Forgetting Tunes

Forgetting Tunes

Hello I know I touched on this subject once before but I have to ask again is it normal to forget Tunes. Like I said I know I asked this question once before, but as my tune count ever grows, I find myself quickly forgetting some of the tunes that were once locked in my mind. I have to ask what do you guys and gals do when this happens? Do you just look over the tune once more? I mean that seems logical but could also be considered inefficient to some. I’m just looking for opinions here. Now I’m sort of typing this out using speech to text on my phone so my thoughts are a bit all over the place because I’m just sort of saying what comes to mind as it comes to mind. So in conclusion I’m asking is it normal to forget Tunes and what do you do if you forget them?

Thanks!

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For me, this is another place where ‘discipline’ comes in: I make a point of periodically going over tunes I know, or think I know, to make sure I haven’t forgotten them, or bits of them. If I have forgotten something, I try to force myself to remember; usually, I’ll come up with the missing bit within a minute or so, but sometimes I do have to give up till the next day or so, when it will usually come back. On rare occasion, I’ll go back to a written or recorded source.

Seems a lot of musicians have so darn many tunes that it would be impossible to keep going over all of them; they can afford to let tunes slip away because they will still have a vast repertoire ready to go. Not me, though.

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I would say its perfectly normal to forget things in general. I usually can’t remember a lot myself (has to do with health in my case) so I just stick to scores and can only remember parts or do by hard but have lots of mispicks :p But well I play solo as theres no trad sessions around me to start with within 1 hour drive by car.

However, I think that if you can select a couple of tunes you play a lot in your session and try to remember those by hard, you can get decently far. Just repeat and repeat and repeat. We once learned how to walk too and now we do it automatically ^^. For the rest, it sometimes helps to see the score of the 1st bar of a tune so it pops back into your memory. With the session on your phone, it might be easy enough as long as you know in advance which tune will be upcoming.

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As you get older new tunes become more and more ephemeral. I’ve been playing for 40 odd years and can happily play stuff I learned 30 years ago and haven’t played for 20 years with a a quick scan of the manuscript or ABC. Whereas tunes I’ve learned lately are there while I learn them, stay there while I trot them out at sessions etc but can easily fall away and require a lot of effort to resurrect. Guess it’s just an age thing.

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I’m trying to keep 225 tunes locked and loaded, and it’s a bear. Keeping a list is a must. I keep mine in a word document and underline the ones that are sketchy so I know they need to be gone over more often. Priority goes to the tunes that are likely to come up at the local session. Top priority goes to the sets that I start. I worry less and less about the others, but I try to keep them fresh, because eventually they will come up, and I will be kicking myself that I don’t have them down better. Lastly, there are the half learned tunes that just didn’t sustain my interest long enough. It’s a bit of a relief to remove those from the list, knowing that I can always add them back later.

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Can’t think of any situation where it would actually matter. Unless you were a professional musician and froze middle of a set. (And even then I have seen that happen and a pro always gets through it with good humour and ingenuity)
Forgot how a tune you like goes? Look it up and remind yourself. At a session? Other people are playing it, so there’s your reminder.

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That’s why I take the time to write the tune down, or find a version very similar to what I play and mark it up. File them away in a binder and then if you forget them you still have them.

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I have never actually counted how many tunes or songs I know, but several friends do this sort of "key words" or "Start the line" thing, where they have a tiny pocket book in which they perhaps list the first few words of a song (or even each verse) - or, in the case of a tune, just the key , then the first few notes.
This of course pre-supposes that if you get the start right, you’ll continue correctly!! ………….????

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I think you should just learn hundreds or thousands of tunes. Irish tunes are made up of quite a limited selection of figures and themes. The more tunes you learn, the more you get exposure to all these bits, as well as how they tie together. In essence, it won’t really matter when you forget because you’ll pick them up on the fly.

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A bit of terminology. I try not to *lock* any tune in my mind. I strive to play it correctly though
not to the point of stressing too much over making it sound "picture" perfect. My point is
playing tunes and knowing tunes requires some structure, a balance of ‘both’ getting it right
& keeping it interesting and lots of familiarity with the idiom.

Forgetting is part of the process of learning. So, forget forgetting. Forgetting happens. More important is
are you improving, do you know more tunes now than before, can you play more tunes better & with more familiarity than you did a month ago?

