Struggling to Learn Tunes by Ear, any suggestions?

Struggling to Learn Tunes by Ear, any suggestions?

Hey guys,

So I’ve been trying to learn tunes by ear recently (on the fiddle). The biggest issue I’m having is not being able to catch any of the complicated fiddly bits (generally the end of the A or B part of a decently fast reel (think any of the reels from
Ego Trip by Macdara O Raghallaigh)) and trying to translate button box or concertina playing to my instrument (think In Knocknagree by Noel Hill / Tony MacMahon). I’m currently using Spotify and have not yet had success in finding a way to slow down the recordings.

Any advice? I’m trying to take it slow and repeating phrases over and over until I get them, but I will still get stuck frequently and get really frustrated when I can’t get the phrase just right. It’s pretty much just a crap shoot until I, if I am lucky, get the phrase right.

I’m also starting to record tunes at sessions (where the tunes are slower, easier to hear, or less showy) but that is a slow process, though I will definitely get it given enough time. My big problem spot is ‘professionally’ recorded tunes.

Cheers,

I

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Re: Struggling to Learn Tunes by Ear, any suggestions?

It can be difficult learning a tune with a recording, especially if it’s not completely in your head yet. I have a much easier time of learning a tune by ear once I have it memorized in my head….it translates into my fingers pretty quickly. I have tried learning tunes that are brand new to me (ie: I hear a recording of a tune I feel I just have to learn), and it’s more difficult. Listening to a recording many times before trying to actually play it makes it a whole lot easier.

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Re: Struggling to Learn Tunes by Ear, any suggestions?

yust like savFid says, i listen to it until i can whistle it, and then i start

Re: Struggling to Learn Tunes by Ear, any suggestions?

Yes, if the tune is in your head, it makes all the difference. You could try playing very well known tunes that
you’d have memorised in your head already. I’m a (basic) fiddler but often play by ear all sorts of tunes from my
life and feel my way to the right notes, adjust key if difficult etc. It might make it easier then to go on to session
tunes and tunes you hear on recordings.

Re: Struggling to Learn Tunes by Ear, any suggestions?

Several approaches:
Listen to the tune enough times to get what’s going on. (May work for a tune that’s fairly simple in structure and melody.)
Play along as well as you can and do your best to match the recording - it gets better each time.
Listen to and repeat phrases (this rarely works for me - I want the big picture first and fill the gaps later).

Sometimes you can find videos on Youtube, studio recordings or live takes (and there you can alter the speed).

Re: Struggling to Learn Tunes by Ear, any suggestions?

I am guessing that you are having trouble with the more difficult parts.
I only mentioning this it in case there are folks at a more beginning level of ear training reading this.

A source of well known ITM tunes played slow (also sheet music so you can check yourself (or cheat :-) )):
http://slowplayers.org/

The complete list:
http://slowplayers.org/1295-2/

Re: Struggling to Learn Tunes by Ear, any suggestions?

When I learn by ear I start with an approximation to the tune and it moves closer and closer to the original each time I play along. I do exactly the same when learning from a recording and when playing with others in sessions. Till the tune contains all its elements it works as a kind of accompaniment.

If a tune is complex and I feel that I am no longer improving but am still not putting in enough of the notes (as you describe) then I either resign myself to playing along and never starting it or I look at the written music and fill out the tune. I can read music but I can’t play the fiddle at the same time so I paste the ABC of the version nearest to what I’m learning into ABCNavigator and play it back while looking at the score and comparing it to what I am playing myself. It soon becomes obvious if I need to change or embellish sections. Occasionally I get a long-suffering fellow-player to play a short section for me, showing what they are doing.

I have not found recordings made in sessions helpful. There is usually too much background noise. When playing fiddle along with any kind of recording I usually use a rubber mute so that I can hear the recording over my own playing without having to turn it up too high. Otherwise the sound from the acoustic instrument completely masks the less rounded sound from the recording.

I find it much easier to learn if I can see the player - even if they are playing an instrument I can’t play. Boxes are particularly good for picking up a steady rhythm - but only if you can see them - so a video is better and a real person best.

Re: Struggling to Learn Tunes by Ear, any suggestions?

