By Heart

By Heart

To learn - by heart…

Something many of us have experienced is the deluded whose passion to be involved in this music drives them to dependance on paper, dots and lyrics, tune books and song books and other disconnected carbon, mere bones at best. Their addiction is the need to have that blanket to hold on to as they scratch out and stumble through something vaguely resembling the music we all hold a passion for here.

Addiction is a difficult thing to kick, and I’ve had more than a few moments where I’ve been on hand to help someone to overcome their dependance, to turn them away from such dulling influences and toward living sources, or at least decent recordings of the once alive. The hope is always to make the relationship personal, between themselves and the music, for them to take it to heart, to make it their own.

I’m there again, and it is, amongst other things, formost in my mind at the moment ~ to help someone to see the difference and to find their way out from behind the paper and the dots and the lyrics and to be at one with the music, not divided from it, not distracted by paper and a skeletal semblance of this music.

Knowing how sensitive this can be, and having over stepped in the past, unintentionally hurting someone over this subject, I was thinking it might be an idea to share my current predicament with this community of variance and see what your experiences are and what your approaches have been or might be in trying to convince someone to put aside this drug and face the music more directly. This is a question of raising their confidence, and I can promise you that embarassing them or making a mockery of their addiction rarely works, never in my experience. The first and possibly most difficult problem, like with an alcoholic, is to convince them they have a problem.

So, tell me your stories in this realm, and how you dealt with it, successes or failures, for yourself or for others, helping someone else or kicking the habit yourself. Help me to understand it better and to convince the deluded that such dependance only insulates them from the tradition, cuts them off, stands between them and any real understanding and connection to the heart, thier own heart and the heart of others. The addiction connection fits well in my mind, it being akin to taking some massive pain killer that dulls the senses and numbs the soul and distracts completely from the shared experience of music. Part of this drugged delusion is to think that the paper and dots are the true way, the one unvarying truth, and to not realize it only clouds and confuses and is not alive, can not by itself give life to the skeleton it represents.

Tales, rambles, slagging, grandstanding and opinions anyone?
;-)

Re: By Heart

I don’t see anything wrong with using dots, ABCs, recordings, slowing down software, patient friends, etc, etc, in the learning process. In my mind the problem lies in deciding when to let go of those aids, and also realizing that those aids will only get you so far
Many people find the openness of this music difficult. Why are there multiple ways to play each tune, multiple names, different ornaments, different settings—so unlike the classical world.
They need to realize that, at some point, it is time to take the training wheels off of the tune, and venture out into the world without them. That is when the true fun begins.

Re: By Heart

Well I have to say that if I hear a tune in a session and I like it, I’ll sometimes attempt to quietly join in on the 3rd time round and then ask the uncool question "What was that called?" In order that I might have some chance at joining in next time (should it be played again) I go to sites such as here and find the dots. Then try to get around the bare bones of the tune and then I commit it to memory. That method has taken me from ground zero about a year ago to somewhere in the region of 50+ tunes (not bad for a 50+year old I consider). It would be nice to have perfect pitch or even perfect relative pitch but sadly I (and many many others) do not possess such a gift - or curse. So there should imho be nothing snobby about using dots because it is a means to an end. Using dots when on stage would always be a complete no no for me or even using them at a session (but that’s just me). Dots have been my way in. No, I never use them in public so to speak but would personally not be bothered if someone at a session used them. There are greater things to worry about in life. Hearing the tunes live at a session or live from a recording is what really matters surely because that’s where you learn the feel. Just my semiquavers worth. :-)

Re: By Heart

My first reaction was to ask what problem (joking that I can’t recognise it)! I find brackets easier than smileys, by the way.

The truth is, I don’t know anyone like this and it’s hard to imagine such extreme folly! In fact I have a couple of fiddle player friends who don’t read dots, nor slow down recordings but just learn from playing in sessions or listening to tunes on record. I really admire that. Two of them came to the music later but my friend from Donegal (in his 90’s now) learnt tunes from infancy just from listening and playing with others; he has more tunes than anyone I know.

Me, I just use ‘disconnected carbon’ to help me learn more quickly something I’ve already heard and that’s where dots can help me as a bit of a shortcut. But I always revert to the music that’s in my head and if I look at the written music weeks or months later, chances are (it’s a certainty really) I will be playing something different.

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Re: By Heart

The comparison to addiction is valid IMO. In both cases the addict has to WANT change in a profound and heartfelt manner. The longer the addiction goes on, the harder it is to break.

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I can’t see the problem with dots. Orchestras/Brass bands etc are all comfortable with them, even at performances so why not us.

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But I am just a social drinker, I mean dots reader!!!!!
I don’t have a problem!!! ;-)

Re: By Heart

You have to take every opportunity to show them what it can be. It’s like raising kids; expose them to a rich spectrum of experience and see what they do. Force CDs into their hands. Invite them to concerts. Have beer- or coffee-fueled conversations.

Is it like de-programming cult people? No, more like taking the training wheels off your kid’s bike and running along beside them so that they think you’re holding on the seat.

These are just thoughts; I have no idea what is the catalyst. Seosamh, you may have it right, but someone has to plant the seed, perhaps. Or else how do they even know Something Else exists?

Re: By Heart

The use of sheet music is no no an addiction than is contributing to an internet forum. Oh, wait!

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Re: By Heart

I like the ‘training wheels’ analogy, and running along side ~ helping them to be confident, that you’re not going to just strand them as they take control…

Just to avoid the possibility, I am not anti-dots, but am well aware of how much better people listen when they aren’t distracted by them. On mass orchestrations, from little brass bands and pipe bands to the philharmonic, there’s little worse than those who are dependant on the sheet, as the result of such efforts is usually very mechanical, in my experience. Even there, if you know the music and do more listening, with the shadow of the dots just there as a very loose guide, then you are likely to be more ‘together’. Even better and quite obvious are those performances where they’ve moved beyond that dependance and are keyed in, in the groove, listening as one, and playing in agreement, together without sacraficing completely ones own individuality.

Music is dragged down by such dependancy, lags, and can consequently be lifeless and mechanical, speaking for myself and my experience of it.

I value music in all its guises, but that doesn’t mean I can’t also see points of fault, such as how sheet music and the dots can affect it in a negative way, as an example, distance and seperatiom instead of intimacy and involvement…

Re: By Heart

"~ is no more an addiction than ~"

Music is a discussion, as is this forum, and discussion and chat are also integral to this tradition…

Re: By Heart

Cheers ceolachan! It is good to know someone is capable of reading through my typos. A nuanced interpretation of written material. It is essential to this forum.

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Re: By Heart

Cheers RN, always good to hear from you… ;-)

Re: By Heart

But where can a dots only player go to overcome this addiction? Are there detox centers with 12 step programs that can gradually separate the player from the dots?

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Re: By Heart

The 12-step programme - one semitone at a time….

Re: By Heart

"…Orchestras/Brass bands etc are all comfortable with them, even at performances…"

I feel a session is not a performance. To me it is a conversation. The goal I try to pursue is to be fluent in a kind of conversation, not to perform.

Ever tried to lead a conversation reading you replies out of a book ? I mean imagine it for real, just for a second : I am sitting at a table at my grandma’s house. My friend asks me how was my last holidays. Then I would sign him with my hands "wait, I’ll find the answer in the book I have on my lap". At best this "conversation" would trigger smiles. Likely it would last no more than about 30 seconds. Would be considered as a funny joke. Actually that would be no conversation at all.

The place I can think of, where one can converse out of a book, is on a theatre stage. But then, it is a faked conversation. Indeed… theatre is a performance.

I feel performance is about technique and conversation is about culture. I feel technique is learned as opposed to culture which is soaked in.

About learning. In my opinion, learning out of scores leads to perfect execution. Perfect, meaning "academically perfect". But the one time I have done that (learning out of a score - not performing perfectly) I have been faced with an uncanny result : it was correct but it was like talking like a book. It is strange, it’s odd. It doesn’t work. I never did it again.

So I learn tunes exclusively by ears. 1) Be touched in a session by a tune 2) record off a musician 3) or get a recording 4) check material for "standardnes" 5) listen a million times 6) learn and play many many times 7) until I can comfortably lead it alone 8) only then I write a bit, because… like my verbal language, I can’t remember all the words I know. Oops ! I mean "the tunes" I know.

Loving and learning by ear and heart, yields amazing results. Such a kick ! I am addicted to that. I’ll move long distances to be exposed to that. I can only hope to share that again and again.

A message : learn by ear only, by heart always. :-)

Re: By Heart

I know some very highly educated, well-respected classical musicians who ***do not*** play without the dots in front of them. After talking with one at length about this, I remembered the old quip, "Play the music. not the instrument."

Seems to me that people who are dot-dependent really never "have" the music and so cannot "play the music." They may play their instrument very well—well enough to make muzak from the dots, even. But that’s all it is.

Of course, lots of good musicians use written notation—just not to actually play from them. We use them to see the structure of a piece of music, we use them to remind ourselves how the first 6 notes go, we use abcs to email a tune skeleton to a friend who "gets" the music and so can transform the bones into real playing, etc.

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Re: By Heart

Wow, really good post gilles!

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Re: By Heart

Figuratively speaking, let’s put our ears together. What works best, for me, is to listen to the tune all by itself. The surest way to get a tune in my head is to hear the tune being played on a single instrument, or just a few melody players. The important thing ~ I need to listen to the player who knows the tune the best.

Many pardons. To keep from rambling I’ll leave off there, for now. I’ll listen & ponder, see how the discussion develops.
I’ll pipe in later if I feel I have something contribute.

One thought ~ I seek out tunes which really grab me. Those which I want to live in my head (to hold in my heart?). If a tune, played in session, does not actually appeal to me, I’ll listen closely, but try not to go through the motions simply for the sake of adding another *piece* to my repertoire.

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Re: By Heart

I sometimes use a 1-step program to wean people off the dots. I take their music stand away. The look of panic on their faces is a bit hard to bear, but I’ll spend an hour or more walking them aurally through half a tune if it helps them realize that they too can play by ear, without visual aides.

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Re: By Heart

ML, that was my most recent misreading of the person. I did just that and saw the pain. They had made this lovely little booklet of notation, their favourite tunes and the ones I’d been teaching. It wasn’t just panic, it was hurt. I did my best to make amends but she never returned to the group. It was also our loss. I needed to approach it differently with her and though I did it in humour and with affection, I still tread on her toes and now all she has is her little book of tunes and her cats. I’m sorry for that. I read the situation wrongly.

Great contributions here, thanks, much appreciated. I also like yours gilles, but having been up making a fool of myself on stage, starting with scripts, the similarity goes further, you’re not acting till you come from behind the script and have it memorized ~ by heart ~ meaning that it is more than just a memory game, you personalize it, you bring it to life, make it believable, draw people in to the story and the character. The same can be said of the music. A read script can be given some life, but the play doesn’t really take off with passion, lift and life until the scripts are gone.

Re: By Heart

Good one, gilles: That conversation thing again.

Have you noticed how hard it is to have real conversations now? I mean face to face, with someone really listening to what you say, digesting it, then responding. Not just waiting for an opening so that they can make their point. I take notes in meetings so that I can process what someone is getting at, but I always look like a doofus if I actually write down something and try to read it as a response. The flow has moved on, the idea has evolved a bit more, and my scribbling is usually irrelevant by the time I can interject. Thus music?

I didn’t want to ramble ~ Oh well

The Old One - Step
That doesn’t work with my one friend. She has one of the best ears of anyone. She can pick up most tunes on the fly, if they are played through a number of times. Yet, in her head, sheet music is integral to understanding of most tunes. Not true!
She lives in a separate reality due to certain lifelong stresses (& dependencies). A wonderful musician who often seems to pull a good tune out of nowhere. I have pulled away her sheet music & she always responds as a suckling young kitten who has been yanked off her mother’s teat.
Her music is from the heart ~ even sometimes with sheet music in front of her. Funny thing about people like her, she may *require* dots in front of her but … I cannot even count the number of times she does this with her eyes closed.
The 1-step program can be the best way. But, with her, certain things are never simple.
We are good friends & I wish my ear was half as good as hers. In the right frame of mind she is brilliant.

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Re: By Heart

Good reminders here that we are all individuals, with personal quirks and tics.

(I don’t pull the music stand away abruptly or brusquely. Usually just give the top a twirl so the paper faces away from them. The really needy ones simply twirl it back. Shrug.)

"Each of us is unique. Just like everyone else."
;-)

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Re: By Heart

When I used only to play guitar I had an addiction: having to look at my left hand on the fretboard all the time. It was really restricting, but I freed myself from it by taking up the fiddle and the mandolin and (initially) learning from the dots and keeping my eyes on the music instead. I had to learn tunes this way for two or three years before I could play fast enough to pick up tunes by ear. It wasn’t an addiction at all. I never thought that a transcription on a page was a substitute for hearing how it should be interpreted. I’m having a go at bluegrass, and many of those tunes seem dull on the page, but, wow, when you hear them played by someone good!

Re: By Heart

ACT I: TD&M’s second fiddle lesson. TD&M takes seat opposite TEACHER. TD&M and TEACHER exchange preliminaries.

TEACHER: So, how was your first week?

TD&M: Quite good, thanks.

TEACHER: Ok, so we started Marie’s Wedding last week. Let’s play that together.

TD&M retrieves sheet music from fiddle case.

TEACHER: No, no, put that away.

TD&M , stunned, obeys. TD&M and TEACHER play tune together. TD&M is surprised to find that the sheet music is in fact not needed.

ACT II: A local session. ENTHUSIASTIC BEGINNER diligently writes down names of all tunes not in his repertoire. By the end of the night ENTHUSIASTIC BEGINNER has written down a dozen or more tunes, some of which are already in his notebook. Later, when ENTHUSIASTIC BEGINNER has some free time at home, he selects one name at random, retrieves the sheet music for it, and proceeds to learn the tune. By this point ENTHUSIASTIC BEGINNER no longer remembers having actually heard the music corresponding to the tune title; his only frame of reference is the written notation. ENTHUSIASTIC BEGINNER ends up with an extensive repertoire, but can seldom join in. ENTHUSIASTIC BEGINNER rarely leads tunes, and when he does, they are often unrecognizable.

