How to work through the hard parts


Learning tunes by ear is no easy feat. It takes time, patience, and then more time, and more patience. Even then, just when you think you’re getting good at it, you come across a tune or a pesky note that stops you dead in your tracks. And you feel like you’ve taken a step back. It’s frustrating and sometimes it can make you question why you even bother learning new tunes.

So how do you work through it?

Keep pushing through. I know that sounds simple. It’s not, and yet, it is.

Sometimes when you’re working on a tune, you hit a note or a section that you can’t wrap your head around. It could be a phrase that you can’t figure out or a note that you think doesn’t actually exist on your instrument and you just can’t seem to move forward. It’s frustrating and sometimes disheartening.

Here are a few ways to get through it:

  • Listen – I’m sure this goes without saying but put your instrument down and go back and just listen to the tune, the whole tune and nothing but the tune. Hear how the difficult part fits into the rest of the music. And listen to it over and over again.
  • Hum – If you can’t hum the tune, you can’t play it. You have to be able to hear it in your head and hum it so that your whole being knows it.
  • Put it down – Sometimes it helps to put your instrument down. Walk away, and do something else. Even play something else. Forget about it for a while and just let it rest.
  • Come back tomorrow – There is no rush to learn a tune. Some tunes take me an hour to learn, some tunes take me a week. No one is keeping track. There is no rule book on how long it should take to learn a tune. So put it down and come back to it with a fresh mind.
  • Have patience – This is by far the most important and the most difficult. If it takes a while to learn a tune, it doesn’t mean you’re a bad musician or even bad at learning tunes. What it does mean is that you’re listening so closely that you’re hearing things most people don’t even notice. Patience truly is a virtue.

For me, this week’s tune was one of those tunes. It’s a set dance called Garden of Daisies. There is a lot of repetition in this one and it took me a while to wrap my head around learning it. I spent most of the week just listening to it and trying to sing it in my head. I then sat down and learned the A-part pretty easily but the B-part sounded so similar to the A-part I had to put it down for a day or two to give my brain a rest as I kept getting lost in the parts. Coming back with fresh ears and a clear mind helped to get through learning it.

If you’re having trouble with a tune, have faith that at some point, the tune will just click and your fingers will know where to go. You’ll then find yourself wondering why learning it was such a challenge. It’s always those tunes that usually end up being some of the best.

I hope you enjoy this week’s tune:

Garden of Daisies: Tune 27 of 52

Join me next week for tune #28 from A Tune A Week.

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