Is the skill of learning a tune by ear a must?

Is the skill of learning a tune by ear a must?

I would appreciate input on this question. I am in no way disputing the idea that learning by ear is the best way to learn a tune. But I have not learned this skill yet for a couple of reasons:
1) I’ve only taken up Irish music and my instrument (banjo) recently and I’m >60 years of age (I do have previous musical experience). I spend a lot of time working on technique and repertoire, and don’t know if I want to spend the time figuring out how to learn by ear (I have a pretty lousy ear), let alone the extra time needed to learn each new tune. And given my age, though I’m not at the "don’t buy green bananas" point, I must face the (slightly ghoulish) fact that I have a limited number of playing years left. I’d rather spend that time on technique and repertoire.
2) I’ve read somewhere somebody claim that they could tell just by listening to a person play whether that person had learned the tune by ear or by sheet music. I think that claim is an exaggeration, but the point is well taken: that one is much more likely to develop a feel for the tune and music by learning it by ear. I don’t doubt this. But when I do learn tune using sheet music, I try to immerse myself in the tune by close listening to recordings of several versions of the tune, and by having them on in the background when doing other things (the osmosis factor) - not learning by ear but using my ears a lot in conjunction with the sheet music. In this way I feel I can still get a pretty good read on the feel of the tune.
So there you have it. I could still be convinced to take the time to learn the skill of learning by ear. Does anyone feel strongly that it’s got to be done to become a good player? or do some agree that the approach I’m taking is more reasonable? Thanks.

Re: Is the skill of learning a tune by ear a must?

Whatever opinions you read either way, no one will dispute that you should develop the skill. You’ll be happier for it and it will expand your approach to playing. Irish trad is not an improvisational form the way, for example, bluegrass is. You don’t take solos and such. However, many of the stylistic elements of trad encourage the ability to do variations on the fly. The better your ear, the more you will take to making the music your own. I recommend everyone learn how to read music and also learn by ear. Many favor one or the other and, by definition, that is limiting.

Cheers.

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Re: Is the skill of learning a tune by ear a must?

As far as I’m concerned learning by ear and playing by ear are pretty much, although not exactly, the same thing. In the former you hear with your ears a sequence of notes and then reproduce it on your instrument of choice. In the latter you hear with your brain a sequence of notes and reproduce it on your instrument at the same time. But they are closely enough related in that if you can’t do one you can’t do the other.
You can call yourself a violinist, a flautist, a guitarist, or whatever, but until you can play by ear I don’t think you can call yourself a musician. Learning/playing by ear has very little to do with technique but is all about listening and understanding. We can get so hung up on the technicalities of our chosen instruments that we forget about the music and musicality.
So, yes, learning/playing by ear is a very valuable skill to anyone learning/playing music (and that includes this music). I use sheet music a lot and have most tunes I play transcribed, but I transcribed most of them in the first place. The first source is usually a recording or memory.

Re: Is the skill of learning a tune by ear a must?

I might not say that learning to play a tune by ear is a must. I will say that it can help…and that it’s just not that hard to learn how to read it well enough for the skill to be useful. I’m 70 now and think back to the days when I couldn’t read music….back to when I was 60!

I was going to make this deeper, more thought provoking but then I read what Ailin and Donald wrote and, You know…What they said!

Re: Is the skill of learning a tune by ear a must?

Learning by ear is absolutely a must, without question. However, if you are just starting, there is nothing wrong with gradually easing yourself into it.

It will seem impossible at first, but I promise it does become easier and easier the more you do it. Like any other skill, it is one that develops over time, but I think you will surprise yourself if you take the time to give serious effort towards trying to learn by ear. Start with simple tunes, or tunes played slowly. After awhile you will be able to automatically find the notes you are hearing on your fretboard with progressively less and less effort. If you give the effort towards learning to do this, you really can make immense progress towards developing this skill within a single year.

In any case, developing the skill to learn by ear is necessary, regardless of whether you also use notes or not. There are websites where you can put in a YouTube URL and it will play the video at 50% speed. This might be a good way to ease yourself into learning by ear, as you can rely a bit more on your eyes at first, and then the ear-learning part will gradually start to improve, and you’ll be able to do it without the visual element. Or, find a melody player who can teach you the tunes slowly.

Re: Is the skill of learning a tune by ear a must?

Sorry guys I got all twisted up when I wrote what I did above. Here’s what I mean. Reading is useful, but learning by ear is a must. Start slow a few notes at a time. It’s not that hard to learn to "learn by ear". I’ve said this before and I’m not the first or only person to say it. Of course you can learn tune from the score, you just can’t learn to play it well, especially if you ever want to play with anybody else.

Oh, and I still like what everybody else said.

Re: Is the skill of learning a tune by ear a must?

Don’t worry too much about it. .. learn the tunes any way you can, then play them. ..after a while you’ll add your own variations into them and make then your own ☺
The more you play, the more patterns you’ll recognise and the easier it’ll become to pick then up while you’re listening.
Its beneficial to be able to pick up tunes by ear, but it’s by no way essential, and it certainly won’t stop you enjoying playing if you can’t. (I still find it hard to learn by ear but enjoy the local sessions and can hold my own in the other ones I’ve been to ;I can count the number of tunes I’ve learnt solely by ear on both hands- it’s just the way I learn things. …)
JIM

Re: Is the skill of learning a tune by ear a must?

I think you would be hard pressed to find an advanced or elite level Irish traditional musician who does not have a significantly developed ability to learn by ear. What that means for you personally is up to you…

Re: Is the skill of learning a tune by ear a must?

Yes. :-)

Re: Is the skill of learning a tune by ear a must?

Sorry for being so brusque, but I’ve heard everything in your points many Xs before.

No, it’s not a *must* to learn a tune by ear, skinnyman. Though I doubt you would be posting the question if you weren’t considering the option of learning a tune by ear. If so you might also consider letting go of most of your reasoning as to why that first step is impractical. In other words start simple, but start fresh & try to forget much of what you thought necessary when learning music.

Basically, learning by ear begins w/the 1st baby step. Then there is alot of hard work & perserverance. If you’re lucky the reward of learning a tune by ear is it opens more doors than you realised before attempting it.

Or you might do fine staying the course w/the approach you’ve been using.

Cheers,
Ben

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Re: Is the skill of learning a tune by ear a must?

Thanks for the input, Ben (apology accepted - and I confess that I’ve never heard the expression "Christ on a bike" before - had to look it up). I can’t say as I’m surprised that the replies to my question are pretty well a unanimous "yes". It’s just the time investment thing that gets me down (working right now on trying to learn the 60 tunes for an upcoming summer workshop). I would like however, your opinion on a genuine question - i.e. whether or not close listening and immersion in a tune while using a score to learn approaches the value of learning by ear. I have a friend whoe used scores his whole life and then decided to learn how to play by ear. He claims his brain was working differently while playing a tune depending on whether or not he had learned it by ear or by score ( I notice he still cheats a bit when learning a tune, taking little peeks at the score). Your input?

