One rule: No sheet music on this thread.

One rule: No sheet music on this thread.

I would like to discuss traditional music sessions w/one strict rule:
~ This must be about playing music in a session by heart, by ear &/or from memory. Please do your best to not bring up sheet music in this discussion. Anyone who feels an urge to bring it into the discussion (whether it is pro or con) Do Not Go There! I want to be clear. If I see anyone violating The Rule I will be upset; very, very, very UPSET!

Friends, Members, Posters, lend us your ears and stories of sessions with ears ~ all ears…

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Sessions with ears - no sheet music - worked fine 2 - 4 hours ago. What’s to discuss ?

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Doesn’t that feel great?
Though you did mention something which never happened, Kenny.

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Eh? What’s that you said? My ears don’t work properly. (Sad, but true.)

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Trish, I hope your ears are good enough for sessions.
I want to discuss sessions and the music played by heart, by ear &/or from memory.
It is why most of our fair members play this music. (?)
:-)

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Ha, ha… Good topic Ben! Nothing to add but eager to read.

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Me too, Gobby, me too.

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How about iPads with Bluetooth page turning pedals? They’re traditional, right? :-)

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How about this?
You hear the music,
And you want to do the same.
You do as you see and as you hear,
And someone says "here, you can write it out!"
In that order I can make sense of it.
Before that I can’t.
My ears are my masters, and they point to more

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Heres a perspective: Tunes are like friends. When good friends/tunes appear in session you greet them warmly, want to interact with them in the flow, because you know them, and have worked hard to cultivate a friendship, understand who they are, where they’ve been. Old, old friends/tunes you might even take a bit for granted. Others might be new to you, so you sit and listen, not interrupting or jumping to conclusions, until you know enough about them to have a conversation. Still others might be a bit boorish/repetitive so you politely slip away for a beer. But hopefully you leave the session having reinforced your friendships and made a few new ones. Ben, I hope this lives up to your expectations for this discussion!

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I play by ear! I have to (at least for as long as my hearing is good), being blind. I can get a general idea of how to play something if I hear it long enough.

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I *rarely* learn by ear, but it is quite satisfying and convenient to play by *heart*.

Hmmm… can’t find anything else to add!

Now, AB….. who would feel the need to upset you? :)

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… what is sheet music? :P

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I have to play by ear - cos I am so crap at reading the dots! Crows perched on phone wires.

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That’s funny, christy.
Never thought about it that way, although crows might be a tad large. Perhaps sparrows, nah - starlings!

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I remember some tutors at "The ALP" in Edinburgh doing their very best to follow the "teach all the tunes by ear" policy.
However, they frequently had to refer to "the paper" (Notice I didn’t mention the shit music) first just to make sure they were playing the correct setting and, on some occasions, actually learn the tune first!

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I think in that context what they are looking at is their notes on how they are going to teach the tune. Nice that they have thought about it beforehand.

(to Johnny Jay’s post)

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In some of the instances, that may be true.
:-)

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By Heart, Ear, Memory - all good things. As long as you don’t start talking about "memorization". I tend to bristle at that term a bit, because it brings to mind rote forcing of (mostly useless) information into your brain. I think of memorizing the first 10 Presidents of the United States, or the capitals of countries, or even multiplication tables. In my mind, if you remember the first 10 Presidents, there should be a reason - you should remember the stories of how they helped found the country or help shape it in the early years, or the policies that they had which helped them win the election. Instead of memorizing multiplication tables, use them as a way to figure out how to do math in your head, which gives you much greater ability to do a lot of things besides knowing that 5 x 9 = 45.

I think of music the same way. You don’t want to just cram a string of notes into your brain, so that you can regurgitate them in the exact same order every time. Instead, you want to learn the story of the tune. What is it saying? Is it happy or sad, and can you change that with how you play it? What kind of tension does it create, and how does it resolve it? Where are the peaks and valleys? What twists and turns give you a thrill like riding a roller-coaster every time you hear the tune? When you develop that kind of relationship with a tune, it allows you tell the tune’s story eloquently, occasionally putting in new little twists or embellishments, like you do when you’re telling a good story or joke.

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Develop a relationship with a tune, brilliant!
:-)

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To be fair, nicatnite’s post about tunes being like friends spelled out a similar sentiment of developing a relationship with a tune, preempting my post… ;-)

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Thanks, everyone. I like this thread.

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Meanwhile that "other" thread which attracted so much discussion is relegated to page 4 of "earlier discussions" and good riddance is what some of you will say!
Looking forward to next session and leaving all sh@@t music and iPad at home, and developing intriguing new relationships! ;-)

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Am not convinced about Reverend’s multiplication tables example. If thinking about something complicated, or not wanting to think at all, it is often handy to ‘just know’ things.

