learning tunes by heart

learning tunes by heart

Good day to everybody from Massimo.
I think the issue has already been widely discussed, but my search didn’t produce any results. I have big difficulties to memorize tunes and playing them without reading the music sheet . That is indeed a big limitation particularly in sessions.Would be really nice if somebody could give me advice about ways and techniques which could help my very bad memory . Thanks

Listen, listen, and listen some more

Put down your fiddle. Take one recording of a tune you really like. (Although I know you love Lunasa, I’d select a recording of a common session tune in a setting that is close to your local’s setting.) Listen to that recording for hours on end until you can sing the tune not only right along with the recording, but when the recording isn’t playing as well. NOW pick up your fiddle. Find the first note of the tune on your fiddle. Figure out how to play the tune you already know on your fiddle.

Do it again for the next tune.

It gets faster the more you do it. Honest. ๐Ÿ™‚ The more you do it, the easier and faster it happens. I promise. Have fun!

Zina

Re: learning tunes by heart

Zina’s right.
And ther was a mention not long ago here about when you play from the dodts the music bypasses the part part of your brain that actually enjoys it. You really need to get in touch with this part of your concsiosness.

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I find it helpful to record the same tune 10 times or more onto a cassette tape and listen to it over and over while driving in my car or while walking with a walkman. That way when I have very little time to sit around at home I can learn while travelling to/from work etc. .

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I’ve had the same problem with learning tunes, not helped at all by being an orchestral musician for most of my life!

What I find to be a great help is a tune-learning workshop I go to every week. The system our teacher uses with a typical 8+8 tune is to play the tune through at normal speed, and then at half-speed, for us to know what it sounds like (and to record on tape or md). Then she takes us through the tune slowly, two measures at a time, using the question-and-answer method: the first 2 measures being a "question", and the second 2 being an "answer". If necessary we’ll do a note at a time if there are any technical problems. Then onto the second question (2 measures), usually very similar to the first, and its answer, which is often slightly different to the first answer. That completes the first half of the tune. Then we’ll play that first half through several times until its thoroughly in our heads and fingers.

Similarly with the second half of the tune. The first 4 measures of the second half are usually quite different to anything in the first half, but the question-and-answer method is still used. The final 4 measures of the second half are often quite close to the last 4 of the first half, so there’s no great problem there.

That’s the whole tune taught, and then we play through it many times. Invariably, many of us have forgotten most of it the next day (!), but it comes back into the mind a few days later - presumably when the subconscious has had a chance to work on it.

I’ve been playing Irish trad on the fiddle now for nearly 3 years, and I’m happy to say the tunes are coming a lot more easily. Recently, I’ve also started listening to one or two tunes on cd very intensively. I believe that approach works best when the technical side of playing is fairly fluent, so that it then becomes easier to "think" with the fingers from the auditory input rather than from a visual input.

Trevor

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I’ve found it helpful to simply listen to a tune over and over again until you can hum or whistle the entire tune (I don’t mean be able to hum it just after listening to it, but to be able to hum it at will).

Then, I do what Zina does - find the first note, and struggle through the rest. It does get easier with time, but unless I already have the tune’s melody memorized through listening to it I can’t really play it worth a darn.

Eric

There’s more info on Trev’s method on that website as well: http://www.slowplayers.org/SCTLS/learn.html . As you get better at learning by ear, you start learning what Jesse Langen calls "the story of the tune" rather than just two measure phrases and will not need to break the tune down into quite so many phrases. But don’t go hurrying to get to that point, let it come naturally.

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Not shouting, capitals for emphasis only.

I’d like to reinforce the things said so far. Especially Zina Michael and Joe. I learned most of the tunes I know SUBCONSCIOUSLY by listening to favourite tapes many times over the years when I drove a lot.

I find these days that I have a head full of tunes I know, which I have never even played, and all I have to do is exactly what Zina describes when she says "all you have to do now is play THE TUNE YOU ALREADY KNOW on your fiddle.