Re: Is the skill of learning a tune by ear a must?

As Christopher Selby points out, it does become easier the more you do it. One advantage is that when you play with others, it can sometimes be possible to learn a tune quickly by listening, and then being able to play along. If you can pick it up after one or two passes, you might be able to join in on the third pass, and, if you’re really lucky, you might even remember the tune later. The other advantage is getting a recorded tune that you really want to learn - sometimes there just isn’t music (dots) available - slow it down and listen…note by note. Finally, ornamentation, IMHO, is best learned by listening to good players on the tune - often with a different instrument than you’re using - this nuance doesn’t often come through on the written scores. Good luck!

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Re: Is the skill of learning a tune by ear a must?

"I have a friend whoe used scores his whole life and then decided to learn how to play by ear. He claims his brain was working differently while playing a tune depending on whether or not he had learned it by ear or by score "

When I first started playing, I definitely noticed this, which is why I will only learn by ear now. There was an extremely noticeable difference in the sound I was producing from tunes I learned by ear vs. ones I’d learned from paper, and I eventually gave up the latter as a result, as there was a significant and obvious improvement in the fluidity, pulse, lift, swing, etc. of my playing when I started to do so. I’ve recorded myself on occasion over the course of my playing to listen back to in order to assess progress I’ve made or to help identify problem areas in my playing (which I recommend doing, as you will hear problems in your playing that aren’t evident to you while you are playing it), and there is a quite an apparent change in the period of time following that point, and it isn’t a mere coincidence. I will note that I started off with the same idea as you- to use a mixture of ear and notes, but it simply didn’t work for me until I forced myself to rely on only on ear.

Learning from notes teaches you to replicate the notes you are reading, but your mind is in a completely different mode when you are trying to bring a certain sound out of your instrument, rather than thinking in terms of the notes being played. This is very likely to come through in one’s playing. Most of what makes the music sound as it does (when played well) often has very little or nothing to do with the notes that you are likely to be reading. That is something you can’t grasp from a written page, and the written page might even prevent some of that from coming through if relied on too much as supplement.

Since you are worried about the time investment, I will also note that my rate of improvement accelerated exponentially when I started learning by ear, so don’t think of learning by ear as being something that will hinder your development because of the time investment. It will start off slowly- very slowly- but it is worth it in both the short and long term. I was barely making progress in my first couple of years of playing, and then things really sped up a great deal after making that change.

Now, learning by ear and using notes to get a general idea of some different setting after the fact, or simply to get you in the right general ballpark at first may be okay, but this should be done very sparingly, in my opinion. Not to mention, you are limited to only being able to learn what is written when you rely on notes. If you learn by ear, then if you can hear it, you can play it.

Re: Is the skill of learning a tune by ear a must?

I ‘ve been learning tunes by ear for the best part of 50 years and never acquired anything beyond
the most rudimentary reading skills - I say that with no pride, there have been times when competence
in reading music would have been an advantage - but somehow I have always begrudged the time I would need to spend improving my reading skills when it would be better spent learning more tunes! But I do get annoyed at sessions when I see classically trained musicians frantically leafing through their O’Neills 1001
to find the tune that’s being played……………….

Re: Is the skill of learning a tune by ear a must?

It all depends on what your aim is. There are a surprising number of trad players who are highly competant at playing , but have no ability at picking tunes up by ear. A shocking number in fact.
Its no surprise to know that there are a great number of players who only learn by ear.
So its not as cut and dried as is made out above.
What do you wish to achieve?
Some players are content with a coupele of dozen tunes played very well, others a thousand tunes.
Some are interested in joining in with sessions , some not at all.
If your aim is to be able to walk into any session anywhere and play all night, youve a lot of work to do :-)
If your aim is to lead a session and give the evil eye to anyone else who starts a tune, you can relax a bit and just learn from the dots.
If your aim is to enjoy yourself on your instrument , then it matters not what any of us here or elsewhere think.
What do I recomend? Dots or ear? Both ,with the caveat that its better IMO to start by ear. in fact I think it could be a serious disadvantage not to be able to play by ear.
But the amount of pleasure and tunes Ive got from the dots shows me that people not learning to read are denying themselves a huge wealth of enjoyment only available to those who can read.
What I suggest to all beginers in ear learning is to start simple
Not jigs reels or polkas, but popular music , stuff you like , songs. Simple stuff, stuff your very familiar with. Just play along . After youve managed this sort of thing. In 6 months or a year progress to more complex rapid stuff, like simple jigs and reels.
There are very few people ( if anyone) who can learn the most complex pieces by ear. By that Im basically talking about large ’ Classical ‘pieces for want of a better term. Yes its a colloquialism , but every one knows what im talking about.

Re: Is the skill of learning a tune by ear a must?

The whole "learning by ear" is a collection of skills that are all useful in some way.

One of them is learning to listen and picking up details in tunes.
Memorizing, internalizing what your hear .
Another skill is to play melodies in your head and be capable of doing variations inside your head.
Another is translating a note inside your head to a note on your instrument
Another is playing sentences or melodies that you hear inside your head and translating it to an instrument
And another is more a form of muscle memory where you memorize the motions required for a certain tune.

For me, I’m quite good at 2, 5 and 6.
1 requires a lot of experience in the music and for me also slowing down the music.
3 is also that comes with more experience with the music, when you listen more the logical variations come more naturally.
And I have a lot of trouble with 4, because I don’t quite have an absolute hearing, but when I know one of the notes I can often play the melody.

Anyway all of this is to say that you don’t need to tackle everything at once. Start with 2 and just listen. Then when you really know a tune inside out try to play (5) what you hear in your head. After practicing for a while 6 comes naturally and the others, I’m sure, will come with time as well.

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Re: Is the skill of learning a tune by ear a must?

skinnyman wrote:
"working right now on trying to learn the 60 tunes for an upcoming summer workshop"

Do you think that you’ll have all of them in time for the workshop if you learn them from sheet music? At what point do you feel that you "know" the tune? If you play it tomorrow, do you play it by heart as regards how it sounded or what it looked like on the page? Or do you still use sheet music as a crutch?

I think it’s a whole lot more fun learning by ear, and that’s also a skill that improves by each tune. That’s why some musicians can follow a tune after a few rounds (as stated above), adapt to the setting played (for minor changes or longer phrases), vary their playing at will and so on.

Regarding slow-down software/Youtube at 50% (or indeed learning from a real person, but very slowly), that can sometimes be frustrating. You get the notes but the context is missing. (As if you would hear words in isolation compared to how the actually sound in a sentence.)

Re: Is the skill of learning a tune by ear a must?

Skinnyman, a lot of Irish trad (and other music for all I know) is made out of little blocks or phrases. After a while, when you’ve a good few tunes under your belt and tunes in different keys, you begin to recognise these ‘blocks’ and ‘runs’ in other new tunes.
So concentrate on learning a variety of tunes by any means to learn some of these blocks.
At same time take pop songs, nursery rhymes, carols or whatever you know well and try and play these without notation.
As you get more comfortable with above, then try a couple of things. Take a tune you know well, in say key of G and try playing it in D, with looking for notation. i.e. transpose by ear. This is good training and you’ll know if your hitting the right intervals, as you know the tune.
And/or take a tune you hear and like, just listen to it, play along at home and try and catch the main blocks phrases of the tune, then the linking notes that join them up and you’ll have it.

