Reading Music

Reading Music

Hello, new here, new to Irish button accordion. Learning B/C since January 2018. Looking for help in understanding how to read tunes posted here. I cannot read music. Learning by ear along with instructor tunes written to corresponding buttons, push/pull. Thank you and please forgive my ignorence.

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Hi Leo! Do you know the names of the notes you are playing ? (or just whether it’s only pull/ push/ button method)

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You can learn to read ABC if, as Yhaal House says, you at least learn the names of the notes that the buttons on your instrument play.
But you also need to understand meters and keys to be able to read ABC correctly.

Since you’re just starting out why not learn to read dots? Your teacher or another teacher could help.

If you learned the tunes here purely by ear (can play the MIDI) you would at least have to know what key produces what note on your box before you can work independently?

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I can read music but I didn’t start to learn until I had been playing for twenty years or so. I am gruntled now that I have learned to read music, and just as happy to have waited until my ear developed enough for me to learn tunes without the help of the tadpoles.
Being able to play from the dots, albeit shamefully slowly, is a definite advantage, although some of the best musicians I know can read music only at a most rudimentary level - and some not at all. Mike Rafferty, bless his soul, claimed not to know when he was playing a C or when a C#. I’m not sure I believed him, but I do know good players who haven’t a clue what key they are playing in. Even if they do know to not split infinitives, nor to end a sentence in a preposition.

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I am learning the notes on each button and I have a layout of what each button is on the pull/push. Looking at the tunes here some notes look familiar and then there is some notation I do not understand. I will not have any way to continue lessons until September, so I want to keep practicing while trying to network and learn. Thank you for taking the time to give me advice.

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Do you play scales? Can you play scales and a tune or two you have already learned - along with the dots?

Willing to go by an internet resource or even buy a workbook on music theory?
https://www.wikihow.com/Read-Music

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Hi, Leo, welcome to the forum.
There is an "Online Academy of Irish Music" (OAIM) which offers some free instruction on various instruments. You need to register to view the lessons though once you are register the first handful of lessons/tunes are free. After that you can pay if you want to see all the lessons.
Here is the button accordion section; https://oaim.ie/instrument/12/button_accordion

Also some of the clips can be found on YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Es7AamVHqYo


Ben

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I like the dots (which I learned starting piano aged 8) partly because this notation is lovely to look at and shows you the rise and fall of the notes and how long each note is, visually. ABC notation is very useful but I can only read from it very slowly. I do think the dots are good to learn - though playing by ear has much to offer that reading off the page can’t.

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Get yourself an instruction manual/workbook for grade 1 theory. that will teach you pretty much all you need to know, with a few odds and ends you can pick up as you go along.

Reading music isn’t intrinsically difficult; it’s much easier than reading written English but just as you had to learn to read English, you have to learn to read music.

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There are three fundamental things you need to learn:

i. how the buttons and bellows direction correspond to the sounds you hear
ii. how the sounds you hear correspond to the notes you see on the stave
iii. how the buttons and bellows direction correspond to the notes you see on the stave

As Alpinerabbit says, *scales* are a good place to start. For the time being, you can learn just the ones you will be using the most - G major and D major. In my opinion, there is no need to practise them endlessly - you just need to play them enough that they become familiar, so that you can predict what sound is about to come out of your instrument before you press a button or move the bellows. If you also read the notes as you play them, you will simultaneously learn the correspondence between sounds, instrument and stave.

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I think learning to read intimidates many beginners, but as CMW points out, you don’t have to learn everything about reading music, all at once. Most tunes are not complicated, and unless you advance into complex musical types and arrangements, the basics will carry you a long way. To denigrate written music as "the dots" is quite misleading. That implies only pitches are communicated, which is not so. Almost any attribute, from time to nuance, can be written. One of the greatest things about written music is that it describes the piece as a picture, and at a glance you can see any part, even if you are playing another. Of course that takes some general understanding and familiarity.

Try this some time: Take the sheet music of Part A to a simple tune. Sit down with it. Decipher the meaning of everything on the paper at your leisure. Clef, Key, line and space names, bar lines, any other symbols. Identify the key. Play that scale for a while. You are then on your way.

As a beginner, you will be doing a basic tune. Deal with that piece, and don’t concern yourself with the rest of the genre.

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Personally I feel that learning to read, at the beginning , at the same time as learning to play is not the best option.
I think that it’s better to learn to play without paper, just useing your ears, with very simple scales arpeggio, tunes and exercises. Concentrate on learning to speak before you learn to read…….

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Thanks to all for the rapid responses. I will look into all suggestions! Not sure what people mean when they say "the dots". It is so nice to have people respond positively. A welcoming community for sure.

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‘The dots’ is proper music notation like wot orchestral players and jazz blokes read: sheet music; the birdies on the telephone lines!

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I am glad I can read music, for one reason: if I cannot hear what is happening in a tune, I can look at settings to figure it out. Or if I hear something at a sess and can’t find a recording of it, I can learn it from dots.

BUT…

now that we have free simple software that slows music, and instant filesharing of MP3s, and midi versions of things you can ID/look up on Tunepal, it is quite possible to get a solid musical education without knowing how to read.

When I started Irish trad, I learned everything from dots. Now that I have played for 10 years, about 1/2 of my tunes have been acquired just by listening, mostly at sessions.

