Always stumbling…need advice

Always stumbling…need advice

I’ve got a problem with consistently making errors as I play a tune. It seems like I literally can’t make it through a tune without making some kind of flub. The problem is amplified if an audience of any sort is present. Needless to say this is leading to a great deal of frustration. And the problem is not due to a lack of practice. I strongly suspect the problem has primarily to do with breathing and relaxation issues. I’m wondering if anyone has any experience with things like yoga or meditation to help deal with issues like this. Any suggestions or advice is appreciated.

Re: Always stumbling…need advice

That sounds perfectly normal to me….. I’m certainly the same.
I haven’t tried any relaxation techniques, other than 2 or 3 pints of Belhaven, which I find relaxes me to the point that I’m not as worried about the bum notes 😀

I suppose, it’s whether an audience, as opposed to other players, even notice the odd fluffed note or two?

Jim

Re: Always stumbling…need advice

sounds pretty normal to me. My advice would be to not worry about trying to find ways to avoid mistakes, but concentrate on playing through them and keeping going, not stopping every time you make a little error. If you can keep going the audience will barely notice the mistake. If you stop it’s a train wreck.

Re: Always stumbling…need advice

Yep normal.
Amateurs practice until they can play a tune; professional and performing players must practice until they can play a tune and get it right every time, in front of a hypercritical audience.
So either go back a step and play something you know you can do faultlessly, or just get thick skinned about fluffing it. Total brass neck - f-ckem all. It’s all part of the learning curve.
Remember - if you can play anything at all, however simple, you are a better musician than 90% of a typical audience.
PS thats good advice above - rhythm is king - keep going - try to get back on the beat rather than stopping and/or restarting.

Re: Always stumbling…need advice

Everyone here has posted good feedback so far. And I agree about making more mistakes in front of a crowd being normal. When I started performing more often a couple years ago, I found that closing my eyes on stage often helped to calm the healthy nervousness/anticipation that can happen with any performance and wanting to do ones best. On top of that, I found that it helped me to focus my senses on the sound and making sure I fit in well with the group. Some venues, like pubs, have a lot going on, and it’s nice to filter out some of the "noise".

Re: Always stumbling…need advice

The yoga teacher in me can’t help chiming in: First, be gentle with yourself! Mistakes are always more apparent to the musician than to an audience. Second, a few breathing techniques that might help before a performance (or during depending on your instrument) or really any old time, for that matter:

Square breath- inhale, counting to four, hold the inhalation, counting to four, exhale, counting to four, hold the exhalation, counting to four (or any #). You can draw the sides of the square in your minds eye with each segment of the breath.

1:1 breath - inhale counting to four, exhale counting to four (or any #).
1:2 breath - inhale counting to four, exhale counting to 8 (as long as exhale is doubled, any #). This is my go-to if I need to settle down in a hurry.

Whenever you work with a count and the breath, let your intention not be to stay with the count, since that’s not how our minds work (but can be trained!) but to return to the count when you’ve noticed your mind has wandered - without judging yourself (the tricky part). Give yourself five minutes of practice to start, then add time if you find it helps.

Or, sing! Singing has the same effect regulating the breath - doesn’t matter how it sounds, either. Sorry to ramble! Good luck! 🙂

Posted by .

Re: Always stumbling…need advice

One of the better known players once told me that he still makes plenty of mistakes, but that the trick is to play with confidence, and make people believe you meant to play it that way. It’s very true that the player is more critical about the mistakes than the audience.

One of the secrets to success is being able to let go of the past. If you make a mistake, let it go, and keep the flow going. If you fixate on the mistake, then you’ll make more mistakes, and the whole thing can spiral out of control. If you can let it slide into the past, and keep everything going, then both you and the audience will continue to be focused on the present and future. One thing that seems to work for me is to literally laugh off the mistakes. Unexpected things are the core of comedy, and if you chuckle when you make a mistake, so will the audience (if they even noticed the mistake).

