Poetic Versus Linear Learning by Caoimhín Mac Aoidh

Poetic Versus Linear Learning by Caoimhín Mac Aoidh

This is an excellent article: http://www.ictm.ie/?p=1632 I’ve never seen this put into words but in retrospect it makes perfect sense, like how Tomás Ó Canainn discovered the truth about "modes" in Irish music. Taking MacAoidh’s insights to heart will no doubt allow one to have a much larger repertoire; the crux of what he’s getting at is that tunes are full of phrases that repeat throughout, and learning a handful of these is much simpler than learning, say, 110 discrete notes.

Re: Poetic Versus Linear Learning by Caoimhín Mac Aoidh

"tunes are full of phrases that repeat throughout, and learning a handful of these is much simpler than learning, say, 110 discrete notes".
I ask this seriously;- doesn’t everybody who plays ITM know this?

Posted by .

Re: Poetic Versus Linear Learning by Caoimhín Mac Aoidh

Apparently not, or not that it helps if they do - MacAoidh states that especially with those resident outside of Ireland without recourse to an instructor they tend to learn by obtaining sheet music and playing along until tunes are memorized by rote. People here are always discussing "phrasing" or "phrases," but only in the context of playing, not learning, I’d guess. MacAoidh believes good musicians are employing this method of learning phrases wholly unconsciously.

He also makes this puzzling statement about, well, this site, and the few like it:

"In the intervening years the emergence of the internet has seen the construction of websites
devoted to large collections of tunes using ABC notation format which also list the overall
structure of tunes in the traditional Irish idiom based on the repetition pattern of their parts
only."

Re: Poetic Versus Linear Learning by Caoimhín Mac Aoidh

"doesn’t everybody who plays ITM know this?"

everybody who plays *music* knows this.

"the emergence of the internet has seen the construction of websites devoted to large collections of tunes using ABC notation format which also list the overall structure of tunes in the traditional Irish idiom based on the repetition pattern of their parts only."
Does he think we’re robots?

Re: Poetic Versus Linear Learning by Caoimhín Mac Aoidh

An academic paper trying to prove that ear learning is better than dots, but based on the premise that anyone who learns from dots is an idiot who doesn’t notice when the first two bars of the B part are the same as the first two bars of the A?

Re: Poetic Versus Linear Learning by Caoimhín Mac Aoidh

It’s a bit strange dichotomy… Years back, I started learning via what is called the "linear method", but obviously, I quickly realised that some bars (or "phrases") were the same and would remember it in a "compressed" form.

I guess a potentially more interesting/more clear-ish cut would be explicitly memorising tunes (being able to "see" the notes all at once), or remembering the tune implicitly. I noticed with tunes I learned from sheet music ages ago, I can start playing the tune from any point in the tune. But with things I’ve learned recently by ear, and can play just as well or better, I can start them only at the start and often have only a vague idea of how the B part goes… and when I get there, it comes to the mind immediately - also sort of "linear" access, in a different way of course.

Posted by .

Re: Poetic Versus Linear Learning by Caoimhín Mac Aoidh

"An academic." Hmm, well I only know Caoimhín from his writings actually. It would have surprised me if he didn’t actually know how to play, so: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rokQgQbpyIg Very nice fiddling.


His paper seems based on long experience with instruction, and decades of being in the company of all kinds of great players. Certainly there a lot of players who can barely play the few tunes they know, and getting them to learn more is an uphill battle, at least around where I live.

Re: Poetic Versus Linear Learning by Caoimhín Mac Aoidh

@Gobby
"tunes are full of phrases that repeat throughout, and learning a handful of these is much simpler than learning, say, 110 discrete notes".
I ask this seriously;- doesn’t everybody who plays ITM know this?

Nearly two months ago:

"…being able to pick up the part eight times faster than the person who can’t recognise these patterns and has to learn the tune note-by-note. (Yes people like that exist… I’ve had them in workshops.)"

https://thesession.org/discussions/42567#comment851910

Re: Poetic Versus Linear Learning by Caoimhín Mac Aoidh

I have been wanting for years to figure out how to analyze a database of tunes, to find what the most common repeated patterns actually are, 4 bar, 2 bar, ending tags etc. Unfortunately, the session database has a lot of non-traditional tunes and original compositions in it, so that sort of throws things off. I did have a friend upload the most popular tunes into Tableau for me, but I have yet to figure out how to use it.

Re: Poetic Versus Linear Learning by Caoimhín Mac Aoidh

I just read that Bob Sturm post for the first time. I deliberately avoided it when it was posted. It was like one of those moments when somebody starts telling you something you don’t want to hear, so you stick your fingers in your ears and go, "Lah, lah, lah!"

But it is so obvious that music has structure that my grandma didn’t bother to tell me. Structure, however, is in itself insufficient. Structure is rigid and if a person plays in a linear way they will end up only replicating an insufficient structure. I subscribe to Wittgenstein’s ‘picture’ theory of language where, FORM emerges from structure, wherein structure is fixed and actual and form is the possibility that rises out of structure (and process self-feeds and evolves) . Music is a living language and a good musician learns to ‘form’ and project the possibilities out of learned linear created structures. I don’t call this poetic learning. I just see it as holistic rather than purely analytic learning. But it isn’t a dichotomy of linear analysis versus a holistic intuition. It is a relationship between both. The trouble is that a linear learner, if that is all they are capable of, will never realise the holistic intuition that makes good musicians.

Posted by .

Re: Poetic Versus Linear Learning by Caoimhín Mac Aoidh

"well I only know Caoimhín from his writings actually. It would have surprised me if he didn’t actually know how to play"

He has a newish album out with Peter Campbell (also features Jimmy Campbell & Danny Meehan) I would highly recommend it for anyone with an interest in Donegal fiddle playing.

https://thesession.org/recordings/5943

Re: Poetic Versus Linear Learning by Caoimhín Mac Aoidh

I think there is a clear point to the paper - to make a link between how we learn Irish Music by ear and how one learns poetry. The main objection I have to this paper is his arrogance in saying that people who teach tunes in chunks don’t know why they do it that way. I have been to many workshops which use this technique. It was clear to me that everyone in the room knew and understood that the internal structure of the tune is much easier to learn this way.

As an academic myself, I can sort of understand the desire to "lay claim" to something as if it is new. However, you can perfectly well get published just by observing and describing what happens in a specific genre and so it is a little annoying to see someone trying to take credit for what is already widely known.

Posted by .

Re: Poetic Versus Linear Learning by Caoimhín Mac Aoidh

I’ve never been to a workshop where tunes weren’t introduced phrase-by-phrase. Aside from making it easier for the brain to memorize notes in small chunks, there is a relation to the mechanics of different instruments. Fiddlers and flatpickers have to figure out where to use downstrokes or upstrokes for emphasis, and that’s related to phrase breaks. Whistle and flute players learn out how to play across the breaks between phrases, to make taking a breath less obvious. The pipes may be a more "linear" instrument without those mechanical requirements, but I’ve seen pipers teach tunes phrase-by-phrase as well.

So yeah, I agree this is something most everyone is either taught, or figures out on their own. Pointing it out as something new is like announcing that the sky is blue.

Re: Poetic Versus Linear Learning by Caoimhín Mac Aoidh

Learning tunes in phrases, teaching tunes in phrases, etc. it’s common practice; and not exclusive to irish music.

Posted by .