The Best Way To Learn Tunes (Efficient Learning)

The Best Way To Learn Tunes (Efficient Learning)

There are several ways to learn….I’m interested to know what people have found to be the best and most efficient at various stages, or if I’m missing any tricks below.

I would categorise my own ways of learning as follows:

1/ Listen To The Music and use ABCs - Listen to the tune anywhere between 5 and 50+ times and practice it, using ABC notation gradually less and support until finally, it sticks!

2/ Video Tutorials - Learn from the best on YouTube! There are some great ones out there…and you get bonus technical insights.

3/ At A Session - See and hear it live, and (shock, horror!) maybe quietly noodle a bit, you’re starting to get it! Aaaaaand….now they’re playing another tune. Oh well, come back next week! And now it’s your turn to play a set. Buckle up everyone!!!

4/ With a teacher - You get an in person demo and yikes…going back next week without knowing the tune at least a bit just is not an option!

5/ Play Along At Home - Get the bones down (maybe using some ABC), find a decent version of the tune and do your best to keep up!

My thoughts: all of the above have their place but 1/ is quite inefficient compared to 5/ from the perspective of learning how to play a specific tune. Don’t get me wrong, just listening to the tunes you want to learn is great and there is no doubt it helps. But my brain switches off and wanders, and just ‘enjoys’ the tune.

I think it’s also good to do a little bit of 3/ (instrument permitting) at sessions, even if you don’t play at all, just handle your instrument during the tune. You need to engage the brain.

But I’ve found that 5/ is perhaps the one that accelerates learning a specific tune the most, probably because it puts pressure on. Playing live has a similar effect and there can be a feeling after a session of having been ‘brought on’ by being at a Session and having a few of your tunes come up.

Re: The Best Way To Learn Tunes (Efficient Learning)

I use all of these methods and more.

I’m not anti dots but I prefer to learn from them along with “listening”.

However, whatever way I choose, if I really like a tune and WANT to learn same it is so much easier and natural.

Most of my favourite tunes have found me rather than the other way around.

Re: The Best Way To Learn Tunes (Efficient Learning)

Listen to the tune numerous times to learn how it goes.
Find the sheet music and figure out how to play those sounds on your instrument.
Play the first phrase until the fingers have memorized what to do.
Do the same with the rest of the phrases (always starting from the beginning of the tune, rather than learning the phrases in isolation from each other).
Go forth & play.

Re: The Best Way To Learn Tunes (Efficient Learning)

For me #3 is the fastest and best way.

For me being able to watch fingers while listening is by far the most efficient.

I’d rather hear a session play the tune rather than an individual, because the gestalt version emerging from a session is what I want to learn.

Next in efficiency is doing the same thing at home by watching a YouTube video, preferably of multiple musicians playing together. (A video of musicians just playing rather than a tutorial.)

What I don’t want to do is interfere with this process by putting ABCs or Staff Notation in between what the musicians are playing and my own ears. This always slows down the learning process for me.

Re: The Best Way To Learn Tunes (Efficient Learning)

For me, the most efficient way of learning tunes is to take audio, cut it up into small phrases, loop them, and play over it. Play each untill I get it, then move to the next phrase.

You can do this with a teacher, with audio recordings using Reaper or similar software. I also wrote a program that loops phrases of ABC notation which I’ve shared in a previous post.

For developing real musicality, you can’t beat a good teacher, or a recording as a back up plan. Studying slowed down recordings is very useful.

Re: The Best Way To Learn Tunes (Efficient Learning)

I almost always acquire tunes by ear, usually listening to a recording a few times until I can ‘la’ the melody. I find singing or humming new tunes whilst doing other stuff is a really quick way to fix them, and it’s worth doing this before learning to play them.

Once I’ve picked up the whistle and got them under my fingers, I often go back to recordings to listen to different interpretations and playing styles – especially with tunes I’ve really taken to, or those I find tricky.