So…if you don’t know, or can’t/don’t want to learn to read music, don’t worry: it’s far from essential in the Irish trad world.


Chris

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In fact to follow on from Chris’s comment I’d say it’s far more important to learn to play by ear than to read. Plenty of top class players can’t read.
As you can probably imagine, someone who learns to speak a language from a book, without listening or engaging in real conversation , is not going to be understood well.
Same with the music.
But more than that , it’s about listening about imagination .
I use the dots pretty much exclusively these days to pick up tunes, variations and the like . it’s an amazing resource , to compliment, not replace ear learning, or should I say picking up tunes by ear.
Like Richard after 40 yrs of picking up tunes by ear I can get most tunes by the third time through, and simple polkas pretty much straight away.
But to then remember them? No chance. Even tunes I’ve learnt, I’ve forgotten,sadly, but I guess that comes with age.
I don’t record sessions, far too busy to be messing with gadgets. And I don’t frequent any regular sessions. So for me the dots are my main source of tunes. And many if not most of them are not commonly played anywhere anymore. Shame cos they are wicked tunes!!
So I’d recommend getting to know the mechanics of your instrument with scales patterns arpeggio etc, get a pro to teach some tunes by ear. Do this for a couple of years, or in my case 20 before getting too involved with reading.

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Well here we go, although Will does talk sense, from a certain prospective, I almost entirely disagree. There is no reason to separate learning to read music and learning to play by ear. They are complementary skill sets and not exclusive, detrimental or confusing when taught well and approached with a willing and open mind.

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A quote here from the great Llig….

"anyone who thinks they can learn a tune from the dots is tragically deluded. The dots carry only a miniscule of the information that is a diddley tune. A recording is better, but still woefully inadequate. Even a very good recording by a good player is only three times through on a particular day in a particular mood. To know a tune is to have many many years of playing and listening to it, and understanding and knowing its relations"

Reference thread https://thesession.org/discussions/15097

I didn’t always agree with everything he said but I think I see what he’s getting at here. I think he means that it really takes years to learn a tune. You have to hear and play it in many contexts, in different sessions, on different nights, with different players and so on.
For me, this might also mean listening to different recordings and, YES, even playing different settings from "dots" on occasion.

So, basically, whether you start to learn a tune by ear from a recording, a teacher, in a music class/group, from other players in a session…. or by using "the dots", tablature, ABC or whatever..or even a combination of all of these things, this is really just the start.

Of course, there are many very simple tunes which you can seemingly "pick up" in a matter of a few minutes but even those have more hidden depth and possibilities than you might imagine. With other more interesting and complex tunes, we are continually learning. There are some which I’ve played for many years and I continue to see them in a fresh light.

So when we are talking about "learning tunes" by whatever method, I think we are only talking about how we start to learn a tune. As a starting point, I am happy to try all methods if necessary and, for me, it’s usually a combination.

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I say that becsuse i see so many otherwise competant players who are completely at a loss when it comes to picking up tunes by ear. Completely at a loss improvising .
The mechanical ability to learn an instrument and give a superficially good performance is a begining, not the end!
If players never progress beyond that then IMO their musical ability is stunted and immature despite their age, how many trophy s they have and despite their mechanical expertise. Its like a 5th dan who cant actually fight…. you know what im saying Steve…
I do get your point though , if both are taught well then in theory there should be no problem, but in practice…..

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Johnny Jay : your comment says just what I’d say, any methods of learning a tune can be good, good. Great.

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OP, I believe that everyone should develop a basic facility of how their fingerboard (fretboard, keyboard, note holes, whatever) maps to "dots" (sheet music). At the very least you should be able to name any note that you play. This is apart from how you go about learning a tune. Basic musicianship is important for anyone who plays (it will always make you a better player).

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I agree.
Knowing where the notes are on your instrument is the important thing and being able to tell the difference when you hear them.
You don’t even need to know what the notes are called and could even make up your own names for them BUT it’s so easy to learn the basics if nothing else. So what’s the harm in knowing the names of the notes?
Even a very limited amount of musical theory is helpful and you don’t need to learn it all straight away.

I started "playing by ear" but learned about "the dots" as I progressed. About 20 years or so ago, I started going to Strathspey and Reel Society practices where the leader would just hand out sheets of music and expect you play. That was a steep learning curve. Although I could read music before that and work out how a tune went, I couldn’t really sight read" at speed until then.
More recently, I have been learning the PA and clarsach and also had to teach myself the "bass line" as well as the "treble" which was another new skill.

Anyway, in short, reading music is a worthwhile skill to have but you can still play good music as you learn. You don’t need to everything at once.

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Thank you everyone. I have so much more information to use than I did a day ago. I am just starting out and "know" about 5 tunes since I began B/C Irish button accordion in January. 3 Polkas, 1 Hornpipe, and 1 Reel. I have not put all the notes on the keyboard to memory. I think if I can do that much it will help to move on to the next step.

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Must say I wld also recommend playing scales - and maybe broken chords too. It is so good for getting your fingers flexible and I usually try them 1st thing on my fiddle. Learning piano in the ’50s and ’60s I was idle about practising scales and it wld have so helped with technique if I’d tried more. Helpful for all instruments?