ACT III: The music school. CLASSICALLY TRAINED VIOLINIST is learning to play trad. She is fluent in sight reading, and knows her way around the violin, but is not familiar with the tradition. She says that she will learn tunes from the sheet music, and then play them for her teacher, who proceeds to tell CLASSICALLY TRAINED VIOLINIST, "You’re doing it wrong."

TD&M: What traditional fiddlers do you listen to at home?

CLASSICALLY TRAINED VIOLINIST: None, really…

——————-

I use sheet music sparingly, and I only use it (along with recordings) when learning tunes that I already have a pretty good feel for. The notion of learning a tune that I’ve forgotten having heard - or have never heard before! - boggles my mind, and I am consistently floored by the number I’ve people I encounter who do just that. I find that these people tend to end up merely playing the same tunes at the same time as the others in the pub, as opposed to playing tunes WITH people.

Re: By Heart

I have only been playing this music a relatively short time (five years). I came to it from a classical background where 995% of the time I played with the dots in front of me..

One thing that this music has given me is the ability to play tunes by/from the heart. It has freed me to play music without a dependency on the written music and for this I will always be grateful. In addition I have learned that tunes I learn from the dots are never learnt as well as those by ear.

Re: By Heart

You know that old joke about how many psychiatrists does it takes to change a lightbulb? One, but the lightbulb has to want to change. I think it applies here.

I’ve had that conversation with people. I’ve discussed with various folk who learn their tunes off the dots the myriad of ways in which sheet music is vastly inferior to ear learning for Irish music. If people don’t want to be convinced, though, that’s them. There doesn’t seem to be much you can do other than not worry about it too much. They are depriving themselves of the experience of truly hearing this music and if they never figure it out, it’s their loss and not yours. Let it go, man…. :)

That said, dots have their uses and sometimes I wish I wasn’t such a pish poor sightreader. A mate of mine and I were trying to learn a tune neither one of us had a recording of, so she learned it from the dots posted here and I learned it from her.

Re: By Heart

You know, some people just don’t have a great ability to learn by ear. Yes, we probably have more ability than we know, but if you’re anxious to learn a nice tune that you just heard, using the dots is a great way to get started. People have been using them for years! It’s really not such a bad thing, folks. After you’ve played the tune many times, it becomes quasi-memorized anyway (whether you realize it or not), then it’s just a matter of a few minutes to sit down and play it without looking at the dots. Then you’re off and running. However, WHEN you decide to do this — to let go of the side of the pool, so to speak - has to be decided by the individual. It’s not up to ANYONE else but ourselves to determine when that will be. We all have different lives, and different stressors and responsibilities and sometimes our time gets spread too thin. Speaking for myself, I’ve been playing the whistle for 4-5 years now and have only just recently started to play by memory and/or ear (haven’t figured out which yet, maybe a combo of each). In 3 months, I’ve got 17 tunes down pretty well. It’s exciting and I know it will get better from here, but it just really bothers me when I hear one musician telling the other what they need to be doing. It’s up to the individual to decide. Leave them be - unless they ask for your advise. We know when we’re ready to move on, take the next step, etc. To push someone or belittle them because of their "dependence" is hurtful and discouraging. These are such fun tunes, let’s not take the fun out of it.

Re: By Heart

My classically trained sisters look at me in admiration because I can play most of my repertoire from memory, though only one is prepared to have a go herself and join me. Apparently in the classical world there is so much respect for what the Composer wrote down on paper, that this will nearly always be followed, despite claims on CD liners about an individual’s "version". It also makes complete control by the Conductor much easier.
This does not go for the real top players though - when was the last time Kennedy played in public with dots?

Re: By Heart

dots/tadpoles are a useful tool once you know what you’re doing. They are not music. As a music teacher at high-school I try to instil this in my students right from the start, but there needs to be an agreed term for sheet ‘music’:

The definition of music I use is that music is: "organised sound that provokes an emotional response". If this is accepted as the definition then how can pieces of paper with tadpoles on be referred to as ‘music’? Words on paper are not referred to as speech but are ‘language’ when heard in your head. The same goes for sheet music - it only becomes music when you can ‘hear’ it.

Traditional music makes so much use of subtle (and un-subtle) timings and ornaments that it is impossible to write it as performed without leaving it so that only a genius or pretty advanced computer can perform it. Dots are a tool and nothing more - it is NOT music.

Re: By Heart

Sentimental claptrap. The music is sound and a feeling. It annoys me when you get those people who seem to think they’ve found it in the dots. But it annoys me just as much when people over-romanticise it. Go all poetical about something that’s too everyday, yet too important for all that Americanised, sentimental nonsense.

Sorry … but it’s hit a nerve …

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Re: By Heart

"You know, some people just don’t have a great ability to learn by ear."

justwhistle, music is aural, not visual. Most of us here steer and sometimes "push" people away from the dots because we care, deeply, mostly about the music, and also for anyone who seems to share our passion for it.

It sometimes turns into belittling because we’ve seen the defensiveness and felt the backlash against playing by ear. In every case, the person is deluding themselves into believing that the dots are helping them, when in fact they are a hinderance to learning how to trust and develop your aural abilities.

This may sound harsh—sorry, but it’s meant to help. At five years in, you don’t know enough about playing this music to have as informed an opinion as many of the people here who’ve been playing and teaching this music for 2, 3, or more decades. I sincerely hope you can set aside your annoyance with what is almost always offered as mentoring, helpful suggestions and advice from people who’ve been there.

(FWIW, I’m not some anti-dot illiterate fanatic. I’ve been sight reading for 44 years. It’s useful, but *not* as a way to learn how to play music, nor as a stepping stone to playing aurally.)

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Re: By Heart

"You know, some people just don’t have a great ability to learn by ear."

Crikey. **No one** emerges from the womb with the ability to learn by ear. It’s a learned skill.

I teach math for a living, and I’ve had more students than I could count proclaim that they’re just not much good at math, full stop. My responses vary from student to student - I do recognize that some students struggle mightily with the subject - but I’ve never once said, "Oh, then, don’t worry about it; you just stick with what you’re good at." If we only stuck with things we had a great ability for from the word go, none of us would advance beyond suckling, crying, and sh*tting ourselves.

Re: By Heart

I played fingerstyle guitar for forty years without going near a manuscript, or even tab. I also played pibroch for the same time where every single gracenote is written down. I’m talking about up to thirteen gracenotes for every melody note in the final stages of a tune. Some of those tunes last fifteen minutes, and I defy anyone to learn them by ear. But you don’t play from the score: you have to memorize it. To my mind, reading the notes is the equivalent of watching someone’s fingers. It has its uses; but should, in my opinion, be for learning only, not for playing. It is, however, up to the individual what he or she does.

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Re: By Heart

Miss LH and TD&H, don’t take what I said out of context. I agree TD&H, it is a learned skill and that will come IN TIME. But we don’t need to have the "play it by ear or you’re a lousy player" attitude thrown in our face all the time. As I said, it’s up to the individual person when they are ready to take steps to memorize or play by ear. Believe me, I do appreciate the opinions and advise of experienced players, but when people imply that "your playing will be lousy unless you do what I say", then I have a problem with that. Also, I’ve heard/seen some people sitting there playing "by ear" who can’t seem to find the beat if their life depended on it (aren’t listening to the other players) - while the note-readers are playing along just fine.

Re: By Heart

Wait till your ear develops and then tell me the note-readers are playing just fine.

Yes, I’ve met people who claim to play by ear who don’t have a clue how to listen, and so, how to play. That doesn’t negate the necessity to fully use your ears.

If you want to play music from a strongly aural tradition like this one, and play this music well, then you’ll do much, much better if you quit making excuses for keeping the dots in front of you.

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Re: By Heart

I find this hilarious. Where I am, there’s virtually no direct connection
to the Irish tradition. We are on the wrong part of the planet for that.
When I learn something by ear at a session in Australia, it is
probable that I’m learning it by ear from somebody who either
learned from a tune book or from a commercial recording.
The recording artists may have found the tune in an archive or
tunebook and learned from the dots themselves. The part of
the tradition I pick up by ear is what classical musicians and
musicologist call "performance practice". It is true that you
cannot get that from a book, but to rule out written notation
is ridiculous.

Re: By Heart

It has been my experince that those tied to the dots usually forget to listen or plug in to the session going on around them, and are usually ‘off beat’, in more ways than one.

As to Australia and Irish tradition, the place has a long history of it, and even on record and in museum collections, and a hell of a lot of folks with Aussie accents seem to show up in Ireland every year. I’ve had the pleasure of hearing plenty of talent from way down south, Australia, New Zealand and Tasmania. The folks I’ve known from there have great ears and seem pretty generous with sharing their talents ~ passing on tradition… I even had an old collection of Irish tunes printed there in, I think, the 70s, and decent transcriptions too… :-D

Back to the swing of this, and the kick, to try to get the dot dependant to just give it a try, one tune, maybe one set, and see what happens. Maybe the addiction will transfer from sight to hearing? Now there’s the rub of it, how to get them to that point, with confidence in tact, to throw the sheets aside and wake up and get out of bed and face the real (reel) world…

Now to the recent situation, it’s a singer, depenant on music but also on the written lyrics, with tune books and a notebook full of notes and words. Part of the chore is to convince them that it isn’t how many but how well you handle even just one song (read tune here for musicians of other persuasions), quality rather than quantity. That too can be difficult to convince, for those that are sure it is about quantity and long for a huge repertoire over something less inflated but more considered and accomplished.

On other points made, it is always about encouragement in my mind, to help, not to belittle, which would only hinder or block any hope of progress.

You often have to hold on to the seat while they learn to cycle, and then, once letting go, to let that be a few cranks worth with encouragement and good humour, with every day meaning an increase in distance and confidence and independance from any crutches, free of training wheels, and now able to cycle along with you and take their own directions and initiative…

The task as I see is not about me getting an ego boost, it is about me giving something to someone else, time and consideration, to help them to find their own understanding, to help them to take it to heart in whatever way best suits them, but free of crutches, free, theirs to possess. Yes, it is up to them. I can only suggest and be on hand to help if help is needed or wanted. In this situation, as is usual, it was someone asking me for direction, if note being completely aware of who they’d asked. :-D

~ not being completely aware of who they’d asked. (though ‘note’ kind of fits there too…)

Re: By Heart

Love dem damn dots brudder ………

Re: By Heart

I don’t think anyone is ruling out written notation, Hup. Like you say, if you’ve no reference bar CDs then you’ve no alternative to music books. And I’ve found plenty of great but obscure tunes in books that I’d never have heard played here.

In my experience if you only play from the dots it doesn’t make you a poor player, but it DOES mean you’re not playing to your full potential.

I can sight read at full speed, and only learn by ear at a slow pace, but I know that the ear-learned tunes will stay in my memory better, and are more likely to come out note-perfect when I play them in a session.

Most of the tunes I learn come from the dots, even if I heard them at a session and had to look them up to learn them. The difference is that I purposefully turn aside from the book to play each phrase, only turning back if I lose the way of the tune. It immediately points out the little turns that I have failed to pick up, and hopefully prevents that awful repetition of standard phrases in every tune rather than retaining the nuances that make each one distinct and memorable.

Having said that, more often than not I end up playing something different to the transcription if I have heard a better variation in the past. I add ornaments (or more importantly, leave them out) as I see fit, based on years of hearing great players do the same.

Ironically I first started learning by ear when leading a beginners’ session, because I couldn’t read the dots and listen to six or seven other musicians at the same time (us blokes aren’t made for multitasking..). I was saddened to return to the same session more than a year after I left it, to find many of the same players playing the same tunes from the same page of music, still unable to close the book or go play in a session. In the meantime I was playing dozens of those tunes regularly from memory.

Using your ear is like using a muscle - the more you do it the easier it gets, and the more you are capable of.

Eno

Re: By Heart

The story of a reformed sheet music user - perhaps this will help others? It’s also a case study in encouraging beginners.

I started as a classical musician, playing exclusively from sheet music - I had made a few abortive attempts to learn Irish music from sheet music and wondered why it didn’t sound like much.

What got me to drop the sheet music and actually start learning Irish music was wandering into my very first session. The musicians invited me to sit in with them the next week, and wrote down the names of a couple of tunes and thesession.org, telling me to look up the sheet music, get a recording, and come back having learned something. None of them were using sheet music at the session… I saw that I was in for a crash course in memorization. So I spent a week painstakingly memorizing one of the tunes… I came back the next week and they kindly played it three times that night.

After a few months of hearing a tune, finding the dots, and memorizing the tune, I came to discover that the sheet music was often a wasted step. I later got a teacher who made me learn everything by ear (in an effort to dissuade me from my classical tendencies), but by then I was already learning them half-and-half, and not too panicked to leave sheet music behind.

So in summary: It started by playing only memorized tunes, which improved my ear, followed by tunes beginning to seep in of their own accord.

Re: By Heart

Here is another take on why the training wheels are still on: some people are very uncomfortable with ambiguity. Learning on the fly forces you to deal with it, because no one plays the d*mn thing the same way every time through. Or just as you’re getting more than a couple of phrases down, the whole thing screeches to a halt or shifts to another tune. Frustrating stuff if you are a perfectionist.

Your singer has the added burden of remembering all 48 verses of a song, plus the tune and not going off the rails vocally. Stacks of paper = security of a sort.

Just sayin’…

Re: By Heart

Whoa. Big time cross-post.

Fuzzy, been there….

Re: By Heart

If you are uncomfortable with ambiguity, then this is not the music for you.

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Re: By Heart

Bingo, llig.

Re: By Heart

@ bc_box_player: crossposted, but - hear, hear! Did you know, the recordings you posted (on some site like soundlantern) were some of the ones I used to learn those first few tunes?

Re: By Heart

The culture of ambiguity is a handy thing when playing by
memory. If you play a wrong note or forget a bar or two, who’s to
know it’s not a variation. Also who’s to say it’s a wrong note in the
first place. That might be a way to encourage people to start
playing from memory. BTW I _do_ play from memory at all sessions.
I use dots for private study though. I didn’t grow up in a Clare village.
I grew up surrounded by crap pop music. :-)

Re: By Heart

For starters, you do Ireland a disservice to assume that people in Clare don’t grow up surrounded by crap pop music.

