For those that struggle with learning music by ear…

For those that struggle with learning music by ear…

First, don’t get discouraged. All skills take time, and learning how to play music by ear is one of the most rewarding skills you’ll learn.

The most important thing, of course, is training your ear. I’m not quite sure if "tone deafness" is something that a person can get past, but there are 3 skills that say you somewhat have a trained ear.

Staying on pitch
Noticing when you’re wrong
Correcting mistakes

The next most important thing is how well you know your instrument. (Example, It may take a couple of minutes to learn how to play the melody of a tune on piano, and maybe take a couple days to memorize it, if it’s a fresh tune, because i’ve played piano for 13 years. But for that same tune, if i memorized it in my head first, it would take me days to learn on fiddle, and weeks before my fingers memorized it, and months before i began playing it well.) It’s healthy to get to know the structure of your instrument. This would be learning the scales and modes.

The third most important thing would be how well you know the genre of music you’re trying to play(but how well you know your instrument could help make this less significant) Familiarity with Scales, Cadences, Motifs, Arpeggios, and Transitions all help when learning a specific genre by ear.

The fourth most important thing would be how well you know the tune you’re trying to learn. A memorized tune is easier to learn than a fresh one.

The first skill you want, is to be able to recognize key signatures. This way you know the positions you’ll be playing in. 1 note can tell you what the key signature is, the other 6 notes just confirm it.(this is harder with modes)

The next thing is recognizing melodic and harmonic patterns(harmonic patterns being less important when playing ITM.) The thing about ITM is that is has very very distinct patterns, and all of the patterns are melodic.

The things that influence the difficulty of learning a tune by ear are Position,(how familiar you are with the key it’s played in, and how difficult the key is for that instrument) Tempo, Simplicity of Patterns, and Consistency of patterns.

A faster tune is a lot harder to learn than a slower tune. The longer you have to listen to one note, the more time you have to find it on your instrument. One skill to work on here, is what i call the "One note at a time technique". This is applied when a pattern goes by too fast for you to notice the notes that are in the pattern. This is done by holding the first note you hear, in your head, and then matching it on your instrument. Then you learn the rest of the pattern in sequence. This is the most tedious and frustrating technique i’ve learned, but sometimes it’s the only way. The more familiar you get with melodic patterns, the less you have to apply this technique.

For simplicity and consistency of patterns, examples that i’ve learned from are:
Britches Full of Stitches and A Kerry Polka(Peg Ryan’s), having the easiest, most consistent pattern. The Burnt Old Man, is a little more difficult, but still not difficult in itself because it also has repetetive patterns. The Boys of Malin has consistent patterns but they are longer, making them more complicated, and slightly harder to memorize

The two most helpful skills to develop are, Perfect Pitch, and relative pitch. Learning by ear, in it’s simplest sense, is playing a matching game. Matching the hertz that you hear, to the hertz coming outof your instrument. When you have Perfect Pitch, you hear a pitch and instantly know what it is. The closer you get to Perfect Pitch, the better guesser you are, the less time you spend making and attempting to correct mistakes.

There are many many skills involved when learning music by ear, and most of them are things that happen in your head. (which is why you can’t learn how to play by ear when watching someone else learn by ear. Also why it’s hard to teach others how to learn by ear) But like most things, these skills take time to learn and master.

I hope this helps

Re: For those that struggle with learning music by ear…

"(which is why you can’t learn how to play by ear when watching someone else learn by ear. Also why it’s hard to teach others how to learn by ear) "

don’t tell that to all the suzuki teachers out there….

I don’t know the "modes." I’d rather know the tunes.

When you are saying "position" do you mean whether or not the 2nd finger (for example) is low or high? as opposed to the general understanding of "positions" as it applies to a string instrument? (like 1st position, 3rd, etc)

Re: For those that struggle with learning music by ear…

sorry, i meant to say, "You can’t learn how to play by ear by* watching someone else learn by ear"

When i say position, i mean key signature.

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never heard of that connection before: key signature and position.

and I’ve seen lots and lots of people learn tunes by ear and eyes… watching a fiddle player’s fingers. Happens all the time at jam sessions that I’ve been to.

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"never heard of that connection before: key signature and position."

Key signature, is how we’re taught "positions" on piano. Playing in "the key of G" is the same as playing in "First Position" on violin, because "First position" on violin is the same as "The key of G".

"and I’ve seen lots and lots of people learn tunes by ear and eyes… watching a fiddle player’s fingers. Happens all the time at jam sessions that I’ve been to."

When you watch someone else play, its different than listening to them play.

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Not pitch, but intervals. This is very important.

It doesn’t matter what key/mode the tune you are after is played in, what matters is the intervals.

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Intervals is very important, i was hoping i didn;t leave anything out, but i’m sure i did. These are only things that i’ve learned how to do personally. I’m not sure how many skills there are when learning something by ear, but i know for sure that i still have a lot to learn.

"It doesn’t matter what key/mode the tune you are after is played in, what matters is the intervals."

But don’t they say that on some instruments, tunes are really hard because of the position it’s in on the instrument?

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I don’t understand what this means:

"Key signature, is how we’re taught "positions" on piano. Playing in "the key of G" is the same as playing in "First Position" on violin, because "First position" on violin is the same as "The key of G".

Just out of curiosity, could you elaborate for me?

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On piano, the key of G is G,A,B,C,D,E,F#,G. And for fiddle first position is G(open string) A(1st finger) B(2nd finer) C(3rd finger) D(open string) E(1st finger) F#(2nd finger) G(3rd finger)

Maybe i’m wrong about the position on fiddle, but that’s what someone showed me.

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Most people can’t learn perfect pitch if they haven’t already got it. It is also not very useful.

There isn’t that big a difference between slow and fast tunes. Most of the time fast tunes are made up of simple patterns, and slow tunes may have unusual intervals that are hard to remember. Also, the number of notes per second in a slow tune is usually greater than in a fast one, particularly in ITM - think about it.

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You have the whole idea of "position" on the fiddle completely confused. Read a book or something.

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I say this humbly. I didn’t say that Tempo was important for a particular genre of music, i said that tempo influences the difficulty of a tune.

"Also, the number of notes per second in a slow tune is usually greater than in a fast one"

That’s because you can fit more notes in a measure when the tempo is slower.

But faster music is naturally harder to learn than slower music. Teach someone the notes in a slow air, and at the same time teach them the notes in a fast reel, by ear, and see which one they learn faster.

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And perfect pitch is perfectly useful, because if you know what a note is, you won’t have to waste time guessing what it is.

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And perfect pitch is very possible to develop, if you have the patience to train your ear to specific notes. I know because i’ve done it.

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I’ve just been reading a book that discusses perfect pitch as understood by the phychology/scientific community (Oliver Sacks’ ‘Musicophilia’). Apparently, only about 10% of pro musicians in the Western world have perfect pitch (different numbers in parts of the world where pitch carries more meaning in language), and it develops as a young child - as an adult, we’re simply not capable of developing it. No doubt it does have some uses, but it also has liabilities…in the session scene, migrating tuning ("pitch shimmer") seems likely to drive someone with perfect pitch crazy. It can also be detrimental in transposing…someone who’s simply good at playing by ear will have an advantage there.

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Yep, the concept of "position" on the violin is something you ought to read up on, or spend some time with a violinist learning about.

" "Also, the number of notes per second in a slow tune is usually greater than in a fast one"

That’s because you can fit more notes in a measure when the tempo is slower."

interesting take on that.

Re: For those that struggle with learning music by ear…

Fiddlelearner, you’ll get along much better if you stop theorising and start practicing.

Most people here already know how to learn tunes, because we’re not classical pianists.

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I was just trying to help those who didn’t know. And of course i need to practice. I’m a musician, i always need to practice lol.