Another skill that can really come in handy when your nerves are getting the best of you is to be able to simplify what you’re playing. Take out the fancy ornaments and make sure you have the tune and rhythm flowing steadily before you try to do too much with the tune. That also brings up another important point, and that is that if you’re still in a situation where you rely on ‘kinesthetic memory’ to play a tune (where you rely on the familiarity of the finger pattern to remember how the tune goes), then a mistake can be very costly, because if you play a wrong note, your fingers will likely become "lost". So the goal of all players should be to internalize the melodies so that their brain is navigating the tune, and they are only relying on muscle memory to remember how to play the notes and ornaments that their brain wants them to play. Players that are still in the stage of relying on the muscle memory to play a tune can find it really hard to remove (or add) ornaments, because it changes what their hands are doing…

And finally, I think you nailed it when you talk about breathing and relaxation. When things are going wrong, we naturally tense up, and that is not going to help. So try practicing relaxation when you’re sitting at home playing by yourself. See if you can calm yourself even when there’s no pressure and you’re not tense. dyersituations mentioned closing your eyes, which can be calming. Also try playing softer, or smoother, and see if you can find a "calm place" that you can latch onto and summon in the more tense situations when you need it. Or at the very least, try to remember the tactics that helped you get there when there was no pressure, and see if it works for you when there is pressure.

Re: Always stumbling…need advice

Ssssslllloooooowwwww dddooooowwwwnnnn…..

Re: Always stumbling…need advice

Go with the pints of belhaven. The best bit of sense I’ve heard on this forum

Re: Always stumbling…need advice

I was recently recording some music (solo guitar) and it hit home yet again just how big is the difference between "listening for mistakes", which I was doing, and "listening to the music" - which is what I and probably everyone else does at a concert or such; it’s almost like listening to two versions of the same piece, in my mind at least. I think once you make this distinction it can take that pressure off to an extent, and more importantly allow you to enjoy your performance as both performer and audience member.

In a slightly tongue-in-cheek way I’m also a great believer in repeating a mistake which kind of retroactively legitimizes it - obviously depends on the mistake though…

Re: Always stumbling…need advice

Some great advice here. Now my two cents’:

1) Some of your tunes may be too difficult for the stage you’re at. Sometimes I spend so much time working on a tune that I can’t quite get, that I get rusty on the ones I’ve ‘mastered’, and then have the unpleasant experience of pulling one out on the fly, and flubbing it.

2) Is your ego getting in the way? Sometimes I choose to perform the tune that I imagine is going to impress the other musicians rather than perform the old chestnut that is easy to play - and that the non-musicians will love. And then I flub the fancy-pants tune …..

3) Have you taken on too many tunes? I really try to avoid new tunes, now; I have too many that I’ve ‘learned’, but cannot confidently play in front of others; I want to get all those tunes ‘up to speed’ before I take on more.

4) Try starting any practice session or performance with simple tunes that you learned in your early days of playing your instrument. You will notice that when some well-known professional musician is called out of the audience for a brief guest spot on stage - when they haven’t had a chance to warm up in the Green Room - they will almost always play something simple, and/or something you’ve heard them play a million times. When you go to a show and see the performer start at full tilt, they’ve probably been warming up in the Green Room for half and hour.

5) Try not to judge yourself against the hot-shot players. Some of them are freaks of nature; some of them started playing when they were three-years-old, and grew up with with the music and with ‘coaches’ all around them.

6) Try keeping the melody going in your head as you play, and concentrate on that rather than on where your fingers should or should not go.

Re: Always stumbling…need advice

I’m with Himself. Slow down. Practice dead slow if necessary. You’ll catch yourself doing that momentary lapse that brings on a mistake. Dead slow. And when you can play it perfectly dead slow, then, and only then, slowly increase your speed.

