Learning from notation.

Learning from notation.

Being very new to Irish music I have read a lot about learning tunes and about how received wisdom is not to do so from notation. I am definitely not new to music though. I am a pro recorder player and have played cello and trombone in orchestras and conducted and composed all of my life, which means that my approach to notation might be a little bit different to that experienced by some.

That is to say I look at the notation, hear it in my head, and play by ear what I am hearing. I could of course tell you what the notes are called but as part of the music this is pretty much irrelevant. And incidentally on a recorder play it any of the twelve keys available. Of course on keyless flute this a pretty much redundant skill.

Now I take people’s reservations about not learning tunes from notation because the style will not necessarily come with the knowing the notes but they do need to understand that in a lot of classical music this is equally true.

That notation is only a series of right notes with more or less the right length of notes. Conventions like shortening the last note in a slur can’t really sensibly be notated.

My real problem is not reading or even playing by ear. You play it and I can play it back absolutely no problem. The problem for me is remembering these tunes many of which to me sound very similar.

In fact give me a guitar or something else playing chords as a backing and I can improvise tunes that sound pretty much like the real thing but they are not because I have just made them up and I couldn’t play exactly the same thing even if I tried. Can someone tell me In a folk tradition where is the borderline between traditional time respected tunes and people playing them in lots of different ways and someone who starts with the few bars and then makes up,something
totally new with appropriate ornaments that fits with the bass and the chord instruments but really is not the same tune?

Re: Learning from notation.

Hi Stephen.
In short, no.
I’m really impressed you have an in-depth understanding of notation and can copy music learned by ear. Lots of players do.
However, to play and understand irish (and scottish) traditional music you need to figure out "the tradition".
Tunes do have the same structures, share melodies and have many names. You play a tune one way in one session and a different way in another session.
You need to learn context and patience and cooperation. You need to negotiate tunes, forget about definite versions, embrace nuance.
Merry christmas. Enjoy.

Re: Learning from notation.

People often make a huge deal about (not) learning from notation. I think the point is to listen first, to understand the nuance and things that can’t be transposed. Once you grasp that, its whatever gets you there. I primarily learn by ear, but often will reference sheet music for tricky parts or if I just don’t have the patience to loop something a hundred times to get the 3 second part I’m having trouble with. I’ve been to Ireland several times, studied with some fairly well known Irish instructors and they have the same general approach. My controversial two cents is that people who adamantly refuse to allow any use of sheet music in traditional music are those who feel some need to distance it from classical playing. It was a primarily an aural tradition, so from an absolute purist perspective one could argue it should all be passed down aurally. But from that same idea, no one had YouTube or Skype lessons either. All that being said, learning by ear will absolutely help your memory. There is a step that is added into the memory process when sheet music is introduced that hinders the recall process. But beyond that, its often just repetition and deliberate SLOW playing.

Re: Learning from notation.

Perhaps, after many years of immersion in the tradition, a player will be able to play something in a way that is both unique and yet still retains the original character of the tune. To think that as a new player you can do this shows either a high level of hubris (not unusual to classical players who think that the dots are of biblical significance), or a well developed sense of improvisation that makes the music more jazz than traditional.
A tune is hardly ever played in exactly the same way every time through. A grace note here or an ornament there can be a subtle yet meaningful change in the playing of a tune. What you suggest is more in the nature of what bluegrass fiddlers do. I don’t know about other people here, but I would not want to play with "someone who starts with the few bars and then makes up something totally new." Basically it depends on your respect (or lack of it) for The Pure Drop.
Zina Lee posted this 17 years ago. It’ still true. You can read her whole post here: https://thesession.org/discussions/87
Her conclusion: "So I think there’s a point where you have to be pretty obsessive about all the petty details. But of course, too much of anything is too much — so where is the point that you get more laid back? Where is the point that you don’t care if people behave a certain way in a session? Where is the point where there’s a difference between playing the Irish tune or playing Irish music, and when does it and when doesn’t it matter?"

Re: Learning from notation.

Its easy, first forget everything you’ve learned about Western art music, ask advice from traditional musicians, listen to loads of trad, start learning a trad instrument, then your reading will come in real handy for learning and comparing repertoire. Nothing wrong with dots, the hard part is what’s in your heart and head.

