October 3, 2012

Three great things that come from Getting Organized

I don’t know about you but when someone says, “Play something for me” my mind goes blank.  I can’t think of a single tune I know.  And if by some magic I think of a tune, I can’t remember how it goes.  It's as if that simple question throws a switch that leaves me unable to think!

This even happens when I’m practicing.  I think, “Play something you haven’t played in a while”.  Suddenly, I have absolutely no idea of any tunes I have ever learned.  Ever.   
So, I came up with a method to help me practice more than the few tunes on my mental music stand.  It’s not high tech, it’s not fancy, but it does work – so I thought I’d share it with you.

I have a recipe box for 3 x 5 cards with alphabet dividers.  For each tune I learn I write out the title on a card, and the key I tend to play it in (or the key I prefer – sometimes I remember to note why I like it in that key – it sounds better, it doesn’t require a lever change, etc.).  If I’m smart I also include the first few notes (at least in TAB but the dots are helpful if I can put them on there) and what I like to play it with in a set.

The cards are sorted in alphabetical order by title. To be honest they’re sorted in alphabetical order by what I call them (sometimes I think of the title in Gaelic not English, or vice versa). The point is to sort and store them so that I can find them.

In practice when I’m done working my exercises, learning what I’m working on, and polishing what needs shine, I close my eyes, reach into the box, pull out a card – and play that tune.
There are three things that I find amazing about this:

  1. I know WAY more tunes than I think I do (since I never remember that I know them).
  2. I KNOW way more tunes than I think I do (since I can actually play them when I randomly pull them from the box) – and if they are rusty, that’s ok, they shine right up with just a little time.
  3. I know way more tunes than I THINK I do! It is a strong visual reminder of my progress and accomplishment as a harper – proof that I’m growing and developing – it's very reassuring.
You don’t have to make 3 x 5 cards – you could make a spreadsheet, a list, a “job jar” – anything that helps you remember to play tunes you learned a long time ago but might have set aside.  The random access also helps your stay fresh and enjoy the tunes.  The mini-tune-up the tune gets when you have to give it a bit of a shake also helps improve your memory. 

And hopefully you’ll enjoy amazing yourself!

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