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Re: Is the skill of learning a tune by ear a must?

"Take a tune you know well, in say key of G and try playing it in D, withOUT looking for notation. i.e. transpose by ear" ! :)

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Re: Is the skill of learning a tune by ear a must?

Learning by ear is not as daunting as it seems. I know, because I strictly used sheet music for the first 2 years of playing before I got a teacher who decided to give teaching me by ear a shot, and I immediately took a shine to it. It might be a bit hard at first, but given the technology we have today you can very easily slow down tracks to a crawl and it makes it very easy to learn that way. Though too slow and you kind of lose a feel for the tune.

I think at the beginning it’s important that you stick to learning tunes you already know by ear. If I already know a tune, try to learn it by ear and maybe slow it down to half speed (sometimes this isn’t even necessary!), I can have it learned in 10 minutes. Whereas if I’m trying my hand at a tune I’ve never heard before or just barely know, it can make up to 2 hours or more. I know some people can learn a tune they’ve never heard before in a matter of minutes and I envy those people! That, I guess, is the highest ability of learning by year. But practise makes perfect. Just keep trying and trying. Each time you successfully learn a tune by ear it comes so much easier next time. Suddenly you’ll find yourself randomly playing melodies you just heard on the radio without even noticing! As pointed out already, Irish music is done in blocks, and once you figure out the core of a tune, the rest just fills itself in.

Remember, music is an aural art. It’s meant to be listened to and understood with your ears! I think this even goes for classical music, the sheet music is there to display all the small details necessary to fully invoke the composer’s intentions, but I’m sure that classical musicians listen to pieces on repeat, as well, to get the feel of the music. I would only assume so anyways!

So yes… it is a must :) I don’t think you should disregard one over the other. Be competent in both sight reading and ear learning. 80% of tunes I learn these days are by ear, but if I’m feeling lazy sometimes I just read the dots, or perhaps I look at the dots to fill in any small gaps I may have missed, and so on. Having the ability to do both will only benefit you greatly in the long run. So good luck and don’t give up!

Re: Is the skill of learning a tune by ear a must?

I think I’m a bit naive but it’s never occurred to me that anyone would play a tune without memorising it first.

I think this is a left brain/right brain sort of thing.

I think if you know the tune you have more opportunity to add in a bit of feeling & expression.

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Re: Is the skill of learning a tune by ear a must?

Yes and no Davey, depends on the skill of the reader /player and their familiarity with the genre and tune.
If a player is good , and good at reading , and familiar with the genre then the dots, because they are just a skeleton , provide so little information apart from the basics that the player has no difficulty in doing all sorts of other stuff not written down, because they can pretty much look at it at a glance and read it like its a single image, like a symbol.

Re: Is the skill of learning a tune by ear a must?

Well sometimes I hear a tune that I’ve never heard before, like it, and take it upon myself to learn it. Obviously I’ll listen to it repeat a few times first so it sinks in a bit, but it’s a much different experience to learning a tune that I know off by heart having listened to it for months or even years prior.

Re: Is the skill of learning a tune by ear a must?

"I have a friend whoe used scores his whole life and then decided to learn how to play by ear. He claims his brain was working differently while playing a tune depending on whether or not he had learned it by ear or by score "

I am relatively new to playing Irish Trad (about 3 yrs in) and I totally agree with that statement. I’m lucky enough to have a fiddle teacher and I learn things from her by ear. I have also picked up a few things by myself by ear. However, there are a few pieces that I learned from the sheet music early on (if I didn’t have a lesson that week for example) and I *really* struggle to remember them as easily as those that I learned by ear. I also find it much harder to improvise in those - presumably because I don’t have such a feel for them.

My husband is teaching himself the banjo - he’s in his 40s but has no previous musical knowledge. He cannot fathom learning by ear and is using the Enda Scahill books to teach himself. I keep telling him to listen more but it’s an uphill battle!

I think it’s definitely worth you pursuing :)

Re: Is the skill of learning a tune by ear a must?

"I also find it much harder to improvise in those - presumably because I don’t have such a feel for them."

From my experience, people who learn everything from sheet music somehow tend to stick to that "setting" forever as if it was set in stone, and any deviation from it (no matter how minor) is regarded either wrong or, well, another "version".

Re: Is the skill of learning a tune by ear a must?

Learning to learn by ear is actually really really good for the aging brain, so I recommend it for that reason alone.
That said, whether it’s "a must" depends on your goals. If you want to play for your own enjoyment and that of your friends, do what makes you happy, but if you’re going to play for the public or otherwise represent yourself as a player of Irish traditional music, respect the tradition enough to learn by ear. You’ll probably find it a lot easier to memorize more tunes that way as well

Re: Is the skill of learning a tune by ear a must?

I agree that whether it’s "a must" depends on your goals.
But look at it this way: if it takes you 2 years to learn to play by ear, and you’re 60 now, you’ll be ear learning at 62. If you don’t start now, you’ll be 62 and still not be able to learn by ear.
A good way to start is to learn tunes you already know from listening. Which of course means, listen a lot!
Either way, good luck and have fun.

Re: Is the skill of learning a tune by ear a must?

Jeff, while agree you I think it’s bigger issue. I’d easily turn that around and say that people who learn by ear are just as locked into that setting as being the "right" way just as someone who learned the tune from a show band album. The ability to change or play a variation is a skill in itself. A skilled reader can play a new setting by just having that setting put in front of him. A player skilled in learning by ear (listening) can make the change pretty easily also. The problem, I think, has more to do about overcoming inertia.

Re: Is the skill of learning a tune by ear a must?

Sure, there are players from either camp who are just as "locked". What I was thinking (and forgot to add) was that the ability to adapt and adopt on the fly is something I only hear "by ear"-players do. The strict "sheet music"-learners (I’ve met) don’t.

Re: Is the skill of learning a tune by ear a must?

Absolutely not.

Re: Is the skill of learning a tune by ear a must?

Wow, Nigel! You’re the first one of all these posts to give an unqualified ‘no’. Care to expound?

Re: What does Christ on a bike mean?

Hello, skinnyman, you forgot my earlier post, "No, it’s not a *must* to learn a tune by ear, skinnyman."

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Re: Is the skill of learning a tune by ear a must?

I do not know which question you want answered. Is one of the following more relevant than the other?
Do you want to develop your ability to play tunes by ear?
Do you want to have an effective practice strategy for learning 60 tunes?
The answer for each of these can be quite different.

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Re: Is the skill of learning a tune by ear a must?

