Thursday, August 2, 2007

Learning and memorizing a tune

I attended a great fiddle concert tonight by the Kane Sisters, two Irish fiddlers. One of them, Liz, said she could learn a complicated tune in about an hour, by ear. Then, the next day she would have to learn it again. And keep at it until she had it down. It doesn't take her all that long: about five times playing the tune with her sister until they have it down. Less complex tunes take only a half hour (the first day).

This was reassuring to me, as they have been playing fiddle since they were young children. I can easily memorize a tune on the first day and almost completely forget it the next day. Yet, if I keep at it, it doesn't really take more than a few days to memorize a simple tune. Reliably playing it is another story.

Liz also said the first step was "listening until you are blue in the face." An interesting image! This is important. I used to do the reverse in a class--try to memorize the tune a few notes or measures at a time, before I really knew the tune well enough to sing it. It is so much easier to play a tune you already know.

I briefly attended a fiddle session before tonight's concert, in which the same subject came up. One of the fiddlers said he memorized about a tune a week, but it took him about a month to learn each tune. Thus, he's usually working on four tunes at once, in different stages of knowing the tune. This makes sense to me, as it is more or less what I do, but sometimes I'm lucky to add one new tune a month.

Here's a link to a good summary of fiddle practice technique.

Later tonight, after the concert, I got a call from a woman at the Scottish fiddle camp that I will be attending soon. She wanted to know my cello level so the teacher could prepare for the camp. There are only 4 cello students, including me, of a total of 75 students, and we're all over 40 and pretty much on the same level (I hope! All the others have attended this Scottish Fiddle Camp before, so they are a bit ahead of me on Scottish fiddling styles.) Turns out we will be learning by ear. I had a nice chat with the caller (a fiddler) about learning tunes, and she agreed about the importance of listening and the ease of forgetting. She also said that the cellists attending are the nicest group of people you could ever hope to meet. Well, I already knew that about cellists!

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