Also doing exercises on fiddle helps you get your fingers in the right places before you start on tunes. (Straying fingers problem).

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Also, you are bound to already know many very simple melodies in your head. Just try to find these on your instrument and you’ll get to know the feel of your keyboard in no time.

That helped me a lot which is why I can’t really understand why some people claim that they are unable to "play by ear" as it is such a natural thing to do. Of course, with more difficult and unfamiliar music it is much more challenging but this is where the listening(and absorbing) comes into it.

Having said that, do try to learn to read music simultaneously if you can(Others may disagree). I think the issue for many people is when they rely too much on one or the other approaches and this makes either "ear learning" or "using the dots" more difficult…. I once knew a really good piano accordion player who went to music classes so as he could learn "the dots". The problem was that after the class had played the tune from the dots just a couple of times, he had already learned the tune by ear during that time. So, he still never got around to reading the music!

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I heard this a good while ago and not being a competition piper I had not only not heard the tunes before I had no point of reference at all. I started trying to learn the music by ear. It took me an age to get started. I bashed away and felt pretty happy with it as it went. Then I found the tune names and the music. It was a revelation I can tell you. There’s some that can and them that can’t and maybe I’m in the second camp but there is a hell of a difference between learning something as complex as this by ear
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e3UIkJN7r9Q

or something like this
https://thesession.org/tunes/64

I’m not a pro muso, I’m not even a traditional muso. I’m a life long enthusiast of a genre. I do what I do. Mostly for my pleasure though honestly can’t tell you how many gigs I’ve played in the years, many and many that I’ve forgotten too. There is no one way and no right way, there is only music and mush. You are either making music or a noise. If you want to make music you have to do what it takes for you to get there.

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I do agree with all of the many good comments about the value of learning by ear and how so much of the feel, notes, variations, ornamentation, etc is not conveyed accurately (or at all) in most sheet music.

I also agree that it is a useful thing to be able to read a bit! And I think this website offers many useful tutorials and exercises to help you get there: https://www.musictheory.net/lessons

Good luck to you, and enjoy the playing!

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Ok yes steve , i agree totally, there is a level, particularily with pipe music that i dont think can practically be approached through ear learning alone, or should i say alone. It is perfectly possible to learn tunes like the ones above without reading, but imo only from a teacher patient enough. 🙂
Most of us dont have that option . But picking up tunes by ear is not a skill i associate particularly with learning tunes all though of course it can be, its about being in the moment, having an open mind and open ear,
it It is a skill all of its own .
It can have many applications , on many levels .
For most of us id say the practical realities of learning complex pieces of music , Bach or the like, multi layered pipe tunes pretty much requires the ability to read . But thats as much due to practical
Constraints of our life style.
I started to read when i couldnt get Rhondo A la turk by ear after countles rewinds. I was defeated and i reached out to the dots .
But my point was for beginners, not folk with decades under their belt .
For beginers i think it better to start with simple simple tunes, by ear .

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> I can’t really understand why some people claim that they are unable to "play by ear" as it is such a natural thing to do.

That’s because you don’t remember learning to assign heard pitches to scale degrees, and it’s something that most "non-ear-learners" don’t know how to do. Most ear-learners, on the other hand, picked it up around the age of three and have never known anything else. It’s like not understanding how you can’t see out of your elbows.

The bigger question is why music educators are so, so bad at diagnosing this problem when it is very easy to cure.

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If I said I wasn’t going to comment on the whole reading vs ear thing, then I apologize for forgetting and I’ll keep this short. Reading saves a whole of time for one thing. An example…I once learned a tune by ear from a wonderful whistle player. There was a tricky 2 bar figure that by the time I go home that day I’d completely forgotten. The overactive part of my brain came up with at least a half dozen figures that worked there. (The creative process at work with new variations?) I got a recording. I used up several minutes trying to figure out the passage made more difficult because some of what I made up was close and complimentary. Then I went to the tunes section here and in seconds had the passage down. Point is that the score for even whole tunes laid out there on the page can make it so much easier. By the way I am not an accomplished sight reader and am working diligently to become one. The score makes it a lot easier/faster to learn the notes to a tune.

Now the other side of the story. Learning the notes isn’t the same as learning the tune. The tune has a life, a feel, a lift, a spirit of it’s own, accomplished by phrasing, ornamentation, tempo, meter, call it what you will. and yeah ya gotta know the notes but the "tune" is much more important than the sum of the notes. You learn that by, you guessed it, listening. By ear, by disciplined listening. Not just by listening to that particular tune but to many, many tunes.

Now put the two together. How great it is to be able to read a score and feel, through listening and experience, how that shorthand should sound. Or more correctly, how you want it to sound, to feel. It’s true that many sight readers play notes and only then discover how they sound, but that’s not the fault of the score. It only points out the limits of the player. And it’s no more annoying than listening to the player who slavishly parrots the Matt Molloy recording. Each argument against learning from the score can be turned on it’s ear. Each argument against learning by ear can be turned around just as easily, if you’re keeping score! (Sorry I just couldn’t resist that). I stand by my belief that if you can’t look at the notes to, let’s say the ubiquitous jig in G, and play it with a true ITM lift, you don’t get ITM.