Trevors method is not as good for me personally - though I don’t knock it. It is a version of the same thing in that you PLAY it over and over to learn it, but for me there is the risk that it becomes a bit like Michaels description of bypassing the enjoyment - I could end up playing it because I must, rather than because I can.

Good luck

Dave

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Having just set out on the tune-learning journey (repertoire = 6.5 tunes by heart now - yay!), I can empathise. Here’s what’s helped me:

1- Realising that it’s going to take a whole week to learn a tune properly and fluently… IF you work at it for at least half an hour every day (this might just be me, I’ve no idea how long it takes others - beginners or no).

2- A slowdown program. Cooledit’s worked wonders for me - and also helped shift the key of some Lunasa pieces in an F mode down to D (easier for standard flutes + whistles)

3- beating short phrases into my finger-memory with a large wooden-mallet’s worth of patience and willpower

4- Realising that at the end of a practice session, you may still feel you didn’t get it, but then the next day you find your fingers (bowing as well, fiddlers?) were paying attention after all, and after a brief warm up they seemed to have improved significantly overnight.

5- yes, the playing the tune over and over so often that you start wondering why on earth you thought you liked it in the first place ๐Ÿ™‚

6- practise your ornaments separately from the tune, so that trying to figure out the articulation doesn’t slow down the tune when it’s flowing otherwise quite smoothly. Concentrate on getting the rhythm constant (Actually I keep telling myself this, but do I ever listen?)

7- If you’re using the sheet music to help learn the tune, ditch it as soon as you can.

godspeed
(which I hear is VERY fast indeed)
-matt

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Learning a tune phrase by phrase is a great thing if you’re not facile with your instrument yet. It gives you a chance to work phrases (which tend to repeat across tunes) AND to work technique, figure out where the different notes are on your instrument, get more comfy with your instrument.

Learning to learn by ear and learning a tune are actually two different things. If you’re a beginner, though, I wouldn’t worry too much about all this. Just pick a tune that you really like (so as to make it easier to learn), preferably a session standard rather than a performance type piece, and learn it however you can. Remember, it’s supposed to be fun! ๐Ÿ™‚

Zina

Oh, and one very important thing that no one ever believes. Play slowly. Slower. Slower than that. I promise you that if you as a beginner learn and play a tune slowly, much more slowly than session speed for much longer than you want to, only working up the speed when it comes naturally, you will actually have it up to speed faster with a much better feel and time than if you’d gone at it full bore when you were first learning it. (Or worse, have only that one tune up to speed and always have to drop back down in speed rather than having your playing overall able to play more quickly.)

I remember other players smiling at me indulgently and sometimes patronizingly when I first began, even though we were at roughly the same playing level (dead beginner), because my teachers wanted me to hold the speed down. When one of them recently asked me how I ‘got so good so fast’, I didn’t know what to say, because I knew they wouldn’t believe me — they didn’t believe what my teachers taught me about learning to play this stuff the first time, and I’m fairly certain they won’t believe them now either.

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I’ve already unloaded some MIDI files from SlowPlayers site, and I’m already working on them, trying, before tunes, to remember all precious advice above . Thanks. I will update You on progresses.

Re: learning tunes by heart

If you can, use the MP3s. You’ll get a better feel for the music that way! When you’re more comfortable and feel a bit more confident with learning tunes by ear, then switch to full speed recordings, so you can hear how the tunes go at full speed in your mind’s ear. ๐Ÿ™‚

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Check out MP3.com (before it’s too late, it’s just been bought by C/NET and there’s no promise of what it will be like after Dec 2) and search for a tune you want to learn. If it’s a common session tune, you’ll probably find several versions (some fast, some slow, etc) of the tune.

Also, read the replies to my thread (from last week) about getting tunes to "stick" in your head … some excellent replies, there….