I assume that you are still coping with some technical problems. I still, fifty years in, find finger exercises to be very helpful and, played carefully, lovely in themselves. Boring? Only if think they’re boring going in.
Wohlfahrt’s Sixty Studies for the Violin, Opus 45 (#18) in particular was very helpful:
https://archive.org/details/imslp-studies-for-the-violin-op45-wohlfahrt-franz

Re: Struggling to Learn Tunes by Ear, any suggestions?

I pick up tunes often from youtube where you can slow the audio down without the tonality changing.
Then listening to the tune over and over until it’s in my head and I’m humming it
Then transcribing the tune bar by bar into a small notebook, breaking it down and adding little ornaments that I pick up from the recordings.

Re: Struggling to Learn Tunes by Ear, any suggestions?

Theirs computer apps you can get that slow down recorded music without changing the pitch. I’ve used them for any tricky parts I can’t pick out.

Re: Struggling to Learn Tunes by Ear, any suggestions?

Youtube as has been suggested as well as other sources, I save the recording and play it through some slow down software where the tricky bits can be isolated - I use Transcribe but there are others.

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Re: Struggling to Learn Tunes by Ear, any suggestions?

It’s best to learn by listening to a solo instrument. Either from a recording or get one of your pals to play it for you. Tracks can be heavily arranged by some bands and it’s not always easy to pick up the exact melody straight away.

There’s lots of good software out there for slowing down tunes although some musicians frown upon this. However, if you gradually get it up to the proper speed, I don’t see an issue. Examples are Transcribe, Amazing Slow Downer or in the case of Martin Hayes.. "Amazing Speed Upper" might also suffice(old Llig joke) ;-)

Re: Struggling to Learn Tunes by Ear, any suggestions?

I download videos from YouTube using a free app for Firefox called video downloaded. You can slow them down on a Mac using QuickTime 7 Pro (not free) or iMovie (free). VLC Player (free) will probably do it too and it’s Mac and PC.

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Re: Struggling to Learn Tunes by Ear, any suggestions?

There’s a funny thing that happens sometimes when you listen to a tune so it’s in your head and you can whistle or hum it etc. Which is that your mind can play tricks in places by inverting a phrase or substituting something similar. You think you’re playing what you heard but it only transpires later that what you have is slightly different. Just part of the process I guess by which tunes have sprung variations and other tunes in the same family. Not sure if this is related to the question of making tunes easier and to be honest, I don’t care :)

Re: Struggling to Learn Tunes by Ear, any suggestions?

If the tune is a song, learn the words and sing it;
Helps, even if they make no obvious sense, like those to the canntaireachd for piobaireachd.

Re: Struggling to Learn Tunes by Ear, any suggestions?

There is an app called "Functional Ear Trainer". It teaches you to recognise scale degrees in the context of a key. I strongly recommend working through it - it’s on iOS and Android, and there is also a similar desktop program.

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Re: Struggling to Learn Tunes by Ear, any suggestions?

Spotify doesn’t let you slow things down. I occasionally learn tunes from my Spotify playlist, but if I can’t catch it at full speed, I will sometimes take out my phone, and record the music coming out of my computer speaker into an app that allows me to slow it down and catch what I’m missing. That doesn’t help if you’re using Spotify on your phone, of course. BTW, the app I use on my iPhone is AnyTune Pro, which allows you to record directly into it and slow down, speed up, change key, and loop easily… I hear rumor that they’re close to having an Android version too.

But there are plenty of other ways to do it too. As mentioned, YouTube will now allow you to slow down a video without changing the pitch, and there’s tons of good stuff on YouTube these days. (In fact, the digital distribution package I used for my album last year puts it on YouTube… So there are a lot of "official" versions of trad music that exist on YouTube these days, so that’s maybe a good place to look for the exact same tracks you’re finding on Spotify.)

The better you get at picking up tunes by ear, the easier it becomes to pick them up from full speed recordings and instruments different than yours. I have learned the vast majority of my tunes from different instruments, so I was pretty used to that early on. Just be aware of what instrument you’re learning from. For instance, if you learn a tune on fiddle from a banjo player, you’re playing an octave higher, and you also have to be aware that in most of the places that a banjo player does a triplet on one note, you’ll probably want to roll it, etc…

Re: Struggling to Learn Tunes by Ear, any suggestions?

