The connection between tune, name, and playing

The connection between tune, name, and playing

In the recent thread on remembering tunes, TheSilverSpear referred to what happens "when tunes get so closely associated with their name that you can’t play them until you have connected name and tune."

This sometimes happens to me, and I am curious about it. A tune will come up in a session and I will know it’s a tune I have played, and my fingers will search around for it. Then the name comes to my head, and then the fingers line it right up and I can play it. (assuming here that it’s one I have played before )

What is the nature of that connection between tune and name? I know names can have more than one tune and vice versa; but I’m wondering what it is in the nature of the mental/ear filing system that makes this connection helpful for me. will I someday get to a point where just hearing two bits worth of a tune will be enough and I won’t even care about the name part of my head’s filing system?

And is there any connection between this skill and being able to pick up tunes, if not on the fly, than at least more easily? With singing I am more able to do this, but I am eagerly awaiting the day when my fiddle joins in.

Insights? Advice? Thanks.

Re: The connection between tune, name, and playing

This happens to me, too. The tune comes up and it sounds really familiar, I fumble around a bit, then when I remember, or am told the name, It all falls into place.

I’m not a brain scientist, so can’t tell you the mechanics, I think having a name for the tune is simply one more link to the memory bank.

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Ditto……………… I wonder if it relates to having learned tunes from the dots. I am very much a dot learner.

Re: The connection between tune, name, and playing

Word Association


Someone else may give you a more complete or scientific answer, but basically:

The mind likes to build on what it already knows. Whether words, colors, smells, concepts, experience of whatever, it recalls things much more easily if it has a ‘peg’ to hang new knowledge on.

Words are simply symbols of things. You associate those things and so the words go along for the ride.

Read more: How does word association work? what brain functions does it use? | Answerbag http://www.answerbag.com/q_view/688880#ixzz1CXSn0vX2

jim,,,

http://www.answerbag.com/q_view/688880

Re: The connection between tune, name, and playing

I don’t learn by dots, and I used to have issues with this. I think I was creating a little subconscious mnemonic device, which would attach the first several notes of a tune to its name in my head. And actually, it wasn’t the notes, really, it was the finger positions.

My ex used to call me the human jukebox, because you could call out the name of a tune, and I could remember how to start it.

But I did have about a year, where I would hear a tune in a session, and think that I knew it, but I couldn’t really play it until I remembered what it was named. I spent a lot of time trying to get rid of that. And the thing that really worked for me was to stop caring. I know it sounds simple, but it really worked. I found that part of the reason I couldn’t play the tune is because I was dedicating the lion’s share of my brain power to trying to remember the name of the tune, instead of actually playing it. So I got better at letting go of the names, and just concentrating on playing the tunes. Half the time, I would figure out what tune it was within seconds anyway, because I was then actually playing the tune, and it would dawn on me what tune it was.

Seriously, though, this was one of the huge steps in moving forward for me. It was the beginning of my ability to concentrate on the flow and contour of the tune (see the other thread), instead of the notes themselves. It’s a double edged sword, though, because I play tons of stuff that I don’t know the name of, and has somewhat reduced my ability to start tunes on the fly, when someone calls out the name of a tune. I do think it’s important to know the names of tunes that you play, because it gives you a point of reference for talking about the tune with other people. So I pretty much always ask what a tune was after playing it, if I didn’t know…

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It’s obvious from all the requests on this site that many people attach a great significance to names. For myself, I find the name is like a key to that particular pigeon-hole in my memory where the tune and its associated bits and pieces reside. I find a similar experience with people — you know the face from somewhere, then someone tells you the name and it all comes flooding back: the house, the children, the divorce…

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Re: The connection between tune, name, and playing

Names add a bit of colour.

Séamus Ennis often referred to onomaptopoetical associations and pipers can and do invoke The Dogs among the Bushes, The Gander in the Pratie Hole, the Geese in the Bog and all of those.

Names do carry associations that help to store and retrieve tunes in your brain.

There’s the Paddy Fahy story, I probably told before here. Story, or legend, has it Fahy composed his tunes while working the land and as we all know he doesn’t formally name them. He did however associate tunes with features of his land, places where the notion of a tune came to him.

One day he had the JCB to do work on the land and many of the features were levelled or changed. With these features the associated tunes were lost to him.

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Re: The connection between tune, name, and playing

People tend to organize information in their heads, by name is an obvious one.
There was Roman tradition that passed on to the Jesuits whereby practitioners would create buildings in their minds to organize information. Zoological information might be in one room, history in another, mathematics in another, and so on. Cicero memorized two-hour long speeches this way.There’s a nice little book called "The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci" by Jonathan Spense about the Jesuit mission in China and the interest Chinese merchants and upper-classes took in the system to have their kids memorize Confucian classics and score well in civil service examinations.
Anyway, that was completely tangential and probably added nothing to the conversation! ;p

Re: The connection between tune, name, and playing

Resodan, on the contrary, that bit about the houses is very interesting. I have trouble with tune names, and I find they don’t help me remember the tune at all. I go by sound a lot, and also visualization (like remembering what it looks like when my fingers play the first few notes of a tune).