Re: The Best Way To Learn Tunes (Efficient Learning)

Firstly, as has been well demonstrated in previous discussions, we all learn in different ways. Your own way seems fine enough to me, but there is nothing wrong when hearing music if your “brain switches off and wanders, and just ‘enjoys’ the tune”. Sometimes it takes me years before I realise that I love a particular tune that has crept up on me. And my own way is pretty much in agreement with WhistlingFionn, in that once I have a tune in my head it becomes relatively simple to play it straight off on my fiddle (or whistle). But that’s just the beginning, of course, because playing it then changes how I want to hear it, and it’s all endless polishing from there on, both with the imagination and the playing. I actually do most of my tune development and playing in my mind. Sometimes it keeps me comfortably awake at night, but it works.

Re: The Best Way To Learn Tunes (Efficient Learning)

My process is much like Michael Eskin’s - I would add that one thing that I find helps me a lot is to pick out specific tunes that other session attendees are working on. That gives an added incentive to learn the tune to the point of being able to start it in a session, knowing that others will join in.

My software of choice in this is (naturally) my own Sideband ( which is available for iOS and iPadOS.


Re: The Best Way To Learn Tunes (Efficient Learning)

The boyfromcounytycook saved me some writing. The only other way I can learn a tune is by osmosis, which I have done many times. Otherwise, the phrase by phrase method is my choice, and it is as fast as it gets.

Mind you, this is for learning tunes, NOT learning to play Irish.

Re: The Best Way To Learn Tunes (Efficient Learning)

I usually listen to the tune enough that I can hum along in my head (if I can’t already), maybe glossing over a few bits, then do more or less as Michael Eskin describes but with Audacity.

Sometimes I’ll do that with dots via ABC to hand, changing them as I go along to match my source. Coming back to the tune I may use the recording or the dots to get me started.

Re: The Best Way To Learn Tunes (Efficient Learning)

I think the focus of my outline above is as much on acquiring the melody along with getting technically competent enough to play it well and a reasonable pace.

Those who just need to hear a tune and can then pretty much play it are the more advanced players! I think eventually - and this has been shared with me by players of that standard - the phrases/tunes fit together into a mass that is more like knowing a language than learning individual pieces, the technique is excellent enough, that you can ‘play any tune’ pretty quickly.

The steps I outline are probably intermediate level player working through the first 500-2000 hours or so.

I think the listening without playing along or attempting to do so is valuable for all sorts of things, just less so when it comes to getting a specific tune to go from a ‘a tune I know’ to ‘a tune I can play rock solid’.

I’ve also neglected playing along to slowed down versions as a method, my bad. I do this too; it’s good.

Re: The Best Way To Learn Tunes (Efficient Learning)

I think you are right to point out BBanjo, that a lot depends on one’s level of ability. At the start I used to learn ‘piecemeal’ with all the slowing down and stuff, but learning a tune in that way doesn’t give me incentive. I think and imagine holistically. Even strictly imitating the source isn’t usually my thing. (though I do pick up on ornamentations I like) I like to just know the tune well enough in my head to do it my own way. So fortunately I don’t play in sessions (simply solo).

Re: The Best Way To Learn Tunes (Efficient Learning)

> I think the focus of my outline above is as much on acquiring the melody along with getting technically competent enough to play it well and a reasonable pace. <

These are two whole different things, and I glossed over the second. Learning the tune is relatively easy, playing it well (or even satisfactorily) definitely isn’t.

> Those who just need to hear a tune and can then pretty much play it are the more advanced players! <

I’m guessing there are wildly varying degrees of ability in this. I’ve been able to do it on simple woodwind since I was a young kid, but the first few run-throughs aren’t at all fluent. In some cases I find it quicker to learn a piece this way than to use notation, but other tunes have slightly counterintuitive sequences that don’t stick immediately, in which case it’s easier to use notation.

What I absolutely can’t do is sight read. To learn tunes efficiently I need to have them in my head first.

Re: The Best Way To Learn Tunes (Efficient Learning)

Specifically on learning from dots/abc, one perhaps surprising but effective piece of advice is to never sightread it directly. Look at the first few bars, look away, try to play it. Look back at the music, look away, try again. Build up the whole tune without ever playing it directly from the music.