Re: Always stumbling…need advice

My basic criteria for ‘knowing a tune’ is to be able to play it three times over without one mistake. So it sounds to me like it’s a matter of revisiting your roots and approaching your tunes in that way.
Of course being able to play a tune 3 times error free is a lot easier at home in a stress free environment. Many things are like this ,easy in practice but harder in performance so stress testing is an important, maybe essential , aspect of training your arts.
So hers an idea, play your tune, a ‘simple’ jig or reel say then go run round the block until your sweating and panting then play it again. …… quite a challenge. Once you master the tune under this stress you can think of other ideas, like play it standing on one leg, or while walking, or running! Or dancing! Get a mate to shout at you how crap you are while your playing it or throw bottles at you and you gotta dodge the bottles and not drop a note 🙂 find a big stage that’s empty and play on the stage . Get your mates to take the Micky or throw tomatoes at you.
A few tongue in cheek ideas but you get the picture. Once you can play and disassociate your mind from the playing, so you relax and your body does it for you and you can read a book while playing , or hold a conversation , then you will find that just playing in front of people is easy enough.

Re: Always stumbling…need advice

If by playing in public, you’re talking about playing solo, in front of an audience, then you need to remember that things like emotion, intensity, rhythm, fun - in other words, "performance" - are all more important than whether or not you fluff a note. I’ve seen singers forget words, restart songs, heard fiddlers hit bum notes, heard a harmonica player hit a screamingly awful note cos he’d put his harp in the rack upside down (that one was very funny actually) … and none of it affected the overall performance really because the performer was In The Zone.

Think about THE MATERIAL. Think about THE PERFORMANCE. What does this tune mean to you - what’s special about it, what do you want to share with the audience? It’s not an exam. They’re not listening with a checklist to make sure you hit every note perfectly. They want to be entertained, shocked, surprised, delighted, enthralled, they want to dance, they want to tap their feet. In the case of Irish traditional music, the last two are probably the most important. So if you’re worrying about "getting it right", you’ve already got it wrong. Close your eyes and take the tunes where they want to go. I sing a lot. I used to get terrible nerves - crippling nerves to the extent my hands would shaking and my knees wobbling.

My epiphany moment was when I saw Martin Carthy play live and was mightily impressed by how he shared his love and commitment to The Songs, and how it ran seamlessly through his delivery, his singing, his guitar playing and his conversation and introductions in between. I realised that it was the emotional content that was important. Paradoxically, once I stopped worrying about the notes, it became easier to play them.

With a public performance it’s worth having a good warm up. I’ve sometimes played more or less my entire set in a quiet corner of a venue, before playing the actual set. It’s OK to have a drink beforehand if you have terrible nerves, but don’t let it become a crutch. It’s OK to remind your fingers of a difficult part of a tune just before you play it, e.g. while you’re introducing it. (So many pro performers do this, I’ve noticed, they remind themselves of the main riff, or the B-part or something, very quickly and casually, before playing the tune) Talking to the audience about the music is a great way of relaxing and creating a rapport. They want to like you. You want them to like you.
IT’s OK to start your tunes slow and work up to a faster pace over the course of 9 or 10 bars. It’s OK - in fact an excellent idea - to start your gig with a tune that’s super simple and easy. Or two or three tunes that are super simple and easy. If it’s all ITM you’re playing, try starting the gig with a nice slow hornpipe or a simple polka. Go easy on the ornaments for a while.

Public performance is not about the technical stuff, it’s about atmosphere and communication. But private practise very much IS about the technical stuff. I NEVER play material at a gig unless I’ve had a chance to practise that material on the day or the night before – even if it’s just half an hour before the gig in the venue’s stairwell.

Other epiphany: recording your practise. RECORD EVERYTHING. Treat it as a performance. Identify the weak bits. Practise them to death. Note which tunes you’re better at, which tunes you’re worse at.

Re: Always stumbling…need advice

I’ll use the analogy of Zen meditation, as requested; when sitting in Zen meditation (‘zazen’), one’s focus is to be on the breathing. The purpose is to calm the mind and leave it completely still. Therefore, as a thought pops into your head, you don’t actively fight to prevent it; you acknowledge it, and immediately let it go.

