People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

You can use both skills and lots of people do. If I hadn’t learned to read music as a child, I wouldn’t have discovered half the tunes I really love. I was a solitary person and just delighted in making discoveries in library books.

On the other hand, nowadays I don’t use sheet music much to play but try to play by ear. I expect in sessions plenty of people learn a tune from the sheet and then don’t need to follow the notes any more? This is a muddling sort of subject perhaps - interesting to see what people say.

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

I believe there is absolutely no reason, for anyone, to get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear. (but I do enjoy the fact that you may be ‘stirring the pot’ again, it makes room for lots of entertainment)

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

"You can use both skills and lots of people do. If I hadn’t listened to so much music as a child, I wouldn’t have discovered half the tunes I really love. I was a solitary person and just delighted in making discoveries by listening to the radio and going to record shops"
🙂
Of course, some of my family played music "a bit" and there were quite a few people playing Scottish music in the local communities back then too. Village Halls and the like.

I wouldn’t get cross about people learning tunes from "the dots" though. It’s another good skill to have and I’ve also added to my repertoire this way although I didn’t really start to read music until my late thirties.
Ironically, it was when I started attending The ALP(Now SMG) classes where the policy was to teach by ear. I found myself disadvantaged as there were so many sight readers there already who didn’t want to enter into the spirit of things. They all had the "black books", "blue books", "green books" and so on! So, I eventually succumbed and started to learn to read myself so that I could play some of the same tunes as them.

As has been said on other threads, there is absolutely nothing wrong with learning tunes from "the dots". Only if you come to rely on them.

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

Good point, Johhny. Especially if you own 50 tune books!

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

Reading music is a fundamental skill for a musician, the same as playing by ear. I think anyone could benefit from it. Far from getting angry at someone who plays from music at a session, I feel sorry for them. You miss so much of the spontaneous nature of the idiom by digging through a book at every change.

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

I’m learning fiddle after learning classical piano to a professional standard, and I learn most of my tunes by the dots as it’s faster for me. I can learn by ear too but it requires repeated exposure to a tune, which takes way more time. I can use my time better by memorising off the dots first, then listening to how it’s played by the experts so I can focus more on the stylistic details they add to it.

I have encountered reverse snobbery from people who can’t read music and assume wrongly that I can only play stuff with the dots on front of me. So there’s insecurity and ignorance on each side, and that ultimately is what the problem is… People bringing fragile egos into the music, where egos don’t belong.

Although I would never use dots at a session… It should be memorised for that situation, and sessions are a great place to put your memory under pressure to do its job!

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

This theme seems to be a recurring obsession here. How often in how many similar ways can people pose the same question? And who really cares, who gets ‘cross’? It’s self evident that to learn any musical style or idiom that you must listen to seasoned practitioners of same and that in doing so, you will naturally pick things up in time without seeing anything written down.

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Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

heh, heh, heh!!
I’m going ZZZZZ’s.
Looking forward to coming back here tomorrow. 🙂

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

How is this horse still alive?

I honestly don’t think anyone cares how anyone else learns a tune. As Kilcash says, if you can play the idiom coherently and sound more or less like you’re playing Irish or Scottish music, it doesn’t matter. And however you cram tunes into your head, you need to listen to the music. You can’t listen to enough of it (though the people in my car when we drove to the Alps might disagree). There’s no shortcuts or getting around that.

Reading off sheet music in sessions is a different thing, one that doesn’t work in sessions I personally want to play in. But that’s just me.

Reading music is not a fundamental skill

"Reading music is a fundamental skill for a musician, the same as playing by ear." Arrogance? Micho Russell taught himself to play the tin whistle by ear (starting at age eleven), like millions of other trad players.
A fundamental skill? Tell it to Mike Rafferty. Johnny Hehir. Elvis Presley. Michael Jackson. Eric Clapton. The Beatles. Eddie Van Halen. Robert Johnson. Jimmie Hendrix.
I learned to read music in my 30s. I find it helpful but certainly not a fundamental skill. Do people who only learn from dots ever get the nyah? Is there a way of transcribing the nyah? To play this music you have to have the nyah or it doesn’t work. And you can’t get it from the symbols on paper.
"When beginning to learn this music one should aim to play in that manner. There is no difficulty in doing this, in becoming a native, provided one listens only to genuine players and one has chosen an instrument on which no other form of training had been received."
– from Breandán Breathnach’s "Introduction," CRE 2, xiv.
"Never learn a tune from notation alone, especially if you are not already an excellent Irish musician. You may not learn tunes fast enough to satisfy your otherwise healthy eagerness, but you will learn them right. And learning tunes by ear is the direct path towards becoming an excellent Irish musician. This is the only way to learn the "nyah," the "draoicht," "lift," "swing," or whatever you want to call beauty."
https://www.alan-ng.net/irish/learning/

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

This looks like a "strawman" to me. No-one I know has said that it’s wrong to learn tunes from sheet music.
What is usually discussed is another thing: People bringing sheet music to sessions. That simply does not work, because you need to know the tunes to participate in the session.

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

After fifteen years does anyone here really think they have anything to add to the topic that’s not been said before?

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Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

If you want to get good at something, take a look at the people who do it best and copy what they do.

Take the top 500 best players of Irish music, how many use dots in a meaningful way to learn new tunes ?

That’s not to say that they didn’t use some form of musical notation at the beginning (maybe 50 or 60%), which can be useful to get going, and they probably still use musical notation for different purposes, but rarely to actually learn tunes themselves.

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

Sheet music at a session. I don’t like it at all. I read quite well. It’s simply not generally accepted in the culture. When I have run across it the session or the aspect of the person(s) using sheet music was awful for a variety of reasons. How you learn your music is personal and I don’t care though I believe you should learn by ear at least until you understand how the music should be interpreted. At a session I believe you’re expected to respect the tradition.

Sometimes I’ll bring sheet music to show my friends something I’ve written out early before we get started but that’s a little different.

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

It might have all been said before but not every body has heard it.

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

These discussions seem to provoke defensive reactions from a lot of people. Are these straw men people are responding to really common currency in your musical circles? I don’t think I’ve ever been told that reading music was utterly useless or that ‘real musicians’ can all read music, or anything of that sort.
When the topic has come up, it was mainly people agreeing that learning by ear is essential to understanding the style and sound of the music, but that reading music can be useful.
Usually it doesn’t come up at all directly. You just get a teacher doing a workshop by ear and then handing out abcs at the end of the class. Or someone looking up a tune online to remind themselves how it goes and then playing it from memory.
I dunno, I’m just confused about where this stuff is coming from. Are there musicians out there telling people they shouldn’t learn how to read music? Or that they shouldn’t use their ears? Who are they?

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

There are discussions of this going back 16 years. People who have received a music training cannot understand others not wanting to read music. People who have not learnt to read music and have always picked up tunes by ear think the trained ones are suggesting they do boring work in order to ruin what they can already do better as fun. As someone who taught myself to read music I see both sides and I see that the gulf between the two groups really is very wide. I too find playing from music something more like work. It’s useful - but it’s not the best way to learn traditional music.

I do use it, for instance, when I’m "playing in" a new or neglected wooden recorder. This requires me to play the instrument every day continuously for increasing lengths of time to build up the moisture content in the block. On days when I’m not in the mood I find a book of music and play mechanically from the dots for the necessary 40 minutes or whatever. Even then I play what I know, not what I see, mentally noting that the music is wrong.

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

Learning by notation is a great method.

Playing at a session with sheet music is for learner sessions, lazy folks or for people with learning impairments.

I suppose it’s not the using of music that makes me cross - but pretending that learning by ear is not easily achievable with a little work. Really it’s holding people back that gets my knickers twisted.

Holding people back from learning and developing makes me cross I suppose!

Well maybe not cross - just feel a bit let down….

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

I don’t "get cross". I just have no respect for people who won’t put in the time and effort to learn the tunes as others have. Singers who won’t take the time to learn the words are worse.
I don’t see the point in this discussion at all. It’s all been said before - many, many times, and there is nothing new to be added.

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Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

I come to ITM from Indian Classical music where the whole concept of written notation is very foreign. It is done, for sure, but primarily as an aid to learning and a reference but never really used in any serious playing context. So I inherently came pre-configured with the inherent biases - How the hell can someone play music while looking at a sheet of paper ? It is a dis-service to the music to not have all the neurons in the brain firing to the service of music (as opposed to some needlessly employed by the eyes and hands to co-ordinate the
flipping of the sheet) etc. etc.

I was in for one of the greatest shocks of my musical life when I sat informally with an accomplished fiddler and he played some reels/jigs/slip-jigs as I attempted to accompany him on the Tabla. He had also introduced me to Oliver Schroer’s music and there was a particular reel that I really liked and asked him to play that. He said he did not really know that one but he could look it up in a book where all pieces from that particular album had been transcribed. He opens the book up and starts playing and my jaw drops ! How can a person get this close to the actual feel of a piece without ever listening to it in the first place ? Since that experience, I have looked at transcriptions in a completely new light. Of-course, after he played that, he commented : I like it; this goes well; I should learn it (implying, memorize it).

Does this say anything that has not been said before ? Probably not; but one just does not walk away at the sight of a dead horse 🙂

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

A little harsh there Kenny, don’t ya think? One could as easily and justifiably say that they have no respect for those who lay claim to a love of music while not taking the time to learn to learn about the language compounded by a steadfast defense of their illiteracy. My point is that all of us and all of our ideas should be respected regardless of our differences. I can, and often do, say that if you can’t play a tune from a score (note: most of the scores I see in books and on this site are a kind of a shorthand for what gets played) within an Irish idiom, you don’t know as much about Irish music as you think you do. Turn that around and you can say that if you can’t write down what you just played, even in the bare-bones form we’re used to seeing here, you’re not the musician you think you are ( a great player maybe, but that doesn’t make one a great musician). Respect doesn’t mean agreement. Respect allows for the recognition of other ideas as valid. To disrespect an person or idea leaves one wide open to being disrespected. It’s always a two way street.