I only started doing this relatively recently and I was really surprised what a difference it made to both the speed I learnt things and the retention, compared with what I’d always done, which was pretty much the same process but playing instead of just looking.

Re: The Best Way To Learn Tunes (Efficient Learning)

That’s very useful Calum - yep sightreading I have found to be a slow way to get anywhere, definitely not efficient.

I will try the looking away tip for sure. I like it as it forces a level of concentration and doesn’t allow the brain to disengage.

Michael Eskin, thank you for the outline above - particularly interesting are steps 7-8.

Re: The Best Way To Learn Tunes (Efficient Learning)

I’m only going to say it once: repetitio est mater studiorum

Re: The Best Way To Learn Tunes (Efficient Learning)

I think the best single thing one can do is practice ear skills, to the point that a tune can be picked up easily without resorting to any technology or assistance. This removes a major barrier to all other aspects of musicianship.

I note that we call these “ear skills,” but it’s also memory. My son will occasionally pick out a tune on the piano that he heard me playing two weeks ago, and I’ll likewise remember a tune from the last session that I realize I should learn from the next session, and I don’t have a recording or a name or anything, just the very catchy remnant in my head. In addition, there’s the memory needed to *keep* a tune once you have it, and (especially with the concertina) the ability to play it in a loud room when you can’t exactly hear what sounds you are making.

Of course you can know everything from memory and still sound like a robot, but realistically your ear skills will let you focus more on style, phrasing, etc.

Re: The Best Way To Learn Tunes (Efficient Learning)

Learn to sing it. If you can’t sing it, you don’t know it.

Re: The Best Way To Learn Tunes (Efficient Learning)

Learning by ear, the bowing and slurring sounds much better. I think it’s because I am no longer aware of “bars” printed on a page, and the music isn’t divided into bars and lines, I tend to slur in a way that sounds right.

But my pitfall with learning by ear, is that sometimes I check the sheet music and there are about 23% more notes than I was playing!

So I think that for now, I need to use both methods…

Re: The Best Way To Learn Tunes (Efficient Learning)

Please remember that anything I have to say may may or may not resemble reality.

The best way to learn something is a lifelong field of study for a great many pretty smart people with a lot of capital letters behind their name. Sans capital letters here’s my meager thoughts in no particular order.

“Which is better learning by dots or learning by ear? The answer is a resounding yes. Not going down that rat hole anymore. Don’t try to memorize. All too often that leads to briefly capturing a string of notes without actually learning the tune. As consistently mentioned listen to the tune. I’ll add that listening is an active thoughtful process and not just hearing it over and over again. For sure ”osmosis" is very useful but our brains work best and retain information best when focused. Listen to the flow, the lift, the story of the tune. Live with the tune. When you can sing it in a way that makes you want to hear it again you’re almost there. Try this … sing Happy Birthday. Was it a joyful expression celebrating another year of fellowship or did it sound like somebody just assumed room temperature, underground?

Now the part that works best for me. When I try to learn to play a tune it helps to learn it phrase by phrase ( no surprise here) but in reverse order. I’ll listen to the last phrase in the A part, the one that resolves that part in a thoughtful, satisfactory way (the answer) and I’ll play it until I can do it without thinking. Now I turn my attention to the phrase before the resolution, the one that asks the question, and work towards the beginning of the tune. I watch how each phrase has its own resolution and can start to hear the story. By using that process I can keep my walnut size mother board focused on the task at hand rather than anticipating the alternative directions the tune could take. I always know what’s coming next. “All’s well that ends well”. Then on to the next part. As sentient beings we almost always have a part of our brains busy with the process of anticipation. This is one idea to keep it from getting in the way. I’ve been told that this method is often used by guest orchestra conductors to get the most out of limited rehearsal time and that it has a name. I wish I could remember what that name was. Anybody else know? Anyway learning is hard enough without overthinking. As my father often said “there a lot of roads home, try not to be late for dinner”.

