Yaaay! Hitting the big 50

Yaaay! Hitting the big 50

I’ve just achieved one of my first goals! I now "know" 50 tunes.

To be honest, maybe 40 of them are memorized, so I will feel more virtuous when the last 10 are in my head & fingers. Admittedly, not all of them are at session speed. More problematic is that I get so nervous trying to recall them at a session, that even the tunes I know pretty well at home just won’t come out.

My present goals are (1) to really KNOW these 50 tunes, (2) to actually bring them all up to Session speed, and (3) also to be able to recall and pull them out in a Session. I acknowledge that I can’t really claim to know 50 tunes until that point.

I’ve got another 30 tunes I really want to learn, but I’ve decided not to add new ones to my list in the interest of focussing my practice on getting good at just those 50. I figure at that point the next 50 will come much easier.

I really appreciate the practice machine at Alan Ng’s Irishtunes.info for keeping me honest, and helping to schedule my practice. My ideal would like to be getting a half hour of practice per day, but due to work and family I’m forced to get my weekly goal finalized on Saturday & Sunday.

Re: Yaaay! Hitting the big 50

Congratulations! (When I read your title, I thought you were celebrating a birthday!) 🙂 You’re right where I’m at, roughly 50 tunes in my excel spreadsheet, and growing! Like you, I have various degrees of learning with these tunes, but they are all basically memorized. Mine are not all ITM though, some are classical, some religious, and some popular, as well as a few old-timey American tunes. I think you’re right, learning new tunes gets easier with time, at least it does now with me. I use to struggle for weeks learning your basic 16-bar dance tune, now it generally takes me just a few days if I really work at it. I play hammered dulcimer, what instrument do you play?

David E.

Re: Yaaay! Hitting the big 50

Congrats on your accomplishment, it is a big milestone. But just to warn you—you will soon be realizing that, however many tunes you learn, you will never know enough. It’s not about the destination, its about the journey. So sit back, and enjoy the ride.

Re: Yaaay! Hitting the big 50

@David. In terms of gaining skill with your instrument, you should be able to count any genre of music, and certainly, you should select only music that inspires you! For my count here, I’m working hard on traditional Irish session tunes with some occasional O’Carolan, Scottish, French, Canadian and US tunes thrown in because they are popular at my local session.

Obviously, O’Carolan is Irish, but his music doesn’t have the same, trad-session feel. The nice thing about O’Carolan is that the lyrical melodies are catchy, and help me with playing by ear. I’m having the hardest time with reels which are played so much faster, and have those darned short-rolls. Pigeon on the Gate, and the Swallow’s Tail reels have been pretty hard for me to work up.

I’m talking about whistle. I first learned a "number of" decades ago, then stopped for 20 years when I got tired of offending peoples’ ears (and my own) with a whistle that ran sharp. I am so thrilled to be back re-learning with modern whistle technology. I have a Milligan which has a loud, woody sound, but requires careful embouchure to sound good, and a really sweet-sounding Generation tweaked by Jerry Freeman, that is very easy to play.

Re: Yaaay! Hitting the big 50

Tom, I love O’Carolan tunes but have yet to put one in my repertoire! O’Carolan lived during the Baroque period of music history and I think he was influenced by, and had influence on, many Baroque composers of his day. In fact, I might put him in the category of "Baroque Folk" if there is such a category. I even see O’Carolan’s influence on some modern American folk composers and song writers. I have George Brabazon on my short list.

Degrees of difficulty can be different with each instrument, I’m sure. With the hammered dulcimer, scales and rapid runs are rather easy to play so reels are for me easier to play than jigs, which tend to be more harmonic in structure (at least the ones I’ve learnt), and I have more leaps around the instrument. I find hornpipes the easiest of the three, because they are played slower in tempo than reels, are usually played with a lilt, and more often have sections that slow down in note values giving me a "playing break". All that is a generalization of course, each type has the full range of easy to hard. The Harvest Home hornpipe is easy for me to play but Kildare’s Fancy is a bear. Calliope House jig is easy for me but Humours of Whiskey and Banish Misfortune are real twisters.

David E.

Re: Yaaay! Hitting the big 50

Way to go! I look forward to reaching that milestone myself. I have around 50 that I’m working on, but I’d say only about half of those are good enough to bring out at a session. (We’ll see…attempting to play at my first session next month. Checked it out last week and I think I’ll be able to keep up with the rest of the group, at least on some jigs and hornpipes…reels are a whole different story! I can manage polkas too, but I’ve come to realize I need to add a few more to my repertoire.) Keep up the good work. I’m sure you’ll have the next 50 in the bag before you know it.

Re: Yaaay! Hitting the big 50

Congratulations, Tom. Reaching specific milestones feels great and really helps reinforce your sense of progress.

Trying to balance playing time with all the other demands and duties in one’s life can be difficult trick. For me, one thing that helps is to leave an instrument out so that I can easily pick it up and play a tune at random moments. It’s not so much ‘practice’ as it is just ‘playing.’ My goal is more enjoyment than perfection. Although the better I play the more enjoyable it is for me, surely. But I think you’re on the right track — consistent playing every day, rather than binge playing less often.

Also, keep in mind that listening is invaluable, too. Even if you don’t have the instrument in your hand, you can be immersing yourself in the way the music is supposed to sound. Most of the Irish style is not captured in the notation. You have to listen to good traditional players if you expect to sound like a traditional player.

