Remembering How Tunes Go

You are trying to do the seemingly impossible: have your fingers and your ears play one tune while your brain remembers the next one.

This means you need to put other parts of your brain to work. I try to rope in my “visual” memory while my ears are busy. Here is one process for doing this:

  1. Start by making a mental movie of your fingers playing the first phrase. Start the tune a few times while watching your fingers. Practice it at off moments by “playing” it on your hand, or running it through your head. I sometimes play sets in my head as I’m going to sleep.

  2. Really think about the tune’s name and let it conjure up an image in your mind. It could be literal, or a metaphor of some kind, or some weird association that only you understand. It doesn’t matter, weirder things can even be more memorable. The tune name is a handle for your mind to grab onto.

Put the two together and you have a powerful filing system, and it doesn’t rely on your “musical” brain at all. You can call the tune up as you finish playing the tune before it and carry on playing.

Use the tune in your head

Play tunes in your head all the time. If you think about it, a tune is almost always there, or close by. Take advantage of it. Plant tunes in your mind to work on. Listen to tunes you’re trying to learn throughout the day. The more you do this, the easier it gets.