Learning tunes

Learning tunes

Do you find it easier to learn tunes from recordings or from musicians playing live. I find listening to live music the easiest way to learn, and the quickest. Just wondering!

Re: Learning tunes

Depends of what you mean by live condition.

When musicians teach tunes at masterclasses they often do it in a way that everyone can pick the tune. Great for beginners but it can be boring for fast learners.

Considering you can adjust every details of a recording (speed, key, repeats, volume, version, …) I guess it has to be the easiest way.

Learning tunes in a session environment is not an easy task when tunes are played fast. Only 3 times each part is usually not enough for me to learn a tune (unless it’s an easy polka or something like that).

Re: Learning tunes

Recordings is much easier as I don’t have to leave the couch whereas to learn from live musicians (in normal times - if we ever get back to them) I might have to travel 50 miles for a concert and 15 miles to my nearest session.

Just saying.

Re: Learning tunes

Seriously, it really depends on the "live" musician(s) and where they are. I mean live sound is not always ideal - too loud (at concerts) or too much background noise (at sessions) or slightly different versions of a tune being played at the same time (again at sessions).

Re: Learning tunes

I think that hearing different versions at sessions means you really get to grips with a tune. Even at the same time! Over the weeks and months one hears a tune in different settings and in different styles and you see how all the variations are, in essence, the same basic tune. You don’t get that listening to recordings. You just hear how it happened to be on that occasion.

Re: Learning tunes

You do if you listen to lots of recordings of the same tune.
But I agree you’re much more likely to pick up variations at sessions because you’re more likely to hear common tunes there (than on recordings) and the more common a tune is the more variations and variants there will be.

Re: Learning tunes

If the recording quality is good, I prefer learning from a session recording, because hearing a number of musicians playing together smooths over all the little individual idiosyncrasies and gives me a gestalt of the tune.

Many has been the time when I’ve learned a tune from a particular recording only to find out it didn’t mesh with what the session was playing.

Re: Learning tunes

Session tunes I like at our session are picked up over time with no real effort on my part. If I want to learn a tune fast, I get sheet music. I learn phrase by phrase, gradually adapting it to the way I incorporate my ornaments, phrasing and style. When I think I’ve got it, I alternate it with a tune I know well that would make for a good set. This tests my ability to retain the new tune and gradually bring it up to tempo.

Posted by .

Re: Learning tunes

Damien, "live conditions" I mean sitting in a room with people who are alive, and are able to communicate musically and verbally rather than just listening to a recording.

Re: Learning tunes

I think a good analogy is cooking e.g. dhall. You could learn to cook it by reading recipes (dots), watching YouTube (recordings) or going to restaurants and eating (gigs). But best would be sometimes hanging out in an Indian/ Pakistani household and helping with the routine cooking (sessions). Bon appetit!!

Re: Learning tunes

Exactly Yhaal, you can’t beat the sessions .

Re: Learning tunes

gooseinthenettles: By the way, ‘with people who are alive’. Haha!

Re: Learning tunes

I don’t believe it even possible that it is easier to learn live than recordings.

Seems like one of those things people say to prove how authentically trad they are like the old I don’t know how to read music thing.

How could you learn faster from something you only had maybe 1-2 minutes to listen to - the length it takes to play a reel twice and the is being generous, most sessions play at like 120bpms meaning probably more like 30-40 seconds for 1 reel - vs being able to listen to a recording an infinite amount of times, slow it down, stop start, whatever.

Re: Learning tunes

Life of Apple Pie: One learns tunes at sessions by ‘osmosis’. Over the weeks and months and years, tunes are heard over and over again, and you find yourself noticing ‘new’ tunes in amongst all the familiar ones. You think, ‘Oh, I remember something like this or a variation of this being played by Peter on Sunday at the Ramble Inn session’ and perhaps you ask if anyone knows the name or who or where they got it from. Then, say, two weeks later you hear again played by Wilfred at the Kosher Ferret et cetera and the bare bones are there. One doesn’t sit down and specifically learn a particular tune, they slowly infuse themselves. Many a time I’ve heard players say, ‘Oh! I didn’t know I knew that tune!’ That’s because it’s been picked up as per above. It also explains why some of the best players are often clueless as to names of melodies!!!