Full disclosure: I cannot play from a score at any tempo that sounds like music. I can learn from a score so that the tune is "in my head" and play it from that. How different is that from "learning by ear"? I have learned a great deal about music by learning to read it and what I have learned has served me very well over the years.

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

Kenny, I trust you read Susan K’s original post. It appears you may be replying to this discussion’s title alone.
I hope I am wrong.

Ben

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Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

It’s the end result that counts. If the music reader understands that the dots are just the skeleton of the tune and that ornamentation is what brings them alive, I see no problem.

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

I don’t think people tend to get cross with people who learn from sheet music - they tend to get cross from the nonstop bickering about it on these forums. 😉 Or they get cross with people who rely on it in a session environment and end up dragging down the whole session. For my part in the equation, as I am one of the big ear proponents on the forum here, I don’t care how you learn a tune as long as you play it well.

But a lot of the urging of people to learn by ear is directed at people who are new to this music and are already familiar with another style of music (usually classical) and reading music. That combination tends to lead to not understanding the rhythms and nuances of articulation and ornamentation that are required to play this music well. So the fact that I urge people to work on learning by ear is really intended to help them in the long run (the way that other awesome people helped me when I was starting). Once you have learned to play the style well, then by all means use the tools at your disposal for learning tunes, but it’s not necessarily a great place to start when you’re new to the music, even though it seems like an easier path in. The path of least resistance isn’t always the right path.

One of my favorite examples of how the music doesn’t sound right when played by classical musicians using sheet music is this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nv0a7TPsWLM

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

It sounds very - orchestral. I would say it sounds right for symphonic musicians playing "a selection of Irish Melodies"; it’s kind of what their usual audience would expect and be happy with. But not for the likes of us!

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

Must be a slow Monday. Okay, for my take on this, I think it’s enough to recognize that there are several distinct categories for how people play this music, and it shakes out something like this (I’m ignoring band rehearsals, band performance, and workshops):

1) The public Irish session. What this site is primarily concerned with, and traditionally a gathering of people playing music by ear. If someone is using sheet music, the rest of the group won’t wait on them to locate a tune. In other words, it’s primarily memorized tunes played by ear.

2) The alternative "Irish session with sheet music". Far less numerous across the globe, I would assume, but I know it exists. It should be recognized as a separate category where people enjoy playing this way, with everyone reading off sheet music on stands. I know one group like this locally, led by a fiddle teacher. They perform in public this way, once in a while.

3) The private Irish house or "kitchen session". These can be more relaxed with regard to sheet music as an occasional reference, but still usually playing by ear. I just hosted a couple of these events in the past weeks, with friends coming over for tunes. Around 95% of it was playing by ear. For a couple of tunes, we hauled out sheet music as a reminder, and in one case everyone read off the music as an introduction to an unknown tune.

This can’t be easily done in a public session because it breaks the flow. Also, this was a group of relatively skilled amateur musicians who normally play by ear in a public session. It wasn’t beginners using sheet music as a crutch because they can’t yet play memorized tunes by ear. Big difference.

4) The last category is private solo practice at home. Nobody cares how you learn tunes at home. Doesn’t matter if it’s by ear or off sheet music, as long as you have the tune memorized and can play it reasonably well at a public session (category 1).

Does that cover it? There are probably sub-categories, but it seems to me that the world of Irish music played by amateurs can be roughly categorized like this. It’s the venue and the intent that determines how all these groups feel about sheet music, not whether it’s good or bad on an absolute basis.

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

I know a number of sessionistas who don’t seem to listen much to Irish music, but pick up their tunes from notation. I’ve had one of these people tell me I was playing An Rogaire Dubh “wrong” because it wasn’t exactly how it is on her printout from thesession.org. Another gent is given to protesting “but that’s not how it is in The Fiddler’s Fakebook!” I guess I get a little cross with these people but try not to show it.

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

Yes, pretty well covers it, Conical bore. Good summary.
To go back to the OP, I HAVE come across people who are adamant that the ONLY way to learn tunes is by ear and DO get cross if anyone suggests otherwise, and imply that you cannot be a real musician if you don’t do this ALL the time.
On the other hand, I do have friends who always use sheet music and claim not to be able to learn by ear: not laziness, just can’t. I wouldn’t say that their playing is deficient necessarily.
So back to, learn it whatever way suits you best, but do learn to make that string of dots musical!

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

The accomplished players posting here learn primarily by ear, with occasional reference to the dots. If we were all gathered together to play some tunes, the people who learn primarily by ear — by listening — would be way more accomplished than those who learn primarily from the dots. If I’m wrong, please show me otherwise.
It isn’t a question of morality, though there is a right and wrong if you want to get somewhere in the diddly. I agree with Kenny, who says " I just have no respect for people who won’t put in the time and effort to learn the tunes as others have." Kenny is an accomplished player. More than most people here.
Saying "learn it whatever way suits you best" ignores centuries of a tradition based on learning by ear. Unlike Trish Santer, I would say that the playing of people who cannot learn and play by ear *is* necessarily deficient. I never play with them and they would only be welcome to listen, but not to play, at any of our sessions. In fact, they would be unable to play at any of our sessions.

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

This is related to Conical bore’s post as maybe a #5, but is not directly related to the OP.

I’m using a kind of hybrid method right now. I bought Carmel Gunning’s "Sligo Maid" book with her own compositions, and it includes a CD, and I’m deliberately learning the tunes *only* from the standard notation in the book.

Once I’ve got them fluent, I will then listen to the tunes on the CD, and see what the difference is, and make any adjustments after that.

They really are tunes voiced for the whistle (not fiddle) so it will be interesting to see what the differences are, after comparing the two versions.

About reading music at a session - my only gripe with that is having my view of the "circle" obstructed by the music stand. On one of these sessions, the girl had stacks of tunes on single A4 sheets, on a flimsy skeletal stand. The sheets were forever falling off, and she did no end of faffing about trying to find the right tune page.

I was going to suggest to her that she get a decent Manhasset stand, but I didn’t, as I soon realised that would just take up more space and block my line of sight even more.

btw she said she just couldn’t learn by ear, no matter how much she tried, so that’s fair enough.

She sounded fine, though.

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

Thanks Jim: think you’ve just confirmed one of the things I said.
And David Levine: Ok, people playing from sheet music would not be allowed in your sessions; your decision. But I really seriously challenge the concept that people who have learned from the dots and memorised the tunes, and have also listened to really good players to pick up the style of playing these tunes, can not possibly, never ever be as "accomplished players" as those who have never used sheet music. Sounds like you are one of the "cross about reading music" people!

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

Manuscript books are a wonderful resource for traditional tunes, as they have been consistently for a couple of hundred of years at least. Where on Earth would we be without O’Farrell, Goodman, O’Neill or Breatnach? As long as you have the style to play them.

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

"Reading off sheet music in sessions is a different thing, one that doesn’t work in sessions I personally want to play in. " - THIS - this is the exact point, perfectly articulated by the good Dr Spear.

Do you wish to someday be a competent session player who can freely flow from one tune into another? Then eventually your tunes will need to be in your head and not on paper. That’s it. nothing more to add.

To answer the OPs initial question - and I’m paraphrasing Thomas Jefferson here - but it vexes me not whether a person learns a tune from sheet music or from a recording. It neither breaks my leg, nor picks my pocket.

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

I’ll have to admit that as I grow older, I don’t listen as fast as I used to. So… it’s dots until memorized, practice by ear and then go the sessions - only to find out that the dots I’ve learned don’t match the version played at the session!

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

David, I stand by what I said. Learning how to play only by ear or only by music is like having one hand tied behind your back. They are both essential skills to be a well rounded musician. Clearly, as you point out some fabulous musicians exist who only do one and not the other but that has no bearing on whether or not they would be better for having acquired the skill they are missing. If I were an accomplished player who never learned how to read music, I might give the advise to not bother because you can get everything you need by listening. May be true but misleading because how would they know about the value of reading, not knowing how to read music themselves? To the notion that a certain intangible untranscribable essence cannot be imparted in any way except by ear I can only respectfully say that is utter nonsense. If that were true no tunes would ever be recovered in any meaningful way once they stopped being played. I doubt you would suggest that the Tunes of the Munster Pipers are now deficient because they once passed out of the oral tradition. They got picked up by experienced musicians who knew how to breath life back into them and they are just as good as they ever were. I think you might have a point if there was some mass of people that ONLY learned by playing from sheet music but I’ve never met one. The musicians I know who do this, primarily love and are excited by the music. Not only in it’s playing but in listening to it, interpreting it and understanding it. maybe there are these people out there in which case, they should get the message to start listening but I don’t know any of those people.

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

"They are both essential skills to be a well rounded musician" - But not to be a player of ITM at the highest level.

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

It’s not "essential" at any level in traditional music.

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Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

It is best to be able to do both in my opinion.

To be a well rounded musician it’s important to have a well trained ear as well as knowing the fundamentals of notation and theory.

Anyone getting defensive is probably just closed off to an area of music that they probably need to work on.

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

Scott Maurer, I think it would be fair to say that the majority, probably the vast majority, of accomplished traditional musicians these days can read music but I’d be astonished if a single one of them would claim reading music is an essential skill for traditional musicians. I can understand why folk coming from a classical background may think that but they’re wrong.

