Any suggestions to help remember how to start a tune?

Any suggestions to help remember how to start a tune?

For people who read music, a incipit file can be helpful in remembering how a tune starts. For those who learn by ear, an audio MIDI sequence (or ABC player) can serve the same purpose. However, these techniques can sometimes be time-consuming and disruptive.

Do you know of any successful techniques that can help people who know the tunes, but can’t remember how to start them? When my wife is playing in our session, she’s the go-to tune-starter, but when she’s not available, the rest of us are embarrassingly useless at starting tunes - even ones we play regularly.

Any advice would be much appreciated.

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Re: Any suggestions to help remember how to start a tune?

I struggle with this too, but I can sometimes create a mnemonic that associates the opening notes, or the arc of the opening phrase, with something memorable. My personal ones include a chorus of banshees singing the opening phrase of the Alleluia chorus, or the down-up-down-down flutter of a pigeon’s wings (on a gate), or tossing a paper airplane from high off the cliffs of Moher, or the staccato beeping of car horns on the John (Sean) Ryan expressway. Silly examples all, but whatever works!

In other cases I have an easier time recalling a memorable phrase from the B part (e.g. Silver Spire) and so it’s just a matter of mentally running the tune through to the end which the often recalls the opening.

Eventually over time and enough playing these tunes should enter a part of the brain that recalls them without effort.

Re: Any suggestions to help remember how to start a tune?

keep a notebook and jot down the first few bars. This for example is one of my latest entries
THA MI SGITH - STRATHSPEY - A DORIAN
AAa geg edBAGABG
if you actually know the tune that should be enough to get it kick started - works for me anyway.

Re: Any suggestions to help remember how to start a tune?

Isn’t this why many trad players settle on playing tunes in sets? Either ones they like themselves or sets that are played locally. All you have to do then is recall the start of the first tune and away you go. One leads into the next.

Re: Any suggestions to help remember how to start a tune?

Sing.

Cooley’s Reel:
Joe | Cooley was a man, he could | Play with the best of them and | …
The Cliffs of Moher:
| Cliff——— maybe a | Man who can Sing but he |
Twists his hips like a | Demon pos- sessed, he’s got | …
The Bucks Of Oranmore:
| Bucks (Oranmore), they’re the | Bucks I would celebrate | …
The Blarney Pilgrim:
| When I was in my young | Days, I used to think |
| Blarney was one of the| tunes I would like to play | …
Maid Behind the Bar:
The | Maid behind the bar is just the | Best of them by far, and if she |
Ever gets it wrong then she must | Always sing a song about the | …
The Butterfly:
| Butterflies can dance | Butterflies can spin around |
Tam Lin:
| Tam Lin is not the kind of | Man who can play this tune and |
Stand with one leg up in the | Air but he can look as though he | …
I Buried My Wife And Danced On Her Grave:
| Buried my wife and | Danced on her grave, it was |
Done in bad taste but I | Couldn’t de - ny myself, | …

Re: Any suggestions to help remember how to start a tune?

I use a Mac…Numbers…file with columns Tune Name, Key, Type, and the first 2 bars in ABC. It’s on my phone. For tunes I really like I have a book, one of those ubiquitous little black notebooks, with music staff pages. I have sections for Reels, Jigs, Hornpipes, Polkas, and Others. tunes are in no particular order. The first 2 bars are scored. This has limits, when the list gets too long (the tunes can’t be put in alphabetical order) they’re too hard to find. But it helps.

About playing tunes in sets, there was a recent discussion about the value of and annoyance that comes from doing that. Might make tunes easier to remember and might kill off spontaneity. Pick what you value more. There’s room for both

Re: Any suggestions to help remember how to start a tune?

I don’t have any clever system for remembering tunes - and sometimes it’s best just to put it on the shelf and start a different tune, rather than waste valuable session time. But I find that, if I can remember any fragment of the tune, be it the ending phrase, the 2nd bar of the B-part or whatever, I’ll play through it or run through it in my head a few times until it reminds me of the bit that follows. Usually, once I’ve got a few bars of it, the rest comes back to me.

Re: Any suggestions to help remember how to start a tune?

I have the problem of often needing someone to "kick start" a tune, even though I have lots of tunes, so maybe I’m not the best one to ask. And of course, there are lots of tunes for which I need no help.

But for those tunes that don’t come quickly to mind, a few do respond to my memory tricks. Those tricks vary - e.g. for one tune I may remember "that’s the one with the G descending scale" and for another "that’s got the syncopation in the B part." But many of those don’t refer to the start of the tune; they give me a memory hook for the middle, and that leads my mind to the beginning.

