The meaning of “beginner”

The meaning of “beginner”

You know those folks in the session who have been playing for over twenty years, but who have a repertoire of about twenty-five tunes and struggle to keep the rhythm from going ragged and unsteady. How would you classify them?

I ask because someone on a horsey forum, who rides dressage at a fairly high level, asserted that even people who have been riding for twenty years, but are stlll pottering along at extremely low levels of dressage, are still “beginners.” Because the latter category includes me, I expressed a view on that, and then realised that I too drift into being judgmental, sometimes, about people playing at “low levels” of Irish music even when they have been doing it for years. Is that just human nature; to get good at something and develop a degree of snobbery about it all, a kind of Calvinist attitude of, “I improved. I worked hard. Why can’t you, you lazy bastard?”

Re: The meaning of “beginner”

I have huge tolerance for people who are not very good and know they’re not, and who don’t get in the way too much. I don’t care if they’ve been playing for fifty years and are still crap, if they’re decent human beings they’re OK by me. I have huge tolerance for beginners who are trying to improve, but who don’t assume that everything centres around them.

I don’t think I’m snobbish, but I do very rarely get really angry about the sort of people who don’t bother to improve at all and who STILL think they’re entitled to wreck every tune that their betters start by scraping along tunelessly, tonelessly and a-rhythmically and then tell me and others that we’re “playing it wrong”. That can get me into trouble, I’ve found.

Re: The meaning of “beginner”

‘Beginner’ doesn’t seem the right term as it assumes a progression to a further stage. If that hasn’t happened after ten twenty years, maybe any number of other terms could apply.

it can be very frustrating to deal with that sort of situation. I have in the past taught workshop style classes. at the end of it you give people an assessment of sorts and advice what to work on. I find it very difficult to deal with them again if they return the following years still making the very same mistakes without any apparent attempt at improving on them.

In a ‘session’ like situation people who aren’t so great can be a problem if they don’t realise it and fail to listen to what is going on around them. Having poor rhythm and phrasing is one thing, imposing it on all in the company, and feeling it is their god given right to do so, is quite another.

Posted .

Re: The meaning of “beginner”

I’m by no means an expert at snooker, darts, or dominos, many card games etc, etc. Nor chess, draughts and so on.

However, I can and sometimes do play these games on occasion.

So, I don’t have a problem with people who have a limited expertise in music who just do it for enjoyment now and again provided it’s in the right sitituation. For instance, I wouldn’t consider competing in a chess tournament or darts comptition either.

Besides, even those of us who do constantly strive to improve do so at different rates. Some might have more motivation than others, be focused on a different aspect of the music or repertoire or whatever.
So, I actually think that “Intermediate” is a much more problematic term and can be even more meaningless.

However, I believe that if you wish to be part of a regular “group” of people who are taking part in an activity whether it be music or anything else, it’s only natural that one should try to “fit in” as best as they can. One obvious way to do this is to learn to play a bit better and to care enough about it do want to do so.

Re: The meaning of “beginner”

Theologically speaking:

if anything, a Calvinist attitude would be: “I was a utter neophyte, but by the grace of God, he gave me the ability to grow and learn and become a better musician and now I play to the Glory of God.”

Now, perhaps a Puritanical attitude might reflect a prideful, arrogant, self-righteousness - or perhaps an Arminian/Pelegian works/righteousness belief might show this type of pull yourself up by your bootstraps attitude - but a Calvinist is a Christian who says, God is sovereign - any gift we have is from God alone.

Posted by .

Re: The meaning of “beginner”

Sorry, I meant puritanical, not Calvinist. 🙂 I hadn’t finished my coffee yet!

I suppose where dressage and Irish music are not really comparable is that the former, in certain situations, is a group activity and someone’s ability or lack thereof can really effect the group. With dressage, the only other being my suckage has any effect on is my horse, and I’m pretty sure she’s not losing sleep over whether we will ever make it to Prix St. George or not. On the other hand, if the guy sitting next to you at the session has horrendous timing and keeps starting set after set, it can be a bit of a problem for the rest of the session.

Re: The meaning of “beginner”

Confusing my formers and latters! Gah! Wish you could edit posts!

Re: The meaning of “beginner”

Interestingly, when I play dominos I quite often win as the “experts” don’t know what’s happening.

“You can beat skill but not sh*te..” they advise me.
🙂

Re: The meaning of “beginner”

What’s wrong with being judgemental? If a session-goer offers the same handful of poorly-played tunes week in, week out, without improvement or sensitivity to others, then it’s inevitable that people will form a view.