Looking at the video posted further above of classical musicians playing trad tunes clearly demonstrates the polarity between trad and classical. These are likely highly trained players who look like they’re enjoying themselves and likely believe they’re doing ok. The result is sadly beyond dire and shows that common musical conventions don’t apply to trad.

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

I reckon those that claim to be unable to memorise a tune will know the melody to jingle bells and maybe a hundred melodies more - purely from recall. All this without a single piece of intentional effort…

I remember one “I can’t memorise music” player (of impressive skill) play atholl highlanders without music at a session. They acted shocked as if they’d been possessed and as if it was incomprehensible what they had just done. It wasn’t incomprehensible - they had just done what our brain does without trying: memorising tunes and movements that are done repeatedly.

They had been unleashed from their psychosomatic self-limiting.

It was beautiful.

They subsequently returned to claiming they were incapable - and felt uncomfortable that their learners were playing in an environment where memorising tunes was not mystified as super-human.

The effort to allow muscle memory and tune memory a chance may seem like a lot - but it’s not that much effort - if you’re dedicated then you’ll have it in you - whether you like it or not.

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

"Anyone getting defensive is probably just closed off to an area of music that they probably need to work on."

Au contraire - I believe fervently in the pre-eminence of the ear - but my own ear is quite weak, and undoubtedly could benefit from some serious work, whereas my sight-reading is merely a little rusty. Don’t you think your speculation is rather presumptuous? I do, to put it mildly.

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

Knowing a tune so that you can sing it is not necessarily equal to being able to play it by ear. There are people who need sheet music for Jingle Bells and Happy Birthday, even though they could sing you the tunes.

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

Y’know I saw that video, I’ve seen it before. To me it was an artful arrangement, flawlessly played, of a melody that we have assigned to the "traditional" pigeonhole. I thought it was lovely. I found nothing to criticize. The tune, the arrangement, and the execution were everything they needed to be. The only thing "wrong" with it was that it didn’t fall into our fairly narrow definition. Maybe we need to get out more and expand our horizons.

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

Little_Deer: "To be a well rounded musician it’s important to have a well trained ear as well as knowing the fundamentals of notation and theory."

That phrase "well rounded" describes the training you get in Western music schools. Sure, if you want to play a wide variety of music styles, that’s important.

However, the very phrase "traditional Irish music" refutes the idea of being well-rounded as a musician. The idea is not to be well-rounded or a Jack of All Trades, but to be a student of a very narrow historical tradition that has never *required* the ability to read sheet music. As the many examples of contemporary players who don’t read will illustrate. It has always been an optional learning tool, and not everyone needs that option to excel in playing this music.

I hosted a house concert recently with a group of very fine trad musicians, one of which said he couldn’t read. It surprised me a little, because he was somewhere in his 30’s and I just assume the younger generation tends more to academic schooling. But I’ll tell ‘ya one thing; it sure didn’t hurt his playing! I learn new tunes about 50/50 by ear or sheet music, and I wish I could play that well.

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

Ok, to clarify, I have yet to meet an accomplished player (of this music) who can’t learn tunes by ear. Or if I have they haven’t mentioned it. I’m not saying such people don’t exist. Maybe they do. But I haven’t met them or heard them say that they can only learn by reading music.
Having said that, there are very few accomplished players out there, especially now, who can’t either read dots or at least read abcs.
It’s a fantastic skill to have. A useful one. Sooner or later we all encounter tunes we haven’t heard, or can’t find good recordings of.
Scott Maurer mentioned resurrecting the tunes of the Munster pipers. I don’t think that could have been done by people who didn’t have a fair degree of ear learning. Again, maybe I’m wrong and there are fantastic music readers out there who grock the style and the sound of the music without any significant aural skills, but I haven’t met them.
But, again, even the people who don’t have good reading skills generally agree that it’s a useful thing to learn. (In my experience anyway.) I’ve never heard anyone say it was pointless or counterproductive to learn how to read music.

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

With regard to that LSO video above, to me it sounded like a Midi file. They played with flat and evened-out phrasing, similar to how Bluegrass players will flatten out Irish melodies like Fisher’s Hornpipe. No attempt at idiomatic ornamentation, just the fiddler… ‘scuse me, violinist… using Classical vibrato whenever she could squeeze it in. It wasn’t terrible, but it missed all the subtleties of what good trad sounds like.

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

outwesht: "Scott Maurer mentioned resurrecting the tunes of the Munster pipers. I don’t think that could have been done by people who didn’t have a fair degree of ear learning."

Yep, and let’s not forget that Chief O’Neill couldn’t read music. He collected tunes anyway, selected the ones he thought were best, and had an associate do the transcription.

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

When I was a child with a pushy mammy, I was started on the silver flute. I had a natural embouchure and so was highly praised and put up for an advanced children’s orchestra. I think I was ten years old, and very much a goof off. I was given some music as an audition piece. I never looked at it until the day. When I did, I couldn’t make heads or tails of it. I was horrified. It was something written in 6/8 time. Something in my young life I had never encountered before. I made several miserable attempts, and ended in confusion. I think they thought it was nerves, so someone played the first few bars on the piano to give me a start…it was Schubert’s Cradle Song.
I was sung to sleep often to that tune! Rattled as I was, I stumbled through a verse and chorus. ..and was told to try again next year!

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

Much as I have views on this tired subject, I’m afraid I can’t bring myself to add my two-pennyworth to the thread as it probably wouldn’t move the discussion forward. Except to say let’s not discriminate against those who, by reason of age or serious bewilderment, find that their memory is not as good as it was - if only they could recall how good that was.

However, ever fascinated by the creative use of language, I’d like to ask about one or two interesting turns of phrase used above which I hadn’t come across before:

‘music readers … who grock the style’.
‘I was … . very much a goof off’

The verb ‘to grock’ - etymology? And is being a ‘goof off’ a good or a bad thing?

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Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

Trish - repeated muscle movements are remembered quite as readily as repeatedly listened to music (who knows - maybe more).

This is why it’s so easy to learn to play simple tunes by ear - barring learning disabilities etc.

It will no doubt take a different part of the brain (reading out loud and speaking do) - so it will take a slightly (tiny) different change to allow muscle memory etc. It will take effort.

Barring brain problems with muscle memory, your friends will have meomoriesed movements they’ve done over and over and over again.

I suppose it’s more a fear of changing habits, after what may have been hard won progress. And telling yourself for years you can’t do something very normal will no doubt inhibit this learning further - but it’s highly unlikely that your friend(s) lack muscle memory in the fingers.

There is an effort in memorising simple melodies - and it is a skill you practice.

But I doubt there are people with the muscle memory and dexterity to play an instrument competently; yet don’t have the same capacity to play a tune they’ve repeated literally hundreds of times… I suspect psychosomatic self-limiting most times (from what I’ve seen).

It’s most likely your friends have it in them - and that habituated use of sheet music is holding them back from the ease of playing memorised tunes - something the brain does with relative ease.

I’ve seen too many classical players crossing over who claimed dependency (after years of dependency) - but with encouragement and a good bit of effort they were able to lose the dependency.

I suppose this is why people could get wound up - claiming to be incapable (especially a group of people) is likely not true and self-limiting. So if the group continues - they entrench both the dishonesty and the self-limiting.

The lack of the natural ability to memorise tunes is seen as a lacking by all I’m sure (even your friends). We know they’d love to be able to lose dependency on sheet music if it didn’t take much effort.

Nobody is duty bound to play to a certain standard - barring contracted musicians!

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

"There are people who need sheet music for Jingle Bells and Happy Birthday, even though they could sing you the tunes."

Are they musicians?

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

Trish….. "Knowing a tune so that you can sing it is not necessarily equal to being able to play it by ear."

Tunes…."Trish - repeated muscle movements are remembered quite as readily as repeatedly listened to music "

Generally, most people would find it easier to "sing by ear" than from "the dots". I certainly do although professional and trained singers will obviously use sheet music too.

Of course, "singing" is a much more natural thing to do as you are using your voice all the time and from a very early age for a variety of purposes. However, you still have had to "learn" how it use it even if sub consciously.

The same applies to learning to play a musical instrument "by ear". You have to get to know your instrument, i.e. where all the notes, sounds, pitches are. If you are learning from the dots, you will have been shown or read from a tutor book where each note is on the instrument and be able to play the tune from a written score once you have obtained the necessary skills.

If you learn to play ear, you don’t really need to concern yourself at all with what the notes/keys are called as long as you can locate where the sound you are hearing can be found on the instrument.
Of course, even most ardent "ear players will soon learn the basics and will likely know the names of notes and keys even if they may not instantly be able to tell you what key a tune is in during a fast moving session and so on.
Once you know where the notes of a simple tune or scale are on your instrument, it’s just a case of practising muscle movement as Choons says. You can do this consciously but a lot of this comes through time and repeated playing too. So, even those players who seemingly rely on sheet music have probably already developed their "ear" and necessarily muscle movement without realising it.

When I first started playing guitar and in the early days of mandolin playing, I couldn’t read any music at all. So aside from knowing a few chords etc, it was just a case of "feeling my way" around the instrument.

Nowadays, I approach things in a different way and do think about musical theory and I know the names of the actual notes, where they are etc. I can also read sheet music and so on. However, there’s still the element of "exploring" the instrument and there’s still nothing like "finding the tune" without having to resort to checking the dots.