Learning by ear, learning by note, I see no value in refusing to go down either path. You can’t learn to read? Yes you can. You can’t learn to play by ear? Yes you can. It’s just something you haven’t done yet. Whether you choose to do it or not is up to you. Arguing one over the other is a waste of time. I’ve already wasted enough of my time and yours and I’ll try not to do it again.

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"The chord scale descriptions in this book are not meant to be merely memorized
— that is only a first step — they need to be understood and used.
Therefore…
■ Sing Everything
■ Play Everything
■ Question Everything
■ Use Everything

A chord scale can be defined many ways:
■ As the “sound picture” of a musical moment.
■ As the combination of horizontal (melodic) and
vertical (harmonic) musical components.
■ As a palette of potential notes for a given harmonic situation.
■ As an organized rendering of the stated or implied tonal context.
■ As a linear representation of a vertical structure.

These are all good definitions. As you apply chord scale theory to the music you make,
see which definitions bring the creative issues into focus."

"Harmony 3" by Barrie Nettles
Spring 2007 Edition
Berklee College of Music

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Ben- since nothing in your quote actually defines what a "chord scale" is, could you please oblige?

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Chord scales are a system used for Jazz improvisation, it gives you a set of possible notes to use in the melody to fit with a given chord. It’s not particularly useful to traditional musicians.

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So a "chord scale" is just a scale?

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I suppose yes, in a way, but it’s a particular scale for a particular chord. It’s all about using different scales within a piece of music. If you have a chord progression D G A7 D you or I would play over it in Dmaj throughout, a blues man would use the minor pentatonic throughout, but a jazzer using chord scales would use Dmaj while the D chord is sounding, Gmaj while the G chord is sounding, and Amix over the A7 chord.

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Using various standard jazz chord substitutions is what some lyrical backers employ.
By the way ‘jazz chord substitutions’ implies there is such a thing as chords (harmonies) used only in so called ‘jazz’! In that phrase ‘jazz’ is just the style of substitution not the chords per se.
e.g.: in D mix, instead of using D and C all the time, bung in an Am for the C (Am7 = C6 and all that) and anyway Am is the v chord (lower case, minor) in that mode and no Bb13b5b9* to be seen et cetera…

*Bb, D, Fb (E nat), Ab, Cb (B nat), Eb, G This chord only to ever be used in the sad occasions of having to play the dreaded Happy Birthday

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I would encourage all players to read music- i’ts our language.It opnes up a huge repertiore. All you needto do is read rhtym and then write the notes underneath, ifyou are a bigginer.

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@Mark M:
"If you have a chord progression D G A7 D you or I would play over it in Dmaj throughout, a blues man would use the minor pentatonic throughout, but a jazzer using chord scales would use Dmaj while the D chord is sounding, Gmaj while the G chord is sounding, and Amix over the A7 chord."

If I think "Dmaj", but adapt the actual notes depending on the chord played (e.g. not a lot of A c# e arpeggios during the G chord) - am I using scale or chord scale?

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It’s not a question of what notes you play, but how you work out what notes you are going to play.

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I agree that there are different possibilities with chords, whether you play all the notes, or choose inversions etc. Not all of this can be conveyed by written music.

Likewise, even knowing how to play a particular note on a melody line or piece of music isn’t always conveyed either unless it’s a particularly detailed or specialised score for a specific instrument. On the fiddle or mandolin , for example, you may choose to play an open string or not, play in a higher or lower position, use different fingering on occasion e.g. a pinkie instead of third finger or vice versa.
Also, when, where, and how to include any ornamentation.

Sometimes, listening to another player can assist in this respect but my point is that "knowing your instrument" and your relationship with it is arguably just as important as how you choose to learn the actual tunes whether by ear or the dots.

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Heather, I’m with you all the way. I was at a session a couple of years ago when a skilled player, I’ll call him Stan to protect the innocent, a sight reader with a good ear, made the remark that he was mightily impressed at how we all held so many tunes in memory and played without a score. Somebody else went on and on in a self righteous diatribe about how the ear was the only way. After listening patiently Stan just said "…hmmm, in my family we grew up literate"! (insert smiley face here).

And Johnny, how right you are. No matter how you learn, you can’t really learn anything until you are intimately connected to your instrument.

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"I would encourage all players to read music- i’ts our language.It opnes up a huge repertiore."

I think your statement is true, but I also think that learning by ear opens up a huge repertoire as well. I think probably a good third of the tunes I play were learned by picking them up in sessions. That’s not necessarily to say that I noodled around them while they were being played, it’s just that once I’ve internalized a melody by having heard it a number of times, the line between knowing a tune and not knowing a tune is a bit blurred. I will play tunes that I know in my head but have never played on an instrument before. Each time you have to actively recall (and anticipate the next phrases of) a tune from memory, it is enforcing the neural pathways of that tune in your brain - helping cement it into place.

So while it’s true that being able to read the dots can open up a huge repertoire, the ear learning process opens up a potentially *more useful* repertoire, because it allows you to easily pick up the tunes that are being played around you (whether you have the dots or not, or whether you even know what the tune is)… And once you get good at it, the need to rely on dots diminishes. And I also think learning by ear is more conducive to being able to be flexible and creative in your expression of the melody.

