Smart phone/Tunepal aided playing at a session

Smart phone/Tunepal aided playing at a session

A group of us have been playing ITM for many years now. Recently a young man came to our session and, after listening to the tune and realizing he didn’t know it, he opened Tunepal as we were playing, found the dots, and attempted to play along with us. He was half the age of anybody else at the session. Is this a new direction for the tradition? Not to be a curmudgeon, but….

I found this objectionable on many levels. But I am curious to know how other players feel about this. I don’t think it is something that old-timers would have done, even if they had the technology twenty years ago. And does it matter what Micho, Bobby Casey, Chris Droney, et. al., would have done? Is this an expansion of the tradition or a minimizing of it?

Looking forward to your responses. Thanks in advance.

Re: Smart phone/Tunepal aided playing at a session

I’m relatively young (37) and have been playing ITM for 1.5 years now. My personal feeling is that this kills much of the spirit of all this. Yes, you get to know the tune title almost instantly and you can even play along, but you miss the chance to get in touch with the others and to make the tune your own: what’s the hurry? Playing this music from the dots seems to me like telling a joke by reading it.

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I’m with you on this, David, but I suppose the "acid-test" is, was his playing from his source any good ? I somehow doubt it, as you say "attempted". I’d be inclined to put it down to youthful enthusiasm, and ignorance of etiquette [ which of course varies from session to session.] Maybe a quiet word required that it is not necessary to play along on every tune is all that is needed - to begin with. And you could maybe point out that Tunepal is by no means infallible.
Personally, it’s not something I would welcome in a session I was playing in. If you’re focussed on a screen - or sheet of paper for that matter - you’re not interacting with the other players, which is what a session should be about [ IMHO ].
One of the most important session skills is knowing when NOT to play.

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Re: Smart phone/Tunepal aided playing at a session

If Tunepal means he can quickly locate the dots for a tune, rather than spending most of the set searching through tune books, that’s clearly an advantage to him, and perhaps less irritating to other players. If technology can help, why not use it? But it doesn’t overcome the usual objections to playing from the dots, which are too well-worn to go over again.

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I’ve seen that exact thing a couple of times at sessions. It rubs me the wrong way, but we’re generally playing faster than most people can sight read, so the people usually give it up after a few tries. (Not to mention the fact that TunePal is hit or miss, especially in a noisy environment like a pub…)

I find that there’s a bit of a push and pull between tradition and technology in many parts of our lives. And being a technology guy, I have felt the pull of technology during sessions, but try not to let it get too pervasive.

However, it’s a pretty common occurrence where we’re sitting in a session, and somebody mentions a tune we haven’t played in years, and after a minute or two of people failing to conjure the beginning of the tune out of memory, I’ll pull out my phone and look it up, otherwise it will bug me all night until I can think of it… But that’s the extent of my use of internet technology during sessions - just treating it as my own personal memory extension. (And, I suppose you could count the rare, but occasional times I pull my phone out to record something that people are playing. But these days, I usually just tell the player(s) to keep bringing the tune out until we’ve all learned it, and just rely on my good old fashioned ‘built in’ memory) 😉

Re: Smart phone/Tunepal aided playing at a session

Tunepal is an amazing resource, but I also find the "get the tune from Tunepal and play reading off the phone screen" thing very off-putting on many levels.

What they should do instead if they want to use the app, is discretely identify the tune using Tunepal, save it in their tune collection, then work on properly learning the tune at home, not attempt to play reading the notation from the phone at the session.

One of the players at a session I was co-hosting a few weeks ago was doing this for pretty much every tune. I can appreciate the want to play all time, particularly if you are skilled at sightreading, but really, they should just do the work to learn the tunes.

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"… attempted to play along with us". How successfully, and in what manner? Was his playing reasonably in keeping with what the company was playing? Did he get the tune right? Was he being obtrusive, or did he play quietly and discreetly use his access to the dots as a means of becoming familiar with the tune?

I ask in order to try to expand on the subject. The fact that the question comes up suggests that there could be reason to object to any and all use of ‘assistive technology’ at sessions, and that maybe only fully-memorised tunes should be played. Is there such a thing as acceptable use of aides-memoire?

Declare interest: I have a lot of tunes on a small tablet (not alone in this around here). I’ve collected hundreds of tunes at sessions, and can’t possibly remember all of them fluently - especially at my age - so I’ll refer as inconspicuously as possible to the tablet to join in with tunes I recognise but don’t have in my fingers. If introducing a tune in a live session, I’ll only draw on tunes I know by heart, and I wouldn’t use the tablet if I sense that it would be out of place in an unfamiliar context. So I guess my position is that (a) it’s good to try and be sensitive to what is o.k. at any given session, and (b) if something helps you join in and play the right notes, and it causes no objections, why not? Was there a time when picking up tunes with a recording device was considered out of order? It seems to be widely accepted now.

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Re: Smart phone/Tunepal aided playing at a session

I personally have no issue with using a cheat sheet or a tune book to remind oneself how to start a tune that one knows but can’t start, but reading it note for note off a tablet or a book (unless that’s the agreed way the session is conducted), that’s an entirely different thing in many sessions, particularly those with more experienced players.

