Moving folks beyond sheet music

Moving folks beyond sheet music

I live in an area where Irish Trad is thin on the ground. I know of only two long-established sessions within an hour’s drive. Some new ones are popping up, but they illustrate a problem.

One of the long-running sessions has almost everyone addicted to sheet music, to the point that tunes are to be started only when it’s your turn, and only by first giving the page number (!) then waiting out the great flurry of page-turning. If I mention a tune that’s not in “their book,” I might get disapproving looks. If I propose a tune by title, some seem irritated that I don’t give a page number. And heaven help anyone who starts a tune spontaneously - they’re accused of “taking over the session.”

By contrast, our most local session has players that are very competent playing spontaneously, by ear. But some dear friends simply cannot learn to play without the dots, despite years of trying. So to help them, and to give newcomers a place to start, we have many of our tunes available as sheet music.

But what I’m seeing, to my dismay, is that in our local session and in the new ones that have sprung from it, beginners are now calling out page numbers. Very few seem to be making efforts to learn the tunes, let alone learn the style or the feel of the music. (It’s obvious that many listen to very little Irish Trad.)

How does one help beginners move beyond being tied to the dots? These are good people, and I certainly don’t want to drive them away - but they are missing so much by tethering themselves to the sheet music!

Re: Moving folks beyond sheet music

*sigh* I feel your pain. They’re really missing the point, but you don’t want to offend or discourage them.

How many times do you play each tune in a typical session? Could you get agreement to focus on developing a limited number of tunes to the point where people don’t need the dots, suggest that each tune so treated is played say five times through, eyeballing people to look away from the dots for the last two playings?
Maybe suggest a quarter-hour “books closed” segment in the bookish session: identify tunes which are well-enough known to be treated like this, build them up into sets of 2-3 tunes and agree to play them in the same order till they become spontaneous.

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Comment slightly mangled because typed on a smartphone and I couldn’t get back in to mid-text to polish up the edits. But I think you’ll get the point.

Re: Moving folks beyond sheet music

One thought, if it’s possible:

Find one or two others who can play without reading, and find a venue for a new session. Have a “rule” that says no reading. But let people know that many (most? all?) of the tunes you’ll be playing, at least for a while, will be those that are played at the other sessions. And I guess that if any players from the other sessions are brave enough to come in and give yours a try, keep the tunes at a reasonable pace.

I guess you could even do a set list – at least at the start. But that poses the risk that players will start to depend on it, too. Maybe do a “sample sets” list.

The hope is that over time some of the new folks would start to enjoy the concept of playing without paper, and would latch on.

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I have been a champion of using sheet music on this site for over ten years. However, my encouragement to use written music is for one purpose: To learn tunes only. Being a beginner excuses less-than-wonderful playing, but it does not excuse failing to learn (that is, memorize) the tune. If a beginner can sight-read a tune at anywhere near tempo, I don’t think they are a beginner. If they can’t, then I expect they must play deathly slow to the point that the tune is unrecognizable. The foregoing should be explained to the, I hope, few in a session that play the same tune from session to session from sheet music. If most of the participants are playing from sheet music, you need to look for another session or start a kitchen session at home. Two to three people is enough.

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Re: Moving folks beyond sheet music

Agreed on all above comments.

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It’s very difficult, if people have that mindset then it’s very hard to change them, and once one person starts using music others tend to follow. If they consider themselves to be a competent session then there is probably very little you can do, other than walk away. But with beginners groups/slow sessions there are things you can do: The first stage is to have 1/4 hour at the end of each session where you say ‘right, put away the music stands, we’re going to play by ear’ - start with simple tunes that they will all have known from childhood - Yankee Doodle, Oh Susanah, or Loch Lomond, Mahri’s Wedding or what ever is appropriate in your country. That will hopefully prove to them that they CAN play by ear, and boost their confidence. Once you’ve broken down the ‘I can’t’ barrier you can start introducing less familiar (but still very simple) tunes.