Re: The Best Way To Learn Tunes (Efficient Learning)

Works for me:
- listen to stuff, a tune catches my ear
- “that’s a nice tune!”, “I want to play it!”
- listen to more youtube videos of same tune
- find the dots
- play the tune by hook or crook (by ear, by dots, does not matter)
- play the tune with metronome at slow setting 60-70-80 bpm
- play the tune with metronome at normal setting (100 bpm and up)
- by this time, tune is usually fully memorized and the preferred fingering is settled (important on octave mandolin and mandocello)
- record rhythm track (audacity)
- play & record tune to the rhythm track
- listen to result. “yea, not too bad”
- take the tune to a session or gig.
(Easy to see that “learn by dots or by ear” is just one part of needs to happen)
(If I skip any of these steps, I eventually discover that I do not really know the tune)

Re: The Best Way To Learn Tunes (Efficient Learning)

The way I have learned tunes has evolved some over the years. I started out learning tunes in a weekly tune learning session (thanks, matt!), where the teacher would teach tunes phrase by phrase at whatever pace was required for everyone there to learn the tune. I have actually been the primary teacher in that tune learning session for about 17 years now, and I still tend to do things the same way. However, I have found that my learning process has evolved greatly since then! I really struggle to learn tunes in that phrase by phrase fashion anymore (and I actually struggle a bit to break tunes down into phrases like that sometimes, too!)

Nowadays, my process is that a tune comes up either in a session or from a recording. If I’m in a session and I’ve never heard the tune before, I like to listen to it all the way through (usually twice) and then try to play it quietly. If I’m not anywhere close to it, I will stop. If I almost have it, I will ask for another time through. When the set finishes, if I pretty much have it down, I will encourage the person who started it to keep playing it in future sessions, and a lot of times, it will move to my “known” category pretty well within a few times of “re-learning it on the fly” at sessions. If it is a more complicated tune that I am missing significant parts of, I will ask the person who started it to send around a recording of themselves playing it.

In those cases, as well as in cases where I first heard a tune in a recording, I will take the recording, and put it in an app that allows me to control the tempo (Anytune Pro is my go-to app, but there are plenty of others). If I don’t have ownership of a digital file, I will usually just record it off of my computer speakers (using YouTube, or a streaming service…) into Anytune on my phone. For learning purposes, I don’t need super high fidelity, I just need to be able to hear the melody clearly enough, and just recording it is much easier than ripping the audio out of a YouTube video, etc.

Then, with the recorded tune, I will play along with it for a while, usually at full speed, but in the case of commercial recordings, I will often slow it down a bit. That keeps it in context, and helps me get a feel of the overall shape of the tune, and it’s pretty easy to identify the parts that I am not getting right. At that point, I may slow the tune down further to figure out the notes that I am not getting right. I may just loop an entire part at a time, or I might loop the whole tune. In a pinch, I may refer to ABC (I can’t read dots) to either figure out what I’m missing or to see what other settings people might play.

The way that I get the tune cemented into my mind is by recalling it periodically. You can play a tune repeatedly for hours, and still not be able to remember it later, because it’s staying in the forefront of your mind instead of being recalled… So once I have the tune down pretty well, I will play something else, or put my instrument down for a while. And then work to recall it at a later time, because the best way to be able to remember it is to actually keep recalling it from memory instead of having to be reminded of it. And pretty quickly, that tune will move to the “known” category, and I will be able to play it whenever it comes up. And if I am able to start it in sessions a couple of times, it will then move into the “tunes I’m able to start” category.

I also work in my tune learning session to get people to learn tunes in bigger chunks. Phrase by phrase can be useful when you’re first learning, but you’re often missing the context of the phrase. So sometimes when I am teaching a tune, I will play it several times through for the people learning, asking them to pay attention and be able to answer questions about the tune. Then I will play the A part repeatedly (maybe 10-15 times through) at a fairly slow tempo and encourage them to try to play it with me, before moving on to the subsequent part(s). I can usually spot the sections that people struggle with, so I will then stop and work them through a particular phrase. And I encourage them tell me what parts they’re struggling with or ask questions, because sometimes they may be playing it right, but still struggling with it in their mind. That approach works pretty well if people are fairly good at learning by ear, but I still revert to phrase by phrase if I think it will work better for the people there…

Re: The Best Way To Learn Tunes (Efficient Learning)

If I’ve heard a new tune and I’m just desperate to learn it as quickly as possible, then I will find a good recording and dots, and play along to the recording 50-80% using the dots as reference (adjusting what I’m playing to match the recording) and just play it through 10 or 15 times. I might stop and work on bits to polish it up.