Both the reading and ear skills are good to have, but if you feel the need to choose between them, I would say that learning by ear is ultimately more valuable. Or, in other words, go ahead and learn to read music, but don’t do it at the expense of cultivating the skills that you already have of learning tunes by ear (even if you are writing notes about the push/pull for your instrument).

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I just came to think of the last time I learned a tune (in a group setting):

* the tune was simple (melody, structure, number of parts)
* it was played at a moderate pace
* it was played a large number of times
* people were encouraged to hum the tune
* when picking up the instrument, people could play the tune (magic!)

I can’t say if any of the above factors was more important, but everyone more or less had the tune after some 30 minutes.

Some recorded it afterwards, but not everyone. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of those who didn’t record will still remember the tune in a year or two, while some of those who did have already forgotten it.

Just for fun, I’d like to see the teacher who even forbad recording devices. :D Either you pay attention, or you don’t. Don’t try to learn anything that can’t be learned under the above circumstances.

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" I’d like to see the teacher who even forbad recording devices"

This happened at a Scots Fiddle Festival workshop quite a few years ago.

The tutor was also a publisher of fiddle volumes and he chose a tune from one of his books to teach. To be fair, he had copies for everyone in the class but wouldn’t allow any recordings. The first time that ever happened at the fiddle weekend. He hasn’t taught at the festival since for some reason or other.

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I just thought it would be interesting. It’s obvious that people have different expectations in a learning context. I remember one learner in a group workshop who asked for the name of the tune, then looked it up on her tablet and continued playing THAT setting.

Imagine scenarios like:
What if your recording device didn’t work?
What if you didn’t have anything to write on/with? (no dots or ABC)
What if the name didn’t give any clues online? (maybe the teacher made up the tune one hour before ;) )

You’d have to pay attention, do your best, and hope you’d hear the tune again sometime (maybe in the evening session).

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My point was in relation to When reading is introduced, rather than If…….
I feel that a beginner is better served by avoiding reading at the beginning and concentrating on sound and their ears so as to get a good grounding in the basics before adding another skill.
How long? When the student feels ready and the teacher agrees.
Where we learn tunes from , ear or book, is irrelevant. All a tune is is an idea or bunch of ideas , that we manifest through the instrument
My point has nothing to do with where tunes are learnt, it’s about training the ear and the instrument.
Of course a structured environment could encompass both ear and sight .
It’s as basic as learningto tune an instrument, by ear……
For sure , learn to tune by ear without relying on a gadget. Ok supplement perhaps with a tuner, for fine tuning and education, and help from a more experienced player, but I don’t recommend skipping this step……..
It’s about training the ear /brain to recognise and differentiate between sounds and to locate them on an instrument.

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"learn to tune by ear without relying on a gadget"

Even I and far better musicians than me still need a "reference" at times but we managed fine before the days of electronic tuners. I had a tuning fork but could tune all the strings on my instrument from the one note.
That stood me in good stead.
You can also be able just to tune to other players, to a song or tune on a CD, even from a musical commercial on the pub TV set once your "ear" is trained well enough. I’ve done that a few times.

I do use electronic tuners on my instruments these days but still "fine tune" by ear. I’ve noticed that eeven with the most accurate tuners there can be a slight difference in pitch even when the gadget says the string is "in tune". It’s very slight but can be noticeable on an instrument such as a mandolin.

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"Chord scale" - I have slightly different concept of that gleaned from a jazz musician who taught us at a workshop, and doesn’t really correspond to what’s being described above. Can only be done by thise instruments that can play more than one one note at a time, and may be not too relevant to more conventional trad chording. But, e.g. a chord scale starting on D, would go as follows (all chords!):
D Em F#m G A Bm C#m D’

Hoping Heather’s post was in deliberate typo-esque!

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Trish, those are the scale chords, not chord scales. scale chords are simple the series of chords you get if you build a triad on each note of a scale, using the notes of that scale (BTW the C# triad should be diminished not minor, because there is no G# in the D maj scale). Scale chord are useful for accompanists - they are the set of possible chords you can use in a given key. But chord scales are for the soloist improvising over a chord sequence. Remember that jazz musicians are more tolerant of dissonance than we are. When we play a melody over chords the notes we play are either chord tones (notes that are part of the underlying chord) or passing notes, which are not part of the chord, but in our music are almost always still part of the signature key scale. By doing that we have horizontal harmony - all the notes of the melody line are in the same key. But in jazz you can look at things another way - if the piece is in Dmaj, and (from your scale chords) the accompanist plays an Em chord, the soloist can play any note from the Em scale (the chord scale) over it, so he might choose a Cnat, which isn’t part of the D scale, but he knows it won’t be too dissonant, because there is vertical harmony between his note and the chord.

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Cheers, Trish. That was probably my "bad" for putting the term out there to begin with.
Having said that I think the term (as used by Barrie Nettles in *"Harmony 3") does refer to scales;
which can be played one note at a time. That’s not to say your instructor got it wrong because
chord scales are used in thinking about possible chords.

I’ll probably post a new discussion since it might help to introduce the topic in a separate thread.
For now I’ll leave you with a brief quote from Nettles’ book (and try to work my way
out of the corner I’m painting myself into, on the next thread…

Here goes nuttin’ , "There are two basic categories of chord scales:
1. The diatonic result of melodic/harmonic activity in a clearly defined key.
2. Variations, alterations and alternate choices for those situations."