It can still be difficult: a while back I ran a slow session where all tunes were learned by ear, but I made the mistake of giving out sheet music at the end of the evening as an aide memoire for practicing at home. We would spend the evening learning the tune by ear, then the next week when we came to go over the tune, they would all get their music out. Now I never give out sheet music, only recordings.

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Like Ailin, I’m a big fan of dots…for learning a tune and they do a darn good job of helping me remember. I often revisit them to keep the many similar tunes straight in my head. Variations and deviations are (can be) wonderful, I just like to think of them as done on purpose and not the result of a faulty memory! It’s good to be literate. Still learning a tune and playing a tune are quite different. So shut the book to play. The highest expression of this music is good people sharing a spontaneous experience. That may be hard for some people to hear and the harder it is to hear the more it needs to be heard. If the score is so important to some then one has to wonder how important the music is.

That said I host a monthly workshop open to anyone who’s interested in ITM…newcomers, OT/bluegrass players, long-time Irish players, slight-readers, slow-readers (like me), and really good listeners. The only hope is that each one, me included, gets better at playing. Some do, some don’t. In the end these are people I like. They’ve all found the right way for them to play that fits their lives at the moment. Actually that’s what we all do. This music is underserved here. Each of us has to see the way it is and who is in it, and decide whether to participate or not. For now I’d rather play with readers than not play at all. The only way I can think of to help players leave the score behind and play the tune is to be an example. I don’t criticize others for using music, calling out tune names (page numbers is just too far to go for me ), and I don’t allow myself to be criticized for starting sets spontaneously and remind them that I didn’t come with a book. I’m only a competent player, not the Alpha. If I can learn to do it that way, they can too.

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Dear God - another discussion about sheet music in sessions!

I don’t know how patient I would be in such a context. If you desperately want to stick to that group, and want them to (little-by-little) move towards playing by ear, play just a few tunes per session, even just one. Or, make sure they’ve done their homework BEFORE the session. Force them to play by ear. Really.

As Ailin says, you only need to be two or three to have an enjoyable kitchen session. That’s what I would choose.

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Simple - play somewhere dark.

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As Ailin and others have often said, “dots” are great for learning a tune. But the problem with relying on sheet music too much is that it encourages the false notion that there is one right way to play a tune. It can be difficult and frankly scary to make the leap to playing free of the sheet music, and without proper encouragement many probably won’t do it. I’d focus on the freedom gained when you lose the sheet music - remind people that there are so many right ways to play a tune. Learn one or two new tunes a week, and in a year you’ll have fifty or a hundred.

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I’ve found that one way to help players over the one-right-way notion is to hand them scores from more than one source. Many tunes, even on this site, come in multiple versions. I have 4 massive collections, all with yet more versions.

Then hand them a CD mix of all the recorded versions. Help them lie down. After the room stops spinning they’ll hopefully get over the “right” notion. Really though, learning by ear is absolutely no guarantee that they won’t latch on to a single version. Heck, everybody knows that only Matt Molloy and Kevin Burke play the tunes the right way.

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“…learning by ear is absolutely no guarantee that they won’t latch on to a single version.” This is absolutely so.

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Am I getting this right? The *question* is about encouraging players to develop their ability to play by ear & become less dependent on written sources. So shouldn’t the responses focus on what players can do to facilitate this process; with new learners receiving practical advice from experienced players?

It’s fine to begin learning a tune from one version. Even with just one version there is plenty of opportunity for variation. There are tutorials available from experienced players which present how variation works on a single version. It’s usually their starting point. But if newbies have multiple handouts & free access to YouTube
(with the rapid spread of abc collections & ever growing online video) it’s becoming all too easy to miss
the basics those tutorials provide.