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The problem is that you are trying to tell people who don’t know things that are not really correct.

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Well, i’m sorry, but it’s still important to know how to play your instrument when learning music by ear. But if you could for me, correct me where i’m wrong, so that when others look they will see the mistakes i made.

Re: For those that struggle with learning music by ear…

tried.

Re: For those that struggle with learning music by ear…

Basically the pitches become more & more familiar to your ear. Consider a tune with a certain root note & you probably recognize that note, whether you realize it or not. Many pentatonic songs have intervals which almost anyone can sing. So, sing the tunes. When you hear an articulation, such as a D crann, listen for the note being articulated. Eventually it all comes together.

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What Ben said! lol. The notes become more familiar to your ear.

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I disagree with a lot you have written in your post. I am also a beginner to the fiddle with a background in piano and reading music. Learning by ear (which I am now doing exclusively as I attempt to learn the fiddle) is a new thing for me and skill I am trying to develop.

Your reference to position on the fiddle being related to key signature is not accurate in my understanding. Not even in relation to piano in my experience. In piano, my experience with position is more in terms of chords and inverted chords and signifying where the root of the chord finds itself in the mix of things. If I played A Major and A Minor (which have a definite key signature difference) it doesn’t mean I would be playing different positions. First position in A Major will be the same as first position in A Minor — yet the key signatures are quite different.

That’s my understanding anyway, on the piano… On the fiddle it is something different all together yet I believe.

I think learning by ear is all about intervals. Less about key or notes. Heck, I don’t even know what notes I am playing half the time on the fiddle unless I really stop to think about it… which has the added benefit that I can start anywhere and still play the tune. Transposing is still the same intervals I have learned no matter where I start. And key signature is irrelevant - the single interval itself will have it’s own "signature" so to speak (major, minor, perfect or diminished/augmented, etc.) if you break it down and not associated to a specific key.

In fiddle I pretty much ignore thinking about note names or key signature. It’s been very different, but I am liking it quite well.

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Rather than theorizing about modes, positions, etc here’s a better idea. Immerse yourself in the music until you know the tune (and can hum it all the way through). Stick a recording of it in your car stereo, listen to it while you sleep, request someone to play it at your session… Whatever.

When you know it (by evidence of being able to hum it all the way through) translate it from your head to your fingers. After a while the head to fingers translation will be replaced by muscle memory and you’ll be playing on autopilot - you will have learned the tune. Whether or not you use the dots for this step is up to you.

PS there is no such thing as tone deafnes (except very extreme cases) it is an excuse that people use for not being able to play an instrument that they have not spent 20 years working at. People come up to me at gigs and say ‘oh I’d love tp play the fiddle but I’m tone deaf’ and I ask them if they have ever tried and they say no.

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yes, frauschmittle!

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Hmmm, well, sorry for so many mistakes. Maybe we could have Jeremy delete it 🙂 *thats his name right?*

Re: For those that struggle with learning music by ear…

Hmmm, well, i’m sorry for making so many mistakes. Maybe we should have Jeremy delete it. *Thats his name right?*

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Playing by ear is like meeting people. You come to know the tunes by how they sound, not by how you would describe them to someone who does not know them; not by analysis.

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No worries, my friend. Don’t take it personally. Heck, if we took everything posted on this forum personally no one would contribute! I have had a few posts I started end much differently than anticipated as well. 🙂
Keep playing and sharing! I like reading thoughts from other fiddle players and the excitement and progressing and learning more and more!

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Jerone, your advice isn’t bad but you really need to be more careful about terminology.
When you’re speaking of "perfect pitch", what you say is reasonable, but you’re talking about relative pitch. Perfect pitch is more of a pathological condition by most reports. Possibly useful as a carnnival trick, but no gift to a musician. Relative pitch is the ability to recall and project pitches - this is what you use to hear an interval and repeat it, or to hear a note and play it back at some interval (unison or octave for transcription, third or fifth for harmonizing). So practicing matching pitches is actually good advice (some games to play: match a pitch, match a sequence, match a pitch or a sequence at a delay of some number of seconds, play back at some specified interval) but when you call it "perfect pitch" you’re liable to confuse people.

Again, on "Position" - I can’t speak about the fiddle with any expertise, but in most stringed instruments, "position" denotes where the left hand is located on the neck. "Third position", I believe, would put the left index finger on the B flat on the bottom string, for example. This is obviously related to the keys you’ll play in. When I play mandolin in flat keys, I find third position very useful. However, to equate key signature with position is (as you’ve been told) incorrect.

Again, when you talk about "matching the hertz" - you mean "matching the pitch". It’s clear that you’re not familiar with the word. Don’t use words you don’t know, especially when you do know a perfectly good word for what you mean.

Terminology might not seem very important, and it isn’t if you’re just playing your instrument, but here you’re describing things in words. If you don’t use care to make sure the words you’re using mean the things you want to say, you’ll only cause more confusion.

There’s nothing wrong with trying to contribute something useful, and I hope you’ll continue to try to do that. The contributions of people closer to the beginning are more useful to the beginner than the contributions of people who have forgotten what it’s like to not know how that tune goes, or maybe never knew what it’s like to have no idea how to hear a tune.
But next time you have the notion to write something for beginners, go over it with a fine-toothed comb, and examine every word. If you’re not ABSOLUTELY sure what that you know EXACTLY what that word means, look it up. Don’t just read the definition, either. Pursue the concepts behind the definition, to make sure you’re not confusing description with definition (minor-key melodies are "sad" vs minor-key melodies feature a predominantly flattened third), or confusing concepts in other ways (ie, "hertz" instead of "pitch").

All that being said, keep it up. If people point out your mistakes, they’re just helping you get along with the business of learning a lot faster.

Re: For those that struggle with learning music by ear…

Positions on the violin:
using the G string as an example: when first finger (left index) is playing A, first position, when first finger is used to play B, 2nd position, when 1st finger is used to play C, 3rd position, when playing D with 1st finger, 4th position, etc.

I play all our tunes in 1st position.

Re: For those that struggle with learning music by ear…

""Third position", I believe, would put the left index finger on the B flat on the bottom string, for example."

…or I could be wrong. 🙂

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maybe on a mandolin
not the violin.

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oops, forgot the 🙂

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Yeah, that’s the ticket. It’s that way on a mandolin. 🙂

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because they have frets and Bflat is the third fret on the g string.

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or is it the space between the frets? 🙂 LOL

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‘Position’ on a stringed instrument is, as Jon says, where you put your hand on the neck - and its relevance is the notes available for any given position. On the fiddle, the bulk of Irish music can be played from first position (it is a relatively high pitched instrument and the range of notes that can be reached by the span of a hand is large). Third position places your index finger on the ‘C’ of the bottom string - it allows you to reach the high ‘d’ (not often needed - if at all) on the top string with your pinky.

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O.K. this is more to do with stringed instruments than learning by ear. Fair play.
I’m done.

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"O.K. this is more to do with stringed instruments than learning by ear. Fair play.
I’m done."

Perhaps it is because that aspect (eg position) can be relatively easy to put into words. Playing by ear is not so easy to put into words. Sure, being able to hear and identify intervals is a way forward, but that is the language of theory (I was playing by ear long before I knew what an interval was - an interval for me was when you got your tea and sandwiches).
Learn to diddle the tune and transfer the diddle back to the instrument might be another way forward without being conscious of intervals (until your belly rumbles).

Re: For those that struggle with learning music by ear…

Thanks Jon. Next time i’ll be sure to be extra careful. I don’t want to teach people things that aren’t true :/ That’s called making a negative contribution… The one thing that i don’t like about myself is that my knowledge is really spotty :( I’m not sure how i should go by filling in the holes in: Terminology, History, Instruments, many other :(. I’ll focus more on learning than on teaching. And i’ll also work on NOT talking about things that i don’t know much about.