(that’s not enough, sorry. here’s the next bit, sorry)

"In tonal (diatonic, key-related) music, chord scales are implied even in
the simplest two-part passage comprised of melody and bass. This is true
even if not all seven notes of a scale are sounded. Context, harmonic stress,
melodic cadences and much more combine to create a context that allows
our ears to “fill in” the missing notes. The choice of chord scale reflects
the writer’s conscious or unconscious choice about coloring a voicing or
shaping a melody: light/dark, thick/thin, predictable/surprising, subtle/
intense, etc. It’s your music: take control of what you already know, and
then discover new possibilities."

* open @ your own risk ~ www.harmonyandimprov.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Harmony-3-book.pdf

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Re: Reading Music

Yes, just a wee bit of thread drift going on, but interesting none-the-less, tho’ I feel I shall soon be sinking in deep water! Thanks for the corrections Mark M and the extra info, AB, which I might open later!

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I must admit, this much information brings me back to the starting point………..confused.

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I included (multiple) warnings in my last post for a reason.

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Yes Leo, forget it all, its of no importance at your stage of development. Learn to listen, to hear, to speak, then maybe learn to read.
I highly recommend it , it opens up a world of music.
But in the right time and space.
It’s standard for teachers to confirm to the expectations of their students, because professionals need to earn a living. If a student has expectations that you as an instructor don’t fulfill, they go elsewhere.
This is where things get corrupted, through no bad intent, but because of money.
A teacher who doesn’t charge ….. that’s where you will get the real thing. For love not for money.

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I don’t really agree with the ‘learn to speak then learn to read’ approach. Yes, as a toddler that is how you learn language, and yes, that is how Suzuki music teraching works, but the Suzuki method is aimed specifically at teaching very young children to play. When you learn a second language as an adult you learn the oral and written language in parallel, and I think that approach is the most efficient for learning music unless you are dealing with very young pupils.

Yes, the ear skills need to come first, but with reading skills very close behind. You start by familiarizing with the tune, either by just listening to it or playing along with the teacher/recording. Then you break it down into short phrases and learn to play them by hear and repeat. But then you come to put the phrases together and play the whole tune, and at that stage written music makes life much easier. It’s not a sight reading exercise, I do agree that that should come much later, but simply an aid memoire to remind the student what order the phrase go, so that they can concentrate on their playing rather than trying to remember what comes next.

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Hi Mark,
Could you explain why all the best Irish musicians never follow your advice/opinion ?

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Hi theirlandais, that’s a generalisation that is simply not true. Pipers in particular are normally literate. Yes I have friends with very high levels of skill in playing, some with albums up here, and they can’t read, but it’s by no means universal.

Yes mark, I can appreciate that, after all I am a reader, but as I personally played for 20 yrs before teaching myself to read, and I learnt hundreds of tunes by ear, I have a different view point.
My opinion is based upon 2 things,:
1: to simplify things, makes learning a complicated set of manual manoeuvres like pipes or fiddle much harder having to also learn to read and focus on the dots.
2 the frankly shocking lack of ability I notice in people who started by reading, to improvise and pick up tunes by ear.
Astonishing that players with such a good technical command over their instrument and stylistic accuracy do not even know where to begin with picking up tunes by ear.
This is something that can only be approached through experience, practice, no intellectual exercise will come close .
I recognise in myself how easy it is to just use the dots. Impractical to do it any other way without a teacher day to day for the fine detail by ear in some cases without a day to day teacher showing the way.
Yes as a fiddler it’s not so hard, but as a Piper!!
The process of picking up tunes by ear can only be approached experientially , if it’s not don’t at the beginning then when is it going to be done?…..
It seems , never is the answer.
So if it’s a choice of which to do first, then it’s ear.
Then reading
At what point…. that’s a matter for debate I agree, how long does it take to learn to pick up tunes by ear….. matter of individual aptitude and how it’s approached.
I can not speak for the classical world having no experience, but I can speak of my own experience in the world of trad . Maybe the Suzuki method could produce great trad fiddlers.? Can you suggest any?

I’m quite sure also that great classical players also undergo serious ear learning training , and can pick up tunes by ear and improvise freely both within the confines of style and without.
But the rest …..
It seems that people who grow up with their music in a box, rarely leave that box.

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Hi Theirlandais, could you explain why there are so many written sources of Irish music if they don’t? Why teaching CDs aren’t generally sold alone, but as a pull out in a book? And even why this site exists? I don’t actually know anyone (Irish or otherwise) who teaches an instrument without teaching at least basic music reading, I can’t imagine it would be a very efficient process: apart from anything else written music gives you the vocabulary to discuss what you are playing, and write notes to remind them what they need to practice for next week.

In reality it’s not an either or situation, being able to read music doesn’t mean you don’t learn by ear. If you are going to give a lecture you could do it entirely off the cuff, in which case there is a good chance you will loose your thread, get side tracked and generally come off the rails. Or you could read the whole lecture off the page, which will give a very dull and un-inspiring delivery. But there is a third way - to use simple notes and headings to keep you on track whilst actually speaking off the cuff. And that is how music reading fits in when learning trad music - not sight reading unfamiliar tunes note for note like an orchestral player, but simply as a memory aid to steer you in the right direction.