I’m thinking maybe if I can create a visual image of a house in my head, and see the tune names hanging on the walls or something, maybe I can remember them better? Thanks for the idea!

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It’s not the dots unless you’re making it the dots. Maybe it’s the way my memory works, but I tend not to use mnemonic devices, at least not the ones’ I hear most people describe.

Can I say something about dots? 😏 I never take dots literally, especially not with Irish music. My friend told me (those many years ago) that O’Neill’s has tons of tunes. I knew as soon as I opened the book the tunes are not played as written. But that’s probably just the way I tend to (re)interpret everything I see. Back to names … As soon as I began playing tunes I noticed my mates were playing different tunes with the same name, the same tune with different names, & tunes with #s 1 & 2. Sally Gardens ~ Down by the Sally Garden, The Wise Maid ~ All Around the World, Toss the Feathers , Father Kelly’s #1 & #2 (not always played as #1 followed by #2) … I had sheet music for all of them, I looked for all their titles, & I was interested in who might be associated with (possibly wrote) each tune. But none of that is how I learn tunes. If you simply begin a tune I am much more likely to join in (or listen if I don’t know the tune) than if you give the name. Frankly, it bewilders me how my mates will hear a tune but cannot join in until someone gives the name. Lately when this happens (after the tune has begun) I’ll say the name for anyone with a blank look on their face. It doesn’t always help; given the alternate titles, #s, & such.

That was a bit of a rant. All I’m really saying is that when I’m playing a tune, or listening to one being played, I’m not searching for a title. I do like the idea of onomatopoeia. Singing (or lilting) a snippet seems to help everyone as a reminder. All the better if it can be done with the title.

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Re: The connection between tune, name, and playing

Word association football.

Re: The connection between tune, name, and playing

Coach Logan berry.

Next

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Re: The connection between tune, name, and playing

Reverend Pete has hit on something there. I’ve gotten to the point where too much brain space was being used trying to name things, and I am more successful remembering tunes by (for want of a better label) The One Little Bit. The rest of you do this, right? Each tune has that one little identifying bit that sets it apart from all the rest (or may actually confuse it with others with a similar identifying Bit). It’s usually the first bit that I pick up when trying to learn the tune on the fly. Or maybe it’s the other way around, but I don’t think so. Anyway, the name has become secondary to the TOLB to me. And I also have trouble starting tunes on just the basis on a name grunted out halfway through the B part.

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My experience is just like that of full measure - I can start playing a tune being played that much more readily if I know, or remember, its name.

I should qualify this by meaning, here, a tune I only hear now and then and / or don’t expect to hear. There are quite a few tunes in local sessions that come up quite predictably (singly or in sets) on the majority of occasions, whose names I do not know or have forgotten but whose melodies are pretty well ingrained in me.

It seems to me that trad tunes in Britain and Ireland have *always* had names, and that the names have been important to the players, for reasons both of sentiment and practicality: this among aurally-trained and dot-learned musicians alike.

Re: The connection between tune, name, and playing

… name grunted out 1/2 way through the B….
I keep trying to convince my mate, when he calls out one name but plays a different tune, that he should just go with whatever tune he is playing.* I usually just let whoever is leading off the tune actually begin before I join in … unless I just have the gut feeling it’s going to be perfectly smooth. One exception is when the person leading off is about to stumble I might swoop in & be the one to leadoff, but then I need to be spot on.

*actually we have come up with some of our sets by playing a tune different from what was originally called out.

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Nicholas, do you know "The Girl with the Laughing eyes?"

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"The 5-leafed Clover"?

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"I could do this all day"
Not a tune, but I could.

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Re: The connection between tune, name, and playing

We call that the ‘stream of consciousness set’, Ben. And I’ve played with some folks enough to know which tune that they will confuse with what they actually called, and so know that the flow may go different ways.

Referring back to Resodan’s rooms, it seems that method can be both a boon and a handicap. When something is severely out of context, it can take a while for me to find the right room where it belongs, but it can also trigger a whole cascade of information that I may have not remembered, In the case of the tunes, as you mention, Ben, new associations develop.

But a brain that is getting older throws some other sabots into the works. Fortunately, music recall seems to be less affected by aging than more mundane things like where the he** did I leave the phone? Oliver Sacks wrote about the persistence of the musical brain, and I take great hope from this.

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It’s my standard operating procedure to go into something other than the tune I was planning on going into.

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Usually I’m a bar or two into it when I’m thinking, "This isn’t the Galway Rambler!"

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Name is always fun to remember, as is where you got the tune, and other stuff like that, but not indespensible. It can help trigger your memory, which can be a nice aid. But I don’t always come up with a name for a tune, when I hear it and play along with it. Doesn’t mean I don’t love it. Heck, my dad used to call us by the wrong names all the time, and end up starting from the name of the oldest and run through the list until we finally nodded when he got to our own!

