Say it, play it

Do you ever catch yourself saying, “I wish I could remember more tunes,” or “I always forget the names of tunes…”?

As you start to learn more tunes it may become harder for you to remember all the ones you want to remember. Rather than always forging ahead with new tunes, it makes sense to review older tunes. Decide which ones you care about remembering and then bring them back into your practice rotation. 

Here 4 tools to help you remember fiddle tunes and melodies:

  • Fingerprinting
  • Review sets
  • Daily listening

I recommend all these tools for tunes you already know. If you’re still learning a tune, then you should focus your practice on learning the melody and slowly working out the mechanics of how to play it.


I came up with a tool called fingerprinting which is designed to help you recall tunes you already know. It’s a way to create an index of tunes in your mind.

Here’s how it works: you say the name of the tune, then play the first few notes of each part. Playing these first few notes acts as a trigger for the rest of the tune. The idea is to highlight these bits of information (title and trigger) just as you’d highlight a sentence you want to remember from a book you’re reading. If you can start the tune, then it will be easier to figure out the rest.

At the end of your practice session, play the fingerprints of all tunes you just practiced. This is like going through the index at the back of a book. Reviewing the fingerprints makes your practice more productive because at the end of your session, you reinforce the memory of everything you’ve worked on.

That’s it! If you’re unsure how much of the tune should be in the fingerprint, than start with the first quarter of the tune. If you play the trigger but can’t remember the rest of the tune, it just means you need to review the tune (using sheet music, tabs or a recording).

Here’s step-by-step guide on how to use Fingerprinting in a practice session:

  1. Play an entire tune.
  2. Say the name of the tune.
  3. Play the first few notes of the A part, then the first few notes of the B part.
  4. Play the first few notes of the B part. Play triggers for any other parts of the tune.
  5. Repeat steps 1-4 for other tunes.
  6. At the end of your session, play the fingerprints for all tunes you worked on that day.

An easy way to remember how to practice fingerprinting: Say it, Play it.

Tip: create flashcards for the fingerprints. On one side write the name of the tune. On the other, write out tabs or sheet music or both for the the first quarter of the tune.

Practice prompt: Fingerprinting

  • Create a list of all tunes you have learned (if you haven’t already done so). Learn more about How To Track Your Practice.
  • Play the fingerprint for each tune or song.
  • It may take awhile to do this, so start by practicing one or two new fingerprints each day.

Spaced repetition

Spaced Repetition is practicing a piece in short bursts over time. As you improve, create longer gaps between practice sessions for that piece. This helps you learn more deeply and recall it later on.

For example, once you memorize a tune like Swallowtail Jig, move on to something else. Play it again at the end of your session. If you can easily remember it the next day, then take 2-3 days off from playing it. Keep increasing the gap. This makes your brain work to remember the melody.

Review sets

Review set for fiddle tunes



















If you build up a long list of tunes (over twenty) it can be a daunting task to review them all at once.

A good practice strategy is to create small review sets with five to ten songs you’ve learned and want to remember. My student Fiona uses her review set as a warm-up. She says it “makes her feel like a fiddler”.

Review set process:

  • Start by reviewing a single tune
  • Review it the next day. If you’re confident with it, then review a second tune.
  • Continue until you can easily play a review set of 3-4 tunes.
  • Stay with the review set until you feel slightly bored. Then start a new one.
  • Return to the old review set and then combine with other review sets to make a bigger review set.

Also try building interesting sets around a certain pattern or focus:

  • All tunes in the same key (One Drone, Many Tunes)
  • All jigs
  • Mixtape of songs or tunes based on a travel experience, a season or a special event (wedding, birthday)

Daily listening

A simple way to keep the tunes you’ve learned in your working memory is to listen to them everyday. Do this at times when you don’t have your fiddle. Also mix in listening breaks when you practice.

Simply create a playlist of tunes you learned and then shuffle through them on a daily basis. You can also do this on Youtube, Spotify, Prime or whatever platform you use to listen to music.

Please take this all as a helpful suggestion. I met Irish players who in spite of not doing any of these practices are able to remember and play thousands of tunes. How do they do that?? They remember tunes because they play every day (the single most important thing to remember as a music student). 

Remember, YOU CAN PRACTICE ANYTHING, even remembering tunes.



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