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Yup, should be. All somebody has to do is ask and I’ll be the first guy to help. Once a month I create a clear opportunity. Still, if they don’t want to break away from the score, it’s like that teaching a cat to sing opera thing. Ya can’t do it and it annoys the cat. Oh, and “wanting to” has to be more than talk. When it comes to taking on a venture that offers the chance of being seen making a mistake, most of us talk more and do less. Get over that and the rest is mostly downhill.

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Have you tried to introduce them to the ABC system? Pick an easy tune that the group already plays and likes, and suggest “we all play it next week without sheet music” “as an experiment to see how much nicer it could sound”. Give them a link to the .abc file, and to a good .abc player for both main platforms, and a link to a nicely played but not-too-fast version of the tune on YouTube. Urge them all to try their best.

They can start out then at home with something they are familiar with - the dots - but then progress to playing along with the MIDI output without watching the dots, speeding it up until they’re playing at a good clip. Then shift to playing with the YouTuber to pick up on rhythm and pulse. Maybe you should be the YouTuber?

Heh heh, get them all to video themselves learning the tune, discussing their musical backgrounds and why this is challenging for them, then video them all playing it together naked (ie, no dots, what did you think I meant?), and you have a great video to put on YouTube to celebrate the turning point! And inspire others.

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As a classical player, I am a very good sight reader as I practiced that a lot. Its a very difficult thing for me to go to learning and playing by ear. However, that is the tradition and with good reason. Its so cool to just start playing something and everyone jumps in and then roll into another tune without having to plan ahead. Its spontaneous and fun and pulls your head out of the page and into the music. Playing from notation makes that impossible. I’m sure its still fun but it loses a lot of the brilliance of a good session.

I think its the problem of beginners being daunted by just a massive repertoire and not knowing how or where to start and so in order to play more tunes, they play them from music. So if they could commit to learning one tune a week and build a repertoire together it would organically shift to the traditional model as they found that the tunes learned this way were more fun. The saying goes, little by little a little becomes a lot applies here. Each tune is only 16 measures (mostly, some are many fewer when you consider repetitive figures) so tell them learn 4 measures a day and then practice the whole tune the other two days.

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I was thinking more along the lines of a group of players in a session or band, playing at a reasonable speed and with a nice pulse. Something fun to play along with, once you’ve got yourself up to speed.

Michael’s trad lessons would suit those that wanted to learn directly by ear rather than via dots then MIDI. Certainly encourage those who want to go that way to go that way! They might still then want to play along with a band to consolidate and prepare themselves for the session experience.

I think that even playing along with MIDI doesn’t have to be too drab. I usually put in a few repeats, to avoid the infuriating delay with some .abc players while they resend the file. And chords, to fill out the sound and give the impression one is playing along with something other than a cyborg. Load this into EasyABC (or other player that recognises chords), turn it up loud and see what you think.

This indeed could be a good tune to try them on. Happy, not too hard, nice keychange halfway, what’s not to like? I reckon if the group can learn to play this by rote, they will feel encouraged to try anything. And even though they are learning to play by rote rather than ear, their ears will be monitoring the situation rather than their eyes using up all the available resources handling input. And that’s got to open some eyes. Err… ears. And hopefully hearts and minds?