As for the tunes you are forgetting. The first thing I do when I realise I’m losing memory of a tune I knew before is listen to the tune again and follow it in my head, then sing it and finally play it on my instrument.
For me it’s less about going back to the original source I used when learning the tune.
More often it is picking it up from the most recent time I played the tune & had to think hard about
what I was doing to get through an old tune. In other words the original sources (sheet music, recordings…)
may be different from more current versions I am hearing & playing. Those differences can become hurdles.
Or it can just be my memory isn’t perfect. In either case I focus on *remembering* old tunes;
not from something locked in my mind. Instead I review whatever I think will help me get the tune
back in my head "now" (assuming I’m improving and better able to listen more closely to the tune than I was before). Yeah, I think the concept of locked in memory is OK for thinking about how to organise your thoughts but doesn’t always apply to playing music in real time; in which case your brain can be ‘trained’ to be flexible
and your style of playing with it.

There is a process of developing your music over time. I just don’t have the words to communicate how it’s done. As long as you love it though, remember that & don’t ever forget why you’re doing what you’re doing.

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I agree with Matt Milton. Just keep playing as much as you can. Have fun, play a lot, and don’t worry. After 10,000 hours put into it, it won’t matter much what you remember and what you forget. The most important thing is that you enjoy playing. Maybe more than anything else.
And, in the immortal words of John Skelton, the more tunes you play, the more tunes you know. And the more tunes you know, the more you’ll forget.

Re: John who? ;)

John knows how to live in the moment.
That’s grand!

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Couple points. One: what works great for someone else may work great for you - or it may not. You have to learn what works for you. For most people, that’s through trial and error. Some people don’t really have to think about it; they learn tunes and play tunes and forget tunes and learn tunes and play tunes and forget tunes, etc. and it’s no problem. Personally, I’ve never found it that simple, as you may have gathered from my earlier post. Anyway, second point: I’d be careful of just ‘learning’ vast numbers of tunes - I’ve known so many musicians, in various genres, who are unable to play any one piece of music through from beginning to end. It’s not much fun to try to play with someone like that, and not satisfying to listen to. If a person has to make a choice - and you may not have to - I would prefer to have a small number of tunes that I can play competently and confidently than thousands that I can only half-bumble through.

Re: Forgetting Tunes ~ common motifs…

It can be a conundrum. What is a vast number anyway? I think most people who advocate learning more tunes they are also referring to the distinct "repertoire of motifs" which are frequently heard in several tunes.
You still have to learn each tune as you hear it. But becoming familiar with common motifs doesn’t hurt whether it’s a few tunes or many, many, many…

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@AB - Your *lock* may or may not have come from my use of ‘locked and loaded’, but if it did, I only meant ‘ready to play.

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I carry a notebook in my melodeon case with the first few bars in ABC - latest one in the book is Walsh’s Hornpipe which I asked about on the Session a few days ago. The book has about 150 tunes now, tunes that I know but aren’t in the top layer of my memory bank - although sometimes at a session I will find my fingers playing a tune I had forgotten that i ever knew!

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I don’t think I’ve ever "forgotten" a tune which I think I’ve "learned". I might not be able to remember it immediately if sprung on me in a session, but most of them - the far majority in fact, - if you play it through three times*, it will come back.
Really, in my opinion and experience, it’s quite normal, and nothing to worry about. Just relax and enjoy the music, Kellie.
[ * Give me the name of it, and it will come back even sooner :) ].

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I sometimes forget if I haven’t played the tune in several months. Also sometimes if two tunes are similar I’ll start to play the A part of one and the the B of another…that’s annoying.

What works for me is to tab out all of the tunes I learn in little moleskin music books (for banjo/mandolin) it’s fun then to go back and look at tunes I learnt years back and play them again.

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Tunes learned by ear keep better. My fingers seem to remember, even if my kind doesn’t recall everything. Of course that’s assuming someone knows how the tune starts.

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"So in conclusion I’m asking is it normal to forget tunes and what do you do if you forget them?"

It’s one thing to keep track of your repertoire in some way, but the bigger it grows, the less you have to worry if you "forget" tunes. You can pick up anything again, old or new. It’s the same thing when you learn tunes.

See:
Tune memorization workshop - https://thesession.org/discussions/40676

Re: Forgetting Tunes

So correct me if I’m wrong but what I should take away from this is that it is normal to forget Tunes so don’t worry about it?

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Pretty much. I’ve probably learned about 200 tunes since starting trad five years ago and I swear I’ve forgotten 199 of them. I probably would too but every day, I drag out the abc file for my personal tune book and use that (the midi sound [horrible though it is]) to get me through the first couple of bars until my memory kicks in. My memory is not getting any better as I age but it is worth the effort to keep the tunes current in my increasingly decrepit brain.

