Better use of practice time

Better use of practice time

So I’ve learned 10-20 or so tunes. Went to a session (my second ever, first at this particular place) and I knew zero of the tunes they played.

Assuming this will continue to happen, what’s the best use of my limited practice time? Learning tons of tunes or practicing playing a new tune by ear as it’s being played?

Re: Better use of practice time

Sorry I didn’t specify instrument: playing melodies on guitar.

Re: Better use of practice time

The best use of your practice time is practicing scales and arpeggios. I recommend practicing F,C,G,D,A,E in the following mode forms: Ionian, Dorian, Mixolydian, Aeolian.

Create a trad Irish channel on Google play/Pandora to pick up new titles.

Attend as many sessions as you have time for.

Install the Tunepal app on your android

Re: Better use of practice time

start learning some more of the top 20 - 50 tunes here on the session (by ‘popularity’). Judging from your tunebook here you already know a few of those.
Go to a sesh consistently and ask about favorites, learn those.
know 1 or 2 sets well enough so you can start them at a session so you get to play at least once a night if they let you.

Re: Better use of practice time

Pick just one session. Attend regularly. Get to know who goes regularly, who starts the most tunes, what their favourite sets are. Learn those.

If it’s an averagely loud session then learning by ear would be an option as no-one is going to hear you playing melodies on a guitar amongst the barrage of boxes, fiddles, flutes, strummers, thumpers and background noise. Trouble is of course that that still applies once you know the tunes.

Re: Better use of practice time

To johndsamuels point re: the relative quietness of picking melody on guitar—you might give some thought to spending practice time on the mandolin. It lends itself to tune playing more than the guitar, in my opinion. Although (an exception to the rule) I have heard some very nice flat picking on tenor guitar!

Re: Better use of practice time

Like was mentioned above, if you choose a session to regular, learn the tunes they commonly play. Each session will have a slightly, or significantly, different selection of common tunes. If you wanted to blanket sessions in general, learn the top 50-100 tunes added to tunebooks here on the session (https://thesession.org/tunes/popular).

When it comes to practice use, I balance my time between ironing out tunes I know, re-remembering tunes, working on technique, and learning new tunes. I learn tunes mostly from sheet music, so I tend to have 3-5 that I’m always learning in the background. You could do the same by ear.

Re: Better use of practice time

“…what’s the best use of my limited practice time? Learning tons of tunes or practicing playing a new tune by ear as it’s being played?”

I don’t think either one of those options are a good solution in the short term, although both can be workable eventually, after years of dedicated effort.

Johndsamuels and dyersituations offer good advice—get to know a particular session you’d like to be part of, and learn their repertoire. Don’t give up. It won’t happen overnight. But enjoy the journey.

Re: Better use of practice time

Do you have a teacher?

Re: Better use of practice time

Ask someone at the session for a list of tunes/sets if there is one for the group. If they do, then that’s a starting point. If they don’t, ask for the names of tunes from two of the sets they’ve just played. Don’t ask for more than two sets of tunes, it’s less interruptive that way. Personally, my brain is about six tune names deep. More than that and by the time I return home - they’re gone (I really should write them down but I consistently forget to bring a pencil and paper). Find the dots here on thesession if you read dots or search YouTube for the tunes and learn by ear. Learn those tunes and also as sets and if you’re very lucky, the next time you attend that session, they’ll be playing one or both of those sets. If that doesn’t occur, ask for the tune names to two more of the sets that played at that session. Follow that pattern and you should build up enough repertoire to play more with the session. It doesn’t happen overnight though so perseverance is the name of the game here. Meanwhile, work up a set of your own using something you’ve found on YouTube (or elsewhere) that you think sounds really good, practice until you know it thoroughly and at the next session when you’re ready and it’s your turn to lead off, use your set. Good tunes are seldom frowned upon but stick with jigs and reels as a newbie.

Re: Better use of practice time

I would suggest sticking to one session consistently, go every week without fail. Ideally, pick one where the lead musicians are also consistent week-to-week and either friendly or at least accomidating to you. I learned a lot of my first tunes in sessions - not so much during the session itself, but I would record (tape record at the time), and then make lists of my favourite tunes that I knew are popular at the local session. Tapes were handy to learn by ear at home too (or as a reminder what to practice and learn next). Best of luck!

Re: Better use of practice time

Someone who I haven’t seen on the Session in a while once said to me, every great musician wakes up to practice tone, technique, and, tunes (that French word that I can’t spell at the moment)…in that order. Another, wonderful teacher and player stresses, over and over, the importance if discipline. They are both, in their own way, talking about the way cream rises to the top. It’s the difference between playing this music and "playing at" this music. For sure you can be a great, fun, session player, but your skills will improve only to the degree that you are willing to work at it. Oh, and it’s hard. Everybody goes to a session or two and wants to jump in to greatness with both feet. Natural and normal, but it doesn’t work that way. The good news is that you don’t have to dedicate your life to it. Playing isn’t about making music a full time job. (I’m not talking about musicians who do make music their occupation, they already know what I’m talking about.) 15 minutes a day on tone and technique is 15 more minutes than almost everybody else spends. Start now and by this time next year, you and everybody you know will know it.