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

I see the ranters and ravers are at it again ….the mutual admiration society telling themselves how authentic they are and anyone who has an alternate outlook WILL NOT BE WELCOME AT OUR SESSION…..with that type of arrogance you would be better of with solo musical pursuits….Irish Music like the Irish People have gone through globalisation over the last few centuries which no doubt has brought about a lot of change in so called traditional irish music….not a lot of sound recordings around 150 years ago to hone your skills,not a lot of digital tech around 150 years ago for instantaneous access to the world,not every one had access to a West Coast Irish Fisherman to help with all the musical aesthetic…..here’s the thing ,over the last 150years we have had the sheet music to help us in our pursuit of the Irish Music Tradition

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

"over the last 150years we have had the sheet music to help us in our pursuit of the Irish Music Tradition"

Except that most traditional Irish players didn’t. They didn’t live in large cities where there were music stores and often didn’t travel far from their own small towns and villages.

However, they did have exposure to the music and learned "by ear" from fellow players and honed their craft by listening to older, more experienced musicians.
Yes, it wasn’t a global affair, there were no CDs, Internet and so on. A small number of musicians would have been able to read sheet music but, on the whole, it was learned and transmitted "aurally".

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

> Except that most traditional Irish players didn’t. They didn’t live in large cities where there were music stores and often didn’t travel far from their own small towns and villages.

I think to a large extent this is an origin myth we like to tell ourselves. Yes, there have always been illiterate musicians, but I don’t think it has ever been the case that the majority of tradition bearers were illiterate and considered that to be a good thing.

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Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

I think I could wish my memory was what it used to be what I’d like to think it was……and please be patient with me as it sometimes takes me a while to get the notes in the right order. I often saw a tune written down but can’t always remember how it went when it was played or get the fingers to co-operate. And then of course there are those pesky ‘regional’ and ‘personal’ variations which take a little getting used to. Whether I need it or not I find sheet music a pain in the a**e although it’s often a joy to find a tune I had completely forgotten.

I wouldn’t dream of taking sheet music to the session at The Spotted Dog in Birmingham as an example but I might if I was with my mates locally or in a ‘kitchen’.

Time and place for everything.

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

" I don’t think it has ever been the case that the majority of tradition bearers were illiterate and considered that to be a good thing."

"Illiterate" is maybe too strong a term as I’m sure most players will pick up some rudiments of musical theory as time goes by even if they do play and learn by ear.

However, I’m inclined to agree that, in those days, they wouldn’t necessarily have considered it to be a "good thing". It was just how things were.

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

Not every person who enjoys playing irish music is irish ,or Roman Catholic ,Male,White or Conservative ,….lot of stereotypes there ,….a massive diaspora happened in Ireland during the 19th century with that everything changed….the whole tradition

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

Haahh…
Scottirish - at it again!
You poor bugger!
Here’s the thing…
You’re on your box about people not wanting sheets at ‘sessions’.
Now, they are talking about ITM sessions. That’s *Irish Traditional Music* sessions.
Got that word - TRADITIONAL!
So, as long as history can indicate, the TRADITION at sessions, is - NO SHEET MUSIC!!
What can your polarised mind not absorb here?
No need to get prickly about it. That’s the way it is - universally! Globally - if you want! And it ain’t gunna change.

As for using sheet music to learn - well, that’s how I do it. Nothing wrong with that.
In fact, in the face of those who suggest that we all should learn by ear, it is a load of *kerapp*.
What an absurd waste of life for all of those people that have taken the time to transcribe the music. Why bother if everyone is supposed to learn by ear? Can’t see the point meself. (not referring to you ‘meself’ 🙂 )
And as for listening to audio, all I have is YouTube, and when I listen to the *traditional* players there, they play so bloody fast on their whistles and fiddles etc., I can’t make head nor tail of it! So - dots it is, for me!

Then we have the smart people who suggest that if one learns from dots, then get to a session and the tune is played different (different setting) and therefore have learnt incorrectly - more kerrap.
I’ve spent some time last night looking for info on the tune ‘Munster Cloak’. There is in excess of *forty* videos on YouTube for that tune, and not two are the same settings. Forty plus variations, (check it out), and that’s understandable, because it’s not an orchestration piece, so individuality steps up - and so it should!

So, learn your tunes at home, then let the synapses and neural pathways do their job at the session. Simple!

john knoss has it - "Time and place for everything."

I love this site. 🙂

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

I’m running out of popcorn. What am I going to do?

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Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

For a subject that’s all been said before (I agree) it turned into another giant thread.
One more point for my own purpose. I claim that music is music. A classical musician ‘just reading notes’ sounds just as crappy as the trad player that does the same. I think the only real differences are 1. Classical tradition is relatively more highly tutored. The teacher instructs the style and interpretation. 2. Classical music contains a lot more information on interpretation.
All music has to be learned by ear at some point. Notes on paper can only go so far. When you listen to a master classical musicians there’s so much detail with color and accent and phrase stretching volume rises and falls, pitch coloring etc. There’s something moving in every moment in some way that create beautiful lines that provide energy to the music.

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

But this site is about traditional music JWiseman, and, despite all their perceived advantages, classically trained musicians without a good grounding in traditional music are really terrible at it.

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

Scottsirish, do you play from sheet music in your session? Thanks in advance for your reply.

Ben

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Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

Peter — I disagree with this: "… in the face of those who suggest that we all should learn by ear, it is a load of *kerapp*. What an absurd waste of life for all of those people that have taken the time to transcribe the music. Why bother if everyone is supposed to learn by ear?"
We should all learn PRIMARILY by ear. I "bother" to transcribe for my own sake, to remember the twiddly little bits, and to focus attention on bits that require that focus. It’s nice to have a reminder for some parts of the tune. I also transcribe as a LEARNING AID for those who might want to learn a seldom played but wonderful tune (e.g., Charlie Lennon’s "Planxty Conneely"). But I doubt that anybody could learn the tune and play it with the nyah after only reading the sheet music. If I haven’t played the tune in a long while, if I can refer to the dots it makes re-learning much easier.
Can you imagine a delta based, or a Chicago, blues player, learning the music from the dots? I cannot. Ditto ITM.

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

Ben, I don’t know if I would let myself get sucked in by Scottsirish, (s)he’s been on the forum for about a week, and has really only chimed in on the big ear vs dots resurgence threads (other than one comment about whistles). So either (s)he hasn’t got a feel for the forum yet, or more likely (s)he is another member with a new login used specifically for stirring the pot… His/Her very first post on the forums started with "I see the mutual admiration society is at it again in this discussion…" So either a long time lurker, or more likely - the pot stirrer…

"I know… let’s get people who all love this music riled up and arguing like the old days… what fun!"

When all is said and done, we’re all here because we love this music, and in the vast majority of cases we would all get along in sessions. But the semi-anonymous nature of this forum tends to bring out some trolling, which is one of the reasons that a bunch of really great musicians don’t bother to post or read anymore… It’s a shame.

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

Nessuna critica a nessuno. La partitura scritta ha in sé elementi architettonici melodici e armonici che, per chi la sa leggere, offre spunti interpretativi molto interessanti, altrimenti, forse, non di immediata recezione.
Un pò come leggere il testo di una poesia e cogliere lo schema metrico come espressione visiva ancor prima che uditiva.
Del resto, chi non sa leggere la musica ha affinato l’orecchio riuscendo a cogliere spunti poetici immediati in anticipo sui "lettori".
Un pò come il cieco che "legge" la realtà attraverso percezioni superfini che sfuggono, nell’immediato, ai vedenti.
In entrambi i casi, e non è assolutamente il caso di tirare in ballo la favola della "volpe e l’uva": per vie differenti coloro che suonano, sia ad orecchio che leggendo le partiture, devono arrivare ad assaporare il brano e ad eseguirlo in totale libertà e genuinità espressiva.
Nessuno è da demonizzare!

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

Sono totalmente d’accordo Pier! But you have to bear in mind the context of this discussion, on this site which is concerned with Irish traditional music. Few people have anything against written music or being able to learn tunes from written sources. I certainly don’t.

But many here (and I am one of them) believe that a) one cannot learn to play Irish music properly purely from reading, just as one cannot learn to speak Italian properly just by reading, and in fact in the early stages a reliance on reading is a significant hindrance; and b) reading from written sources at a session of traditional music is - at best - bad manners. This is the background that the person who started this discussion (and a few others) needs to understand. If you understand this background, the whole discussion is pointless. Auguri, Stefano.

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

"b) reading from written sources at a session of traditional music is - at best - bad manners."
Not necessarily Stiamh - some sessions certainly allow it, others seem to depend on it, and that’s OK by me. But I will say this - if you came to my regular session, or any session I’ve ever been to on the island of Ireland, from a purely practical point of view, it simply won’t work, because we are not going to hold up the proceedings waiting for someone to sort through "x" number of sheets of paper until they find the right tune. And what will the "readers" do if we don’t actually know the names of the tunes ?

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Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

Fair enough Kenny. Thinking about it, though, any gathering that encouraged or depended on reading wouldn’t fit my definition of a session.

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

Pier - scusi, non parliamo italiano - in inglese, per favore? Grazie!

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

Just a different kind of session Stiamh, "consenting adults" and all that, but like yourself I suspect, I most probably wouldn’t be joining in - I have done in the past, Adelaide Irish Club comes to mind, when I’ve been a visitor - depends on the circumstances. Never say never.
PS - and when I think about it, I think this deserves a response from the "sheet music fans" :
" And what will the "readers" do if we don’t actually know the names of the tunes ?"

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Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

They’ll use TunePal, I fear.

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

More likely they’ll keep interrupting until they’ve imposed another tune on the session - one that they can find among their papers or on their phone.

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

Kudos Susan K! The one topic that’s sure to bring out the sharpened knives and pitchforks.

I fear that there is not enough popcorn in the house for this entire thread!