Re: Yaaay! Hitting the big 50

Congratulations Tom, you are determined and have some sort of organized way of going about it. I teach violin for a living and re: organizing it, I barely follow my own suggestions to my students. Always a push for me. Don’t tell them… ;)

Like Joe said, also having the instrument out helps (even if just on the weekends) if you are able to do that. And of course listen lots. Learning one at a time? Personally, I finally stopped pretending months ago that I’ll only learn xyz new tune when I’ve really got the current multiples in my fingers. Heh. Not gonna happen.

I do suggest to my students (any age, experience) to work on contrasting tunes. They won’t mix up in the head (fingers!) and it’s like taking a break to do one then switch. That one works for me too. Cheers!

Re: Yaaay! Hitting the big 50

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but now that you have them, you have to maintain them or next year you will have forgotten more tunes than you ever learned. I was always envious of artists and sculptors and people who could do craftwork. They make something and there it is: done. No more work has to go into it.

But for us, our life’s work is constantly deteriorating and we are all only as good as our next performance.

You know I’ve played 3 Bach suites in my lifetime? Wanna hear one now? Sorry, mate, can’t play them anymore. It’s been so long since I played an entire suite, it would take probably 6 months to get any one of them back up to performance standard

that’s just life in the temporal arts

Re: Yaaay! Hitting the big 50

What does it mean to know a tune anyway? I mean, sometimes I sit next to someone new and I realize wow, I thought I knew this tune but maybe I don’t. Then there are tunes that I really don’t know but at least I can tell you what the name of it is, unlike some other people who really know a tune well and you say, "Hey that’s a great tune, what’s it called", to which the answer is, "Heck if I know."

Re: Yaaay! Hitting the big 50

Yeah, I find I need to keep some tunes in regular rotation to keep them firmly under my fingers. Fortunately these tunes are probably nowhere near as complex as a Bach suite. And there’s something really wonderful about relearning a tune I haven’t played in a while, like sitting down with an old friend and having a nice catch-up.

Re: Yaaay! Hitting the big 50

The other nice thing about relearning a tune is that it usually takes me about 1/10th of the time it took the first time I ‘learned’ it. Gives me a little insight into how it must be for the truly talented musicians out there.

Re: Yaaay! Hitting the big 50

I’m looking forward to seeing what people do once the tunes exceed the spreadsheet. I’m trying to make sets out of everything so I can better remember them but it’s true what Nate said. They become like a bunch of little tamagotchis you have to feed occasionally or they wither away. My beginner advice is to not only learn them at a good clip to play at a session, but also see what ornaments you can throw on them to make them shine.

Re: Yaaay! Hitting the big 50

I think if you enjoy learning those first tunes they stick with you. Not to say you’ll instantly recall them each & everytime, or that your playing shouldn’t improve over time, nor will you ever know all there is to know about a tune; but if you appreciate the early listening/learning experience a good tune gets in you.

Tom, I have two things to say about learning reels & playing them up to speed.

- Learn slow to play fast.
Basically this is *not* about playing slow; it’s about patience, familiarity, a gradual yet steady progression &
listening to yourself with a critical ear.

- When playing up to speed ~ just do it.
Sometimes it’s a trainwreck, but when it happens you’ll be in the moment. Or, as Mr. Borsdorf would say, "It’s like jumping on the merry-go-round ~ there you are; holding on with all you got & nothing could be better."

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Re: Yaaay! Hitting the big 50

AB… I have always loved a Merry-go-round. 🙂 Great analogy!

Nate’s right, if you don’t review them from time to time, they seem to just go away a bit to make room for others. But they scurry back pretty quickly when revisited.

Bach suites Nate… good for you. So many hours to learn and no way could I play on demand either now. Only a couple of students here at or near that level anymore. But hey…do keep that "set of tunes" handy to remind you where you’ve been and what it took to get there. 🙂 Cheers!

Re: Yaaay! Hitting the big 50

I haven’t tried to list and count all the tunes that I know, not because it would be so large, but because there are 3 different lists;
1) Tunes that I can start and lead at a session;
2) tunes that I know well enough to follow and keep up with competently at a session;
3) tunes that I have no idea that I know, but can join in once they are stared and I have recognised them.

Re: Yaaay! Hitting the big 50 (or just a short list of 3 large categories)

Guernsey Pete, looks like seeds for a (virtual) spreadsheet there; it’s enumerated, clearly defined & has a hint of self-evaluation. 😉

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Re: Yaaay! Hitting the big 50

I think the merry-go-round concept is apt. When I’m "in-the-groove" things are so easy; but those moments are not yet regular or predictable.

I already broke my rule to not learn any new tunes! The "Tarbolton Lodge" is SO great, I just had to start learning it. I do it with an accidental D# in the first measure, which doesn’t seem to be notated in the version listed here on TheSession.

The other recent tunes I’m working on are "Carolan’s Receipt for Drinking" and his "Quarrel with the Landlady". Those are total ear-worms! The value of an ear-worm is that it jumps very quickly from learning to knowing.

Re: Yaaay! Hitting the big 50

ewww…. I hate that term ear worm… lol.
But in that respect, my current one is Duncan’s "Sleeping Tune." Gah..cannot get it out of my head now, but it’s welcome. lol

Which led me to this:
http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20120411-why-do-songs-stick-in-our-heads

I like Sach’s partial description for us as musicians…
"the overwhelming, and at times, helpless, sensitivity of our brains to music".

Ah yes, I can live with that.

Re: Yaaay! Hitting the big 50

"They become like a bunch of little tamagotchis you have to feed occasionally or they wither away."

That is a PERFECT analogy, RainyDayFiddler!