I’m a software engineer, and have a varied background. I’ve been playing the Irish flute for about 12 years. Though I took some piano lessons when I was young, and fiddled with the guitar, banjo, and silver flute as a teenager, I didn’t get serious about music until an older adult, and certainly didn’t know anything about Irish Tradtional Music (ITM). Learning music as an older adult is different than learning as youngster, that’s for sure. I was never good at memory, and never really thought it important, to tell you the truth. I was raised in the age of “you don’t have to remember facts and dates, just learn the concepts!”.
Irish music session generally occur in pubs, or for dances. Written music is very much frowned upon, and tunes are usually learned by ear. Tunes (called “tunes” and not “songs”) breed and evolve through the community, and have histories of being written recently to being hundreds of years old. Most tunes are fairly simple, divided into 16 measures of AABB, and categorized as jigs, reels, polkas, etc. There are thousands upon thousands of tunes. As a ITM musician, you have to hold a rich repertoire in your head in order to play in sessions. It’s a challenge. Tunes are played in sets, and you have to quickly be able to play one tune, think of another, and move to that tune, rather spontantiously. And the tunes are structurally often similar, so memory confusion is quite the factor. Over the years I’ve become frustrated going through a bunch of work learning tunes, and then loosing them because I don’t get to play them often enough. And struggle with even remembering the tags (tune names) of what I know, so I find the tunes, so to speak.
I recently read “Moonwalking with Einstein”, and have been inspired to try to apply some of these technique to my application of traditional music repertoire. I’ve tried to do some research on the application of these techniques to music, but most of what I’ve come across has been related with classical music, applied to large compositions, which is fairly different than my needs. I’ve read one thread about applying these techniques for jazz music, which is closer. I’m very new to all this, so, please set me straight if you think I need it! I’ve been working on the following fronts:
Palace of tunes: I’ve set up a memory palace of, so far, about 250 tunes. One room is hornpipes, three rooms are jigs, a hallway holds slip jigs, 5 upstairs rooms holds the reels, a room in the basement holds polkas, and another room holds slides. Essentally right now this palace is just an index of tune names. But I’m starting to be able to tour the palace an “hear” each tune, and in some cases visualize playing the tune. So, besides providing a “place” for each tune, the palace can act as a virtual practice hall.
Space repetition with Anki. I basically have the list of the tunes loaded in Anki, and limit myself to about 26 tunes a night. I have to make sure I carefully and mindfully practice these, so I don’t end up practicing in rushed and bad playing just to get through the list. Sometimes I take a few of these and go in deeper, experementing with phrasings, variations, and ornamentation. This can sometimes take a couple of hours, so I’m worried I’m doing too much. On the other hand, if I don’t go through enough each day, I don’t think I’ll be able to rotate through the repertoire in a way that will make sense. Note that in some ways I’m trying to simulate the tune rotation that occurs in sessions, in my basement.
Rapid tune learning. As I said, learning a new tune is often done by ear. Sometimes from a teacher, sometimes at a session, and sometimes from a recording. Generally the learning occurs in chunks of phrases. Sometimes as I’m learning the parts, by the time I start learning the B phrases, I’ll forget the A phrases. Often I kind of get the “bones” of the tune down, and then, 2 hours later, will have completely forgotten the whole thing. Sometimes I have to repeat a phrase over and over and over, more times than I think I should, in order to commit it to memory. So, my idea is to create a very structured palace or room or board that I can use over and over. I’ve started creating an association of notes to animals… like people do with numbers, I think. So, for the flute I generally have just two octives. So, land animals for the lower octive, flying birds and insects for the upper octives, with a choice of a few alternatives per note. The idea is, just populate a few of the pegs with animals or birds, maybe with them forming stories sometimes. Just enough to get my aural memory in place. So, I’m just starting this part. I don’t know yet if it will work. I’m especially interested in advice and input relating to this aspect.
Aural memory, as opposed to visual memory. Being able to hear a tune in your head, play it from memory. I’ve read some research pertaining to this, but have been surprised not to have been able to find more. It seems like aural memory is very different from visual memory, both short term and long term. If you know of reading material pertaining to this, please let me know!
Hearing a tune, and being able to remember it’s name. This is really the reverse card for #2 that I describe above, though not sure if I could pull it off with Anki in a tractable way, or if doing it would be worth it. Still, it’s a challenging problem.
Sorry for being so long-winded. I may start a blog or something, as I think it may be interesting to plot my progress.
If there are other musicians out there, especially traditional musicians, please let me know who you are!