Our take on the music

Our take on the music

1. You have to listen to, rather than read, the music. The dots are fine for what they are but hearing the music in your head is where the learning — and the music — happens. Throw away the dots and learn the tunes by listening. If you don’t do this you’ll never get where you want to go. Ultimately, it’s about playing by ear.

2. There is no substitute for sitting at the end of the bench or at the edge of the circle and listening to other people play the tunes. You can’t really be a part of the music until you know the tunes well enough to play from memory and be humble enough sacrifice your ego to the collective voice. Which means being humble, sitting with your instrument in your lap, and knowing when not to play.

3. It takes time. To be precise, it takes 10,000 hours. In the meantime you should play slowly and make your music lovely rather than fast. I.e., slow down. It doesn’t matter who you’ve played with, who you know, or who made your instrument. Time is on your side, and, as they say, When god made time, he made plenty of it. So take your time.

4. Traditional Irish music is about melody. Rhythm is the bones of the tune. At their best, guitars, bodhrans and basoukis frame the melody. As a frame, not as the picture itself. Most of the time guitars, etc, get in the way. Musicians make melody happen; they don’t just whack chords. You have to know the melody. Which takes us back to #1.

5. It’s never too late. With the right attitude you can learn to play the pipes or the fiddle when you’re 80. All you really need is one other person to play with. Then you can slow down, work out the tune (play every note its right time) and make beautiful music. Which takes us back to #1.

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Is there a question or something? The post seems more like an answer to me.

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I have to agree with all of what you’ve written, David. Thanks. It’s always good to get re-grounded in some fundamental truths. Listen closely. Be humble. Take the time to get it right.

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And remember to put your fingers where the notes are!

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Interesting that comment no 5 - "then you have to slow down". It is good to learn to play slowly from the start, which you won’t do by going to full (over?) speed sessions: start slow and slowly build up, rather than try to emulate the sprinters and then slow down? (And that’s what I did in my early piano playing days, half a century ago -start very slowly and gradually increase to expected tempo).
Thank heavens for the existence of "slow sessions" in our area, especially Nigel Gatherer of this site, where slow playing to learn tunes is encouraged, and helped me and numerous other players enormously when setting out on the session road.
When certain people ramp up the speeds, I just take a tip from a fiddler friend - "don’t try to play every note"! Playing in a couple of dance bands I have a pretty good idea of dance speeds, but there are some who would double those! Speed isn’t everything, especially if it’s at the expense of accuracy, musicality or rhythm!
So that’s my take on it.

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Dancers make the best metronome.

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Learners’ session are fine. I didn’t start with a slow session because there wasn’t one. I went to full tilt sessions and learnt not to jump in when I did not know the tunes. It O.K. to listen to the tunes you haven’t learned and either ask about them or record them, go home and practice, then play them in sessions when you’re ready, or ask if everyone is willing to play at a moderate speed so you can join in.

In my case I sat and listened during regular sessions. Fortunately the group was understanding and would occasionally, obligingly play a set with tunes I knew. This was probably rare; though greatly appreciated by me. Short of that I found it was not altogether impossible to focus my attention during a set played at session tempo, let go of all my nervous energy and then miraculously I experienced a zen state of mind. Everything seemed to slow down. I know it sounds ridiculous but once I was able to relax that much during a set, in a full tilt session, I was able to play with the group; at least for the one set. First time this happened it was surrealistic but ever since I’ve always been able to play the set in any session.

Having said that I agree about learning slow. But if you can find the zen state of mind everything seems to slow down and that works to keep your focus so you don’t lose what you learn; even when the tempo is not slow.

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Cummon!

Let her rip now and again!

It’s not just for those in the 10,000 club!

I play at sessions and there are rarely dancers - we play for the tunes usually and now and again only 1,000 mph will do! Woop!

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"I play at sessions and there are rarely dancers."

It’s dance music. Why is dancing so rare in your sessions, Choons?

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I’m not sure what being humble has to do with anything as regards this music. I am not by any means a humble person, but neither am I arrogant - I just am. Can we get that pretentious term out of here?

Learning this music is like learning any music in that you must become steeped in it to understand its nature, and thereby understand how to play it. I challenge anyone to name a genre of music that can be played well without having spent many hours listening to it. I love and play many forms of music and can tell you from experience that they all require the same degree of study and dedication to master. There is no need to elevate Irish trad to some level of being special beyond other forms; it simply is not. Spend the time, listen and put in the practice. Humility and avoiding the ability to read music does not enter into it. Humility tends to gravitate toward becoming intimidated, which is counter-productive. Avoiding written music is simply robbing yourself of a tool that brings endless benefit to your ability and scope to your musicianship.

Whatever is the purpose of this thread?

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Trad Irish is dance music, so rhythm is important. If the playing is not danceable , forget it.
One of the worst insults is for dancers to describe a musician is tying them down to the floor
Metronomes are useful to a certain extent but are not the be all and end all.

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I’d say it’s all very good advice, especially to beginners or people new to this site and music, and certainly doesn’t do any harm to remind people of every now and again. It’s advice, not an edict - whether you choose to take it or ignore it is up to you as an individual.
I’ll try to remember all of that in Dublin tonight, and in Ballyvourney for the next 4 days. 🙂

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I doubt that many except the most highly trained pros belong to the 10’000 club:

That’s 20h/week over 10 years or do the math for longer exposure. And yet many ‘amateurs’ seem to do fine.

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I suspect the 10,000 hours thing is a proxy for the truth, which may be more complex. Nonetheless, it’s a reasonable marker. I was a pretty good piper after ten years playing, but I was better at twenty. Now that thirty years isn’t a distant dream, I’m pretty sure I’ll be better then too - musically anyway, though the arthritis may get me first.

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This was posted by Michael Gill eight years ago. I agree with it. In part it’s a response to an earlier contrarian answer to my first post.

"Diddley music is a complex structure of notes, half notes, rhythm and all sorts. It takes a lot of hard listening to get it. The information in the ABC is about 2% of what’s actually in the music. The problem though, is that that 2%, out of all of it, is the easiest bit to get. So if you are having trouble getting that particular 2% just by listening, what chance have you of getting the rest of it?

"Of course I’m not recommending forgoing any written form and sticking totally to learning tunes by ear … for everyone, for ever. I’m a pragmatist, and distrust anyone who isn’t.