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Exactly, Kellie. If your repertoire is 10 tunes and you start forgetting them, that’s a bigger problem than if you have 100/200/500 tunes and find that some of them fade away.

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Hi, Austin.

Are you wanting to find out how your brain works for learning and memorising tunes?

Or are you asking each of us what we do when we realise we’ve forgotten a tune (or part of it)
when we thought we knew the tune by heart?

Or are you asking a completely different question from the two I posted above?

Cheers!

I did look back at your previous discussion on this topic [IIRC it was 10 months back] and for me
the answers on that thread seem to apply equally on this discussion. Notably Jerone’s responses
were very good for what I think you’re asking.

;)

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Oh yes I forgot I remembered I touched on the subject a while ago but I can’t remember how long ago it was. How airheaded of me.

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You forgot you remembered? Hmm, the situation may be more serious than we thought …!

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So, the answers are

maybe (I’m not sure)

no (though possibly, maybe so; I guess)
&
yes! Absolutely ~ yes!

?

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AB I’m asking all of the questions in your post above

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Obviously!?
Dude, you love being all over the map.
And I’m down w/what you like if that’s what you’re asking us.

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Your brain may forget them, but your fingers will always remember!

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@AB

Yes

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I love my fingers. I really do. And my brain does require constant attention. But I don’t begrudge my brain. Without my brain I don’t think my music would ever improve. My fingers are wonderful, but they don’t have the imagination which comes from using brain.

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Thanks, Austin. I knew that as soon as I heard the first recording you posted on the Mustard.
You are you.

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Knowing too many tunes can in itself be a problem if some of those tunes share similar phrases: just remember one session where "Father John McMillan of Barra" sort of morphed into "The Conundrum" (as mentioned by AB, but not as a tune!) above. Just had to follow what was going on in my only good ear to my right and try to keep up and decide which tune to play!
And just think for a minute: just because some people here have a perfect audiological memory for every tune they’ve ever heard, doesn’t mean that everyone else will have: all brains function differently. Other people may function more "photographically" for scores they’ve seen and can conjure up in their brains. And all of us who are getting older know it takes longer to process and remember a newly heard tune. You can, up to a point, educate your brain to retain more, and I’d say that playing music is a very valid way of staving off incipient dementia, but no-one should feel inadequate just because they can’t remember as many tunes as Mr/Mrs Superbrain over there.
Having said that, Kellie, you are young, so take that as an advantage for letting your brain just soak up as much as it can: we who are older will vouch for the fact that stuff you learn in your youth stays with you, whereas later stuff can easily slip away of not used often enough.

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Thanks Trish! I will keep that advice close to my heart. :)

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I don’t know if it’s just, or even pimarily, age. I think at least part of it has to do with the fact that when you’re first learning your instrument, learning a tune is rather intense and lengthy work. So by the time you’ve learned it, it’s really truly embedded in your noggin. After twenty-five or thirty years of playing, it may take you no time at all to ‘learn’ a tune - and as a consequence, it takes you no time at all to forget it. I’ve ‘learned’ a tune one day, and forgotten it by the next …..

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Trish, leave me out of this, PLEASE. I posted something about a conudrum, little knowing there is a tune named "The Conundrum". I may know the tune but that has nothing to do with what I intended when I used the term above.

Thank you & Happy New Year!

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Sorry, AB, absolutely no offence was intended there at all! (Slightly mystified as to why what I said apparently seemed to have upset you????)
Anyway, Happy New Year to you too.

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We’re good. Trish & Austin. I don’t hold a grudge. Happy New Year!

I’m just frustrated w/the whole forum thing in general.

But I know you guys are cool, & that is what matters most of all.

Keep posting & I’ll try & chill.

Ben

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Jeez there’s an awful lot of people here for New Years Eve. I have an excuse: I was supposed to be somewhere else, but I couldn’t get there because of the weather. So here I am at home with all my goddamn family watching Hogmanay on the telly.

And Phil is saying "Fer feck sake Aly, we’ve been doing this gig for thirty years, could you not just learn a new tune for once?" And yous guys are worrying about what to do if you forget the tune. FFS just keep playing. And if everyone else can’t keep up, that’s their problem, not yours.

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Happy New Year, Ben! :)

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I use irishtune.info to keep track of a lot of my repertoire and practice history, when I remember to update practice dates.

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Even worse is remembering and forgetting again. I was doodling around on the fiddle when a hornpipe suddenly made itself known. A couple of time through and there it was ready, ornamented, and up to speed. Thing is, I don’t remember ever having played it before and I didn’t know what it was called. So next I start trawling through lists of hornpipes trying to match up the opening bars - and before long I’d lost how the tune went and was left floundering. Frustration wasn’t the word for it. The only thing I can think of is to get back to the doodling and see if it reappears.