X:110
T:Bank Of Turf, The
M:6/8
L:1/8
R:jig
K:Dmaj
dB|:“D”ABA DFA|“Bm”BAF “D”DFA|“D”dcd “A”ede|“D”~f3 “D”def|
“G”~g3 “G”gab|“D”afd “Bm”B3|1“A“efe e2d|cBA AdB:|2“D“ABA “A”efe|“D”d3 “D”dcd||
|:“A”eAA efg|“D”fdd “D”fga|“Em”gfe “D”fed|“Em”edB “D”ABd|
“A”eAA “Em”efg|“D”fdd “D”fga|“Em”gfe “Bm”dcB|1“D“A3 “Bm”Bcd:|2“D“A3 “D”AdB||
P: ———— Repeats —————————–
|:“D”ABA “D”DFA|“Bm”BAF “D”DFA|“D”dcd “A”ede|“D”~f3 “D”def|
“G”~g3 “G”gab|“D”afd “Bm”B3|1“A“efe e2d|cBA AdB:|2“D“ABA “A”efe|“D”d3 “D”dcd||
|:“A”eAA efg|“D”fdd “D”fga|“Em”gfe “D”fed|“Em”edB “D”ABd|
“A”eAA “Em”efg|“D”fdd “D”fga|“Em”gfe “Bm”dcB|1“D“A3 “Bm”Bcd:|2“D“A3 “D”AdB||
|:“D”ABA “D”DFA|“Bm”BAF “D”DFA|“D”dcd “A”ede|“D”~f3 “D”def|
“G”~g3 “G”gab|“D”afd “Bm”B3|1“A“efe e2d|cBA AdB:|2“D“ABA “A”efe|“D”d3 “D”dcd||
|:“A”eAA efg|“D”fdd “D”fga|“Em”gfe “D”fed|“Em”edB “D”ABd|
“A”eAA “Em”efg|“D”fdd “D”fga|“Em”gfe “Bm”dcB|1“D“A3 “Bm”Bcd:|2“D“A3 “D”AdB||

I think also remind learners to set the melody patch to an instrument they are NOT playing, and the chords patch to piano. I just set both to piano as the sound quality is generally better.

Moving onto learning, learning, learning & playing

Excellent, Mr. Maurer. Most of the tunes can be learnt from getting the first two bars & figuring out where to go from there ~ two more bars. At that point you’re almost halfway there if the next 4 bars are more or less similar to what you just played. You just need to know what to do on the 2nd repeat of the A part before proceeding to the turn; by then you will have played one-half of a two-part tune.

Good start!
now get to it, newbies
;)

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Re: Moving folks beyond sheet music

Fair play, Terry. I just hope you’re not recommending new players introduce themselves to every tune via ABC notation & MIDI before hearing the tune played by a fellow human. 😏

Hope you don’t mind if I post this by Brid Harper ~
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AUhr8E77fBc

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No, ABS, in fact I’m glad you asked.

Keep in mind, the topic here is moving folks beyond sheet music, and going cold turkey might be too big an ask. So I’m suggesting they try a nice safe, supportive path to prove to themselves they can do it. Once you’ve done it once, you can do it always. And hopefully will want to!

And I’m really glad you asked because I’d left out a step. They should really listen to the good player or band on YouTube FIRST at least a few times until they start to get a feel for the tune. Ideally be able to sing or hum it, although that might be too big an ask at first. Then follow the abc player’s notation to work out the notes, then play along with the abc player to iron out the bumps, speeding it up to build their speed, and then playing along with the YouTuber to emulate session experience. No big scary steps there.

Getting back to Brid, I wonder about the psychology of showing them quite so graphically that this is kidstuff-easy. Might work wonders, but it might backfire spectacularly. “I just knew I was no good at this” syndrome. We can probably safely leave that to the original poster who knows them well.

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I think half the problem is people take up instruments and don’t put the time into learning to play them that is required. They just want to play for the social and the sense of achievement thay get at the end of another daggy version of an old staple.

There was a Scottish and Shetland “session” that ran once a month for a couple of years around here. It started as a slow session with the dots out and a very gentle pace and then supposedly became a proper session for the last part. It didn’t and wasn’t though in my experience it was mostly last months daggy sets ground out in the same ponderous manner with the odd party piece thrown in for good measure.

The “session” folded a couple of months ago. It’s a shame despite it all. There is not a common tradition like that you will find in the geographical home of this music and so that learning needs to come from some where and the dots are a way to do this. The real question for that session was how to turn a bunch of easily pleased hobbyists into a bunch of pleasing amateur muso’s. It doesn’t happen by handing out dots and crib sheets, it doesn’t happen by listening to recordings, it comes from sweating hour after hour in trying to master an instrument, not a genre, not a repertoire, an instrument. In a way that many just will not and do not get as evidenced regularly on this web site by the countless analyse this posts of people trying to run before they can walk.