Of course there are some of modest standard who have been doing it for ages; everyone will have different levels of achievement. Some may never progress much beyond beginner standard. However, we shouldn’t confuse twenty years’ experience with one year’s experience repeated twenty times; those who’ve taken the latter path can still be called “beginners”.

Re: The meaning of “beginner”

A person who has 25 years experience literally can’t be labeled a ‘beginner.’ However, I do find myself occasionally referring to people ‘of a low standard of playing’ as beginners, because I feel uncomfortable placing a value judgement on people. In my own mind, I use the term ‘beginner’ as a shorter way of saying ‘of beginning level of performance.’ -This approach may not be correct, but it is what I tend to do.

Relatedly, the terms intermediate and advanced are fairly vague as well. I just signed up for the new TradConnect website, and it asked me what level I was at as a player. I thought it was far too arrogant to mark myself down as ‘professional’ so I put down advanced. Then for my fiddle playing I wrote down ‘beginner.’ All these labels are problematic, and usually do not get to the heart of things.

Re: The meaning of “beginner”

So is “beginner” more of a classification of ability, or lack thereof, or experience and number of years you have spent doing something. I know, as we all do, people of “modest ability” who have been doing it for ages, but I would not categorise them as “beginners” any more than I would classify myself as a “beginner” dressage rider, even though I’m a bit useless at it. There doesn’t seem to be a one-word English category which, I think, I accurately describes “still crap after all these years.”

Re: The meaning of “beginner”

@Jessie, I almost signed up for the TradConnect website, got as far as the classifications you just described, and decided they were such rubbish that I wandered off to another corner of the internet without signing up. I may have a hang up about dodgy, meaningless labels. 🙂

Re: The meaning of “beginner”

I may have a hang up about dodgy, meaningless labels. 🙂 - Me too. At best not useful, at worst confusing, misleading, even harmful. I suppose people use ‘beginner’ a lot as a classification of ability as you point out. This is evident when we say ‘Beginner’s sessions’ when we really mean ‘slow’ sessions.

Re: The meaning of “beginner”

How about “unimprovers” ?

Re: The meaning of “beginner”

Perhaps a past tense would be neater ? A “begun” player ? (I doubt it’ll catch on, though).

It can cover various different things, can’t it ?

Musical insensitivity, for one. Getting in other peoples’ way - wobbly rhythm, out of tune, just plain not noticing - which is bound to annoy people, me included. Lack of skill can be one reason for this, but maybe not the only one.

Apart from that, given the ability to listen and not mess other people up, it seems to me that people still can contribute nicely. After all, there’s only one person can be “the best” (if that !), and if they go round striking attitudes about can’t learn from anyone else, a “good” player could perhaps be just as unconstructive as a “bad” one ?

Also, it’s always possible to misjudge (to my shame, I’d heard several recordings of Swedish fiddle before I caught on that the “out of tune” notes were a) consistent, and b) deliberate …) - What you think is “wrong”, they might possibly think is “right”. (But then again, there’s always the possibility of “they’re just crap”)

Aside from all which, maybe a “bad” player knows tunes you don’t, or a different way of one you do ?

Re: The meaning of “beginner”

In my experience, people use terms like “perpetual beginner” to pejoratively describe someone’s ability (unless they actually are a beginner in terms of amount of time they have been playing). Like ethical, I honestly don’t mind if the person is good banter and doesn’t drag down a session. Hence, when someone who has been playing for 20 years is described as a “beginner,” it not only reflects their playing abilities, but also how well liked they are by their session-mates. You wouldn’t describe your pal that way, even if he wasn’t a great player.

That’s why these labels are actually quite complicated and problematic.

Re: The meaning of “beginner”

I might classify them as “experienced but of modest ability” ? For other things that might equate with “Safe but won’t win any prizes” .

Oh, now you want one word for a label.

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Crossed. OK, you have now gone off labels.

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I’m just posting random thoughts as I have them. 🙂 I like your labels. I think they describe it better, with less implied judgment.

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“Unimprovers” is awesome…

I can never understand why some people seem happy to stop learning. I’ve been playing whistle 18 years, bodhran 15 years, and flute about 7 years, and I’m still trying to learn better techniques, more tunes… there are definitely people who are cheerfully crap, not a bad thing in itself, but the ones who are cheerfully crap and have no desire to become less crap just puzzle the heck out of me. If I was as good on the flute as Matt Molloy, I’d still be trying to pick things up from other flute players - I’m sure I’m not alone in that attitude.

m.d.