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I’ve forgotten tunes I think I know and remember tunes I forgot I learned.

It all becomes an amorphous tune cloud in your head, with some of them coming out of that cloud so you can grasp them, then fading away again, but still there so when someone else starts it as a session, you can play it.

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"I’m asking is it normal to forget Tunes and what do you do if you forget them?"

Happy New Year, Austin!

Forget normal. Learning is a process of memory (which is complicated in it’s form and context). ..Forgetting is part of the process. What matters is not if it happens; but when/where/why and how much is disrupted. No easy answers there. The important thing is not to get twisted up with a few imperfections in your recall memory.

The second part of your OP question is more to the point. It’s about what to do ‘when’ one’s memory lapses.
I like the direction that question is taking. So, I’ll turn it back on the OP.

Austin, what do you do when you forget a tune? I’m serious. And I think it’s worth asking. I just hope
it helps in your personal quest to learn and explore the tunes, yourself, people you ask advice of
and becoming more happy in the process.

Happy New Year, one & all!

Ben
;)

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The fewer tunes you know the easier they are to remember. The more you know the confusion factor increases. The more time that goes by the more likely you’ll forget tunes that haven’t come up in a long time. Just review them when that happens.

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I think Kellie considered "just reviewing" the tunes (in the OP) as he forgets them but also asked if
some here might consider that to be "inefficient". I’m not sure what you meant by saying inefficient, Austin. My guess is you are asking us if your method of reviewing forgotten bits is "efficient" or perhaps you
meant effective; or both. I don’t think I know what works for you unless I’m there with you.

I know I say this too often on the Mustard Forum but I really think your best course of acting
on better ways of recalling forgotten tunes is deliberate practice, careful listening to a version
of the tune you are trying to remember and working directly with a local mentor/instructor and playing
the tune with one of your peers. If any or all of those options are feasible that is how I would proceed.

Having said that {if you’re still reading this thread} I ask my questions above, again. How do *you*
[Austin/Kellie’s son] review a tune after noticing that you do not remember it as well as you thought?

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What I mean by in efficient is that it might become tedious going back every time you learn and having to go back.

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Yes, that can become tedious if you’re constantly reviewing the same tune; or if you find you’re forgetting several tunes. But if you can keep a working (limited) repertoire in your memory and be able to recall those tunes in one sitting that can be a good starting point.

Begin with a set number of tunes. Like how many tunes can you play in one sitting, say for one hour?
How about 2 hours? You have probably learned or worked on more tunes than you can remember.
It can be fifteen minutes, or less. Play what you know. I think it helps to know which tunes you can play
solid in a short time frame. If you forget one of the tunes write down which one it is.
You can review the tune later.

First find which tune sets you can play well in a certain time period.
I think fifteen minutes is a good starting point. Or you can play single tunes instead of full sets.
It’s a matter of finding out what you know, playing what you know, working on that and gradually
progressing with other tunes. Just don’t try to play everything you have worked on all at once.

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I may have missed something up the page, but I am not sure if you are forgetting how tunes go or if your fingers are getting out of practise at playing them.

I find that simply listening to them helps keep what comes next ready in my head. When I learn a tune I gather together a few recordings of it that I like from from albums or sessions. Once I can play the tune I pick one of them and put it in a folder with others of that type, for example “Irish Jigs”, that I keep on my phone. Every now and then I listen to those tunes, either as “study” when it would be inconsiderate to make racket round the house or as background music. Sometimes I switch the recording for another one or include a whole set played at the session to help get familiar with what tune may come next.

I think it helps that I like listening to this music.

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Ah, I only just saw AB’s current discussion about listening skills.

Re: Tunes: How to know what you know.

There seems to be two threads of thought emerging in this discussion if I’m not totally off track.
The first one obviously is about forgetting.
I sense a second, parallel thread is also present.
Anyone care to wager a guess what that might be?

Hint: it rhymes with kissed; as in "I may have kissed something."

;)

One of my favourite sayings is about slow practice. Not playing slowly, but taking time with all things new.
It goes something like this, "Learn slowly, forget slowly. Learn fast, forget fast."

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"Learning fast" can mean many things, e.g. cramming during a short period of time, actually learning the tune (albeit fast). I’ve done both, and while cramming (in the sense of sitting down with a tunebook and play everything in it) doesn’t really make a lot of tunes stick, learning them does. Some tune just stick at once (or after the third time). And they don’t necessarily disappear.