And the ambiguity is more subtle than you may assume. You should not be forgetting the odd bar or two.

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Re: By Heart

Part of this discussion involves *unlearning*.
Music need not be constrained by what appears in print … nor does it just consist of only the major &/or relative minor, nor perfect consonance &/or resolve, not even even* rhythmic divisions.
*not a typo this time.
justwhistle, your ear is developing. You may be expending unnecessary energy by saying no.

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Yes! Hup & Miss LonelyHearts

Some, who claim to play by ear, are not listening. To play by ear one *must* listen (repeat 3Xs).

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Re: By Heart

Random, thanks and I’m definitely not saying "no" to ear playing or memorizing. If I was, I wouldn’t be bothering to memorize/ear play tunes. My only issue is when people start beating it over other people’s heads. I’m mean, okay, we hear ya’ already, but some things take time. I know I’m just in the beginning stages of ear development, but it’s going to take awhile. However, I do notice the momentum definitely increases as you progress. It’s an exciting time … not to mention very freeing not to have to always have the sheetmusic and music stand with you or you can’t play. Ha, ha. I certainly agree on the "must listen" comment.

Re: By Heart

Yes, that’s very important. You must must not be having the attitude of "it’s close enough" just because you are using only your ear. And even more importantly, you must must not be on board with that stupid notion that not learning things properly is what I’ve often heard referred to as the "folk process".

The whole point about using your ear is to hear what is not in the written versions. Not so you have an excuse to make up the bits you didn’t hear properly.

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I think you just said something brilliant, llig

so I dread offering this advice ~ work on your writing skills. Pretty please.

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I finally got rid of the image of you as a nanny/nun. Such a relief.

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Re: By Heart

Shut up and go to bed

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Mr. Michael Gill

It is 5:30 PM.

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;)

Did you miss your mates in mustardland or are you just naturally awake at all hours?

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Re: By Heart

1.20 am. goodnight

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Re: By Heart

Our anti-dots friends seem to think that those of us who use dots to learn a tune stay there on the bare bones. There may be some, but that’s pretty far from the truth in most cases. Once I learn the bare bones from dots, it’s easier for me to hear where fiddler A puts in a bunch of rolls or flute player B puts in some cuts and other twiddly bits.
The trick is to commit the tune to memory as fast as possible - listening and reading the dots makes it far easier to learn the tune than listening alone. The dots show me the structure and where I might add ornaments of my own.
I don’t think it’s anybody’s business how I learn a tune. As long as I come out the other end with a nice rendition (with variations) that I can play without reference to dots, job done.

Re: By Heart

You may be assuming an anti-dot perspective from all who follow the aural tradition. Fair play? If so, I would caution you regarding stereotypes. Isn’t that just what you are trying to point out, from another angle?

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Re: By Heart

Or maybe he just isn’t reading the posts, or understanding what’s been said….

When someone comes to me to learn this music, whether a tune or as much of the tradition as they can, it becomes my business to tell them how to learn the tunes. It’s an essential part of passing on this music and a traditional, culturally genuine understanding of this music.

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Re: By Heart

"listening and reading the dots makes it far easier to learn the tune than listening alone."

Only if you aren’t yet adept at listening.

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Re: By Heart

Certainly listening is a skill which one can develop. In which case what we do is cognitive. Playing by heart is a love affair. If I’m getting ceolachan’s OP ~ our playing of tunes is the result of passion. Living people have passion.

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Re: By Heart

ceolachan mentioned singers with their lyric sheets above. I always thought that I could learn the tunes by heart, but that remembering lyrics was beyond me. Until I started out to do it, and worked and worked and worked at it, and now I have a couple or three dozen songs that I can sing from memory, and I have to say, once you memorize a song, you KNOW that song, and it becomes yours forever. I think memorization is vastly underappreciated in the modern world—kids would be better off if they were made to memorize math tables, poems, speeches, as they were in days gone by. the more you memorize, the easier it gets to do so.

Re: By Heart

I asked a classically trained voilinist what happens in her mind if she closes her eyes while playing. She answered, "If I’ve memorized it, then I can visualize the dots in my mind". She could not play with her eyes closed unless the dots were a fixture in her mind. We attempted to play Trad. together for a few months. She was brilliant as a classical player. Amazing at sight reading. But, she could not converse with her instrument. Our opposite approaches to playing did not work together.
When I play a tune, the dots are not in the picture. I hear the tune in the abstract part of my mind. I listen to the players around me and play in a conversation of tones with them. If the dots are in the way, the focus then becomes the dots and not the conversational tones with the other instruments. No matter how hard she tried, she could not make conversation with her instrument. She could only present what the dots told her to. Any time I’d throw in a triplit or a roll or a long bottom D cran or any variation that was not in her dots, she’d get upset and say "thats not what’s written". Her powerful tone and forceful use of the dots put the music into a mold of solid steel. She played the right notes, but it had no heart. it was like a machine. She took the sponteneous variation away from the music. My piping and my patience suffered for the short time that I attempted to play with her. When I chose to stop playing with her, she was totally insulted. Who was I to tell a violinist with a masters degree that playing Irish trad. needed to be from the heart, not the dots. She still hates me.
What I learned was that I unintentionally stepped on a hornets nest. My mistake was that I kept standing on it. I kept trying to make it work. Now looking back, I realize that I should have stepped off the hornets nest immediately and told her how much I enjoyed her playing at the symphony last week and looked forward to hearing more classical stuff from her. Never again will I encourage or attempt to persuade any player to do something that they don’t already have any grasp on to begin with. Then I will disengage quietly and politely. For what it’s worth, that’s all I got.

Re: By Heart

Random, you seem to be assuming that there’s some sort of chasm between thinking and feeling, between mind and body. Not so sure I agree with that, and research continues to mount evidence that the old mind/body divide doesn’t exist.

So if you love this music, you’ll have it in you, not tote it around in a satchel full of paper….

And I’m not so sure that playing by ear and by heart and all the other parts involved is "memorization," either. It’s more like conversation, as gilles said above, like storytelling, which is less about memorizing a script than it is about being fluent in both the language and imagination, and engaging both while flying by the seat of your pants.

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Re: By Heart

About 14 months ago I started taking lessons from a top notch guy. He played a tune (Green Fields of Rosbeigh sp?) on his fiddle (that I recorded) and asked me to to try to play it. His playing and the tune were so gorgeous. I told him there was no way I could ever play by ear. I had 7 years of classical lessons on recorder and flute and playing by ear was no option. I thought it was surely impossible for me. So I tried. It was so hard at first. I just kept getting in the way of myself. I don’t think I ever listened to the baroque music so intently. After my first year I would say the greatest thing I learned was to how to listen and appreciate the generosity of ITM tunes sooooo much. I just love the human tranmission of these tunes.

Re: By Heart

Not at all Will. Thanks for pointing out how assumptions may lead to faulty conclusions.

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Re: By Heart

Sorry, didn’t mean that to sound argumentative. Just questioning. I have a hard time with those personality tests that try to unravel whether your primarily "cognitive" and analytical or feeling and sensate. Can’t seem to separate the two in my own experience….

Ah: "the human transmission of these tunes."

There’s the heart of the matter. These tunes are what they are because people handed them down, one to another, face to face, for generations. That’s a far different process than a composer jotting them in ink on paper, complete with instruction for bowings, dynamics, etc., and then musicians playing from the dots, typically (back in the day) without hearing the music beforehand. These disparate processes shape both the music and the musicians in important, divergent ways.

All the more reason—if you want to play this music well—to learn your tunes from that cute puddle of DNA in the seat next to yours at your local session.

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Re: By Heart

Will, your comments are certainly in the spirit of what (I infer) ceolachan intended in his original post. In previous threads c. has been very consistent in at least one thing. This is very well stated above, "The hope is always to make the relationship personal, between themselves and the music, for them to take it to heart, to make it their own."

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Re: By Heart

Having a personal friendship with the music you play is essential if you want the music to sound personal when you play it. It also makes a big difference to learn the music from a human, not a reproduction. That’s why I responded the way I did on the other recent thread "Music Purchase survey" about "where you buy your music."

What an odd concept, especially in this musical tradition. Step back just a few generations and the question would be met with bank stares or laughter.

"Buy music? Yer daft! Ya just *play* music."
"Well, where do you get the music you play, then?"
"From me Da and Ma, from Uncle Jimmy down the lane. From the tinker who comes through twice a year to mend our pots. And Liam next door has gotten a few mighty tunes from the little people but we all know it’s the poteen."

I’m not a Luddite (I’m tapping away at my macbook to get my point across), but we ignore the impacts of technology at our peril, particularly when we’re trusted with something old and so cared for by so many.

Most of the people I know who play this music learn most of their tunes from recordings. I went through a solid phase of that myself, but it misses the point of this music. Playing and passing along tunes is about connecting with people, directly. It’s a shame that aspect of the tradition is fading, and isn’t even acknowledged by some.

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Re: By Heart

Sorry about my grumpy post last night. Very grumpy …

Meanwhile …

@TDM:
"Crikey. **No one** emerges from the womb with the ability to learn by ear. It’s a learned skill."

I have to disagree with that. I would say that *everyone* emerges from the womb with the ability to learn by ear. That’s how we pick up a whole language so fast. And little kids are forever singing along with things, picking up tunes they hear from here and there. We have to learn *not* to be able to do this.

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Re: By Heart

Ceolachan
Were you this person’s teacher? If so, why did they have any dots in the first place? Sigh, a person such as you described is often straddling two worlds I think. In the old world with old rules and ways of learning and playing they knew the process, and indentified to some extent with their abilities. Now here they are in the new world of trad and it seems familiar to them, it’s music right? played on an instrument, how different can it really be? It’s so hard to relinquish old ideas of expertise and truly submit to being a beginner again I think. Here’s a person with a degree of technical and musical facility I presume, trying to embrace a new world of music without abandoning the context in which they played previously. It’s hard for some, and they can’t see why they should have to ‘go native’. Sort of like a traveller in India insisting in going about in a heavy tweed suit.
I don’t know how you can help someone see what they are not ready to see, other than continual exposure and hope. The thing is, some people are content to dip a toe in the water and will never get in and swim. If they are witness to musicians playing in real communion and they really don’t get it, don’t hear it, don’t desire it, what can you do?

Re: By Heart

Lonelyhearts, it’s just not true to say that the personal transmission of the tradition is fading at all; there are thousands of musicians playing today that have learnt many, if not most, of their tunes from someone sat in front of them. Far more than at any time in the history of trad.

I teach about 70 students a week, virtually all of whom have most of their tunes from myself or other musicians in the community. And there are hundreds os similar teachers across the country and in Irish communities abroad. Sure as they progress, typically from around their mid-teens (most of my students started at 8 or 9), my pupils start to pick up tunes from CDs, YouTube, TV, manuscript etc but it was always thus. I doubt there’s a trad musician alive who hasn’t learn’t a tune from a recording or manuscript or tab.

As for those who rely on the dots, where’s the real harm? They’re not born to the tradition, they’re coming to it from outside. They’re not trying to be trad musicians, they just want to play some trad tunes with their friends. I’ll grant that they’ll struggle to internalise and personalise the tunes so they’ll never make great listening music from the cognoscenti, but so what? They’re playing trad tunes with other musicians in a way that makes them happy. And surely, in most pub sessions there’s little scope for personal style anyway!

Re: By Heart

Having said that, you can teach a person to play by ear. It’s not really that hard. Don’t give them any dots, just give them the tune. It takes patience and it can take a while the first time but it gets easier. Give them a small phrase to find by ear. If that freaks them out, give them one note. Don’t even let them see you play. Let them struggle to find one note by ear. If it’s very very difficult for them you can lead them, "is your note the same as mine or different?" " is your note higher or lower than mine?" "Try them all if you must until you find the one that sounds the same as mine"
In the beginning they have to figure out how to match pitch as well as build their sequential memory. That can be frustrating for them as they build a string of notes they’ve found and then can’t remember them. That’s where you have to be patient and give them the notes to find again.
It can be painful to watch someone flounder around and struggle to find notes or a small phrase but it’s that struggle that builds the pathway to achievement and you have to let them go through it. Little by little, once you’ve fed them their first tune play it with them many times, and be prepared to show it to them again because they’ll probably forget it. They will learn it more quickly the 2nd time and even faster the 3rd until they can finally hang on to it. The 2nd tune is easier for them. Once they’ve done 10 tunes or so, they will be quite proficient at learning this way.
Best of luck

Re: By Heart

P J, there may be a greater number of people learning their tunes face to face, but I suspect it’s a smaller percentage than in generations past. Back in the 1800s, learning in person was the only option available. Nowadays, nearly everyone picks up tunes from recordings, and some do so exclusively—they never learn from a real person. In percentage terms, we’ve gone from 100% in person to something far less than that.

Based on your teaching method, I’d wager that you too see the advantages of exchanging tunes in person.

And one of the troubles with the session scene in many places is the overwhelming numbers of dabblers who "aren’t trying to be trad musicians," but they faff around with the tunes at sessions and muck things up for those who *have* put real effort into learning the music.

All I’m really lamenting is the all-too-common attitude that favors recordings over learning tunes in person. I see players who parrot settings of tunes off popular cds, not realizing that their favorite musician would play the tune differently, not looping ad nauseum through the same setting the way a recording does. And I run into players who know a zillion tunes, but know nothing about the intergenerational community of musicians who’ve passed these tunes down. For example, they can play Rolling in the Barrel and In the Tap Room, verbatim off a Kevin Burke cd, but they’ve never heard of Bobby Casey, let alone Scully Casey, and they don’t care.

This approach divorces the music from the people who play it. I find that sad, that’s all.

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Re: By Heart

I don’t think the music would have reached the world wide audience it now enjoys without the aid of said diconnected carbon. At the end of the day only the Irish are really going to be able to truely play this music, the rest of us are only going to make a stab at it, and I for one need all the help I can get :)

Re: By Heart

"At the end of the day only the Irish are really going to be able to truely play this music"

racist twaddle

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Re: By Heart

A twist on that Will, is that a lot of the tunes I learned from real people, face to face, I don’t even have names for because whoever I learned the tune from didn’t have a name. Many of the ones I have learned from a recording I know something about because I had their names (unless it was listed on my iTunes as Track 2 or "stuff") and could look it up or sometimes CD sleeve notes offer some information. I enjoy finding out where tunes came from.