Seriously though, I hope you’ll read through all the replies on this one; it’s a topic that’s been done before, but its your question and your time to put that to the audience, so do consider some of the views and ideas that have been put forth for you; I think there’s a good mix of for and against your point (even if many of the comments are of an oft-repeated-soapbox nature that aren’t really answering your questions).

This is a tough topic with no right answer. I take David Levine’s point that many traditional musicians did not require or use written music to learn tunes, but that was often a product of poverty and convention. As a music of dance, it was often more important to learn to keep time than keep an exact version of the notes in your head. And as time has gone on, the aural tradition has continued. And arguably, some of the musicians he lauds were not great musicians at all, merely the last custodians of isolated and almost lost musical styles that were radically different by nature of their isolation.

To say it is now a purely aural tradition is, in my opinion, frankly nonsense. People have been writing down Irish music for over two centuries at this point; longer than many of the instruments that keep it alive today have existed in their current forms. The great Kerry fiddler Padraig O’Keefe often used to teach his students by writing tunes out in the 1940’s- famously writing one tune out on a piece of turf. You absolutely can use both skills, and this should be considered. TunePal and other apps are fantastic innovations (if not always accurate); the standard of music today is only enhanced by the technological advancements we have. Personally, I’m a bigger fan of recording a tune (if allowed) and teasing through it note by note later on by ear; it’s a facility that our forefathers never had, and you’ll generally find out what it is if you’re persistent enough.

You absolutely have to use both skills though if you’re using written music, and "both" is the key here. You could probably learn (and many people do) to play entirely by ear, but you cannot play Irish music properly unless you have listened to it. I’ll put this clip here as case in point - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fCfBcnQJ7Rs (and there are many more like it) - often extremely talented and experienced classical musicians and composers who absolutely murder Irish and Scottish traditional music, because they have no feel for how it should be played, because they have never listened to it played properly. You don’t have to learn all (or any) tune by ear, but you absolutely need to listen to how Irish music is played in general because you simply cannot pick it up by reading it. I hope that gives you a two cents on your first paragraph!


The sessions is a completely different issue.

What defines a session is different from session to session. Sessions are a relatively new innovation in the long tradition of Irish music, and they mean different things to different people.

For example, a lot of experienced musicians, a proper regular session has a standard unwritten set of rules, and these need to be complied with. They’re mostly to do with common sense etiquette, and mirror social norms. For example, you need to be good enough to play in them (don’t worry, you can be less experienced and technically worse than everyone else, but still good enough!) . You need to ask permission to sit in. You should ideally not join in immediately, but sit back and listen for a bit, to get a feel for how the tunes are played and what the mix of songs and tunes is. You shouldn’t bring along sheet music, for the session you are joining in on might be a very established session, and the versions of the tunes they play are unlikely to correlate exactly with any sheet music you might have. You should do all your learning outside of the session, and only join in on tunes when you’re comfortable with them. This might mean that the first time you attend a session, you play very little, no matter how good you are, but that’s OK, because you’ll be able to ease your way into a session in a way that doesn’t obnoxiously interfere with other players. For sporadic sessions at festivals, a lot of the above rules will apply as well. You should get used to deliberately putting your instrument away when the standard is either completely beyond you or beneath you. A lot of the most experienced musicians will actually often do this when a session they’re playing at ends up with semi-professional or professional musicians, as they see it as a chance to listen and learn to a higher standard of music. That’s the attitude you should ideally enter a session like this with; not to disrupt the status quo, and ideally play non-obtrusively when joining in initially, as you would with a group conversation. For these sessions (which a lot of the posters are referring to above), it would be simply impossible (for anyone) to rock up to a random session with sheet music and join in accurately and unobtrusively before the tune changes. And even if you’re not playing, and not looking at sheet music, you are learning, because you’re hearing how it should be played, in terms of the rhythm, the pace, the timing, the version of the tune they play, ect. ect.

There are many gatherings of musicians that fall under the remit of "session". I’ve seen "sessions" that operate entirely with sheet music, or entirely with set tunes that are often aimed at beginners or improvers. They might deliberately play tunes slowly for some or all of the session to encourage less confident musicians to play in public. They might be in remote non-traditional locations with wide variation in quality amongst the musicians, and have adopted to suit everyone. They sometimes aren’t great entertainment for people listening, and they certainly aren’t going to be accompaniments to dancing, but they do serve an educational and community purpose.

As with most things, it can depend on where you are and who you’re playing with. Some of these might be amenable to non-traditional ways of learning music within the "session". But I certainly wouldn’t turn up to random sessions in Dublin, Glasgow or London and expect to be able to whip out your sheet music. It just gives the wrong impression. Get the name of the tune after, write it down, and learn it at home. Record it for your own learning (and ideally ask permission).

TL;DR
- Learn however you can. The more ways the better. But you need to listen to Irish music to know how to play it properly, even if that’s not how you learn your tunes.
- Every session is different. But in general, you should assume you can’t bring sheet music out at sessions unless told otherwise.

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

Let’s tell the whole discussion how traditional we are,and how saturated we are by it ,what a load of bollocks…..you miss the whole point every time…..the tradition is evolutionary ,accept and move on

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

What do you know about Irish traditional music ?

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Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

I know you enjoy or you don’t no fascist ideals in that point of view

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

And Godwins law is invoked

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Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

Haha, I had to look it up Colin. Well played!

"…if an online discussion (regardless of topic or scope) goes on long enough, sooner or later someone will compare someone or something to Adolf Hitler or his deeds, the point at which effectively the discussion or thread often ends."

We can only hope

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

The use of terms like fascist or nazi are a pretty clear indicator that a person uses the tradition rather can contributes constructively to it.

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

@David Levine
David, my point is, that there is a plethora of books and sheets, some dating back more than 100 years, that are being published, retailed and used today. Surely if we are all to learn *primarily* by ear, then all of these publications would languish into obscurity, because nobody would *need* them; which is not the case.

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

Ma pier, tutto come nella musica, la poesia scritta viene doppo la poesia, in se, ditta, clamata, ascoltata. Di poeti incapaci di scrivere o leggere: Homer, Milton. Sibene le sue opere sono solo riconosciuti per is fatto che sono stati messi sula pagina, non cambia che siano grandi Poeti. I poeti gia sanno parlare. Possono ricordare e repetire quello che sentano.

People… get cross… (yes, people do.)

Susan K, thank you for the OP. How do you learn tunes now?

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Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

I’m not sure that _any_ music can really be played by reading the notes. Classical musicians must be taught for years with much of the teaching literally hands-on (with the hands of the teacher forming the hands of the student). My father learned all of Beethoven’s piano sonatas when he was a student (by memory) and on the pages of the notes which he learned from scarcely a note didn’t have something written on it by his teacher and this just to remind him of what he had been shown and heard from his teacher.

Once I stumbled on a master class taught by Luciano Pavarotti (who BTW could not read music). The level of subtlety was not so very different from, e.g., an ‘advanced’ OAIM lesson by Kevin Crawford on how to play The High Hills of Tara. In the case of both opera singing and playing Irish trad, years of listening, thinking, working things out (consciously or unconsciously) are required to be able to play at a high level. In both cases, the written notes, if they are used at all, are nothing more than a prod to get the musical brain in gear.

On the other hand, the case of jazz _may_ be different, but only for some. There are those like Chet Baker, who could not read music at all, but apparently some jazz musicians do read at a high level of fluency, although not when performing (e.g. Jim Hall). My own personal experience is limited to a high school friend who was like Chet Baker and couldn’t read music and to this day a half century later has never felt the need to do so. Likewise an uncle who in the 40s as a young man played in a ‘swing’ jazz group and then without much effort moved into the jazz of the 50s and 60s. He also never read a note of music in his life.

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Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

cac, reading is best when the reader does not comprehend the meaning of the symbols on the page, their composition, even the intention of the author *in* complete isloation from any interpretation by
the person reading. Reading is best when one does not need to read.

A non-reader *never* uses anything written. Though I’ve seen many try and fail.
A non-reader does not need to read.

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Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

Ben, I guess I agree with you. Re the second paragraph, the examples of Pavarotti, Baker and my high school chum and my uncle show that a non-reader (of music) doesn’t need to read. But I’m too dense to understand your first paragraph except as satire. BTW, although this thread is about reading music while playing it, mention can be made of reading music to study it or enjoy it as when one follows a Beethoven symphony with a score or reads the score and hears it or parts of it in one’s mind. But this is off-thread (although it is an interesting question how ‘rich’ this latter mental hearing is or can be). Chet

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Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

It’s not satire, Chet. But people interpret me (especially my posts) in unintended ways all the time.
It’s a good thing. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think so.

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Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

I can’t seem to find the list of professional musicians who have theoretical and performance skills in this discussion ….only a couple who couldn’t read music notation….come on it’s not that hard….Anyway ….the latest research on high order primates and chimps etc shows that if you give them musical instruments they will bang and squak away for hours…..but if you add sheet music they won’t be able to play a discernible tune….what do we all make of that….I’m sure well have an opinion

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

It’s okay to learn tunes using both, for sure. But here is the kicker, you actually can’t play trad well without learning by ear at all. As proven by that horrifying London symphony video. And if anyone doesn’t agree, do we know any really good musicians who learn only from dots? I’ve never come across one, but I could have just missed them. As for sessions, if someone has a session where music stands are invited, that is fine. But don’t be bringing it to normal sessions unless specifically asked. Would anyone actually really do that?

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Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

Hi Scottsirish,

Tell us something about yourself (Your profile is rather bare) and we may entertain your theories more seriously.

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

@Scottirish.