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Al, that is the way I’m beginning to feel when I run into people I know at the grocery store. Doesn’t mean I don’t like them, just…

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& I suppose in the heat of passion when one cries out the name of someone else it doesn’t mean they don’t love the one they’re with …
just joking around, we’re friends here. AlBrown, when your dad went through the list you weren’t the baby of the family?

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I was second of five, so he usually got around to me pretty quick. To make things easier on him, I named my son Al, too, less names for him to deal with!

Re: The connection between tune, name, and playing

The names thing is a common affliction. It seems to me as the years go by I’m finally getting over needing to know the title every time, but it still is a bother, particularly late in the evening. So I fall back on asking afterwards, and often find myself saying "I’ve heard those words before…" I also like Joanie Madden’s comment "I’ve got the library but I’ve lost the card catalog." Would that I had that problem…

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And there are times when I’m practicing and find myself halfway through the B part of a tune and wonder, "now what’s this one called?" it seems early on the names matter — that way I can work off a list and make sure I run through everything (I only know about 35 tunes), but sometimes a tune will pop into my head and it’ll take me a while to recall it’s name….

Re: The connection between tune, name, and playing

I used to be really tied to names in this way, but in the last couple years it’s gotten better. I don’t know/have forgotten names of like half the tunes I play these days. I actually like knowing their names, because sometimes the names are awesome.

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I can happily play along for hours without knowing the names. But problems arise when I want to start a few sets. If i don’t know the names of what I am to start then I have very limited reference as to whether these tunes have been played before. That’s my motivation to learn the names.

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it also goes two-ways, you need to recognize the names of what is being played. Wheras a lot of memory techniqus exist that you can use to "encode" ABC starts or signatures, these rarely work two ways. That’s why I think adding lyrics including the name can help bridge the gap of aural memory and recognizable names.

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I should point out that I *do* think knowing the names of tunes is important. It’s just that when you’re actually playing the tune, what is important is the tune, not the name. If you let go of the need to figure out the name of the tune you’re playing, and concentrate on playing the tune instead, you’ll play it better. And then you can get the name part figured out after you’re done playing (if it hasn’t already dawned on you).

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you all have given me much to think about. i love playing music, by myself, with my mate, or with a small group of agreeable people…and i also love thinking about what learning to play fiddle has done for my brain and my thinking processes.

everything seems enriched. thanks!

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"It’s my standard operating procedure to go into something other than the tune I was planning on going into"

I know the feeling. For me there are pairs or groups of tunes that clump together - I can mean to play one of them, but I never know which will come out. Bank of Ireland/Star of Munster, Temperance/Up To Your Knees In Sand, Merry Blacksmith/the other one that sounds like it, and so on.

Reading this discussion, though, I congratulate myself on having gotten away from the names of the tunes - even if I say to myself "I’m about to play the Star of Munster" it’s pretty much invariably followed by "oh, rats, this isn’t that". Knowing the name of what I mean to play doesn’t help at all when it comes to playing what I meant to play, which I guess means I must be a better player than I thought! 🙂

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" I think having a name for the tune is simply one more link to the memory bank"

Yeah, there’s plenty of good reasons to believe that linking to a piece of information in many ways makes it easier to recall. A name can’t hurt with that. It’s probably more effective, though, to put the tune in four or five different sets, so it has multiple links to lots of different tunes, rather than lots of different names.

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When I was young and “clever,” I considered it ridiculously lame for anybody to not know the name of every tune they played. Time passes, gray matter turns to jelly, and now I consider it ridiculously lame for anybody to bother knowing the name of any tune they play. I mean, that’s just showing off, right?

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I find that if a tune I regularly play in a set is played in a different set, that I sometimes have trouble remembering the tune. Does this happen to other people?

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Yes - if I’ve learned the tune as a part of that set. That’s always a problem. I also get the converse problem - for years I couldn’t play Rolling in the Rye Grass without the Ten Pound Float following it.
(Thanks, Shannon - I’ve just about managed to separate them!)

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I have that with some tunes. I stopped learning from dots a long time ago so that has little to do with it. I think it’s along the lines of what Jim says, where the name becomes a mental symbol for the tune.

I find it interesting that my mind has to fish out the name for some tunes in order to play them, while I have lots of tunes that I play comfortably for which I have either forgotten the name or never even had it.

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Celtic Guitar, I don’t have trouble remembering the tune when it shows up out of context, but that is when it is hardest to remember the name. What is worse is when I hear a tune I know, and try to launch into it on my whistle,and then realize I learned it on harmonica, and can’t play it yet on the whistle. Train wreck!

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I wonder if it has anything to do with the functions of the basal ganglia, which are involved with "behaviour switching" - as they have inputs from many parts of the brain including the frontal cortex and the hippocampus. Routine motor behaviours may be reinforced by such inputs from the cortex such as suddenly remembering the name of the tune you are playing, & this leads to a dopaminergic "reward" which in "real-life" terms may mean you play the tune more confidently and fluently now you have a handle on it. Just a humble thought.