Recordings have their advantages — if you want to learn how Seamus Ennis, Paddy Carty, Bobby Casey, Dennis Murphy, Willie Clancy, Tommy Reck, Paddy Killoran, and countless others played, you’ll either need to have a seance or find yourself a recording. So much amazing music has been preserved through the recording process.

To bring it around to the primary topic of this thread, if you’re reliant on the dots, you will never get the subtle twists and turns, the triplet placed here and the trill there, the slide into the Fsharp, the shrill off-the-knee upper octave G roll, the cuts in all the right places, that these guys, or anyone, played with which is the life and soul of this music.

But like I said in my earlier post, I don’t my make it mission to convert people who don’t want to be converted.

Re: By Heart

"At the end of the day only the Irish are really going to be able to truely play this music, the rest of us are only going to make a stab at it, and I for one need all the help I can get."

Funny — I’ve met loads of Americans, Scots, English, Aussies, Kiwis, Japanese, Chinese, Germans, French, Austrians, Spainiards, who are all amazing players.

Racist twaddle indeed.

Re: By Heart

But would they be "amazing players" to someone, shall we say, perhaps closer to the centre of the tradition than yourself? I’m not dismissing your point, and clearly nationality is neither here nor there, but surely you’d agree that its very difficult (though not impossible) to become a good, let alone "amazing", trad musician outside of a strong Irish community?

During the summer what with holidaying visitors, fleadhs and summer schools I get to play with dozens and dozens of strangers and within a couple of sets you can usually pick out those that haven’t learnt their music in an Irish community. Not always, of course, but usually, and this is among musicians that have played trad for years, clearly love the music with a passion, and have come to Ireland to learn and play, "Paddy and Bridget" from Japan for example. They’re both fine musicians but you wouldn’t for a moment think they’d been born to it.

Now of course there are exceptions, I can think of perhaps a handful, but in my experience, they’re few and far between. And those that are would be the first to tell you how hard it was for them and that, almost invariably, they’ve ended up living in Ireland for extended periods of time.

Re: By Heart

Just rephrase that slightly. Instead of saying, "learnt their music in an Irish community." try, "learnt their music among a community of players of the music". It’s an important distinction.

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Re: By Heart

So are you saying there is no point unless you have been brought up "in the tradition?"

When you say Irish community do you mean the diaspora, or now people who are the children, grand children and great grandchildren of the diaspora as well? I hope you include all the Irish communities In London, Glasgow, Chicago, Boston, New York. Otherwise I don’t know where that leaves Liz Carroll or how it accounts for the fact that the guy who won the senior All-Ireland fiddle this year is a Weedgie.

If you do include those communities, then I would say that yes, I more or less agree; it is easier to learn the music if you are connected therein. Doesn’t mean it’s impossible not to — it just means it’s HARD. But that’s not only true of Irish music. If I wanted to learn upper level dressage it would be a lot easier if I went to a stable where people rode and trained upper level dressage but I could do it at my current barn where no one does. It would just be a hell of a lot more of a battle.

Re: By Heart

"learnt their music in an Irish community."

If I’d done that I might be playing showband or country and western music.

Re: By Heart

Daniel O’Donnell where are you? :-D

Re: By Heart

Twisty: "Were you this person’s teacher? If so, why did they have any dots in the first place?"

c: No, they came to me for help and advice, their already having a long history with the sheets, though they also have a family history with the music. What is new about this situation is that in this case it also includes lyrics, their personal passion is for song.

On a later point you made, I love to also teach from an instrument other than what is generally played by those learning from me, for that ear challenge. It’s also, as you’ve mentioned, a challenge for me too.

On your other point regarding the dots, while we don’t use the dots or ABCs when I’m teaching face-to-face, I always provide that for them, and they can record me playing the tune, though sometimes I’ll set time aside to make a reasonable recording for them and see they get it as backup to what was being taught. I also to help anyone who wants to learn to read the dots and/or ABC notation, and that is part of my teaching too. It has always been clear to anyone who learns from me how much of a skeleton notation is, by what else I teach them besides just the basic lay of a tune. But, it remains that my focus will always be on the ears and listening, as well, where possible, getting physical with this music ~ dance…

PJ Doherty hits on an important point too. Most of the old codgers I had the pleasure of sharing and learning music from, and the not so old, also had some of their repertoire gleaned from recordings, from the likes of old 78s and the wireless, and sheet music too, such as Roche and O’Neill, or jotted down on a piece of paper in whatever form or notation was going. And there’s that other media possibility, notation provided as an aide memoir along a bank of turf, written out with whatever turf cutting tool was at hand at the time. "The Bank of Turf" Will’s point on percentages is a valid one too, considering origins.

The key is still that a person needs to want to step from behind the sheet music (and lyrics). But I think it is possible to plant that seed and nurture that want.

In this particular case it will be me making the suggestion, carefully and with consideration for the person who asked me for ‘more’. Out of a greater consideration of the tradition, and the community of that, my reply will be to recommend ‘less’. It will be that they get more intimate with it by learning it by heart, taking it to heart.

I can only recommend, but in my experience, those I’ve known who have made the effort have never regretted it and have generally made great advances in their understanding and playing as a result of it. Having seen and experienced the results I can’t deny the impetus and drive to help others to experience that same pleasure, offering to help where I can, to help them to understand and to make the connections, and to find their own way, hopefully free of dot dependance…

Re: By Heart

llig, no I’m not persuaded by that. Surely the risk is that you end up playing ersatz trad. A copy, perhaps even a copy of a copy. If you’ve never yourself danced or played for dancers it’s difficult to play dance music with lift. If you’ve never really listened to a sean nós singer, one who’s sat right in front of you, it’s difficult to play a slow air well. If you haven’t heard a wide variety of musicians, great, good and indifferent, play the same tune dozens of different ways, how can you hope to personalise it and make it your own. How do you know what good sounds like?

SilverSpear, I’d absolutely include the diaspora, which is why I said that it’s not about nationality and referred to "strong Irish communities" rather than Ireland per se (for there’s far from an even distribution of trad across the isle!). And the winner of the senior pipes (and slow air on pipes) is an Italian! Outside of the rare exceptions it’s surely about culture and an early, deep, extended exposure to, and interaction with, that culture (isn’t that Gladwell’s theory as to why Mozart was a genius).

As to whether "there is no point unless you have been brought up "in the tradition"" that a very personal matter. It depends what goals one has for one’s music. I’ve never really thought about it but isn’t it tied to something llig said a few months back? Something about there being a core and a periphery with a continuum between. I guess it’s where one wants to be on that continuum. But to start at the periphery and end up at the core? Not impossible, but difficult, very difficult.

That’s not to say there aren’t grand stops on the way. There are thousands of musicians quite happy to play at their weekly pub session, copy tunes and settings from CDs, have no interest in slow airs or dancing, and haven’t the slightest interest in Bobby or Scully. Fair play to them, it’s a fine thing in itself. It’s not somehow inferior, or lesser, it’s just a different stopping place. Not every who plays trad has to be a carrier of the tradition.

Re: By Heart

I think we are in agreement PJ. Maybe I should have said, "learned their music among a community of players at the heart of it." And that’s not so difficult a thing. Sure, if you are not born into it, it might take a bit of effort finding these people, or even moving to where they are. But I don’t think I’d say it was "very difficult". While there certainly is a great plethora of the "weekenders" you describe, there is also a hell of a lot of the "real thing" (if we are allowed to call it that) and the most important point about it being not difficult to learn from such people is that invariably they are the most generous of people you are ever likely to meet.

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Re: By Heart

In my opinion access to the ‘music sheet’ has proved invaluable to persons learning traditional music. In my young days the only people I came across who could read the dots didn’t play traditional music, and the only ‘Irish’ tunes you could find in notation form were in the Moore’s Melodies/Danny Boy type format. Back in the mists of time I learnt many tunes ‘by ear’ only to find in later years that the ‘great old traditional player’ I learnt them from hadn’t really a clue about how the tunes should be played. Consequently I spent many years trying to put the correct parts in the right tunes. A bit like been taught to drive by a crap driver really.

Re: By Heart

There’s a lot of different symptoms, but they all boil down to misuse.

Dots played by a classical player mechanically? Misuse of dots. No proper life or lift given to the music.

Only one setting learned from one particular recording and played as gospel? Misuse of learning from recordings.

Learning from ear directly from another player and leaving out important parts or making up your own before learning the tune?

So really, regardless of method, the key issue here is proper use of the tools available.

Perhaps instead of decrying the tools we should help identify and develop the skills needed to use the tools properly.

It’s a bit like prohibition. People are going to take drugs, have sex, use dots and recordings anyway. Do we make like the three monkeys and pretend there is no evil, or there shouldn’t be any evil so we’re going to say the evil is bad so fuggedaboutit?

Or do we give them dot condoms and clean needles with which to shoot up their recordings with? Figuratively speaking, of course. What I mean is to teach them to use them properly, because they are going to go and use them anyway, no matter how well we pontificate here.

Great thread, very thought provoking.

Re: By Heart

P J wrote: "If you’ve never yourself danced or played for dancers it’s difficult to play dance music with lift. If you’ve never really listened to a sean nós singer, one who’s sat right in front of you, it’s difficult to play a slow air well. If you haven’t heard a wide variety of musicians, great, good and indifferent, play the same tune dozens of different ways, how can you hope to personalise it and make it your own. How do you know what good sounds like?"

Funny, I’ve done all those things—while growing up in suburban America and living in places as far removed from Ireland as Oregon and Montana. I wonder, P J, have you been to the States? Do you know how strong the Irish communities are over here? And the number of well-immersed Irish musicians who live here?

Sure, I wasn’t "born to it," but not all people born in Ireland are cradled in the music, either.

Re: recordings of Casey, Crehan, Ennis, Morrison, et al. Point taken. I’ve learned a lot by listening to those old recordings. Still, that listening has been further informed by playing and talking with people who knew and played with some of those folks.

I just think it’s sad when some people forego a chance to learn a tune in person, preferring instead to replay a cd or mp3 50 times till they get the tune. And that happens all too often.

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LOL "pontificate" again!!! Aaarrrggghhh!
:-)

Ian, the least you can do when you post something so insightful, witty, and wise is to not be smug about it.
:-P

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Not meaning to belabor P J’s points. He’s answered most of my points very well even before I launched my previous post.

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[snicker] No no, well pontificated all around, least of all my flagrant and eccentric windbagging pontifications!

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In the long run, if a sessioner enjoys playing, plays the tunes well, etc., what difference does it make how he/she gets there. I have adjusted much in the past six months, and my addiction to dots is much less now. If I hear a tune I would like to learn for the next session, I still may glance at the dots a bit, but then once I have a skeleton of the tune I throw it away. Sometimes I don’t look at them at all, especially if I have or can find a good recording of it. In any case, the dots are simply a means to an end, and one that I am relying on less and less. I’ve seen the sessioner who brings a binder to the session, and I cannot understand that. There certainly seems to be a disconnect from the soul of the music at that point. However, for some that are starting out, the dots are kind of like a roadmap. If I may use an analogy close to where I live, a roadmap will help you get to the Grand Canyon, but it’s not going to reveal the beauty. For that you have to experience it and take it in.

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“People are going to take drugs, have sex, use dots and recordings anyway.”

Gasp!! Are people still having sex? We need stronger deterrents!

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I won’t go on and on, I’ve already done so before, and yes, I was one of those really defensive people that got dragged through the mire my first post and question on this site. I have to agree that if you push someone a lot, they will usually shut down. I love playing, no matter if it’s through dots, "memory", or "ear". It took me over 20 years to get where I’m at with the dots as a classically trained musician. It could very realistically take me 20 to play without dots in the tradition. I’ve been told I’d be a better musician without my crutch of dots, and I actually believe that. However, where I have a problem is in the expectation that I can just reorient my brain and play as good as I play with dots, without dots. That is just annoying and down-right stressful, actually. The pressure takes the fun and enjoyment away from me, and I really, really get cranky about that. I think that is where the defensiveness comes in… we feel somehow "robbed" of our passion, our drive, etc because we don’t live up to others’ standards in that moment. Not because we don’t "get" it, but because, as some have stated here, we are being pushed too far too fast. I, for one, shut down in these instances and then I don’t get anywhere at all. I don’t have any sessions close enough for my tight schedule yet, so I realize I am at a severe disadvantage playing "alone." I applaud this thread, though. This is the first serious, thoughtful discussion I’ve actually seen on this site on this topic. So, I guess, in parting, I agree with the sentiment that people aren’t really deluded, they just may not be as "fast" as you are or have the same background, and may have other factors playing a part you are unaware of. Be patient, or very graciously and nicely go your own way.

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Jimmy, what you just reminded me of what I have heard from Grey Larsen. I’ll paste in some of it if you care to do some reading;
"The Essential Guide to Irish Flute and Tin Whistle."
Online Store > Book Excerpts
http://www.greylarsen.com/store/excerpts_essguide.php
The Habit of Internalization
"When you begin learning a tune, with or without the aid of music notation, you should immediately begin to commit
it to memory, to internalize it, as a part of the act of learning itself. If you are using music notation, immediately
start to let go of it. This may not be so easy at first if you are used to hanging your musical awareness on a visual
representation and storing it there.
A natural and effortless way to learn a tune is to simply hear it many times, over a long period of time. Without making
a conscious effort to learn it, the tune seeps into you. One day you may find yourself lilting or humming it. By
then, you know it. Now it is just a matter of transferring it onto your instrument. Attending a regular session is one
good way to give yourself this opportunity.
For those times when you are actively learning a tune in a conscious way, here are some ideas that I hope will help
you."
Finding the Tonal Center
"A good first step to reclaiming, internalizing, and developing your musical awareness is to find and hold onto the
tonal center of a tune."

I have hiked the Grand Canyon ~ South Rim to North Rim. You’re right, it reveals to you how awesome it is when you are in it’s presence & spend some time within.