This way is very quick but is not my -favourite- way to learn a tune though, I generally prefer to already ‘know’ the tune, and be able to pick it up completely by ear, either at a session or with just a recording its the most rewarding! As a second favourite way is to transcribe a recording, which takes longer and requires slowing down the recording and looping etc to get it perfect, but has the bonus reward of a setting to post here.

Re: The Best Way To Learn Tunes (Efficient Learning)

I learn tunes in several ways, but by far the most efficient for me is learning from the dots. I am a very experienced sight reader, so I sight read the whole thing (not just phrases, Calum). Hearing the whole thing helps me learn the whole thing. Depending on the complexity of the tune, by the time I’ve played it 8 or 10 times, I can usually start playing without looking, except to double check something. Then, it’s all coasting.

One thing that I have found: learning two tunes in the same key can be treacherous. It is too easy to mix up the parts.

Re: The Best Way To Learn Tunes (Efficient Learning)

The last tune i learnt, i heard this amazing rendition , found the name, played it through from the dots a few times, then took the recording and slowed it down and just kept on going over and over to pick up some of the variations and masterful playing . I find looking at the structure and basic tune far the best way for me.
If its a tune that a friend plays i just use the dots . Then refer back to modify if necessary . And of course interpret it in my own way once the structure is understood and assimilated .
If its a tune i found in a book , i will find as many settings as I can , read through them all and chose the best or more likely combine settings in a way that suits me .
Learning to read was a revelation for me . I played by ear for 20 yrs before I started to figure things out from paper . But now I can just look at a tune and hear it in my head . Works for me .

Re: The Best Way To Learn Tunes (Efficient Learning)

When I started learning fiddle, I already had a headful of tunes from listening at home and at a great local session. So the most inefficient part of getting a new tune wasn’t the tune, it was the mechanics of fingering and bowing. The fingering came along quickly enough, the bowing eventually sorted itself out.

All along, I picked up tunes by quietly playing along, singing them in my head while my bow and fingers found the melody on the strings. Sure, I could hear the phrasing, but since the better players routinely changed how they phrased a tune, it seemed clearer to learn the whole tune in one swoop. I could learn tunes off the radio that way, too.

So that’s still how I learn tunes, usually on the fly, all at once. Someone once showed me slow-down software and I didn’t care much for it. The ornaments sounded garbled, and it was harder to hear the whole of the tune.

I understand that many people like learning phrase by phrase, or from sight reading, but for me learning the whole tune in one swoop feels easier, more fluent, and it’s very efficient. I’ll latch onto most two- or three-part tunes by the third go-round. Tunes with four or more parts might take a few more repeats, and I might ask for clarification on a phrase here or there in a twisty Fahey tune, say.

To retain tunes, what works best for me is the play-rest-play again approach that Reverend mentions. When I learn new tunes at a session, I’ll get the fiddle out again when I get home, recall the tunes and play them, and then sleep on it. Then first thing the next morning I play them again. That seems to cement them in long-term memory.

All of this gets easier the more at home you are on your instrument and the more tunes you know. After about 700 or 800 tunes, your ear should be well accustomed to recognizing familiar phrases and patterns, and picking out subtleties. This means you can basically intuit where a new tune is going, and if it throws a surprise your way, that bit will grab your attention and be memorable.

Re: The Best Way To Learn Tunes (Efficient Learning)

“recall the tunes and play them, and then sleep on it”….
I often can’t sleep on it. A new tune tends to keep me half conscious all night. My mind doesn’t want to stop practicing. I don’t mind that as I have many years of none-fiddling to try to catch up on.