Re: Learning tunes

Ok, but the question was about ease and quickness.

Learning in session condition is great but can’t be the easiest or the quickest (the tune is played only a few times and at high speed).

Also, if you want the best of both worlds you could record tunes at your local session and learn them home.

Re: Learning tunes

Learning quick and easy isn’t the best way! Think how tunes must have been learnt before recording (& radio) were invented.

Re: Learning tunes

Learning at sessions depends on the aptness of your brain. As Yhaal said you hear tunes at different sessions over a period of time and they stick in your mind, then you find yourself joining in and feeling your way and then you have it. If you are not sure of a passage you ask the nearest musicians for help. That’s how I learned how to play our music.

Re: Learning tunes

Yes, I have learnt quite a few tunes that way at sessions over time because I’ve been lucky enough to be able to attend sessions.

Not everyone has that luxury. The population density of the South-East of England (which doesn’t include London) is 452 per square km. The whole of England is 259, Ireland is 72 and Scotland 65 (of which Highland is 8). But if you live in Montana, for example, with a population density of 2.65 per square km in an area over four times that of Ireland, sessions aren’t perhaps so easy to get to.

If you live in the city (or even a town) you could probably learn all you want to learn from sessions, but for us rural dwellers it’s not quite so easy.

Re: Learning tunes

"I don’t believe it even possible that it is easier to learn live than recordings."
I hear you Life of Pie though it depends on what you mean by "learning" and what you mean by "easy".
Perhaps GITN can shed some light on why he chose those terms ("the easiest way to learn").

For me "learning" a tune in a session (or across several sessions) is first and always about listening,
2nd retaining what I’m hearing and lastly playing the tune with others at their speed. There is more to it
but that is the gist of what I mean by learning tunes through sessioning.

The "more to it" is significant. Tunes are played at speed, hearing other players (or oneself) isn’t always ideal, distractions are plenty, sets aren’t predictable, repeats vary and even after the session has begun someone
taps you on the shoulder and says, "You’re in my seat."

All of these are part of the ‘learning to play in sessions’ enviroment. It can be difficult at first but it is possible to learn how to cope with each of these. If so it gets better. It gets easier. Also if the other players don’t mind you can make a recording of a session. It can be part of learning to play sessions and tunes outside of a live group.

Posted by .

Re: Learning tunes

The easiest way to learn for me.

Re: Learning tunes

Thank you, gooseinthenettles. Have you learnt many tunes from recordings?

Posted by .

Re: Learning tunes

AB not many, apart from all the Michael Coleman Hughie Gillespie Jim Morrison P J Conlan recordings. The reason, the were all deceased and not accessible to learn from in person.

Re: Learning tunes

The fastest way for me is ears + eyes.

At a session I can hear the tune and also if there’s a fluteplayer, whistle player, or piper I can watch fingers.

With many tunes I can have large chunks of the tune down by the 3rd time through. If they played tunes 4 or 5 times though I’d often have the whole thing.

Which is where your phone comes in, because if I make a video where I can see fingers I can get the tune down at home.

Though that often does little good- they may never play that tune again. (Me learning a tune insures that it will immediately and permanently pass into obscurity.)

Re: Learning tunes

I usually listen to radio na gaeltachta which you can do on line.
You will get a lot of the current tunes being played. You sometimes have to be very attentive to pick up the names of the tunes.
I would usually get the station on my iPad and have Tunepal open on my iphone.
I can then record the tune being played and Tunepal will usually recognise it. There is nearly always a set of tunes being played.
If you catch the names or if and Tunepal recognise them you can then search Tunepal for the tune or tunes
You can then play back the tune at any speed additionally Tunepal will give you the written notes both in abc and on a stave
I would then put the name of the tune into the other app the session and it will give you some history of the tune and also very usefully give you some set suggestions
Both these apps are available on line and are amazingly free and they are so useful
Good luck