Why?

1) The notes on the page almost certainly won’t match the version of the tune that is played at the session

2) Some players "check out" when reading from notation and stop listening to those around them causing all kinds of rhythmic and tempo issues.

3) It’s fundamentally disrespectful of those who actually have put in the work to learn the tunes

4) Unless one is a very skilled sight-reader, it can be very disruptive for those sitting next to the player attempting to play a tune off the tablet notation

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I’ve seen this a few times myself. I wouldn’t do it and find it a bit distracting. Most people can’t read those tiny dots that well on a small screen when trying to play. Looking up a tune via tunepal can be useful and I’ve used it when I played a tune whose name I couldn’t recall, someone asked what it was and I said "let’s find out". However, tunepal isn’t perfect, doesn’t like variations at all or even heavy ornamentation. I think it has it’s place.

Eric

Re: Smart phone/Tunepal aided playing at a session

If it’s one tune here or there, I wouldn’t sweat it — the person is new to the group, and wants to learn a new-to-them tune. But if it became a pattern, or if the dot-playing negatively impacts the group, you could certainly talk to them. Perhaps kindly state that playing from the page is not only "untraditional," but can hurt the feel of a session through the loss of communication, spontaneity, and variation.

Like Reverend, I’ve pulled out my phone and looked up a tune after conversations of "gah, how’d that tune go again" become too extended and we’ve had a few stop-and-starts. Totally different thing, of course!

It’s definitely a slippery slope toward the "sheet music session" with the binders, tablets, stands, and "what page are we on?"

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I believe there ways now for a session leader, using a bluetooth controller, to synchronize all the iPads on the table to show the same tune in a PDF tunebook.

If this is the ultimate future of sessions, I’m going to switch to staying home and playing for my cats. 🙂

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I can only sight read tunes I know already (i.e., I can’t sight read) so Tunepal wouldn’t be much use to me.

But I think it’s common for people taking part in Zoom "sessions" to have the dots in front of them, even when leading. My hope is that when we get back to reality, if there is such a thing, we also get back to normality (i.e., no dots).

As mentioned above, one of the main objections to using Tunepal is that the chances of the dots on a phone matching the notes being played are quite small - might work better if you were playing some Bach.

My old cat, Freddie, used to leave the room when I started playing, but Lucy, our current feline companion, is much more tolerant and snoozes on oblivious.

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Interesting, I don’t see that sort of thing happening at all with the Zoom sessions I’ve been running since last March.

We run them just like real sessions, with chains of players playing one after another just like a real session, using carefully timed un-muting and muting. You never know what tunes are going to happen in advance and I don’t ever see anyone reading off of music.

I guess there are all kinds of Zoom sessions, the sheet music thing is possible I guess with those that advertise the sets of tunes in advance. We don’t do that.

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Well my experience is limited and I would never have the courage to ask, but I got the impression that some leaders were using cheat sheets, hidden from the camera. I was asked myself, though - because I was playing so many new tunes there was some disbelief that I could have memorised them all.
It was also the case that, in one case, rather than a session, it could be a tune share so that sometimes dots would go up as a screenshare, especially for self compositions.

Then there are the "teaching" sessions. with tunes, as you say, advertised in advance. I’ve been caught out a few times by people asking for clarification of the notes at the start of the second line or in bar 31 and I’m lost. Note that they never ask for the notes at the start of the third phrase or at the turnaround or whatever - it’s never about structure.

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Doesn’t bother me, if they keep it quiet. I have occasionally, at smaller sessions with good friends who aren’t so judgemental, pulled out Tunepal to very quietly sightread a tune I like but don’t play. I am a competent sight reader and can usually put the dots down after the first time around, making learning the tune much faster and easier. At more formal sessions I might pull out TP to find out which unknown tune is playing so that I can add it to my list. Then, while it is open, I might follow along silently just to get the tune in both my eyes AND ears.

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Is this the future of sessions? Probably. Is it a problem? Can be, but not of necessity. I’d have to be there to advance an opinion. I liked Michael’s original post suggesting tunepal as a resource to learn the tunes heard. If the player is any good, it’s not hard to adapt the learned tune to the way it is being played at the session, unless the setting is wildly different. I believe in doing whatever works, provided it is not disruptive, in which case, a private word should suffice. In all other respects, I see no lasting harm to the tradition.

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Re: Smart phone/Tunepal aided playing at a session

I do prefer someone using TunePal to figure out the tunes over them constantly asking at the end of every single set "What were those tunes?"

Heck, sometimes, I don’t even know the name of what I’m playing, but I know the tune.

I gave up remembering the names a long time ago in favor of knowing the tunes themselves.

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Several people on our local zoom session have been doing this sort of thing for a while now. They’re mostly skilled players and good sight-readers. Not so bad on zoom, I guess, but disruptive in a regular session, for all the above reasons. A lot of the locals were using Tunepal to ID tunes, pre-COVID, but nobody sightread that I knew of. Anyway, my eyesight’s not that great that I could sight-read off of a tiny screen. I only play what I can remember.