Re: Learning from notation.

> The problem for me is remembering these tunes many of which to me sound very similar.

Yes, this is a common complaint. And all I can tell you is, they aren’t. There are many common motifs and some tunes have both variations and variants and sometimes a tune can be in that difficult place where you’re not sure if it’s really the "same" tune as another.

Just learn the tunes. Find people playing it live, find out what they play, learn the tunes, and get inside them. Don’t improvise, don’t play countermelodies, just learn and play the tunes until you look back at this post and realise you were asking a fish about rain.

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Re: Learning from notation.

Stephen - someone of your advanced music reading skill need not worry about the issue, at least initially as you set out to learn tunes. I would just caution that you spend some time hearing how the music is played to get the feel of it. The best analogy I can think of when people from classical backgrounds take up Irish music is similar to how a Shakespearean actor might try cold reading a script by Brendan Behan or Roddy Doyle. The words would be crystal clear and perfectly enunciated, but it would sound noticeably different than say an actor familiar with the shape of Irish slang and regional accents. I think you get the idea. Secondly, the more you listen to this stuff and play it regularly, the more tunes you’ll remember and be able to string together in sets. I don’t know what your end game is, but if you desire to play with other musicians in sessions, you’ll want to work towards memorization and free-flowing from one tune into another.

Re: Learning from notation.

"The problem for me is remembering these tunes many of which to me sound very similar".
Then listen to traditional Irish musicians playing them - over and over and over again. Anything else is irrelevant.

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Re: Learning from notation.

Stephen - you said where you’ve come from, but where do you want to go?

Re: Learning from notation.

Is that a rhetorical question, Tom? This seems to be part of the answer if it’s not, "The problem for me is remembering these tunes…"

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Re: Learning from notation.

I was wondering the same thing as Tom, actually. If your goal is to fit into a session, then you’ve got to know the tunes. Seems to me, that would mean taking two or three tunes and playing those two or three over and over for days or weeks till you’ve got them fixed in your memory, then adding another, repeat and rinse …. I believe that’s what most of us have done. And many of us, I think, have reached the stage at which "learning" a tune can be a very quick process - but forgetting it can be equally rapid. I, for one, find now I have to keep playing for the longest time a tune I’ve "learned" before it stays in my noggin.

If fitting neatly into "the tradition" is not necessarily your goal, you might just want to find a like-minded accompanist and pursue your improvisational stuff and see what happens.

Re: Learning from notation.

‘where is the borderline between traditional time respected tunes and people playing them in lots of different ways and someone who starts with the few bars and then makes up,something
totally new with appropriate ornaments that fits with the bass and the chord instruments but really is not the same tune?’

Well if you want to play with others in sessions, go to those sessions and immerse yourself in the tradition, listen. Even with a high level of musical ability you can’t know what you don’t know, the ‘unknown unknowns’ as it were.

Sounds like perhaps you have never played in a session and received ’ The Look’ . You will know when that happens!

If you want to play with others in sessions immerse yourself in the tradition, learn to love and respect it, yes make up your own tunes by all means, but be aware of how loved the existing tunes are before launching out in a session with something that ‘starts with the few bars and then makes up something totally new ’ That kind of thing can really throw people off.

Part of the enjoyment of playing trad lies in people playing together a tune they all know, along with people’s slightly different accents and variations. If you play something in a session that ‘starts with the few bars and then makes up something totally new ’ you may get some confused looks and people may one by one put down their instruments, soon you may well end up playing a solo which is not something that most who play these tunes in sessions are in it for.

I guess it would safe for me to say there is your borderline.

If your own tunes are any good there is a chance they might stand the test of time like those already in the canon.

Good luck with your music. It is a real journey learning to play trad, the more you zoom into the tunes the more detail and nuance you will discover, use your ears. The tradition is bigger than all of us, everyone who plays has had to apply themselves to learning the tunes so they can play with others.

Re: Learning from notation.

"The problem for me is remembering these tunes many of which to me sound very similar".

You’re right, they are similar. Once you’ve learned a couple hundred tunes, you’ll notice all the differences.

