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Commiting Tunes To Memory


Marcus
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Anyone have any tips on how to commit tunes to memory. I can play many tunes when looking at the sheet music, but I seem to have a block when it comes to playing them without it! I'm sure most of you don't whip out the song book whilst playing at sessions.

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I found it easiest to listen to a recording (if you haven't got a "third party" recording, make your own from playing from dots) and learn to sing along. Once I can sing/hum/scat a tune, I can play it on any of my instruments (concertina, piano accordion, guitar) in pretty much any key.

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Anyone have any tips on how to commit tunes to memory. I can play many tunes when looking at the sheet music, but I seem to have a block when it comes to playing them without it! I'm sure most of you don't whip out the song book whilst playing at sessions.

 

 

I'll bet that if someone else starts the tunes, you can follow them. The trick is remembering the first few notes to get the tune started. I had a friend who would write the titles and the first bar on flash cards, then shuffle the cards and play through his tunes. He caught up pretty quickly and was able to start off tunes in the sessions as well as anybody.

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Anyone have any tips on how to commit tunes to memory. I can play many tunes when looking at the sheet music, but I seem to have a block when it comes to playing them without it! I'm sure most of you don't whip out the song book whilst playing at sessions.

 

I have found it is a case of repetition. First spell out the first couple of notes and work out where your left/right fingers need to be at the start. Then, with the music, play through the tune at least a dozen times, up to 20 if you can manage it. Then set it aside for a time. When you come back to it, see if you can start off without looking at the music and see how far you get before you need to check. Do not worry that you do need to check.

 

Repeat the process several times. You should find with most tunes in my experience that you start remembering several key phrases. then it is a case of identifying where the gaps are and which are the more tricky bits that need a bit more attention.

 

There will always be some tunes that you find tricky and some that you take to quite easily. And as another poster has said, if you can get the tune in your head it helps.

 

Best wishes

 

John Wild

Edited by John Wild
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A few thoughts.

 

Don't learn the tunes from the music. Learn them by listening. If you don't have a recording, make one yourself either on your computer (using music software) or by reading from the music, but then put the music aside and learn it from the recording.

 

Write the music out yourself, trying not to copy too much of it directly (that is, as much from memory as you can). Copy what you need to. Then do it again. And again.

 

Learn to sing the tune.

 

Edited to add:

 

Printed music is a crutch. As long as you have it in front of you it will be very difficult to learn to play without it.

Edited by David Barnert
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A few thoughts.

 

Don't learn the tunes from the music. Learn them by listening. If you don't have a recording, make one yourself either on your computer (using music software) or by reading from the music, but then put the music aside and learn it from the recording.

 

Write the music out yourself, trying not to copy too much of it directly (that is, as much from memory as you can). Copy what you need to. Then do it again. And again.

 

Learn to sing the tune.

 

Edited to add:

 

Printed music is a crutch. As long as you have it in front of you it will be very difficult to learn to play without it.

 

 

That is just simply wrong. Printed music is a tool and it is NOT difficult to play without it. If you read music you have far more music available than if you don't.

Printed music is just a skeleton of a tune, an idea of the melody. You need recordings to know what it's supposed to sound like, to get the rhythm and the feel of the tune.

 

Reading music doesn't mean that you don't play by ear. That being said, I know that many people who read music never learn to play by ear, but that's not because of the printed music, but because they're simply in a tradition (like in classical music) where people don't play by ear. Reading music and playing by ear go very well together and they help each other.

My husband doesn't read music very much, he's always learned by ear. But, I learn more tunes faster by using sheet music than he does by learning from midi files and recordings. And he usually then learns the tunes from me.

 

It doesn't matter in what way you learn the tunes, as long as you are not dependent on the printed music, because, as you stated yourself, you can't bring your tune books to the jams.

 

I learn tunes from printed music and I learn tunes by ear. If I learn from printed music, I play it through many times until I have it in my head and can play without the sheet music. I always learn to play the tune without sheet music sooner or later. If it's a type of tune that I'm not very familiar with, I absolutely need a recording to get it right, while with other tunes, like most Irish tunes, I can just play them. But also in those cases it's good to listen to a recording to hear how others play them. In trad music, there isn't one version that is the "right"one. You can make every tune your own. When i learn bluegrass tunes, they are usually too complicated for me to have the patience to sit down and learn them from sheet music. I listen to the tune a lot of times and play along, play them in a way that I can play them. I usually make up my own versions. That works well for bluegrass music, but I know that in most trad music settings it isn't as welcome to make up your own as it is in bluegrass, you can add your ornaments but not stray too much from the melody.

 

I absolutely agree that if you have difficulties remembering tunes, the best thing is to get the tune in your head and being able to sing it. Then you can also most certainly play it. Play it through many times. If it's difficult to learn without sheet music, fine, use sheet music, but also listen to the tune until you have it in your head, then you'll be able to find it easily on your instrument and also remember it.