Na éisc: Oops, I’ve got to work on my reading comprehension. I didn’t expect there to be an easy answer to this but all of these responses have made me realize how complicated it can get. The reason I asked the question is because so many players I respect so often exhort me to start learning by ear and asset that my playing will improve if I do. On the other hand I was wondering if close listening of a tune while using the dots to learn approaches the benefits one would get from learning by ear (the consensus on this thread seems to indicate no). As for learning 60 tunes, after just a bit of thought I can answer that myself. I have a certain amount of time before the workshop - so learn as many tunes as I can in that time well - and don’t worry about knowing them all. (25 down, 35 to go)

Re: Is the skill of learning a tune by ear a must?

When the players you most respect are giving you advice which might improve your playing I would follow through. Also I would ask them for anything they might have to offer about a good starting point or how to proceed. Thus far it sounds like you have have been listening enough, hearing different versions, et. al… but also using notation. No worries, except what is your goal?

Again, the two questions, developing the ability to play tunes by ear vs. an effective practice strategy for learning sixty tunes in a finite time period.

Do both but I’d suggest not trying to rationalise one w/the other. When learning to play *a* tune by ear give deliberate attention to the version which your ear is most drawn to & ignore all notation, forget other versions, take all the time you need, listen for the phrases in a way that they make sense & keep at it until you know the entire tune.

As far as the sixty tunes you plan to learn for this summer’s workshop I’m not sure your preparation has anything to do with developing your ability to play by ear. Are you cramming for this workshop, how many days is it & will the instructors only be covering the alleged 60 tunes?

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Re: Is the skill of learning a tune by ear a must?

Are you willing to divulge what the summer workshop is that requires you to learn 60 tunes prior to attending? Just curious, this is unusual requirement for a workshop in my experience! Usually they just want the money :p

Re: Is the skill of learning a tune by ear a must?

Jeff…whole heartedly agreed!

Re: Is the skill of learning a tune by ear a must?

One more thing. This might sound a little fuzzy but here goes. Maybe we should make a distinction between learning the tune and learning the notes in the tune. One is all about learning, memorizing, a sequence of finger placements and actions. The other is about "hearing" a tune. I have had good luck with learning tunes with no instrument in hand. In fact I’ve come to not even attempting to learn a tune without going through the listening process first, and thoroughly, before I even think about finding the score. As others have mentioned, the score can be very useful as a shortcut, a memory aid, a time-saver, but it seems to me that the score is most useful after I know the tune. Just a thought.

Re: Is the skill of learning a tune by ear a must?

There are many things that set Irish trad from other types of music. It’s an aural tradition… it is handed down by ear. But that doesn’t mean the written note doesn’t play a role. Many of Irelands great teachers used it as a tool. Vinnie Cronin, son of Paddy Cronin, once told me he remembered his dad sitting around and learning tunes out of O’Neill’s collection. Resources in Boston were different in the 50s and 60s for new tunes. If you live in Ireland you have a wealth of living and breathing resources. At this time in our lives in the outbacks of Irish trad the resources are immense. Most of my participation on this website is now linking great versions of tunes from YouTube to pages for the tune. And here’s where it get’s relevant to the OP: you can easily slow down the YouTube videos without altering pitch by going to the settings and changing the speed (tempo). This makes learning by ear much easier. Utilize the technology folks.

Re: Is the skill of learning a tune by ear a must?

I’m in my 50ies, been playing for 3 years and just decided to start doing it by ear two weeks ago after attending a flute workshop. I’ve learned strictly by dots up to now.
During the workshop, the tutor taught everything by ear initially before giving the ABC once she thought the class had the tune.
I was amazed at how quickly the others in the class picked up the tunes, even though I don’t think I was out of my depth musically.
A quick survey of other attendees indicated almost unanimously that they all learned by ear.
I had an interesting chat with someone who explained that learning by ear involves only the right hand side of the brain. Learning by dots involves both sides as the analytical side has to do a translation step. Ergo learning by ear involves less effort and can potentially help you keep up in workshops.
My experience after doing it for two weeks is that it’s not that difficult and may actually be easier. If you’ve done the intermediate step of learning by dots and then memorizing the piece, I honestly think you’re half way there, as you don’t read dots in your head but rather hear and reproduce the tune.
So consider that you’re already half way there and are on the path to doing so as I’ve been.
PS Would recommend slides, marches, slow airs as places to start. Good luck.

Re: Is the skill of learning a tune by ear a must?

The whole "left brain/right brain" thing that is being referenced here has been well disproven.

Re: Is the skill of learning a tune by ear a must?

The workshops that I have enjoyed more and learned more from have been workshops where my eyes were on the instructor or other musicians and not on printed music. As a fiddle player, being able to see how the instructor moves the bow is critical. I don’t know how that translates to banjo or if your workshop is banjo-specific. I think that building the ability to play by ear will allow you to interact more directly with the instructor by making the occasional eye contact while playing. This will likely lead to greater enjoyment of the workshop itself.

Re: Is the skill of learning a tune by ear a must?

IMHO, it doesn’t much matter whether your initial source for a tune is a recording/live performance or sheetmusic, or a combination of the two. What is important, however, is to be able to pick up by ear the subtle nuances of how a tune is played, since that is what cannot be conveyed by the dots. The trouble is, some people who have always played from sheet music have never acquired the skill of listening and mimicking with their instrument. It seems to me that the ability to hear and replicate fine detail is likely to come much more easily to someone who already has the basic skill of imitating a sequence of notes.

…I’ll be very interested to hear what Nigel Gatherer has to say to follow on from his comment above.

Re: Is the skill of learning a tune by ear a must?

If you can’t pick out the notes by ear (the easy bit) what chance do you have with the finer detail?

Re: Is the skill of learning a tune by ear a must?

CreadurMawnOrganig said : [*IMHO, it doesn’t much matter whether your initial source for a tune is a recording/live performance or sheetmusic, or a combination of the two. What is important, however, is to be able to pick up by ear the subtle nuances of how a tune is played, since that is what cannot be conveyed by the dots.*]

I would agree with that in general, but for fiddle specifically, I think there is a lot that can be conveyed from printed music. A prime candidate would be bowing markings on the music, which would indicate bow direction, bow change and (as a result) general rhythm and accent too. These things can often be difficult to pinpoint by listening alone.

Re: Is the skill of learning a tune by ear a must?

@Jim: I can see that that would be a strong case in favour of sheet music (if, indeed, the sheet music has bowing markings). But I still think it only gives you half the picture. It is perfectly possible to follow every slur, bow change, cut etc. you as set out on the page, yet still not have the feel of the music. If you already have the nuances in your head, but don’t know the technique to reproduce it, then bowing markings might get you there.

Re: Is the skill of learning a tune by ear a must?

"Are you willing to divulge what the summer workshop is that requires you to learn 60 tunes prior to attending?"

Actually, this COULD mean that it’s assumed/suggested that all participants have a decent command of ~60 tunes. Someone who knows that number should be somewhat familiar with polkas, hornpipes, reels, jigs, slip jigs… Musicians with no (Irish) repertoire think it’s difficult to learn tunes, while experienced musicians pick them up much faster (and possibly get more out of it).

Re: Is the skill of learning a tune by ear a must?

