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I have NO CLUE how many tunes I know

Posted by bj on Thursday, May 10, 2012

It's funny. When you're a newly minted fiddler you're very aware of how many tunes you know. And you wanna keep growing that list, and proudly add to it whenever you finally get a tune under your bow consistently.

I'm still trying to figure out when all that changed for me.

I think it's when new tunes (or at least the ability to hook the tune to the name consistently and vice versa) started pushing other tunes out of my brain, at least temporarily, though they seem to float in and out now.

There seems to be a finite number (or a range maybe) of tunes hooked with names that I can consistently hold in my head. However, if someone starts a tune I've "lost" I can play it almost instantly. It just comes out.

Then there are the festival tunes. Those are tunes I've played a bunch of times at a festival, but due to maybe lack of light around a campfire, or the beer or two I had, the tune never gets written down on the list, so it becomes a "forgotten" tune in my repertoire, but the next time I hit a festival and someone trots it out . . . there it is! Right under my bow!

There are some tunings or keys I don't yet know enough tunes in to trot them out at a jam unless there's another player there who knows tunes in that tuning or key. They're not on my tune list yet, though I have the recordings on my computer. The key of C is one of those. Calico tuning is another, though I've been working on getting that up to speed. I really hope I can find a few calico jams at the upcoming Black Creek festival.

Anyone else who has no clue how many tunes you know?



15 comments on “I have NO CLUE how many tunes I know”

Cyndy Says:
Thursday, May 10, 2012 @8:17:06 AM

Yup. It just doesn't matter anymore. I have tunes that I can start and other than that I just play along with whatever anyone else tosses out whether I know it or not. Most times that works unless someone decides to do something like Soldier's Joy in C or something fast something in, oh, Bb or F. (laugh)

Fiddler Says:
Thursday, May 10, 2012 @10:02:29 AM

This is why I store all of my tunes in other people's heads! More importantly - Congratulations! You are now at that point in your career as a fiddler where you know so much that you can "fake it" with just about any tune. We joke that those tunes have always been in our fiddle. We just spend our lives trying to find it. Sometime, it is elusive and hides in the darkest recesses. Other times, it doesn't hide so well.

I think at one time I tried to record every tune that I knew and it was somewhere around 600 or so. I got frustrated and quite keeping track long ago. But, if you consider that many tunes are merely variants of a core melody, and only count the core melody, then I know only about 5 melodies! (Well, maybe a few more.)

The bottom line is to have fun, right? And it sound like you are doing that and amazing your friends with the depth of your repertoire!

Scott Nichols Says:
Thursday, May 10, 2012 @10:30:56 AM

The count's been going up with experience, and down with increasing age.

robinja Says:
Thursday, May 10, 2012 @11:11:09 AM

I'm the same camp, but I still keep a tune list somewhat up to date. I know a lot of tunes that aren't on the list, and there are some tunes that are on the list that I don't know, but for me, having the list helps me keep more tunes in rotation. But I haven't counted the tunes in a while, so I guess that's progress!

bj Says:
Thursday, May 10, 2012 @12:08:00 PM

Well, I just looked at the jam tunelist. I had just added a few tunes to it (in the margins next to the coffee stains) and noticed that one or two were on there twice . . . And, like I said, there are a bunch that aren't on there. When Rick Carlson or David Husic or John Updike or Arlene Schar show up, the list gets mostly ignored anyway. And (most of) the tunes they start are ones I can kinda play, even if not expertly. There are roughly 220 tunes on the list. I have a feeling that means I'm up at least around 300 or thereabouts, maybe many more. Which is scary, if you think about it.

mudbug Says:
Thursday, May 10, 2012 @12:40:05 PM

It must be like having birthdays......after a while ya stop counting and just enjoy.

mad baloney Says:
Thursday, May 10, 2012 @3:05:41 PM

I have no idea either, all I know is despite all I know, if I'm playing with a bunch of people there's a good chance they'll all tear into one that I've never even heard before.

carlb Says:
Friday, May 11, 2012 @5:01:46 AM

The last time I put my tune list into an Excel file (when this came up in a topic), I discovered tha I knew in excess of 400 tunes.

SueH Says:
Friday, May 11, 2012 @7:51:00 AM

I can remember when I used to have a list of tunes that I could play, it wasn't very long! Now it's more like "can I remember how the tune starts?". I also keep a list (& add to it) for our jam just to jog my memory and keep a record of what we've played.
I'm looking forward to playing tunes with you at Black Creek in a few weeks. Could use some advice about where to camp since I might be going alone and it's my first time.

bj Says:
Friday, May 11, 2012 @8:24:53 AM

No, you're not camping alone. You can camp with us! PM sent.

Mandogryl Says:
Friday, May 11, 2012 @12:22:46 PM

Two years ago, after playing two years, I made my list, and it was 27 and I thought it was good. Now I have no idea.
300 tunes? Impressive indeed.

bj Says:
Friday, May 11, 2012 @1:09:52 PM

Well, I didn't say I knew them well or could play them well! A lot of them I'm hanging onto 'em by the seat of my pants! And probably close to a third I can't match the tune and the name reliably, if at all.

Mandogryl Says:
Friday, May 11, 2012 @1:46:38 PM

Sometimes I need the first note or two. Isn't that odd?

bj Says:
Friday, May 11, 2012 @2:01:26 PM

No, it's not. I can't find it at the moment, but I do have a fair bit of the jam's tune list on an mp3 player. I have a feeling the cats disappeared it on me. But that worked very well. Tunes were grouped by key. It's simply had a once through of each tune. And usually all I'd need was the first couple notes.

wilford Says:
Monday, July 30, 2012 @6:43:26 AM

I'll never forget the time I was listening to a little old Irish fiddler up in Madrid, NY at a Bluegrass Festival. When he'd finish playing a tune I would be all excited and ask him the name of it. He'd say "I don't be knowin' that me boy". Then, he'd play another one and sure enough I'd ask him the name of that one. Again, he'd say "I don't be knowin' the name o' that one either, me boy".

After four or five tunes and times of me asking the names, he stopped deliberately and looked at me and while pointing his fiddle bow towards his brain, said: "I probably know a thousand tunes or so, me boy. I"ve only got so much room up here and if I had to remember the names to all these tunes, well I wouldn't have room for the tunes!"

I stopped asking him and just listened and enjoyed from that point on.

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