Re: The meaning of “beginner”

“experienced but of modest ability”

Churchill was reported to have described Clement Atlee(Although he denied saying it) as follows

“A modest man, but then he has so much to be modest about”

Re: The meaning of “beginner”

I wonder how many of the people on that thread (from 2005) have got better. I certainly have

Posted .

Re: The meaning of “beginner”

You got better because you wanted to get better, and because you had sufficient time to devote to getting better.

It would be interesting (no disrespect to you, Llig) to get an opinion from a real TOP player - a Matt Molloy/Noel Hill/Liam O’Flynn - as to whether they think they’ve continued to get better with practice, or did they find a plateau of perfection whereupon they just kept playing and practising in order NOT TO SEE A DECLINE in their playing.

m.d.

Re: The meaning of “beginner”

I didn’t get better with practice, I haven’t practiced for 20 years.

And, ha, you want to ask Liam O’Flynn if he’s got better recently?

Posted .

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I reckon we’re all likely to see a decline if we neither play or practise.

Widening the scope of this discussion, I believe that while some top players might not necessarily appear to improve.. i.e you wouldn’t always notice a discernable difference if they played a paticular tune at your local session or as part of a concert set, they may also be spending some of their time working on additional musical projects and/or other instruments.

So, while they are increasing their overall musical ability and knowledge it might not be quite so obvious in a session situation.

Re: The meaning of “beginner”

"I didn’t get better with practice, I haven’t practiced for 20 years.

And, ha, you want to ask Liam O’Flynn if he’s got better recently?"

I didn’t say you’d practised. I said you got better because you wanted to get better and you had the time to do it. Presumably by playing regular sessions? I don’t call that practice, either, not if you’ve been enjoying it 🙂 Had you spent the last 20 years in an attic desperately learning choon after choon…

You lost me with the Liam O’Flynn thing. Are you saying he’s shoite now, or what? Sorry if I’m bein obtuse.
m.d.

Re: The meaning of “beginner”

I think he means that Liam might be a bit “grumpy” about being asked. That’s maybe putting it mildly.

Re: The meaning of “beginner”

‘How would you classify them?’

As fools, which leads us nicely to our next question:

‘Am I going to suffer them, at all, let alone gladly?’

If it’s not any of my local sessions with my friends then it’s not my place, but I assume it would be someone’s place in any other example…or perhaps not, in which case you may have a larger issue. 😉

Re: The meaning of “beginner”

>>got as far as the classifications you just described, and decided they were such rubbish that I wandered off to another corner of the internet without signing up

If you can get past the dodgy classifications, TradConnect is quite nice. I think it’s complimentary to, rather than competing with, this site. What’s more (so far) it’s been a bit more light-hearted for when you want that, and the Live Chat is a something that you can’t do on here. Less scope for misunderstandings with that, I find…

Not everyone can be brilliant at everything they do (not enough lifetimes for one thing) so unless you sit out completely, there will be some things where you inevitably function at a low level. And some people are just happy tootling along, whereas others are more driven. Unfortunately, Life is run by the workaholics, who think everyone else should be one too.

But if dealing with wildy divergent levels of function were easy, I guess we’d have sorted it by now. My solution has always been to be a hermit - but a one-man session ain’t always a great deal of fun 🙁

Re: The meaning of “beginner”

How about ‘well meaning’, or ‘well intentioned’?

There is theoretically, a social aspect to our noble muscial avocation?

Re: The meaning of “beginner”

From a Journey point of view, you could probably say you are at the beginning of your journey if you are in the initial 0 --> 25% range of that journey

From a music talent journey perspective you are probably a beginner if you are also in the initial 25% of your maximum potential, however I don’t believe musical talent is linear scale and it’s certainly not linear with time.

So gathering all this bullsh*t together, it’s difficult near impossible for someone to categorise someone else as a beginner unless they know the maximum potential of the person.

take the analogy of running 100m and remove the age deterioration factor, are you still a beginner if you still run 100m in 18 seconds after 20 years of practice.

if you’re still struggling with this idea then just think of playing the tin whistle with your toes..

I’m off to a session now, probably my 8th session in the last 30 years, so I just hope I’m a beginner.

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There are many ‘well intentioned’ fools who take their musical instruments to sessions. Off hand, I’d classify my own ability as ‘musical tourist.’ This has to do as much about being so far removed from the culture by time and distance, as about any level of skill -- admittedly not great, but not exactly shabby. Eventually, with diligence, I will work my way up to ‘gifted mimic.’

Re: The meaning of “beginner”

John J. ’s quotation above:-
Churchill was reported to have described Clement Atlee(Although he denied saying it) as follows

“A modest man, but then he has so much to be modest about”

I’ve never understood this one and the implication always seems backwards, (which might be why Churchill denied it.)
“Lots to be modest about” implies great achievements,
“good reason to be modest” is something else. Perhaps that’s what WC actually said.