As a kid I had a Saturday job in a shop. If the customer wanted 5 widgets at 9 pence each I didn’t just need to know that 5 x 9 =45, I had to ask for 3 shillings and 9 pence. So already knowing the 45 meant I only had to do the base 12 part. If enough people wanted 5 at 9d I would probably remember that it came to 3/6.

I mainly remember tunes after repeated listening or playing, but it is not uncommon when learning a tune for there to be something that I have to consciously store and recall, at least to start with. Sometimes it is just something like "An Eb in the B part, is the foot joint in the right position?".

So how about finding those first few notes to start a tune? How often is there distinct ‘memorization’ element? Or a wish that you, or at least one person, had memorized it?

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Meta question: how is it that sometimes the most active discussions suddenly end up on ‘page 4 of "earlier discussions"’? Is that a human decision or is there some mysterious algorithm at work?

To the question at hand: I teach mostly by ear - but sometimes I’ll wish I had used sheet music, because of my tendency to play a tune differently every time - I’ll find myself trying to remember how I taught the tune a week or two previous … !

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I feel a bit lucky when it comes to playing Irish music, because though I played in school orchestra for two years in elementary school (ages 10-12, approximately), I never really learned to read music — I naturally gravitated toward learning by ear. It got me in trouble back then (we were meant to be learning to read music), but not having much use for the sheet music has helped me, I think. And the tunes that I have learned completely by ear are the ones that are easiest for me to play, in general.

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>> Am not convinced about Reverend’s multiplication tables example

Yeah, @David50, I still know the multiplication tables too, and it can be handy. My point was not really that multiplication tables are useless information, more that if that’s all you know about math, then you’re limiting yourself. The same with tunes, if all you know about a tune is what the sequence of notes is, then you’re likewise limiting yourself and your ability to play the tune well.

@meself, I believe that Jeremy has a 1 week time limit for popular threads to appear in the Active Discussions list, which helps keep things moving in the forums. Otherwise, we might have a 4000 line thread going about the dots-which-shall-not-be-named-in-this-thread, which would be difficult to keep up on.

And I teach a tune learning session (by ear) every week. I, too, struggle with figuring out what notes to teach, since I tend to play tunes differently each time. That’s why I think it’s a good idea to have a "base setting" of each tune in mind, and then you can vary it from there, or fall back to the base setting if you’ve gone too far astray, or other people are confused. And I usually (but not always) teach tunes a phrase at a time, and that is difficult too, because I’m never real confident in the phrase when it’s out of context. So I often have to play through the tune a bit while I’m teaching it, to make sure I’m keeping everything straight.

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I love recalling, memorizing, learning on the right side my brain & the left side, keeping those hemispheres connected/communicating. I’m curious and I think that is a great motivator for improving and allowing
any situation to become a new experience in the moment while also going back to things I learnt before.
Music especially (by heart, by ear & memory) is my favourite way to keep the old grey matter healthy.

https://www.crchealth.com/youth-programs/improving-academic-success-right-brain-learning-methods/

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Developing a relationship with a tune is an interesting way to frame it, but don’t hold on too tightly. Good advice for all relationships in life, I think.

You may find you need to make some changes to fit what’s played in a session, instead of how you first learned a tune. Or even transpose to a different key. One local session always throws me at first, because they do O’Keefe’s in a different key than I’m used to. It’s good practice to be able to adapt like that on the fly.

Hanging out with pipers for me has also required learning tunes in different keys, or at least different settings, due to the limitations of the smallpipes ("Whadd’ya mean, you can’t play a G sharp!?"). You have to stay flexible with those tune relationships! Somehow the framework of the tune persists in the mind, regardless of how it’s shifted around.

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My relationship with tunes is rarely session-oriented. In small sessions or when the vibe between players is what I call *tight* then I feel the relationship can be flexible and we can explore tunes together. But I never ‘hold on’ tight (different meaning of tight).

In large sessions, or sessions where I play follow the leader my relationship is still with the tune being played but it’s based less on how I play the tune (@ home) & more on how the session as a whole plays a given tune.
It’s all about who shows up. People matter. Take a tune like ‘Otter’s Holt’. I never play it in session the way
I play it at home. It also changes depending on who starts off &/or who is @ the session on that night.

I develop & nuture a strong tune relationship when playing a tune at home. Though in session I let go
of that & listen to what the other players are doing. Someone always surprises me. I call it going w/the flow/session-tune relationship. gwfstr

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You know this one? It goes, da dum doe dum dee doe da dum yee da diddly idle doe dum ya dum doe, skiddly idle dee da yah da dum…

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It seems a bit like an oxymoron to ban the discussion of SM (see, I didn’t mention sheet music…uh oh) on a site that’s pretty much dedicated to the dots.

