Fiddling With Mental Triggers To Aid Song Memory

A lot of students say to me, “I can’t remember songs. How can I get better at recalling what I’ve learned?” Here’s a great strategy to help you remember songs. Take each part and distill it down to just a few notes. This little bit acts as a “mental trigger” to help you remember the song next time.

Creating and practicing Mental Triggers

Let’s walk through the whole process.

  • Play the whole song for memory once.
  • Play the first chunk of each part once. So if it’s a fiddle tune, then play the beginning (first 1-2 bars) of the A part and the B part. If it’s a song with verses, choruses and a bridge, then play the beginning (first 1-2 bars) of each part.
  • Next, play just the first few notes of each part. This is the “trigger.” As before, sing and then audiate these notes.
  • Say the name of the tune, play the trigger

At the end of a practice session, you can play the mental triggers of everything you practiced. If you only did one thing in a session, then do the review process at the end of the week.

Getting Unstuck

If you get stuck, then refer to sheet music, tabs or a recording. I like to just look at or listen to the first bar. Then I turn away from the sheet music (or pause audio) and try to remember the tune. Flashcards are a good tool for this. Have the title of a tune on one side and the trigger on the other. A lot of FiddleHed students are using cards to organize their practice of songs, skills and strategies.

Desirable Difficulty

If you struggle to remember a song, don’t immediately look it up. Allow yourself to struggle with it for a bit. Making this effort will help you learn and remember it better. This is called Desirable Difficulty. I like to think of this as finding the Perfect Challenge. In any good game, there’s a balance between winning and losing, between easy and hard which keeps you engaged.

So it’s a fun practice in the moment, but it also helps you remember things you learned in the past when you return to them in the future. Cosmic!

Advanced practice

Once you get the hang of how this works, you can combine the distillation process with looping in a fun way. Once you distill a song down to its triggers, simply create a loop in which you continuously play all the triggers.


Tip #1: Singing & Audiation

In addition to playing the triggers, sing and auditate them (Audiation is “playing music in your mind”). This internalizes that part. You can gamify the process by playing around with call-and-response. Say the song title, play it, say it, sing it.


Tip #2: Recording

Record the triggers for everything you practiced in a day, or over the last week.


Tip #3: Interleaving 

Interleave this practice with other practice strategies. That is, practice retrieval of songs with mental triggers for ten minutes, then a skill like double stops for ten minutes. Alternate like this for at least two rounds.


Fiddling With Desirable Difficulty

Desirable difficulty – Wikipedia

How To Remember Fiddle Tunes

Expand Your Musical Mind With Audiation

How To Learn Tunes From Recordings

Mix Up Your Music Practice With Interleaving


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2 responses to “Fiddling With Mental Triggers To Aid Song Memory

  1. Amazing, yet again .. wonderful tips on learning and remembering. The index cards look increibly helpful, so I will start that today. Really appreciate the incredible helpful tips.