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Learning Whole Tunes, Part Two

Posted by bj on Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Up at Fiddle Hell there was a tune Art Bryan wanted to teach me, but it was one of the few I couldn't catch easily in a jam setting, since it's notier than many, and has some modal quirks that make it a little less intuitive than other D tunes, since I haven't run into many modal D tunes up until now. Though I did get a fair bit of the skeleton, the notey parts become mush when I try to catch a tune like that one while learning at jam speed. The tune is (Bonny) Bunch of Rushes.

I had asked Art to play it slower a few times, but Art is funny that way. He says he's going to play it slower and then . . . doesn't. His "slow" version is the same speed as the faster version before it. I did ask him about that, and the comment was that he gets lost easily if it isn't up to speed, so I have a feeling Art is another person who works from within the flow and gestalt of a tune. Maybe that's a pretty big chunk of the reason why we enjoy playing together, a recognition of a similar mindset. I even tried kicking off the tune (that I didn't yet know!) at a slower pace to help him help me out, and inside of a couple few measures he had it back up to tempo! Which was funny, since usually Art is steady as a metronome.

Art has been wonderful to me in another way. I've gotten so many CDs from him of great players playing the stuff that Art plays regularly. So I have that tune on one of those CDs, played by Allan Block, an incredible fiddler. I ripped it off the CD, and then had to do a little audacity magic to pull just the part with Allan's fiddle out (that part was surrounded by other schtuff, button box and some other fancier bits) and then I edited it so it would play seamlessly on endless loop. Then I just played it at low volume into my ears while I did other things late yesterday afternoon, for a couple hours. Last night I played some warmup stuff for an hour, then put that tune on at a slow speed and started playing along. It's there. There's one part where I wanna put a different note in (my mistakes can sometimes be stubborn) but the tune is officially under my fingers, though it'll be awhile before it's up to speed. I've already started to add some dynamics in. What a LOVELY tune! And with a name like Bonny Bunch of Rushes, it had to have been brought over from Scotland. The phrasing and mood also sound Scottish to me. Art said it's often called just Bunch of Rushes, in case you decide to look for it.

In learning whole tunes that are ones that are maybe more difficult, making them harder to pick up in a jam setting, I find this method of learning whole tunes to be the way that works for me. Just listen to the whole tune at a low volume for HOURS over and over. By the time you go to play it, it's already most, if not all the way, under your fingers. I've also found that if I learn a new tune at the end of my evening practice session, right before bedtime, that the tune percolates through my dreams and seems to stick better. Most times, when I do it this way, the tune is there, buzzing in my ears, when I wake up in the morning, before I've even gotten out of bed. When that happens, I immediately pick up the fiddle and saw it a few times. I never play it well then, since my fingers aren't awake, but that's not the point. It's a part of the process that makes it stick in my brain and will allow me to kick off this new tune at the next jam session, ill advised as that may be. I can only imagine how the guitars are going to mangle the modality! And I've not yet gotten good enough to call chords.

There was one tune at the jam that I did learn well enough to play, but NOT well enough to easily pull up out of the gray matter muck. And the only field recording I found of it doesn't seem to sound anything like what we were playing for it to bring it to mind. That one is Coleman's March. If anyone has another source for that, I'd appreciate it. The only one I found was off the Berea Archive, and that isn't the right tune.

6 comments on “Learning Whole Tunes, Part Two”

ScottK Says:
Wednesday, November 18, 2009 @8:51:34 AM

Hi bj,

There is a Coleman's March on the Centralia Parlor Pickers web site:


bj Says:
Wednesday, November 18, 2009 @9:14:01 AM

THAT'S THE ONE! YES! Thank you, Scott!

playmorebluegrass Says:
Friday, November 20, 2009 @3:43:16 PM

really? art bryan is on another social network of mine. and i learn like u do. learn the whole thing at once! seems like if I drag the song out over a period of time i loose interest in it. but if i learn it all in one day. it will always be engraved in my memory.

bj Says:
Friday, November 20, 2009 @3:48:57 PM

I hope you get to play with Art someday, Jennifer. He's wonderful, a really great player and a super nice person. You might want to check out his cds:

playmorebluegrass Says:
Sunday, November 22, 2009 @5:57:43 PM

i went to that site. i will def. have to buy his cd now. i like that one song on the website. rose tree. i will have that song in my head all week now...♥ which ain't a bad

bj Says:
Sunday, November 22, 2009 @6:11:01 PM

No, that ain't a bad thang atall atall! Great tune . . .

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