Should I focus on learning more tunes, or on Practicing those I know?

Should I focus on learning more tunes, or on Practicing those I know?

So, I’m a fairly new flute player, though I’ve played whistle and fiddle a fair amount in the past, with about 26 tunes under his belt. I have the rest of the month living by myself on a college campus, so I have a decent amount of time to practice.

Would you guys recommend learning a bunch more tunes, or focusing on improving my technique more?

I attend a session pretty regularly.

All thoughts and discussions on the subject are welcome.

Re: Should I focus on learning more tunes, or on Practicing those I know?

I suggest learning more tunes, but only half as many as you were thinking of learning, and spend time practising those you already have, but only half as much time as you were thinking of spending 😉.

You need to build up repertoire, in order to maintain interest in playing, but don’t become obsessed with how many tunes you can play; if you try and learn too many at once, you will probably find that you can’t quite play any of them properly. Certainly, work on technique, but don’t become obsessed with playing note-perfect all the time - far more important is having good rhythm and ‘feel’ to your playing; this is best achieved by lots of listening (to good players) and lots of playing. In fact, you will come to realise that repertoire and technique are not really separable: learning new tunes stretches you technically and widens your musical palette; good technique equips you to be more musically articulate and makes it easier to learn new tunes.

Re: Should I focus on learning more tunes, or on Practicing those I know?

"Go not to the Elves for counsel, for they will say both no and yes." - J. R. R. Tolkien 🙂

My advice: If you do attend a session regularly, learn the tunes your session mates play.

Well, the ones you like, anyway. It’s a session, right? Not a job.

Re: Should I focus on learning more tunes, or on Practicing those I know?

The answer is "C" or "All of the above."

Re: Should I focus on learning more tunes, or on Practicing those I know?

Yes and no.
Don’t ‘focus’ on learning tunes *as opposed* to practising those you know. Focus on playing whatever you are playing at the time.
If you recognise an obvious problem or difficulty concentrate on sorting it out by all means; but if you find the problem insurmountable don’t lose sleep over it, just file it away for later (without forgetting about it) — you will eventually wonder what the trouble was. And if you come across a tune you really like, don’t pass it over through want of practise — learn it.
If you are regularly going to a session, you will begin to notice tunes that virtually teach you themselves without much effort on your part, so don’t feel you shouldn’t be playing them — they are, after all, usually quite simple (as opposed to easy).
Finally, don’t concentrate only on looking for errors, bum notes, etc — listen as well for good things you do, and allow yourself a bit of pleasure. The more of these good things you can reproduce at will, the better your playing will sound (to you anyway) and the happier you will be.

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Re: Should I focus on learning more tunes, or on Practicing those I know?

I suggest to try different ways of playing the tunes you know first, once you have done this try some new tunes. And if you go regularly to sessions please notice the differences between styles of your friends and collegues. Individuality is the most important thing in music, create your own style but without going too far from some rules (crans and so on) which still make trad music so recognizable. Easy, isn’it?
🙂

Re: Should I focus on learning more tunes, or on Practicing those I know?

A good thing about keeping on picking up new tunes is that you get lots of aspects of playing the music far more solidly under your belt. You get to see lots of little recurring patterns, nifty ways of joining tunes together and lots of little strategies for your instrument of choice. That makes it all the easier to learn even more tunes - a virtuous circle, sort of thing (only a bit more on the linear-but-branching side - oh, shut up, Shaw!) Just learn by ear, that’s all!

Re: Should I focus on learning more tunes, or on Practicing those I know?

Thanks for the replies. I’ll definitely keep working on more tunes, then. I’ll still practice variations, ornaments, etc. on all my other ones too, though.

Basically I’ll be expected to do everything. Haha

Re: Should I focus on learning more tunes, or on Practicing those I know?

I would say it’s ok to learn new tunes. The more tunes you learn in a specific key, the better you play all tunes in that key. So if you know like, 5 tunes in D, but only 1 tune in G, I would recommend learning more G tunes.

Living by yourself will help you a lot! Take complete advantage of it while it lasts!!!

Re: Should I focus on learning more tunes, or on Practicing those I know?

It depends, but I would work on some technique and improve your tunes but also learn a few new tunes too.
But thats just my opinion.

Re: Should I focus on learning more tunes, or on Practicing those I know?

I would rather hear someone play one tune seven different ways than seven tunes that sound all the same.

Re: Should I focus on learning more tunes, or on Practicing those I know?