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Mikiemax, turning down the lights wouldn’t even do it at our local session – most (all?) of those who refuse to give up their sheet music have switched to using an iPad to store it…

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Might as well just come along with our favourite soundcloud play lists and just instagram everyone our pictures as we listen to it drinking stout.

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Aw, c’mon Steve T, we haven’t come to that yet! And I’m not sure it’s always that they haven’t learnt their instrument fully - I’ve come across plenty of technically-good players shackled to sheet music. I think there’s a big fear-factor thing. “I know how to do this (dots) but I don’t know how to do that (ears) so I’ll stick to this.” Probably worse for those brought up in classical music as taking risks was not likely to be encouraged until you got to concert performance level.

I’ve been playing with a fiddle player here who was dot-shackled. After some time she accepted the challenge of learning one tune and playing it by rote. (Poor girl, she chose Paddy Fahy’s jig, with its very high Bs and Cs in the second part for this challenge. My fault for not thinking - these are not hard notes on the flute.) But it was simply remarkable how much her intonation and rhythm improved once the eyes were off the book. Clearly the eye-to-brain path gets priority over the ear-to-brain path.

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I personally think there is much to be said for learning one tune at a time by rote. I’d much rather have and hear a small repertoire played well than a large one butchered.

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Agreed. And played at a steady pace rather than approaching light-speed. And it’s surprising how quickly you can pick up new tunes once you settle down to it.

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How about a house rule which says that you’re only allowed to start a tune without sheet music?
This way, the learners can learn the tunes they don’t know with the dots and if they want to start a tune they’ll need to know it properly.

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Hi All

A few of us have started our own weekly session locally - it started from scratch with no expectations.

We started with a few tunes that we all knew and a few from a book that a few of us had - to begin with we had very little repertoire in common, so this was good.

As time has gone on, the session has evolved into something else - albeit some may not call it a proper session, as now there are quite a few tunes that a good few of us know, but we regularly get new people in, including those that are new to playing in a session environment - so we do have sheet music there to fall back on if we need it.

As a side effect of this, people really seem to enjoy the fact that we can and up playing such a range of tunes - if someone has heard a tune that they like, they bring a few copies (usually from thesession.org) and we all have a go - and we all expand our own repertoire as a result.

It may not be an authentic Irish session, but it is great fun and if it is a way in for people to start attending sessions and playing in that environment, I’m happy with that!

Paul

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Paul, there’s nothing wrong with sheet music. And it’s understandable that at your session it is enjoyed for tunes that are not known, you can even call it still a session (see the “When a session morphs into something else…” for a discussion on that).

This topic discusses the trap that many people fall into when never bothering to properly learn tunes. If you really know a tune and take the effort to learn it and its intricacies, you don’t need dots any longer and can play it from the heart and really make music.

Of course, there are exceptions, people that can play from the heart while playing from the dots. But the vast majority of people I encountered that use dots during the session unfortunatly don’t fall into this category.
Removing the dots is synonymous for really knowing a tune in this context, and that is what is required if you want the quality of the music during a session to improve (instead of the quantity).

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Hi Boyen - yes understood - it does tend to go that if we strike upon a tune that we all like, a good few of us will have learnt it in the next week or two!

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When people are playing from the dots how far ahead can they read? How far ahead can they have a feel for where the tune is going?

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It is no different to reading a book.

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@cag - maybe like reading a few paragraphs.. then again, then again - you can know a tune without having it down absolutely - once you’re familiar you could probably play it without, but up at speed the music still helps if you don’t quite have it 100% committed to memory.

Don’t get me wrong, I love playing from memory and agree that it can be beneficial!