@jeff, @timmy - Jeff is right here. It is not a requirement that the 60 suggested tunes were to be learned. It is simply the list of tunes that will be played in the large group sessions . Being relatively new to playing this type of music my repertoire was only about 125. The list did not included the most common tunes (which I know), so I’ve set out to learn as many as I can in order to increase the benefit I get out of the workshop.

Re: Is the skill of learning a tune by ear a must?

"If you can’t pick out the notes by ear (the easy bit) what chance do you have with the finer detail?"
Theirlandis, are you not giving short shrift to what benefits can be gained by close listening to recordings of a number of versions of the tune one is trying to learn? By finer details l presume you’re referring to things such as rhythm, lilt, grace notes… I know that when I first started, my playing definitely sounded mechanical and wooden. But I also know that as time goes on (and with a lot of listening) my playing has improved greatly as far as rhythm and lilt.
As far as grace notes go, I think most would agree that the banjo is much more limited in this area compared to fiddle or other legato instruments. Still, using my limited number of grace note effects, I feel that I can mimic relatively closely what I’m hearing on a recording, as well as put them into other parts of the tune where I think appropriate. I can also hear the differences between the styles of different players (e.g. between John Carty and Angelina Carberry) and adjust my playing depending on which I prefer for a particular tune. Again, I’m not doubting the greater value of learning by ear but I’m finding this to be an interesting discussion (and for me a time investment question which many here think, probably correctly, that I’m obsessing unnecessarily over).

Re: Is the skill of learning a tune by ear a must?

"If you can’t pick out the notes by ear (the easy bit) what chance do you have with the finer detail?"

I can’t play a tune entirely by ear to save my life (not saying I don’t want to, just haven’t had much success with it so far), yet I think I do a pretty good job of picking up on the "finer detail" without this particular skill. I’ve learned the basic melody of many tunes with sheet music from this site, and then once I’ve gotten that down gone back and picked up bits and pieces from my favorite versions of the tunes…a triplet here, replacing a pair of eighth notes with a quarter note there (or the other way around),slightly different pickup, things like that.

And yet, I struggle to learn tunes by sheet music alone. Even with the sheet music, I have to listen to a tune many, many times over and get it stuck in my head before I can look at the dots and play the rhythm properly. I guess I’m not particularly adept at reading music or playing by ear, but by using a combination of the two I do okay. :)

Re: What does learning a tune by ear require ?

"So there you have it. I could still be convinced to take the time to learn the skill of learning by ear.
Does anyone feel strongly that it’s got to be done to become a good player? or do some agree that
the approach I’m taking is more reasonable? Thanks."

"I could still be convinced…" No one can convince you until you commit to learning that 1st tune,
even just the 1st phrase, without reference to notation. The convincing won’t come
from an external source; ultimately it’s your decision.

"Does anyone feel strongly…" For me, yes.

"…do some agree that the approach I’m taking is more reasonable?" You’re being reasonable in that the approach has worked for your goals; but I don’t see where it’s totally reasonable to ask how important is it to develop one’s ability to learn to play by ear while giving (mostly) reasons about how impractical it is.

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Re: Is the skill of learning a tune by ear a must?

Let’s get back to basics: The question was about whether learning by ear is a must. The indisputable answer is no, it is not. It is also not a must to eat a balanced diet. I have members of my family who lived into their 90’s not eating a balanced diet. I eat a balanced diet and I play by ear. But then I also eat food that is less good for me and I learn many tunes from sheet music. If I get what I want by doing what I do, there is no "must" beyond that.

If your question is about whether you will discover you are not getting what you want because you didn’t take the time to train your ear, I direct you to the first answer in this thread, written by a very wise man.

Hee hee.

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Re: Is the skill of learning a tune by ear a must?

And of course you’re correct, Ailin (oh wise one). It is a very sensible answer. And so I guess I’ll just continue on my merry musical way, and perhaps one day will find the time and ambition to learn by ear and reap the benefits.

Re: Is the skill of learning a tune by ear a must?

"Care to expound?"

• Some people believe that in order to play music it is an absolute "must" to be able to read musical notation. I do not.
• Some people believe that in order to play music it is an absolute "must" to be able to learn it by ear. I do not.

I believe that everyone is different, and people relate to music - and learning - in a myriad of ways. I do not believe that there is only one way of, say, learning a tune, and to assume your own experiences are identical as everyone else’s is unwise.

This does not mean I disagree with the many comments above about the various advantages of listening and ear-learning, but is it an absolute "must"? Of course not.

Re: Is the skill of learning a tune by ear a must?

This is a really interesting discussion and without wishing to derail the (banjo) thrust, I’d love to hear from a guitarist or two. As a guitarist, knowing the actual notes of the melody is clearly far less important than the chords, and while I would hope that over time my ears will improve to the extent that I can quickly learn a tune’s chord sequence, for now I like having the written chords as a learning prop. But the danger there, I think, is the danger of it becoming a permanent prop. How have other guitarists managed this, particularly in a session environment?

Re: Is the skill of learning a tune by ear a must?

Yes , no worries there. IMO its essential to get good chord patterns at the begining so as to avoid overlaying preconceived ideas based on jazz or rock folk etc.
After you have a couple of dozen accurate chord patterns then these will help in understanding more.
Its like mixolydian tunes, chords are I and VII basically, perhaps the odd IV . But Id recomend getting the right chords to the first 50 or more, and catching the tune names, going and finding good chords patterns .
What is important is that the original sorce is good, accurate and simple.
Some tunes , like give me your hand, its essential really to have the right chords, as the chords and melody are as one.
The chords include the melody notes , if they are not then your substituting, exactly what happens when you come to the music from another genre……i was taught a long time ago that there is no substitution in trad.of course its everywhere these days, jazzers and all.
This often works ok, the tunesmiths just get on with it, its the best they can get. But according to the pre revival , old Irish Fiddler Back in the 80 s Dont do it. I took that lesson on board and its stood me in good stead .
The fact is though that the tune is there, in the chords and the chords are there, in the tune.
So for example finger pick the melody and the chords and the bass as a Classical guitar player would treat any classical piece.
IMO you do actually need to know the tunes, not to play them , though i certainly recomend that , but to know what is happening and what will happen, so you are ready.
For example when you get familiar with theses tunes , and you know what the name is etc you get to grips with typical changes. It becomes instinctive to change key with the tune player, there is no thought just immediate recognition.
Occasionally there will be moments of confusion but when the players congratulate you and smile and express amazement and delight, yr on the right track. When they give you dirty looks, its you that needs to change and improve….. Not them adjusting to you.

Re: Is the skill of learning a tune by ear a must?