Re: For those that struggle with learning music by ear…

"And i’ll also work on NOT talking about things that i don’t know much about. "

Asking is a good trick there. Research is another.

Learning music by ear…

Weejie, I play by ear through listening to music; words & descriptions aren’t my primary source.

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Re: For those that struggle with learning music by ear…

If I may backtrack a bit in the conversation, I think Jerone was getting at a valuable concept that’s rarely articulated when he referred to "position", which others have translated to "key signature."

Once you know the key signature of a tune…whether you figure it out yourself, ask someone, look it up here, etc….you can mentally eliminate the notes that AREN’T in the key signature from your fretboard, keyboard, etc. That gives you a smaller set of potential notes to play while working out a tune. Of course you’ll run into exceptions with the occasional accidental, but by and large, I find this mental sorting of keys (on piano or concertina in my case) into valid possibilities and invalid non-possibilities to ease things along mightily when learning by ear.

In looking for a word to fit that concept, I can understand landing on the term "position" - to my knowledge, there isn’t a concise term for it.

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That’s reasonable, dsmootz. However, I would say you’re better off not eliminating notes from your mental fingerboard based on your preconceptions of how the tune ought to go.
There’s a bit of a history of that in transcriptions of this music, and it’s not always pretty.

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The mathematicians are restless…

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Like playing a diatonic instrument?

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That’s back to dsmootz.

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Re: For those that struggle with learning music by ear…

@Jon - I agree that it’s certainly a "more of a guideline than rule" situation…on the whole, it’s a mental tool that I feel has expedited my learning process significantly more often than it has hindered it. Your mileage may vary.

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@Ben - Yes, and I happen to learn ITM nearly exclusively on a keyless flute ;) This is something I’m only familiar with from picking out rock and pop stuff on a synth keyboard.

Re: For those that struggle with learning music by ear…

Keep a whistle in the fiddle case, sing every new tune as soon as you hear one, & know your instrument ….

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"The first skill you want, is to be able to recognize key signatures. This way you know the positions you’ll be playing in. 1 note can tell you what the key signature is, the other 6 notes just confirm it.(this is harder with modes)"

Well this would be a good thing in theory except most of the fiddlers I know who learn by ear have NO idea what the key signature is of what they are playing. Or they really have to think about it if you ask them. I mean they could tell you if there were some sharps or flats but that’s about it.

I’ve always been a little vague on key signatures as a fiddle player (is it minor/major/modal?) and since I started playing guitar I realize this is very common among fiddlers. My guitar teacher made some comment to me one time about someone (a very good fiddler) he was playing with who didn’t know the key signature of the tune they were going into and I laughed and said "haven’t you noticed most of us don’t?!" Even Kevin sometimes is like "yeah whatever key that is" LOL

It just seems like a very secondary skill for learning by ear to me….yes it will make you better musician and better able to talk to those chord people (!) who are always blathering on about the key…but frankly all I need is the starting note and my ears and off we go….

But then I was a Suzuki kid and learned to read music "late" (11). And I teach Suzuki kids and adults and I pretty much take it for granted that everyone CAN learn by ear if they are patient enough. So far everyone I’ve said "okay start on D and play Happy Birthday - take as much time as you need" has been able to figure it out……(I mean assuming they have learned the basics of how to play notes on their instrument)

🙂

I just didn’t want you (or others) to think you have to have X amount of music theory understood before you can play by ear. You just need your ears and the patience to try to match the notes you are hearing….you don’t really need to know what the key is or anything.

Re: For those that struggle with learning music by ear…

well, music theory isn’t really important at all when learning by ear. But knowing how a scale sounds helps. Thats what i was getting at when i said "recognizing" a key signature. And when i say "recognize a key signature" i’m saying "be familiar with the patterns that are there, so when you hear them, you’ll be close to sure of where the music is, and isn’t going."

Re: For those that struggle with learning music by ear…

dsmootz summed up what i was trying to say pretty well 🙂

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Jerone, a brilliant, world-famous, highly respected classical musician (a pianist, composer, and conductor) once told me: "Knowing answers is over-rated. The secret to getting on—in music, in life—is to ask really good questions."

Some people think of this as "beginner’s mind." No matter how much you learn, it can help a lot to not relinquish your humility and curiosity.

Some of us old hands here tend to forget this, myself as guilty as anyone. Don’t be in a hurry to join that shadowy, dubious circle.

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I’m sorry, but i’m not sure i understand what you’re saying. Are you telling me that i shouldn’t be too proud to ask questions?

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I’m suggesting that us humans—all of us—tend to spout what we know and then defend it.

But we learn more by asking questions and listening.

That’s all. Back to your regularly scheduled programming.

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Ooooh, ok i get it now 🙂 Yea, i was thinking about how we can be "sincerely wrong". Honestly believing something that isn’t true. It’s lame, but it happens. So i try to keep an open mind, and understand that i don’t know everything. Cause i’m too young, the universe is too big, and in music there is too much to learn for anyone to know everything.

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What Weejie and thejigisup are saying is the approach that is working for me. But I suspect that when fiddlearner is an expert all this writing stuff out - and getting it corrected - may help make him a good teacher.

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In relation to this, which was said above:

‘Once you know the key signature of a tune…whether you figure it out yourself, ask someone, look it up here, etc….you can mentally eliminate the notes that AREN’T in the key signature from your fretboard, keyboard, etc. That gives you a smaller set of potential notes to play while working out a tune. Of course you’ll run into exceptions with the occasional accidental, but by and large, I find this mental sorting of keys (on piano or concertina in my case) into valid possibilities and invalid non-possibilities to ease things along mightily when learning by ear.’

I can only say it won’t get you very far when learning the fiddle by listening to, for example, Bobby Casey or Padraig O Keeffe or any amount of other fiddlers.

I think it will serve you well when you open your ears to the music of people who have a different take on intonation and pre-conceived ideas of scales.

The approach described may well work for push button instruments like the concertina and the piano, on the fiddle (and to an extend flute, whistle or pipes) a slightly less mechanical approach may expand your horizons.

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That idea of mapping out the points on the fingerboard you’ll be stopping for a given scale probably would work for a lot of people on the fiddle. It’s been the standard way to learn the oud for more than a thousand years, and that’s in a far more microtonal idiom than ITM.

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Thanks Fiddlelearner. This is timely for me. I’ve learned from notation, and learned by listening until a tune was in my head before going to the notation, but this summer I intend to skip the notation part altogether.
I find it interesting how people learn in different ways. How we learn is deeply personal. Some would like to think that the way they learned is the only proper path. I’m still searching for what works for me. I think the arguments for learning ITM completely by ear and hiring someone for lessons are compelling and will help me gain some new skills.
I’ll have to come back in the fall and share my experience.
Thanks for your post.

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I’m so sorry! I left out one of the Best things i’ve learned how to do! The skill i probably use the most when dealing with music that has fast melodies, is slowing down the music in my head. Mentally changing the tempo of a piece of music. This helps a lot with Arpeggios and Scales! I didn’t think about until a couple of minutes ago while i was practicing. And also, another great thing to do when learning from recorded music, is after you try playing along, stop the music. Now slowly work out the pieces you’ve caught and learned. This way, you can work at your own pace. This is especially helpful with tunes you are familiar with.

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http://www.ronimusic.com/

Slow down without changing pitch, Take a "phrase" at a time etc.

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That looks interesting… But it seems to me that all i would be teaching myself how to do, is to learn slower music by ear. There’s no doubt that the technology works, but i don’t think it’s healthy for our development as skilled musicians. This technology looks like it would contribute to our laziness as musicians. But maybe it would help me hear the "lilt" a little better in reels if i slowed them down… Then again, wouldn’t listening to Hornpipes and slow Jigs more naturally help me hear "lilt" better also? *Back to the program. I call it the easy way out. I would’ve used it about 5-6 years ago.