Learn the idiom first. A teacher or good player can show you the nuts and bolts of the twiddly bits that are unique to the fiddle. Once you know the specific technique(idiom) you can instantly recognise it when you hear it and reproduction is automatic.

Learn the technique, isolate it, practice it to perfection, put it in context and practice it to perfection. Repeat with all the all the variations of the technique. The more of these bits you know, the more you can build up your overall knowledge, and the easier it will be to pick them out by ear instantly.

If you’re trying to teach yourself without knowing the idiom and getting a bunch of reps in, you’ll get mixed results. IME , anyway.

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Re: Struggling to Learn Tunes by Ear, any suggestions?

Saving Youtube videos is not as easy as it used to be on a computer. If you have a way to do it, you can use Audacity software to slow it down. I have a stand alone digital music device that Youtube, or any other online audio programme, can only see as my speakers.

Re: Struggling to Learn Tunes by Ear, any suggestions?

You don’t need an ap to slow down YouTube; if you click on the gear icon in the lower right corner of the YouTube screen a drop-down menu allows you to slow down the playback up to 50%

Re: Struggling to Learn Tunes by Ear, any suggestions?

A lot of good advice all around. I’m a bit confused about the question though…

"I’m trying to take it slow and repeating phrases over and over until I get them, but I will still get stuck frequently and get really frustrated when I can’t get the phrase just right. It’s pretty much just a crap shoot until I, if I am lucky, get the phrase right."

This sounds to me like the normal process. It’s just that over time, and after getting used to learning by ear, you get better and better at "guessing". Eventually, you’ll be so good, that it will only take as long as it takes for you to "memorize" the melody. That’s what separates ear training from sight-reading, having to understand the music aurally before being able to learn it.

If you want to PM me what you’re dealing with specifically, I could send you some of the ear-training lessons I use when mentoring. But it sounds to me like you already know what you’re doing.

Re: Struggling to Learn Tunes by Ear, any suggestions?

I play it on repeat in the car, while pottering about at home until it’s in my head, then try to play it, then review by comparing mine with the original, rinse and repeat. You get better with practice and knowledge of the idiom. There is no magic pill.

Re: Struggling to Learn Tunes by Ear, any suggestions?

There’s also a very good program called Transcribe! it is excellent and doesn’t cost much. it can also display video. I like to have it around even though I rarely use it - I know I will and it’s a first rate program.

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Re: Struggling to Learn Tunes by Ear, any suggestions?

Basically, stop struggling. It doesn’t help you learn faster.

I also second the recommendation for Transcribe, been using it forever as my primary tool to learn tunes.

What I mean by “stop struggling” really means be willing to be patient with yourself and take whatever time it takes to learn the tunes. Slow them down and learn in small enough bits. When people say that they are struggling, often it means that they are impatient.

Over time it usually gets easier, so you have that to look forward to.

Re: Struggling to Learn Tunes by Ear, any suggestions?

And maybe learn from recording of a single instrument before taking on group recordings.

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Re: Struggling to Learn Tunes by Ear, any suggestions?

Like mentioned youtube is a good one with the possibility to slow down tracks. If you use spotify, you could record it from there (either with some "not so legal" program or by recording with a phone or similar and then play it slowly via a program like audacity). Another option would be (if you heard in a session), to ask one of the players if he/she could demonstrate the struggly bit (optionally with you recording if permission) so you can pick it up that way.

Re: Struggling to Learn Tunes by Ear, any suggestions?

Macdara O Raghallaigh uses a lot of fancy and sometimes complex variations on that album (Ego Trip, one of my favorites!), but perhaps not the best to start learning by ear… Also, not likely the way you will find them played in sessions. I think band recordings are sometimes easier to learn tunes from, since the versions have to be somewhat more standardized than solo players.

Lots of good advice from people here. I second those who put a tune on repeat, and listen over and over until it’s committed to memory.