"The advise to forgo written forms of the tunes is directed towards those who are, "new to the genre". And specifically, those who are new to the genre but already familiar with other/s and already read musical notation.

"Diddley music IS like no other.

This is very important. Musical notation is a useful tool for those familiar with the music, but for the unfamiliar, the letters, symbols, marks, conventions of written music represent different sounds. And when people who are unfamiliar with the music use any form of notation to help their learning/understanding of the music, it is confusing for them because they will automatically impose their own understandings of what the symbols represent."

Amen.

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I think playing with humility is a pretty valid concept for ITM. Exaggerated movement, fancy solos, etc. are not welcomed.

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Good post David, lots of truth in it.
"Our take" - who is us?

Re: Our take on the music — "Us"

Thanks for the kind comments.

"Us" is, first, the people with whom I play every week - sometimes twice a week. Each of us has been playing for more than 20 years and a few of us are going on for fifty years in the music. We have all made recordings, do gigs, teach music, etc. We agree that we do not want a guitar playing chords at our session, or anybody else accompanying us unless they can play melody on their instrument. It is rare that a guitar or basouki adds to the music. For most of us, foot-tapping is enough percussion. Accompanists in ITM too often don’t understand that they should play under the melody instruments. It is about the melody, not about the guitar or the piano, basouki or bodhran.

The other part of "us" is my wife, Roz. She is a great dancer, has rhythm in her bones, and often knows the name of a tune that I’ve forgotten. She’s been living with, and listening and dancing to this music, for decades. She also proofreads whatever I post to make sure I don’t piss off too many people.

I love Dennis Cahill’s playing, and most of Daithi Sproule’s music. But we aren’t Lunasa or Dervish and we don’t care to play like the big touring bands. We don’t need to have the music driven, propelled from behind as it were. If a really sensitive laid-back guitar accompanist came to our session we’d welcome him. A good accompanist can play a melody instrument — or can play the melody on his instrument — and knows the tune. If you don’t know the tune, then it’s faking, not improvising.

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"If you don’t know the tune, then it’s faking, not improvising" Wow. That may be the most honest, thoughtful comment I’ve ever found on the Session. Those concise words are universally true no matter your genre or your instrument. I hope everyone takes them to heart, myself included. Thank you David.

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Seems fair to me (albeit my limited ITM experience). However, I would quibble with the general disposition - "Diddley music IS like no other." No doubt this is true insofar as all music/tradition is unique. But the distinction seems to be in regard to the inherent difficulties in notating a historically aural/oral transmitted form. Of course, there are many such traditions - Arabic maqamat, or Indian raga for example - based in aural transmission and whose nuance is roughly equally difficult to capture by symbolization/notational systems.

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I disagree, the approach to this music is completely different.

This music is like no other.

David brings ups some salient points that always needs to be resaid.

Sheet music and dots are for preservation, not for learning.

We say we want you to learn by ear but the truth is, we never give you the opportunity to do so. Playing by ear with recordings is difficult unless it is a recording of a session or something. most of the tunes on cds are mish mashed tunes in bionic speed. Furthermore, as far as ear learning is concerned, there is usually a lot of visual learning by mimic-ing a player next to you who has same instrument. Personally, I don’t play the fiddle, but I’ve been watching the necks of your fiddles for thirty years, I play by ear but a lot of it is visual via of watching your fingers.
young musicians were encouraged to learn the tunes this way but now adays, ppl are too obsessed with performance and youngsters learning the olden ways are shamed and ppl tell them to stop "improvising." If you don’t give the youngsters a little wiggle room, this music will eventually sound like everything else and then, you can say, "this music is like all others."
Although there are similarities with other genres as far as the learning is concerned, this music is competely unique and although the structure is very simple, accomplished professional musicians often struggle with "our music" for the first few years so what does that tell you?

There is no point, only hoops. play on space cadets

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"… accomplished professional musicians often struggle with "our music" for the first few years so what does that tell you? "

Ever try 24-tone maqamat?

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How I love a good quibble!

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do u play by ear? If not, u will most likely never be able to play maqamat was my point.

Every person is different and so with music. I think we are in agreement actually.

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I can almost hear the crackle of bubble wrap being carefully wound round the music, preserving and honouring it by sincerely and humbly choking the life of it.
It’s not complex but can be complicated: it is essentially dance music, it is energetic and irrelevant, funny and tragic. It is social and owner-less. You learn the tunes the best way that suits you.

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David said no guitars dude, not me!

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How is the music "irrelevant?" Allan21?

Waaaaaa what?

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"…do u play by ear? If not, u will most likely never be able to play maqamat was my point. "

Ya, my only point was that, if we are to distinguish ("elevate," as Ailin said) ITM as unique, its traditional predication on "ear"-transmission would not be among the features distinguishing as such, for there are many ‘ear’-based traditions.

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yet, most musicians do not come from an "ear" culture but a culture of paper. David restating that as such, actually, I"m sure, met a few "ears" out there no pun intended. What is the crime in elevating "our music?"

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The crime is that it is false if what you are talking about is needing to approach Irish any differently than any other form of music. Let me add that I have never met a single person who has attempted to learn how to play Irish by using a book or written music as their only source. And however they learn the tunes, they always play them from memory. However, if you did not grow up around this music, having those resources is invaluable. This argument about "the dots" is so tiresome because it has naught to do with the real world. I don’t know what anti-written music posters are on about; I really don’t. Players who don’t improve suffer from a lack of real effort to develop. The problem is not because they read music, at least not in my experience.

I am very glad that I play at a session that does not subscribe to David’s notions. When I have encountered such attitudes (and I have more often than I care to recall), I head for the nearest exit. The sessions I have enjoyed sound quite good and I speak as a person of over 30 years experience playing Irish. I still am at a loss to understand who David’s audience is for his post. Those who agree do not need his affirmation, and those who don’t (like me) find his thoughts off-putting rather than enlightening.

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Eddie
It is irrelevant because it is connected to joy and pleasure and not politics and every-day life. It is instrumental, so has no link to society except in its naming, which in the main, is a label. That label might be polemic or cultural or political: the tune is not.
My apologies if my clumsy attempt at humour failed earlier.