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Many people must have learned a tune by playing it bit by bit from a cassette recorder - or record player (cause of many a scratch). Surely the "easy way out" is helpful to those who "struggle with learning"?

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Learning "bit by bit" is waaaaaaay different than using technology to slow down a recording. Did they slow down those cassettes and records when learning the recordings? Or did they learn them up to speed?

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"Learning "bit by bit" is waaaaaaay different than using technology to slow down a recording"

It’s using technology to make it easier.

I mind a story about Peerie Willie Johnson, the guitarist (maybe true). Apparently, he was struggling (in his earlier years) to learn a particular tune from a record, and mentioned this to his workmates. When he finally got it, he invited his workmates to listen to his efforts. They were impressed, but pointed out that he had been playing the record at a higher speed than intended.

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‘Did they slow down those cassettes and records when learning the recordings?’

There are stories galore of people learning tunes from 78 rpms by Killoran or Coleman, slowing them down with their fingers to hear phrases they couldn’t catch.

Paddy Canny could talk entertainingly how he and P Joe Hayes used to do that while working out tunes from the latest records they got their hands on. And I don’t think either would classify as ‘lazy’ musicians.

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"Paddy Canny could talk entertainingly how he and P Joe Hayes used to do that while working out tunes from the latest records they got their hands on. And I don’t think either would classify as ‘lazy’ musicians." Prof

Exactly. Do what it takes to get the job done!

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Slow down software is brilliant! Mind Ive only just started using it, call me slow! 😎 It really resembles how I was originally taught; slowly!
Train your ear on slow stuff and after time the fast stuff is much easier.
I Think its an excellent resource, wish I had it when I was starting out! Jeez , the times I sat rewinding play , rewinding play , rewinding play , rewinding play , rewinding play AAAgh .

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"Train your ear on slow stuff and after time the fast stuff is much easier" . That works for me . Not as good as being shown but I would be embarrased to ask a better player to explain something I could work out myself from a recording.

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"Not as good as being shown but I would be embarrased to ask a better player to explain something I could work out myself from a recording." David50

Sometimes it’s only when I ask or otherwise articulate a question that the penny drops for me. Strange but true.

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Same here, but having gone some way down the road on my own I feel I am getting more out of the exchange and being more respectful of the expert’s time.

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Come to think of it, the benefit of articulating things is why I think fiddlelearner’s ‘synthesese’ shouldn’t’ be knocked (and anyway he knows a lot more about some stuff than I ever will).

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Yeah, but I don’t reckon one should be giving advice to people about how to learn Irish tunes by ear until one is a bit further down the road and has a bit more perspective on it. Then you will (hopefully) have a better grasp of terminology and more of a sense of what worked and what didn’t. I think it’s fine to write posts along the lines of, "This is what I’m doing and this is my experience of it," but I wouldn’t frame it as *advice* to anyone until I really knew what I was talking about.

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And for the record, slow-downer software is great. Don’t knock it. It is important to be able to pick up tunes at speed but nothing wrong with using slow-downer to help you out.

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yep. What SS said…

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I don’t think there’s not much chance of inexpert advice slipping through the net on the yellow board.

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I got the tip for some slow down software off some people who, if the consensus of some of the more vocal members of this board are to be believed, should know better.

Whatever it takes, life is short.

I think the more playing along you do the better you get at learning by ear. Maybe you’ll have to keep it down a bit during the process when playing with others but instrument in hand is the way ahead.

Knowing the scales & arpeggios also helps, immeasurably.

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Sorry about the double negative.


🙂

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LOL david,

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Slow down software is handy, sure, but in this music it’s really important—assuming you want to fit in at a high level—to learn to hear accurately at normal tempos. If slow down software helps you learn how to do that, great. But at some point, you’ll also have to go with the flow at more typical speeds. Things like rolls and crans sound different at speed than slowed down, and you’ll want your ear attuned to that. Plus, your brain has to process more quickly to understand what it’s hearing at speed. All it takes is practice—doing it until it’s familiar and easy.

Re: "Life is short." Yes. All the more reason to skip the slow-downer approach and go straight to honing your abilities at tempo. But that’s just my own spin on it. Horses for courses.

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If I’d not used slow down software, I’d probably know about three tunes by now.

It was like having the Small Circle Session whenever I turned on my computer. 🙂 While they were far better craic than my laptop, they only met once a week in CO and there was nothing like that in places I moved to after. I wouldn’t use slow-down software 100% of the time, but it helps you along the way, especially if you’re not around people who can slow down the tunes live for you and show you how to play them.

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I used the slow-downer recently to learn Tommy Pott’s version of the Liffey Banks - it’s crazy to hear what his rolls are like at half speed LOL!

I don’t often use the slow-downer but it’s nice to have - it’s like having someone to learn from - when you learn a tune off someone, especially if it’s complicated or "notey" you can just ask them to play it a bit slower (or just one section slower) - what’s the difference here? And like others said, there are lots of instances of the older guys slowing down their LPS or 78s to hear what was going on….

I’m not into macho tune learning -whatever gets the job done. I learn every way available - from osmosis at sessions, from piecing it together later from memory, from one-on-one with others, from recordings (professional or not) at speed or slowed down, from the dots (usually marked up from a recording I use as a reference) and from my own transcriptions of recordings.

I just don’t think a big deal needs to be made about how it gets in there as long as it gets in there! LOL

JMO

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SS, there’s another way. Learn to learn the tunes at speed. We all have brains that can slow a tune down once we know it. You listen to a tune at speed until you can lilt it. Then you lilt it slowly in your head. For any spots with gaps, you go back and listen to your original source at speed until you fill in the gaps. Get it in your head, and then you find the tune on your instrument.

That’s how I learned this music. It’s not easy at first, but the ear training you get from it is mighty, powerful, essential stuff.

I’d argue that it’s better to own three tunes learned this way than to have 300 tunes and still be dependent on slow-downer software. But I’m a cranky old stick in the mud traditionalist. 😉

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"Things like rolls and crans sound different at speed than slowed down, and you’ll want your ear attuned to that.". The puzzling thing is deciding if they sound different in ways I can’t hear in addition to ways I can hear. Comparing Matt Molloy’s fast rolls slowed down with his slow rolls does not help resolve the puzzle.

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But it is traditional to learn tunes slowly.

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FWIW, I’m just passing on an approach that was espoused by players well-steeped in the music and the tradition. It’s how they taught me, and they explicitly voiced expectations of learning this way.

One of the downsides of group workshops is that the tendency is to teach tunes super slow, phrase by phrase, instead of at tempo and played with fluid (not static) phrasing and variations.

When I first listened to this music, I couldn’t understand half of what was going on in it. But I didn’t have access to any way to slow it down. So I just listened long and hard. Within a few years I was able to suss out all the articulations on fiddle *and* developed a skill (that wasn’t there before) of being able to pick up tunes at tempo.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again—being able to respond musically at tempo to what the musicians around you are playing (in a session, say), is an essential skill if you want to play this music well, with others. It’s what makes for a truly good session, and it’s what good musicians look for in other musicians. If you can’t do this, you’re missing 98% of the crack. So it’s something to shoot for. Relying on slow down software for too long won’t get you there.

I think far too often we underestimate our abilities.

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ItslikegoingtoFrancewithschoolboyfrenchandspendingse
veralsecondsgoingovereachphraseonehearsinonesheadtowo
rkoutwhereonewordstartsandthenextbeginsthengoingba
ckandparsingit.
Fine if one can do it (I suppose) but practice at low speed helps.

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"But it is traditional to learn tunes slowly."