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That is just simply wrong. Printed music is a tool and it is NOT difficult to play without it. If you read music you have far more music available than if you don't.

 

Agreed. At the 'tina workshop I was at yesterday evening, all of us (English and Anglo players) had the Lewes Tune Book and were able to play along with each other even on tunes we'd never played before. Sight reading is a fundamental skill which frees up so much time and effort. Later we had four part arrangements of early music by Michael Praetorious and these sounded lovely with four different concertinas - two English trebles, one English baritone, and one DG Anglo. Because we could all just about sight read we were able to just dive in and play them slowly, then increase the speed after a few times through.

 

As for memorising tunes, like everything else, there is no shortcut, just repetition, and John Wild describes the process perfectly above.

 

I think one of the most important tips about memorising is "don't practice your mistakes". Its easy to play a tune over and over - and to have the same problems with difficult passages every time. It is important to stop at each stumble and to go over the difficult passage dead slowly, several times until the problem is solved, then to speed up that passage to normal speed before recommencing the tune again.

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That is just simply wrong. Printed music is a tool and it is NOT difficult to play without it. If you read music you have far more music available than if you don't.

Printed music is just a skeleton of a tune, an idea of the melody. You need recordings to know what it's supposed to sound like, to get the rhythm and the feel of the tune.

 

I must agree with Ennistraveler. Printed music is a great tool. I have stacks of music for different instruments and different styles. Time spent sight reading every day is well worth the effort. I don't have much of a library of recorded music, so I don't normally learn by listening. The style that develops is my own, acceptable to society or not. Decades ago I could memorize music in a very short time, just looking at the notation. I've never been able to break that habit and still memorize that way today. Although, I have to play a tune a hundred times before I can shut my eyes and see the notes. Oh how the memory fades. Can I play by ear? Certainly, but if I've seen the notation enough times before, I can't get that picture out of my mind as I play a tune.

 

But, if you can't read music and learning by ear is your crutch, then good for you. You are still playing this fun instrument!

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I seem to have a lot of trouble with this. I never really managed to get away from "the dots" when playing guitar, I think because I started with classical style. So when I started the tina about 6 months ago I tried to make a concious effort to play more by ear.

 

The problem I have is I love playing and want to play lots of different tunes, here the dots help and I am being sucked back into relying on them.

 

I try to play without looking but end up playing a different 2nd half of dance tunes which though interesting from a compositional point of view would be a disaster should I ever have the chance to play with others. I don't think the "all the right notes but not necessarily in the right order" quip would wash !

 

So Sidesqueze's idea of the first bar on a card is a possible solution.... fantastic. Am off home to cut and dig out some manuscript !

 

Trilby

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The problem I have is I love playing and want to play lots of different tunes, here the dots help and I am being sucked back into relying on them.

Hi Trilby,

 

If you listen to music (any type of tunes or song melodies; as simple as you like), do you find that you remember them well enough to whistle or hum them afterwards? If you can do this, which is effectively "learning by ear", you can then work out how to transfer this music onto the concertina. The key probably doesn't matter. This will start the process for you.

 

Years ago, when I had a two mile walk to work, this gave me, potentially, 30 minutes of learning time (or 20 minutes, if I wanted to avoid funny looks as I walked through the town centre!).

 

Regards,

Peter.

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Don't learn the tunes from the music. Learn them by listening. If you don't have a recording, make one yourself either on your computer (using music software) or by reading from the music, but then put the music aside and learn it from the recording.

 

Printed music is a crutch. As long as you have it in front of you it will be very difficult to learn to play without it.

That is just simply wrong. Printed music is a tool and it is NOT difficult to play without it. If you read music you have far more music available than if you don't.

 

Printed music is just a skeleton of a tune, an idea of the melody. You need recordings to know what it's supposed to sound like, to get the rhythm and the feel of the tune.

I agree with both of you, although I wouldn't say you should never learn tunes from printed music. I'd say it's best to be well-practiced in both.

 

The real issue is, some people NEVER use their ear much, either while learning or playing. Those are the folks who are stuck in front of a music stand and sound like automatons. You have to listen carefully and deeply to other players and to yourself to get at the subtleties of the music that aren't on the page. Those who naturally learn by ear have a leg up on that process. But learning a tune from sheet music does NOT keep you from listening to others and to yourself when you're playing or refining the tune. Although having sheet music in front of you as you play (even if you don't look at it much) does seem to interfere with listening and interplay.

 

So, learn it however you can, ditch the sheet music as soon as possible, and listen, listen, listen.

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Printed music is a crutch. As long as you have it in front of you it will be very difficult to learn to play without it.
That is just simply wrong...
Agreed.
Well I'm pleased to see I got folks revved up.