Re: The meaning of “beginner”

A person who genuinely loves the music, and respects the music and the session, regardless of skill level, is, I think, apparent for the most part. I am a novice to be sure, and haven’t been to a session in a while, but I’ve never met anything but welcome and the occasional “give us a tune, Jimmy.”

In my limited experience, it would seem that a session wrecker is pretty obvious. I don’t know that “beginner,” “novice,” “experienced” has much to do with it.

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But I will be the first to admit I probably don’t know much and for all I know I am a session wrecker.

🙂

Re: The meaning of “beginner”

When applied as an adjective to “ability” the word “modest” can only have the meaning “relatively moderate, limited or small (OED)”. When applied to a man any of the three OED definitions could apply.

What do you call someone of perpetual “beginner” standard?

“Stagnant”.

Re: The meaning of “beginner”

I think a major characteristic of beginners who don’t progress (the “Stagnanti”, perhaps - thanks Jerry!) is that they don’t know how to practice (on those occasions when they actually do). They probably can’t be blamed for this in the early stages if they have had little or no formal tuition, and even a few minutes alone on technique with a good player at the end of a session may be all that is needed (I’ve seen this happen), and so no one has ever told them what correct practice involves.

Correct practice applies to all musicians, players or singers, of all types of music and at every level of attainment, who respect their art - and those who listen to it.

Basically, practicing music is listening very carefully to what you’re playing, spotting mistakes and difficulties, working out why the mistake was made or why something is difficult (that’s problem solving), correcting the mistake and practicing the correct version until you’ve nailed it. Every time you do something like playing a wrong note, or a note out of tune, or fluffing a string crossing, stop immediately, think out why it went wrong and try it again until you get it right - say three times in a row - and only then continue to the next section.

I’d like to mention one specific point of practice for fiddle players - learning to anticipate where the next note is going to be and have the finger in place on that next note before it’s played (that’s part of how to play fast and accurately). Failure to do this is a main reason for sloppy and fumbled string crossings, especially when trying to play fast. A simple instance would be when playing the sequence A-d-f#; aim to have the first finger on the f# on the E-string before you’ve finished playing the d on the A-string.

Re: The meaning of “beginner”

Going right back to the original question, I would say that those players of over twenty years’ experience who still struggle to play their few tunes at tempo are technically challenged and maybe they should take a different musical direction. I know plenty of people who are technically limited on their instruments (ok, usually accompaniment instruments) but they are pretty reasonable musicians. They can listen, they can hear the changes, they have dynamic control and, most importantly, can be pleasant to listen to. We all have our limits (to quote Eddie van Halen, “There’s a limit to how fast I can think”). With experience we accept our limits and concentrate on musicality.
Beginners have no idea of their limits and very little musicality but we admire their naivety and enthusiasm.

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I should add that I very much know my technical limitations!

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I note with amusement that back in 2005, I called myself “I am one of those players who is perpetually stuck in the middle ranks.” I still feel the same way. Yet I know twice as many tunes, twice as many songs, can do things now that I could not do back then. If I am mediocre now, I guess I was just hopeless back then. 😉
The term I use for my own playing, which might describe a player of modest ability who is no longer a beginner, is ‘rudimentary.’
Why have I not progressed more? Well, I think jumping between instruments has something to do with it (as an example, I am just finishing a six week class on sean nos singing, something I never did before, but I was interested in). A general uncoordination, and inability to physically perform tasks that other people find easy is another, something I have always struggled with, and slows the learning process. And using a lot of my spare time to write a 100K words of fiction in the past year certainly cut into my practice time.
But I wouldn’t call myself a session wrecker despite my modest abilities, because I think I have a very good idea of what I can and cannot do, and try to be a contributing part of the group during a session.

Re: The meaning of “beginner”

Something in Emily’s original post has me thinking about bodhran bliss. No matter how much bravado or exaggeration he spouted it was never too serious. Great joy & brilliant banter. In his own way he was the eternal novice, but always (imho) true to the music & his mates. In hind sight there’s more to him than meets the eye, regardless of how high or low his abilities may be rated.
I realize none of this answers the question(s) in the OP. So, thanks everyone who already posted with your excellent responses to The Silver Spear’s question.

