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The San Francisco Scottish Fiddlers

Tunes for Newcomers

11 Feb 2020 5:19 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

Have you joined the club in the last year or so? Or maybe you’ve been in the club for a while and are still wondering which of the hundreds of club tunes you should learn first? There are numerous sources to help you:

The club has a binder of printed music which you can order for $69 including shipping (well worth it if you read the “dots”). There’s an index of tunes included with it, with favorite and frequently played tunes marked. This is a treasure trove!

The club also has CDs for many of the spring concerts with tunes played slowly and moderately for sale ($7 including shipping). These tunes are often favorites that get played frequently. Send email for information on purchasing sheet music or practice CDs.

Note that you must be a club member to purchase the either the sheet music or the CDs. (Click here for information on joining the SFSF.)

Check out our list below of favorite tunes for new members with varying ranges of musical experience. These tunes are well enough known in the club that you should be able to start the tune and others will play along with you.

Get a recording app on your phone or a dedicated audio recorder and become a collector of tunes. Come to a club meeting or go to one of the sessions listed in the newsletter. Record the tunes you would like to learn. At SFSF sessions you will often be able to find someone willing to play a tune slowly for you to record and learn. Just ask.

Log onto the club related pages and watch concert videos. (See the Member Notices in the monthly newsletter for more information regarding club videos.)

Really knowing a tune means that you can play it by heart. No sheet music to lean on! There are huge advantages in this – you can take all your tunes with you wherever you go. If this is new to you, there are some creative ways to learn. There’s really no right or wrong way, just the way that works best for you.

Learning tunes by ear involves different brain pathways from learning to read a tune from sheet music. If you have been devoted to the “dots”, your process may change over time as you acclimate to learning tunes and playing without sheet music. One of the disadvantages of sheet music is that the dots will lead you astray – don't trust them. They are great for sorting out a difficult passage, but if you're new to trad music you will never understand it by reading the dots, and you will almost inevitably get the wrong idea of the tune. Also worth pointing out is that when you learn by ear, you're learning to hear intervals between pitches, whereas the dots tie you to absolute notes. This is why people who learn by ear will sometimes start a tune in the "wrong" key. When you learn the intervals by ear, you can play the tune in any key you like, and it's still the same tune.

Here are some common techniques. Remember that there is no one right way to learn tunes (or anything else, for that matter). Try different approaches and see what works for you.

  • Listen to the tune a number of times. Sing it aloud a few times; this helps you know where you are going. Then try playing the first few notes or phrase, listen again, and repeat, building as you are able.

  • Try one of the many computer and phone apps or on-line services that allow you to change the tempo of a recording without changing its pitch. This can be very helpful in picking apart a fast tune. Here are just a few examples: You can also slow down YouTube videos by using the controls.

  • If you read music, do listen to recordings also to inform you as you play through a tune. Read the first measure or phrase, turn away from the music, and play the notes or phrase repeatedly until you have it in your fingers. Learn the next few notes, link them to the first phrase, and practice the two parts until you have them and so forth.

  • Another way to approach a tune is not to think of it as a linear progression of notes, but to look for the shape and structure of it, and find landmarks you can recognize. Try to hit the landmarks as you play along with a recording or in a session, and don't worry too much if you miss some of the notes in between. They will come in their own time.

  • Do not be afraid of playing a wrong note. Humans learn by making mistakes and correcting them. If you're playing along with a recording by yourself, no one is going to know. Play all the wrong notes you want! If you're in a club session and you're playing along quietly in the back, no one is going to give you dirty looks because you made a mistake. Don't be too timid, though. If you're playing so softly that you can't hear you own mistakes, you'll never learn from them.

Regarding sources, the more popular a tune is, the more different versions of it you will find out in the world. Some of these might or might not correspond to the way the club plays it. That's not a problem, but if you pick a version off, for example, just be prepared for the differences. It shouldn't be hard to adapt once you have the basic feel of the tune.

Hopefully you can find something useful here to help you dive more deeply into club music and play more.

Suggested Tunes for Beginning to Intermediate Musicians

Title Month and Year Tune Was Added to the Club Binder
The Air Tune August, 2008
Birchville August 2015
The Farley Bridge December 2010 supplement
La Fée des Dents (The Tooth Fairy) December 2009
Ice on the Water October 2000
Josefin’s Waltz December 1996
The March of the King of Laois February 2011
My Cape Breton Home July 2007
Rob Fraser’s Welcome to San Francisco August 2006
She’s Sweetest When She’s Naked September 2006
The Sleeping Tune October 2006
Da Slockit Light March 1995
Sour Grass and Granite October 1999

Suggested Tunes for Intermediate to Advanced Musicians

Title Month and Year Tune Was Added to the Club Binder
Calliope House April 2001
Captain Campbell September 1996
The Flowers of Edinburgh March 1999
Frank’s Reel November 1999
Garster’s Dream November 2003
The High Drive November 2007
Hughie Shortie’s Reel March 2011
Ingonish March 2011
Jenny Dang The Weaver August 1991
Jig Run Rig June 2009
Little Donald in the Pigpen December 1991
Raivlin’ Reel October 2009
Spootiskerry September 1987

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