A fiddler has an unusual relationship with their repertoire. Every fiddler has a collection of tunes that they have learned and maybe perfected. These are the tunes you might start at a jam or feel comfortable performing. There is also usually a collection of tunes that you have worked on or learned and aren’t too hard – you might not remember the tune off the top of your head or the name but you could easily play along with someone else who did know it. And then there are the nameless snatches of melodies that you may or may not have made up, A parts without B parts, B parts without A parts, names of tunes that you can’t remember melodies for, and melodies that sound familiar but you can’t quite play.
Knowing these different tiers of a fiddler’s repertoire can help a student feel more confident as they develop their own supply of tunes. If a student likes a tune or has learned it recently, they should review it enough (which might mean every day or every week or every month) that they have it at the ready. They know the tune, the name, and they can start it and play it without noodling around and trying to remember how it starts.
Less review is needed to keep most of the other tunes they’ve learned in the back of their mind where they can reach them. Once a fiddler has reached a certain point in their technical development, it matters less if they’ve practiced the fingering (unless it’s a really hard tune) and more if they have the whole tune in their head. There are tunes I’ve learned but have forgotten the melody and can’t play, but melodies that I know well and haven’t practiced, but could play at the drop of a hat. Happy Birthday is a great experiment for intermediate and advanced players to see how close they are to this point.