Re: Dose anyone like bodhrans
December 16th 2006 by bodhran bliss
https://thesession.org/discussions/11933#comment245836

~

Oh, & yes. In our session we have suffered through a session wrecking, too-tight goatskin thumping, rhythmically challenged, please don’t do that another minute much less another couple of decades, “who? me?” . . . Yes, you! aggravation. All of which is the opposite of what I posted directly above.
Judgement was passed. One of our most patient players pulled her aside and informed her what she was doing was unacceptable. He worked diligently to teach her what she needed to know before rejoining the session. Hopefully she learned a few things. We don’t know, she received the instruction yet never returned to the session.

Re: The meaning of “beginner”

Huh, this thread gets me to thinking, what really makes someone an unimprover? I know a few of them. I met what I thought af first, was one last winter, when I was playing in another town. She was just scratchy, on her fiddle, with sort of a hurried thing, with almost no volume, and dreadfully thin sounding, but some how, her rhythm was good, and you could recognize the tunes she played, and her finger placement was spot on so she was perfectly in tune. Well… if the whole group was playing she did no harm at all because she was quiet.. in tune.. and on time. She knew tons of tunes and was having a really good time socializing etc. She must have been going on this way for years and years to have such a reperatoire! At first glance one might consider her an unimprover, but now I keep hoping to see her again and have more tunes, drinks and laughs… what a character.

Re: The meaning of “beginner”

How about: Has an Instrument.

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Actually, one of the defining characteristics of theses dunces is that they have many instruments. And they keep changing them all the time.

Posted .

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If I’m going to a pub session, I only bring a fiddle or mandolin.

I’m guilty of having a few instruments but, like a lot of people, I started off on guitar. The others are all more or less the same idea but less portable. So, they usually stay at home.

It’s true that I’ve recently inherited two piano accordions(not my fault) but some might argue that these don’t really count as musical instruments. Besides, I wouldn’t dream of inflicting them on fellow players in a busy session.

Re: The meaning of “beginner”

The act of *beginning* is an instantaneous one. Once an individual has put bow to string, lips to mouthpiece or finger to button, they have *begun*; ergo they are thereafter no longer a beginner. Beyond that, there are good players, bad players and everything in between; then there are players that are always improving, players that never improve and players that improve slowly or occasionally; there are players that play 5 tunes brilliantly, there are players that play 5000 tunes badly and there are players that play 500 tunes competently; there are players that haven’t begun yet, but if and when they do, will take to it like a duck to water, and there are players that should never have begun (I can be cruel sometimes).

In other words, musicians defy categorisation* in terms of their level of musicianship. As has been pointed out, it is usually not so much the standard of musicianship that makes a particular individual undesirable in a session (or workshop), but their attitude.

*Yes - I am aware of the contradiction in the fact that this statement is immediately preceded by a lengthy categorisation of musicians. The point is, if you try to categorise them, you end up with so many anomalies that you have to create endless intersecting categories, sub-categories, sub-sub-categories etc.

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“ it is usually not so much the standard of musicianship that makes a particular individual undesirable in a session (or workshop), but their attitude.”

Very true and this even applies to good or more experienced players too. There are some who are never happy unless they are the centre of attraction…. one such guy I know goes around most of the Scottish festivals and you’ll often see him standing up on the table while he plays his fiddle etc.
(Actually, as a person, I like him but I quite understand why not everyone would share my feelings)

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I think I know who you mean. If so, yes you can have good conversation with him, but when he plays he becomes possessed (especially after a few drinks).

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Creadur, while it’s true that any half deep analysis of any generalisation will always break down into discussion of individuals, this specific generalisation of musicians who, for what ever reason, will never improve their standard beyond that of someone just beginning, is useful.

Posted .

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If it’s who I think it is (met him for the first time a few weeks ago) he’s a pretty good player despite the raving egomania, and has has a real imagination (which means you may need 8 or even 32 bars to work out what tune he’s playing and what he’s doing with it, but it still works).

Re: The meaning of “beginner”

I have always found that there are people that are players that define themselves as musicians.
There is such a thing as musical ability.
An instrument sounds different in different hands.
Some people have a low ceiling and never advance.
Some people have a high ceiling and never reach it.
Music is beauty (Boy Band dreck is the exception).

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"Some people have a low ceiling and never advance.
Some people have a high ceiling and never reach it."

Of the fiddler who plays standing on the table, presumably the latter is true - or he’s short.

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OK this particular party has probably ended but couldn’t resist an “acronym” (abbreviation, pace pedants) that came to mind this morning.

EBOLA - Enthusiastic but of limited attainment.

What do you call someone who goes round and round the same 25 tunes or so, and doesn’t seem to make any progress?

“Eddy”.

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@ TomB-R: that actually is an acronym you have there.

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@ EB it’s right you are, thank you.