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What Fiddlechick describes is why it is always helpful to have a person in front of you, when learning how to develop your ear. In defense of our mentorial members, I have read helpful advice on this site, over my few years here (ceolachan, Zina Lee, Bannerman, Jode … ). The real challenge, either for someone coming here for the 1st time or the 5,000th time, is sussing out what works & what is best discarded. In this respect thesession.org is like the tunes. make friends in each case; just don’t take ‘em all in too fast.

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Fiddlechick -

You seem to have the right attitude about posters here. I tend to really like llig leachim’s input, but I don’t always agree. He’s a hardliner on this subject and I feel confident he would not object to that assessment. Get there in what way works for you. With enough time and immesion into the music, and provided you do feel the music and approach it from that direction, I think you will naturally rely less and less on notation. It’s happening to me, and because of that I find myself understanding posts by llig and the like, whether I agree 100% or not. llig’s main point against reliance on notation for learning, as well as others here is: learning from the dots requires you to adjust the tune to what it’s supposed to sound like, so since you end up having to rework how you play it anyway, it’s a waste of time. I find that if I have a good feel for the tune and it’s firmly in my head, then I spend less time learning, in general, because I don’t have to spend the time learning the dots and then the addtional time to convert it to what it should sound like. Then again, I’ve gotten some pretty playable settings from the dots (though not often) that I learned pretty quickly and the adjustments just sort of came naturally, but this still required one to know the tune, which means you should have heard it many times and your love of the tune has made you want to play it. If you don’t feel the tune before you even begin to learn it, you’re not going to play it well.

I, like you, am unable to attend sessions more than twice a month. Not because of distance, but because of my schedule. So fit in what I can. So I recommend lot’s of recordings. I posted a thread some time back asking for help of what are some recommended recordings for learning and practicing, and got some outstanding recommendations. I recommend checking it out. Here it is:

https://thesession.org/discussions/23259/comments#comment483729

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Fiddlechick7 ~ thanks for that input…

We’ve said it before, several of us, one of the best ways to take it in is to sing it or lilit it, like children do, or as you sometimes hear dancers doing almost without awareness as they come away from a dance they’ve just been following that tune through, maybe humming softly to themselves. And there’s my wife who sometimes sings a dance tune and doesn’t realize she’s doing it till I chuckle ~ with appreciation… :-)

This query has its roots in a request for directions from a singer. It’s likely they can sing the air without the dots, given a little encouragement. That would be a good start. The next step would be for them to internalize the story behind the lyrics, for them to mean something to the singer, to have form and emotion, and hearing it given a fair treatment by an accomplished singer would be added help.

Thanks for all the thoughts and contributions, the heartfelt and the laughs. The varied perspectives on this subject are welcomed and have been a help…

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The first tunes I learn are the ones that have caught my ear while listening to a recording. Then I come here and copy the ABC, paste it into ABC Explorer to learn the bones of it. That doesn’t mean I keep referring to it every time I play it! Once I have the bones of it memorized, I listen to the music, slow it down if necessary and play along. More often than not, the way I play it changes quite a bit once I’m listening to music. But I’d be hunting and plucking those first few bars for a helluva long time without ABC. It’s damn helpful to me.

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The world’s gone and got itself in such a god-damn hurry. Short cuts, quick fixes, transitory states of ephemera.

What’s a "helluva long time"? What is effort worth? In this instance, the worth of the effort is very specific. Great diddley music is a subtle combination of minute rhythmic emphasis within precisely articulated melody.

And what the people obsessed with their short cuts of taking the music via a truncated code seem unable to realise is that the paltry amount of information contained in their code - compared to the wealth of music in the actual aural source - is the easiest bit to get with your ear. So if you complain that it takes you too long to get that bit with just your ear, how the hell are you ever going to get the more subtle stuff?

If you refuse to train your ear to be able to get a simple order of notes, with your pathetic excuse that it takes too long, then it stands to reason that the real beauty of the subtlety of the music will forever be beyond you.

And your only solace is that your laziness in refusing to train your ear to pic up simple strings of notes will mean that your ear will not even recognise, let alone appreciate, the subtleties of minute rhythmic emphasis within precise articulation. You won’t even know it’s there, so you wont be knowing what you are missing.

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As someone who has been slow to learn by ear, and who has 30 years of classical background, let me offer some random recent experiences/observations, based on 4.5 years of playing ITM, nearly always having learned tunes from notation.

About a year and a half ago I started working with a teacher to learn tunes by ear, who repeated phrases over and over again. I suppose I learned 30 tunes this way, but it was slow and frustrating for me, and I suspect frustrating for her. For whatever reason, I could learn the bits, but I had trouble connecting the bits into a coherent whole.

Recently, I’ve decided to learn some songs because a group I’m in wants each of us to be able to lead a song or two. Because I’ve never been able to sight sing, and thus notation wasn’t an option, I decided I’d just listen to the same track of a CD over and over again until the words and tune sunk in. I’d just listen, then sing, listen again for what I missed, sing again, and repeated many times until I could sing accurately without listening. While it took a long time indeed, now I find I can sing a several songs with words. This made me think that listening to and learning the whole song, was more successful that the approach I took last year learning tunes by learning bits and trying to build up the the whole tune.

Recently I visited another city, and was at a session where different people arrived at different times, or stepped out for a smoke. As a consequence we played the same jig 3 times (so 9 repetitions). It was a simple jig (Jim Ward’s), but still, it was the first time that I learned a tune completely by ear in one evening, and I suspect that learning songs was helpful in that evolution. On the same visit, I attended two sessions, and the same reel was played at both. By the second night I was able to play the tune all the way through, mostly because I knew a tune like it already.

I’ve always had trouble playing the tune if I couldn’t remember the name of it, which I wonder has something to do with my mental filing system and how I memorized tunes. The past month or so I find that I can play stuff whose name I can’t remember, which leads me (hopefully) toward thinking that perhaps I am changing my filing system/way of internalizing tunes.

I found on this same visit that at one session that I didn’t know most of the tunes. Yet nearly every tune reminded me of another one, probably because I am starting to hear patterns better than I used to.

Reading this thread has been interesting and informative. It’s easy to assume that what comes easy to you is easy for others. I suspect that those who learn by ear easily just don’t get why it can come with difficulty to others. My brother was a guitarist in a rock band, and he could hear a tune on the radio once, play the lead, the rhythm guitar and the bass after one hearing. Good for him, too bad for me, but he could never understand that it wasn’t obvious to me. I’d prefer not to be a hack/slow learner but I’d prefer a lot of things that I am not going to get…
As the joke goes, maybe my purpose in life is to be a bad example to others….

Hugh

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IMHO llig leahcim gets right to the point. There is no need to mince words when you take the time he has to listen closely to the music & soak in all of what is there. Yet, for some his comments are a hard pill to swallow. Fair play, they cut deep. But do remember this, a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down; in the most de-light-ful way! ;

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Hugh (flutefry):
I’ve had the same problem you mention, with being able to parrot back bits of the tune when playing a phrase at a time with my teacher, yet being unable to remember the bits and string them into a whole. The more I notice I’m doing this, the more anxious I get and the worse it becomes. This doesn’t happen for the tunes that seep in, whole, on their own.

I also sometimes have the same problem with not being able to play a tune properly until I remember its name.

Apparently our brains are working in similar ways - I’m also a flute player who started out with classical music. Got any tips or philosophies that have helped you?

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@flutefry: I think you’ve described a problem there. You’re saying that, on an instrument, you can only play music from the dots, but you can’t sight sing? Suggests to me that what you’re doing ain’t music. You’re just reproducing the mechanics.

Now, as far as I’m concerned, everybody, but everybody, has an ear for music. But you’ve let yours stultify. I really think you need to get to grips with this. If I were you, I would, as a matter of urgency, practice loads and loads of sight singing, and also listen over and over to tunes until you can sing or hum them to yourself, and then play them on your instrument. You need to be doing these things in combination for 2-3 hours a day, every day. Do that for a year, and I guarantee you will rediscover your musical ear. Your appreciation for music will sky rocket as an added bonus.

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To learn any tune, you have to be able to hear it in your head. Then you’ll know when you go wrong, whether using dots, ABCs or memory. If you don’t know what you should be playing, how will you know when you get it right?

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Over the years I’ve taught perhaps 50 adults to play trad from scratch. Now their facility with their instrument has ranged from professional musician in another genre through to absolute beginners but in each case the first couple of months or so of weekly lessons always takes the same format: they don’t bring their instrument to lessons instead they learn to lilt.

Polkas first (easy rhythms, simple melodies), then double jigs, leaving reels to last. No recording or transcription in the lesson, just memory, two tunes in about an hour. If they forget the tunes between lessons they give me a call and I’ll play it or lilt it down the phone till they have it again.

After a couple of months not only have they the ability to learn aurally but they have a dozen or so tunes in their heads (usually with good rhythm and ornamentation) and without any prompting from me are starting to work them out on their instruments (even the absolute beginners). Sure some take to it faster than others but I can’t recall anyone either dropping out or not being able to get it.

I’d like to claim credit for the method but it was my mother (who teaches classical piano to undergraduate level) who came up with it donkey’s years ago.

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Yep, that’s perfect. So many people think that music is about mastering the mechanics of an instrument. They are so wrong.

My dad doesn’t play an instrument, but he knows more about this music than anyone else I know. He lilts and whistles tunes, just for himself (he has an extraordinary way of articulating the twiddley bits with his tongue).

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Voice is an instrument.

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Voice is the most revealing and passionate instrument that exists.

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IIig you are blessed to have a father who sings mouth music.

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I think you’ll like this llig. My grandfather used to insist that the only way to tell if someone was a good musician was to hear them lilt. I remember rushing home with the first Bothy Band LP, sitting down to listen with him, and after the first track raving about how tight Molloy played to Keenan only for my grandfather (perhaps because Molloy was the only one in the band he didn’t know) to say "He’s not bad lad but I’d want to hear him lilt it".

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ha.

My dad never really got into the bothy band, too frenetic - though he does like that gaelic mouth music track. Matt Molloy, however, remains his all time fave player (mine too). We were both made up when after the bothy band, Matt Molloy did a tour with Planxty. He took me to the concert.

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http://www.folktrax-archive.org/menus/cassprogs/077.htm
Michael Gorman talking about how he learned the music. I don’t know if the download Floss the Tethers made available is still active. Consistant with what Miss L and llig are saying, but surely a glimpse into a less black and white world that P.J. Doherty, ceolochan and Free Reed are describing.

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@ethical blend. Last time this came up I seem to remember crossing words regarding getting 100% of the tune by repeated listening before trying to play it versus what I would describe as ‘tutorial style’ of taking it phrase by phrase after hearing it through just a couple of times. All by ear of course.

Being unconvinced and wanting to learn a few locally played ‘beginners’ tunes that I don’t recall hearing before I have stuck to the ‘tutorial style’. And as an experiment I have even tried a couple of times using the start/stop/rewind method without even listening to the tune through first.

Is ‘hear a phrase’ - ‘play the phrase’ simply a mental skill to be practiced and no more ‘music’ than learning that putting one finger down plays a B or that the middle line on the stave is B. Or is it a bit more than that ? Is it also what I need, to change, on the fly, a couple of off-beat notes in a hornpipe from what I have learned to what the session is (mainly) playing. Am I going to learn to do that by listening until it have it 100% ?

Sorry if I miss-remember the ‘argument’ -:) It seems relevant to what flutefry is saying.

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I think you’ve missed the point there david_h. If there’s one thing I’m sure of there’s very little in trad that’s black and white; there’s rarely only one way to do almost anything to do with it: learn a tune or play a roll say. Now there’s certainly some things that are "right" and some that are "wrong" but to my mind they’re pretty much confined to playing style.

Of course Gannon, and Gorman and Coleman used alphabetic notation, so did O’Keefe and Denis Murphy, so did my great great grandfather, my maternal grandfather, so do both my parents, so do I, so do my children. Off hand, I can only think of one trad teacher out of dozens that I know that never uses any form of notation.

My post about teaching adults new to trad to lilt before starting them on an instrument described the method I use for that situation. Once they’ve internalised a dozen or so tunes we use whatever teaching method or combination works for them, dots, abc, recordings, purely aural but then that’s usually a 1:1 or at worst 1:2 teacher:student ratio. As for the children, well with class sizes from 12 to 20 I defy anyone not to use some form of notation as a supplement to aural transmission.

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I think the point is, don’t use notation until you know how it should sound. That’s the strength of being able to lilt it. There’s no mechanics in the way.

And this is especially pertinent to people coming to the music from another tradition where they already read music. They look at the dots and there’s a wire in their head that decodes the page into what the notes would sound like from within their previous tradition. It’s hopeless.

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As a former addict who’s taken years to convert to ear playing, I sympathise and agree with much of what’s been said on this thread. There’s one other form of learning by ear that drives me mad though - someone in a session who can join in with the tune second time round, if not second A of the first time, with all the notes. And absolutely none of the music. It doesn’t come with time, either. Maddening to play with - I’m torn between envy and horror!

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Pippa, re those who can join in quickly with a previous unknown tune in a session and get all the notes, that may not be so much learning by ear but "reading" by ear - the auditory equivalent of sighting reading the dots. It’s usually done by experienced players who are subconsciously, on the basis of that experience, predicting where the tune is going, any necessary corrections being made the second time through. Incidentally, when they do this it can give the misleading impression that they have a repertoire running into the thousands!

Two questions arise: are they memorising what they’re playing, and, are they playing the "music", as distinct from the notes? I think the answer, in most cases, to both these questions is "no". The test for the first is, can they recall the tune accurately the next day? As I said, probably not; but they will get more familiar with the tune each time they hear it, until it is in their heads (after perhaps the 3rd or 4th time?). As for the second question, any experienced musician will know that acquiring the notes and playing the "music" are separate issues - although the second obviously depends on the first. It takes quite a while to internalize the music and for the player to understand what it is.

Internalizing the music equally applies to the classical player who may be a first class and accurate sight reader but nevertheless needs to work hard on the music in order to polish it into something presentable.

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Sorry P J, I wasn’t clear. I was meaning that Miss L and llig (particularly) had - for the purpose of this discussion when responding to particular posts - made very strong arguments in favour of one approach but that Gorman was describing something more diverse the way you and others were.