Similarly, when you’re playing a tune and you make a mistake, just let it go and keep going. The more you dwell on it, the more your mistakes will compound and the whole thing will come off the rails. When I’m playing in front of an audience, I generally close my eyes or just stare directly into the monitor, and play the tune as best as I can play it that day. Usually, if I make a flub, the audience won’t notice at all. They WILL notice if I get visibly nervous, agitated, stop playing, pass out, or go into cardiac arrest. This isn’t to say I don’t try my best, but the moral of the story is: don’t sweat it, accept it as part of the process, do your best, and keep playing.

Re: Always stumbling…need advice

A couple of other thoughts on the subject (I’ve had reason to give the matter some thought over the years!):

1) A rule of thumb: when I play a newer tune in front of an audience, I assume I will play it no better than I did a month before alone at home.
2) I’ve seen any number of thoroughly accomplished musicians who never perform alone; they always perform not only with ‘back-up’, but with someone doubling on the same instrument (type of, that is).
3) Contrarily, there are a few musicians who are virtually unaffected by nerves; they’re just born that way. Lucky them!

Re: Always stumbling…need advice

This blog has been mentioned here before, I think:
http://www.bulletproofmusician.com/blog/
It’s not a perfect fit for an ITM audience in that he’s coming from a classical perspective and often assumes a passage will be learned and played exactly one way. Still, he’s got interesting bits addressing practice, performance, nerves, mistakes, etc. There’s also an online course and coaching (both for a fee), but I haven’t used either one so I have no idea if they are helpful or not.

Re: Always stumbling…need advice

Here’s a trick you can try, provided you can find a willing accomplice: Get someone you would like to impress - doesn’t matter if they know the music or not - and have them listen to something you have learned and think you’ve gotten down. I find if I can get through a tune with my wife (non-musical) or my band mates, playing in front of an audience without a major flub is much easier. You’re very exposed playing for someone whose good opinion you prize. Over time, you might find this process less necessary, but I recommend taking as needed.

My other issue is overthinking what I’m doing. As soon as my mind starts going, "Hey, this sounds good!" Crash! Instant flub. Think the tune, not how you’re playing it. (Easier said than done, grasshopper, but well worth the effort!)

And finally, whenever possible, convert a flub into an embellishment, ornament, or variation. That in itself is a talent and one worth pursuing.

I do all of this, and it helps, but we must be kind to ourselves because making mistakes keeps us humble and ever trying to be better.

BTW, I am of the opinion that unless you are truly trying to run before you can walk, playing slowly does little to develop the ability to play faster, but perhaps that’s just me.

Posted by .

Re: Always stumbling…need advice

Great advice so far. One thing that really helped me; make sure you don’t practice your mistakes. If you hear yourself making a mistake, especially if the same mistake happens more than once. Stop, slow down by a lot, practice that specific phrase and speed up slowly.

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Re: Always stumbling…need advice

Silly question(s), perhaps, but are the tunes particularly tricky or is it just that you don’t know them yet? It’s not uncommon for (less experienced?) musicians to get stuck, to mix up parts, ignore (or add) beats and so on, especially during the learning process.

As Njugglebreck and Mark M say, an odd note here or there isn’t the end of the world. If you get stuck, make sure you have a strategy to get out.

(Then some people are perhaps too eager to play in front of an audience. I’ve been playing the fiddle for ~15 years - but didn’t even bring it to sessions until a few years ago. Gigs? No way.)