Will’s point number 2 is very valid, I think it is essential to learn tunes by ear, but written music is still a very useful tool. Maybe you teach someone to play tunes without written music, but when it comes to teaching them how to turn those tunes into music it is pretty much essential. I suppose someone might eventually get all the little nuances just by listening, but it’s going to take a very long time. The teachers job is to show them how to do it - Use a down bow here, accent that note, slide up to that one. Maybe two or three comments per bar. You can explain it all, but by the end of the lesson they will have forgotten everything you said and will come back for their next lesson no further forward. But if you mark all those down bows and accents on a score, they can take it home and practice it all week.

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There really aren’t that many old written sources, comparatively speaking. Collections like the Goodman Manuscript are notable for their rarity. Most other early manuscripts are from tune collectors, academics and gentleman enthusiasts seeking to document the tradition. As far as modern teaching CDs and booklets, well, those are mainly aimed at people outside the tradition who want in.

All that said though, written music is darn useful. Maybe not the best way to learn the style of this music, but a great way for people who’ve done a lot of listening to remember specific notes.

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I learned to read music at a very early age, in conjunction with my piano lessons, so I can’t really remember a time when I couldn’t read music. I also did the piano grade exams, which all included an aural (yes, EAR!) test: you had to do things like sing back a phrase the examiner had just played, identify intervals between notes, and/or, given a note, sing e.g. a 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th above it: in the higher grades it got more complicated: major and minor 3rds and 6ths, perfect and augmented 4ths and 5ths. This is where I got MY early ear training from! (Someone did ask how "classical" musicians do it!)
And all that stood me in very good stead when I came to trad music and trying to learn whole tunes by ear: in the early days of that, I did need written scores, but have made myself get away from depending on sheet music. I still had a long way to go to become a competent and confident ear player (and part of that was also learning my way around my button box Leo - too much pressure on too many brain connections at once!)
I’ve said it before and can’t emphasise enough how strongly I feel that both skills are complementary, it’s not a case of either/or. It just takes a bit of perseverance to learn to read music, just as it does to learn by ear: "no such thing as can’t"! (And as one of our tutors who posts on here said - "everyone has their own way of learning - the way that is right for that individual").

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I think we are, in general agreed that reading music is a very valuable skill , just as is reading the written word. I can not contemplate what it would be like not to read words!! To be illiterate.!!
The discussion is more when and how to introduce it.
It’s a simple fact that players can reach the highest level of skill in playing , without reading.
Does that give them any advantages? May well be. I’m not one so I don’t know 🙂
Like trish said , her early training included aural training, ( actually she says tests but I assume those were after the training ) yet she did stufgle at first to learn tunes by ear.
To be honest I’d expect a musician with the length of playing that Trish has to be fluent in all aspects of the game , including improvisation , whether on a micro level such as we find in trad, or on a major level such as Jazz and in combination.
And I accept that it’s quite possible, within a teaching environment , to learn both . But for those teaching themselves basically, i.e. Once a week lessons or the like , and of course accepting my personal bias of bring an ear learner for 20 yrs before learning to read , I feel that the essence of it all is aural. After all it’s possible to play brilliantly without reading, but it’s not possible to do it without listening . 🙂
Yes a combination approach can work, but I feel within a structured , measured logical approach.
Just sitting at home with a book …. ? well you might learn tunes ok , but more than that requires the ear.
In this case it’s a beginner struggling to deal with both the complete unfamiliarity of the instrument, and the music and reading.
Far better to take a recording device ,IMO and use that to recall the tunes. Keeps things simple and simplicity is a very powerful thing in many ways.
Fact is. Many of us learn in an environment that is not conducive to attaining a high level of skill, it’s harder in the middle of nowhere, without Internet , teachers etc, much easier learning from a family member in feakle say…..
We all have different circumstances and aptitudes and abilities.
@mark, a couple of points,
1, adult learners of 2nd languages don’t always approach learning with written and aural sources, such as .the Michael Thomas method.
2 sorry I misunderstood your point re Suzuki method .
3 I actually feel that adult learnerS would be better of going through the same stages as a child does, certainly in music.
I know it’s not the trend, but …..

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This is my go to source for tunes, I know it’s not Irish , but neither am I 🙂 what matters to me is the tunes, and by god there are some good ones here 🙂
https://ceolsean.net/content/mindex.html
But if you can’t read , what good is it to you?
Learning to read was the best thing I’ve ever done for my musical progression , bar actually playing day in day out.
What I like about many these tunes is their simplicity and strength, so much room for improvisation within and on the structure.
And this source is a compendium of a large number of old books, so there might be 10 different settings of the same tune with many many variations both melodically and of course ornamentally.
So take for example cabar feidh, or the flagon…….
Both tune adopted into the Irish repertoire…..

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I agree that ear learning is king, but reading is still a vital tool, and one that is best picked up as early as possible (providing it doesn’t replace ear learning). Being able to write things down makes communication between teacher and pupil so much easier.

