The strategy behind learning tunes

Recently, I enrolled in an Irish Session Music class at the Summit School of Traditional Music in Montpelier. In this particular class, we are learning all about the great composers of traditional Irish music like Ed Reavy, Paddy O’Brien, Josie McDermott and more. What’s great is that we learn the history of the tunes as well as some of the tunes themselves. The problem is our homework is to learn 2 tunes a week. Sounds simple but when you learn tunes as slowly as I do, this can get frustrating.

The class has been going on for about 3-4 weeks now and each week I find it extremely difficult to learn all of both tunes. So, I have decided to take a different approach to learning tunes.

For me when it comes to learning a new tune, I am meticulous about learning it note for note. I learn the A part and I will not move on to the B part until every note in the A part is where it belongs. Then I learn the B part and put them together. I then play the whole tune over and over and over again until the melody becomes ingrained in my brain. Unfortunately, this can be a long process.

This week I was determined to learn both tunes but a week with a full time job and a trip to CT to visit family didn’t leave too much practice time. So I decided to change the way I learn a tune. Big move for me.

I decided to listen to the tunes a couple of times and then just try to play the whole tune hitting what notes I could find. The first few times, it wasn’t pretty but the more I listened, and the more I relaxed and the more I stopped “trying” to play, the easier it became.

I can’t say that I learned all of both tunes note for note but I think I might be onto a new way of learning that might allow me to learn these tunes quicker.

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One thought on “The strategy behind learning tunes

  1. 2 tunes a week seems pretty tough to me (novice fiddle player). I find it difficult to learn tunes if I don’t really like the melody, or when there’s no ‘hook’ that appeals to me. So, being assigned a tune to learn I think would be a big challenge. Apparently, developing one’s ear and using software that slows tunes down, allowing you to work things out phrase by phrase, are the keys to picking up tunes quickly. Although, I often resort to memorizing sheet music which just seems easier sometimes. Good luck and keep us updated on what you’re learning.

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