I would second Will’s recommendation of sticking to simple chords to begin with, only changing when you have to and avoiding substitutions. This is especially true if you are trying to pick up a tune on the fly. Speaking to a Cape Breton piano player he said that on the second pass of an unfamiliar tune you get to correct the mistakes you made in the first pass. With tunes you know well then you can do whatever as long as it fits in with the tradition. So, yes, in Ireland you would do well not to do anything too jazzy but in Shetland jazzy would be expected. In Cape Breton simple chords are accompanied by bass runs, often chromatic. Here in Scotland you can get away with all approaches - the accompaniment police are not so much in evidence.
I would also agree with Muirshin Durkin that "knowing the actual notes of the melody is … less important" but I would also say that "knowing the melody is important". There is a difference, and it comes down to that playing by ear thing where you know and can pick out the melody without knowing the actual (names of the) notes. With a good ear you can hear chord changes (and, at the next level, can often hear them coming). So I will hear notes of the IV chord, for example, without needing to know what the actual notes are. But it takes a lot of practice. Lots and lots and lots.

Re: Is the skill of learning a tune by ear a must?

I think it ’ is ’ - ( or at least some )
If you want to play, with Irish style etc…
f4

Re: Is the skill of learning a tune by ear a must?

"And so I guess I’ll just continue on my merry musical way, and perhaps one day will find the time and ambition to learn by ear and reap the benefits."

If you haven’t got the time then I would be interested to know what is more pressing. If you haven’t got the ambition after all the time and effort that people here have devoted here to expounding the benefits then you really need to ask yourself why.

Re: Is the skill of learning a tune by ear a must?

@skinnyman and @KNQuail, if you can get the finer detail and have difficulty with the minor detail, there’s probably a reason.

Re: Is the skill of learning a tune by ear a must?

Skinnyman, you don’t HAVE to do anything, but I recommend that you enjoy whatever it is you decide to do.

However, you may very well find yourself in a session or at a workshop wishing that you had better direct ear to instrument mojo. I know I have. Nothing wrong with crossing that bridge when you come to it.

Re: Is the skill of learning a tune by ear a must?

What really helped me learn tunes by ear was breaking the tune into phrases and lilting the phrases. Once I could lilt the tune then I try playing phrase by phrase on my fiddle. Doing it like this I have the tune in my head and know where it is going!

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Re: Is the skill of learning a tune by ear a must?

I’m the opposite. I learned whistle then flute, by ear, just picking up tunes off albums, Planxty, Bothy Band, De Dannan, etc. I went to some flute lessons to firstly get my technique sorted out and also to learn dots, but only partially succeeded in the latter. That was back in the day, and whatever dots expertise I learned then is so rusty as to be questionable to be worth burnishing, but it does work when I get it together. Too much set in my ways now to use the dots as my first point of reference, and in any case I’ve been playing so long that I now know a fair number of tunes, hundreds and hundreds, and they’re all still in there.
Anyway that’s just me. And I’m sorry, but I find it difficult to see it from the point of view of not having a tune in your head first. Dots first, tune in your head second means to me a very mechanical way of approaching *this* music in particular. Maybe that’s not such a big deal with the "frying pan" though. (So says the typewriter man.)
I suppose my point is, I imagine most of the older generation of Irish players were so immersed in the local culture of playing local tunes, it was like a pastime…like football, or something. You just did it because everybody else, who liked to play, did it. And you don’t need a diagram of a football pitch with all the right moves, to practice again and again, to score goals, if you’re Ronaldo. It’s just there. OK, maybe the moves need to be perfected by practice. But real talent is that clever, inspired playing, knowing your tunes, knowing your game, then inputing that extra something. Bobby Casey. Seamus Connolly. Tansey. Paddy O’Brien (both!)
Sorry, this doesn’t answer your question. At all. But here’s an "outside the box" suggestion: would you ever consider picking up a D tin whistle, learn the fingering, get some tunes in your head, practice them to death until you "own" them, then keep acquiring more and more, all the while siphoning off those you now "own" onto the banjo? Just a thought. Might be way of digesting this deceptively complex genre without biting off more than you can chew, all at once.

Re: Is the skill of learning a tune by ear a must?

Well y’all - maybe I just wasn’t trying hard enough. There’s a tune on this disc:
https://thesession.org/recordings/894
It’s the tune that follows The Peacock on Track 3. It is unamed on the posting. It seem uncomplicated so I gave it a try and this is what I came up with (this is also my first attempt at writing abc notation, so please bear with me – I also don’t know about using dotted quarter notes in a hornpipe):

X: 1
T: unknown tune following The Peacock
R: hornpipe
M: 4/4
L: 1/8
K: Dmaj
|:A|BAGB d2de|gabg e2ga|bgaf gfed|BcdB A3A|
BAGB d2de|gabg e2ga|bgaf gfed|egfa g3A|


Something doesn’t sound quite right in the 4th bar to me. So if anybody out there has this disc I would appreciate you 1) letting me know how accurate I am on the abc’s, and 2) informing me of the name of the tune if you know it.

Re: Is the skill of learning a tune by ear a must?

This is Part A only of course.

Re: Is the skill of learning a tune by ear a must?

skinnyman, great to hear you’re trying your ear learning a Tulla Ceili Band tune.
There are two Peacock Feather Hornpipe (or barndance) tunes. Sometimes played together. You probably already knew the first one. Here’s the 2nd one ~ https://www.irishtune.info/tune/4377/

Yeah, something’s a bit funny about your abcs. Keep at it though, it’s a great tune to get your ears started on.

Ben

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Re: Is the skill of learning a tune by ear a must?

Thanks, Ben. It actually came easier and took less time than I thought it would. In the past I would get too frustrated and give up. I wonder if there is some sort of threshold or tipping point going on, meaning I’ve played my instrument long enough and learned enough tunes to internalize patterns, for instance, so that it’s finally coming easier. The other thing is you have verified something that I felt as I was learning this - I was questioning whether or not it was a hornpipe and even though I’m not really sure what signifies a barndance, that’s what came into my head as to what it could be other than a hornpipe.

Re: Is the skill of learning a tune by ear a must?

Yes there is a tipping point as you put it, its cumulative so keep at it…
In fact there are a number of tipping points! And there is a strange circularity to it , where after youve been througha number of tipping points you end up where you began with a beginers mind . Kind of like going through the circle of 5ths in just intonation. :-)

Re: Is the skill of learning a tune by ear a must?

Bu just reading the ABC (and going through the tune in my head), it seems as if the tune is in G, and not D. The "dottedness" can be written, but most who are familiar with hornpipes (and read music) will add the bounce anyway.

Re: Is the skill of learning a tune by ear a must?

Not a must, but if you have the dual skills of being able to read music AND learn by ear, they are complementary: it’s not an either/or situation, nor is one inherently better than the other. I refute any notion that people who play exclusively from written music are somehow incapable of putting feeling or expression into their playing.
I came up through classical music, so learned to read music at an early age, for which I am very thankful. When I started playing more trad music, the aim was to teach and learn by ear, and as Meara says, break tunes down into short phrases at a slower pace, and sing the tune to yourself. We usually get given the written music after having learned a piece by ear, and some use it, some don’t. As Nigel says, everyone has their own way of doing it.
Improving my ear learning has undoubtedly been very useful for my playing, both on button accordion and on piano, and as I also play guitar (not all at once!) the instinct for what chords fit as described by Donaldk can be translated to piano too. But it is also good to be able to open a tunebook and sight-read new tunes, just as it is good to be able to listen to a tune and transcribe it to notation.
If you are going to learn tunes from CDs, you will just get that person’s interpretation- and it’s fine for that person to do it their own way, but don’t regard it as the definitive or "correct" version to be slavishly copied. (Just as you hear some singers copy/cover their hero’s great song, down to every last wee vocal ornament!)
But if you are going to play as a band, rather than a session player, it sounds better if you have an agreed way of playing your tunes, so that the band sounds "tight" and not a mushy mess.