I have found that the more tunes I learn, the better I get at picking stuff up by ear. Once you’ve learned a lot of tunes, those sounds and idioms get solidified and you start to recognize what you hear, even if it’s a tune you’ve never heard before. I know some people will argue quality over quantity, but IMHO learning a lot of tunes can really help, not only your ear, but your ear to hand coordination and familiarity with your instrument—And since so many tunes have similar bits, you end up repeating certain phrases over and over again anyway, which can only improve your playing.

Re: Struggling to Learn Tunes by Ear, any suggestions?

"I’m trying to take it slow and repeating phrases over and over until I get them, but I will still get stuck frequently and get really frustrated when I can’t get the phrase just right. It’s pretty much just a crap shoot until I, if I am lucky, get the phrase right."

Jerone is right - that’s the normal way, or at least normal for me.

Hearing and separating out the phrases is a good first step, and it’s perfectly OK to be frustrated if you can’t get the right notes.

What I do is learn the phrase the way I think it goes after listening to it a few times. Once I’ve got it, then I play the recording again, and I know immediately if I’m off on something, and where. But now I know what’s off, so I try to correct the problem, learn it, then go and listen again. Sometimes it takes multiple listenings to get it the way it’s being played. And it takes some time. So don’t try to hurry it along, although that becomes a temptation, as in "God, I’ve been at this 20 minutes and I still don’t have it."

If that happens, go do something else and come back later. And realize that all of this is good work to be doing, even if it’s frustrating in the moment. You’re learning lots of things, even if you’re slow in getting the actual tune.

As for the fiddly bits, don’t worry about them. Learn to identify the main parts - the bones of the melody. Start playing the tune without the fiddly bits. Then, when you have it, go back and listen to the more subtle stuff, the ornaments or variations. Trying to get those on the first time around, especially from someone like MacDara, is going to be well nigh impossible. As you improve and learn to add ornaments and variations, more of those fiddly bits will make sense.

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Re: Struggling to Learn Tunes by Ear, any suggestions?

It takes as long as it takes. :-)

Re: Struggling to Learn Tunes by Ear, any suggestions?

This may be hard to get your head around but hear it out. The hardest part of learning to play a tune by ear is the "learning the tune by ear part". Probably the least helpful thing you can do is have your instrument in your hands, fooling around with the strings and such. Learn the tune, actively listen to the tune, phrase by phrase, and in it’s entirety. Hear it, feel it sing it. If that seems too much, ask yourself why do you want to play it at all? Assuming you are familiar with where the notes are on your fiddle (flute, banjo, whistle, mandolin, jaw harp, didjeridoo God help us) it’s not that hard to put it in to your fingers. Learning the tune and learning how to play the tune are separate skills. In my experience all the tunes and songs I’ve ever learned to play leave as quickly as they came. The ones I’ve learned are still there.

Re: Struggling to Learn Tunes by Ear, any suggestions?

Gallopede said:
"When I learn by ear I start with an approximation to the tune and it moves closer and closer to the original each time I play along. I do exactly the same when learning from a recording and when playing with others in sessions. Till the tune contains all its elements it works as a kind of accompaniment."

Yeah, actually this is what commits the tune to my memory - the actual "playing along". Not listening to the tune over and over until it sticks (to me, that could actually take longer).

reelsweet:
"I know some people will argue quality over quantity, but IMHO learning a lot of tunes can really help, not only your ear, but your ear to hand coordination and familiarity with your instrument."

And I agree totally. It’s a quicker way to the big picture and patterns (and I believe that is something a musician would find beneficial).

Re: Struggling to Learn Tunes by Ear, any suggestions?

For the ‘complicated, fiddly bits’ you mention, use Amazing Slow Downer. and play the tune at half speed or even less until you’ve learned those parts. Then you can speed your playing up. The audio quality of ASL is amazing compared to Quicktime Player (the older version 7 on a Mac had slowdown capabilities) or VLC.

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Re: Struggling to Learn Tunes by Ear, any suggestions?

Andy lyons said-‘I pick up tunes often from youtube where you can slow the audio down without the tonality changing.’
Whatever you do, don’t slow down tunes played on uilleann pipes on YouTube! Aaarrgh! Where’s me earplugs?

Re: Struggling to Learn Tunes by Ear, any suggestions?

