Perpetual Beginner

Perpetual Beginner

Does anyone have any advice for the perpetual beginner?

I started playing a B/C box back in July of 2012. A year or so later I switched to C#/D box and still feel like I only know maybe 30 tunes solidly and 50 tunes at all. Most sessions I try to attend are spent listening because I either don’t know the tune or it’s played much faster than I’m able to. I probably picked a bad time to start getting into the music while also starting a family but I was wondering if anyone had any advice on how to get out of the perpetual beginner stage and into a more intermediate, and once the kids move out, advanced stage.

Cheers,
Sean

Re: Perpetual Beginner

You just keep working at it. I know of no other way! Listen, read, play, and listen. Did I mention listen? Commit yourself. I have been committed and it worked for me! Anybody who plays ITM should be committed.

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Re: Perpetual Beginner

Maybe you can find some inspiration from Jerone’s recent post on Ambition.

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Re: Perpetual Beginner

You’ve picked the best time in your life for playing trad. Just stick with it and follow Gobby’s advice. Be sure to start your children on a proper course of playing ITM too.

Re: Perpetual Beginner

How to get out of the beginner stage?

Regular lessons
DAILY, focused, deliberate practice. An hour per day, more if possible.
Listen to Irish music a lot. Hour or two per day.
Focus on your practice rather than on the sessions for now. You need basics more than you need the social aspects. 2 hours in a practice room is much more valuable for a "perpetual beginner" than 2 hours in a pub.
Stay disciplined.

That’s the crux of the matter right there. If you want to get better fast (relatively speaking) this is what you gotta do. There are no easy answers. Now the trick is to fit it all in and the family stuff too. Barring that, just do what you can and be patient.

Check out the story of Kitty Hayes if you’re not familiar with it already.

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Re: Perpetual Beginner

Are you drifting from session to session? Assuming you are not just a butterfly and there is a session which you want to join, because you enjoy their company and the tunes; focus on that session and get to know everyone until someone takes you under his or her wings. You’re probably progressing at a good rate, better than you think, and it justs seems like you are taking for…ev…er. It’s alot to absorb. Keep absorbing and listen as often as you are able to the tunes which catch your attention. If your practice time is limited stay focused, be deliberate in what you wish to achieve, set some goals, and (if you can) record yourself. If you have no time for practice (bringing up a family, etc.) this is why I suggested getting to know someone in the session who can maybe show you the ropes. Maybe someone who already went through the whole minding the kids and having some tunes too.

Best to you!

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Re: Perpetual Beginner

Good on you for going after the trad with so much taking time away from you. When at a session, try to actively listen to the tunes: attempt to sing the song as everyone else is playing it. While things seep in unconsciously, they come much quicker when they’re deliberate. Make sure you continue going out to sessions, and continue challenging yourself with the sessions — you’ll learn a lot more from playing with those better than you.

Time management is also your friend here — as previously mentioned, turning trad on when you’re doing yard work, driving, take care of the kids, is free hours of practice. You don’t sound like you’re having too much trouble finding places to play, but you might join your local Comhaltas chapter (https://midatlanticcce.wordpress.com/rafferty-madde-branch/ ) and investigating if there are any button box players around who might give you a lesson every few months just to point you in the right direction.

Good luck.

Re: Perpetual Beginner

Slow and steady wins the race. Half hour per day or one hour every other day. Play scales and arpeggios, and practice each tune until you can execute it cleanly. Memorize one tune at a time. Pretty soon you have 20, 40, 80, 160 tunes.

At about 80 tunes, you will notice that you are getting up to session speed. Depending on the session, at that point you might be able to play along with half of their tunes.

Does anybody else notice that 80 tunes is sort of the tipping point?

I encourage you to continue your music despite having a family. With family is cool; without means you are taking care of yourself.

Re: Perpetual Beginner

What everybody else said. The more disciplined time you spend the better you’ll get. You can’t rush it, you can only get through it. Just remember that as fulfilling as ITM is it’s only one part of a full life. You’ll be better at everything in life by not trying to a "one trick pony". Lots of luck.

Hey I just checked. I grew up quite near you in New Castle DE. Bet it’s changed a lot since the early 70’s.