There are a few tunes that I remember by finger positions - my brain goes (on fiddle) "that one’s first finger, then low second finger…"

But I think the problem is common. As a techie solution, the android app A’ La Mode was well worth the $5 or so, and one of its capabilities is showing incipits for tunes in sets.

I love the app in general. It’s one of the best things I’ve installed on my Android.

Re: Any suggestions to help remember how to start a tune?

Just be careful if there is more than one tune that starts the same:
Flower of Scotland
Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves (Verdi’s Nabucco)

Re: Any suggestions to help remember how to start a tune?

Nice one Trish!
also in this vein:
The Surround (slip jig)
Bringing Home a Baby Bumblebee (aka Arkansas Traveler)

Re: Any suggestions to help remember how to start a tune?

"When my wife is playing in our session, she’s the go-to tune-starter, but when she’s not available, the rest of us are embarrassingly useless at starting tunes - even ones we play regularly."

Get your wife to attend more sessions? Sorry, I’m in the same boat. My fiddler Significant Other is a good tune starter. We’ve joked that there should be a tip jar in the middle of the table — "Tune Starts, One Dollar".

It’s probably a disadvantage to live with someone better at this than you are. It diminishes the incentive to spend time learning how to start the tunes you know and play together! The only cure is to learn things your S.O. doesn’t know, which forces you to start them. Maybe not an ideal solution if you want to share the repertoire.

Re: Any suggestions to help remember how to start a tune?

Oh, good idea, Conical bore! A tune-pouncing jar! :-P

Memory is a weird thing, and what works for one person may not work so well for another. In my experience, it gets a bit harder the more tunes I know. I don’t have a real accurate count, but my repertoire is somewhere between 600-1000 tunes. And at that number of tunes, mnemonic devices like little sayings to help you remember how the tune starts get as overwhelming as all the tunes. To be fair, of all the tunes I know, I can probably only start 200-300 of them. Other ones appear magically when I’m noodling around sometimes, and flow easily if someone else starts them. So I will occasionally noodle a bit just to see what appears. Here are some other things that might help:

1. Instead of trying to remember how all your tunes start, just pick 5 or 6 tunes out an hour before the session, and sit and work on them - specifically so that you can start them during the session later. Choose different tunes for the next session. You’ll probably find that you can remember how to start tunes from a few sessions back, and that way, you grow your list of tunes that you can start without any issue.

2. Figure out "families" of tunes that start similarly. For instance - Milliner’s Daughter, Peeler’s Jacket, Duke of Leinster, and several other tunes all start with G2BG DGBG… So there’s multiple tunes that you can remember how to start for the price of one! ;-) (Then all you have to do is remember how they diverge.)

3. This was already mentioned, but if I’m trying to remember a tune, and it’s right on the edge of memory, but I can’t conjure it, remembering the B part is sometimes easier. Or remembering the resolve of the B part, which leads you back into the A part.

4. Use the so-called kinesthetic memory (‘muscle memory’) to help. (I know Ross, the muscles don’t have any memory, it’s all neural pathways in your brain, but since it’s subconscious, it feels like the fingers "remember"…) I try to encourage people to not rely too much on the fingers to remember how a tune goes, because it gets in the way of varying the tune, or playing it in a different key, etc. But it can be a useful tool in remembering how a tune starts. For me, I think I subconsciously connect the name of the tune to the finger pattern of the first few notes. Although I do that a lot less these days than I used to, because I play hundreds of tunes that I don’t know what the name is…

5. Relax and don’t worry about it. If you’re stressed that you can’t remember how to start tunes, you’re likely putting more brain power into your stress about it, and if you relax, you might find that tunes will just occur to you and come out more easily.

Re: Any suggestions to help remember how to start a tune?

Thanks to all for the suggestions, I’ll try to determine which ones might work for me. I also intend to try a method of last resort: rote memorization. As Reverend suggests in a slightly different sense, pick maybe a dozen each of reels and jigs, a half-dozen hornpipes, a few polkas and slip-jigs and make a recording.

On the recording I would say the name of the tune and the key, and then have about 4 or 5 seconds of the start of the tune by a good player. When I walk, or drive, or am otherwise not concentrating on something else, I can listen to the recording in a loop. Just as when I listen to my old Beatles and Led Zeppelin records and always know what song is coming next, I hope to get a similar effect with this.

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Re: Any suggestions to help remember how to start a tune?

Practice starting it. Play the tune a lot until you can just jump into it. If you can’t start it, you don’t know it well enough.

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