I do the following to pick difficult tunes:
1) load the recording into Audacity software, it’s free
2) find the key note of the tune, find its frequency, transpose the whole track if necessary (say, the recording is in Eflat and I want it in D)
3) find the difficult-to-pick passage, select it.
4) slow it down to 50% of original speed. The sound goes an octave lower, but that’s not a problem for the most of the time.
5) now it should be much easier to pick. Audacity option of repeatedly playing the selected bit of tune removes much of distraction of clicking buttons in the app.
6) if that does not help (usually 1-2 notes are still uncertain), slow it down again to 25% of original speed or, as the last resort, select that uncertain note only and build a spectrogram of it. There will be peaks in the spectrogram. Usually the lowest (most left) peak gives the note.
7) I tend to write down the tune being picked in ABC, but mostly the tune is in my head by the end of the picking process. So ABC is used as a reference the next morning, when I cannot remember some bits of the tune.

Hope this helps.

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Re: Struggling to Learn Tunes by Ear, any suggestions?

Trying to learn from Cds of world class musicians is fraught with issues. They often play beautiful but idiosyncratic versions that will not easily sit in your local session. They also might play in different keys, and ornate versions in which the rhythmic ornaments are intertwined into the melody such that a less knowledgeable person will have trouble understanding them. Finding a simpler session version is a better start, complexity can come later, if you think it is needed, and by then you might have a better perspective.

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Re: Struggling to Learn Tunes by Ear, any suggestions?

Couldn’t agree more with cag.
My advice is this, and is pre internet pre CD in fact! :-)
The process I used revolved around, as a teenager , picking up riffs shown to me, jamming , gigging , and then a few years later , learning the tunes by ear phrases by phrase from a teacher.
Worked for me.
Involves getting a teacher specifically to learn from them phrase by phrase, small enough sections for the learner at a slow enough pace.

Once the phrases are passed over then , and another whole method in its own right, I play (,if I were a teacher, ) the tune part over and over slowly.then the tune over and over slowly , for ages. Ages.

The ideal s to be able to associate the sound in your ear with the sound on your instrument directing, unconsciously . Just as you do with your voice as a singer.
So pick up the melody by ear by listening lots…… learn to lilt the tunes.
At first it’s a conscious process but after a while picking up tunes by ear as it happens ( Not neccassarily remembering them though!!!) can be a fun natural and fairly fast process.
Remembering them for another day , is another story.

Re: Struggling to Learn Tunes by Ear, any suggestions?

Pretty much all good comments. Here is what my wife and I do.
1. Make a CD of the tunes/songs you want to learn (great for lyrics to)
2. Keep in car, play all the time, get familiar with the tune/song
3. Download software, my favorite is Capo, you can change the speed, key and select a small selection and put it on repeat to really practice a part. You need to know how to get the file into a format like Mp3. We are Macintosh but I am sure there are lots of PC options.

Capo is nice because you can adjust the speed as much as you want, little or lots.

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Re: Struggling to Learn Tunes by Ear, any suggestions?

I learn tunes at full speed – after 3 years of playing the whistle (and, of course, 30 years of guitar). How that?

1) Best thing, I agree, is to know the tune, so that you can sing along with it.

2) I never play a new tune from the beginning to the end. That would overstrain the short time memory. It cannot remember more than 8 items. That’s why I cut the into pieces: I only play 4-8 notes - full speed -.
After the second or third repetition, I only repeat them by heart, without listening to the tune.

3) I repeat these notes the other day. I do not listen to the tune before and play all by heart. So I can easily see, how much I remember from my last session (and of the fingering).

4) Then I learn the next cluster (can be 4 more notes or a part, that consists of a row of notes, I can remember easily and immediately play by heart.

Principle: I do not learn a new part before the preceding parts can be played flawless and by heart.

This is a beginner’s method.

The more years you play, the more you get used to learn by ear, the more you trust on your memory and the easier and faster you learn a tune. Then, you do not only play 4-8 notes, but you cut the tune in clusters.

Re: Struggling to Learn Tunes by Ear, any suggestions?

I agree with cag that learning from CDs of world class musicians can be a problem. As well as the points they make there is the added difficulty that some people now are embarrassed to go to sessions because they think they aren’t good enough when really they are good enough but they are comparing themselves to Aly Bain, Natalie MacMaster, Frankie Gavin or Sharon Shannon.