Re: Perpetual Beginner

May I ask why you consider yourself a "perpetual beginner"? Just because you don’t know 500 tunes and can’t play reels at 150bpm doesn’t mean you’re a beginner. Are speed and repertoire the only skills you’re trying to target?

Re: Perpetual Beginner

One bit of advice often missing from these discussions and very often overlooked is the importance of decent tuition. You may think you’re beyond it, in short very few people are, regardless of what they might have to say about it. If you can find someone to give you some structured lessons you’ll probably find a sea change in where you’re at. Another thing about learning is that it is rarely a simple progression up a "leaning curve", there are plenty of plateaus on the way and these can take a very long time to traverse indeed if indeed the ability is inherently there to do so.

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Maybe your repertoire is the wrong one? I mean, there is a chance that the tunes you’ve learned are difficult on the box to begin with, and difficult to play at "session speed" (whatever that is). If a certain member here (you may figure out who it is) had posted the same question, the general advice would have been to ignore the tricky tunes and focus on a core repertoire of standards.

Re: Perpetual Beginner

Do you take lessons Sean?

Re: Perpetual Beginner

Thanks for the advice everyone.

I do take lessons. They roughly follow the school year so right now I’m on break but starting up soon. I guess I mostly feel like I’ve hit a plateau. Seems like everyone agrees that it’s best to keep at it and "practice smarter, not longer" and be patient. Thanks again.

Re: Perpetual Beginner

Don’t know what that "leaning curve" is I was on about in that post, substitute "learning curve" and there’s a bit more sense there! Plateaued out learning is really disheartening at times, there aren’t really any solutions except to go to the things ( in this case the tunes and exercises ) you enjoy and get the most out of. It’ll pass and you’ll be on the way to the next one soon enough.

Re: Perpetual Beginner

Study efficient practice methods, apply them, practice every day until you have solved your technical problems. Seek face-to-face instruction often, but do not expect someone else to wave a magic wand and turn you into a competent player.

Take responsibility for your own improvement, and keep working at it.

You will get there if you are persistent, accept constructive criticism, and cultivate an ability to listen to your own playing with a critical ear - but do not get too down on yourself, either. Acknowledge your progress, take satisfaction in it, but stay committed to your progress.

Get a little better every day.

Re: Perpetual Beginner

1. Learn the repetoire of the session you like best. You will be encouraged by playing together. Concentrate on learning a few tunes that everybody can play, at the pace they play.
2. Find a mentor, someone you can pally up with and play tunes together at a pace that suits you both. Could be any other instrument.
3. Enjoy it.

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Re: Perpetual Beginner

Being honest I think 4/5 years playing is unlikely to be long enough to raise most people to a standard where they can join in much with an accomplished group of musicians. Patience is going to be an asset and the desire to see off the instant results brigade will definitely aid you in that.

Re: Perpetual Beginner

Try to find people to play with at your level. After 4/5 years you cann’t be a beginner anymore.

Re: Perpetual Beginner

"Does anybody else notice that 80 tunes is sort of the tipping point?"

I got there in about thirty tunes that I really liked, but with a lot of practise (I don’t have a TV). That and lots of Spotify playlists all the time.

Sean, do you learn from dots or by ear? It’s so important to play by ear IMHO. I’ve been playing instruments for two years and a tenor banjo for one, and playing by ear sinks in much faster than notation, for me at least. The tipping point will come, when you hear a tune and play it on your instrument without even thinking about it. It’s a great feeling when it does.

Another tip is to learn four or five songs at once. Learn the A part for one, go over it a couple of times, then learn or practice a couple of different tunes. Then come back to the first tune and you will be amazed how much better your recollection of it is. Gotta give them neural networks time to grow!

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I’ve been playing the box for a decade, and probably because it is not my primary instrument, I still haven’t mastered it myself. I can play scads of slow stuff, but only a few dozen dance tunes up to speed. If you just keep plugging away, and play it at least a little every day, you will get there. One piece of advice; if you don’t have one, get a teacher. Learn to play the tunes using the same fingering each time, as you don’t want to be thinking about how you will finger the notes as you are playing. You need that to be automatic to play at speed. And avoid practicing mistakes—if you can’t play it right playing fast, slow it down until you can play it correctly, and let the speed come in time.