicates rotuinely are different settings. Besides the books I suppose I have heard another 1000 or 2000 tunes at jams and campouts. Yikes. My brain is full... so, I am familiar with very many more tunes than I could fully recall on request. Pretty often I have to hear a tune once or twice through before I can join in. I do remember many years ago when I was still a flatpicking guitar guy, seeing many of the older fiddlers who would start a tune by slowly working through the notes and phrases and then bringing it up to speed ponly on the 3rd or 4th iteration. So, my point is, that it is a kind of modern innovation that has slipped over from recordings and contest fiddling that you must start up briskly and end with a sharp clean cutoff. Slipping in to the tune and fading away is not Nashville, but it is not terrible.

Ter said...

Thanks for your comment, Matt.

The 'audience' is irrelevant when I'm old time jamming. It is all about the musical group interacting and taking on the challenge of improving on the tune each time through.