Re: Smart phone/Tunepal aided playing at a session

Two sentences:
1) "He opened Tunepal as we were playing, found the dots, and attempted to play along with us."

2) "He opened Tunepal as we were playing, found the dots, and played along with us."

Two more sentences:
1) "He visited our session and attempted to play along with us."

2) "He visited our session and played along with us."

To me both of the #1 sentences imply a failure to play the music properly, while both of the #2 sentences imply success at playing the music properly.

As long as someone plays along with a session properly, I don’t see as the means matters much.

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Using Tunepal to find a name… Ok by me. Note that it requires that the “looker-upper” be a reader skilled enough to now which tune he’s looking at. As often as not players may not know the name when asked. I don’t find Tunepal annoying used for that. Playing from it really gets on my nerves. Not only is the transcription found often not the same as played, but, worse, may not even be the same tune. Like our Reverend who uses the the phone to find a disremembered tune I often use my book of incipits. C’mon, if ya want to be in the game pay the dues. Learn to play and learn the tunes.

Re: Smart phone/Tunepal aided playing at a session

Two sentences:

1) "Not only is the transcription found on TunePal often not the same as played, but, worse, may not even be the same tune."

2) "That guy at the session was playing different settings than we were, and sometimes different tunes."

Once again, the fault lies with the results, not the means.

Somebody playing in a session needs to have enough musical awareness to know when their setting is different from the one everyone else is playing, and to know when their tune is an altogether different tune.

Since TunePal can neither bestow, nor take away, such awareness, the lack of this awareness lies with the player, not with the source of his music.

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I’d agree with most of what’s been said above. Providing not disruptive no big deal using TunePal to identify a tune.

The original sin, from your situation report (!), is "realizing he didn’t know it" + "attempted to play". That’s a session etiquette 101 violation right there. Playing from a score - whether Tunepal lookup or other (paper or electronic) is also a session etiquette 101 violation. Unless, by agreement with the players and venue, this is deemed agreeable.

Sessions are performance venues not learning zones; play if you know, listen and learn if you don’t. If you’re a good learner ‘by ear’ and can jump on a tune on the turn - that’s an accepted skill. Provisio being ability to play well enough that mistakes are few or inaudible. Basic courtesy - don’t mess it up on the folk who have learned the tunes well enough to play at the pace that the session is comfortable at. Take the list (or a recording) home, study, practice, learn and come back and play when you have it.

A discreet tune list and incipits isn’t likely to bother anybody if it helps to play along.

What people do on Zoom sessions doesn’t matter - they aren’t "real".

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"As long as someone plays along with a session properly, I don’t see as the means matters much."

One way it can matter is divided attention. A session where everyone is playing by ear, is a session where people can look at each other and interact, smiling or not, giving all sorts of nonverbal cues about how it’s going. Someone playing from sheet music is necessarily disconnected from that element of the group interaction. They can’t take their eyes off the page for even a second. The part of their brain that would help sync up with the rest of the group through visual as well as aural interaction is doing something else.

To me, that’s a qualitative difference. I’ve seen exactly one person in an informal house session read sheet music and sync up well with the group. It was a recorder player, with I think a Classical orchestra background, where you’re trained to keep your ears open to everyone else while reading. And at least occasionally lift your eyes off the page to watch the conductor. This person was still lost when the tune changed in the middle of the set, and they didn’t recognize it or have the dots for it.

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If we are to address what are new directions in sessions and what is or isn’t acceptable then it does matter what people are doing in online sessions. It matters how players are using all devices at all sessions.

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Regarding: "What people do on Zoom sessions doesn’t matter - they aren’t "real"."

"Real" in that individual’s behavior while muted generally won’t disrupt the event for other people?

They are quite "real", just not the same as an in-person session, and have their own set of challenges and opportunities, and those opportunities can translate into newer players perhaps being better prepared to play in "real" sessions than they could have been if those "real" sessions would have been too daunting or exclusive for them to play in in-person.

I would still encourage anyone playing on a Zoom session not to play off notation.

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Zoom "sessions" are great for playing along to tunes that you don’t quite know as nobody but you can hear the mistakes.
However, because of the sound quality, they are not so good for picking up tunes on the fly that you don’t know (I’ve usually recorded them to learn later).

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Although I agree with all your comments I’m going to offer a slightly different perspective. As a retired music teacher and concert flute player I started down the rabbit hole of Irish music about 2 years ago (tin whistle, Irish flute, mandolin). I have attended some ‘private’ sessions but no ‘public’ ones. I am an excellent sight reader so at some of the sessions I would quickly find the notes on my iPad then play along. Later I would go home and practice the songs some more. I have a very difficult time learning the songs from memory (it’s not an age thing I’ve had this problem all my life) but currently have about 30 tunes mostly memorized. Which is like nothing in Irish music terms. I can play a tune 300+ times and still not have it 100% memorized. It’s a skill I continue to work very hard at and although I understand how important the tradition of playing by ear is, if it’s valued over playing with others in sessions I’d need to drop out. Since I’ve been playing music all my life I think I possess other skills like listening to the group, connecting with the other musicians, adapting to the playing etc. I guess what I’m really saying is I really want to be part of the session even though I’m lacking skill in one area!