Re: The Best Way To Learn Tunes (Efficient Learning)

LOL, Gobby, yes, tunes keep me awake, too. But I love eventually drifting off to that subconscious session in dreamland with a new tune skirling away.

Re: The Best Way To Learn Tunes (Efficient Learning)

700-800 tunes? I thought there was just the one. I knew something was wrong …

Learning Tunes

Really, in the time it took to read through this thread you could have been learning three tunes. 🙂

Re: The Best Way To Learn Tunes (Efficient Learning)

Yes, but fundamentally, one must learn how to learn.

Re: The Best Way To Learn Tunes (Efficient Learning)

I like learning reels, jigs, etc at normal speed.

I’m of the belief that ITM reels especially are cobbled together from traditional motifs/short stock phrases/building blocks. Like the four elements of DNA these building blocks can be strung together in an infinite number of ways.

So when I’m learning on the fly the first thing I note is the scale of the tune- no point playing G’s if the scale doesn’t have that note- which speeds up learning.

Then I pick up the stock phrases/motifs, like when the tune has ascending or descending arpeggios (D F# A, d B G, etc) scalar runs (E F# G A B, etc) the “rocking” motif (G2 B G d G B G, etc) and also the static places in the tune where it parks on the same note, generally where rolls are put, or flutists take breaths.

Once these things are learnt, the only things left are the short groups of notes, or single notes, that serve to link these stock phrases together. A tune might have a number of stock phrases in a string with no linking notes. Interestingly, I’ve noticed many times that various versions of the same tune agree on the stock phrases but might differ in some of the linking notes, suggesting that these are the last things committed to memory when a tune is transferred aurally.

Re: The Best Way To Learn Tunes (Efficient Learning)

cancion: “… my pitfall with learning by ear, is that sometimes I check the sheet music and there are about 23% more notes than I was playing! So I think that for now, I need to use both methods…”

I don’t see that as a pitfall. You are learning the skeleton of the tune first, then filling in the details – which is possibly better than learning all the details at once, since it familiarises you first of all with the overall shape and structure of the tune. Whether you use your ear or sheet music for those finer details is immaterial, in my opinion (not to take away from the usefulness of playing by ear in general). But it is worth noting that, unless your sheetmusic is a transcription of the very recording you have learned the tune from, you cannot count on the notes printed on the page being exactly the same as what you hear – so it is possible that the extra 23% more notes were actually not there in the recorded version.

Re: The Best Way To Learn Tunes (Efficient Learning)

Thanks Creadur - yes, good point!

I was thinking of tunes I have picked up from our session due to them being session favorites…I can play along, but I always feel like an imposter because I haven’t truly studied the dots and the details yet. I think, ‘one of these days I am going to look up the sheet music and properly learn this tune.’ I realize, that’s the thinking of a classical musician…thinking that the “right version” is the one that’s written down somewhere! I grew up playing classical, so it’s been hard to wrap my mind around the thought that the version you like to play, or your session plays, could be considered “the right one” … for me, that’s kind of mind-boggling?! 🙂 In a good way.

Re: The Best Way To Learn Tunes (Efficient Learning)

And once you can play the tune using any of the above methods how do you get it to session speed in the shortest time.

Re: The Best Way To Learn Tunes (Efficient Learning)

Good queston Norman, but really another question entirely. Worthy of its own thread.

Depends on your instrument and ability.
But the basic is to isolate the muscles you use so that your not tensing muscles that your not useing. Ie pushing and pulling at the same time…..
its all about relaxation. Slow is smooth and smooth is fast,
So its about building a mind body connection.
So id suggest using a click track slowly then gently speeding it up a few clicks at a time. Dont focus on ornaments, because if you cant play the tune at session speed then ornaments are the least of your worries! Dont focus on the tune, just play the tune while figuring out HOW you are playing it.

Re: The Best Way To Learn Tunes (Efficient Learning)

I haven’t played with other folk all that much (and not at all for years), but for me, it was just repetition. My fingers had to know the tune inside out so they could do it without me.