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"It seems a bit like an oxymoron to ban the discussion of SM (see, I didn’t mention sheet music…uh oh) on a site that’s pretty much dedicated to the dots."

The dots in the database are just a convenience for reference and discussion. The map is not the territory. Or as Alan Watts put it, "The menu is not the meal."

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Most of the trad musicians I’ve met from Ireland happily use sheet music for teaching and learning.
I’ll add onto that various players I’ve seen only on youtube such as Fergal Scahill and Tola Custy.
I used to obsess about this, but I’ve learned it is a non-issue.

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Peter Berner - kookaburras???

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Don’t make me laugh!

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"Most of the trad musicians I’ve met from Ireland happily use sheet music for teaching and learning."

We did a harp course with Michelle Mulcahy a couple of years ago and she taught us "by ear" which is quite unusual for this instrument. She did, however, give out hand written(photocopied for each student) "abc’s" although these weren’t in the standard format either… that would have been tricky, I daresay, as they covered both treble and bass clef notation.

Apparently, "jotting down" tunes in a simple "ABC" text is quite common in Ireland and actually predates the system devised by Chris Walshaw.

Anyway, for me, this wasn’t too helpful and I found it easier to transpose this "abc" to standard notation which wasn’t that difficult really.

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christy taylor - are you referring to (birds) on phone wires?
Hmm… In my mind’s eye, I can envisage kookaburras being just a wee bit too big. Nice try though. :)

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You got me thinking.
Corellas might do it. (mid sized parrot)

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As someone who learned from very young to read music and not play by ear, and didn’t start still my 60’s
one of the most helpful and simple things another flute player who plays by ear told me was.
If you know the song in your head then you can play it.
so start with something simple like happy birthday, and play it by ear.
then your brain will start to hopefully learn to catch on.
But, i think it’s a bit like learning language,
even today I have to spend hours learning one song…..

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I am so glad I could read all them posts, because there’s more to letters than birds on a wire.

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"birds on a wire"

In playing by ear, "I have tried in my way to be free"

Re: OMG!

"Friends, Members, Posters, lend us your ears and stories of sessions with ears ~ all ears…"

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I visualise the dots, fingering and key for reference points.
Its how I learn and when I have a playable tune it,s bye bye dots.
5x9=45 Yup 4+5 =9 45 must be right
Oh yeah, if all I have is a piece of paper covered in fly shit and no idea how the tune goes
It is worthless.

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Trish I gave up. I couldn’t take it any longer. I hope they eventually played some music.

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I see the mutual admiration society is at it again in this discussion….the opening comment on this discussion was playing music in a session by heart or memory or by osmosis or something not generally a lot of the comments comply….here’s the thing,musicians all over the world read music,even in Australia and America….to become proficient it takes a lot of hard work and practice ,no painting by numbers here….I would suggest that all the derision and offensive remarks I have seen around this issue of musicians reading music ,come about from jealousy and ignorance,believe it or not most musicians in all genres in the 21 century can read music and are constantly working on these skills,not much work for a musician who can’t read these days….it’s so easy to stroke each other’s egos and be comfortable in your prejudices when you have your blinkers on,if you claim to be a musician you need to be a proficient reader otherwise you’re a dabbler ,and your opinion should not count on musical issues,you would do better to spend your time on musical theory and learning the skills to become a well rounded musician…. If you think all you have is a piece of paper covered in fly shit….you can’t read music ,go back to the basics and have some humility….as Allan Watts said "you have the power"

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it’s you who are being offensive - I have been playing sessions, gigs and ceilis now for the best part of 50 years, all without being a ‘proficient reader’ , I dont think many of my fellow musos or thousands of people I’ve played to in festivals, concerts, pubs and dance halls would call me a ‘dabbler’.

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To Scottsirish,

AB may correct me if I’m wrong but my impression is that he intended this to be a fairly light hearted thread as an antidote to another more recent one on the same subject.

However, I disagree that it is essential for a serious musician to be a good sight reader and to not rely mainly on playing by ear or memory. Of course, I’m not suggesting that it’s a hindrance either and having some musical knowledge theory is always helpful. An "extra tool in the box" as I’ve said more than once.

Anyway, many established and respected musicians have confessed to not being able to read or write musical notation especially in their younger days.

Aly Bain, for example, stated that he had tried to learn "off the paper" but by the time he had dechipered the music, the tune was already in his head.

Other people would include Paul McCartney, Ralph McTell and so on who composed all their (earlier, certainly) music by ear. The same likely applies to a majority of musicians on the rock/pop/folk etc circles in the mid to late 20th century Also, if you check out the tune and song books of many highly regarded musicians, you’ll likely see that the notation was transcribed on their behalf "from their playing" as they had mostly composed or learned the material "by ear".