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"…yet, most musicians do not come from an "ear" culture …"

By "most musicians" you must mean - those musicians in "Western" harmonic tradition where paper/notation systems prevail. Yet, there may be many more musicians than this - in NON-Western traditions - whose systems are aural/oral based.

Your angle - "the approach to this music is completely different"- could be valid, if making a direct comparison to notation-based traditions. Perhaps this is what you meant.

The problem with such hyperbolic terminology is that it tends to promulgate other ethnocentric views, and are often inaccurate.

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Ailin - I suspect that if and when all the dust settles, you and David are more in agreement than in disagreement when it comes to playing tunes. Slightly condensed in content, David is simply pointing out that soaking your ears in the stuff is essential, playing the tunes with others helps you grow as a musician, and it is exclusively a melody driven style of music that, although welcoming to accompaniment and percussion, those bits are not required. No arguments there, yes?

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ok, because I think the music is valid and relevant, I am considered an ethnocentricist? please honey child

the first thing i remember is the music, it had presence during my entire life and you are telling me it is irrelevant? I don’t get joy and pleasure from music, it is more like food, so I don’t know what you are on about…. Food is relevant because it is a need.

I’m not making rules, you are the ones putting tunes to stone here, not me.

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Ailin - I suspect that if and when all the dust settles, you and David are more in agreement than in disagreement when it comes to playing tunes. Slightly condensed in content, David is simply pointing out that soaking your ears in the stuff is essential, playing the tunes with others helps you grow as a musician, and it is exclusively a melody driven style of music that, although welcoming to accompaniment and percussion, those bits are not required. No arguments there, yes?

# Posted by Jusa Nutter Eejit

You said it far better than David did, although I still differ on some points:

I never differed on the need to listen to a lot of music, although I would argue that I’ve never learned a single tune at a session. I may have found tunes I wanted to learn, but I actually learned them from recordings or sheet music, so I think David’s RX, while useful to him, is too narrow. And your interpretation does not include his advice to "throw away the dots."

And what the heck is "melody driven" supposed to mean? Isn’t most music driven by the melodic line? That part of his post seems more a dig at guitars and bodhrans than an attempt to say something useful. Personally, I find a session without at least one of the two severely lacking.

I don’t care for the line about being humble. You don’t need to be humble to understand that you have to work your way up to playing with more advanced players. That’s not being humble, it is being smart.

I would never advise a person to play slowly per se. One should play at a tempo that is in keeping with the player’s stage of development, but also retains the feel of how the tune is played at a faster clip. Playing slowly, except to simply get all the notes in, can severely rob the tune of its character and Irishness - in other words, the qualities that made the player want to learn the tune to begin with. To a novice, rather than advise slow playing, I would suggest slower and easier tunes. Don’t start with Langstrom’s Pony; start with Road to Lizdoonvarna. Also, try hornpipes and tunes like The Parting Glass.

Regarding how long it takes to become proficient, suffice it to say that Rome wasn’t built in a day. Beyond that, let’s refrain from saying how long the process will be. I don’t think improvement has a timeline, nor does it ever end. A great conductor was once complimented on his Beethoven’s Ninth, heard the previous year. "Ah," replied the maestro, "but I was a fool last year."

Finally, as I have already said twice, who is David talking to? Is he trying to influence some notion the novice may engage in without his pronouncement? If so, he needs to be challenged on his assertions, or at least how he expressed them. At best, he should have used the subject title, "MY Take On The Music."

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People who say you should forgo written music do so because they are not very good at it. There is a modern fashion for this opinion in most music outside the jazz and orchestral-classical genres. Playing by ear is only half of being a musician, but it works well enough. If you want to go that way, you need to develop the ability to recall fast and intricate patterns and that is no easier than learning to read music. However, the important point is that if you read just the basics, and you hear a tune you like, you can go home, get the bones of the piece down, and then return to listen for the nuances. Its ultimately quicker, gives you access to more material, and puts the two halves together.

I agree with point number four: Most rhythm players in Irish setting are dreadful. Guitars and drums in particular. It is because they are appeal to people who just want to be part of a session and not become musicians. Playing rhythm accompaniment to back a melody requires a sense of counter play. Unfortunately, most of these people bash every emphasis of the melody, thus creating a muddy sound. They need to listen to what rhythm players do in other genres, but then they would be aspiring musicians, which in most cases they are not. If they would simply halve what they are doing, the improvement would be immense.

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Looks like a thinly veiled rules of my session
1. No dot readers allowed
2. If your new to the session just sit there listening to me for a few years before I allow you join in.
3. Actually just stay at home and practice for 10000 hours then we might let you play a tune
4. No accompaniment. Guitar players are not musicians.
5. If your old don’t worry just spend your last years cramming in that 10000 hours and we will let you join if the arthritis hasn’t got you

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I’d like to thank Ailin for his (as always) wise words, bainseo5 for his/her sharp and savage humour, and Llig for starting a fight again 🙂

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I feel like it is some kind of snobbery in this no-dots-only-ear thing. I always thought that music is about having fun, not about having to struggle.

If I just want to play a tune, does it matter, if learn it by ear, by reading abc or dots, or by asking friend to show me how to play?

I was taught to read dots. I also always try to play part of a tune by ear. Sometimes it’s two or three notes, sometimes a phrase or more. And I do it because I like these little puzzles.

Also, Irish musician played by ear long time ago because they weren’t able to read or write. I don’t know when it became common to study in school but it must be after time ITM was born I think

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Ailin - if you’ll indulge me a minute or two more? When I hear folks say "throw away the dots" I take it as meaning to not rely on them in perpetuity, especially for people new to Irish music. I have noticed over the years that those who rely on sheet music never progress much in the full enjoyment of playing this music, especially in a session.

With regards to melody driven music, I sat down with my oldest son yesterday to listen to his new Kendrick Lamar CD - I can assure you that music is not melody driven. But I digress -

Regarding humility - well that notion could have very well been directed at me 20 years ago. I came into Irish sessions from playing other styles of music, made some foolish assumptions about what a session was, and made arrogant mess of the whole evening. A dose of humility prior to joining probably would have done me some good. I don’t equate David’s recommendation with being timid, but more a recommendation on understanding your surroundings and being respectful to others and the music. Perhaps just semantics, I know…

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I’ve never contributed to this site before - but that original post is so baffling I just had to.

There seems to be a really weird sense of bitterness towards the guitarist/accompanist here (original post, fourth point), or maybe you’ve just never met a good guitarist/accompanist!

