Learning from others.

Learning from others.

I’m not sure this is all that important but here goes anyway! As I sat here contemplating a modest Single Malt, a 15 year old Laphriogh, I started thinking about tune learning. I find that as flute player when I listen to other tooter’s I hear technique oriented things like tone, phrasing, breathing, ornaments, stuff like that. When I’m trying to learn a tune I listen to fiddle players first, then box and concertina players, even banjo players (pipers seem to confuse the hell out of me). I have no real idea why that is except for the notion that I’ll someday want to play the tune with others and want to make it fit. Or, maybe it cuts through the technique and let’s me hear the tune. It seems to work well for me. It also just occurred to me that the same thing happens when I learn a tune from a score (yeah, it happens, no big deal). Most scores are quite simply written and leave lot’s of room for applying the technique I hear in my head. Still I want to hear it on a fiddle first.

So in the spirit of friendly discussion, does anybody else have thoughts on this. Do you listen best to players of your own instrument or others? By the way it’s no dig at pipers here. My wife thinks that any way of driving the "hell" out of me is a good thing!

Re: Learning from others.

Yes, I also listen mainly to other instruments for learning tunes. If I listen to a flute player it is usually because I want the think about technique - often the options for breathing.

I seem I learn tunes best (certainly most quickly) from hearing them at sessions then using a recording of a session. I think I get a better overall feel of how a tune goes even if some of the details are not clear. I do seek out commercial recordings as well though.

Re: Learning from others.

Flute and box player here - It depends, if I’m inspired to learn a tune that I’ve heard a soloist play then I’ll learn it from that recording. If it’s a general session tune that I haven’t recorded myself, I’ll often learn it from a Comhaltus recording or some other reliable source. When I get to the stage where I can play it then often I find a fiddle is good to play along with on either instrument.

Re: Learning from others.

As a flute player, I understand your struggle, learning a tune from this weird phrasing of pipers, with all those triplets and variations of the melody! I too learned tunes from solo fiddle and flute recordings, usually trying to get the tune bar per barrow, slowed down extremely. But it was often quiet frustrating, I get much betters results now, by listening to a tune on 75% of speed and just trying to work out the whole thing instead of working through it bar per bar. Its more fun (and that is really important, to keep the motivation!) and its easier to get the whole idea of the tune. If I can work myself through the tune, I then start looking at the sheets, to get the more tricky parts -and it helps me to memorise the tune robustly that I could start it alone on a session (Ok, no guarantee for that…it still happens, that I f*** up a set..).

In case I want to learn the tune really thoroughly , I listen to other recordings (of other instruments) to make sure, that a slightly different rendition of the tune doesn’t confuse me too much.

"I have no real idea why that is except for the notion that I’ll someday want to play the tune with others and want to make it fit"
I think not getting the "right" ideas for playing the tune by learning it form a recording of your instrument is no problem. As long as you think it sounds good and your idea of the tune harmonises with multiple recordings, there probably won’t be any problem. I mean, we are not playing in a pipe band, where everyone has to play the same version, down to the exactly same ornamentation…

"I have no real idea why that is except for the notion that I’ll someday want to play the tune with others and want to make it fit"
I think you won’t be wrong by getting some trust in your version of ornamentation and phrasing! Your version sounds probably fine, otherwise you would notice that something doesn’t sound so nice, when playing along!
If you have learned a tune from another instrument and you really dislike the tune, then it might help, giving it another try and search for recordings, played on your instrument. I never liked to play Humours of Ballyloughlin and Dunmore Lasses on the flute. But after having listened to these tunes from a Matt Molloy recording, they became some of my favourite tunes on the flute!

Re: Learning from others.

When I was newer to learning by ear, learning from the same instrument was really helpful. Matching the notes seemed much easier. Now I can pretty much listen to any instrument and piece together the melody, though learning by ear isn’t my specialty. I was originally trained classically, so I often learn the tune foundation from dotes then listen to recordings to get a version I prefer. Being a piper, I often listen to someone like Liam to get an awesome pipe version.