That’s not to say that these people have no knowledge of musical theory at all and/or may already have more than they would like to admit. Also, many will have taught themselves(Like I have done) to sight read where necessary as they have been going along. No harm in that either as (As I said) it’s not a hindrance by any means.

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Johnny Jay ,civilised comment….respect the individual’s music journey ….some of the comments some of the time tend to denigrate some individuals…..it’s all about the music.

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Scottsirish, you said: "civilised comment….respect the individual’s music journey […] some of the comments some of the time tend to denigrate some individuals"

i agree, so i’m a bit surprised to read that after you made this comment:

"if you claim to be a musician you need to be a proficient reader otherwise you’re a dabbler"

i happen to believe that reading music can be a useful skill to have, but to claim it’s required "to be a musician" is to summarily dismiss thousands of years of aural folk music traditions, not just in Ireland or ‘western’ countries but all over the world, which have evolved and been passed down generations with no written music being involved at all.

you are certainly not the first person to claim that folk musicians are not real musicians because they don’t have some arbitrary skill you consider important (like the ability to read music), but if you honestly believe that, you are probably in the wrong place, because the entire purpose of this site is to catalogue and discuss the music of an aural tradition that has never significantly involved written music.

i find your comment rather ignorant and offensive and certainly neither "civilised" nor "respect[ful]", and i feel that if you would like people to treat _you_ more respectfully, you should start by not dismissing as "dabblers" the vast majority of Irish folk musicians who have lived over the last few hundred years, to whom we are all indebted for creating, preserving and passing on Irish traditional music.

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Scottsirish, I think you have completely misunderstood the meaning and purpose of the thread.

"This must be about playing music in a session by heart, by ear &/or from memory."

It’s not a challenge, or bait, or anything else, bar the meaning in that single sentence above, and it’s merely an invitation to share personal session experiences, and nothing more.

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@Scottirish.
Who do you think you are?
What do you mean by… "even in Australia and America".
Are you suggesting that perhaps WE are anything less than anyone else?

I read, s—l—o—w—l—y. But I do read. That’s how I learn this ITM stuff. I don’t have the time *or* the skills to learn aurally. There is so much to learn, I don’t have enough time in my life to learn ‘ear learning’ skills as well. I don’t need to.

But…… music was being played LONG before dots were invented, I’m sure.

Your statement…. "if you claim to be a musician you need to be a proficient reader otherwise you’re a dabbler" is pathetic, incorrect, stupid, idiotic, mad, bad, foolish, moronic, absurd, illogical, in fact downright unintelligent. AND RUDE!

In fact reading your post again, I can see that you got nothing correct. NOTHING!

I’ve been playing music for 60 years now, and some of the best musos I’ve ever come across, never read dots.
Brilliant people. Brilliant musos.

A couple of weekends ago, I played an ITM tune for Gobby (it was new to him), and bugger me, within 5 minutes, he had it nailed - by ear!
It took me a MONTH to learn it - WITH DOTS!!

You got right up my hooter sunshine! You are just so totally wrong. WRONG, WRONG, WRONG.

rant over

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Sometimes people like to give the medicine but don’t like to take it.

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Scottsirish - I think you are taking offense to an insult that wasn’t given. This issue isn’t about SM (not sado-masochism, but the other SM that we agreed would not be said; although some of these threads do seem more like S&M than SM, but I digress,) - the concern is that people who perpetually rely on SM can never really experience the joyful spontaneous flow of tunes that constitute a session. As Reverend so eloquently mentioned above, tunes are like relationships - you have to spend time with them to learn all their nuances and quirks. I doubt anyone here takes issue with a person who knows the tradition learning a version of a tune from SM. That isn’t where this thread is aimed. Its about how being reliant on SM does not translate into a free flowing session experience.

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@AB, the song comes in at 4.20. I’ll read all the subsequent posts later.

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Oh deary deary me did I say fly shit What a wonderful description. Well rounded musician
indeed…. That is why learning by ear is so so important apart from Classical Guitar and the discipline needed for such. You will not improvise. Play it as the masters do. You will be note perfect and dynamics perfect and fucking sit properly. (bollocks) I cant think of a TM instrument I play that requires me ever to go down that road again. I am 4 years in on playing the U pipes (now there’s dedication) I play guitar, mando, fiddle, and like most TM musos I Dabble until I am hooked.
I really enjoy the session, I do not take anything to seriously With a name like Allan Watts I am sure he knows all about power. Not very bright, only one watt.

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The Pie Eyed Piper.
I like your style.

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Thanks everyone who appreciates & is woke about why I began this thread. I think that is most of you, at least I hope it is. For the record I am not upset. I might be if it were not for how much I appreciate tunes, a good session, good company, stories which have been told here (on {many} other threads) and my friends in this music community.

[Trish, I know; 4-20. I’m just messing with you.]

Ben

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