The guitar is one of the most versatile instruments in the world. You can play melody, harmony, separately or together on it; you can play loads of different sorts of "traditional" music, blues, jazz (loads of sub-styles), classical (loads of sub-styles), flamenco, bossa-nova, samba, country, rock, metal etc ad infinitum.

It’s also a very good instrument for developing improvisational skills and aural skills such as identifying keys/changes etc. Incidentally, I always find it quite funny how often tune-players (even really good ones) get confused about keys - something a good accompanist would rarely hesitate about. I’ve personally never heard of "faking" it before, but then again I love free improvisation so what do I know!

Harmony (usually) serves to accentuate (not detract from) the structural movement of a melody. If you think "guitars get in the way" I suspect you’ve never encountered a good guitar player, which is a terrible shame, and it saddens me to think that your world is bereft of harmony.

In regards to your other points, it all sounds a bit too socially conservative for my liking. Introducing a code of conduct in an open folk music session seems quite unnatural to me. And finally, if you want to be a well-rounded musician, you need to learn to develop your ear, your reading skills, and your writing skills. They’re all important.

Peace.

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The reason why most sessions don’t have dancers is that the music is more popular than in limited settings, like formal dancing.

It’s sad to hear of such limiting sessions where guitars etc are banished- especially from a group of players who’ve played for so long.

I reel back from pretending this tradition is not a hybrid - so banishing guitars and non melody players seems a retrograde step to me and along the same line.

But then, like many, I love music and not a specific time period.

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In the continuing argument about Dots v. Ears, I’m going to channel S. I. Hayakaya, Senator, university president, and author of Language in Thought and Action. Bear with me, there’s a remote connection here. In the book he makes clear that there is a distinction between the map (the words) and the territory (the real world). As it is with music. The dots are a map, no more, no less. Read them, play them as you like. Of course it takes years of listening to ITM and real intimacy with your instrument to play it Irish. No different really than slavishly copying the tune as you heard it somewhere. Same too with any other genre (yes I’m limited toward our western traditions, that’s another valid discussion. I wouldn’t know how to write in another culture). I really don’t get the need to stare down my nose over the top of my glasses at either notes or aural skills, to me they just go together, different paths to what should be the same home. So I promise not to bash you for reading, or because you can’t/won’t. Oh, and I won’t put you on a pedestal because you do or don’t. What I will do is hope to enjoy a tune or two with you someday. I’ll try and absorb a tune by having you play it for me or from a copy of your score.

So now you know where I stand and I’m done with talking about the issue ever again. I promise that too.

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S. I. Hayakawa…just to set it straight.

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Rule #6. Don’t listen to anyone on the session.org
#7. if u aren’t pissing off an old man, u r not doing your job
#8. Make up rules that there are no rules
#9. Live long and prosper
#10. If u are still reading this, then stop reading it.

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Jusa,

You can take the dots thing as you wish, but I simply contend that it shouldn’t even be a topic. To debate the use of written music, to me, makes no sense at all. There’s no connection between learning by written music and proficiency in playing. Proficiency is rooted in many things, but the ability to play by ear is not one of them. Playing from memory is certainly more convenient, but playing by ear is strictly optional, even if most of us do it.

I said most music is driven by melody. Your example does not persuade me otherwise. Again, nothing to see here. What does the statement about melody help us to understand? That a guitar is not needed or welcome? Really???

I can call myself humble or suggest that I need to be, but I cannot tell someone else to be or I come across as an arrogant SOB. It’s that simple. Just a really poor choice of word. Instead, say that it’s best to recognize your musical limitations. Isn’t that better?

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Ailin - fair play to you sir - I’m just trying to keep the conversation lively. Quality rebuttals on your part, though.

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"People who say you should forgo written music do so because they are not very good at it." Yet another unjustified generalisation. This thread is full of them, and because they are merely opinionated generalisations everybody quibbles, which is quite amazing, because nobody even asked any questions in the first place!

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anyone feel like playing a few tunes?

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quibble quibble, I lost my fiddle and my 24 tone mackinaw

I went to Ballycow saw another brow and lost my old lads suspenders

That sounds like a question, naw?

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"Just a really poor choice of word. Instead, say that it’s best to recognize your musical limitations. Isn’t that better?"

No. You need seven words to say the same thing? If you don’t like the idea of being humble, fine.

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Every time I see these threads, I get the sense that the issue has less to do with reading vs. ear learning as opposed to having the tunes memorized or not. I always get this sense that the "ear only" crowd feel like it is cheating if someone breaks out some sheet music. Does anyone actually think they could hear the difference between someone playing an unknown tune that they’d learned by reading vs. one that they learned by ear?

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Nailed it, Frank. Thank you.

Ergo, perhaps I am not being clear. Let me put it this way: it’s intimidating enough to be new to playing at sessions. Reading that you have to be humble connotes having your hat in your hand and feeling privileged just to be in the presence of advanced players. That stinks, imo. Maybe its just me that reacts that way when told to be humble, but permit me to doubt. I can spare the extra words if it makes a new person feel more welcome.

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I think the main issue is we want to play tunes but we are at work so we triffle over whether blueberry tea is really a tea and whether or not you blanch your tea pot. But I just played some tunes, had a beer and think that dots are totally the thing now actually. but somebody needs to change the tap lines imo

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"Does anyone actually think they could hear the difference between someone playing an unknown tune that they’d learned by reading vs. one that they learned by ear?"

That depends on who the "someone" is ….

If you ask a native Italian to read a sentence with lots of unfamiliar Italian words, that person will probably do it perfectly.

If you ask someone who has learnt Italian for a number of years to do the same, they will probably make a decent attempt, with some small errors.

If you ask someone who doesn’t know Italian but speaks Spanish to do the same, well you’ll get what you get.

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What annoys me is the people who fool themselves into thinking that memorising a tune is difficult.

I can’t help but suspect laziness when someone has been playing for years but continues to use music for tunes they’ve played for a long time.

It clearly becomes a placebo for many.

When we all know hundreds of pop song melodies in our heads - it’s not tricky to remember a repetitive reel.

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Choons, I think that’s a bit harsh. I dislike playing in a session where reading music is the norm - people do stop really listening to each other (if they’ve ever learned to do so), because they are concentrating on the reading. However, for some people it is about the real fear of not getting it right.