You will also notice that nobody plays tune exactly the same way. I may play a tune a certain way if I’m teaching someone a tune, but it’s very likely that the learner, myself (and everybody else) will interpret the melody in different ways at next session. And everyone is right. Still, nobody is improvising over a chord sequence.

Re: Learning from notation.

Thanks for everyone’s thoughts on this matter.

Well first of all I was really interested to see what different reaction people had to my attempt to explain that perhaps they had not completely the right idea between classical and jazz musicians and the notes on the written page. Or their attitude towards the importance of listening.

I am by no means just a collector of cultures but I have looked in some depth at the way musics from aa number of cultures work and each of them all,strangely enough, feature more or less the same ornaments, obviously all with different names depending on the language.

I certainly understand that Irish music has Irish music has characteristics that are unique and can be learned and and absorbed properly only by listening. But this is true of every music.

Notation can only ever be an outline of what is to be played. Perhaps in big orchestral music there is a tendency towards accuracy by each individual in the orchestra rather than individual musicality, which is the job of the conductor. This is simply because if you want the power of 100 musicians playing together their efforts need to be very precisely organised. But any orchestral string player will tell you that real music making is chamber music and the traditions of playing style,in this go way beyond the printed page and can only be learned as with Irish Music by much listening and playing with experienced players. But the better players would also agree that they have much to,learn from spontaneity of folk musicians. In fact it is not generally understood that many of the composers of the past would have ornamented what they played in a different way every they performed it. This was certainly true of baroque composers but also of Mozart and Beethoven who was actually just as famous as an improvised as a performer.

So fossilisation of music by over domination of the printed page is common to all musics. I am not arrogant enough to criticise Irish Music per se Because the novice player experiences confusion between tunes which to them sound very similar. Observing an apparent similarity is an admission of,lack of experience rather than any accusation of anything else.
The same thing is also very true of many early classical composers.

As to where I am going, well I will certainly get some tunes learned properly but I will see where the improvised route leads me as I do have a few friends who will indulge me in this!, and I will also, aa would any composer, see how much a study of this music can inform my compositions as,even after a short exposure to the music, I have found ways of referencing it in my concert music that I think will go beyond where it would have otherwise have gone.

If I have gone beyond the type of discussion that Moderators intend I apologise and thank you to everyone who has responded.

Re: Learning from notation.

I think the point with ear learning is that you learn the tune, or some form of it, but that you also learn what a reel or a slip jig actually ‘is’. Like you learn the rhythm and pulse of it. The way it can be varied or ornamented, the overall aesthetic of the music. It seems like you’re maybe already aware of this.
Once you know, say a hundred tunes, how you choose to learn new ones doesn’t really matter. You know what they’re supposed to sound like. Maybe it would be more accurate to even say you know a lot of the various different ways they’re supposed to sound.
In the meantime all you’re getting from sheet music is a string of notes. Nothing about the flow and rhythm and tone choices and phrasing and articulation and intonation that are particular to the music. None of the cultural and musical context they exist in. None of the familiarity with certain recurring phrases or the excitement of strange melodic patterns. This is true for amazing sight readers and for complete musical beginners alike.
But, as many people seem to be suggesting, you don’t have to have that in depth knowledge to have fun with the music. You might raise some eyebrows in a session where the other players have already got that experience and are trying to play in an ‘authentic’ or ‘traditional’ way. Just as say, a jazz musician dropping in on a baroque ensemble would. But that doesn’t preclude good musicians from playing around with elements of irish music. Especially if they can find other players who are on the same page. The swingle singers or Chris thile did magical stuff with Bach for example.

Re: Learning from notation.

"The problem for me is remembering these tunes many of which to me sound very similar".
I have personally never experienced any problem with remembering tunes - it’s just the many hundreds I confuse and forget (i.e. the majority) which then become the main issue … !

Re: Learning from notation.

Are you learning whistle?

One idea is to approach the whistle as a rhythm instrument. Then, the decorations become articulations. Mary Bergin is good as a rhythmically-driven whitstle player.

I started with notation, and still need it for certain tunes. I did notice that after memorizing about 80 tunes, I had a repertoire of typical figures that learning by ear became easier.

Re: Learning from notation.

I think there is no problem with learning from sheet music, provided one has a style to integrate the skeleton (captured in the sheet music) in it.