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DonaldK - "However, because of the sound quality, they are not so good for picking up tunes on the fly that you don’t know (I’ve usually recorded them to learn later)."

That’s because many people still haven’t take the time to learn to setup Zoom properly to get good quality for music or are unwilling to invest even $50 for a decent USB microphone or a bit more for a proper audio interface. It’s possible to get amazing quality high-fidelity stereo sound with Zoom if one takes the time to set it up correctly and are willing to make a minimal investment in a proper microphone or audio interface. The problem isn’t Zoom.

I invite anyone interested to my weekly open Zoom session if you want to hear what’s possible with a proper audio setup: http://michaeleskin.com/session

Sorry for the distraction from the main topic…

Re: Smart phone/Tunepal aided playing at a session

Lynn, two years playing this music is a very short time, even if you were an experienced player before in other genres.

I originally also started out as an accomplished classical flute player 30+ years ago and it took me several years to convert over to completely learning my tunes by ear in spite of being able to read pretty much anything you’d put in front of me. Before then I would have said the same as you, that I was incapable of doing it.

In my experience the skill isn’t necessarily playing tunes perfectly all by yourself all the time, in practice it’s being able to play a tune with others and adapting on-the-fly. It’s a subtle but important difference, I think. I find that playing along with recordings can be very helpful in developing that skill, even better if they are recordings from your local sessions.

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Lynn, don’t assume you’re lacking a skill there. The ability to memorize a tune is like working a muscle to build more strength: It takes time and patience to gradually get better and stronger. The more you attempt it, the better you’ll get. The fact that you’re not a great ear-learner may just be because you haven’t ever been in situations where you’ve HAD to do it. I agree with Michael Eskin that two years into this music isn’t much time to really sink your teeth into it, especially for those of us who pick it up later in life.

Remember that you’re allowed to not play in an Irish session. You can sit out a tune and nobody will think the worse of you. You can also play only part of a tune. My fiddler Significant Other once had a private lesson with Kevin Burke, and one of the things he said when they were going through a tune and she hadn’t quite nailed it, was "just play the notes you know."

Many of us use that approach when we’re playing in a session and can’t quite remember all of a tune we used to play, or haven’t quite nailed a new tune 100%. You might not hear it, because one of the beauties of a session is that if I’m leaving a few notes out, most everyone else is playing those notes so I’m covered. We "Irish flute" players do a little of that anyway to catch a breath, or let others play notes out of range below a D flute (those darn fiddlers and their G string notes!).

You shouldn’t play wrong notes in a session because that can be disruptive for others, but there is no harm in dropping out here and there for bits you don’t know. You’ll get some cover from the other players, and you can pick up the missing notes through further home practice.

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Whilst it is true, Michael, that most people haven’t bothered to take the necessary steps to improve their Zoom audio (my audio is picked up by a t-bone SC 1100 large condenser through a Focusrite Scarlett and I’m listening through a pair of Genelec 8020D speakers or AKG K701 headphones) I would still reckon it’s not exactly hi-fidelity - the reason for that being that where I live the Internet upload/download speed is just not quite good enough. It’s probably a different experience for someone getting 90/10Mbps download/upload.

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I think the question in the OP is another variant of the ‘sheet music at sessions’ debate.

Many of the Zoom sessions I have "been at" have have had the flavour of a kitchen session. And most kitchen sessions I have been at have been mainly friends playing tunes together that they are used to playing together but also introducing the occasional new tune and having a few copies of the dots available.

With Zoom in the time of Covid some people have been doing lots of different Zoom sessions so there have been more emails with "we heard a tune last Wednesday and have been working on it and would like to give it a go on Tuesday, here is a link to the dots". So I get the gist of it from the dots and what I find on youtube but don’t actually try to learn it until I’ve heard their take on it. So I am playing along with more than half an eye on the dots, then learning it properly for the next session. My reading ability has come on quite a bit thanks to Covid.

The feature most of us have had a laugh about is not the sound quality but the tempo variations - rather than listening to the leader to match what they are doing there is the need to plug on regardless when they slow down knowing they will catch up in a rush a few seconds later. Then a laugh at "and we finished at the same time" when we do get together outdoors.

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> I have a very difficult time learning the songs from memory

Lynn, I know you didn’t ask for advice, but I’m afraid that’s not going to stop any of us, so I’ll chip in.

Don’t worry about memorising tunes, per se. I mean, do obviously work on tunes that you want to learn and make memorisation a part of that practice, but don’t sit there trying to batter the 7th bar of this or the second part of that into your brain. Instead, I’d recommend on working on your ears. I’m a big proponent of solfège, and if you haven’t used it professionally, please do give it a try - it’s not just for children! Practice your tunes in sol-fa, and also practice transcribing - the Irish tradition is wonderful for having a practice of recording albums of one or two players with no accompaniment, and as well as great listening these are ideal source material to try transcribing from.