I’m also not sure always what people are getting out of playing tunes in sessions - it has been a long time mystery to me. All I am sure of is that some sessions just don’t do it for me, whereas other people love what goes on.

There’s also a big difference between knowing and being able to reproduce a tune. As I’ve commented on another thread, I believe it starts with vocalisation (just as reading does) - so if you can sing it, you can usually apply it to the instrument. Not everybody has a good enough ear for this unfortunately.

Re: Our take on the music

Sorry, forgot to add that I have frequently checked over a piece of music to see if I have got a decent approximation of a tune, but I would rarely ‘learn’ a session tune dryly from the music. You get none of the style or sense of swing and the effect can be very dull and soulless.

Re: Our take on the music

Looking back at the OP btw - there is no suggestion that accompanists be banned - just appreciate their place in the music and behave with sensitivity.

Re: Our take on the music

I have the sheet music for a Polka hanging by my computer. I heard it been played some months ago and liked it so I downloaded the music. One of these days I’ll find it and listen to it again. Then with the aid of the sheet music I shall sit and learn it. It will be stored in my head along with many hundreds of other tunes of all description. When the next time I want to play that particular tune I won’t spend precious tune time trying to think of "this great tune" that I learnt recently. I’ll just refer to the dots to kick start me and then play it in my own style. I am not a sight reader. I just learnt where the notes were on the box and what the ‘little birds on the telegraph wires’ meant from a book tutor. Over sixty odd years of playing I found that little bit of knowledge of the dots an absolute bonus……………..

Re: Our take on the music

I agree Free Reed

Re: Our take on the music

I think we all agree, memorization is really the crux of what we are talking about. How you get there, is probably irrelevant, so long as the person has an understanding of what the music is supposed to sound like. My only point is that folks who are unable to play without sheet music really never grow to experience the joyful spontaneity of a really hopping session. Personally, my goal has always been to look around the room and build a set on the fly in my head depending upon who is at the session that night. If I know the flute player knows the Maids of Wherever reel, but the fiddle player knows the Boys of Ballyfeckit reel, then I will try and pair those two so we’re all in the fun together. I can’t imagine doing that with a book of music in front of me.

Re: Our take on the music

Jusa, if we ever meet, I’d love to have a go at your set of Maids of Whatever and The Boys of Ballyfeckit, but I’m afraid I wouldn’t be able to stop laughing. Oh, your post made my day! I can hardly type!

While I am here, are there really sessions where people pull out sheet music? I know of almost no one who can sight-read at tempo and have never experienced such a session. That’s not to say they don’t exist, but is the situation really common enough to warrant discussion?

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Re: Our take on the music

I play in a small ceilidh band, whose leader has us playing from sheet music at contra speeds - which makes the average "Irish" session sound like its being played by snails. Quite frankly, many of the tunes in the repertory I’m not very keen on, so I don’t bother to practise them. When she calls these tunes therefore, I have to play them up tempo from sight, and I do. It’s surprising how your sight-reading skills improve in this sort of situation!

Re: Our take on the music

Ailin, its not common in my experience but occasionally I have seen people doing it off phones.

Re: Our take on the music

"Ergo, perhaps I am not being clear. Let me put it this way: it’s intimidating enough to be new to playing at sessions. Reading that you have to be humble connotes having your hat in your hand and feeling privileged just to be in the presence of advanced players. That stinks, imo. Maybe its just me that reacts that way when told to be humble, but permit me to doubt. I can spare the extra words if it makes a new person feel more welcome."

Ailin - fair enough 🙂

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Re: Our take on the music

I remember reading something once about Albert Einstein. One of his colleagues referred to an younger up-and-comer, as being a ‘humble young physicist’. Einstein pointed out that to be humble, one first has to be a high achiever held in high regard.

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Re: Our take on the music

Let me rephrase that;- to be humble one must first achieve something.

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Re: sight reading @ tempo

As far as being able to sight read at tempo, of course players can sight read at tempo. Sight-reading is a skill.
It’s not just being able to play a piece of music the first time you see the staff notation. Once you develop it
(your skill) you are able to look ahead on the sheet while still knowing exactly where you’re playing, when, without losing tempo.

There are varying levels of ability. It also depends on what your written source is and what you need to accomplish. My experience is similar to Chris’ about playing for dances when you have to perform
what is called for and if you don’t know the music (or don’t know some of the tunes) it is essential
to be able to sight read and, if you cannot do it at tempo, you learn. Even Michael Gill once suggested
someone get the sheet music for a gig they didn’t have enough lead time to learn the tunes.

Cheers!

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Re: Our take on the music

Thank you Mr. Levine (& Mr. Gill) for this reminder. For me, says it all.
Happy tunes everybody!

Re: Our take on the music

Cheers, David.

I appreciate your take on the music. If I’m not mistaken the OP was intended to describe the attitudes of you and your session mates. Fair play?

I have to admit I don’t think I could sum up my sessions take on our music easily. They constantly surprise me. Having said that I get the gist of your meaning. But the list*, to me, seems a bit forced; perhaps even preachy. Although I don’t think that is your intent. I think your intent was to share what you’ve learned over the years playing tune, going to sessions, appreciating what others have been generous enough to pass along for all willing to listen and, with patience, to learn the music well and always wanting to learn more from good people.

* Please don’t take this the wrong way. I mean no personal offense. I went through the list and copied the bits which ring true for me. Here are those gems which survived my edit…

1. You have to listen to the music.

2. There is no substitute for listening to other people play the tunes. You can’t really be a part of the music until you know the tunes well and knowing when not to play.

3. It takes time.

4. (pass)

5. It’s never too late. You can learn to play and make beautiful music.

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Re: Our take on the music

Yes, AB - I think you understand what I am saying, along with a few other people posting here. Yours is a fair summation. I don’t advocate a "ban" on guitars and percussion. I just don’t want them to be louder than the melody instruments. As far as dots are concerned, of course they can be useful. My comments were directed at people who are relatively new to the music. Experienced, accomplished players understand the problems that arise with relying on the written music. It can make lovely tunes heartless and stiff.
As far as being humble is concerned, I do feel that when playing with people like Paddy Keenan , Matt Molloy, Tommy Peoples or Micho Russell (or with some of my current, less famous but very accomplished fellow musicians), I appreciate approaching the session "having your hat in your hand and feeling privileged just to be in the presence of advanced players." I assume that basketball players felt that way when on the court with Kareem or Larry Bird or Michael Jordan. It doesn’t mean you stop asserting yourself when it’s appropriate. And it certainly doesn’t mean being unkind to a new player. Unless you happen to be sitting next to a new player whacking chords on a loud mandolin, or next to a five-string banjo player at his first Irish session.