The trick with irish music is, I think, that while it’s very flexible (hundreds or thousands ways of playing a tune), it is sometimes also pretty much inflexible (millions of ways how to use "trad" ornaments/variations poorly). Not saying it’s your case in any way, but I did meet several people (classical and jazz musicians) who felt they had it and made improvisation/variation that they felt did sound right - except it didn’t at all, it was terrible. Looking back at my attempts at improvisations when I was starting, it’s… a phase that’s best forgotten. Not sure if it had any benefit or if it was a wasted time.

I think the easiest way of getting the style (and it’s not really "easy", as in short path to success) is similar to how children learn speech/language. This is particularly important in languages that are not "organised" - some languages are, one can probably learn latin decently from "sheet music" (linguistic rules and grammar). I suppose it partly holds for German too - and this parallels music styles that can be notated with reasonable accuracy. But in some languages, you don’t really get a good prescription that works. At the same time, children figure it out through listening and reading, and self-organising it in their brains.

Taking the same style, listening and mimicking is, I think, the key to "understanding" trad music (it doesn’t give an explicit formula that can be written down, but one just learns it). It’s a suggestion often referenced, but it is truly that important - one has to listen a lot. Then, it’s a good idea to take a recording of a set you really like and play along it; a slow-downer is useful (one can start with sheet music to capture the basic notes, and then morph it into the version in the recording). I think it worked quite well for me to match the recording quite accurately, not trying to mess around with variations etc. too much at the start. After a while, with enough listening, you’ll find it easier to discern if a variation sounds good or off, and you can start porting variations and rhythmic patterns between tunes. Then you’re on the path to success.

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Re: Learning from notation.

Interesting listening to a chat programme on BBC Radio 4 today with Nicola Benedetti talking about learning Beethoven’s music from sheet music: "well, no two people will play it the same"…….just as others of you have said above about trad tunes!

Re: Learning from notation.

Stephen. How you take this forward depends on where you want to play. If you want to play sessions you will need to play their repertoire of tunes in the way they are played there. If you want to play in a band do as you agree. If you want to be a kitchen player make up your versions of the tune.

Re: Learning from notation.

"If I have gone beyond the type of discussion that Moderators intend I apologise and thank you to
everyone who has responded."

Stephen, what? There is only one Moderator on this site and he has not posted on this thread.
In other words you don’t need to apologise to this lot.

As for learning from notation or from ear each source depends on where you find it and where you intend to take it, or let it take you. Except for jazz I don’t think I have found more variation in musical notation than what exists in irish traditional musics. It ranges from basic abc notation to very precise transcriptions of recordings of Irish fiddlers and pipers. In every case though it helps to hear it. And learning tunes by ear if you don’t hear players who use at least a bit of variation you will. So keep listening. Neither notation nor one setting of a tune at one time has everything possible. But most tunes have their own distinct melody. If you can hear that, and
not become too distracted that is where you begin to remember each tune; one at a time.

Variation and personal style is essential to music. But learning, remembering & knowing a tune
begins & remains with the tune itself.

Cheers,
Ben

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Re: Learning from notation.

Well I am really intrigued now.

We have a position where everyone agrees that the best way to learn style is to listen. So I chose one song and listened to al lot of different recordings of it. Some I like, some I don’t like so much. Some I think are awful. Well this at least demonstrates applying critical faculties to the style. However I suspect that even the tastes of the cognoscenti will differ and so how is the innocent ear meant to know which one to learn the tune from? And if it is meant to a personal conglomeration of styles how is one meant to know whether one’s preferences are in a style which is not going to attract “the look”

The one really concrete bit of help I have found is on the brother Steve whistle page. Remembering that I am playing keyless six hole flute I have found that using cuts and taps when playing notes that ar3 next to each other as a way of articulating gives a fairly authentic sound and also slurring across the end of what I would in other styles see as natural breathing points in order to imitate uillean pipes. Any other simple pointers like these for this instrument?

Re: Learning from notation.

It’s not a question of listening to different versions one tune and deciding which is the best. It’s about absorbing the style of the music as a whole, so that when you play a tune from notation you can apply the appropriate style.