Re: Always stumbling…need advice

Many thanks for the input from all of you. The points that were made are all good ones and things that I think I already knew in my heart, but need to be reminded of constantly. I’m a great seeker of the elusive (because pretty well non-existent) silver bullet for answers to various problems, so it’s good to be reminded of things that are actually doable but require patience. So here’s a summary of what you’re saying:
1) Slow down – probably the easiest one to remember and implement.
2) Go easy on the ornamentation until one can play the tune frontwards and backwards without ornamentation. I’ve taken to working on ornamentation in relative isolation just to keep them in shape.
3) Don’t give in to the temptation to keep expanding repertoire and work on a core group of tunes. I’ve probably learned about 300 tunes that I could play at one time. I’ve got it down to about 75 that I’ll use as a core that I’ll stick to and practice religiously. Too many?
4) Work on learning how to play through the mistakes and avoid stopping.
5) Belhaven? Unfortunately I’m one of those whose playing only gets worse after pints.
Meghan Canada, thanks for your advice on yoga and breathing. My wife is a yoga practitioner and she’s going to give me some pointers/lessons on breathing. Reverend, I’m intrigued by your comment – are you saying that there’s a difference in the brain-hand messaging (kinesthetic memory vs melody memory) and that developing the latter will help alleviate the problem? Care to expound?
Finally I think I have, if anything, understated the extent of my problem. First off I’m not a performer and I’m not talking here about performing in front of a group of people. If there is any type of audience I’m talking not little mistakes but errors of train-wreck proportions. I can’t even seem to make it through making a little video I can share with musician friends without going completely off the tracks. So I’ve got a lot to work on. Strangely enough, the one circumstance where I don’t have problem is when playing with a group of musicians with whom I’ve played with on a regular basis (actually not strange at all – it’s all about comfort level). Unfortunately I’ve moved to a relatively remote location and those opportunities are few and far between. Anyways, lots to work on (and no silver bullet) and thanks to all again for your input.

Re: Always stumbling…need advice

It just needs practice 😉
I’ve found my own ‘sweet spot’ is between 2 and 4 pints. Any more and the fingers don’t work as fast as the brain.
The trick is to drink slowly enough to keep in that zone all night……..

I have enough trouble sitting and playing. If i tried to concentrate on my breathing as well, then I’d get in a right messs…..

Jim

Re: Always stumbling…need advice

Don’t practise your mistakes is very good advice - see above.

Go easy 0n tbe pints. One will get you in the frame, but don’t go mad thinking that the drink will improve you. It won’t!

It’s a cliche that the audience won’t notice mistakes, but it’s true. One other thing - the audience is one hundred percent on your side. They are not out to get you, to nitpick your mistakes. They are there for a good time and they are right behind you in that conspiracy to achieve it.

A good thing to do, at least for a while, is to avoid exposing yourself too much by being the only melody player. Playing in a group will increase your confidence. Record your group and you’ll be amazed how good you sound. Play exposed on your own and you’ll be your own severest critic when you listen back. That can be a good thing but it can also shatter your confidence!

Re: Always stumbling…need advice

"I can’t even seem to make it through making a little video I can share with musician friends without going completely off the tracks"

I know what you mean. "Red Light Fever" - the second you know you are being recorded is the second you start making mistakes.

One solution: assuming you have the hard-drive space, just go into recording mode and play a tune or two over and over again, leaving the video running. You’ll forget it’s there. If you can video a whole 20 minutes or half an hour of yourself playing then you’ll not only be able to find a good performance of the tune somewhere in there, but you’ll also have a good insight into how your sound improves as you warm up.

There’s only one real remedy for Red Light Fever and that’s to record yourself as much as possible, so that it ceases to be any kind of big deal and becomes just something you do

I find that when I record myself playing a whole bunch of my favourite tunes, it quickly becomes apparent which ones need the least work – which ones don’t sound awful, and in fact sound pretty decent. Focus on those – you can always come back to the ones that sound bloody terrible at a later date). Play to your strengths. Work on those good ones and you might surprise yourself with a video or recording that you can be pleased with.

Re: Always stumbling…need advice

Skinny Man: Are you learning your tunes from notation by ear or by way of a combination of the two?

If you learning the tune from notation, I suggest begin playing the tune as slowly as necessary to play each note in perfect sequence: Play as ridiculously slow as to absolutely avoid incorporating a mistake. Begin from the beginning if you make a mistake. As you learn the tune completely mistake-free, slowly increase your speed.
Learn the tune as a piece: Not as a few bars that you’ll link together later. Learn it as it’s meant to be played.
For example AA BB AA BB. Right through. Start to finish.

It would be best to begin with brand new tunes. It is often more difficult to unlearn mistakes you’ve incorporated into the tunes you know enough to stumble through.

As the proper sequence of notes is learned, you’ll have increasing time to pay attention to intonation, articulation and expression. If you give these much conscious attention while initially learning the note sequence, the learning of the sequence will suffer.