Re: Learning from others.

It’s only in the last couple of years since starting to learn flute, that I’ve started collecting albums by prominent flute players. My S.O. is a fiddler, and I started playing Irish trad on the mandolin. So in the early years of learning this music, we collected mostly fiddle-centric artists and band albums. We now have a huge digital reference library of tunes, and I’d say 90% of it is "fiddle music". The rest about equally divided between pipe and flute albums.

So with just a few exceptions, that’s the version I refer to, when learning a new tune either by ear or from sheet music. Maybe that will change eventually, as I collect more flute-centric albums. When I do listen to a flute track, it’s mostly about studying the articulation and style of playing, not "learning the tune" as such, because we have so many versions of most tunes by fiddlers for reference.

One other thing… because I’ve played mandolin for more years than flute, I’ll usually learn a new tune first on mandolin and then transfer it to flute. At my current stage of development I can get the tune into my head faster on mandolin. This also lets me spot any trouble areas for flute, like tricky accidentals or too many essential notes on the G string that won’t transfer to flute. Of course this can be done by just looking at the sheet music too, but sometimes I have to play through a tune to figure out which notes are essential and which can be bypassed or "folded" on flute. Some of that is less of a problem now that I’ve picked up an 8-keyed flute, but I still get a little frustrated with tunes I enjoy on mandolin that don’t work on a D flute, like some of the Scottish and Cape Breton fiddle tunes that makes heavy use of the G string.

Re: Learning from others.

Another thing is that it’s always said that listening to other instruments is essential - in a session you’re going to be playing with them so it makes sense.

Re: Learning from others.

I’m contemplating a IPA and writing this. My first music endeavor was the GHB which I played for about 10 years but fell away a few years ago. I have recently begun to dabble with the penny whistle and many of the pipe tunes transfer very nicely. When I’m trying a new tune I usually search whistle versions, this seems pragmatic as that is what I’m playing. Still, I might pick up rhythm and expression from other instrument but to get a tune in my ear, whistle versions. And yes, praise the dots!

Re: Learning from others.

I seem to pick up tunes like a magpie so I learn from any musician whose playing of a tune catches my ear. It seems that clear phrasing and notes and that ‘special something’ matters more than that it’s a flute or whistle for me. I learn a lot of tunes from a pair of friends who play fiddle and box though and haven’t played a ton with other flute or whistle players who share new tunes so maybe that matters more. I do know that as much as I love the sound and style of great concertina playing, and I hope mine arrives soon, I’m better off learning a tune then deconstructing it for flute because it does result in odd ‘ornaments’ for me when I play along with a concertina player or cd.

Re: Learning from others.

I just find fiddle easier for hearing the individual notes and for separating the tune from the ornaments.

Posted by .

Re: Learning from others.

This is an interesting question.

Good flute and whistle players put in a lot of ornamentation that is specific (easy?) on those instruments. From them I do learn a lot about technique that is directly applicable to my flute playing.

In terms of interpretation, I like to listen to old-school fiddlers, like Michael Coleman. The ornamentation he uses may or may not fit my flute playing, but it makes me pay attention to a broader range of possibilities.

Re: Learning from others.

This is an interesting thread. Like @Michael the Whistler, I also played GHB for about 10 years before falling away and ending up in Irish Trad. (starting with whistle). Coming from a piping tradition I have always loved uilleann pipes and originally listened to pipes almost exclusively when learning tunes, then expanded my listening to all kinds of other instruments. I find learning tunes from fiddle to be harder than say flute, or pipes, or concertina/box. It just seems to me that less things transfer from fiddle to other instruments (aside from fiddle/banjo/mano). I guess flute/pipes have always been my favorite to learn from, although I do like listening to fiddlers. It seems each instrument has some style of ornamenting that doesn’t necessarily transfer well to other instruments. Backstitching is my favorite of all ornaments. Got to figure out how to make a sound like that on a box. lol