Yeah…. well…. hmm…
err…. unless you can convince me that high order primates and chimps etc. (you neglected the full stop there) can play ITM, I would suggest that your post is simply irrelevant rubbish. Again.


Now… Where’s the popcorn?


Ohh… Wait… No!! I don’t like popcorn! 🙂 🙂

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

"unless you can convince me that high order primates and chimps etc. (you neglected the full stop there) can play ITM…"

Have you been to Willie Week? 😉

Seriously, I know a good equine vet. This thing needs putting down.

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

Kenny " And what will the "readers" do if we don’t actually know the names of the tunes ?"

I smiled when I read that. Not sure what they would do, but maybe they would think this :

"Well, er… grrrr…hrmphhh .. well, if you don’t know the names of the tunes you shouldn’t be playing them!"

🙂

In other posts, which point out that otherwise skilled musicians playing Irish traditional music badly (because they have not listened to it properly), I think that problem would apply to any musical genre, not just Irish trad.

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

@kenny … Tunepal. 🙂

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

Not fast or accurate enough.

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Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

Let’s all learn tunes from sheet music,audio recordings or the internet then forget all of that and spruik about how TRADITIONAL we are ….hypocrites

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

What I take away from this —
Is reading music a necessary skill for a traditional musician? — No
Is learning by ear an necessary skill for a traditional musician? — Yes
Is reading music a skill sufficient to becoming an accomplished traditional musician? — No
Is learning by ear a skill sufficient to becoming an accomplished traditional musician? — Yes
Is reading music a skill that can be helpful in becoming an accomplished traditional musician ? — Yes

We can break these skills down into three categories: necessary, sufficient, and helpful. Or so it seems to me.

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

Or alternatively, we can just insult people who don’t agree with us.

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Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

Looks pretty good to me David.

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

For traditional music, the written notes are just a framework. Most experienced players will never play a tune exactly the same way twice. If you’re going to play with other musicians, whether or not you call it a session, you have to be adaptable, in order to respond to what the others are doing. You have to be prepared to meet a different version of a tune from the one you have learned, occasionally in a different key, to react to the other players, to pick up new tunes, to follow into a different tune from the one you expect. You can’t do this
if you depend on following sheet music.

Of course a classical music score is open to interpretation. However this tends to be done in a fairly formalised way, either by the conductor explaining his vision to the orchestra during rehearsal, or in smaller ensembles by discussion among the players themselves. However they choose to interpret a piece, the notes themselves remain unchanged. Traditional music is more dynamic, interpretation takes place during the performance, with differences in ornamentation and small (and not so small) variations to the tune.

It doesn’t matter how you learn a tune in the first place, and being able to read music is obviously of assistance with this, but unless you have the ear-playing skills to adapt once you’re playing with others you will struggle to keep up in a session.

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

Well, heydiddle 2 days ago You said it like I’d wish to hear it so good on you.

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

100 replies * shower of gold upon my head (feeling tired)

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

[Let’s all learn tunes from sheet music,audio recordings or the internet then forget all of that and spruik about how TRADITIONAL we are ….hypocrites]

Scottsirish - by what method you learn has absolutely no bearing whatsoever on playing Irish traditional music (or any genre of music, for that matter).

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

The number of replies a post gets is far less important that what has actually been learned and been achieved. If you think getting "100 replies" is an achievement, I’m very happy for you.

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Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

Whoa! This discussion even pulled bb out of the woodwork! Hi Beebs, long time no see!

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

’ … spruik about how TRADITIONAL we are.’

‘Spruik’, eh? Now there’s another term I’d not come across. I don’t think I’ve found anything in the discussion above that I will remember as especially applicable to my sessioning practices, but I’ve been introduced to some interesting turns of phrase. (See also my earlier note about ‘grock’ and ‘goof off’). If, after 100 contributions, people feel the ‘reading vs. memorising’ debate has now covered the main points, I’d be glad if anyone can offer an explanation of some of these expressions.

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Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

Hello, bb, good to see you here despite the umpteenth replay of endless pontifications.
No offense intended toward anyone posting on this thread, nor at Susan K.

"And if anyone doesn’t agree, do we know any really good musicians who learn only from dots?"
Categorically, No!, I do not. Though personally I would separate those ‘who learn only from dots’ into 2 groups.
1. musicians who are new to trad & who come to it through written music for learning tunes.
2. musicians who have played the tunes for a year or more.

In the first category I have never heard a musician who has been a good trad player. They simply are
not familiar with the idiom. In the second category most musicans will tend to listen to some trad players
but rarely become immersed in learning from listening, or they are limited to certain bands &/or non trad players
(if you know what I mean ~ stylized?).

However, I know musicians who were in the first category and have become good trad players. Though at that point they were not learning *only* from sheet music. They transitioned via listening, lots of careful listening & curiosity.

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Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

What about putting an iPod against your head and waiting the for tunes to travel from an area of high concentration (the iPod) to an area of low concentration (your brain)? Is that traditional? I’m sure it works.

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

Thank you, Reverend. I am obliged to you!

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Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

I dunno, Doc. Doing it with an iPod might be considered traditional, but not with an iPhone - way too new-fangled to be considered traditional! I have some Irish 78 RPM records. I’m thinking of holding one of those next to my head for a while and see if it works…

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

Are there any iPods out there still working? I guess that’s old enough to be trad tech. I have one on the table in our practice room. The battery is so shot, that I don’t dare take it off AC power or it will die the real death and go to device heaven, where it can hang out with all those old 8-track, cassette and minidisk players.

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

Hi Reverend and AB, glad to see you’re both still here! It’s been too long.

This is my third attempt at a reply, I think my phone hates me posting haha.

I actually don’t mind these discussions, I know they come up again a lot, but if it encourages people to at least try and learn to use their ears, it can only be a good thing.

So in conclusion,

Can you become a good player using sheet music only? No, probably not, I’ve never met anyone who has done that. Happy to be proven wrong though.

Can you do both? Sure, heaps of people do

Can you learn by ear only? Of course, but then apparently you are a *dabbler* and not a *real* musician lol

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Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

I have started taking an iPad to the local session. I could not possibly read fast enough to play a whole tune from written music. But it is handy for remembering the first couple of bars. Also, I can jot down notes on what is being played, and record tunes to get the rhythm quickly. And its far less obtrusive than a book.

With the fiddle, its pretty hard to avoid music theory to some extent. For example: the relative minor chord is built on the 6th degree of the scale. Moderate reading facility comes with the territory. If someone is going to get annoyed about it, they have tunnel vision.

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

"the relative minor chord is built on the 6th degree of the scale." By golly, you learn something every day! Here I’ve been playing fiddle almost forty years - how did I get by without that?

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

@meself if you need the said piece of terminology or not, boils down to: do you want a discussion using words or not. The discussion can go just by showing off some music, that’s purely viable. So, the words are not strictly necessary. But if you want discuss it using words, some literacy in the field might come handy. Otherwise, you have to invent your own.

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Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

You can play chords on a fiddle?? 🙂

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

Hmmm… The more these threads come up, the more I notice people confusing "playing by ear" with "playing from memory". If someone is playing from memory, you literally cannot tell whether they’ve learned it by ear or by dots, so it would be a big help to discussions to stop confusing memory with learning by ear.

If you’re reading, you haven’t memorised the music. But playing by ear refers to learning the notes by hearing them and playing them from memorised sound, and nobody can actually tell if you’re doing that, so it makes no sense to define pub sessions as places where people play by ear - you don’t know who’s playing by ear and who’s learned from dots.

I do both, and nobody can tell if I’m playing a tune I’ve picked up by ear from the session itself, or whether it’s one I learned off the page at home.

Annoyance with sheet music at sessions I understand, and as I say in an earlier post I’ve had someone get snobby with me because they mistakenly thought I was depending on sheet music when I was playing keyboard in church once (got egg on his face afterwards realising all that was on my page was a list of songs). But the insistence that "playing by ear is the only way real ITM musicians play" is either confusion of ear with memory or it’s a sad form of gatekeeping aiming to turn trad into an exclusive club.

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

A good point well made Heydiddle…..I love salted popcorn

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

"If someone is playing from memory, you literally cannot tell whether they’ve learned it by ear or by dots"

I would disagree with that but only because playing a tune exactly as it is written would likely feel rather "stilted"… e.g. the half notes of jigs would all be of equal length when there’s usually an emphasis on the first note. There are other examples too, of course, and most sheet music will only give the "bare bones" of a tune without ornamentation or indication of regional style and so on.

Of course, experienced players WILL learn a tune from the dots and play it in their "own style" but that’s a different matter. They will also be able to adapt while playing or performing with other musicians. So, they should still be using "ear skills" whether they know and admit it or not.

However, I agree that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with learning tunes "from the paper" and memorising them but unless a player adds his/ her input or stamp to the tune, albeit sub consciously, I suggest that it’s likely that you would be able to tell the difference.

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

"You can play chords on a fiddle?? 🙂"

They are called double-stops and arpeggios. But a knowledge of how chords are built is important to any musician, and definitely to the fiddler. I do understand that some people play tunes in a totally linear process, but as musicians, they are not going anywhere.

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

"but as musicians, they are not going anywhere" I go to sessions. Doesn’t that count?

Ye shall know them by their sound….

"a knowledge of how chords are built is important" — This is nonsense.
What do you mean by "knowledge?" Lots of fiddlers play chords because they sound right, not because they know anything about music theory.
This is probably the umpteenth turn around the park in this thread. Has anybody changed his/her opinion because of this discussion?
Does it matter?

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

"a knowledge of how chords are built is important to any musician, and definitely to the fiddler."

Very helpful, yes, but not essential.

