“I like your suggestion to practice “known” songs on a rotating basis (1, 2, 3 on day 1; 2, 3, 4 on day 2; and so on). How many times do you recommend playing each one? I find that when I play a tune I haven’t played in a week or so, often the first time through goes great, but the second time through, it falls apart. I usually play each 3 or 4 times, or until it’s back to being as good as it was the 1st time…”
Cherie, it sounds like the first time you play it you’re going on autopilot and muscle memory, and then on subsequent play-throughs you’re using conscious memory. Since you need both, it’s good to do what you’re doing: play it again and again until it comes back.
For the tunes that you lose in the middle and can’t pick up again, your idea that “Maybe learning the song in shorter chunks… would give me more ‘starting places’ throughout the tune where I could pick it up after getting lost.”
Yes, tunes should always be learned in little chunks, rather than playing them all the way through when learning them, for exactly the reason you state above.
Always play a new tune daily for at least 21 days. Research has shown that’s how long it takes for a new skill or tune to be permanently set in memory. Chances are that the reason you’re forgetting tunes and parts of tunes is because you didn’t play them every day for the requisite 21 days when you learned them.