On my next post I should have included ‘hear a phrase’ - ‘sing a phrase’ as a step. Don’t they do that at primary school any more ?

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Lazyhound. Is that process related to - but harder than - progressively picking up the chorus of a song each time through, or guessing the next bit of the tune of a tedius nineteenth century hymn ?

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If you are a youngster just beginning to learn to play but you have been hearing this music for a good while, then you won’t have that wire in your head that decodes the written notes into something that sounds wrong. There is no problem then with using dots. Not only dots of course, but there is no harm in using them.

The problem is with people who already read music from another tradition. Such people need to break that wire in their heads before they can progress. And the only way is to go completely cold turkey on the dots. And I’m coming round to the opinion that perhaps they should be going cold turkey on their instruments too, and just learn to sing the music until that wire is well and truly disintegrated,

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I do remember the argument, david_h, and it was near enough what you said. If I was being, I shouldn;t have been trying to be prescriptive about it. However, there really is something in being able to sing a whole tune before playing it on your instrument. When I do that (which tends to happen without my realising it, btw), *instead* of the ‘hear a phrase, play a phrase’ method, it sticks better, more permanently and, magically, with all sorts of little twists and variations that just pop out of nowhere.

Hear a phrase, sing a phrase is OK though. Until you can hear whole tunes. :-)

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It’s an interesting topic but I’m not sure you have it quite right lazyhound. Having been accused more than once of being quick to lift a tune I can speak to my own experience.

I’ve never tried to articulate the process before but when I pick up a "new" tune on the repeat it’s usually because a) in over forty years playing, I’ve probably heard it several before without setting out to learn it, or b) it belongs to a family of tunes and I’m familiar with it’s antecedents as it were, or c) it’s made up of stock phrases, or some combination of the above. But my sense in each case is that I’m playing the phrases not the notes, if that makes sense. And if I can lift a tune on the repeat I’d typically be able to play a variation to it on the next repeat and again on the next, for, I don’t know, perhaps half a dozen repeats. Of course, on the fly they wouldn’t necessarily be the most interesting variations but they’d serve well enough. So given that, my sense would be that I am " playing the "music", as distinct from the notes" but I guess you’d have to ask a listener!

If it’s a genuinely new tune to me i.e. none of the above apply, then it takes me dozens of listens before I have it. I’ve only met perhaps half a dozen people that pick up such a thing on the second repeat and they’re all professional musicians.

As for memorising what I’m playing, it’s an old saw amongst trad musicians that once you have it under your fingers you have it for "life". Not certain I agree with that, "knowing" a tune seems to me to be a very vague concept e.g. does it include remembering a tune after being prompted by the first phrase?

And as to large repertoires, we recorded my father’s repertoire last year and ran out of steam after about 1,300 tunes, and I’m pretty sure he knows more than that. I’d guess I’m well over that number as well, but there are a good few around that seem to know way more than myself.

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I’m pretty similar in the way I pic up tunes. I’m fairly convinced that the ones I do pic up straight away are ones I’m subconsciously already familiar with. Though I do remember doing it to a tune not so long ago and the person who started it was amazed, they said that they only wrote it themselves just a few days prior. I had to tell them that I was fairly sure I must have heard it, or something very similar, before. Poor sod.

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Putting it what way it may have been a misunderstanding about what was mean by 100%. If it meant ‘from start to finish’ then I was wrong to argue. But I think in the context there was an element of how much detail and style there was between the start and finish; ornaments that are ‘part of the tune’; variations.

One of the old musicians in an interview says something about ‘getting the main notes" . Not being an expert lilter, Is singing 100% of the "main notes" enough to be allowed to get the instrument out and start trying to make it sound like instrumental music ?

So to ceolochan’s request for stories I am saying that I am glad I took this sites advice to get rid of the music stand but I do find a ‘main notes’ concept useful. Not sure I can sing a bowed triplet or its more relevant flutey equivalent.

(crossing but not wanting get logged off again)

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I’d say the poor sod here is the person that said his own father’s mouth music is not an instrument.

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david, you might want to reread my posts—I’ve used the dots for 44 years. Just not the way "dot addicts" do.

There’s utility in being musically literate. But in the end, music is aural.

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david_h, a couple of thoughts on your last post. Forgive me, but I’ve a nagging suspicion that you’re not familiar at all with the concept of lilting for I’m not certain one can just lilt the "main notes", it’s all in the ornamentation. Have a listen to this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ltErDTkHK6Y. Kane plays with the tune, spontaneously introducing variations, some come off, some don’t. The lad’s good but, as he’d be the first to say, far from being an "expert lilter". Any good trad musician could teach you to do that within a couple of hours. After that it’s just practice.


I’m a bit troubled by the thought that at a certain stage one is "allowed to get the instrument out and start trying to make it sound like instrumental music". There’s no "allowed" about it. It’s really very simple: listen to a lot of trad, pick someone who’s sound you like, take the advice of those who seem to know what they’re talking about (though very difficult to tell on the web!), give that advice a good go and if it doesn’t work for you then try something else. Do whatever works for you, do whatever it takes to produce the music you hear in your head.

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Llig, I actually was interested in what you said about youngsters learning and threads. You may not agree, because I realize you haven’t had the same experience, but for many who learned, as a young child, to play with dots, no matter the genre, there is a thread that just doesn’t break easily or quickly. This is fact. Our brains, as we develop as children, create pathways as we learn (by experience). For many years, beginning as a child, I was taught to read music while playing the violin (and some other odds and ends). For me, the pathway of music was created using visuals as well as aural threads. I was hammered with the idea that playing by ear wasn’t good (though having a "good ear" was, and I don believe there is a distinction there to be made), because I was being taught theory, etc. I have spoken with adults who haven’t learned anything with written notation as kids who pick up fiddle rather quickly, but find the folks like me do not. So I still stick to my guns about the time… it does take a lot of time, more so than many others perhaps, to train our ears and try to form new pathways (because I don’t think the old ones simply disappear). I still get a bit cranky when someone insinuates that me, or someone in my position, is lazy for not learning quickly enough, or doesn’t have any aptitude for feeling this music because we come from a different background.

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That should read "I do believe there is a distinction to be made."

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Fiddlechick7, If you don’t mind my asking, how much time are you spending currently with listening & playing by ear? I learnt to read music as a child myself. However, I am saddened to a hear a music instructor would say playing by ear is not good. At the very least I would hope everyone who teaches music is listening to the music they teach. I suppose part of the issue, for someone teaching older music, is having sheet music readily available, & maybe not too many (if any) recordings of music played 100s of years past. Just trying to unravel some of this.

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Re: By Heart

Miss L. I had read that. I was referring your posts before you felt the need to add it as a FWIW. I did say "for the purpose of this discussion when responding to particular posts" . I listened to the Gorman interview and tunes yesterday while driving, before I came to this thread and up until P J Doherty’s post I had been thinking ‘here we go again’.

I think llig nailed it above with his "don’t use notation until you know how it should sound".

I’m assuming they were listening, from this statement, "For me, the pathway of music was created using visuals as well as aural threads." So why then did they tell you playing by ear was not good? I would really be interested in knowing.

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Re: By Heart

Fiddlechick
I have come across several people with the background you are describing. I don’t think to say a hundred or so would be a stretch. I literally have seen people, quite proficient with dots, who could not play ‘happy birthday’ without written music in front of them. Most of them are older, a product of classical instruction of an older order I think. Younger students seem to be a little bit more flexible now.
Anyway, I’m sure it is difficult for you, but I assure you that it can be done. I have seen determined musicians with desire learn to play by ear many times. I have seen some get frustrated and give up too, but it seemed to be more a struggle with identity than anything musical. It feels like you are starting over, and that is hard for a ‘good’ musician to do with grace. Once you let go of thinking of how facile you ‘ought to be’ it does get easier.
Listening to the kind of music you would like to play doesn’t just help, it is absolutely essential. As several people have stated already in this thread, if you don’t know how the music should sound in your head, how can you possibly find it on your instrument?
It does take time, and effort, but it is certainly not insurmountable. The first one is the hardest, because you really are laying down the track, but it does get easier.
It is also worth it. Once you have internalized the music, and do not need to keep that reading part of your brain engaged, you might be amazed to see what degree of flow, and exquisite degrees of tonal subtleties you can pay attention to and enjoy. Not to mention the degree of interaction you can enjoy when playing with others.
Here’s to success in your endeavour!!!

Re: By Heart

Twisty, may I ask you, why do some music instructors say playing by ear is not good? Pretty please.;)

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Re: By Heart

I did hear an interview with a blind pianist. As a child she loved to play what she heard, by ear. However, her instructor wanted her to learn from scores written in Braille. I don’t actually know how one does this with piano. She confessed she often tricked her teacher into believing she had learned her lessons from Braille. Anyone know who she might be?

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~

Oh, & she had reading music in Braille.

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Oopsy :-O

… *hated* reading music in Braille

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Re: By Heart

What I understand is that is was not so much that ‘playing by ear was bad’ so much as that actually, and you won’t believe this, but listening very much to other peoples playing was very much discouraged. The belief was that listening too much to other peoples playing of a piece of music might interfere with the development with the students ability to come up with their own interpretation. They were afraid of producing ‘musical robots’ , who might pay without sensitivity or flow. Ironic isn’t it?

Re: By Heart

P J Doherty. I am familiar with lilting, though only once or twice ‘live’. I’m curious. How many lilters sing in the ‘normal’ key ? I couldn’t and I can often manage the tenor part in music arranged for untrained voices.

The ‘allowed to pick up the instrument’ was harping back to a previous discussion in which of my gripe with ethical blend (and llig) was about having to have a tune 100% before playing it. What did they mean by 100% ? It seemed to me that at one end of the scale one would have to be lilting to a reasonable standard and at the other end singing through the main notes, with a rhythm that fitted the source might be enough.

My experience so far is that singing what to me appear to be the main notes, then playing them, then making it a better and better fit to the source is a practical way of getting a tune to start with. And there are some bits I don’t have to sing. But I can’t sight read music and last time I tried to learn a tune from the dots what came out was vague imitiation of something off an early Chieftains record rather than something ‘classical’ sounding.

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PJ Doherty ~ "they don’t bring their instrument to lessons instead they learn to lilt." ~ !!!

I was trying to find a previous thread where a number of us, including myself and Will (MLH), raised this favoured means of connecting to the music ~ lilting/humming/singing… I’ll keep looking as it would be good to make the connection to that past thread.

For now I’m off for the evening to enjoy our shared passion more directly. ;-)

I wanted to again say thanks to you all, and for the help in thinking about and around this subject. I’m enjoying your contributions. Your experiences, opinions and help are appreciated.

Re: By Heart

Cheers Twisty! Seems like the concept is of a cloistered environment. It is ironic & imho illustrates some pitfalls of being overly protective.

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Re: By Heart

Whew, just read this thread in one fell swoop. I avoided it from the beginning, because the OP seemed to just be baiting the board into the same old argument. But when a thread gets 150 posts, my curiosity gets the best of me, and I need to see what the hubbub is all about…

>> "Not every(one) who plays trad has to be a carrier of the tradition."

I would generally disagree with that statement. Is "the tradition" some thing (or disease? :-/) that is either present or not? The tradition *is* the playing and passing on of the music. The tradition is *us*, whether we like it or not.

I would submit that even when a player plays an Irish tune poorly by sight reading it, not understanding anything about what it should really sound like, it’s still part of "the tradition". A part that needs to be nurtured and taught (by the aforementioned diaspora), but still part of the whole.

Re: By Heart

@Twisty, I had personal experience of that. When I was a lad learning the cello sometime in the middle of the last century (ahem!), my teacher several times warned me against listening to recordings of a work I might be learning, such as a Bach cello suite, on the grounds that if I listened to a particular recording too much it would influence my own interpretation. He cited one judge at an international cello competition who remarked on a competitor sounding like Casals - and the remark was not intended as a compliment. On the other hand, my teacher had no objection at all to me listening to live performances in a concert or on the radio - because the music was gone as soon as heard, and in those days domestic audio recorders were almost unknown.
Interestingly, my cello teacher refused to teach his pupils for music exams, and discouraged them from entering music competitions. When asked why, his standard response was that he wanted his pupils to become musicians.

Re: By Heart

Reverend, the old saw about being kinda pregnant comes to mind, in regards playing and passing on of the music as being part of the tradition.

"Well, he’s kinda traditional."

"Does he play and pass on the tunes?"

"Well, yeah, but…"

"So he’s only kinda pregnant?"

Re: By Heart

Correct me if i’m wrong please.
Was there not a time in the history of this music that the people were so poor that they couldn’t afford a fiddle, flute, pipes, even whistle? Did’nt they resort to the only instrument they posessed? Was that not the voice? I thought that many tunes were saved for us by the lilting of voice to pass the tunes on for future generations. Seems to me that a good lilter/singer/player of the voice as an instrument would be held in the highest standing as a musician. Someone who really has the music in them becomes the instrument themself. The voice, the original tonal communication tool.

Re: By Heart

David_h

Even where I pick up a tune ‘on the fly’ I don’t really have it. Not until I have the whole thing - 100% if you like - internalised. If I can *start out* with it like that, I’m home and dry.

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Re: By Heart

fuzzygreen,

My post is now 50 threads back. FWIW, I think the sudden difference in my ability to pick things up by ear started with learning songs by just listening to the song over and over again. I think it’s had valuable knock on effects on my playing. So I agree with those (PJ Doherty, llig) who say get the tune in your head well enough to hum/lilt/sing it.

I recently started learning another instrument, and much to my chagrin, find that even tunes I learned entirely by ear don’t immediately come out under my fingers on the different instrument. I infer that it’s not so much the tune I have in my head, but muscle memory, and that I have been fooling myself by confusing one with the other.

ethical blend.

I think the previous anecdote says there is a lot to what you say about mechanical vs musical. I think I do have trouble when there is an instrument between my brain and the tune, which is why I think that the "aha" moment for me was leaving the instrument out.

Hugh

Re: By Heart

Yep. I go with that, flutefry. Learn to sing. Then learn to sing on your instrument. Or both at the same time. Whatever.