 

But I think I see some common ground here. I didn't say printed music was entirely worthless. I'm a classically trained cellist. Whenever I learn a new tune, if I don't already have a printed source, I write it down (or abc it into my computer) for documentation purposes, so I can remind myself of it in the future if I forget it. And of course, there are tunes that I must learn from the printed page ("I'm calling this dance on Saturday. Here's the music"). But, as I said, I try to get away from the page sooner rather than later.

 

What I said was "printed music is a crutch." Once I was playing a dance with a fiddle player who was buried in his music. At one point we were playing a simple G major waltz when his music stand went over. I didn't let him pick it up. "Keep playing," I said. "You know the tune." And he did. And his playing improved immensely. That's what I meant.

I absolutely agree that if you have difficulties remembering tunes, the best thing is to get the tune in your head and being able to sing it. Then you can also most certainly play it. Play it through many times. If it's difficult to learn without sheet music, fine, use sheet music, but also listen to the tune until you have it in your head, then you'll be able to find it easily on your instrument and also remember it.
I think it's safe to assume that that's the kind of learner Marcus is, going by his initial post in this thread. That's what I was getting at in the main body of my earlier post, before I saw fit to add the fateful P.S.
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The problem I have is I love playing and want to play lots of different tunes, here the dots help and I am being sucked back into relying on them.

Hi Trilby,

 

If you listen to music (any type of tunes or song melodies; as simple as you like), do you find that you remember them well enough to whistle or hum them afterwards? If you can do this, which is effectively "learning by ear", you can then work out how to transfer this music onto the concertina. The key probably doesn't matter. This will start the process for you.

 

Years ago, when I had a two mile walk to work, this gave me, potentially, 30 minutes of learning time (or 20 minutes, if I wanted to avoid funny looks as I walked through the town centre!).

 

Regards,

Peter.

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Woops looks like my computer skills are as accurate as my playing !

Thanks for your advice Peter and you are right. I am beginning to be able to play what I hum. I am finding it easier on the tina than on the guitar so the future is looking brighter BUT I must have a jazz players head as seem incapable of humming it the same way twice! Ah well never mind I don't know of any Avant Guard tina players so maybe I have the market to myself.I can see it now " Here he is .......... the Archie Shepp of the concertina.............."

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I am a classically trained clarinetist and have always used sheet music. When I did my Royal School of Music exam at grade 8 level I did have to memorize a few peices for performance, but I was a lot younger and my memory seemed to a liitle sharper than it is now!

It's funny, but I have found that I can memorize morris tunes and English style tunes far easier than Irish tunes...strange

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I agree with both of you, although I wouldn't say you should never learn tunes from printed music. I'd say it's best to be well-practiced in both.

 

The real issue is, some people NEVER use their ear much, either while learning or playing. Those are the folks who are stuck in front of a music stand and sound like automatons. You have to listen carefully and deeply to other players and to yourself to get at the subtleties of the music that aren't on the page. Those who naturally learn by ear have a leg up on that process. But learning a tune from sheet music does NOT keep you from listening to others and to yourself when you're playing or refining the tune. Although having sheet music in front of you as you play (even if you don't look at it much) does seem to interfere with listening and interplay.

 

So, learn it however you can, ditch the sheet music as soon as possible, and listen, listen, listen.

 

Reading music and listening/reacting to what you hear as you play is perfectly possible, but requires practice. I play in a brass quintet with some players who, when we started out, were novices and had difficulty reading a piece of music, let alone playing as an ensemble (i.e. listening to the other players and responding to what they hear). Now, two years down the line, having met and played together most weeks, their listening skills have improved dramatically with consequent improvement in the musicality of the group's playing. Boney is right, "some people never use their ear...".

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But I think I see some common ground here. I didn't say printed music was entirely worthless. I'm a classically trained cellist. Whenever I learn a new tune, if I don't already have a printed source, I write it down (or abc it into my computer) for documentation purposes, so I can remind myself of it in the future if I forget it. And of course, there are tunes that I must learn from the printed page ("I'm calling this dance on Saturday. Here's the music"). But, as I said, I try to get away from the page sooner rather than later.

 

What I said was "printed music is a crutch." Once I was playing a dance with a fiddle player who was buried in his music. At one point we were playing a simple G major waltz when his music stand went over. I didn't let him pick it up. "Keep playing," I said. "You know the tune." And he did. And his playing improved immensely. That's what I meant. I think it's safe to assume that that's the kind of learner Marcus is, going by his initial post in this thread. That's what I was getting at in the main body of my earlier post, before I saw fit to add the fateful P.S.

 

Haha, it's a hot subject. Too many silly discussions in the past "for/against sheet music". I really didn't believe you thought sheet music was a curse. Most serious musicians can see the advantages with sheet music. But you really sounded like the bad boy in your post. Things like that always makes me mad. Sorry B)

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