Re: Is the skill of learning a tune by ear a must?

I think that some level of ear learning ability IS a must if you intend to play in sessions with other people.

Not for initially learning tunes, you can do that whatever way works best for you. But once you get to the session you’ll find that the tunes are rarely played exactly as you have learned them, or as they appear on your sheet music. No one is going to sit down and write out an exact transcript for you to play from, so the only way you can play along is to listen and adapt to their version by ear - which requires exactly the same skills as learning a tune from scratch by ear.

Re: Is the skill of learning a tune by ear a must?

Mark makes a good point. I find that the session version of some tunes I’ve been playing for years has enough variation that I need to adapt to fit in. Until Mark’s post, I’ve never really chalked that up to my ear training, but if I could not play by ear, I wonder if I would be able to do this so easily or at all.

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Re: Is the skill of learning a tune by ear a must?

It’s not a MUST, but it sure as hell helps.

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Re: Is the skill of learning a tune by ear a must?

I have been learning the Scottish Small Pipes for about two years (and recently the Border Pipes) and I can’t read music. I am not very happy about that, because I realize I am at a big loss, and I am trying to discipline myself to learn. I learn by ear ("audio-learner"), listening over and over and over to a tune. Sometimes I will down-load it and play along with the performer. (Sometimes just a day later I may forget how the tune even starts and need to go back to the video- ugh!
A month or so ago I was at a Piper’s Weekend in West Virginia. Awesome event with great people, famous musicians and lots of talent; about 70 or 80 folks. The class sizes were nice and small, maybe between 15 and 20 people. Everyone could read music, except me. I was completely lost as the sheet music was distributed and everyone worked on learning the tune. (I had an amazing education there anyway!) I knew then I had to learn. I remember what one teacher had said about Irish music (which he was teaching); learning by ear is vital, but reading music is also very important.

Re: Is the skill of learning a tune by ear a must?

I’ll leave aside the musical/pedagogical ground that has been so thoroughly covered. But putting my retired actuary hat on:

> I’m >60 years of age

Someone aged 60 in good health is likely to live another thirty years, twenty of them in good health. So you can stick your green bananas and get on with learning whatever skills are useful for you to learn.

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Re: Is the skill of learning a tune by ear a must?

I think Trish makes a good point with regards to classical music, which I think relies to a much greater extent on written music. Because a classical musician learns from a score it doesn’t mean that he/she can’t put a "feel" or his own particular interpretation into it. Granted the musician is listening to teachers, recordings, and other musicians, but isn’t most of the original learning done using a score (I’m not a classical musician and I don’t know this for sure)? Why would that be different for traditional musicians? And I do realize the importance of tradition, and agree that learning by ear is the better option, but just as an academic question I’m curious as to why the method used by classical musicians can’t be just as effective for traditional musicians. I’m just trying to satisfy my curiosity here and not trying to argue for the superiority of one way of learning over another and I’m not intending to show disrespect to tradition.

Re: Is the skill of learning a tune by ear a must?

Learning a tune with a single melody line, played more or less in unison, with regular repeats, phrases using call & response, etc. is relatively straightforward if you are learning it by ear.

Classical music, depending on what it is, can have any number of voices (instruments & pitch ranges) , a good bit of harmony, varying numbers of instruments playing (w/those not playing need to know when their bit comes in), carefully orchestrated solos, etc. and can become overwhelmingly demanding. In other words sheet music from one genre to the other doesn’t mean it’s serving the same purpose.

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Re: Is the skill of learning a tune by ear a must?

Learning by ear is an option, but not the better option. Classical musicians learn from a printed score, but it is the exception rather than the rule for a soloist to play from a written score. Memorizing is different than learning, however. Learning trad by ear has the advantage that you don’t have to find a score and also that, if you play at a session, you will be learning how your fellow players play the tune.

Speaking personally, I’ve never found the way I play from a tune learned by ear to differ from a tune a learned from a score. But there is no question that the ability to do both is mighty handy and I think makes for a better player overall. This is especially true if you want to play more than one genre of music. Think of ear training as right-brained and reading a score as left-brained. Overall, I think of myself as one who does not favor one side over the other and I could go on at length about the advantages of that.

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Re: Is the skill of learning a tune by ear a must?

At the end of the day, the main difference is how you react when your fellow musicians suddenly play something that’s different from what you play. (It can be a note, it can be a phrase, a whole variation, a tune in another key - and it’s something that happens in every session)

Do you sit out or do you want to join them? Those who are used to learning by ear usually adapt at once (if that’s doable), and those who are not, don’t.

Re: Is the skill of learning a tune by ear a must?

Funny thing about listening to other players is when you hear a different variation and the next time through you try to switch to what you heard the other person doing, and they are doing the same thing and switch to what you just did.

Re: Is the skill of learning a tune by ear a must?

The point id like to make anout notation and tradition is that there is not just one traditional approach. its traditional for Pipers use dots, maybe not all, but to actually identify what is happening in tunes like this http://www.ceolsean.net/content/Logan/Book02/Book02%2030.pdf
By ear, when its played one time through …….
Uilleann pipes are no less complex in their gracings and Pat Mitchel has done some amazing work in transcriptions of Seamus Ennis, Willie Clancy and Patsy Touhey .
Is it essential? Depends what you wish to achieve.

Re: Is the skill of learning a tune by ear a must?

Yes, bagpipe notation is in a league on its own! And I believe that for those who enter competitions, all those notated ornaments have to be just right, or you risk losing marks.
It also seems that many piano accordionists play from sheet music as they have to follow both melody and chords. Some can move away from this for session playing, others don’t or can’t.
When I am playing piano/keyboard in the bands I’m in, I just have a melody line and chords: I don’t have the full left hand part written out as in standard piano music: but it does help to make sure that I’m doing the same as the other chord players, another essential in a band situation. In some sessions you can have all the guitarists doing different things, according to what their ear suggests to them, or the number of chords they know!

Re: Is the skill of learning a tune by ear a must?

> Yes, bagpipe notation is in a league on its own!

But bear in mind that ornamentation follows a stylistic pattern. If you gave me and another piper the same tune without embellishment, we’d grace it in very similar ways. There are a few people I know who I’d put money on me and them coming up gracenote for gracenote.

And it’s also worth pointing out that traditional bagpipe notation does not come close to describing what we actually do.

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Re: Is the skill of learning a tune by ear a must?