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A prescient thread indeed. I’ve just given some dots and a recording of some tunes to a friend, and she was wondering if she’d be able to ‘learn them by heart’ in time for the event we are to play them at, and lo and behold, all this appears!
And the stuff about the tunes in your head - Zina you’re so right! Another friend of mine said he wanted me to learn ‘Belles Of Tipperary’. ‘Belles of what?’ I asked, ‘I don’t think I’ve heard that’. So he mailed me some dots, and said he picked it up at such and such a session and I must have heard it etc etc - all the usual blandishments. I played through it and it was familiar, as though I’d played it before, I even seemed to know how to change it from what was obviously a fiddle setting into a ‘flute tune’. I assumed it was just one of those tunes which shared phrases and sounded similar to one of the other tunes I play. Then about an hour ago he mailed me to say, Oh, it’s on the Kevin Crawford D Flute album as The New Policeman. I played the track, and suddenly realised that’s where I knew it from - I’ve had the CD many years, but I only ever thought of that tune as being ‘the one after The Greenfields Of Rossbeigh. But there it was, in my head, fully formed waiting to come out….
Of course, this doesn’t help my friend who’s worried about the tunes I sent her, as she’s hardly ever heard them before!
Mark

Re: learning tunes by heart

The Belles is one of my favorites, Mark! It’s one of the first reels I ever learned. I need to go back and biff it up, I didn’t know enough about rolls back then and I was learning from a fluter, and I was trying to duplicate what I heard from Shannon, so I’m the exact opposite from you, Mark, I have to turn it from a flute tune into a fiddle tune! Most people know it as New Policeman, though.

The simplified setting of what Shannon taught me is at http://www.slowplayers.org/SCTLS/music/belles.html .

Re: learning tunes by heart

I would echo Zina and Eric’s comments about learning to hum a tune and transferring this to the "notes on the fiddle". Further to this, I would recommend trying to find where the notes are for tunes you already have in your head—even something as simple as "Happy Birthday" and also practise scales without the music. After a while, you should be able to play any tune at all, no matter how difficult, as long as you can remember it in your head. Good luck.

John

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*blink* You mean, people practise scales *with* music?!

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Believe it or not, some people do. I have a book of Mandolin Scales and Studies by Jay Bell. Most of them , I’ll never need and I’d already learned all the basic ones by ear, in any case.

john

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Do you know, I’m trying to remember now if I ever practised scales with music. I must have, I took classical viola as a kid, surely I must have, but I can’t remember it to save my life…senility must be setting in.

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I quite often make up words to fit with the same rythmn as the tune and I find that helps me to remember the phrasing cos its easier to hum the tune with words rather than just on its own. Its just repeated phrases of words not a whole song and I try to include the name of the tune so I can remember what its called too. eg
Green Gates is…..

Have you locked those greeney gates
and have you locked those greeney gates
and did you lock them
did you bolt them
Did you lock those gates and bolt them …..

Hmmm maybe I’m the only idiot that does this but it helps me!!!

Sarah at the end of a long day

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Actually making a song to the tune? Tha’s interesting.

I usually just try and lilt along.

An

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When I was learning the piano and cello as a youngster I learnt scales and arpeggios from printed pages, and I think the reason was to learn the fingering, which, for some of the more exotic scales on both instruments, can be difficult.
There may be different ways of teaching scales today, but when I’m playing the cello now in an orchestra I don’t usually pay much attention to what fingering I’m using, except that I believe it is now being influenced to some extent by my fiddle playing ๐Ÿ™‚
Trevor

Re: learning tunes by heart

There are two parts to playing a tune by heart. First is getting the tune into your head. Second is knowing where to find the notes on your instrument. Most people are remarkable adept at the first task. But if you’re not completely at home on your instrument, able to instantly land a finger on any pitch you hear in your mind’s ear, then the learning-by-ear process will feel awkward, even if you’re actually quite good at memorizing melodies. I suspect many beginners struggle with this because they don’t listen closely enough to the sounds their own instrument makes. Every note has it’s own character on each instrument, as does every interval between notes, whether it’s a half step or a 3rd, or 5th, or whatever. Learn to hear these, and listen to the qualities of each on *your* instrument, and you’ll find it much easier to pick up tunes on the fly.