Many great musicians will not necessary know what chords they are playing, the more basic ones excepted, but they will know their way around the instrument very well and will also be very imaginative. They know what "sounds good" but not necessarily what the exact nomenclature of the more obscure chords are.

Many tune and song books are transcribed from the playing of the composer’s on his or her behalf who may or may not have been fully aware of the exact notes, chords, even fingering which was used at the time. At least, not consciously.

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

"Lots of fiddlers play chords because they sound right, not because they know anything about music theory. "

Thanks, David. That’s a similar point to the one I’ve just made.

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

Regarding "knowledge of chords", I think Fidele Barnia meant something like this:

"For a very simple example of how much faster it is to pick up a tune by being able to recognise patterns (rather than separately identify each individual note) is the second part of The Atholl Highlanders"

(Thanks to Richard D Cook - https://thesession.org/discussions/42567#comment851910 )

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

Yes, but recognising patterns etc doesn’t necessarily require a knowledge of musical theory in an "orthodox" sense.

As David asks "What do you mean by "knowledge?"….

It’s quite possible to develop these skills without knowing that much about written musical theory. A good "ear player" will also be aware of such things even if he or she is unaware of the exact musical terms.

Again, I’m not "dissing" musical theory re chords etc, "learning from the dots", or whatever. It has helped me in many ways but I’m sure it’s not essential for everyone.

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

@jeff_linqvist. I am not convinced of a need to know the names of those patterns, or even to know that they have names, in order to recognize that they are patterns.
[crossed with Johnny J]

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

And the reason I crossed was that I was looking at the dots for The Atholl Highlanders 😀

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

Kenny : 21 hours ago. The 100 + replies are the achievement of folk who post them, but S cldn’t help being a bit intoxicated at the number of replies to her subject - which has been raised umpteen times before and will never cease to cause differences of opinion.

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

Knowing the chords and knowing what sounds right - are these two things different just because one musician doesn’t have a word to tag it with. Musicians that read chords and “know”, for example, only that CM equal c, e, and g do not know the chord unless that musician is able to hear the chord and play what sounds right. If you’re playing with a guitar player that knows what sounds right and plays an am on a tune where the chord sheet instructs to play CM.:.well, I’m sorry but the guitar player is almost certainly “right” and you should be the one that hears the chord and adjust to it. It’s not easy.
Talk to any master jazz musician about fake books. Generally they hate them. A good musician knows what sounds right and knows that what sounds right will vary depending on the musicians you are playing with. Great musicians have learned and memorized the song and are adept at using a vast knowledge of different harmonic schemes at their disposal they can use to go through the melodic content in a pleasing way. There are no real limitations other than the confines of taste, style and tradition which should be respected depending on the musicians you are playing with.

Re: People who get confused with those reading music and not playing by ear

Hey, Heydiddle!
Playing by ear is also listening to yourself, listening to the musicians you’re playing with and being
able to vary a tune so you don’t always play each part the same way each time it’s played.
Heydiddle, I don’t think most posters (if any) are confusing playing by ear vs. playing from memory.
Ben

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Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

> Playing by ear is also listening to yourself, listening to the musicians you’re playing with and being
able to vary a tune so you don’t always play each part the same way each time it’s played.

but you can do all of those things while playing from sheet music. with the possible exception of absolute beginners, playing from sheet music doesn’t mean you have to play precisely what’s written on the paper, no more and no less; a music reader of average ability, who’s familiar with the tradition, should be quite capable of sight reading many tunes with some basic but appropriate ornamentation and variation.

of course i’m not suggesting that people _should_ do this, or that everyone should start lugging a ring binder of sheet music around (aside from anything, as many others have pointed out, using sheet music at most sessions would be completely impractical), but if "playing by ear" simply means "not playing exactly the notes written on the paper" and "listening to your fellow musicians", then playing by ear and using sheet music are not mutually exclusive - in fact, this has little to do with sheet music at all, since there are more than a few musicians who can play everything from memory but can _only_ play what they’ve memorised, just as if they were playing the exact notes written on the music.

as far as using sheet music goes, even if you learn from music, don’t you find that once you’ve played the tune a few times you just… know the tune, and don’t need the music any more? i wonder how many people playing from sheet music don’t actually need the music at all, they’ve just never actually forced themselves to play without it - sort of like a musical security blanket…

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Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

I think we should get into a long, heated, involved off-topic debate about whether Atholl Highlanders ought to be played in an ITM session. 🙂

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

Opinions are like ‘Atholl’ Highlanders; aren’t they T & T?
;)

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Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

@Johnny Jay: very disappointed in your last post 2nd paragraph re how people who play from dots would play a certain tune. Anyone with any degree of musicality whether playing from dots or by ear would know which beats of the bar require emphasis, and have some ideas about ornamentation, even if not written into the dots.
How often do you see phrase marks written into trad dots scores? And yet, people who have been brought up on dots only are familiar with the whole concept of phrasing (which is not necessarily cast in tablets of stone) and will therefore find very listenable phrasing in unphrased scores, and NOT just play them as a series of equally emphasised dots as you have suggested they do: and if they have listened to trad players, they will be able to perceive their phrasing and translate that to their playing. Sorry, but I just don’t buy that.

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

Is this the offending paragraph, Trish?

"I would disagree with that but only because playing a tune **exactly as it is written** would likely feel rather "stilted"… e.g. the half notes of jigs would all be of equal length when there’s usually an emphasis on the first note…"

https://thesession.org/discussions/43442#comment867697

Trish, sorry to add this but my ears are not buying this comment (they’ve heard contrary evidence in sessions), "And yet, people who have been brought up **on dots only** are familiar with the whole concept of phrasing (which is not necessarily cast in tablets of stone) and will therefore find very listenable phrasing in unphrased scores, and NOT just play them as a series of equally emphasised dots as you have suggested they do:…"

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Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

Exactly! I know Johnny J in person, so we’ll no doubt thrash it out face to face somewhere, but still remain friends!

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

@Fidele Barnia - I fit that category, the playing trad fiddle for decades with no theory, I literally didn’t understand a word you said about it. You say that those without theory are going nowhere as musicians. But the questions is, where are we supposed to be going? I personally want to go to sessions, there is no problem in sessions with no music theory. I do gigs as well, but I don’t love it, I love sessions, and gigs are meh.

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Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

Of course someone with an understanding of a genre will be able to play from written music in the appropriate style - the two are not mutually exclusive. It only becomes stilted where the player is either not a proficient reader or is not proficient in the appropriate style.

The great violionist Yehudi Menuhin used to go on TV and play jazz duets with Stephane Grapelli. Despite Menuhin’s superb mastery of the instrument and his undoubted musicianship, his playing sounded stilted alongside Grapelli’s because he hadn’t spent a lifetime immersed in that style of music.

The point is not about the difference between playing from memory and playing by ear - whatever that means. Unless we are playing something entirely new to us, whether from dots or by ear, I’m sure memory plays a part. I "know" many tunes which I am only capable of playing in a session, once someone else starts them off, but which I can’t play in isolation.

The point is that playing in sessions requires a certain set of skills, and that being dependent on written music is a barrier to that. By all means learn tunes by whatever means suits you best, but you have to be able to put the score aside when you play in a session. Otherwise you will always be trailing while you try to find the correct page, you may find that the rest of the session is playing the "wrong" version, and you won’t be able to adapt to whatever the session may spontaneously throw at you.

A session should be about spontaneously creating good music. It should be more than just a group of individuals sat in a room playing the same tune at roughly the same time. It requires the players to listen to one another, to come up with ideas and respond to other players’ ideas. It doesn’t always come off, but when it does it can be magical. You can only do that if you are able to listen to what is being played and copy it, and if you can only play by reading what is in front of you that isn’t possible.

If that were to only affect the individual player then it would be only their own concern, and people wouldn’t get cross about it. They do get cross when readers try to hold up the session while they find their music, or where their lack of the necessary listening skills acts as a drag on the spontaneity and creativity of the session.

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

"is either not a proficient reader or is not proficient in the appropriate style." Or doesn’t listen to much music that style.

I am not very proficient, but I think I listen enough to know what I am aiming for.

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

@trish

I was a little confused as the offending comments appear to have been from my 4th last post.

Sorry, you may have misjudged the overall intention of my post.

I also said
"Of course, experienced players WILL learn a tune from the dots and play it in their "own style" but that’s a different matter. They will also be able to adapt while playing or performing with other musicians. So, they should still be using "ear skills" whether they know and admit it or not."

Trish said " if they have listened to trad players, they will be able to perceive their phrasing and translate that to their playing"

So I don’t think we are really that far apart. 🙂

Perhaps I was being a little extreme with the jig example but I stand by my suggestion that someone who is unfamiliar with the genre would be able to do justice to a traditional tune just by playing it from the dots alone. So "listening" to the music is very important whether or not you might consider that is using ear learning skills or not. Of course, it is quite appropriate to use knowledge of musical theory too but in the context of what is being played by the other musicians. You can, of course, create your own arrangement for performance, either solo or with a group of friends, but that’s another thing.

I learn many tunes with the help of sheet music. However, I always find it much easier to get "the right feel" if I’m listening to a recording or other players at the same time. Or if it’s one which I’ve heard a few times before.
It’s also very apparent that no two renditions are exactly the same even if the notes are fairly identical and I might even want to play it slightly differently myself. My own version will often evolve over time too.

Of course, there are many simple jigs, reels, etc which I can play and learn straight from the dots too and, these days, I can usually make them sound "traditionalish" or interpret them in my own style at least. However, if the tunes are more complicated, I prefer to hear them first in one way or another.