After a few hundred times of playing through the tune without mistake, it will be difficult to incorporate mistakes. Indeed, by then you will be playing without the devil of conscious awareness that often is more harmful than beneficial. All this is hard but enjoyable work taking much time and giving great life long rewards.

My opinion of course. It has come with by way of many turns down dead ends. What I used to blame on stage fright had much to do with inadequately knowing the work at hand.

Re: Always stumbling…need advice

I really like your post Tom (from a long-time stumbler).

Re: Always stumbling…need advice

Learning by ear I find that Tom Connelly’s "As the proper sequence…" paragraph applies.

If I am in danger of stumbling my best chance is to focus on hearing the next few notes in my head at the expense of giving attention to what I am producing. When I can absent mindedly pick up the instrument and find myself playing the tune *then* I have spare capacity to pay attention to what needs improvement.

Re: Always stumbling…need advice

Tom: Thanks for your input. I was wondering if someone was going to bring up the ear vs dots issue, and whether some may feel that ear learning will lead to less problems with stumbling as time goes on. I feel guilty about this because in spite of tons of advice to learn by ear, I’ve simply haven’t had the patience or wherewithal to do so. So what do you think - is there an advantage to ear learning with regards to the sumbling problem?

Re: Always stumbling…need advice

- is there an advantage to ear learning with regards to the sumbling problem?

Not for me as I stumble with the slightest bit of pressure and in random parts of the tune although I’m probably quite a poor ear-learner. I’ve recently wondered if I should try reading music to get past the issue but Tom Connelly’s post resonates and has given me something new to try.

Re: Always stumbling…need advice

Wow, you guys are all great. I like Reverend’s idea of kinesthetic memory vs melody memory. For me, that’s all about listening. If a tune gives me trouble, I try to stop thinking about it as a finger exercise and just listen to it while I’m playing. Appreciate its beauty. Enjoy the tone of the instrument. Maybe that helps move the music over to the right side of my brain where it belongs, or just calms me down.

Re: Always stumbling…need advice

From talking to players that learn both by dots and by ear, I think it’s pretty common to find that tune retention is better when learning by ear. So whether it would help in this case really depends on whether the stumbling is because of uncertainty with how the tune goes, or whether it’s because of something else, like difficulty with the fingering of a certain section compared to the rest of the tune, etc.

The other thing that I have found with people that learn tunes by the dots is that they keep the tune fairly rigid, whereas people who learn by ear have an easier time getting to the point where they can play a tune with variations and phrasing that is part of their expression of the melody instead of regurgitation of the tune. (But I can’t read music well enough to actually learn a tune that way, so my opinion is pretty one-sided).

That jazzadvice link has some good information in it. I have long advocated active listening instead of passive listening. It takes practice to be able to listen well, and it’s one of those things that you get much better at the more you do it. For people that have the desire to be able to learn by ear, but can’t seem to get it to work, I suggest you start learning by ear from someone in person, rather than from a recording. A person teaching you a tune by ear can help a lot by determining how much to feed you at once, and at what speed. And they can react to you. For instance, if you keep stopping because you made a mistake, they can stop and help you determine what you’re missing and get you through it. Once you’ve gotten to a point where you can readily learn by ear from a person, then it’s much easier to make the transition over to learning a tune on your own from another source.

Ultimately, learning tunes by ear becomes a snap. It’s pretty common for me to be sitting in a session and learn a tune that I’ve never heard before. (It doesn’t necessarily stick with me for very long after the next tune starts. But if I find out what it is, and go back to it the next day from another source, it helps cement it in my memory). Studies have shown that the best time to recall a tune from memory is *right before you forget it* - the act of recalling it from your memory is what helps build the neural pathways to make more easily remembered in the future.

But familiarity and experience with your instrument plays into the equation quite a bit as well. I have recently noticed that tunes that I used to play but have forgotten since I haven’t played them in years are easier to recall and play well than they used to be. And I attribute that mostly to more familiarity with my instrument as well as with the music overall.