Re: Our take on the music

People who resent the idea of humility often seem to have the most to be humble about. And vice versa.

Re: Our take on the music

I understand Ailin’s reasoning, Stiamh. There are connotations to consider. Humility as a virtue is very likely the intent David was intending. But I’m not surprised when responses to, " …being humble, sitting with your instrument in your lap…" inferred more a feeling of humiliation and less any intended virtue.

Thank you for bringing up the idea of humility. It seems to me there are less connotations when using terms like humility, modesty, etc.

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Re: Our take on the music

Ben, I would feel better about David’s post if it had been in response to a statement or question. As it is, I don’t feel he is in a position to say what he is saying beyond it being his opinion. That’s not because he is not qualified - far from it. It is because there’s an underpinning of unhealthy attitude. He states that guitar more often than not gets in the way. Not in my experience. He mentions a variety of possible transgressions with regard to the inexperienced that I consider rare. He tries to quantify the point at which one can consider themselves competent enough to play in his company. He says all of this in a relatively gentle voice, while at the same time framing his post as a "Word to the Wise" that no one was looking for. After all the years he has posted here, why did he feel the need to post this just now? So I found his post off-putting because I did not respond to his intent the same way you did. Perhaps I am wrong, but I was obviously not alone.

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Re: Our take on the music

You are definitely not alone Ailin. That’s exactly how I saw it. You summed it up well.

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Re: Our take on the music

"People who resent the idea of humility often seem to have the most to be humble about. And vice versa."

Reminds me of one of my favorite Churchill quotes. Someone offered in conversation that Clement Atlee was a very modest man. Churchill responded "Yes. He had great deal to be modest about." 🙂

Re: Our take on the music

"He states that guitar more often than not gets in the way. Not in my experience."

Your mileage varies. I find that 90% of the time guitars get very much in the way.

"He says all of this in a relatively gentle voice, while at the same time framing his post as a "Word to the Wise" that no one was looking for."

For heaven’s sake, lighten up. You’ve been posting, rightly and wrongly, wisely and unwisely, for years now with some pretty strong opinions at times. Give the man a break.

As for "humility", I might have used the term "self-awareness". Whatever the term, we need more of it in sessions. Lord knows I could have used a fair share of humility and/or self awareness when I first boldly carried my guitar into sessions 30 years ago, clueless to the pained expressions on the faces of others.

Rant concluded.

Re: Our take on the music

I fear "social media" is pushing us toward a dystopian future. I would have much preferred a more "civilized" approach to the incident David refers to.
https://thesession.org/discussions/34512

Re: Our take on the music

Very funny, David. Thanks.

Much better.

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Re: Reconciliation or adversity on the subject of *our* music

David, is it fair to ask if your humility extends to answering 2 questions which have been asked above?
You may have provided answers to both of them. But rather than scrolling through your previous comments
I would appreciate any response you have now to those questions.

Both questions are very pointed. The first was early on, posted by Gobby, "Is there a question … ?"
The other question was Ailin’s, "Whatever is the purpose of this thread?"

Thank you,
AB

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Re: Our take on the music

We all can have our opinions and we’re free to share them. I do that often enough. Opinion is most of what I read here, in fact I really enjoy them, even if I don’t agree. There is no imperative to agree with each other, just to respect each other. That said, I think a little caution is in order. Before anyone goes on the attack with comments like "you’re just not informed enough" they would do well to bring some heavy credentials to the table.

Re: Our take on the music

I think a lot of people get annoyed at the use of sheet music *at a session* because:

1. it’s not necessary so just seems strange - the tunes are (generally) as easy to remember as a pop tune chorus. Although it looks difficult to some - it’s a natural ability of the brain

2. It seems a laziness. Learning a tune does not take long after you’ve learnt a few -

3. It’s appears a placebo. If you don’t think you remember atholl highlanders (etc) after years of hearing them - then you’re probably overthinking how difficult the process is.

Using sheet music to learn is neither here nor there (though stickinto to the physical notes as if they are an authority is anathema in most cases).

Re: Our take on the music

I’ve heard criticism of sheet music at sessions too - but this always seems to come from ITM (or rock, country etc. etc) musicians of long standing who have been playing the same limited repertoire for many years.
Maybe they are worried that people might be learning "other stuff" and they’ll get left behind?
In fact most readers (like me) are relative newcomers and haven’t memorised a lot yet - but we’ll get there in time.
Sticking to the physical notes can be a good idea. Tunes get worn out somehow and performances get "broken". The remedy is to go back to source, ONeill etc, or a good recording

PS not sure who is included in the "our" of the title "Our take on the music". As far as I’m concerned it’s anybody’s and nobody owns it!

Re: Our take on the music

Plenty of different tunes at our session with no sheet music in sight. The biggest issue with sheet music is the folders and files and flipping through to find the right page, by which time the tune is just about finished. Of course, youngsters probably have electronic gadgets……………..

Answering 2 questions

"Is there a question … ?"
"Whatever is the purpose of this thread?"

The original post followed a discussion we’d been having over the course of the last few sessions. Actually, we have had similar discussions throughout the past years as more people started coming to our sessions. We talked about what we wanted and didn’t want. I thought to open up the discussion and see what other people thought of our — not rules – desiderata, and our take on the learning process. Most people agreed.

Of course you don’t throw away the dots. Neither Michael Gill nor I would ever say that. Micho Russell would write down ABCs of tunes on scraps of paper for my daughter, as an aid to learning - but not as a substitute for her hearing the tune as only he would play it. I don’t know if Micho ever learned a tune from the dots. I know that I have, to varying degrees. But it’s neither necessary nor sufficient.

"Is there a question … ?" Isn’t there always a question? We would ask each other, whose guitar playing do you really like? Whose do you not like? How often do you refer to the written music? How many people do you want for a good session? How many is too many? Suppose it’s the Kilfenora Ceili Band? Piano? Drum kit? I thought to open up this discussion and see what came up. Some people liked it and some did not. Participation itself is a sign of acceptance and a willingness to engage in discussion.