Of course, it still takes some skill at hearing and remembering tunes, but for most people, that’s the easy part. I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t have a bunch of songs and tunes in their head, from simply hearing them repeatedly. All I have to do is say, "Pop Goes the Weasel," and 99.9 percent of you will hear the tune in your head. Right? In fact, you can’t get the tune out of your head. Why is it that us trad musicians moan about not being able to learn by ear, but if we go to a birthday party, we all know the melody and the words to the song when the cake is brought out, or "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" during the 7th inning stretch, or, closer to home, Star of County Down. We even complain about this phenomenon when it’s a vapid tune. Try it: "Stayin’ Alive." "Oh Mandy." "Bad boys, bad boys, whatcha gonna do…." "Irish Washerwoman." See, you’ve got those tunes in your head. Now you can’t get them *out* of your head. And if you’re intimately familiar with your instrument, you can play them, almost instantaneously.

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naw, it’s all a kind of magic, and only special people can do it.

Surely.

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Will, dammit. I hate you. *snort*

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Get that bloody song out of my head!

**attempts to exorcise Irish Washerwoman via a wall**

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I think the process you you through learning a tune differs substantially between people who only have a small repertoire and those with say 100 plus tunes in their head. Once you have enough of the genre stored away up there, I think you are mostly learning the DIFFERENCE between the new tune, and the stock of related tunes you already know, unless you manage to find a tune that’s really way out of the ordinary. I believe one thing that can’t be pointed out enough to inexperienced ‘tune learners’ is the simplicity of the musical construction of these tunes. I remember faithfully learning the tunes bar by bar for years, not even realising that the phrases repeated themselves so much within the tunes, even if disguised by a little variation. So look at the structure of the tune carefully first if you are learning from dots- you can half the number of phrases you need to learn!
In an ideal world we’d only want to play tunes that we already ‘know’, but in reality there are all sorts of reasons we might want to learn a tune cold, or semi-cold from dots. The way I learn a tune quickly is the same way I learn a tune that gets played in a session. If I hear a tune that grabs me at a session, I always start from the ‘hook’, then suss out what key it’s in, and then fill in the gaps. I’m sure lots of people do this, and it’s a good way to learn tunes provide you do bother to fully construct them, and not just learn them up to the level where you can ‘hack it’ in a session. You can do the same thing using sheet music and a vague knowledge of a tune. Play the CD, or recall the bit that grabbed you at the session. Find that bit on the dots. Learn it - it should be easy because that’s the bit you already ‘know’, then work out from there, backwards and forwards until you’ve memorised the whole thing - looking all the time for bits that repeat etc. You’ll still have to play it lots to really wire it into your neurons, but I reckon it’s as fast a way to force-learn a tune as any.

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"…you came and you gave without taking…."

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Aaaauuuuugh….Harmon, you, you, you, YOIK you…!!!!

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Ottery, you got it dead right about the simple structure of most trad tunes.
I indicated as much, a bit clumsily perhaps, in my first post on this thread. What it boils down to for a great number of tunes is that when you get the first 4 bars of each half in your head then you’ve got virtually the whole of the tune.
Trevor

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"…you kissed me and stopped me from shaking,
but I turned you away…"

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Remind me to kill you next time I see you, okay, Harmon? *grin*

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"OH MANDY"

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P.S. So tonight, when your collective heads hit their collective pillows, you’ll lie there staring at the ceiling, with Barely Manly-ows" voice crooning, "Well you came and you gave without taking, Oh Mandy, well you kissed me and stopped me from shaking, but I turned you away, Oh Mandy."

And there’s nothing you can do about it, because now you’ll associate the thought "pillow"—even as your head hits that once comforting softeness—with "Oh Mandy, well you came and you gave…."

Mwhuhahahahahaha.