Not in all corners. Some of the old guard would give you tunes, but only if you could pick them up on the fly.

And it’s also a big part of the tradition to learn tunes at dances, ceilis, and house sessions, carry them home in your head, and then work them out the next day. No one was slowing the tunes down or breaking them into phrases for that. And the writing we have on the subject is full of such stories (see Seamus Ennis’ field journals and the Northern Fiddler interviews for prime examples).

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David, you’ve actually made my point. The quickest way to fluency in a foreign language is to immerse yourself among native speakers. Five years of plodding French classes won’t do what a month in France can, if you open your ears.

"Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re probably right."

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Yes, but some of us are in the situation TSS descibes in her last post.

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Folks have differing abilities and inclinations, not to mention different learning styles. It’s important to find what works for you and what you feel comfortable with and to follow that course diligently. That’s the bottom line.

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I guess I feel confident "digging my heels in" on the slow downer business because of things like what the Prof said above. It really doesn’t take a lot of reading or listening to interviews to hear stories of the the equivalent being done by players who are respected enough to get inverviewed.

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Come to think of it though, I now use the software more for start-stop-repeat and full speed.

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David, when I first learned by ear at tempo, I lived 30 miles from the next human being, and it was *a lot* farther than that to anyone who knew anything about jigs and reels.

Yes, some of the old guard talk about slowing down records. Some also talk about picking up tunes at cross-road dances. Sometimes it’s the same player describing two different ways to learn tunes.


To be clear, I’m not saying its wrong to use slow down tools, or that you should never do that.

What I *am* saying is that to become truly adept at this music, played with others, you have to eventually develop the ability to listen, play, and respond musically at tempo. All the best players will tell you that (James Kelly just did, in a workshop here a couple months ago).

leoj, the notion that everyone has their own learning style only applies if you don’t care about the musical norms of the genre. If all you want to do is make your own music, then by all means follow your own learning style and inclinations.

But if you want to fit in with other traditional Irish musicians, you’ll need to understand at least some of what they understand, which includes a fairly narrow range of notions about how best to learn this music.

I’ve taught workshops and classes where people are so intent on their own learning style and their own (uninformed) inclinations that they lose any benefit of attending the class. I’ve seen bluegrassers so hung up on the back beat that they refuse to believe it when I point out downbeats being emphasized in Irish reels. I’ve seen classically trained musicians get up and leave when they find out there’s no sheet music—"But I’m a visual learner," one said once at a fiddle camp. Well, sorry, take up knitting then. Or open your mind to the possibility that your ears aren’t as cloth-like as you imagine.

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Will is on his high horse again!
In top form!

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"Come to think of it though, I now use the software more for start-stop-repeat and full speed."

Likewise. The software allows you to repeat sections at a time at full tempo. Nothing wrong with that. It’s how a lot of people get a tune into their head. Even without recordings. Being immersed in live music is the ideal, but it’s not easy to pick up every tune on its first hearing, and its by repetition that I would suggest that a large percentage of people learn - and they are likely picking out sections at a time.
Slowing down is handy when you find a particularly tricky passage and you are not sure exactly what is being played.

Sure, there are people who can learn a tune complete with articulation as they heard it played, and on the first hearing. That comes more easily with experience, but some (and more than would like to admit) never fully attain that skill.

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I am not resisting your main points Will. It was fiddlelearner’s comments about slow downers that made me want to speak up for them. I wonder, is it mainly about learning styles or about people starting a journey from different places and having to deal "Well now, I wouldn’t start from here" situations ?

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leoj, you can read it that way if it makes you feel all smug and superior. Cheers.

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… having to deal with "Well now…"

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Fintan Vallely describes three ages of music. It seems to me Irish traditional music, as it is discussed on these pages, has been shaped by the 3rd age; which is relatively young.

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Aye, what David said. I also like it for its ability to repeat sections, as iTunes is a bit useless at that.

I’d love to be able to hear a tune once and hold it in my head so I could work out the bits hours later, but I just can’t be bothered developing that particular skill, to be honest, especially as I suffer from perpetual spaciness and forget all kinds of things as a matter of course anyway. Using slow downer when I feel like it does the job and I can also respond to what other musicians do on the fly in sessions. Amazing.

If you achieve a level of mediocrity that you’re comfortable with and doesn’t annoy the people around you, I see no reason why you shouldn’t be content with that.

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Not sure I follow you. Whilst reading this discussion I have been listening to a tape of a kitchen session from a few years ago, searching for a tune. One thing that went past was three friends trying to collate their collective memories of tune they had heard once only at a session a few days earlier. I know they got it sorted out because I later learned it from a tape of the earlier session.

So am I in the third age ? Which age where they in ?

(its a shame about the bodhran on those tapes ….)

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That was to Ben.

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Sure, David, we’re just discussing this stuff, not arguing over it. A few people here seem to have nothing better to do than inflate other’s opinions into dogma so they can then attack it. But it’s clear you’re not among them.

All I was saying is that there’s a potential downside when people assume that they can soak up a new area of knowledge and skill—such as a whole musical tradition that is unfamiliar to them—yet cling to their old familiar "learning styles" and personal inclinations.

That sort of thing happens a lot. We see it in the sorts of half-arsed attempts at playing this music that I featured in the thread a few weeks back with those less-than-stellar YouTube clips. People who think they’re playing traditional Irish music who’ve yet to actually hear traditional Irish music, with all it’s subtleties and distinctive qualities, in their own heads.

Can we really learn something new if we set our course based on our most familiar skills, traits, inclinations, and pre-conceptions? I doubt it. That’s not been my experience. I’d say we don’t really learn something new until that new idea has changed something in our prior inclinations and pre-conceptions.

Just my sense of it, but I’m guessing that we learn sooner and more deeply when we let don’t cling too tight to the same old stories we’ve told ourselves about what we think we already know.

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In a nutshell the three ages are the oral tradition, which was impacted as musical notation (2nd age) gained momentum, & the third stage which emerged with sound recording.

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Silver Spear, that’s one of the funniest and saddest posts I’ve read on here.

"I’d love to be able to hear a tune once and hold it in my head so I could work out the bits hours later, but I just can’t be bothered developing that particular skill, to be honest, especially as I suffer from perpetual spaciness and forget all kinds of things as a matter of course anyway."

Well that’s one surefire, guaranteed way to remain spacey and forgetful the rest of your life. LOL, "I yam what I yam. Can’t be bothered climbing onto a learning curve—no, I’ll just stay flatlined on the skills I *do* have." 🙂

When you run into a stumbling block, it’s up to you and you alone whether to trip and fall over it the third time, or to reconsider and decide to use it as a stepping stone to the next level.

"If you achieve a level of mediocrity that you’re comfortable with and doesn’t annoy the people around you, I see no reason why you shouldn’t be content with that."

Reminds me of: "Only the mediocre are always at their best" (Jean Giraudoux).

Why on earth did you choose uilleann pipes?! 😲

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So Ben, is it the content or the process ? Does it matter how the person who played the tune at the first session got the tune ?

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Ben, recording technology has shaped nearly every music on the planet. It has its upsides. But like writing and printing before it, this technology dramatically lowers our expectations of our own abilities to store and recall. As those expectations sink, we quit using what were once "normal" well-oiled memory skills and capacities.

I think that’s a shame, but I’m just a cranky old stick in the mud traditionalist in a saddle on a tall jackass….

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David, I think it *does* matter, mostly because music learned from machines and mp3s doesn’t have all the same rich affiliations and associations as does music learned from a living, breathing person who learned it from a living, breathing person.

Myself, the Prof. and others here have frequently pointed to a richness and wildness in the playing of previous generations that now seems largely (though not completely) missing from today’s players. I can’t help but wonder if learning reams of tunes from recordings tends to lead people to sound more like mp3 players themselves, rather than human beans.