Http://research.culturalequity.org/get-audio-detailed-recording.do?recordingId=12046
This is my favourite piece of music at the moment.
Listen to this and tell me how much could be transmitted through the dots! This is why ear learning is so important….
But imagine doing it all by ear, as a non gaelic speaker?!
A transcription would be a good place to start, but not enough by half. .


Regarding the standardisation within the Highland piping world , this is exactly why we stress the supremacy of ear learning in the world Of Irish music.
I cant think of a worse thing that could happen than to have every player playing the same one setting , same ornaments in the same place creating dull dry boring renditions devoid of life and spirit, technically perfect maybe….. (though saying that actually the technical standard , the bar, is set so high few get to approach it and there is a mass of indifferent piping) Can you imagine sitting through 35 note for note versions of the same tune as a judge….

Look at the wealth of possibilities below , every setting different!
Yet where is this heritage ? In the old books but not in the field. Is this supposed to be progress? An advance?

Of course in a band the cacophony that would result if half a dozen pipers played the different settings below all at the same time does not bear thinking of, so clearly in that situation everyone has to play together.

The rote system was introduced by the military to train up novices to fill the ranks of the regimental band. Learn the few sets , note for note like clones. This has its function in a military setting. But the overall result has resulted in something that surely wasnt envisioned a century or so ago?!

Granted the machismo and pomp , the fancy dress and the kilt as well as the sound and heritage has attracted a large modern following of the pipes and they are doing very well. But is the music doing so well?
IMO The competition scene and the "ruling elite" have a lot to answer for, and thats not hyperbole.


http://www.piperspersuasion.trad.org.uk/allanmacdonald/

In this interview they lament the standardisation that’s resulted from the competition and Band scene, pipers playing the same tune, note for note, grace for grace from a particular setting thats has received " official endorsement"then look at the various settings of the tune
I linked earlier:
http://www.ceolsean.net/content/Betts/Book04/Book04%207.pdf
http://www.ceolsean.net/content/RSPS/Book02/Book02%2027.pdf
http://www.ceolsean.net/content/RSPS/Book01/Book01%2027.pdf
http://www.ceolsean.net/content/Logan/Book02/Book02%2030.pdf
http://www.ceolsean.net/content/GlenDar/Book02/Book02%202.pdf
http://www.ceolsean.net/content/DGlen/Book18/Book18%2029.pdf
http://www.ceolsean.net/content/DGlen/Book04/Book04%2025.pdf

There was a determined attempt to stamp out alternative ways of playing to the preferred approach by a few influential figures . There was a huge ‘scene’ over a certain note in a certain movement that was derogatively described as the " redundant A" and as a result pipe music cant be read by non pipers anymore.
Yet look at the books, the evidence… All through them , book after book…. There is the A , everywhere, any of you can read the music, just ignore the small graces. Try that with a modern transcription as a fiddler or pianist , forget it, it makes no musical sense.
Far from the redundant A , its more like the essential A!
Listen to the old interviews of pipers complaint about this. Some left the scene altogether as a result of this being imposed on them from , what was. Basically aristocratic , amateur pipers , with high status who controlled the competition scene. i could name names but its of little importance.
Though saying that there was a really serious controversy regarding child abuse accusations that took the piping world by storm, of course it was all denied , covered up and the guy who made the accusations ruined.
Today we hear of pedophile rings in the highest ranks of the government, the entertainment industry, who knows where else, who knew 130 different British mps and government officials are on the sex offenders register? Look at the latest in a long line of scandals with the Etonian network, the Catholic Church…. and it hardly seems so far fetched now does it…..
Anyhow sorry for the digression I d rather speak up and be banned than keep my mouth shut and tacitly support it and allow it to continue.
Back to the music !
http://www.allanmacdonald.com/about.php
http://www.thepipingcentre.co.uk/teachers/allan-macdonald/
https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=v1DQQAKbsHo

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=BAxeKEZSJ6c

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=1AGcCrvaWc8

Re: Is the skill of learning a tune by ear a must?

> I cant think of a worse thing that could happen than to have every player playing the same one setting

Me neither. It’s a good thing your description of the culture of the GHB is completely false.

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Re: Is the skill of learning a tune by ear a must?

Phew! Can o’ worms opened!
But, while I am not a piper, I am very aware of what people like Gordon Duncan, Hamish Moore, Allan Macleod, Ross Ainslie and others have done to break out of the strictly regulated moulds.
Not really what this thread is about, however. Start a new one?

Re: Is the skill of learning a tune by ear a must?

A have a friend who is 70 years old who just recently learned how to learn by ear. I taught him how to do it after he was 65 years old. He had a high pressure job before and never took the time to train his ear. He says it was the best thing he ever did as far as his music is concerned. Spend the time. It will enrich your life.

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Re: Is the skill of learning a tune by ear a must?

Also, as per whether it is necessary, here is some advice from Jean-Pierre Rampal, who was a classical musician:

"A musician must always play with his ears, and not trust the instrument. They are all false. And besides, I can take a flute and change the pitch by almost a fourth of a tone without moving the embouchure or the mouthpiece. It is very easy. So if you don’t play with the ears—impossible. You must always adjust and always think of the note before you play." Jean-Pierre Rampal, Flute Talk Magazine (The Instrumentalist) November 1972.

He was not talking about "learning by ear" or "playing by ear" as we would, but rather playing "with your ear". I think that learning how to play is essentially adding a tool to your toolbox. Even if you learn primarily by sheet music, you will play better from sheet music if your ear is better trained. Basically, what he is referring to is hearing the sound in your head when you play each note.

He is assuming that a classical flautist is learning "the sounds" from sheet music. Essentially, he’s recommending that your mental representation of the tune should be first and foremost based on sound, not based on the "note name" or "the fingering."

So, I would recommend getting some software like the Amazing Slow Downer and learning a tune by ear just to see what it is like. Take those lessons to your other tunes, and try using a mixture of ear and sheet learning. Personally, I usually learn the gist of a tune by ear, then check the sheet music to fill in the blanks. After that, I go back to the recording to find the variations, and then let the tune live in my head.

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Re: Is the skill of learning a tune by ear a must?

I’m a late (re) starter too. 71 old and a few years into banjo and guitar.
Learning by ear most definitely isn’t a "must" for a beginner, but is an essential skill which you will pick up, sooner or later, the more you play. Don’t worry about it! Learn by as many processes as you can access.
But I’m a great believer in getting back to basics with some simple exercises - playing tunes which are already in your head, from childhood often, such as Baa baa black sheep. Pick it out on one string - it just fits from the nut to the 12th fret. You might be surprised at how difficult this is at first - even semi competent players can get caught out with simple stuff. Player faster, or with more expression, eventually with variations. Then do the same with any other tune already in your head, christmas carols, "Happy Birthday", etc
This way you are opening up the channels for getting tunes out from within your head.
Getting them in there in the first place is another process.

PS I’d add - you reach a point where you can play familiar tunes without prompting from the notes or tab - this is the start of "playing by ear" in that it’s in your mind and you can get it out to your fingers.