Re: Always stumbling…need advice

I don’t know, Rev - you seem to have understood the OP differently than me. It seemed to me that the problem was not with ‘learning’ the tune, but with, having ‘learned’ it, being able to play it through error-free. (Or is it just that the thread has drifted?)

Re: Always stumbling…need advice

Yeah, the thread had drifted a bit into talking about dots vs. ears when skinnyman (the OP) asked: "So what do you think - is there an advantage to ear learning with regards to the stumbling problem?". So my long-winded answer was mostly about asking whether the stumbling was from uncertainty with how the tune goes, or some other reason… I find it hard not to talk about all the advantages of learning by ear, though 😉

Re: Always stumbling…need advice

Meself and Reverend, you’re both right. The thread seems to have drifted a bit but one question that did occur to me is whether the method by which a tune is learned contributes to the stumbling issue. It is true that the stumbling occurs even in a tune that I consider I have learned well. So the question is would the problem be less if I had learned by ear rather than the dot method I use. So Reverend’s comment is interesting and thought-provoking.

Re: Always stumbling…need advice

@ skinnyman: "some may feel that ear learning will lead to less problems with stumbling as time goes on. I feel guilty about this because in spite of tons of advice to learn by ear, I’ve simply haven’t had the patience or wherewithal to do so. So what do you think - is there an advantage to ear learning with regards to the stumbling problem?"

I am a novice and I guarantee my opinion and experience do not amount to much. Feel free to disregard:

I definitely recommend beginning to learn by ear. Absolutely definitely completely and wholeheartedly recommend learning by ear. I too have long been lazy about putting the effort into it, and I finally began but a few weeks prior. I am so relieved and delighted that I did—it’s brought such new colour into my music. I can’t but say it’s magic. I’ll swear it’s magic.

However, if you are more of a pragmatic sort, I do observe some logic for why learning by ear helps with (not) stumbling. The way I see it (enter all musicologists and neuroscientists who will prove me wrong), when one learns and plays by the dots, one is focussing on the translation of images to movements. The movements then produce sound.

However, when one learns by ear, one is focussing on the translation of sound to movement. The movement duplicates the sound percieved. Therefore, in learning by ear, the sound associated with the movement is doubly reinforced in the player’s mind. Moreover, the player directly learns to associate a sound with a movement. When the player in the middle of a tune forgets what his next motion is supposed to be, he can save himself merely by recalling what sound was to follow, and then perform the associate movement.

In contrast, one who learns by dots, in a moment of crisis, would try to recall the following symbol on his sheet music. Of course, it is much easier to remember a tune accurately than to remember the sequence of dots on a page.

This whole reasoning seems legitimate in my case, anyhow.

I used to break down with nerves at the mere thought of performing in front of people, and of course, anxiety wreaking havoc in my brain and limbs did nothing to help the flow of kinesthetic memory. Now, however, whenever I miss a note, I just tip my head, recall the movement that makes the correct following note, and play it. What’s more, if I concentrate, I hardly do miss notes, since the translation between movement and sound has become direct. It’s sheer liberation to be able to pick up directly from wherever I have halted or erred—so liberating that I laugh out loud as I play, and suddenly I feel as though this is music—not the sound, not the movement, but the sheer ecstasy of liberation, is music. Now I am simply brimming with enthusiasm to find someone to and with whom I can perform! And that says a lot for a novice and a fiddler!

Please try it, Mr. Skinnyman. I’ll bet you’re a wonderful player but you won’t do yourself true justice until you try learning by ear. I’ve just begun and it’s already worked wonders. I would suggest that you start learning slower tunes like slow airs and polkas, as opposed to jigs and reels, for instance. (It’s common sense—nonetheless, sense I did not have a few weeks ago.) Also, find tunes whose airs are easy to catch, and get them stuck in your head for a few days before you actually try playing them. I find O’Carolan’s oeuvre to be a gem—he’s got lovely melodies, many of which are at just the right speed to be catchy and lively but not so fast that it’s hard to identify the notes being played.

Sorry for the dissertation. Still, I suppose it’s good practice for university … I wish you the best of luck!