You already do this when you play classical music. Your musical training will have taught you to play in a certain style, or styles, and consciously or unconsciously you apply this when interpreting the notation. The same applies when moving to entirely different genres, whether trad or jazz or rock. They all have their own conventions, and it takes time and study for these to become natural. This is only partly to do with technique and much more to do with the ‘feel’ of the music.

I’m always reminded of the times Yehudi Menuhin was a regular guest on a UK TV chat show, usually along with Stephane Grappelli. Menuhin was genuinely interested in jazz, and the two would always play a duet to conclude the show. Alongside Grappelli, who had been playing this stuff his entire life, Menuhin came across as wooden by comparison - his technical mastery and deep musicianship were not sufficient to overcome his lack of experience of that style of music.

Re: Learning from notation.

such fascinating comments in this thread!! Stephen, if you are a recorder player, I assume you have played alot of Early Music? I have, and it is very different from the music most people learn from their instrument lessons. I have performed with players who will ONLY play from the sheet music because they want to interpret the music without the pre-conceived impression one gets from listening to a recording, for instance, of something from Tobias Hume. And players of Irish music who will ONLY learn from ear and are quite dogmatic about it. The notes in 16th and 17th century music could be seen as suggestions, and that is an important attitude to bring to Irish and Scottish music. If we did not play from notes, so much Irish music would be lost forever. Think of the tunes in P. W. Joyce’s books, or wonderful old hand-written manuscripts from the early 19th century, now digitalized by libraries and available to all!!
Where I disagree strongly with you is making new tunes and putting them among the Irish stuff. I have not grown up in the tradition and I would never try to make an "Irish" tune—- I somehow feel I lack the intuitive sense that comes from living amongst this music and the people who play it….

Re: Learning from notation.

I think maybe what I didn’t make absolutely clear is that although I am a recorde player, among other instruments, I am primarily a composer.

And a composer who works at the moment in a very strange little corner of the music world. If links are ok here www.sym-phony.uk.

Although I write in many styles in the last few years I have been writing large scale symphonies for recorder orchestras. Writing what I feel may have been written by 12 of the most significant composers of symphonies had they been writing for recorder orchestras.

This has also led me into Bulgarian Japanese and North Indian Music. Now all of these styles have their own scales and their own traditions but what my real skill is is getting under the skin of these different styles.

I always try to get an instrument from the tradition in which I am working and learn enough about it and how to play it to make more than a superofocal attempt to get under the surface. Often I leave traces of myself laying around,Partly intentionally and partly cos I can’t help it. So There are two threads western classical and folk music from outside the classical area.

Now as regards Irish music I did wonder whether I may have been better at learning about it using an alto recorder as at least that way I am totally on top of the instrument but I thought I would get a reasonable flute and see how it worked.

Well after playing the first bottom D could taste Guiness and not finding it technically all that difficult compared to recorder and Bansuri, from the Indian tradition,I thought it more appropriate to stay with it.

Of course if I can meet the right people, and learn a few of the right tunes it all looks to be a lot of fun but apart from anything else I can also see a very rich source of colour amd resource for my recorder orchestra work.

Please understand this is not just about trying to ape Irish modes and ornaments or trying to score cheap points it is a matter of combining many elements and asking people to understand that from the composition point of view it is done with respect and a search for understanding.

So when I talk a out writing or improvising things that sound “like” the real thing it is in the tradition of me having done the same thing with the music of other composers and cultures. It is not underestimating Irish music by any means.

Re: Learning from notation.

I think the flute is a very good choice, Stephen (and I do appreciate your approach to this whole thing and discussion - if all classically educated musicians were like this).

It’s a good point it’s hard to pick which recordings are good and which are not. A crude rule of thumb I’d say might be - if there are synthesizers, drums, or electric guitar, provisionally stay away. Even with "pure" trad music, it’s not always easy to discern good and bad, I guess. Some very esteemed fiddlers have a bad intonation, and old recordings of generally excellent pipers are often out of rhythm, out of tune, and one needs a fair bit of imagination to see the genius. It’s not something one would play to friends for enjoyment for sure. So there are technically "bad" recordings, from which one can learn immensely, and then there are just bad recordings, which are poor and uninspired.

