Friday, May 06, 2005

Tunes: How to Learn a Tune

I went to the Bardic Circle session here in Columbus last night. It was the first session I have attended. Bardic Circle is an intermediate session, so I spent most of the evening listening, although they did indulge me by putting up with my poor whistling on a slow air and perhaps misguidedly attempted to embarass me by asking me to sing (misguided in the sense that I have few reservations about showcasing my vocal "talent" in public!).

I also had the chance to talk to a guy named Jeff Richards, who plays a number of instruments, tin whistle among them. He gave me some advice on learning tunes which strikes me as very sensible, so I'll pass it along here.

My goals are to memorize at least a few tunes, and learn to pick up others by ear. Sheet music is discouraged at some sessions and outright forbidden in others. What's more, if I learn to pick up tunes by ear then I'll be able to play along with tunes I haven't memorized and don't have transcriptions for.

The gist of the advice is to learn how to play intervals rather than memorizing fingerings for tunes. So if I'm playing a D and I know the next note is a full step higher then I should know how to go to an E without having to think about the names of the notes. So there's two things I need to learn:

  1. I need to know the tune well enough to anticipate the next note.
  2. I need to be able to find that note based on the note I'm currently plaing.

Jeff's advice was to address the first need by humming along to recordings of the tunes. This helps to memorize the song without thinking of fingerings, and it's good practice to pick up a new song quickly. Ideally I'd be able to listen to the tune and the turn once and play them on the repeats. For the second need, he recommended playing any bunch of tunes I can think of and know already (Happy Birthday, etc.) until I'm confident that when playing one note I can always go to the next if I know how big of a step it is.

UPDATE: Here are a couple of other articles on this subject:

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