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

Nobody needs to get cross with anybody. Now I can sight read music so well I can literally play anything classical so trad music is "easy", yet it’s not. Your personality, feeling and whole life goes into Irish Trad. Reading music is good, but then you must quickly memorise and play it from the heart and hot beat!! There’s’a place for both

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

I never listen to any traditional musicians. Frankly, I don’t need to because I’m so good at sight reading. I have a tiny notebook with all of the tunes in it, and I manage to conceal it under the table, and boy, nobody can tell that I have never memorised a single tune! Irish music is so easy…

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

Stolen from my singing friends: "make that song your own". Could equally well apply to tunes. Do you really want to hear/play a totally slavish copy of how Joe Bloggs plays it? Learned by ear down to the last appoggiatura? No, make it your own. (Well, except in your local session, where you must play it as everyone else plays it or risk expulsion!)
And a big ha-ha to Nigel!

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

"totally slavish copy of how Joe Bloggs plays it" I think of it as working on how I would play the tune on my instrument, within my capabilities, if I was at a session led by Joe Bloggs.

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

Trish, are you giving mixed messages…""make that song your own". Could equally well apply to tunes." ~ "except in your local session,…"?

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‘Do you really want to hear/play a totally slavish copy of how Joe Bloggs plays it?’

Maybe not Joe Bloggs. But Tommy Peoples? Matt Molloy? Michael O’Raghaillaigh?
Yes, "totally slavish copy." I’d be delighted. That’s what we mean when we say the tradition is handed down.
But I’d f*ck it up and people would know it was "my own" and not the music of a master of the tradition.
It doesn’t do to set out to make the music "your own," whatever that means. Calling it "your own" has little to do with accomplishment, or refinement of technique. It’s your own as soon as you play the first note.
If it does become "your own," it only becomes meaningful when you faithfully stay within the tradition and exemplify the technique of a master, be that Micho Russell or Mary Bergin.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nN7PK_yFU3g&t=232s

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

I get what Trish means. On stage or studio we can do what we like with a tune. We can own it completely. A session is a different place. There we would rein in some of the things we might do, i.e. rhythmic or melodic variation, tempo, or ornamentation, to more closely fit in with the group. The session is a social gathering not a performance venue and a different dynamic applies. No the line isn’t always hard and fast but it’s there nonetheless and should be respected. I recently attended a session where a couple of players didn’t get that and it killed the session for everybody who wasn’t them. Even the highly skilled players among us got tired of watching them show-off. At least that’s my understanding.

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

Yes, you definitely have to blend in at a session. That’s where a quick set of ears will do you good.

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

I have to say it. A performance is a social gathering.

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Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

Ross has probably expressed what I was trying to say much better than I did!

But as others have said, you might try to learn every last wee ornament from a recording of one of the great masters cited above, but then go and see them live (ok, some of them sadly are not still alive or performing) and chances are, they’d play it differently at each live performance. Just because you don’t copy them exactly does not necessarily mean that you are straying from the traditional way of playing a piece.

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

AB, with respect, I think you’re muddying the waters with "a performance is a social gathering."

The sessions I’m familiar with are social gatherings of musicians playing for each other’s pleasure, without regard to whether the pub patrons are enjoying it. Obviously there is a quasi-performance aspect to that, because if the group stinks on ice, then they’ll get thrown out of the pub. But performance is not the reason the group gets together. They play for themselves.

A performance by definition I think, is aimed at pleasing the audience if you want to get paid. It’s other-directed, not entirely aimed at the musicians pleasing themselves (although of course that’s important if a band stays together for long). And yes, I know the whole "performance" thing has been hashed over for years here on the Mustard board. But that’s how I see it.

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

As we’ve also discussed on the board before, there are many different kind of sessions these days…Some even allow sheet music 😛

However, the general consensus is that a typical trad session is a group of musicians coming together in a communal setting to play a few tunes together. There’s usually a de facto(at least) "leader" for each set of tunes even if not necessarily for the entire session. As such, the other musicians will usually adapt or "fit in" to the proceedings and tend not to do their own thing. Of course, they won’t all be playing "note for note" but it will involve listening to what’s going on around them and acting accordingly.

In our area and in many parts of Scotland, we also have what could be described as "mixed sessions" where there may or may not also be singing involved. Even if such sessions are mainly instrumental, there is usually an element whereby individuals or sub sets will "take turns" either by "jumping in" or in a more orderly "round the room" format. (The Circle of Death as it has sometimes been descibed. 🙂 )
This isn’t the sort of arrangement I prefer although I’ll put up with it on occasion. However, there is arguably more opportunity to make a song or tune "your own" in such situations.

Of course, if you are leading a regular session, there’s also the opportunity to put your own stamp on things too. That’s OK as long as you can take everyone else with you. Otherwise it can be solitary experience and even appear like "showing off" in some circumstances.

Usually, musicians will gravitate towards sessions and other musicians who are of a similar level and outlook to themselves. Inevitably, this will mean that some sessions may seem too advanced and others too boring. It’s just a case of finding one that suits but you have to respect what’s going on there if you want to take part.

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

Johnny, thanks for giving me clarity about Trish’s perspective & the local session environment.
"In our area and in many parts of Scotland, we also have what could be described as "mixed sessions" where there may or may not also be singing involved. Even if such sessions are mainly instrumental, there is usually an element whereby individuals or sub sets will "take turns" either by "jumping in" or in a more orderly "round the room" format."
Very helpful to know!

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Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

OK, AB.
I should also clarify that they are not all like that and you can also find the regular variety too.
😉

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

"Yes, "totally slavish copy." I’d be delighted."
&
"If it does become "your own," it only becomes meaningful when you faithfully stay within the tradition and exemplify the technique of a master, be that Micho Russell or Mary Bergin."

Or Elvis.

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

When I make a tune my own, it means I use my own choice of Irish flute-playing techniques and my own approach in general to playing a tune the way I think it should sound. No matter how good you are, you will fail utterly in trying to play like someone else. It is a fool’s errand, beside being pointless. Seek inspiration, not someone to copy. Be a first rate you, not a poor man’s Matt Molloy.

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Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

Puzzled! Not sure what this all means any more! Can you stop being cryptic and say what you mean? (That applies to the last 3 posts.)

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

I agree, Ailin.
How can you hope to express yourself musically if your playing is a slavish copy of someone else’s playing.

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

Not sure if I’m included in the "last 3 posts", Trish, but I was comparing the idea of being a slavish copy of, let’s say, Tommy Peoples, with the idea of being an Elvis impersonator, which Ben then perhaps decided to take as meaning Elvis Costello.

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

My apologies, Trish. I was responding to a few posts about making a tune your own, most notably David Levine’s, whom I believe either didn’t agree or understand how some of us think of that notion. I should have referenced David’s post in my response.

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Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

Sorry, Trish.

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Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

Ok guys, probably me being dense, though I did get the Elvis references. It was just all those quotes of quotes…..

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

Also, a little bit of "thread drift" too. 🙂

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

Once again, as beginner, the feeling I get from reading these is ‘don’t go to a session unless you’re brilliant’.

Fair enough. I will save money and time and just stay home.

Really, I started playing because it was fun, but reading all the comments I see music is like anything else in the world - ruined by people.

I really think to get a different hobby now too.

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Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

@Nx1701
You can’t be serious!
I started playing ITM on p/accordion 16 months ago and I’m having a bloody ball.
*Attitude* has a lot to do with every facet of our lives.
I see that you’re up near Brissy. Perhaps go and have a look and listen, if you find a session, before you decide that it is all too hard for you.

"I really think to get a different hobby now too."
Seems to me you’re not really committed.

"as a beginner" (I am one) - nobody *starts at the top*
Learn your shit before you go out to impress others.

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

Nx1701, try golf or football. These games are fun and are for everyone so you should just join in any game you please.

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

"These games are fun and are for everyone so you should just join in any game you please."

I assume that was said with "tongue in cheek", Bogman? 🙂

Nx1701 " ‘don’t go to a session unless you’re brilliant’ "

A session isn’t the same thing as a "kick around" .
You still have follow the usual accepted social norms to join any company in a bar or elsewhere and most clubs and groups will have additional rules. There is generally an expected level before you are selected to join any "teams" and numbers may be limited.

Nothing wrong with a solitary hobby though. I like doing things on my own too. However, if and when I choose the company of others, I have to try and "fit in". Even respect their idiosyncrasies too, if necessary.
🙂

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

> Once again, as beginner, the feeling I get from reading these is ‘don’t go to a session unless you’re brilliant’.

These boards have the effect of magnifying the bullshit. All the bad behaviour you see described here can be found in real life, though not usually in one place at one time, but in general, anyone who acts with a little bit of humility will find their place easily enough.

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Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

Just want to say that when playing from sheet music, you can vary things, of course you can e.g. playing "Da Day Dawn" from a sheet with regular notes doesn’t stop you from dotting the rhythms at will, which improves this particular tune. Likewise, a lovely Scottish tune, Mhairi Bhan Og, I can’t play high Bs so I adapt and try to make a variation that sounds OK and is within my capability. Viva sheet music.

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

Susan, of course you can. 🙂

However, as I’ve mentioned before, you are probably still using "ear skills" even although you don’t realise it. Otherwise, you wouldn’t know that "dotting the rhythms" might improve the tune or produce a result which you think sounds OK.

So, nothing wrong with sheet music as such but you still need to use your ears. However, many sheet music advocates (I’m not meaning yourself) often don’t want to admit this.

Re: People who get cross with those reading music and not playing by ear

I think everybody in this thread agrees with each other, you can use sheet music to learn, as long as you also use your ears, learning by ear is important in this particular tradition, music notation is not ok at normal sessions. Easy.

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Re: People who…

I never assume any session is or needs to be *normal*.

;)

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