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7 times 8 ? Quick now !

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Heh, see that’s a good example of the sort of baggage we fill our heads with these days.

People do still use their memories, but it’s to stuff in lorry loads of twitters and tweets and sound bytes from the television. Then it dribbles back out the next day around the water cooler at work.
Meh.

I’d rather have a headful of good tunes.

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The other point is that there are other things I would rather be doing, really, than working on that particular skill. I can pick up tunes at speed after I’ve heard them a squillion times. I’m happy with that,

I really don’t understand this attitude that you can be passionate about something without wanting to do whatever that is at its highest levels. To me, what you said sounds just as ridiculous as, "That’s sad you want to ride dressage, but don’t want to get to Grand Prix," or "That’s sad that you rock climb but don’t ever think you’ll be able to climb the Nose of El Capitan." Really? Sad? Is it? I don’t see anything sad in enjoying a nice day out on a well-trained horse, a nice climb on a low grade ridge, or some decent — but not gonna be the next Tommy Peoples — tunes with your pals.

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Sorry, *can’t be passionate…. That will make more sense.

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Nowadays, instead of memorizing multiplication tables, people store the locations of the apps on three different devices that can do the math for them….

You don’t have to remember the formula for converting fahrenheit to celsius, just bookmark http://www.wbuf.noaa.gov/tempfc.htm

😀


More to the point: I’d rather have and play tunes that connect me to the *people* I learned them from, and the stories they told about learning them from someone else. Than to have a headful of hours spent learning tunes from a machine. We get to choose what sorts of memories we make for ourselves.

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"But like writing and printing before it, this technology dramatically lowers our expectations of our own abilities to store and recall. As those expectations sink, we quit using what were once "normal" well-oiled memory skills and capacities."

This brings back to me a passage from a book by Tomás Ó Canainn (Traditional Music in Ireland) in which he quotes from John Connors, a neighbour of John Keenan and his son Paddy, and how one of the finest pipers today attained such "well-oiled memory skills and capacities" John Keenan was said to be "a hard taskmaster":

‘By God, I’m telling you Paddy learned the hard way. He got Paddy up in this room in the house and for three solid hours that chap had to get on there and if he made a mistake at all - a slap on the lug. It was beaten into him and that’s how he has it today. It was beaten into him. If he made a mistake: "Quit!" A slap across the face. "Quit! You’re not to make a mistake there. I’ll put out this light: You’ll get no light for an hour. I’ll go down to the kitchen and if I hear a mistake I’ll come up and I’ll do this with you and I’ll do that with you." He had to learn the hard way.’

I think I prefer the software, thanks.

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Wouldn’t we all, but not everyone has access to players willing and able to teach. At certain times in our lives we do, and that’s great, but then sometimes you live in a place where you don’t and you make do.

Consider the following: I was living in a place with loads of great Irish trad players. There was one piper in particular whose playing I really admired, and I asked him at one point if he was up for sitting down someday and showing me a few tunes. He answered, "Well, if you already have the basics — rolls, crans, triplets, and so on — then there’s not much point in me showing you stuff."

I learned a lot of tunes from recordings that year.

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SS, first off, I never said this was about learning a tune from ONE listening. I don’t know where that crept into the conversation. Not from me.

And more importantly, I never said anything about doing this at the highest level. Surely there’s some room between mediocrity and Tommy Peoples. 😉

It’s not about trying to be the best. But I hope it’s also not about playing mediocre music, and not putting at least some effort into getting better as the days and years go by.

Really, if that’s what you’re after, why not stick with that plastic recorder they gave us all in second grade?

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Well, I think anyone on this board who knows me even sort of well can attest that I don’t not put effort into the music.

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Weejie, really? You want to posit that our choices are software or sadists?

SS, that piper either didn’t want to spend his time teaching, or he would’ve made a lousy mentor anyway. There’s more to the music than the twiddly bits, eh?

Hmph. Too much b&w either/or thinking here. Time to take my high horse for a ride….

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Modern media has given us an awareness of the range of styles. I may not especially want learn tunes in the style of those nearest to me. The affilations and associations remain but if they can’t be heard in the tunes they are ancilliary.

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Yeah, Will. The point is, there are quite a lot of musicians who don’t want to spend their time teaching or mentoring.

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I’m not being black and white. I’m just saying that while learning tunes from real people is fantastic, it’s not always practical. At the end of the day you mold the tune into your style anyway, or adapt it to your fellow players.

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What I mean is I get one thing from playing irish tunes with people who play for morris and another from recordings of Seamus Ennis.

And unlike some climbers I knew, I am still around.

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Yes, and if I want to learn things from the playing of Ennis, my choices are to find someone around here who plays just like him (which is nobody), hold a seance, or learn from a recording.

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I think it’s important to remember the converse of:
"there’s more to such and such than such and such".

And that is:
"there’s no more to such and such than the sum of its parts".

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I’m way too chicken to get to a standard where I could climb El Cap. Call it a "stumbling block" if you must. 🙂

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"Weejie, really? You want to posit that our choices are software or sadists?"

No. I’m saying that it is not all this ‘learning to hear what is going on around you’ malarkey that has made some of the great players of Irish music. The "either/or" has come from you. Using modern software that effectively does what ‘putting your thumb on a 78’ or lifting the needle and repositioning it at the start of a passage again has its uses. Of course we should reach for the goal of being able to pick up tunes more readily without having to resort to recordings, but it doesn’t make the method something to frown upon.
As for sounding like mp3 players, there may be a lot wanting in compressed files, but 78s weren’t exactly high fidelity, and there aren’t too many people sounding like 78 records - or maybe there are…..

There will be many methods and processes that the great masters of this form of music adopted to reach that level. Paddy Keenan’s experiences included.

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I’d quite like to sound like a wax cylinder. Way more character than a 78 or an Mp3.

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"I’d quite like to sound like a wax cylinder. Way more character than a 78 or an Mp3."

My GP pulled out a fairly large wax cylinder from my ear a few weeks back. I didn’t need the slowdown software for a while after that.

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Did it have Dinny Delaney tunes on it?

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"Did it have Dinny Delaney tunes on it?"

Unfortunately, no. Just some indecipherable Doric blethering, a speech by Nick Clegg and a reminder to buy some washing powder whilst I was at the Co-op.

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That’s a shame. Unless it somehow got melted and mashed together so you ended up with Nick Clegg blethering indecipherably in Doric about washing powder.

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He’d make more sense that way, at least.

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Yeah, I thought it would be a huge improvement over his usual twaddle.

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Now that the cylinder is away, I can let his twaddle go in one ear and out the other, just like in the old days.

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Here’s the link with my usual disclaimer that not all Google Book links return the same results depending on location. (sorry about the single negative)
The companion to Irish traditional music
By Fintan Vallely p. 395-6
Three Ages of Music, The (Andrew Robinson)
http://books.google.com/books?id=_xN1VS6sWsEC&pg=PA395&lpg=PA395&dq

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‘By God, I’m telling you Paddy learned the hard way. He got Paddy up in this room in the house and for three solid hours that chap had to get on there and if he made a mistake at all - a slap on the lug. It was beaten into him and that’s how he has it today. It was beaten into him. If he made a mistake: "Quit!" A slap across the face. "Quit! You’re not to make a mistake there. I’ll put out this light: You’ll get no light for an hour. I’ll go down to the kitchen and if I hear a mistake I’ll come up and I’ll do this with you and I’ll do that with you." He had to learn the hard way.’

Great description, very vivid. John Carty also recounted how his father’s bow would "fly" from time to time (Whack!) during his lessons. So, he found a different teacher! I guess you could call that a "life lesson."