The reason I say this is because memorisation isn’t really how many of us think about it. Did you ever sit down to memorise the chorus to Dancing Queen, or Shake it Off? Yet I’m sure you know them. In the same way, a lot of traditional music arrives by osmosis, from recordings, concerts, workshops, the dim recesses of memory, or indeed oral transmission at a session. And it’s your ears that are key to this, not desperately memorising one more tune in the hope it will be enough…

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Re: Smart phone/Tunepal aided playing at a session

A recent topic with some thoughts about memorising:
Confronting a Mystery: Defining the Inexplicable - https://thesession.org/discussions/46183

(Maybe it’s just me, but those who stick to Tunepal etc. and those who feel the need to "memorise" tunes are both on the wrong track.)

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Thanks Calum and conical bore for the (unsolicited) advice which I actual appreciate!

I guess for me it’s more about finger muscle memory which doesn’t seem to work well. I’ve NEVER been able to remember lyrics from songs where my husband can belt out lyrics he hasn’t heard for 50 years or after hearing them once and has no musical ability. I’ve used solfege, can sing the tunes correctly, and can play by ear in that I can work out the tune if I need to. I’ve transcribed lots of music (but not much ITM). All that doesn’t translate into the same ability that you who can play w/o notes have. I’ve come to terms with my strengths and weaknesses in this realm and continue to try. I’m just hoping the Irish tradition will be more inclusive 🙂

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Lynn, what’s your definition of “more inclusive”?

Re: Smart phone/Tunepal aided playing at a session

Lynn, I think you will find the Irish tradition to be fairly friendly and inclusive, but also will try to push you to understanding the tradition, and doing things in the ‘traditional’ way. (Because, well, that’s part of the tradition.)

There are all sorts of different kinds of Irish sessions, some more inclusive than others, but inclusiveness often comes with a blurring of the tradition which is why people fight against it… So hopefully you will be able to find your comfortable place within this wonderful pastime! 😀

I would say that reading sheet music in a session is probably tolerated about as well as a good ear-trained musician that doesn’t read music being tolerated in a classical music environment. I’ve heard tale of one of the most famous Irish fiddlers when they were invited to play as part of an "Irish" night with a symphony orchestra… The conductor handed them sheet music, to which they responded something along the lines of "what am I supposed to do with this?"

I will also say that I don’t believe the ability to remember lyrics to a song and remember the melody of a tune are necessarily directly related. So if you keep working on ear training and put aside the sheet music for anything other than a quick reminder when you can’t remember how a tune starts or catch a particularly twisty phrase, I think you’ll eventually realize that you’re not all that different from people that can’t read music and learn by ear exclusively. It just takes practice, and a lot of it, which might feel like way too much unnecessary work when you’re already an accomplished musician, but will ultimately be worth it…

If you rely on sheet music as a crutch, and really believe that you have some natural force working against your ability to learn by ear, then it will be a self-fulfilling prophecy… "Muscle memory" is an important part of being able to play music, but using it to remember how to play a tune can also be a crutch, since we’re encouraged to not play the melodies exactly the same every time.

Those of us that learn and play by ear tend not to think of learning tunes as "memorization". We think of it more as "internalization". I don’t have to remember 128 notes in a row and what order they come in. I only have to remember one thing — how the tune goes. And then it’s just a matter of expressing that tune eloquently with the instrument that I’m playing… There is a lot of flexibility in there (that isn’t afforded by the rigidity of sheet music), which makes playing this music one of the real true joys of my life!

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Thanks again for all the advice re learning the traditional way. I’m very grateful for your input and totally understand what I need to work on. It’s hard for me but I’m on the journey and will keep trying. Also it’s interesting to read about everyone’s idea of memorization. For me if I can play w/o notes I’ve memorized it. And by that I don’t mean playing exactly the same every time. I’m a fairly decent improviser as well. Michael E - My comment about inclusivity was just me being a bit cheeky - I want to be part of the joy of making music with others even though it may differ from your way!

Re: Smart phone/Tunepal aided playing at a session

Also just realized that in the past 2 years I’ve spent the better part of it playing at home by myself (thanks COVID!) which probably doesn’t help.

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I play with a gent who, when a tune he doesn’t know comes up, gets out the spoons.

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I’ve seen professionally trained musicians sight read from tunepal and play essentially perfectly with everyone else at the session — a remarkable sight!

I also saw someone try this at a session located up in the mountains somewhere, only to realize she was out of cell phone range and couldn’t connect to tunepal!

Knowing the tune well is definitely useful for session playing.

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Ugh. I take no satisfaction in the fact that back in the 1990s I predicted that eventually people at sessions would start looking up tunes in online databases and trying to join in (although back then I had no idea that cellphone technology would be involved and could not have imagined that applications would be able to identify a tune being played, or how easy the whole process would be.)