"Whatever is the purpose of this thread?" I don’t understand this question, or how to answer it. My "purpose" was to engage other musicians in a discussion of what it is that we do, and what we like and don’t like. I wish we could have had this discussion face to face, in a session. Then it all might have made more sense. And with less vitriol. If the post had a purpose it was to make the music better.

I posted the http://www.thedronenews.org/ bit of bodhran satire as a joke, which is what it is. Some people took it seriously. ["I fear "social media" is pushing us toward a dystopian future."] Other people were personally offended. I think Jeremy deleted that post. Most people got the humor and the reference to United Airlines. I thought that Jeremy took the post down as a stand alone post because he thought it hurtful to bodhran players. But he told me that in fact he took it down because he didn’t want a post only to consist of a link. Fair enough. Thinking he was offended, and knowing that some people actually were offended, I posted the link about the British lacking humour. In fact have plenty of friends who are both English and full of wit and humour.

I don’t know if I have answered the two pointed questions AB posed. People with whom I have played for years agreed with me about the substance of the post, as did people I haven’t met. Some people didn’t - and probably won’t ever - get it. Some people who I have challenged in the past challenged me here. That’s fine. As Ross said, "Opinion is most of what I read here…"

My take on (the) music

Here’s some rules for you

1) Play the tune as it is. Or don’t. Play it badly. Practice it during the session while people glare at you. Then buy them a beer (Murphy’s). Always keep smiling.

2) Take your sheets and stick ‘em where the sun don’t shine. Buy a tablet instead. Wait until someone ‘accidentially’ knocks their beer all over it.

3) Have a few beers too many and flirt with the barmaid. Obviously.

4) If you’re a guitarist, everybody will hate you. It’s because you’re allowed to improvise and they’re not. Better buy a bodhrán.

5) Be humble and have respect for the tradition. Whatever that means.

6) Don’t listen to #5 - be a rebel. Shake things around, piss some old people off.

7) You know, FECK ALL THAT. Here’s a real one: do whatever the heck you want. You’re free to make your own choices, as long as you accept their consequences. This is ART, people. And art doesn’t do well on a chain.
Folk music is a living, breathing, growing tradition - be very afraid of those who would make it an artifact to stick in a museum and look at forever.

You know, I’m young and relatively new to the music, and I used to look up to the people here. I actually thought the arrogance and snobbishness meant they knew something I didn’t. Little did I realise it’s often just a thin veneer meant to disquise insecurity, jadedness and a fear of change. (Not to say there aren’t still some wise folks here - but it seems the two I could still look up to I’ve missed by 5 or 10 years)

It seems like every week I run into another post here with a title that you can translate as either "Is it okay if I…?" or "I hate it when people…". Those are also the threads that gather upwards of a 100 comments, in contrast to the usual threads that get, maybe, 10. Give people something to have a bloody opinion about and they’ll man the ramparts, alright. (The irony of this complaint is not lost on me).

Anyway. Can we all maybe just play a couple of tunes together sometime and dance a bit? Like, all of us gather in some market square in summer and play the Kesh and the Wild Rover and then laugh at ourselves for taking it all so seriously? And everything’s awesome and beautiful people are exposing their wondrous bodies in wild, extatic abandon and we are like mad, naked children at the dawn of time, basking in the light of a young sun and then someone starts an obscure tune in Eb and everyone just wanders off and gets drunk somewhere? That’d be grand. I’m sure you’re all lovely people in real life.

Long live the diddly! Peace be unto you and your progeny. Cheers.

Re: Our take on the music

Let’s see …

I learned this tune by ear from a very incompetent player …

I learned this tune from a written page done by someone who hasn’t a clue about phrasing & articulation …

Re: Our take on the music

I don’t think I have ever come across a piece of sheet music, that actually matched the way the tune gets played at my local session. Even looking through all the various versions that get posted in the comments, none match exactly. I think it’s easier and faster to memorize by ear each players version. The flute player plays it one way, and if he starts the tune I’ll play it his way. The fiddle player’s version goes a little different, and if he starts the tune I’ll try to play it his way. Then someone with the dots eventually starts questioning which way is "correct" and doesn’t seem to get that there isn’t one way. How do you get flexible enough to fit in without developing your ear?

Sessions became so much more fun for me, when I started picking things up by ear. I used to have to figure out the tune name before I could jump in, now if I recognize the melody I don’t need to know, or care what it’s called. I memorize tunes faster and feel more freedom. (Tunepal solved the problem of needing names, since they are so easy to look up, if you really need to know). Really, it is so, so much more fun now. I’m beyond hope, or help, for this obsession, addiction, whatever you call it. Not entirely sure if it saved my life, or just totally threw it off track, but I couldn’t live without it. We are all different of course, just wanted to share what I found.

Re: Our take on the music

I have been away for a few months, and am pleased to find that the traditional topics are still being discussed with great fervor. In this ever-changing world, it is good to have something you can rely on.

Re: Our take on the music

That moment when you realise "learn by ear" means both ‘memorise’ and ‘don’t use sheet music’ - and that people use it in different ways without each other knowing.

Sheet music is a great resource - but using it at a session regularly is absurd.

Don’t be lazy - just learn the tune.

If you’ve been playing for years then you’d actually need more skill to *not* learn a tune!

Re: Our take on the music

lots of good points here. as someone who has played many many hours in sessions and seen quite a few regular sessions come and go the only thing I’ll say is that I get nervous when I see lists of rules.

Re: Our take on the music

As I said earlier, I didn’t post a list of rules. It was more of a summing up of things we had all been thinking, people we wanted to play with, and how we learned tunes and thought tunes were learned.
It isn’t a "rule" that you must learn from hearing the music rather than reading the notes. But learning from the written music is like swimming with a life preserver vest. You won’t sink but won’t learn to swim very well. I feel sorry when someone comes to the house with a bag full of music sheets, expecting that we will play tunes together. Their playing is invariably wooden and half-formed, with no phrasing or lift.
This site is primarily valuable to people just starting out in ITM, or to people who are just starting to get a real sense of the music. Many of these discussions involve issues that have been gone over and over for years. But the discussions appear new to some people, who might find them helpful. My comments were aimed at people who come on the site asking, "Where can I find the notes to this great tune I heard Kevin Burke play?" Or, "What is the name of this reel at 3:10."
These questions are meaningful and the answers are often helpful. It would be better if the person asking the question was part of a circle of musicians who could play the tune and help the person work it out. Since that helpful person isn’t always available, people come here for help.