Re: Learning tunes

I think how one learns tunes depends a lot on your experience with your instrument and the amount of time you have been playing and listening to trad tunes. I generally learn the bare bones tunes then fill in the blanks (ornaments) later. Often times I find myself playing a tune at a session and suddenly realized that I have never played the tune before but perhaps have heard a number of times and so have it firmly in mind. Other times I find myself playing a tune I have never heard before and can do so (sort of) because there is a kind of mathematical formulae to a lot of tunes and therefore I can anticipate the next note or phrase. Of course it is not all magic and there are lots of tunes I have to slog through over and over to get right and also some I struggle with and keep on the back burner as I don’t read music and I can’t seem to follow the course of the tune … "The Rolling Wave" comes to mind.

Re: Learning tunes

Interesting Aikiburr because it’s the "ornaments" (the rolls) that I pick up first, because the rolls are where the tune parks for a bit, it’s where the tune takes a rest from moving around.

With many reels and jigs having the rolls is having the basic shape of much of the tune.

Then there are the arpeggios where the tune goes DFA or GBd or EGB, those are easy to hear and latch onto.

Then the runs like EFGAB and so forth.

And the rocking phrases or whatever you want to call them, the d2fd adfd and so forth.

With many reels and jigs once you have these four types of things you have nearly all the tune, the only things left are the little linking notes that connect these things. It’s the linking notes which are the last things I pick up, they’re handy places to take a breath. There’s also the parts of the tune that, seems to me, vary more from setting to setting than the "meat" of the tune.

I’ll give an easy example of that order of learning. Here’s a jig. What I hear first are where the tune parks with rolls:

Bar 1: E roll, B roll.
Bar 2: E roll, ____
Bar 3: E roll, B roll
Bar 4: ___ , ____

Looking only at rolls we have most of it. Next I’ll hear the arpeggios:

Bar 1: E roll, B roll.
Bar 2: E roll, AFD arpeggio.
Bar 3: E roll, B roll.
Bar 4: ____, AFD arpeggio.

We have 7/8ths of the first line just listening at rolls and arpeggios. Next I’ll listen for scalar runs

Bar 1: E roll, B roll.
Bar 2: E roll, AFD arpeggio.
Bar 3: E roll, B roll.
Bar 4: dcB run, AFD arpeggio.

Of course if a part of a tune is built around rocking phrases I’ll probably latch onto those first.

Re: Learning tunes

I can pick up a tune and play along with it is a session pretty quickly, but I will probably forget it almost immediately. Picking up tunes by osmosis takes a long time. There are a lot of tunes if picked up that way which I "know" in the sense that I can play along in a session, but only when someone else starts them.

Learning a tune comes best when I can work on it for some time, go back over the difficult bits, and listen again to make sure I’ve got it right. That usually means from a recording, or occasionally one-to-one with someone who is willing to take the time to teach it to me. But that is only the start. It then gets refined in the sessions, so that any variations between the version I have learned and the session version can be ironed out, and I can really get under the skin of the tune.

Learning a tune is a process, learning the right notes is just the start of it.

Re: Learning tunes

I learn most of my tunes in sessions at speed. Some of them I learn from recordings, and the people around me learn them from sessions because I start playing them. But for me, the absolute easiest way to learn a tune is in person with a single player playing the tune at a moderate tempo. I do best with one part at a time, but I am OK with the whole tune. And in that scenario, you have the ability to stop them and say "I’m not quite getting this one phrase", and they can then get you the phrase before continuing. You can do some of the same thing with a recording, by slowing it down, and then rewinding to the part you need to work on, or looping the whole part, but I agree that the best way is live and in person.

On a separate note, I have run a weekly tune learning session for 15 years. Most of the time, the easiest way to teach a group of people a tune is phrase by phrase, and that’s what the people who come to my tune learning are used to. But I have found I *really* struggle to learn like that myself these days (and I’m not the biggest fan of breaking tunes down to teach them that way either). The bites are too small and the context is lost.

So I do occasionally try to teach the group by just playing the tune repeatedly and letting them noodle around to find it, and then ask questions. I think people learn the tune better that way a lot of the time, but some people can’t do it at all (yet), and we often end up back in the phrase by phrase mode.