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http://www.rte.ie/tv/thefullset/ep1.html
Liam O’Flynn
"You’re after something in the tune, and, at the end of the day, you are just the servant of the music."

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If you recognize that link as the Full Set episode with Paddy Glackin & Liam O’Flynn you might want to flex your skills at musical recall & play some of the tunes they played before going straight to the video. ;)

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Why would the use of slow downer software mean that you wouldn’t also be learning simpler tunes at full speed when the chance presents it’s self?

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I really think learning by ear at sessions is an advanced skill. I’ve been playing for several years and only now am beginning to pick up tunes by ear at sessions. I couldn’t have gotten to this point without:

1. Facility with the instrument – ability to play in various keys, to throw in ornaments with ease, to have a good idea of which notes are being played (I don’t have perfect pitch, but I can recognize a D or high B just from the sound of it), etc.

2. A decent-sized repertoire of tunes – essential for recognizing note patterns, keys, general shape/feeling of certain tunes, etc.

3. Ability to hear the instrument in a session – loud sessions where you can’t hear what you’re playing make it impossible to mimic what you’re hearing as it’s being played

4. Good players around – the most important thing of all, IMO. The tunes have to be played well and clearly, with good rhythm and phrasing, so that they’re easy to follow. I also think normal session speed is important, especially as a fiddler, because it makes a huge difference with bowing choices.

I think it takes time for all these things to fall into place. Classical players may have knowledge of their instruments, but they still have to make the switch from sheet music, and learn the repertoire. Pure beginners have enough trouble learning coordination. As for those who don’t have a good session available, I think it would be a LOT harder to do – I don’t think I could have done this by playing along to recordings.

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"Why would the use of slow downer software mean that you wouldn’t also be learning simpler tunes at full speed when the chance presents it’s self?"

Good question.

You might be surprised by how many people would rather turn on their mp3 recorder so they can pop the recording into their hard drive at home and open it in Audacity or Amazing Slow Downer or Windows Media Player and move the "play speed" slider down to half before they feel within their comfort zone enough to try sussing out the tune.

Sad but true, I’ve seen people do this at workshops with a flesh-and-blood musician standing right in front of them teaching the tune, slowed down, phrase by phrase. Some people will spend those 50 minutes babysitting their mp3 recorder rather than learn directly from the human in front of them. Or pretend to learn the tune, and at the end say, "I got a little of the first part, but I’ll wait till I get home to learn the rest."


Want to improve your learning-by-ear abilities? No time like the here and now.

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First, for anyone that doesn’t know, not all of my posts are directly about ITM. I don’t know enough about it. Most of the things i say here come from what i’ve already learned*been taught*

Ok this is my problem with slow down technology. Even though it can be very useful, i also feel that it can be very dangerous, maybe even crippling. And about the "lazy" comment, i just think that, if we don’t use our technology wisely, we have the chance at becoming lazy. Examples…

The "Transpose" function on keyboards. Sure it’s useful when you have to accompany someone on the spot, and they are singing a song you know, but in a different key. But what if you become TOO dependent of this? You never teach yourself how to learn in a different key. You take the easy way out by transposing everything. So what happens when your keyboard is replaced with a piano?[insert every other scenario here] Now you have to learn how to play in every other key any. *Plus because of the way piano is made, learning in one key can be extremely limiting*

Not only that, but you’ve missed out on opportunities to learn very very valuable skills. There are ways to teach yourself how to learn music. The Number System, Chord Progressions, Natural Transposing, Impromptu Accompaniment… many other things that really help us.

Another. Electric tuners. Sure, they’re great when you’re performing and want your instrument to sound as perfect as it can get. But what about when you even use it just for practice, instead listening for a perfect interval, and worse… Not even listening to the pitch, just waiting for the light to turn green? Instead of teaching our ears how to hear two notes that are perfetly in tune, we end up depending on the little green light. SO what happens when we lose our tuner? Don’t have time to buy a new one, and now it’s time to perform and every single string on your guitar is out of tune?[Insert every other sscenario here]

So many skills come with learning how to hear when two notes are perfectly in tune.

And speaking of Tuners, have any of you heard of "Autotune"? The new voice modulation technology that makes a person’s voice stay perfectly on pitch? Yea, it may sound cool… But it’s quite disappointing hearing some of these "vocalists" sing without it. This type of technology is very dangerous when over used. I don’t even wanna get into the damage this has already caused.

But do you see my point people? These are just things that i feel really have the potential to cripple us and hinder our growth as musicians, especially if they are over-used

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Oh, by the way, about 4 or 5 years ago i tried using slow down technology. I didn’t know as much back then as i do now. But now, for someone with the knowledge that i have, it would be VERY, VERY, lazy of me to use slow down technology for anything. Slow down technology may help some of us who are less experienced. But we all need to take off our training wheels and ride our Big Boy and Big Girl bikes.

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"Good question.

You might be surprised by how many people would rather turn on their mp3 recorder so they can pop the recording into their hard drive at home and open it in Audacity or Amazing Slow Downer or Windows Media Player and move the "play speed" slider down to half before they feel within their comfort zone enough to try sussing out the tune.

Sad but true, I’ve seen people do this at workshops with a flesh-and-blood musician standing right in front of them teaching the tune, slowed down, phrase by phrase. Some people will spend those 50 minutes babysitting their mp3 recorder rather than learn directly from the human in front of them. Or pretend to learn the tune, and at the end say, "I got a little of the first part, but I’ll wait till I get home to learn the rest."


Want to improve your learning-by-ear abilities? No time like the here and now." Will Harmon

Now I get your point.

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Wow i just found my point. Said by none other than Will Harmon. And said a lot better by him may i say. 🙂

"To be clear, I’m not saying its wrong to use slow down tools, or that you should never do that.

What I *am* saying is that to become truly adept at this music, played with others, you have to eventually develop the ability to listen, play, and respond musically at tempo. All the best players will tell you that (James Kelly just did, in a workshop here a couple months ago)."


Thanks Will for your awesome communication skills. I wish i knew how to summarize things in this way. But i’m still young. I still have College to go through 🙂

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" Slow down technology may help some of us who are less experienced"

It helps the experienced too. Even those with fifty plus years of playing behind them. You are forgetting that it’s not just the slowing down aspect of this kind of software. It’s the facility to repeat sections at a time. Who was it asking for ‘solo fiddling CDs’ from B&N?

"The "Transpose" function on keyboards."

I’m sure there must be people who don’t aspire to such great heights as a concert pianist who find such things useful.
Pianos are pretty lazy things too. You get some geezer to tune it for you (I used to tune the damn things myself at one time- always the danger of busting a string). All the notes are tempered so you don’t need to think about the difference between e flat and d sharp. New-fangled things that they are.

"And speaking of Tuners, have any of you heard of "Autotune"? The new voice modulation technology that makes a person’s voice stay perfectly on pitch? "

If you call something that was in use more than a dozen years ago new, you must be getting old. Your idea of "perfect" must be different than mine too, as I can usually spot where the auto-tune has been brought into play.

"These are just things that i feel really have the potential to cripple us and hinder our growth as musicians, especially if they are over-used"

Yep, they also have the potential to assist. Just like recordings of Coleman and his peers.

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By the way, i apologize for my terrible communication skills. I don’t mean to ever be offensive or condescending. Even though i can be a little defensive, i don’t mean to be disrespectful or anything. Remember i’m still learning too. But just because i’m young doesn’t mean i’m completely ignorant.

Just like how i’ve learned in the last couple of months of listening to ITM, why it’s so important to learn this music by ear instead of by sheet.

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"Sad but true, I’ve seen people do this at workshops with a flesh-and-blood musician standing right in front of them teaching the tune, slowed down, phrase by phrase. Some people will spend those 50 minutes babysitting their mp3 recorder rather than learn directly from the human in front of them. Or pretend to learn the tune, and at the end say, "I got a little of the first part, but I’ll wait till I get home to learn the rest.""