It’s all a very long way - in time and mental space - from older traditional musicians I remember who, when you started a tune, would not join in with you the first time round (unless they were already familiar with the way you played that particular tune). Instead they would listen carefully until you had played the entire tune before deciding whether they would or could join in with you - and there might be many reasons why they wouldn’t 😉

Re: Smart phone/Tunepal aided playing at a session

I had been playing ITM for a few months when I went to my first session in Chicago at the Bistro. Bear in mind, I spent many years sight-reading for a living- broadway show books, orchestra pieces, jazz charts, etc… The session was being led by Sean Gavin and Devin Shepherd. I was having an awesome time and actually knew a few of the tunes they were playing. Sean started playing a tune I’d heard but didn’t know- I think it was Limestone Rock. I got TunePal out, pulled up the dots, propped the phone up on the bar table and started playing along (quite well if I do say so myself). Next thing I know, Sean hooks the table with his foot and yanks it so hard my iPhone went flying!!!!

I’ve never done that again!!

Re: Smart phone/Tunepal aided playing at a session

Oopsiedoodle!

Re: Smart phone/Tunepal aided playing at a session

"I play with a gent who, when a tune he doesn’t know comes up, gets out the spoons."
Metal or wooden spoons, fidkid? 😉

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Re: Smart phone/Tunepal aided playing at a session

@Lynn I have to ask: What’s the benefit of learning a tune by memorizing it, if you’re not urgently pressed for time? Why not listen to it, or even a part of it, on repeat until you instinctively know it (i.e., can sing or hum it independently of a recording, like any good earbug)? Then work out the twiddly bits if you must.

I’ve heard more than one classically trained musician who later came to trad say they had to unlearn certain things from their classical training to "get" it. I wonder if the urge to memorize is one of those things?

Per Charles’s post above, learning by listening sounds like an effective insurance policy for mobile devices, anyway 😆

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Sight reading a reel at a decent session speed and making a good job of it would be an extremely impressive musical feat. If someone did that well and played in time, my only reaction would be ‘woah!’

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"Knowing the tune well is definitely useful for session playing." No, it’s essential.

"I play with a gent who, when a tune he doesn’t know comes up, gets out the spoons." - that’s no "gent", Joe.

"Metal or wooden spoons, fidkid? 😉" - best substance would be rubber.

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Re: Smart phone/Tunepal aided playing at a session

Thanks, Kenny. I really needed that.

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Re: Smart phone/Tunepal aided playing at a session

Thanks everybody. We all here pretty much agree — playing from a smart phone is like playing from sheet music. I will encourage him to stop, and ask him to leave if he persists. There are other sessions he can go to if the iPhone matters that much to him.

We have no objection to people recording us while we play and of course he is welcome to do that. Thanks again for the support.

David

Re: Smart phone/Tunepal aided playing at a session

I’ve seen folks on here talk about that word "memorize" and different people seem to have different reactions to it. It’s interesting to see. Dictionary definition would have to be something like "commit to memory", and if you can play Sligo Maid without looking at music or having to listen to someone else start it, then the correct answer to the question "do you have it memorized?" would be yes, but people who play this music don’t use the word. They just say they know the tune. Classical musicians use the word memorize, and maybe this is the cause of some of the connotations that get associated with it.

Re: Smart phone/Tunepal aided playing at a session

The people I know who use the term ‘memorize’ about a tune have formal training and frequently refer to features of the tune by reference to ‘theory’ - the interval to the next note, that this section is an arpeggio, that the next phrase involves a chord change etc. As if they have a series of little labels that they can memorize like a shopping list.

For some people that is how ‘learning by ear’ works. For others is it more as Lisa M. says - listen to it until they "can sing or hum it independently of a recording, like any good earbug".

I guess if one does ‘have the theory’ it is hard not to notice landmarks that can be labelled. If one doesn’t then that situation and route to ‘memorizing’ the tune doesn’t exist. I guess actively listening and trying to play the next phrase in ones head before hearing it, as an aid to getting the whole thing in there, may count as ‘memorizing’ to some.

It bugs me when I go to a festival workshop where tunes will be ‘taught by ear’ and find it includes being told things like ‘the next phrase is a D major arpeggio’. I’m the person who asks "please can you play that section again so that I can hear how the phrase fits in."

Re: Smart phone/Tunepal aided playing at a session

If I find a song I like and decide I want to sing it, I usually have to memorise the words, in the sense of making a conscious effort (singing the lyrics repeatedly line by line) but don’t need to do the same for the tune or accompaniment which have already been absorbed by the time I get to the "wanting to learn" stage.

Tunes seem to come much quicker. Some are already in my head the first time I try to play them and in those cases I suppose I haven’t made any conscious effort to memorise the tune. However, there are some tunes for which I do (and have to) make a conscious effort, especially 4 part 2/4 pipe marches!

Re: Smart phone/Tunepal aided playing at a session

I usually have to memorize how a tune starts. After I already ‘know it’. So that I can start it, not so that I can join in if someone else does. Or sneak a look at my book of incipits…

… which are also on my phone.