I’m not a flute player myself, so others can probably give better recommendations, but I’d guess that Matt Molloy is a good start; some others might be Conal O’Grada, Catherine McEvoy; or modern-style Michael McGoldrick or Kevin Crawford. Steph Geremia is a young flute player, one I enjoy listening to a lot. I think Spotify should have many albums.

From other instruments, I’m a big fan of Kevin Burke (fiddle), although one has to admit occasional limitations of the intonation (but the rhythmical flow and creativity are great). I guess it makes sense to start with recordings with a flute (or just flute/flute+backup) as it will be easier to see the ornamentation and how it’s used, but then expanding towards fiddle and pipes will be good for learning (not even mentioning the fun :)).

By the way, if you don’t mind paying a little (compared to a living tutor, it’s very little), there is OAIM - online academy of Irish music, where there are flute tutorials. I’ve seen some in my brief exposure to the flute, and they seemed very good to me. If you don’t have issues with embouchure and finger dexterity, you might be able to progress through it very well, focusing on the new aspects of the style.

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Re: Learning from notation.

"Stephen. How you take this forward depends on where you want to play. If you want to play sessions you will need to play their repertoire of tunes in the way they are played there. If you want to play in a band do as you agree. If you want to be a kitchen player make up your versions of the tune." Allan21. This makes a lot of sense.

You also have to think about tunes, and settings. Not uncommon here (Cape Breton) to find the same tune played differently up and down the road. You need to be flexible. Here, reading and tunebooks etc are pretty much expected, individuality in group settings is more about ornamentation. Session to session there will be different expectations. If you do a class or workshop with someone, a basic proficiency in reading s expected. But, I think there is reading for trad music, and reading for classical or other traditions. Reading music fot trad means you have to have some understanding of the rules there.

From a workshop with Kyle McNeil (Barra MacNeils), with some young players in a mentorship program (sitting in because my daughter was one of the young players)….. on reading: most of the mentors agreed, for TRAD music, a tunebook or sheetmusic was only a starting point or a way in, and may not be involved at all. The mentors that day….Kyle (music degree), Kimberley Fraser (Berklee degree), Shelly Campbell and Kenneth Mackenzie (not sure if they have music degrees or not) all agreed, written notation was part of it, but the bigger part was learning by ear. MY experience is other people’s attempts at notation can speed up the learning curve, but can’t replace the hard work. Notation may tell you the pitch of the note, but it won’t tell you how to play it.

Re: Learning from notation.

"We have a position where everyone agrees that the best way to learn style is to listen. So I chose one song and listened to al lot of different recordings of it. Some I like, some I don’t like so much. Some I think are awful. Well this at least demonstrates applying critical faculties to the style. However I suspect that even the tastes of the cognoscenti will differ and so how is the innocent ear meant to know which one to learn the tune from? And if it is meant to a personal conglomeration of styles how is one meant to know whether one’s preferences are in a style which is not going to attract “the look”"

I can understand your frustration if you’re new to the genre. There are many factors involved, e.g. the setting itself, the amount of individual variation, the combination of instruments, the pace, the style… As a beginner, it’s difficult to know which is "good" example of Irish trad. It’s also impossible to learn all of the settings you encounter (on recordings and in books). It’s also pointless, as a single take is merely a snapshot of the musician’s/s’ interpretation. However, it’s adviceable that you listen to many recordings of the same tune. You’ll notice the various factors I mentioned above. What can be done? What’s usually not done? Assuming you’re listening to high quality performers, you’re safe.

Learning tunes from written music is OK if it’s a good setting, or if you know what to add/delete. Learning the style requires exposure. Exposure to many tunes (whether you learn them or not), as well as to many recordings of the tunes you play. I think it’s a lot easier to get "the basic idea" from many recordings, than from many written sources.

Re: Learning from notation.

I see this topic has been discused so many times and the general vision seems to be that one has to decide between learning by ear or reading. Any person who is able to read sheet music can still listen to music but can also use the advantages of reading and writing.

I listen to lots of music and learn most of the tunes by ear but I also use sheet music for certain things. When I hear a tune and I have no access to record it, I write it if it’s simple enaugh; when I learn a new tune, I write it to keep it for whenever I need it; when I’m learning a new tune with some tricky part, i write to make it easier to learn, instead of listening to it a thousand times; I also have a collection of tunes in paper, which is really useful.

