Remembering Old Tunes


Last evening, my wife and I sent through a book of fiddle tunes, figuring out which ones we knew. The purpose of this survey was to give her mandolin student a list of tunes that local people play, so she had something to practice between lessons. This will make her more comfortable when she goes to jam sessions or folk music circles, and might also expand the repertoire of the band she plays in. Everyone likes to be able to play something other people already know, even if they start playing 20% faster once they recognize what it is.

Is this something peculiar to musicians, and even more specific to people who play Irish music with friends? How many people play any instrument well enough to sit down without any music and trust their memory of the patterns and rhythms of songs hardly anyone will know? Give an experienced violinist a fiddle tune book and they will be able to play the notes, but it won’t be the same. They need that music all the time. They haven’t stored the essence of the song in their fingers and bow so their eyes can close and just BE the music.

This morning, I realize that remembering the spirit of a process is like remembering the patterns and rhythms of a fiddle tune. While my goal is to help people break out of their status quo so they can change their future, that is only the beginning. Learning how to use the Deming Cycle or Six Hats Thinking are steps along the way. They aren’t the goal people should aspire to. Being able to sightread is a great skill, but not if it means you always need the music. Maybe that is where I want to go with the tool I am building.

And now that I realize that, I think I can step back and look at the bigger picture. I can start to say “No!” to things I thought were important, like having a user interface that looked good on both an iPhone and an iPad. Using a keyboard with an iPad made my application much easier to use, but it wouldn’t help that much on an iPhone. Simplifying the layouts to make them more suitable for an iPhone means losing the depth of that made the laptop version so useful.

Last evening, I found myself recognizing tunes I learned more than 25 years ago, but haven’t played in 20 years. The muscle memory was there, waiting to be called on. Once through the tune was enough to confirm that I still knew it, though the versions I knew were slight variations of what was in the book. But fiddle tunes are like that. They evolve over time and distance.

I need to keep this in mind as I go forward. Where might you benefit from a similar strategy?

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