So "better use of practice time":

Learn your instrument, learn where the notes are, and where they in relation to the ones you’re playing now. I’m talking scales and arpeggios.

Practice with a metronome. No good musician can’t play with one. Another way to say " I can’t play with a metronome" is " I can’t play in time". No you don’t have to play with one, that’s a huge argument, just practice, at least some of the time, with one.

Make a practice plan and work the plan. Stick to it. That’s the discipline part.

Practice slow…first. Don’t forget to practice playing faster but don’t push speed too soon. If you only play slow that’s all you’ll ever do. Yeah speed comes with time but ya have to work at it.

Don’t just knock out tunes. Practice and play each figure the way you want to hear it played. Being able to hit the notes isn’t enough.

Learn something about music theory. Trad is an application of music theory, not apart from it.

Get a teacher, one who will understand your goals and guide you to them. Not all teachers are like that. A teacher who pushes you only works when they’re pushing you where you want to go. A good teacher sees things that you can’t at the moment see for yourself.

Apply what you learn to the tunes you learn as you play them. Learn the tunes that get played where you play and learn the tunes you like, but mostly learn tunes that get played. Re-read joe fidkid’s advice too. Personally, I only learn tunes that I hear played live in front of me (mostly at sessions) and none from contrived show band versions.

Really the decision is about how deep you want to go. Set a real goal, apply the discipline you’re comfortable with. Trying too hard, to go too far, too fast, means you’ll be perpetually unhappy with where you are. Where’s the fun in that? Be honest with yourself. Understand why you want to play at all.

Oh, and I can’t stress this too much. Listen, say it with me, listen! Don’t just casually put a couple of trad CD’s on your phone, that’s mostly a waste of time. Actively listen to the notes, the figures the phrases, and the entire. Listen to how and why these tune sound the way they do. You can’t play what you don’t hear.

Good luck.

Re: Better use of practice time

Thanks for all the tips. I tried to get out of giving too much backstory, but I am a professional musician (by night, stay at home Dad by day). I read Music fluently, know my instrument up and down, and am well-versed in music theory. It’s just ITM that’s new to me.

But I hear what you’re all saying. Learn the tunes of that particular session. Of course that requires talking to people. Not a strong point of mine.

Re: Better use of practice time

"But I hear what you’re all saying. Learn the tunes of that particular session."

One person at our local session regularly uses Tunepal to check for tune identification. Not perfect, but avoids at least in part constantly asking others the names of the tunes.

And as others have said, focus on ear training. Amazing how many new tunes you can quickly pick up once you’ve immersed yourself in the tradition.

Re: Better use of practice time

Tunepal sounds nice. I asked a guy about the tune names once and he said “If you know the names of all your tunes then you don’t know enough tunes.”

Re: Better use of practice time

Sorry Derek. I was apparently preachin’ to the choir here. As for which tunes to learn, well it’s always a mix of tunes that get played where you are and tunes you like from anywhere you find them. Keep in mind a session is as much a social gathering as anything else so it’s worth learning tunes that may not truly excite you if they do speak to some of those around you. No need to learn tunes you truly can’t stand. "What to learn" is a universal problem, one that I’m glad to have! Enjoy the ride. I really like what your friend told you: "if you know the names of all your tunes then you don’t know enough tunes".

Re: Better use of practice time

Regarding the Guitar vs. mandolin thing. I can play a tune in either instrument just as well. I’ve only come across maybe one or two tunes so far that were noticeably easier on mandolin (Donegal reel being one).

Unfortunately for me over the years I’ve become kind of addicted to “I’ve never heard anyone do that on guitar.” Which is a strange response to have gotten at sessions because Dick Gaughan, John Doyle, etc… Plus maybe I can be an inspiration to the strummy guitarists who’s presence everyone else seem to tolerate. Conversely, if I don’t know a tune, I can play chords. If it doesn’t piss people off.

Re: Better use of practice time

Learn to break off and do the bad bits again and again until they come right. Play a lot slower than target speed too. Too many practices of big groups just play a whole set through at full speed without stopping: can be hard to stop people in full flow, especially if their eyes are on the music and not really watching other players. Even when you tell people "we’ll just play those 4 bars" they carry on playing….referee’s whistle needed?
When practising on your own, be self-critical: even record yourself and play back to identify the bit that need more work to become fluent, and again, play slower than normal speed. And yes, scales, arpeggios etc, won’t come amiss, rather than launching straight into tunes.