I agree that writen music is not be used in traditional sessions, but when you are learning or practising at home all resources are good if they work for you.

Re: Learning from notation.

Cheers, Haizea! The only thing I’d add to the last response is that learning where the notes are is just a stepping stone. It’s not full immersion in the music. Frankly I don’t even like starting with where the notes are,
if you know what I mean. I also think most of the tricky bits are rarely problems in the music, rather limitations of a particular instrument or just a player needing to learn something she or he has not practiced before.
It all comes down to taking as much time as one needs.

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Re: Learning from notation.

Steven, in your very particular circumstances, I think the very best thing you could do is learn some tunes and find a first-rate flute player and take a half dozen lessons. This might illuminate more than any amount of long-winded explanation.

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Re: Learning from notation.

John Skelton @ Lark camp was probably my best flute instructor for a group of people (students/disciples). Didn’t matter if it was a small group of people or large. He helped everyone and kept things flowing. He also could teach you a new tune with more ease than alot of other teachers/methods and I could retain (it) and play the tunes long after his lessons.

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Re: Learning from my edits.

Yeah, it happens. I try to get it all in one post and my cup over runs. Or is it reruns?

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Re: Learning from notation.

Late to the party here… Happy 2019, everyone! Stephen, your situation is a fairly common one in many ways. People who are very accomplished musicians that are new to Irish traditional music often ask very similar questions here. The things that make you stand out a bit are: 1. You apparently did some advance research, by reading old threads here and gauging the response before you even asked the question. 2. You’re a composer and conductor, so you have a potentially different skill set than a lot of classical players coming to this music.

So welcome! Playing this music is one of the most enjoyable things in this world for many of the players here on this forum, and maybe it will be for you as well! On the surface, Irish traditional music is quite a bit simpler than a lot of the music that you are familiar with. But you might find that there is an underlying complexity beneath the surface.

First and foremost, there is the issue that this is primarily an aural tradition (despite the 16714 different tunes in the archives here). Being an aural tradition leads to the fact that there are numerous settings of almost every tune, and basically *none* of them can be considered "definitive" in any way. (As evidenced by the 33910 settings of tunes in the archives here - more than double the number of tunes, and by no means comprehensive. Some tunes have 20 or more settings posted, and that still doesn’t cover it). To complicate matters even more, almost every tune is known by multiple titles - some of them being the same titles as other tunes.

Secondly, this tradition encourages a player to play tunes with variation, so that when playing a tune three times, you’re encouraged not to play it the same way each time. So your experience as a composer could be very valuable there. But I consider variation and improvisation to be very different things. Variation is expected to tell the same story in a slightly different way, conveying a different spin on the melodic "story", while still telling the same story. You’re not making up a melody that fits with the accompaniment. And there are all sorts of ways to vary the tunes that don’t fit within the tradition. I think it’s important for each player to have a "base setting" of each tune in their mind, otherwise, what are they "varying" it from? How you get that base setting is up to you, whether it be by ear, by having someone teach you the tune directly, or from sheet music. But I will reiterate what others have said, and that is that trying to learn the style at the same time that you’re learning the tunes can be difficult, and basically impossible from sheet music. So if you’re an experienced Irish player, with a great grasp of the idiom, then learning a tune from sheet music can be just fine. But if you’re experienced in other styles of music, then you may be limiting your progress by using the dots, because you may automatically put a different style to the tunes than what would be considered traditional - and your ear for the nuances of what makes a tune sound Irish has probably not developed well enough for you to really know how well you’re doing.

So there are a lot of factors at play here. How well do you retain a "base setting" of a melody from dots vs. ear. How well do you understand the (unwritten, and somewhat flexible) boundaries of what fits within this tradition and what doesn’t. How well can you adapt what you’re doing to fit with what other people are playing if they aren’t working together. The further you get immersed in this music, the more profound these questions will become, and more questions about more nuanced aspects of this music will start occurring to you. In general, I would say that the borderline between what variation fits within the tradition and what doesn’t is something that will become more and more clear to you over time, but probably not until you’ve been pretty immersed in this music for at least a few years.