Re: Struggling to Learn Tunes by Ear, any suggestions?

I have a list of tunes, (sheet music) in a file on my computer named, "tunes I should know" and I play them over and over, not even trying to memorize them. Each day I go down the list and pick up where I left off. It’s a nice surprize when I come to one and I find I know it without looking at the notes.

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Re: Struggling to Learn Tunes by Ear, any suggestions?

Am I correct to believe that "Learning/memorizing a tune without use of written notes" is a little different from "Playing by ear"?

I’ve only recently started to pick up tunes by ear at more-or-less regular tempo. Polkas, and jigs at first, and sporadically some frequently played reels.

For me, two things have helped:
- Gaining a repertoire. Only after I reached about 80 memorized tunes did I start to have a broad enough collection of typical elements that I could find them easily to hand on a new tune.
- Changing from whistle to flute. The tonal range of the flute matches my voice, and also the other session instruments. I know, a D-whistle is the same tuning as a D-flute, but the octave difference throws my ears for a loop.

There are a lot of good suggestions here, in particular simply knowing the tune before trying to play it, but I’m going to disagree with the recommendation not to worry about the "fiddly bits".

Firstly, the "fiddly bits" are not the hard part of a tune - once you know rolls or triplets, they are every bit as easy if not easier than playing three eighth-notes or a dotted quarter.

Secondly, "fiddly bits" provide an important way to get dynamics into the tune, i.e. a slight amount of swing, emphasis on the strong-beat, or syncopations on the off beat - especially on a whistle which doesn’t have the volume dynamics of the fiddle or flute.

Playing the right notes is not the same as playing the tune. I can’t AT ALL play a tune by ear unless I can "get" the phrasing and "feel" of it, and that means, getting the volume dynamics, syncopation or swing I just mentioned, which comes back to using fiddly bits to accent the right places.

Thirdly, (maybe it is just inexperienced-me, but) when I’m trying to pick up a tune by ear, these fiddly bits seem to indicate important places in the tune. I can often figure out fiddly phrases before I can work out ones built out of broken-chords.

Re: Struggling to Learn Tunes by Ear, any suggestions?

@Max Altemueller: where did you come by this method? It reminds me of C.C. Changs Fundamentals of Piano Practice.

Re: Struggling to Learn Tunes by Ear, any suggestions?

Depends where you have come from, musically speaking. I did years of classical piano and the associated grade exams which included "aural tests" where you had to sing back phrases that the examiner played to you. You also were given a note and had to sing e.g. a second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, above, or identify intervals that the examiner played. As you went up the grades it got harder: major or minor, augmented or diminished intervals. Now I know some of you exclusively "ear learners" will throw up your hands in horror at what I’ve just said, but it stood me in enormously good stead, and still does, after I made up my mind to get get better at playing by ear. It was my way of doing it, thinking of tunes in terms of scales, arpeggios, sequences and intervals: it worked for me, and now, I can think less in such theoretical terms but just do it. But don’t kid yourself that it will happen overnight: it has taken me over 10 years to become a reasonable "ear player". (And I’m still faster at reading music than playing by ear!)

Re: Struggling to Learn Tunes by Ear, any suggestions?

Have more patience.
Sylvia Miskoe, USA

Re: Struggling to Learn Tunes by Ear, any suggestions?

Wow. That was way more responses than I expected to get.

First of all, thank you to everyone who commented (I did read them all quite thoroughly).

I’m currently working on listening to the tunes on repeat until I can lilt them without the music on. Hopefully that will help, I’ll inform y’all if it does.

The slow down software is slightly helpful, but the only one that I’ve found truly useful is YouTube’s built in functionality. The rest are nice options, but distract me too much from my playing for some reason (Still not sure why).

I’ll definitely be using the functional ear trainer. That looks like it’ll be a huge help, thanks!

I’ll attempt to learn tunes in person as well, though there are only a few fiddle players in my area. That also comes with the fact that there aren’t any teachers (as far as a few years of asking around has found) in my area either. So learning in person is considerably more difficult unless I somehow am able to get skype lessons or the like. I’ve been trying to work on this stuff on my own for a while now, and I’m really realizing the limitations (and, to be positive, the benefits) of doing so.

