Thursday, April 27, 2006

Practice: Methods of Memorization

One of the things I like about learning to play the tin whistle and Irish and Scottish music is that my constant need to memorize new tunes (and songs, as I like to sing) is giving me a real mental workout. My day job also requires me to remember large amounts of information, but memorizing tunes seems to work a different part of the brain. Research indicates that "mental exercise" can reverse the decline in brain function in old age, so the more the better!

I notice, though, that the method I use to learn a tune has changed since I took up the instrument last year. Previously I would play the tune through until I no longer required notation (I wasn't doing much ear learning at the time). Now, however, I find it much more effective to learn a measure or a phrase and then build on that, one piece at a time. This seems more effective both when learning from score or by ear for me.

I spoke to a fiddler who uses a third method. He learns the first note of each measure or phrase — the "outline" of the tune — and then fills in the rest.

I don't know if any one of these methods is "best," but it's interesting that there are different ways to do the same thing.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Seisiún: Slow Session

I went to a new (for me) session yesterday. It's a slow session, and very different from Bardic Circle, the other session I attend.

Bardic Circle started life as a beginner's session and is still very beginner-friendly, but many if not most of the regulars have now been playing together for several years, have a pretty wide repertoire, and the tunes are not generally played slowly. I spend most of my time at Bardic Circle sessions listening instead of playing, which doesn't bother me at all.

At this session, however, everyone is studying the same 20 or so tunes, and I happened to know six or seven of them. The group played, in general, much slower than Bardic Circle. We also did some ear learning exercises, so I ended up playing more than I listened. I'm going to work on learning some of the other tunes that group plays.

Overall it was a nice experience.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Technique: Bottom Hand Pinkie

I've been experimenting with putting my right (bottom) hand pinkie finger on the bottom of the whistle, below the bottom hole. My teacher had recommended that I do this ages ago, but it never felt natural, and putting my third finger down on the bottom hole when I play a C♯ (or sometimes B, etc.) always seemed to work well enough.

Until The Atholl Highlanders. Playing A-c♯-e repeatedly is just a lot easier when I don't have to have my bottom-hand third finger moving. And similarly for some other parts of that tune.

Update: I received a suggestion in private email to try a different technique with The Atholl Highlanders, which helps even more. But I still find the pinkie helpful in this and other tunes.

It still doesn't feel quite natural, but it's a lot easier to play some phrases, and I think I can keep the whistle steadier this way.

This is (temporarily, I hope) somewhat confusing at the moment. I'm having to relearn certain passages to make optimial use of the new grip and I'm tending to grab too hard with my right (bottom) thumb and pinkie right now. But when I do it right I'm finding that some passages just come out a lot cleaner, like the second to last measure of both parts of Harvest Home.