One thing that puzzles me in this discussion is that people keep saying that many musicians get to the top of the game without reading music. Who are they? I don’t doubt that they exist, but I find it hard to imagine anyone reaching a professional level without reading - even Paul McCartney had to learn to read music when he turned pro. Apart from playing the tunes it is an integral part of so many other aspects of the business - marking up cue sheets for sound and light guys, dealing with copyright, telling the house musicians and guests what they need to play, and sourcing new material. There are now so many recordings available that all the tunes you are likely to have had aural access to have been recorded twenty times, if you want to sell CDs you have to find stuff that people haven’t heard twenty times before, and that means either writing it yourself or going back to old (written) sources.

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Mark,
Take people learning songs, do they go and get musical notation so they can sing a song in the right key/pitch/notes etc…, not that I know of, likewise the best and even average musicians don’t need the musical notation.

Can you imagine Seamus Begley, Tommy People’s running for their tune book when they hear a new tune being played, not since they were 10 years old perhaps and even then.

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One other additional aspect is that if you can read music, you could pick a tune in a book, one you’ve never even heard of (and maybe is unfamiliar to anyone else), and bring it to life using your own playing skill.

That’s totally different than learning by listening to a tune as played by someone else.

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Jim, good point, but you won’t have the ability to "bring a tune to life using your own playing skill" if you’ve only ever relied on written music. Certain not as far as traditional Irish, Scottish etc music is concerned. You have to listen to other players and tunes to develop your own skills and style.

It’s quite interesting at times to revisit some tunes which I "learned"(Sorry, that contradicts my earlier comments in the thread a bit) from the dots. Invariably, I find that I no longer play many of them quite the same way although the variations may be very subtle. Sometimes, it’s due to error but mostly it’s a result of my own playing style and/or hearing the tunes from other players and in different contexts.

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Johnny Jay - agreed. It just one more thing you could do if you could read music, which you couldn’t do if you couldn’t read. That’s all I meant.

I’m pretty much in agreement with most that that aural and reading skills are complementary.

And - they both help develop the musical memory too.

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Theirlandais, have you actually read any of my posts? Nowhere have I even suggested that anyone NEEDS written music, just that it is a very useful additional tool. Nowhere have I suggested that anyone should ‘run for their tunebook when they hear a new tune’, and I’ve repeatedly pointed out that I think you need to be thoroughly familiar with a tune before you look at the music (BTW Tommy Peoples certainly reads and writes music quite competently, I have a tune book written by him).

I don’t know much about the old Irish players and how they worked, but I do know about Scottish and Cumbrian fiddlers from the same era, I’ve studied their tune books. Those tune books weren’t their source - they were writing down tunes they already knew, having presumably picked them up form other muscians by ear. Nor were they used in performance. But those manuscripts are smothered in bowing marks, dynamics, articulation and ornamentation, and lots of scribbling out. They were used not for learning the basic melody, but for working out and remembering how best to present the tune whilst they were practicing it up to performance standard, and presumably for reminding themselves again how it goes if they haven’t played it for a while. And that is where written music is invaluable to players today. Not as an alternative to ear learning, but as an aid to make ear learning easier, and allowing you to retain more tunes in your repertoire without your head exploding.

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"I have a tune book written by him"

Is this the "Fifty Irish Fiddle Tunes" book? He may transcribed the tunes himself but it is possible that they were written down from his "playing"? It’s not too clear from the acknowledgements in the book. The accompanying notes appear to have been written by a Molly McAnailly.

It’s not uncommon for musicians’ tunes and songs to be transcribed by others from their playing. Angus Grant’s books are, for instance, although I know he can read and write music himself. I think Aly Bain’s book falls into the same category. Also, Ralph McTell doesn’t do his own guitar tablature and so on.

BTW Mark, I’m not trying to contradict you and I agree that many of the good players DO make full use of written music but their books are not necessarily all of their own work.

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Johnny Jay, Mark M … is it the Tommy Peoples’s "From Time To Time" book? That’s certainly all hand-written (not typeset).

Arguably the heaviest tune book ever published 🙂

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"Nowhere have I even suggested that anyone NEEDS written music"

nowhere?
"the ear skills need to come first, but with reading skills very close behind"
There is no verb in the second part of your sentence therefore you assume the use of the verb in the first part eg "need to come" translated as "reading skills NEED TO COME very close behind"

so you did suggest or imply the NEED

Whether Tommy people’s wrote a book or not is irrelevant, Tommy doesn’t need the book or a book to learn tunes and it probably isn’t helpful for him, therefore back to my original comment "the best Irish musicians never follow your advice/opinion"

to stop all the debate, maybe you could guide us with the importance of learning that you believe reading music provides.

I’ll go first listening as 95% to 100% written music 0% to 5%

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Hi Jim,

I’m thinking about a different book which must be about 30 years old now.
Tommy may well have been responsible for transcribing the tunes in that book. I don’t know.
There was an accompanying cassette and the notes said "Tommy People’s fiddle on this cassette is tuned a semitone above concert pitch. This practice is not unusual among traditional players"
So, I just seemed to get the impression that others were involved in transcribing the music.

I shall look out for the ""From Time To Time" book which is probably more representative of Tommy’s repertoire as opposed to the Soodlum’s publication where the notation seems quite basic.

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I didn’t know Tommy played in the high positions, either (just looking at the "Mouse in the Attic" on the link above).