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IMO The best way to get tune players to play by ear is this.
Tell them to learn by learn tunes that are also songs, get them to sing the song over and over then try and play it, suitable examples are Lanagans Ball, Rocky road to Dublin, Frost is all over, Cock of the North, Follow me up to Carlow, FoggyDew, Boolavogue

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That’s a good idea. “The Otter’s Holt” is another one of those.

I had a sheet music infestation for a while down here. I just kept starting tunes that were in the book but rearranging the sets until it went away.

That wouldn’t work everywhere, though.

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“It is no different to reading a book.”

Maybe not but you can listen to Stephen Fry reading Harry Potter or me, I know who you’d prefer given a couple of minutes of each. There is nothing wrong with learning a tune from the dots, it’s often the only way for many of us. The problem is never moving beyond them and a deference to a crib sheet instead of mastery and learning. Fry has trained as an actor, he will read from script quicker and better than the vast majority. A classically trained muso will fly through dots giving a good interpretation, on sight of most that they find. Me I can hash a tune through from the dots at first sight but will only ever really get it once it is in the wet ram. Sadly many never even get that far.

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At least where this music is concerned, sheet music is like sex, something that is best enjoyed in the privacy of your own home.

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HA!

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Ergo has the right idea. Instead of worrying about what other people do in their sessions, start your own session and make it what you want. That can be hard in an area without an abundance of players. But you *can* build a “scene” from within. And if you can get enough like minded people who end up enjoying it and making it thrive, then ultimately it will become something that the other players might aspire to.

Part of the key is finding a core of players willing to try it without sheet music. And part of it is finding a venue. It can start as a kitchen session, but for it to become a scene that will grow from within, it probably needs to be in a public venue. Irish pubs are always the first place to look, but I have found some really great places to have sessions that weren’t Irish pubs, so don’t just limit yourself to that when you’re looking.

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I’d like to second what the good Reverend said. I know how hard it can be build a music community out in the wilds where most folks have no concept of an Irish session. Many come from no musical background whatsoever which compounds the challenge as they attempt to learn their instrument AND the music. But don’t give up the fight and don’t give up on those who are currently mired in this process. There was a humble learners session that started in our town a decade or more ago, and they too initially had their internal battles about sheet music, and calling out page numbers before starting a tune. Eventually however, a small core group began to branch out and push themselves to learn tunes by ear, build sets and develop a more spontaneous attitude how to play the music. They continued to introduce those ideas to the others. They coaxed the process over time, sometimes tactfully, other times passionately. Today, nearly 14 years later, that session is thriving without a scrap of written music in sight. If you’ve got the gumption, you can guide this evolution in your town too. Keep playing to their ideas about wanting to get better and learn more tunes. Keep introducing and repeating the mantra that ear learning and memorization will lead to a better, more spontaneous session. Best wishes on your journey!

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re AlBrown’s comment, I’ve been wanting a T-shirt for several years which has emblazoned across it: “Music is like sex – it’s more fun with other people!”

In our local SE Arizona session I’m the alpha fiddler and a whistle player friend is often the only other melody player. She is a classically-trained flute player and loves her sheet music. The tunes from the early days of the session she can play without the music, but unfortunately I’m sick of those tunes. I encourage her to listen to recordings of good players and absorb tunes via auditory osmosis, but she’s busy… that whistle player retires next year and then she’ll have no excuse!

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Looking back to the original comment, it seems that the crux of the matter is that there are two sessions. One of those has a culture that is fully immersed in written music. The other is shifting in that direction. Do you know how other “regulars” at the shifting session feel about it? If no one else objects to the shift, then maybe that’s just the way things are going in your area, in which case starting a new session may be the best option.

On the other hand, if there are a number of people who feel like you do about the shift, would it be possible to have a discussion about it–to name what’s going on and why it concerns you? Various goods are served with both approaches. Written music provides an entry and support for people while working by ear and memory allows for a musical experience/synergy/magic that is difficult to achieve otherwise. It might be easier/more productive to move into a discussion about using some of the suggestions above if people are clear about the issue and the need for compromise. Otherwise the readers in the shifting group are likely to get defensive and see any moves as an effort to control the group.