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Re: By Heart

Meh… pfft.

:-|

Re: By Heart

When I mentioned quite a few posts ago now the musicians who can pick a tune up really quickly, I wasn’t thinking of the very experienced musicians who have so many of the patterns and phrases inside them already - I was referring to what Lazyhound called the auditory equivalent of sight-reading, particularly someone at a session I go to occasionally who will lift the notes you’re playing but devoid of phrasing, rhythm, lilt … that’s the horror bit. When I’m playing with musicians who can see where the tune’s going based on the patterns they recognise (or the patterns they don’t, because the others are already inside them), and join in not long after first hearing - now that’s something else!

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Re: By Heart

Ethical blend, I am still struggling with this 100% business, this ‘whole thing’ .

Michael Gorman (deletions are uncompleted phrases): " … I just take the fiddle and … play a tune plain … take it out of the book and play it as plain in the book …. then as I learn it - get it off - I put in a little bit of faster rhythm with the bow and the fingers.. give a little bit of a quiver and [tails off]… you want to start of very young at it, its very difficult for anyone in years to try to get to play a reel and put in variations the same as one whos brought up to, thats learned from the start. You just give your hand a bit of a shake, thats all I do anyway it comes out all right, and the fingers they go down themselves, I don’t know how they go. They go down that fast I can’t know what they are doing. they go down… the mind and the finger work together I think, in music…"

And he demonstrates. And his demonstration of "plain" must be way, way more than in "the book". And then he is off with the variations, never a phrase the same twice. And the cassette is series of demonstrations of style, the different sorts of tunes.

And I think - so where, for me, is 100% ? What is this "whole thing" I have to get by listening if before I try to play it ? Not having been brought up to it and finding his "plain" quite daunting enough.

Re: By Heart

Well, this is where the perennial advice about listening listening listening comes in. People say you have to be ‘immersed’ in the music, and I think that’s right. So, if you didn’t absorb it at baptism, you’ve got to find some other way to become immersed. And pretty quickly, too.

So, you’ve got to go to the right places, play with the right people. When you’re not doing that, listen to the right people. Immersion does happen. It takes a bit of effort, but then it just happens, apparently effortlessly. A paradox, eh?

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Re: By Heart

Anyone reading this in Round Rock TX? Send me an IM. Let’s get together so we can get ‘immersed’ in the music.

Re: By Heart

David h, Gorman was coming from a lifetime of wallowing in this music. Don’t be surprised if his approach doesn’t work for you. It makes a HUGE difference when looking at the dots if you already viscerally KNOW what it’s supposed to sound like.

Kevin Burke likes to tell a story about sitting in a recording studio and the sound guy asks him to play something for a sound check. Kevin plays a phrase or two, an the guy says, "something simpler, like just a D scale." So Kevin plays him a D scale. And the sound guy says, "What was that? Just give me a D scale." Kevin plays it again, and again the sound guy complains, "What’s all the frilly stuff?" Upon reflection, Kevin realizes he’s putting cuts and rolls and triplets in throughout the D scale….

Until you’re *that* saturated in this music, don’t expect the dots to help much….

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Re: By Heart

flutefry, there are two aspects to playing by ear. One, you have to be at home on your instrument—know instinctively how to make the sounds you want to make. Two is being able to hear the sounds (notes of a tune) and make sense of them, to play them back.

One without the other doesn’t work. It takes both skill sets. So when you switch to a new (unfamiliar) instrument, the transfer takes some time.

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Re: By Heart

Hey now Miss L. You read *my* posts. The quote from Gorman included his "you want to start of very young at it…" etc.

And I didn’t quote it for the bit about notation. I have not looked at notation until after I can get from one end of a tune to the other putting in, from an aural source, more than is in the notation (but less then required) for a couple of years.

The post was directed at ethical blend and his saying "until I have the whole thing". The idea of 100% just doesn’t make sense to me, since Kevin Burke’s 100%, his whole thing, is going to be different from Michael Gorman’s 100%. And from the recording 100% what Gorman would play to teach a tune or demonstrate rhythm differences (there is a good bit on 3/4 dance tunes) is, in broad terms ‘less’ than when he demonstrates it as played for dancing.

The relevance to ceolachan’s OP and your bit about taking music stands away is about what you replace it with. In some mysterious way music gets encoded in our heads (can’t find the bit on Levitine’s book where he summarises current views, will have to read the book again). Over the centuries notation of the outline of the melody (more than that, actual pitches at key points) and the approximate time values have been found a useful abstraction by musicians (including Gorman and P J ‘s forbears).

The summary in the notation is not "whole thing" but what is its aural equivalent ? Do all you teachers expect the student to be able to lilt all the cuts and rolls before taking up the instrument. Am I, when learning and playing, allowed to replace a roll with a single cut until the overal rhythm steadies. And if so when singing through can I skip the cut is well if, as is the case, putting one in when playing would usually be automatic if the aural source did something to suggest it.

Re: By Heart

And by the way Will, the first paragraph of your post to flutfry was something you said in a post to me a couple of years ago and it was a great help.

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Rev, the only bait I’ve ever intentionally set was to catch food, like for fish…

Re: By Heart

From dots abc etc, by ear in person or by ear from recordings none of it is totally reliable, it a sum of it all.

Some of the best players I know constantly have their noses in books digesting entire collections plucking and cherry picking the gems within.

I’m equally wary of tunes learned by ear as from the dots until I’ve herd it played by a few different people to get their spin on their versions, it’s a sum that can’t be completed in isolation or from any one learning method without cross reference to an other source.

Good players can raise a good version of a tune from just dots IMO, but maybe thats just down to experience and being good in the style already.

Re: By Heart

When a good player raises a good version of a tune from just the dots, it is invariably because of their experience and being good in the style already.

Fidchick, I suspect that what you are actually find hard is coming to the realisation that you are an out and out beginner with this music. When you read a tune and reproduce those notes off the page you are giving yourself the false impression that you are at least playing the tune to a certain standard.

And it is a hard thing to do, to admit to yourself that you don’t even have the basics of the music, when you can already play other stuff well. It’s a hard thing to do to admit that you need to start from scratch. When did you start playing the violin? 6 or 7 years old? You need to get back in touch with what that felt like and return to it.




David, I can’t remember the specifics of the 100% discussion, but I believe the gist of it was that the 100% you need in your head before transferring it to your instrument is the whole tune, no gaps, no ambiguity about any of it. you are confident that you "have it" - as the saying goes.

This is a detached process, one that shouldn’t require personal input. It’s a "that’s how it goes" thing, detached, objective.

Then, hear somebody else play it and realise "that is how it goes also" (not "that’s how it can go instead", you have to hold on to that dichotomy). What happens now is that you are bringing back in the cherished ambiguity and you may feel your understanding of the tune has reduced to say 90%. But actually, you are getting above the 100% mark. And you keep going with that for the rest of your days. 200%, 6,000%? There’s no end to it. Does this make numerical sense? Of course not, it’s art.

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LOL, ceol, maybe not baiting… but you certainly knew that you were stirring things up… "Knowing how sensitive this can be, and having over stepped in the past…" :-P

Not that I really mind healthy discussion about this topic. Even though it has been discussed quite a bit over the years, I still find some interesting tidbits of wisdom bantered about. But it often gets way more defensive and accusatory than this… So cheers to you for starting it in such a delicate way…

Re: By Heart

I hate to say it ( :-) ) but bloody good stuff in your reply to david_h there, Llig.

I like that - get the whole tune … then get more of it.

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Re: By Heart

OK Llig. If "the whole tune" means that particular aural source with "no gaps, no ambiguity about any of it" then I understand but the percentage business is unneccessary and confusing.

If this detached process is the one that means I can play Happy Birthday then there are several stages. There are plenty of tunes where I can recognise minor differences between versions, and different rhythmic approaches that I am nowhere near being able to play. I have usually found their names by the time they get that far.

I think in the original discussion (no idea what it was supposed to be about) I was saying, as above, that rather than listening to a tune that I knew quite well until I could play it getting so far and then going to ‘hear a phrase’ - ‘play a phrase’ , then back to listening and playing along seemed to work ‘better’. Certainly faster, but ethical blend was saying it was not learned as well.

People do teach tunes that way. A few tines through then phrase by phrase. What’s the problem with it ? (not rhetorical and on topic). I hear more when I am playing along with the source.

I have experimented with ‘hear a phrase’ - ‘play a phrase’ with an unknown tune without hearing it through. But I am also experimenting with a CD abandoned in the car CD player that has a Gordon Duncan tune on the first track which is slowly sinking in but does my head in if I try to think about it.

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Hello Mr blend. Typical. Several hours starting to post but having to work and the moment I do hit post I cross.

Re: By Heart

Saying 100% is necessary because it refers to "all" of it. A good many of the tunes I first learned were face to face, phrase by phrase from mentors. I think it’s a good way to learn tunes when you are learning. I found it useful, for the mentor to say things like "no, not b,c,e,g, it’s b,c,d,g." But the real use of the face to face with the mentor is actually just being there, absorbing the subtleties. The problem with being a beginner on an instrument is that even when you do know a tune inside out and can sing it, it can still take a while to work it out on your instrument, which can be a bit of a waste of your mentor’s time if he’s having to sit through it.

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Llig, you are a mentor for many beginners here. Thanks for taking the time.

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I’ll second that. I’ve learned quite a bit from Llig over the years, such as how to disparage bodhrans properly, why accompaniment is useless, and why banjos, mandos and boxes can’t deedle. I’ve also learned how to not suffer musical fools gladly, but I still can’t help myself suffer them anyway, and with a smile on my face. I’m trying though!

Seriously though, hear hear, what Random said. [thumps table]

Re: By Heart

Rev ~ right as always, I did know, but the motivation was real, dealing with something a little bit different, including ‘lyrics’. Such topics like this will always be repeat discussions, as true of anything we have a passion for. It can, in a sense, or with hopes for that, keep that interest and concern fresh, and new voices and experiences help toward that end…

I’ve enjoyed the various links given here, having chased them all up for a listen…

In answer to an earlier question by david_h ~

As with Gorman’s description of acquisition and development, with ‘beginners’ the first thing I try to achieve is a ‘basic’ melody, 100% ;-) ~ with rhythmic definition and some steady control of the beat/tempo, with all the possible choices of variation and ornamentation given more attention later.

david_h ~ again ~ singing a bowed triplet ~ you need to use articulation, such as tonguing… ;-)

Llig ~ “~the realisation that you are an out and out beginner with this music. ~ it is a hard thing to do, to admit to yourself that you don’t even have the basics of the music, when you can already play other stuff well. It’s a hard thing to do to admit that you need to start from scratch.”

It is not an uncommon problem, the inability to accept we’re ‘beginning’, a ‘beginner’, especially when we consider ourselves ‘accomplished’ in some relative field of interest and effort… Worse is accepting that we might have to give up some of our preconceptions and past lessons or set them aside for something where they might not fit or apply, starting from a ‘beginning’ ~ returning to the ‘child’ in us, letting go of the adult, who too easily becomes arrogant and closed to being fully involved in the learning process.

I was listening to some ‘classical’ music today, music that claims by association some ‘dance’ connection, Chopin mazurkas and waltzes. There wasn’t anything danceable about the interpretations I listened to, and enjoyed despite that favoured element missing. They were a pleasant enough listen but lacked that zing that makes you want to move to it. It was as is usual for ‘classical music’ ~ following the dots and following someone’s interpretation as to how they should be treated, possibly their own. But there wasn’t a drop of ‘dance’ in it. That ‘oomph!’ was missing.

I remember seeing band books for Strauss dance music, giving the basics, minus any intrusive additional directions. I’ve no doubt the ‘treatment’, that knowledge, was taken for granted. You could digest what was there, the basic 100%, and then, as an experienced musician in that tradition, you could go out out and play without the dots, for dancers, for dance. They would already have the roots down in the tradition of the period, the understanding, by heart. It was dance music, anyone with an ear for that or a physical involvement in it would translate that easily enough from dots to life, as true of Gorman, clothing the skeleton with everything it needs to be brought to life, to move…


Levitine’s book? :-/

Re: By Heart

It may be, in my vision anyway, that to truly connect the ‘dots’ classical musicians would be better educated getting intimate with existing traditions, instead of doing their thing under that collector’s bell jar, an atmosphere rarefied toward vacuum, interpretations based on sources disconnected from the original life of the music they attempt to interpret from remains ~ skeletons and over analysis? :-/

Re: By Heart

Did anyone see the interesting documentary on tv last night about selective mutism in children ?
It seems that this can be, in its own way, a kind of addiction.
Not quite as limiting as being unable to play without music, though.
I had to watch it, because SO is a teacher of younger children ( and had to keep waking her up because she’s knackered, and falls asleep on the sofa ).

Re: By Heart

Hey GP, my wife too, on all counts… :-D

I get regular signals that my SO has passed out ~ snoring… I’d wanted to see that program but was out…

Thanks david, now I remember it being mentioned before, but haven’t chased that read up yet…

Re: By Heart

as an aside, why, oh why, oh why this time????????????

Re: By Heart

Here’s another question for you friendly mentoring types:

People have mentioned that there are two levels of knowing a tune - being able to lilt it, and then being able to get your fingers to do it on the instrument.

Is there a third, more fundamental level? Sometimes it feels like there’s an inner tune track that learns the tunes long before I can even lilt them. If I run this voice round the tune enough times and don’t think about it too hard, even without a recording I will eventually be able to match the individual pitches and lilt the tune - as if it’s already in there, even when I’m struggling to lilt it or reproduce it on my instrument. Before this voice clicks on, I seem to be in "parrot mode", mimicking short phrases without being able to retain them and stick them together. If I remember to listen to it, I find myself sinking into better rhythm and able to resurrect old tunes. This is the same voice that amuses itself running tunes through my head when I’m not paying attention, trying to trick me into singing along at inopportune times.

Is this third level sort of the "that’s how it goes" bit that llig was talking about earlier? Something else that someone can give me their thoughts on identifying and cultivating? Or an individual musical idiosyncrasy?