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‘Memorizing’ a tune would imply some sort of activity. If you find it hard to memorize tunes, did you also have to memorize ‘Happy Birthday’? Do the tunes not stick in your head automatically from just always listening to them? In the car, in the kitchen etc?

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To be fair, some tune are just a teensy-weensy bit more complicated than the twenty-five notes of "Happy Birthday".

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I prefer to "absorb" tunes rather than actively memorise them. It can sometimes take a lot longer this way and they will often stay on the back burner for months or even years.

The above may involve listening to the tunes until I have internalised them either consciously or by "osmosis". Maybe playing along with other musicians in a session/ recording or even "from the dots". With the latter, I am actually learning the tune by ear from myself as opposed to memorising the notation although those who rely mostly on "sight reading" may take a different approach.

I’m not very keen on learning tunes "by rote" from scratch as they often teach at workshops and the likes of the SMG i.e. just breaking it down into a few bars and repeating them over and over again although it’s OK when you are actually in that environment. It’s not how I choose to learn tunes on my own. I’d rather listen to the piece as a whole and just concentrate on difficult passages when and where necessary.

Donald,

I understand how songs may be more difficult to absorb just by listening especially when there’s several different versions. I usually also have to resort to "rote learning" as far as lyrics are concerned.

Re: Smart phone/Tunepal aided playing at a session

"Do the tunes not stick in your head automatically from just always listening to them? In the car, in the kitchen etc?"

Most of them can work that way, sure. But some are complicated enough — in the sense of not fitting into the usual ITM or STM patterns — that it takes serious effort for me to internalize the difficult bits by constant repetition, until the muscle memory is burned in. And yeah, I know muscle memory isn’t a thing. But try learning the weird (but really cool) syncopated third part of a pipe tune like Ian Green of Greentrax without just telling your fingers: "fingers, learn this, and don’t stop until it can go on autopilot!" 🙂

It’s a form of memorization, but not the same type that occurs when I’m learning a new tune that sounds similar to something I already play, has a similar note sequence or whatever, and I can get it pretty fast due to that familiarity. I’m dragging up a memory of similar tunes as I learn the new one, and there are just some tunes where there isn’t that kind of reference in the ‘ol memory bank.

Re: Smart phone/Tunepal aided playing at a session

Not about playing from Tunepal at a session but I backtracked to earlier discussions about Tunepal use in sessions. Here’s one from about 6 years ago. https://thesession.org/discussions/37895

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Re: Smart phone/Tunepal aided playing at a session

@Stiamh, good as your predictions were, I’m afraid technology has surpassed them all. Not only do we have Tunepal with 10,000 tunes (and 15,000 variations), now we even have an an app for COVID testing. You just lick the screen (but it’s only available for Android at the moment).

Sorry, couldn’t resist! 🙂

Back to the topic. Imo, in principle, it matters not whether the person uses sheet music or a smartphone app to assist in learning, but should not be joining in tunes he can’t yet play. In a big session, most people probably wouldn’t notice, but his adjacent musical neighbours probably would.

He needs a stern telling off (for his own good).

I’ve seen visiting musicians with a music book, reading an unfamiliar tune whilst listening to the sessioneers playing it. Sitting out the tune, in other words, which is fine.

Re: Smart phone/Tunepal aided playing at a session

I’d still love to see TunePal running on the Apple Watch either standalone or as a "remote" for the phone app. 🙂

Re: Smart phone/Tunepal aided playing at a session

A lively debate as always.

I have a few points about technology in a session, and about Irish traditional music in general.

- Technology has a LOT to give a session and a lot to give this music. For example, rather than noodling along to it in a session, it’s far more polite (in my opinion) to quietly record part or all of a tune, learn it, and come back in a later week to be able to subtly join in - the musician learns it quicker and integrates quicker I think. Even if you move around sessions, you’ll eventually encounter some of those tunes again, so it’s worth it in the end. The dots or letters can speed up learning a tune massively, and nowadays, that process is accelerated by being able to listen to five or six versions of a tune online as you learn it.
- It’s not necessarily a bad thing to be able to join in on the spot with the help of the dots from Tunepal or here or whatever, so long as it’s done in the right way (as an aide memoire to a tune you already half-know, in addition to your aural skills, preferably playing at a volume that doesn’t be heard that clearly until the tune is learnt or re-learnt properly if your instrument allows, ect.).
- One of the most important unwritten rules of Irish music is you CANNOT play the music properly without having listened to it. You will fail otherwise. It’s as simple as that. All the notes, technology, sheet music ect. - it cannot replace the feel and the bounce of the music that you simply have to absorb by listening to it played. There used to be a fantastic video to illustrate this point which I presume still exists - a video of some of the finest instrumentalists in the world (I believe it may possibly have been musicians of the London Symphony Orchestra) playing and absolutely butchering a set of Irish tunes because they tried to play them from sheet music and classical direction and had clearly never heard an Irish tune played in their lives. And there are many musicians here who find this impossibly difficult to put this point across politely to people because a t00-large amount of the types of people who play this music without listening to it first tend to be the kind of people who will also sadly not listen to advice in this regard. I think it is probably harder to come into Irish music from other music as an adult than to start anew without a musical background, because unlearning or putting to one side the habits of other music (particularly classical) appears to be nigh-on impossible for some.