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I wouldn’t assume that just because they have their sheet music or books in front of them, that they can absolutely not play anything without it. I have music in front of me, but often close my eyes and just enjoy playing if I can. As a practical matter, I’m not going to keep opening and closing my book. I just leave it sit there. I’m not going to announce to every one “I’m going to close my eyes and play now”. I just do it. As to the numbers, if people aren’t memorizing or playing by ear AND they don’t have a numbered system of tunes, it might take people 10-15 minutes to all find the tune! Seems to me that having numbers would make it quicker to go from tune to tune. Then you could play more music instead of paper shuffling. Sounds to me like somebody put some time and effort into putting together a system to help both the ear players and the paper shufflers have a nice evening of music together. Maybe we should just play some tunes and enjoy life without the stress. I know somebody personally that attended a music conservatory and knew of many talented musicians who just could not play by ear and nobody thought any less of them. Also, I have to tell you I went to a traditionally run session in a large city near us a few years ago. A whole room full of talented players, but no two of the same instruments could play at the same time…those types of “rules”. It was BEYOND boring. Our sessions (or whatever YOU want to call them) are a lot more fun. I get your point, as I can play a bunch of tunes with the sheet music, but everyone has their priorities. Let’s all just try and lighten’ up a bit and have fun!

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If there’s anything stressful about a session, it’s the fact that the paper shufflers haven’t done their homework. Everybody else is relaxing while playing music.

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OMG. I’m quite relaxed while playing with or without sheet music. Seems it’s you all that are stressed. It’s just some tunes guys! Get over yourselves.

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Yeah! You guys that want to play the music properly, get over yourselves, God!

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I find this hard to comprehend. Is this about getting people to learn by ear, or just to get rid of the sheet music at the session? because they are two very different things.
No one should be playing anything while they still have to read the music in front of them. It’s not exactly a matter of “being tied to the dots” . They can get the tune from paper, that’s fine, but you need to explain that you don’t really know a tune unless you have memorised it and can play it without looking at the notes.
They need to learn the tune(s) thoroughly , and listen to them played by other bands (probably find them on you tube). Then play them together themselves but ONLY when they can do that without the written notes in front of them.

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Re: Moving folks beyond sheet music

Thanks for the support, khasab. I don’t care how people learn or practice on their own, but when it’s a session (or a gig), sheet music is a big no-no. I don’t engage in conversations where people read from phrase books.

Re: Moving folks beyond sheet music

Entirely different thing I know, but I went to a medieval festival recently where there were two groups playing various old instruments who were in adjacent tents. Sounds like a recipe for disaster but they took turns, performing about 30 mins each, and I saw a wonderful contrast: one group sat down behind music stands and played, and the others stood up and played without sheet music. The group that played sitting down barely looked at each other and they looked pretty grumpy (or at least, in a resting-bitch-face kind of way); in contrast the others looked at each other and engaged the audience - and looked like they were enjoying themselves.

I know a session is a collaborative activity and not a performance but just an observation from outside - normally you’re “inside” a session and don’t get to see something like this. The session I go to occasionally in mid-Wales has the odd bit of sheet music (given to people to take home if they ask about a particular tune) but is otherwise purely “by ear” with a reasonable amount of eye-contact. And it’s friendly and welcoming - which is why I love going there. But I also know to sit out when I don’t know a tune. Don’t know how that expectation would be different if sheet music were provided for every single thing!

Re: Moving folks beyond sheet music

This thread has gone on for a while. Now might be a good time to remind everyone that learning a tune so that it can be played from memory is not the same as learning by ear. That’s an important distinction because everyone learns in their own way, but either by necessity or by custom, tunes played at a session are best played from memory and there is no excuse for not doing so no matter whether one learns from sheet music or by ear.

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