Concentrate on technique when you’re practicing the tunes you know, but keep going to the sessions and listening to the tunes they play that you don’t know. Eventually those tunes will seep into your subconscious and you might start hearing them randomly as you’re doing daily tasks. That’s the point when you might sit down and learn them either from a tape of the session or a recorded source that your session mates might tell you they got it from. (sometimes better because it might be a great player) When the tunes are already in your head it’s way easier and faster to get them in your fingers where you can then work on the technique again. Don’t count your tunes or worry about having enough… time will take care of that. The important thing is to establish a good foundation to stack your new tunes on. After a while you’ll be playing more tunes that people at your session play and you’ll be playing them better and more comfortably.

Re: Should I focus on learning more tunes, or on Practicing those I know?

You will probably find that this will be a constant push and pull for you. Would you rather be able to play 200 tunes poorly, or 50 tunes quite well? It’s kind of like asking if you’d rather be smart and unhappy, or stupid and happy. The answer is ultimately up to you, and the answer will invariably lie somewhere in between…

What I did after a certain point (which for me was further on than you are now) was just relax and let the tune learning happen at its own pace. If something grabs my attention, I learn it. But very rarely will I sit down and learn a random tune just for the sake of learning a tune. However, I do regularly sit down and play tunes I know and work on bits of my playing, whether it be some physical technique, or something more mental, like expression or variation.

The tune learning actually comes in cycles for me. I’ll put on a session recording from one of my trips to Ireland in my car, and listen to it obsessively for weeks or months, and all of a sudden I’ll find that I’m dying to learn some of the tunes that I don’t already know, so I’ll sit down and learn them by playing with the recording. (Which comes easily if I’ve been pounding it into my brain repeatedly in my car…) But I’ll go a month or two without learning a tunes sometimes. The interesting thing for me is that the overall pace of learning tunes this way ends up to be pretty equivalent to actively learning one tune a week, like I used to forcibly do years ago.

Re: Should I focus on learning more tunes, or on Practicing those I know?

For each of the 26 tunes you know, aim to learn a couple of tunes that would make a set.

Re: Should I focus on learning more tunes, or on Practicing those I know?

@Reverend:
"Would you rather be able to play 200 tunes poorly, or 50 tunes quite well?"

I’d rather have 200 tunes at a decent session level than 50 which I’ve "mastered" - not that this was your question. Some people practice their handful of tunes to death when they could have learned more tunes (a good technique practice, if nothing else).

This made me think of the old "How many tunes do you really know?":
https://thesession.org/discussions/33425#comment713928
https://thesession.org/discussions/33425#comment714294

Re: Should I focus on learning more tunes, or on Practicing those I know?

Keep Day’s for Both, or all you do is Learn Tunes.
Great ! But then, Can you Play the Fiddle ?
: )
jim,,,

Re: Should I focus on learning more tunes, or on Practicing those I know?

I’ll probably try to learn 2 or 3 a week. I pick them up pretty easily.

I’ll also look into the set thing.

Re: Should I focus on learning more tunes, or on Practicing those I know?

FWIW,
In your shoes, I might look at the Most Popular Tunes list here, compare my
regular sessions’ repertoire against the top 100 or more, and start finding the
balance between. See what you think you will need to enjoy yourself more at sessions,
since sitting out a real cracker of a tune you do not know can be a real drag if you
are like me.

As stated above by better heads, it all depends on you, and what you want to do.
I think it a good thing to "know the tunes you know" cold before moving on to new ones, but that is
up to you - your comfort zone. Also, for me being at a new session always means acquiring the tunes
they regularly play, so I bring pad and pen with me and am never embarrassed to ask the name of
a new (to me) tune. With luck, I might even find players who will run through the tune for me to
hear again.

What ever you do,
have fun.

My fumbling attempts to be helpful,

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Re: Should I focus on learning more tunes, or on Practicing those I know?

"I’ll probably try to learn 2 or 3 a week. I pick them up pretty easily."

It’s easier to learn tunes than remembering them. I would add them in slower or you’ll end up learning tunes you can’t remember or not getting them straight when you try to play them later. They will jumble up in your head if you try to add them too fast.

Re: Should I focus on learning more tunes, or on Practicing those I know?

I like all the comments here about doing both. I just want to add that there is also benefit from going "overboard" practicing one or two tunes you love to really explore them, polish them, draw out the possibilities and edit away the superfluous. Really understanding a tune enough to play it with agility, expressiveness and emotion so that what you love about it is communicated clearly to any listener.

If you develop that depth on one it will help you with all the others too.

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