And if this happens to you, then you can wake up refreshed and confident tomorrow, knowing that you have it in you to learn by ear.
๐Ÿ™‚

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Oh, and if it’s any consolation, I too now have that sappy melody stuck in my head, so there. Just be glad I didn’t choose a Neil Diamond song ("I am, I said").

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Well, it didn’t take long to descend into silliness did it now?
Personally I’m intrigued by Sarah The Flute’s idea of making up words to fit every tune. By the time she’s learned a hundred or so tunes she’ll have driven herself completely bonkers! So why don’t we suggest to the powers that be that we have a new section on the website dedicated to our soon-to-be-sectioned fellow sessioneer - ‘The Sarah the Flute tune-song bank’.
Here’s my contribution to help get the ball rolling…

Morrison’s, Morrison’s
We all play Morrison’s.
It’s such fun, and what could be finer?
Morrison’s, Morrison’s
Let’s not play Morrison’s -
It’s not fun or clever and it’s in E Minor.

etc etc ad nauseum

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cheque, please

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I remember reading an humourous Isaac Asimov autobiographical short story. He had this word for a certain chemical in his head: para-dimethyl aminobenzaldehyde (I think it’s used in microbiology). He started lilting the word to the tune of THE Irish Jig (I presume he meant The Irish Washer Woman) in a New York public place - could have been a park, underground, the street, whatever. This woman, who had overheard him, turns round to him and says, "Oh, so you know the words of it - in IRISH?!"

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Or

Oh you are drowsy, Maggie,
You’ve been on the tiles Maggie,
You’ve been on the booze all night
And you’re eyes are very baggy

:-{

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Hi Folks
after only 24 hours I can see already progresses: two new tunes stored in my mind. That "questions and answers" system and many other advice are really working. It will take time to speed up but I’m so surprised that I do have a bit of memory in some remote part of my brains. (it is very normal of me to forgetthings, even where I’ve parked my car ). More astonishing is that I have that feeling of tunes going straight from ears to fingers.
It would be great to have such a fantastic and perfect scheme of questions-answers in life, but that’s too much and not a possible subject for this forum. Ciao & thanks again, Massimo

Re: learning tunes by heart

Glad to see we have been of assistance, Massimo. All the best with your music.

Incidentally, talking about adding lyrics to tunes, this reminds me of an amusing incident at a folk festival a few years ago. A female singer was singing an unaccompanied version of a song "Sweet Portaferry" learned from the singing of Jane Cassidy which is actually set to an O’Carolan tune. After she had finished, a guy shouted out "Fanny Power" and there was a deadly silence followed by some tut tutting until he explained that was the name of the original tune. That’s singers for you. ๐Ÿ™‚

John

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Hey, we got over 20 posts before we descended into the usual chaos, so we’re doing better these days…the meds are working, grandma. I nearly had bagel all over the monitor from the lyrics to Morrison’s and then again for Maggie and Fanny. Heh. Yup, Morrison’s is the best so far, I’m thinkin’.

But I’m glad we got in some good advice for you before we hit the nonsense portion of our regularly scheduled program , Massimo. ๐Ÿ™‚

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Massimo, it’s great to see that those ideas on this thread are working out for you. I’ll have to try out some of them for myself sometime ๐Ÿ™‚
Trevor

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massimo, prova ad imparare a cantare i pezzi, se li impari cosi’ poi li saprai anche suonare piu’ facilmente.
( try to sing the tunes )

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Oh no too much practising……. too many tunes…….. they’re coming to take me away Ha ha…!!!

Sarah @ the funny farm

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What I end up doing is singing the note name along with the melody. It seems to help me and it has the added benefit of helping strengthen the association between "this tone", "this note name" and "this fingering".

—Dave

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If a tune you want to learn is available in abc format, you could "watch" the notes being played on a fiddle fingerboard while you are listening to it. This will feed your memory from two senses and, can be a lot of fun when you increase the tempo on a tune containing triplets, rolls etc..
The software is available at
http://www.geocities.com/shanaway1/