Re: Our take on the music

One of my favourite T shirts bears the slogan "Save a tree - play by ear." Given to me by my sister the Oboe/Sax teacher. Not to be taken too seriously, I think.

Re: Our take on the music

I commented on this early on above before going over to Ireland last Tuesday for the 2017 "Cruinniu na bhFliuit" organised by Hammy Hamilton, Conal O’Grada and a very dedicated team of local volunteers.
Here are a few observations from those 5 days, and the sessions I listened to / was part of, in relation to David’s 5 original comments [ not rules ]. Please draw your own conclusions from the following :

1 - in 11 sessions - 2 in "The Cobblestone", and 9 in Ballyvourney - I did not see a single instance of anyone trying to play from a sheet of written music. Experienced players, of course, have no need of this, but not even the beginners or less experienced players seemed to want to do this.
Also, in the 4 classes I attended by 4 highly respected players and tutors, no written notation was handed out to any of the classes. All 4 did write transcriptions of some tunes taught on a blackboard using the "ABC" notation which is commonly used in Ireland. All either copied this down, or more common these days, took photos for use at a later date, at home, but not in the actual session. This may have happened, but I personally did not observe it.

2 - let’s leave "humility" out of it. "Knowing when not to play", I’d say, is a very important skill to have as well. If you don’t know a tune, you can’t play it - simple, although some musicians can pick up a tune very quickly, and when a tune is played through 5 or 6 times, some of the simpler tunes can be picked up "on the fly". It’s generally not something that beginners can do, though, and I myself would always err on the side of caution. If in doubt, don’t play.

3 - "It takes time" - certainly, but the 5 young flute players I listened to, and had the pleasure and privilige of playing along with last Thusday night blows this "10,000 hours" stuff clean out of the water. Their ages ranged from I’d say 16 to 12, - there’s no way that these young musicians, at their stage of life, could possibly have spent 10,000 hours practicing. Trust me on this David, they could all have sat down and played in nearly any session which you and I could play in. The session was hosted by tutors Sean Gavin and Aoife Granville, also in attendance, Mr. Michael Clarkson of Belfast. These youngsters were keeping up with them, certainly on most of the repertoire.
As an aside, and this is unique in my experience - all 5 , sitting in a row, were playing left-handed. I hope someone somewhere has a photo.

4 - out of 11 sessions - no bouzoukis, no guitars [ unless you include the barman at the "Cobblestone" who joined in for 15 mins to sing a couple of songs ], 1 bodhran player in a few of the Ballyvourney sessions, who did lend it to our very own Conan for some tunes on the Saturday night. [ Great to see you again, Conan, and great to meet Sam, too ].

5 - ages ranged from young teenagers to some people in at least their 60s who hadn’t been playing for very long at all.

I’ll leave it at that, but will just say that it was one of the most enjoyable 5 days of music I’ve ever had since starting taking an interest in this stuff. I fully intend going back next year - if you play Irish music on flute, give it serious consideration.

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Re: Our take on the music

Hi Kenny. It was a real pleasure to meet you again too, and soak up some of the craic at Ballyvourney. Magnificent music and such a lovely bunch of tutors and students. Sam had a wonderful time and will no doubt be back next year. Regarding the bodhran playing, I have to sheepishly admit to just wanting to join in and knowing that the box was not the means to do so. I wrestled with my conscience as to whether I should play at all but Sam mentioned that it was really useful, given the length and breadth of the session and the propensity for the rhythm to get lost or even for another set to be started inadvertently. That said, I did sit out a fair bit as, in general, there is no ‘need’ for a bodhran most of the time. At the tutors’ concert, Colm Murphy played pretty much every set but then again he is a very tasteful player and certainly didn’t detract from the music.
I was just thinking about one of the points made above regarding the dots. It’s been the cause of many an argument on this site and I agree that the goal of musicians playing Irish music should be to do without, for several reasons: you can play the tune at any time without relying on notation, you get to know the tune better and can do more with it in terms of your own style or take on the tune, learning by ear enables you to pick up new tunes much faster, its generally frowned upon (let’s not deny it) at sessions and in terms of practicality, do you really want to be lugging around a music stand and notation, or a fragile tablet and flicking/swiping through pages to find the tune you’re looking for, which by this stage is probably already half -finished? However David also pointed out earlier that you shouldn’t throw away the dots, and he’s absolutely right. While this music comes from an oral tradition, and has been passed on for some centuries in that way, much of it has been written down which would otherwise have been lost, and the music would be a lot poorer for it. Edward Bunting’s transcriptions of the music from the Belfast Harp festival springs immediately to mind. It makes you wonder how much interesting music died with the original composer and players.

Re: Our take on the music

Kenny, great point. Well taken. "the 5 young flute players I listened to blows this "10,000 hours" stuff clean out of the water. Their ages ranged from I’d say 16 to 12, - there’s no way that these young musicians, at their stage of life, could possibly have spent 10,000 hours practicing."

I was taking the 10,000 hours from Malcolm Gladwell and some other people who talked about learning a skill well enough to perform it at a very high level. Apparently it’s a lot more complicated. We all know that kids who start their instrument when very young usually progress faster than an adult starting out. I am reading about the teenage brain and it seems that neurologically an adolescent is primed for learning. Could this be more true of younger people learning an instrument? Or just that some people, starting young, seem to be natural geniuses and happen to land in Ballyvourney playing the flute?

Recent literature shows that "…deliberate practice explained 26% of the variance in performance for games, 21% for music, 18% for sports, 4% for education, and less than 1% for professions. We conclude that deliberate practice is important, but not as important as has been argued." http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0956797614535810

Is there a music gene?

I won’t mention 10,000 hours again. Here or anywhere. Thanks for calling me on it. Hope to see you some time.

Re: Our take on the music

Eyes vs ears - They are both valuable tools and one should not be ignored over the other. To criticize someone because they use sheets is rude and unfair. I can’t help it that my school taught me to read at age 8. I still use my ears all the time, too.
Sylvia Miskoe