After spending a couple of afternoons listening through what I can only assume is the entirety of Spotify’s Irish music selection I’ve come to the conclusion that either I have to get really good at adding variations to tunes or that writing down tunes accurately, as played, is close to impossible (not really, but the idea is that it is very hard to translate tunes to the paper and vice versa). So I’m now more resolved than ever to work on learning by ear.

David Levine, I spent a couple of hours trying to get the exercise down and all I’ve ended up with is a pinky which is periodically going tingly, but I’ll keep working at it until I get it. Looks like a really good resource though, thank you.

"Have more patience." - Sylvia Miskoe
^^^ Also yes. I’m struggling a bit with that, but I’m working on it :).

Again, thank you to everyone for the suggestions!

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Re: Struggling to Learn Tunes by Ear, any suggestions?

Spotify has a LOT more than "a couple of afternoons" of Irish trad, just FYI.

You might check out my public playlist, which is over 24 hours long at the moment, and it’s hand-picked stuff instead of just grabbing every trad album and adding it to the playlist. It could easily have a couple of weeks worth of music in it.

https://open.spotify.com/user/22nggqnvepmzbt6y7kuyk3rca/playlist/6mCPzGSSrY9VO5Ta2jX69Q

And there are several others (some of which are quite a bit more extensive than mine) listed in this thread: https://thesession.org/discussions/40910

Re: Struggling to Learn Tunes by Ear, any suggestions?

@shaketree – I’ve written a book about practicing and studied more than 150 (German) books about that subject (I’ve studied musicology, when I was young):

Learning psychology, anatomy, mnemonics, ergonomy, learning research, mastery, mistake management, pause management, mental learning, mimetic learning, learning by ear/from sheet, musician’s medicine & gymnastics, Feldenkrais, Suzuki method, deliberate practicing (Ericsson) …

Then lots of practical tipps in the internet (singingwood.com, bulletproofmusician, anything I could get from famous musicians like Menuhin, Anne Sophie-Mutter, Mantel, Heifetz …)

And then I made tons of interviews with musicians of all kinds (studied, autodidactic, children and their parents, profis, hobby musicians), with physiotherapists from the musician’s medicine institute here in Berlin, with karateka and sportsmen (very instructive!), I went to lectures and master classes and watched lots of youtube videos about that subject …

Then I took some music lessons – but not in order to learn my instrument, but to learn how to learn and how to practice. One of my teachers was Sinead Hayes (Irish Trad, classical music & conductor).

I just was fed up to practice and practice like hell and didn’t really get better. So I decided to sharpen my axe thoroughly before continuing chopping down the tree!

So, what said in my last comment, really works good – for me. My praciticing is much more effecive by a fraction of time, it takes to learn a new tune.

But, I must say, that we all have different approaches to practice, and that these approaches change from time to time and do have to change, in order to avoid boring routine …

Re: Struggling to Learn Tunes by Ear, any suggestions?

@ Max Altemueller. If at your step 1 "you can sing along with it" why at step 2 does it matter that you " cannot remember more than 8 items" ? Is it that you can only sing *along* with it.

My preferred method has two independant stages as someone mentioned above. (1) Listen until I can sing it. (2) Know my instrument well enough that I can play what I can sing, even if only haltingly.

Somewhere between Twinkle Twinkle and a 4-part reel this process brakes down and I revert to stepping through the tune phrase by phrase with the audio, often singing it. But I am getting better.

Re: Struggling to Learn Tunes by Ear, any suggestions?

Here’s a suggestion which I’m sure will make some of you cringe.

If you have access to old Ceili band recordings or Scottish dance bands(for Scottish tunes), I think this is a good way to learn tunes by ear. Of course, this will probably not be the same style which you’ll wish to play them yourselves but it’s still a good way to "get the notes".
As far as Scottish music is concerned, I’d go for the older dance bands and players for this purpose. I’ve learned loads of good Scottish AND Irish tunes this way.