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>Llig, you are a mentor for many beginners here. Thanks for >taking the time

Yes, I’ve often heard people remark: "see that llig? he’s pure mento"

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>It is not an uncommon problem, the inability to accept >we’re ‘beginning’, a ‘beginner’, especially when we consider >ourselves ‘accomplished’ in some relative field of interest >and effort…

personally I find it difficult to ever think of myself as anything but a beginner in any area of life

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fuzzygreen ~ it’s steps, sometimes a staircase, sometimes a ladder, and sometimes we slip backward and down. Each step is a heistant point of raised confidence. The ones to worry about at those that run insanely upward, with a confidence based on very little else… So, many levels, always beginning from where we last left off, though sometimes finding we may have backslid a little and are needing to go over old ground again. But, review is always a good thing, and to teach it is wise to never lose track of our own beginnings and those that helped or hindered us…

Yup! Ram, me too, as I walk into another wall and need reorientation… :-D

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Here is a verse from a Dougie Maclean song, the "Scythe Song."
Most of the song is about learning to use a scythe from his father, and describing how tricky it is, and how long it takes to get a feel for it. We used to own an old house, surrounded by rocky fields and used a scythe to keep the grass somewhat under control, and I remember getting similar lessons from my dad. In the last verse, the song shifts to learning The Music:
"So little dancing girl you want to play a tune
One that your heart can fill to help you shine under the moon
Well it is not a thing to learn inside a day
Stand closely by me and I’ll try to show the way
You’ve got to hold it right feel the distance to the sound
Move with a touch so light until it’s rhythm you have found
Then you’ll know what I know now"
A tune is not a thing to learn inside a day. Now that, my friends, is wisdom….

The rhythm of a scyth through grass

Very, very nice Al Brown, lovely…

I met some amazing folks on Cape Breton island, in their 90s, who still used a scyth to cut their grass. I have tried it a few times and have yet to master the whole act, including keeping it sharp. There are several tasks associated with the act, and part of that is preparation beforehand…

Spill over ~ from one thread to another

A bit of misunderstanding associated with this topic spilled over here, boiled over, but Jeremy fortunately cleaned up the shight… But, some response to misreading our intentions here, and those of considered friends, such as MLH & others, may need a repeat ~

discussion (or that was how it started): question
# Posted on February 3rd 2010 by ekostelo
https://thesession.org/discussions/23732

An attempt at a little clarification where others have stirred up and muddied the waters ~

I, and I’d guess I could also safely say ‘we’, also use ‘dots’ and ABC notation in teaching. The only emphasis I and others have given here and in previous discussions on this topic is that we feel passionately that the ears are paramount to ‘tradition’ , that your ears and ear dependant learning is much more valuable than scraps of paper or books of transcriptions, or this site, or any one of us individually. The music and the act of sharing it, ‘community’, is more important than me or those who have misread or distorted what I and others have said with respect to promoting a more intimate experience with this music through hearing. While emphasizing this focus I can’t see where anyone can read that we are also trashing other resources, this music recorded for the ears of the eyes.

Some other states of being worth nurturing, includign for the health of tradition, would be ‘reason’, ‘consideration’, ‘humility’, ‘patience’… I think it best use of time and energy for us to at least try to be constructive, making useful comment and avoiding the defamatory and inflamatory. Attacking members here does nothing positive for our main reasons for coming together here ~ to promote tradition, to share and exercise ideas toward that end. Unreasonable behaviour, such as malicious slagging, is a dead end to discussion… Some knee jerk responses are clear symptoms of someone who does not listen to others and rashly reacts before even attempting to understand what exactly has been said. The prudent thing would be to ask for clarification rather than to pounce out of ignorance… A question often has greater value than a statement and will always have greater worth than an attack…

It seems out of all this, unfortunately, a couple of our members have been thrown in the brig for a couple of weeks, ‘suspended’…

Dots guide and save me ~

I’ve recently had to resort to dots to help me honour a promise. It was over a fairly common tune, one played in our local sessions. It seems I’d learned, back some time ago, a very different take on it. About 3/4 of what I’d learned sits just fine with the version played here, but around a quarter doesn’t work at all. At that point the two versions sound awful together. Now I like the quirkiness of how I’d learned it, but when I’m teaching I try to respect the local sessions’ general take on things.

As said, this version of mine doesn’t fit. So, I listened and recorded the local version, basically a Sligo take on the tune, very close to the O’Neill setting for it. And, I transcribed it, bare bones. To break me of my deeply set habit with this one I had to force myself to be tied to the four bars where the greater difference is. I had to follow the dots, because, inevitably, every time I played the tune I kept resorting to how I’ve generally played this one, and a variety of variations and ornamentation. Those few bars of dots helped me break through to the other take, that of the local musicians here. I soon set the sheet music aside and set to making it comfortably mine.

I quite like both take on it, but I do still like the quirkiness of the version I’d come to know and enjoy. While I will probably return to that, if not in local sessions, my task was to teach tunes that those learning from me could play along with locally. It isn’t usually a problem, as versions are often OK together, incidental harmony often being the nature of the variations. That wasn’t the case here and for at least 3 bars worth, 5, 6 and 7 of the B-part, they clashed. Now I can focus on getting them familiar with how the locals tend to play it, or at least a version that’s compatible. ;-)


As to dots in general ~ I have a huge library full of the stuff. And then there’s all the contributions I’ve made here. How anyone could call me ‘anti-dot’ I don’t know. Worse was said, name calling worse than ‘boob’. I’m glad that most of that is now happily deleted…

Re: By Heart

Hello.

Read the thread. Nice. Here is some experience leading to my choice of ear only.

I started to play this music by the age of 18. Now 35. I did not play any music before. I moved to Ireland by the age of 24 for a few years. Went to some weekly classes, some winter/summer schools, but mostly regular sessions. How many times have I been taught next to 6 to 15 years of age kids… My first "formal" contact with Flute was with Cathal McConnell, by chance. That day, he had decided to take the not-so-complete beginners. He was so humble and relax. Wow ! Impressive, peaceful. Youngsters all around… it was a bit odd. Seeing how good some are, yet so gentle and laid back is to me the ultimate goal. Observing behaviours in session is humbling. (Well not always ! May be shight as well.)

After some years, I understand it’s quite a challenge to learn next to culturally aware people. They are so way ahead by the mere fact of having randomly heard the music for years, unlike me. I understood why many are so fast at learning: because they had already learned how to learn. Unlike me. It is quite daunting to observe 3 tunes getting in easy within 45 minutes for them, while I struggle on the first one, A phrase.

Learning how this music is learned. It is a key. How is it learned ? By ear and hart. Well, at least that is what I observed where I believe it springs out. So, because I wish to produce this music, I learn the way they do.

Some of my favourites tunes brings me the now recurrent surprise like "Hey I love so much this _new_ tune I learned. But… actually is it so new ?" Example: Petticoat loose I learned from Eamonn Cotter class in 2006. Instant love it was. 2 years after I rediscovered "The top of the Coom" album. Surprise, track #2 has the tune. I listened to that album back in… 1999. I just had forgotten that I knew "already" the tune. This pattern happened again 2 minutes ago on the same album : "Lucky in Love" track eleven. I thought I got that one from Brian in Dublin 2005. An other story: A young piper told me once he learned at once an entire given album with exceptional ease. Me: Wow! This album musician must strike a cord in you ? Him: no, it’s just this album. Me: how is that possible? Him: my mother told me she was listening to this album when she was pregnant with me. Me: gasp.

Could that be examples of what I feel is culture ? One don’t know he knows. One doesn’t understand or analyse or interpret symbolic notations. It is just totally different business. Just had a crawl on the net trying to find brain activity studies. Could not point at a definite document. Thread on thesession.org, general learning material… Yet, things tend to comfort intuition : not the same process involved between interpreting symbolic notation and producing "rot" learned, ear-structured material.

What I seek - painfully - slowly - you name it - is that inner acquaintance. That is why I never pick a score. Only ear. I wish I could also commit data about tunes: big names, where, when, who, origins… Yet, that is beyond me. On the other hand, I link tunes to the one who gave me the want to learn it, or who taught it to me, places, pictures. So I have my little personal inner story for many tunes.

I wish I could do things out of dots. But I think that will only be in a few extra many years of acquaintance. This why I stick to my choice: ear ear ear. :-)

G.

Re: By Heart

‘ear ‘ear

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Re: By Heart

So, is it ‘talk like a pirate’ time again? Where’s the rum?

Re: By Heart

I was a Suzuki method violinist from the age of five, and I used to feel slightly ashamed that I couldn’t read music very well. I was alway shunned by the AMEB (grade) violinists.
Now I see it as a kind of blessing.

I have the fall back of using sheet music if I have no one to learn a tune from, which is often. This is causing an addiction to my Mum’s huge tune books; prized possessions indeed.

Having a trained ear, I can memorise tunes by listening to myself playing them once from sheet music.
I suppose the pitfalls include a lack of expression and style. I try to look on the interent for recordings/ videos of the piece I want to learn, to lend a helping hand.

It’s a happy medium, but do you think it’s an effective way of learning?

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Re: By Heart

Welcome to TheSesh Darco…

I’d say, for starters, read through this thread, and chase up a few other discussions on similar matters here. But, my initial response, and it is too simple to be fair and thorough, meaning it requires more thought, consideration and comment ~ is no…

For starters, a quote lifted from above, your comment ~ "Having a trained ear, I can memorise tunes by listening to myself playing them once from sheet music."

Unless you are already well steeped in the tradition you’re choosing to emulate, meaning that if you haven’t had the fortune to be born to it or having given considerable time to experiencing it intimately ~ with your ears and, if possible, face-to-face, then listening to yourself playing dots off of paper isn’t likely to result in anything with much life and lift in it, for yourself or for any listener. Mind you, some folks do seem able to delude themselves. There are a few folks about here who ‘think’ they’re good and sound pretty awful, in my opinion… One’s own ears can, it seems, lie to us… Sometimes it takes repeat immersion to clear out that sense deadening wax build up…

Yes, the Internet has its riches, but everything here is filtered and compressed, including those of us here who attempt to give some element of the understanding we have to others, having had others who’ve generously shared their ways with it with us, having passed it on to us in the first place ~ ‘tradition’. Better would be CDs, and for a full understanding of the cut of it analog beats digital, meaning LPs. BUT ~ NOTHING beats live!!! Seek it out, however and wherever you can, even if it is just catching the occassional concert. See if there are sessions in your area. See if you can find a player whose way you like and chase up a class with them, or take your holiday as an immersion experience ~ doing workshops in your chosen instrument, even heading for Ireland for more than just the music… If you’re not too self-conscious, take in a ceili, learn a bit of dance.

The dots alone, and ourselves alone, we can’t do it, that isn’t ‘tradition’, not in any culture, at least not one that can live and breath and grow… Yes, one can get some joy out of toodling in a closet to themselves, but to make it live requires a community, however small. Join one! Get connected. The dots won’t do that for you, though they may give you some good basic understanding of structure. They are bones, lifeless bones, just the structure, minus the sinews and muscles, veins, arteries, organs, blood, and a pumping heart…

No, it’s not even a "happy medium", though it may give you some little joy. The greater joy is to be fully involved and to get personal with this music, to find its heart and experience the full emotion of it all with drive, lift and life ~ connecting to others and its history ~ tradition…

Best of luck ~ ‘c’

Re: By Heart

Something not unusual, speaking from experience, are people who have taken to the dots for guidance, and you meet them outside their own safe huddle with the dots, and suddenly they are surprised to find they can’t hold the tune together. What is worse, they will often blame someone else for that. "I play this perfectly well at home, no problems, but when I’m here you play it differently." They get put off if what they hear varies in the slightest from what they are familiar with, the unvarying dots they are dependant on. Trusting their sheet music and tune books they even think that the rest of us who play primarily from ear are somehow playing it wrong. One other thing missed in being dot bound is the ability to be flexible and to adapt, and within that on a wider point, to be able to feel the music, rather than mechanically typing it out dot by dot, or from memory of that fixed and bare single take…

Learn it as best you can with your ears, without the dots ~ by heart…

Re: By Heart

IF ~ you were nearly completely cut off from possibilities ~ consider making your own, starting your own little gathering to share the music, a session or slow session. Anything is better than doing it on your own… It is amazing what we can teach each other, and that sharing is at least one step better and away from dot dependance…

Folkin’ around ~

I’ve just caught your details ~

"After listening to some Celtic compilation CDs, given to my Mum by my Uncle, I was inspired to play folk. The day after Christmas last year, we jammed together and he agreed to give me some lessons. I’d like to lose my perfectionistic, classical roots. Not completely, but enough to get a grittier, folkier sound. Some of my school friends are classical-gone-folk musicians, which is unusual, coming from a performing arts high-school with a fairly strict classical ethos."

Brilliant! ~ Chase up those lessons, and playing more with others. Be wary of things ‘folk’, or using that too tag freely. There are all kinds of shades between ‘folk’ and ‘trad’, and then there’s what is for some a derogatory term ~ ‘folkies’… I known and know some lovely folkies… ;-)

Re: By Heart

I construct tunes, but don’t write them down very often. Some of them are a bit wierd and people show very little interest in learning them, which is fine - I still felt compelled to write them. However, one tune I did construct has really clicked with people and I have been asked for the dots several times.

This issue had raised its head several times and I was mean and said no I wouldn’t write it down, because it is not a difficult tune. However, since it was released into the wild several months ago, I have come across 2 paper copies (I have no objection to this). I am fascinated to see how people take it and alter it. In one version the dots were based on one recording of one session where I played it and already there were aspects of it set in stone which I hadn’t really intended. The other version was in a personal notation, which would not be transmitted to anyone else because it would not be understood by anyone else.

I’m sure that this happens a lot with this website. However, we really must all chill out and accept that it is ‘folk’ music and involves individual expression and interpretation. The double edge to this is that of course those folk who rely on dots will take the paper and use that to inform them rather than their ears, so that one hearing has become fossilised.

I love the idea of the Chinese Whispers effect, which is how we get those rich families of tunes which are all related to each other, so I’m looking forward to hearingthis tune come back at me in a session.

In case anyone comes across the tune in question it’s called ‘Barton Island’ and I’d be delighted to hear how it’s travelled so far - if it still goes by that name of course.

Re: By Heart

Yes, eiluned, a hardy welcome. Hoping to hear more.

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