There is a counterpoint to this, and it is that the musicians of this tradition can sometimes or often be incredibly purist about the music, and a topic like this can bring out the worst of this, including unwanted and unwarranted vitriol against certain instruments or practices (see a few of the comments above). This can be a shortsighted mindset. This music is an incredibly complex and fluctuant beast. I remember reading that a visiting musician to Sliabh Luachra (the cultural area in the south associated with polkas and slides) in I think early to mid 19th century found that the only tune that was played in the area was "Pop Goes The Weasel" (I believe this was in one of the Journal of Sliabh Luachra magazines - I am open to correction on the details). If true, this would indicate that the music that was so rich and varied one hundred years later was either a relatively new or re-imported phenomena from another local area. It would have been rare also before the turn of the 20th century to play any of this music for any purpose other than to accompany dancers, and rare also (and frowned upon by some purists) to play in groups or sessions for any purpose other than teaching. My point is that we have to bear in mind that the music we play and the ways we play it are not set in stone, that they can and will change, and that does not necessarily devalue or denude the music we play, rather, it enriches it.

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Wow I really appreciate your comments fluther.

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I think I would probably find someone reading tunes off TunePal in a session somewhat annoying… but perhaps less so than someone pestering me mid-tune for the title, leafing through a tunebook that may or may not contain the tune in question and blundering in halfway through the last time round – or just diving in without a clue. I might also depend somewhat on context: if they were a competent traditional player that knew most of the tunes and just couldn’t curb their enthusiasm to join in on one or two unknown ones, it would seem like pouring cold water to be overly critical; if they were someone who thought that sight-reading previously unfamiliar tunes all evening (whether off a screen or a page) was a proper way to participate in a session, they would need to be disabused of their belief.

Re: Smart phone/Tunepal aided playing at a session

Fluther, check this out. It’s the Curtin Manuscript ~ A 19th c. Sliabh Luachra Manuscript

"Although the manuscript is undated, it probably belongs to the mid-19th century. The latest dateable item it contains is ‘Pop Goes the Weasel’, a tune which enjoyed a craze from the 1850s. A mid-century date seems confirmed by the fact that it contains no polkas or slides as such."

‘Pop Goes the Weasel’ is 7 pages in.

https://www.itma.ie/features/printed-collections/curtin-manuscript

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Re: Smart phone/Tunepal aided playing at a session

I’m a younger musician as well at 25, and I’d definitely push back against the notion that TunePal-ing the dots and sight-reading along is "just the way things are going." Reading off the dots seems to be pretty universally understood as poor form, especially if it’s your first time seeing the tune.

I broadly agree with Fluther. In my experience, it’s usually people who are new to the tradition (especially classical musicians transitioning to trad) who try this sort of thing, and most quickly realize that it’s not a practical way of playing along. Trad purists can sometimes take things too far, but I don’t think discouraging sight-reading at sessions is overly puritanical.

Re: Smart phone/Tunepal aided playing at a session

"I play with a gent who, when a tune he doesn’t know comes up, gets out the spoons"

I usually do a bit of the opposite, with bodhran. I mostly play bodhran at session, but will grab the whistle to play when one of the tunes I feel confident enough on comes around.

Otherwise the answer regarding tunepal, etc is, like anything else "it depends." I know for myself I can often get a tune into my fingers quicker if I can both hear it AND look over sheet music for it, so having a quick way to identify tunes and find the written music helps a lot, but I’d be more inclined to use it to add things to my "tunes to learn" list than as a means to play along during the actual session.

Re: Smart phone/Tunepal aided playing at a session

For Lynn, this is a tiny hint that I’ve never seen (or heard) anyone suggest. But after many decades, I realized part of my memorizing a tune is memorizing the finger position for some of the most important notes - the leading note to part A or part B, or some characteristic phrase.

My brain tells itself something like "the B part has that descending run" and my brain visualizes the "low 2" position of my finger on the E string, i.e. the G natural that starts the descent. Or on whistle, maybe the top finger down for the B note starting the tune or phrase.

That part of my brain does focus on the fingers, instead of or in addition to the music. I don’t know if anyone else does that. But perhaps it will be slightly useful to you.

Re: Smart phone/Tunepal aided playing at a session

regardless of the obvious benefits of memorizing and really grasping a tune before spitting it out on demand

imagine being that guy

finally found a nice place to play along with some nice people, all hopeful about this great community

next time he comes in, he is asked to leave:
"sorry I went online and asked the wise people on the mountain, and they all agreed. stop fiddling with your electronic gimmick or there is the door"

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Re: Smart phone/Tunepal aided playing at a session

He then stops his unwise electronic fiddli ng and everybody lives happily ever after.

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Maybe "that guy" will have a teaching moment and benefit in the long run…

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He wouldn’t necessarily be "asked to leave". He can’t complain though if he is politely requested to learn the tunes the same as everyone else.

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