Learning how to play fiddle tunes is one thing; remembering how to play them is another.
Now that I am approaching the completion of my first year, I have learned how to play a number of tunes. Some I play better than others, but one thing is common, if I don’t play a particular song for a while, I have a difficult time remembering how to play it. This is a source of frustration, and I have been doing a lot of reading lately about how others cope with this and how they remember their repertoire of tunes.
One advantage I have is that any tune I have attempted to learn is right on this site in the Fiddle Tune Tabs section in the menu above. I can always refer back there. I can always take a peak to jog my memory about how a tune starts off, but I don’t want to be dependent on the tabs to play the whole song through. I want to be able to play my repertoire from memory.
So, from what I have read the past few days, here are the steps I put together for working on memorizing my repertoire. And, it is summed up by…
Don’t practice until I can get it right; practice until I can’t get it wrong.
- On my computer, I am going to create a chart of tunes I already know, or know fairly well, plus whatever tune(s) I am working on now. Under the name of each tune, I am going to write the first few notes, in my case tabs, in case I don’t remember how the tune begins. I will also list anything else I need to remember like key and tempo. That should help to jog my memory if I forget. Since my tune list is not real long yet, I will just list the tunes in alphabetical order. As my tune list grows, I may create separate tune lists for Old Time, early American, Folk, Patriotic, Waltzes, etc.
- Next, I am going to take some time and play through each tune. As I do this, I will split my chart into two groups. The first group will be “A” list or tunes I know pretty well and can get all the way through even if I don’t play them up to tempo yet. The second group will be the “B” list or tunes where I may go off track, not know some of the notes to get through completely, or lack some of the skill to and technique to play accurately.
- My “A” list I will play several times a week, even daily if I have time. This shouldn’t take too long. As this list grows, I can divide it up further where I only play half the list every other day, or a third of the list every third day. I can also work on tempo and introduce additional bowing techniques to improve the quality of my playing.
- From my “B” list, I will choose a tune and work on it every day until I can move it over to my “A” list. When that is done, I will start working on another “B” list tune until I can move that one over to my “A” list, and so on.
So, my “A” list will be the songs I know well. I will play through them on a regular basis so I don’t forget them, and my “B” list will be the songs I don’t know as well and the new songs I am starting to learn. Each practice session will consist of warm-ups followed by playing through my “A” list, or a portion of my “A” list as it grows followed by the current “B” list song I am still working on, but not quite ready to move to my “A” list.
I know this sounds rather simple, and it is! The trick here is to not just learn song after song, forgetting how to play songs I learned six months ago but haven’t played in a while. The goal is to firmly fix and establish a list of tunes and how to play them into my memory while learning new songs. For this, I need an organized system that works my brain towards this end. Some folks can remember dozens, if not hundreds of tunes, even if they don’t know the names and the words to many of them, but I am not like that, nor are most folks I know. I need a systematic approach to building my repertoire and be competent at playing all these tunes. I’ll let you know how I make out.
I’d be interested in your feedback and how you ingrain songs into your memory. Do you do something similar to this, or do you have another method, or are you one of those few lucky folks who was born with a great memory and never forget?