I did sometimes feel I could get off lightly as a whistler, though. I could strip down bits of tunes I was less adept on and blame it on the need to breathe, or play an entire bar basically as an extended roll. I never had to drive the rhythm, unlike the proper musos who played box or fiddle.

Now I’m more interested in playing things slowly and finding lovely bits of melody that you can easily miss in a tune played as a fast reel. But it’s hard to make it sound really good on a low whistle, and I’m nowhere near where I want to be on some of the tunes I’ve been playing about with. Never in my life thought I’d have so much flaming trouble with The Merry Blacksmith!

Re: The Best Way To Learn Tunes (Efficient Learning)

Numbers 2 and 3 to seem to be my main approach to learning. However, I have found taking notes has been extremely helpful. I record how long I’ve played a tune for, any accents, or ornamentation I need to revisit, document the speeds, at which I play the tune relative to the imperfections, then at a later date document the speed of the tune relative to the imperfection and realize the changes. I find my practice session documentation becomes more sophisticated and useful as time goes on. There is a book that I recently finished that is excellent. Many of us likely use some of the techniques that are outlined in the book but it is a good reminder and way to focus on practice. As an occupational therapist, I realize many of the techniques are what I studied as a therapist, yet Dr. Turknett describes these techniques in very clear explanations. The book was written by a neurologist, Josh Turknett, “The Laws of Brainjo.” This is a light hearted book that is fun to read with many aha moments.

Re: The Best Way To Learn Tunes (Efficient Learning)

Like Jonny Jay my tunes found me and have become embedded in my musical psychie.
Well over 100 tunes are there picked up from Scottish Irish and English sessions and dances with Blue grass,Cajun,Breton,Galician,Maritimes,Nova Scotia etc and French Provence thrown in for good measure.
If I like it I know it and its only since joining this site a few years ago that I have managed to match recognised titles to many of the tunes that I have picked up over the past 60 or so years.

Re: The Best Way To Learn Tunes (Efficient Learning)

Thanks all for comments - so helpful.

- One response Bruce327 re: “The Laws of Brainjo” book.

I have come to think that there is a major role for natural talent/ability in all walks of life…and that the trick is not to focus on what you want to do (“you can do anything kid!!!”), but instead to figure out what you’re good at and try to get better at it.

While I could, for example, work on becoming better at drawing/sketching/drafting and might like to do so, I just know I’m never going to be particularly good at it and it would take me a long time to get anywhere. Others just…‘have it’ and I think any work they did will deliver much greater returns. The idea that anyone can learn to be the best at anything if only they try hard enough….the 10,000 hours idea…is a dangerous one in my opinion. Just my 2 cents.

I will probably get the book, but wanted to make that comment.

- NormanB / Creadur / Will Evans - this thread was actually geared towards learning how to get a tune to acceptable standard for session as much as anything! I probably didn’t get that across enough (the thread title is aimed at helping future searchers who want to find decent learning content on the site as I’ve used the search function quite a bit myself).

The 23% point/comment….tunes as notated versus tunes as played in reality. There’s something in that I think. Maybe another discussion. Though I will of course search the site first before starting any new ones 🙂

Re: The Best Way To Learn Tunes (Efficient Learning)

On the 23%…(that was me) I do think there are players, even lead players, that tend to play stripped-down or self-generalized versions of tunes. How can they be blamed, when they carry 1000s of tunes in their heads?! They are amazing. I learn the tunes from them, play it like them/with them.