One thing that I will point out that tells me that you’re not ready to make that determination is that you said "So I chose one song and listened to al lot of different recordings of it". People who play this music tend to bristle at the term "song". In our world, there is a distinction made between songs (with words) and tunes (melodies without words). Yes, there is some grey area in there, as some tunes are from songs, and some songs steal melodies from tunes. But learn to make that distinction when you are talking (and typing), and it will help you in this music.

Finally, I just want to say that I’m not trying to discourage you! You are obviously an accomplished musician, which can give you a great advantage when you’re learning about this tradition. And kudos to you for asking intelligent questions, and listening to the answers you’re receiving!

Re: Learning from notation.

Thanks for reply Reverend. To be honest memory is always a problem for me. There are so many different aspects to music making that those who have not done it to any level cannot always see. I can read anything that anyone writes, sight sing it, transpose it And improvise on it if it has a chordal basis. I can also play b@ck by ear, in any key required. BUT my memory is hopeless. And I can see no reason why it will be any better in one style than in any other. Of course these things can be improved and as an anti Alzheimer’s thing if nothing else there is probably a lot t9 be said for it.

I certainly take the same approach to decorating baroque music, other than Bach, where I will never play a baroque piece the same twice. I know what ornaments are available in the style and they just sort of happen. The dots are not the POINT of the music just a starting point.And from what I have seen there arecloser links between baroque dances and Irish music than may be apparent to people on either side of the spectrum who h@ve not looked properly. Both at the Micro and Macro level. The one I like is the relationship that ther3 looks to be between the Courante and the Slip Jig.

I was playing in a concert which included a movement from a bach cantata. We were all standing and the chap on first flute said to me before we started the gigamkvement, I think I am going to do a little dance while we play this. Well this has got to be the right spirit fir any sort of dance movement.

As I said I have investigated Bulgarian Japanese and North Indian music and they all have the same sort of ornaments as cuts taps rolls and the other Irish ornament names. There are after all only so many things that you can do with a row of notes!

Sadly I think it unlikely that I am going to be able to get into contact with real Irish trad musicians where I live but it is still very interesting formalising what I sort of knew about modal structure and seeing how far I can use ornaments in concert music. Which obviously has to be more rigidly organised with a big ensemble. The other thing that I h@ve And will use is a real psssikn for the sound of the six hole keyless flute. In the summer I often take a flute with me on my dog walks and the dog and I enjoy a sunset with me playing the flute sitting ina wave break. I normally use Indian flutes and evening rags but my Irish flute will also feature next year.

Re: Learning from notation.

About memory. I may be wrong, but I think that most of the notation we have for traditional tunes, especially that in older manuscripts but also in the database here, was noted down as an aide memoir by and/or for people who couldn’t read or write music particularly well.

As it is an aural tradition would noting down the tunes *as you hear them* kill two birds with one stone? It might give a reminder of how they go (that you could build on) and calm the fears of the helpful folks here who tell you not to rely on sources in notation (and will keep doing that!).

Re: Learning from notation.

To be honest the aide Memoire bit is the way that I use ALL notation. It is obviously just a matter of knowing the traditi9n of whatever you are play8ng to be true to the spirit of it. Style in Baroque music was a very well defined concept not just a sort of way of playing.

Re: Learning from notation.

Stephen, questions like yours usually have me remembering earlier threads on the topic(s) being discussed.
A handful of members on many of those discussions have since moved on to other chat rooms (I suppose).
One in particular often comes to mind. It would be interesting to hear what he has to say about all of this.
Below is a recent response of his which I just found from searching his screen name on google.
I found it randomly so it’s may or may not be pertinent to your concerns.

Re: Tunes that mimic - Nature, People, Life… posted August 30, 2018 by Mr. Gumby (C & F)
http://forums.chiffandfipple.com/viewtopic.php?p=1206331&sid=6445b6dbfe6edc51862325bf2cdd9484#p1206331

Also here is a recording he provided Brother Steve which I thought you might like to listen to. And read about, etc.
http://www.rogermillington.com/tunetoc/locomotive_skelton.html

It’s not Mr. Gumby playing, of course, but he is a whistle player & uilleann piper.

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