It’s also good to listen to recording and players of other instruments. Quite often, it’s easier to pick up a melody this way and you you can transfer it to your own instrument. Of course, if your intention is to emulate a particular player or style of music that’s a little different to just learning the tune and, arguably, requires you to be quite a bit more experienced in "ear learning" anyway.

Re: Struggling to Learn Tunes by Ear, any suggestions?

@Johnny Jay - you are brave! Those old recordings are readilly available on low-cost compilation CDs, often second hand for a couple of pounds online, or less in charity shops. I think it you have to enjoy listening to that stuff though, otherwise I don’t think it would work.

Re: Struggling to Learn Tunes by Ear, any suggestions?

I’m not overkeen on much of the modern Scottish dance music where it’s just accordions "rattling away" at a fast speed.
However, I don’t think you can go wrong with the likes of Jimmy Shand, Bobby Macleod, Ian Powrie and so on. Or the likes of Phil and Aly today…not Scottish Dance music as such but much of what they do as a duo is in a fairly straight traditional style which is not dissimilar to SDM in some ways. Of course, they have both done lots more and have been musically adventurous in other projects over the years.

Re: Struggling to Learn Tunes by Ear, any suggestions?

For clarity - I meant brave for suggesting it, not for listening to it :-)

Re: Struggling to Learn Tunes by Ear, any suggestions?

I thought that was what you meant but I wasn’t sure. ;-)

In Scotland though, many of the tunes and even some of the players are interchangeable. There are many "trad type" players who will also perform in Ceilidh or Scottish Dance bands(There’s quite a few differences between the two but that’s another can or worms. ;-)

Examples of fine muscians who can straddle both camps would include the likes of Pete Clark, Kevin MacLeod, Freeland Barbour, Gavin Marwick etc but there’s many more. All highly respected as traditional musicians but also very much in demand for "Playing for dancing".

Re: Struggling to Learn Tunes by Ear, any suggestions?

@Max Altemueller

The interesting part of your practice steps is the part where you practice it at full speed instead of practicing slow and speeding up after learning the whole tune. This is not an intuitive perspective, but I think it is a very productive perspective. It forces you to experiment with motions/movement that works at speed immediately.

It requires more discipline though, and for my instrument, the accordion, I find that I have to spend a lot of attention to the exact fingering. This takes a lot of time and focus. I now write the tune down and settle the fingering first, before practicing clusters of the tune up to speed. But sometimes I still have to go back and adjust the fingering… I hope this will improve with experience.

Re: Struggling to Learn Tunes by Ear, any suggestions?

@Max Altemueller

Well shit. I wish I could do that :). Out of curiosity, what’s the name of the book?

I’ve been doing something sort of similar. Just learned a couple of jig sets from Callan Bridge (Niall and Cillian Vallely) and, once I could lilt the tunes, it took me close to zero time to pick up the bones. A couple of hiccups with certain intervals and such, but it turns out that if I think about it as adding variations I eventually get whatever they played (might not be optimal, but for the time being it works).

So yea, I’m still not going to be good at it for a while, but I at least have a semblance of process. Thanks guys!

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Re: Struggling to Learn Tunes by Ear, any suggestions?

@David50

Well, "remember more than 8 items" concerns the motoric memory. I recall maybe 300 lovely Irish tunes, but to sing along with them does not mean, that I can play them. 8 items include the fingering, the breathing, the articulation, the tempo, the jumps from one octave to the next and so on.

Re: Struggling to Learn Tunes by Ear, any suggestions?

@Max Altemueller. I don’t remember those things.

At least not through a process that involves short-term memory*. But then on flute there aren’t many options for fingering and octave changes. I just aim to play the note I would sing. And I guess how to do that, and get from note to note, is in long-term memory.

* If I have had time to get the tune in my head. Learning phrase by phrase, as at a workshop, is different. Then it has to be done over half an hour or so - and may be forgotten the next day.

Re: Struggling to Learn Tunes by Ear, any suggestions?

@I – Oops! I should have said, the book is just a script and still needs a bit of work!

The book titel: "Learning how to practice – Methodical practice manual for autodidacts and hobby musicians".

Here’s a small excerpt (Chapter "Practicing with children"). Unfortunately, it’s in German: http://www.youblisher.com/p/1869942-Max-Altemueller/