There are two points here - first that teaching the tune slowed down phrase by phrase is exactly what the slow down software is doing. Secondly, it might not be inability to learn that is behind someone not repeating the tune in front of the tutor. There could be a fear of doing such things in front of others. People take up playing an instrument for different aims. Some may want to end up on stage, some to play with others in sessions, and some may just want to do it for something to enjoy at home - never intending to play in public.

Long ago, I played with a bunch of fiddlers and box players up in the islands. New tunes were (shock horror) presented as sheet music (this was mostly Shetland music) some of the players couldn’t read and would bring cassette recorders with them. A good deal of these players were out in the fields and byres to earn their crust - but could fairly get a tune out of their instruments as a means of enjoyment.
It really doesn’t matter to me that they used a recording of a live practice to learn their tunes. Why should it matter to anyone else?

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"Pianos are pretty lazy things too"
Yea they are. Matter of fact, transitioning to a stringed instrument was probably the hardest musical thing i’ve ever done because of the things piano didn’t teach me. It took me a while before i got over actually having to tune my instrument everyday, sometimes more than once. And learning Intonation is *EErrrr!* But because of the skills i’m learning on Fiddle, i’m becoming a better Singer 🙂

I tried guitar first and gave up. But i was able to stick with fiddle cause i’ve wanted to learn how to play it all my life.(And the fact that Irish Fiddle music is AMAZING! What motivates more than having something fun and challenging to learn?)

"It helps the experienced too. Even those with fifty plus years of playing behind them."

Because of SilverSpear’s posts, i’m going to humble myself and open my mind to what it must be like to play an instrument at that age. I’ll leave this one alone. That means i agree with you.

"If you call something that was in use more than a dozen years ago new, you must be getting old."
Well, since music has existed as long as it has, i think the word "new" is accurate when describing technologies of the last century :P lol

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Slowdown software still has it’s uses as a useful tool in the learning process. I do take Will’s point however regarding those who would use it as a crutch with which to fool themselves by creating a barrier to advancement.

I say take their money and more fool them Will, you’ve got to make a living and your only going to upset yourself by spending time worrying about people who will not listen to the advice for which they’re paying. You can lead a horse to water…….

I have no idea regarding the workshop/music camp scene in the US (or the UK) but from a good friend, and friends of friends, who’ve taught in the US and Canada I hear different things second hand. My fiddle playing pal had a great time in Canada and came back with loads of tunes and stories, where as pals of the girlfriend hated every minute of it.

I think it brave to teach in such a "demanding" environment but I’d also say that few if any of the people contributing to threads such as this would fall into that category; the category of "self depreciating serial learner". I find the main thrust of enquiry here to be made by people sincerely looking to advance themselves from their own endeavor with as much supplementary advice that they can glean from resources such as this, full of holes perhaps, but still there’s no money involved. They’ve taken the time to find their way here so I’d give most people the benefit of the doubt.

I have a crutch, I stay sober until I’m warmed up and then I attempt to moderate my drinking thereafter. I find staying soberish really helps my playing, listening and subsequently, learning by whatever means.

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"But we all need to take off our training wheels and ride our Big Boy and Big Girl bikes" (fiddlelearner)

We may be grown up enough to strike our own balance between the risk of broken bones and the experienced gained from a challenge. And as for teachers - when my neighbour was an apprentice mechanic one of the old hands told him to always count the fingers of people who gave advice.

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It sounds as if people are assuming that those of us who use Slow Downer and other such bits of software are slowing tunes down to half speed. I find them really hard to follow that slow. I just tweak them a wee bit, or not at all as I usually just use it for the playback function.

Kennedy had a really nice post above, saying that picking up tunes at speed is more of an advanced skill that’s much easier once you already know a fair few tunes. There has been this implication in other posts that using slow down software to acquire those initial tunes is cheating, or a "short-cut," which strikes me as ridiculous. "Cheating" connotes that there are "rules" one must follow in their acquisition of tunes and the music itself, and that one must not contravene aforesaid rules. In the real world of sessions, I have found that people don’t really care where you got your tunes.

So long as one does not overuse it, to the detriment of being able to hear the music at speed, there’s nothing wrong with it in my view. The whole construct of crutches and shortcuts attaches a moral framework which seems quite artificial (more artificlal than the software itself!), more important to people who are nostalgic for the good ol’ days when people learned tunes by the peat fire on the knee of their grandfather, rather than has any intrinsic value to the music itself.

One can make the argument that alcohol is dangerous and horrible and should be illegal, because some people use it as a crutch to get through the day and consequently spend weeks totally ratarsed. I doubt that stops Will from having a wee drink when he’s down at the pub, though.

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If slow down software were banned, you’d still be able to get it easily on the black market.

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"Come to think of it though, I now use the software more for start-stop-repeat at full speed. (me, corrected).

On further thought at the moment I use it as much for slowing reels down by 10% or so in order to play along getting better each time round rather than degenerating into rubbish. (Note: I mainly practice them more slowly on my own)

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The software I have, "Transcribe" allows you to isolate the tune/difficult bit and put it on repeat, very handy indeed. Saves all that firkin about.

I have an old Buddy McMaster tape "live at the Glencoe village hall", (Glencoe, cape breton), anyway there’s a spot on that thats almost been rubbed away from rewinding an playing the same track over and over.

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If I can learn them at speed without arsing about with Slow Downer, I do. I learned Humours of Lissadell today (finally!) at full speed from a couple recordings. Couldn’t have done that four years ago.

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Ah, but did you ware out the tape trying?

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Nope. The beauty of digital technology!

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Ah, but did you move the pitch down a semitone from the Bothy Band record?

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Or did you lift your version from an album that wasn’t pitched in the Blarney tuning?

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No, cause I bummed it from recordings of Teada and Randal Bays.

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So how do you know that that was the correct version

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If it’s not Matt Molloy and Tommy Peoples is hasn’t a cat in hell’s chance of being correct.

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Not, out of the woods, yet it would seem!

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*shock horror*

I don’t seem to have that Bothy Band recording. I have Paddy Killoran, which is pretty similar to Randal Bays’ version. That’ll do. 🙂

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What? You’ve not got Bothy Band 1975?
How dare you be so wilfully uneducated.

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Willfully?

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Anyway, I think it’s one I used to have but was one of the CDs that got stolen when my car was broken into when I lived in New York City.

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"one of the CDs that got stolen when my car was broken into when I lived in New York City."

At least the blaggards had taste! I recall my car being burgled in Jo’burg in the early nineties, and they nicked all sorts of things but left a collection of cassettes (sic) that were on the front seat!

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I was pretty narked, but found some pleasure in thinking that the kind of people who break into a car in NYC are usually not the kind of people who are into diddley music and might be disappointed to find themselves with assorted recordings of the Bothy Band, the Chieftains, Natalie MacMaster, Capercaillie, etc.

Who knows. Maybe one of them was inspired and now appears regularly at New York sessions.

Re: For those that struggle with learning music by ear…

I’m only on my 1st cup of coffee & I already learned a vital bit of information. "If it’s* not Matt Molloy and Tommy Peoples is hasn’t a cat in hell’s chance of being correct."
Cheers, llig!
*Humours of Lissadell

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Re: For those that struggle with learning music by ear…

Information of immeasurable use no doubt.

🙂

Re: For those that struggle with learning music by ear…

Amazingslowdowner. get it on the net. Also join up with other players. good site is www.tradconnect.com just started up

Re: For those that struggle with learning music by ear…

That’s a strange and clumsy bit of spamming to try to drum up business for a new site. I think you may actually mean well, but you need to make a bit more effort to be personable.

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!