But sometimes if I check the ‘dots’ I will find notes that have been omitted (or not heard by me, that’s likely too 🙂 Due to coming from classical I tend to “trust” a notated version and then I try to put the missing notes back in my version when I play it…

I guess my thinking is that if passing the tunes down through the years, from person to person, we should try to make sure details do not get lost? But who’s to know what the original really was meant to be? I think of the childhood game we used to play called “whisper down the lane” where one person whispers something to the person next to them, and by the time it gets round to the last person we all get a big laugh because “grandma made apple pie” has turned into “grandpa lost his eye” or something. If this happens to tunes, shouldn’t we be careful to write down “grandma made apple pie” somewhere and refer to it…rather than totally trust in the passing along from person to person…but maybe that’s part of the charm of it as well…

Sorry for long post which is probably a thread drift! Just some musings about the music…

Re: The Best Way To Learn Tunes (Efficient Learning)

>> “I have come to think that there is a major role for natural talent/ability in all walks of life…”

Interesting… I tend to think the opposite! While there are truly gifted people in all sorts of different activities in life, with music, I tend to think that the majority of “natural musical talent” is mostly just that people found that playing music speaks to them and they obsess over it for years on end, not that they have some innate talent for it…

I am also a fan of the Brainjo method that people have mentioned. But you don’t necessarily need to buy the book. You can start by reading through the 36 very informative blog posts that he has done (, which give you a ton of great information. The author is a neurologist, and he talks a lot about how building neural pathways in the brain happens, and gives you great advice for learning and practice. (He is a clawhammer banjo player, so this isn’t specifically about Irish music, but it is totally worth the read!)

Re: The Best Way To Learn Tunes (Efficient Learning)

Thanks for that link Rev, im enjoying his writing, maybe I will get the book after all. Ive got so many books on the subject I decided not to the other day. Anyhow.
I think you are both right , in that its only practice that advances us. Nothing else, it could be visualisation, listening etc etc but this is all part of the process , the practice, the doing. As are drills. Practicing picking alone, arpeggio scales etc , its not music , its a part of the music isolated and focused on to simplify the process.
Then the crux of it all though is interest , in the first article i read he states that people stop because they dont see results ( paraphrased) but thats not the case. People stop because they lack the interest and motivation, they stop because its to hard, or they have other more pressing interests.
For example none of my kids really play music. My son is brilliant guitarist and drummer. But …. he doesnt really play . I just made sure he could 🙂 and he took it from there. My daughters dont play ( though again they can) but they do paint, and I dont.
Its the interest level, the drive, the motivation . For me I knew when I was 4 …. literally i remember making the decision , I couldnt not play. And ive put in way way more than 10,000 hours. Probably closer to 100000 hours. Literaly , though im not counting.
Because i was called, or I was /am driven, my personality , an aspy perhaps,
So its the person , their interest and personality. If it were just , as he puts in , the practice methodology…..
Anyhow a few first thoughts .

Re: The Best Way To Learn Tunes (Efficient Learning)

Cross post - thread from six years ago on best use of 10 minutes a day if it was all you had

I’m working through the Josh Turknett podcasts, will report back in due course!

Re: The Best Way To Learn Tunes (Efficient Learning)

OK…the Josh Turknett podcasts are good and very interesting.

- On the 10,000 hours point, he makes a good case based on the idea that virtually nobody taps their full potential in a whole host of areas. So while not everyone can become an Olympic Gold Medallist, most people barely get off the start line in trying.

My only counter to that would be that even if best methodologies/training are applied, the curve is much tougher for some than it is for others. Can anyone who does the right training run 5k in under 20 minutes (the world record is 12:35)? How achievable is the goal of becoming a good to very good session player? Can everyone do it? Interesting question.

He also makes a good point about Adult learners and how uncomfortable we are with not having mastery of something. Kids don’t experience this self-imposed pressure in the same way.

- Josh makes great points about practice quality versus practice quantity, and distinguishes this from just playing your instrument.

1. Practice for 20-25 minutes at a time
2. Have a clear goal focussed on either Technique, Ear Training or Musical Knowledge
3. Focus intently on what you want to learn i.e. give it your full attention, as this activates your brain’s ability to learn
4. Have feedback as part of the process; how will you know if you’re doing well or badly? For me that’s either try to play along with a recording by someone else and he talks about an ‘action, evaluation, modification’ feedback loop

Pitfalls: Going too fast, trying to do too much at once/working on too many things at once.

What Josh is talking about is probably slightly different from ‘learning tunes’. It’s well worth listening to the podcasts yourself.

Very good info, thanks for the tip Bruce / Rev.