Are tune books obsolete in the digital age?

Are tune books obsolete in the digital age?

In a current discussion about tune collections someone stated

> tune books are obsolete now in the Digital age

I’ve not named the author of that as this very much isn’t intended as any form of a personal attack, but it’s a potentially interesting debate.

I’m a huge proponent of online music in general and abc in particular. However I’d argue against the idea that tune books per se are obsolete.

Although there are huge online resources of tune available in abc on thesession, other websites, etc., and obviously in lots of other formats as well; there is still very much a place for a paper collection of tunes.

PDF tunebooks
- require a device to display them on; just about everyone has a phone, but playing off of a phone display is less than optimum, so you really need a tablet-sized screen
- aren’t as immediately easy to flick through,
- are harder to open at random for serendipitous discovery
- textural context for tunes can of course be embedded in the headers or in %% comments, but aren’t as immediately accessible as text on a typeset page

If you know the title of a tune, it’s dead easy to find on the Internet. But what if you don’t know the title, or just want to go through a curated collection sequentially? What about the physical presence of a published collection, compared to the PDF equivalent?

Or am I just an old Luddite clinging to my paper collections as the tide of digital rises to sweep me away?

Re: Are tune books obsolete in the digital age?

I do like a bit of both.

Digitally is easy to add tunes or search for them and you are not restricted to a specific version or collection. Downfall is sun on the screen (laptop user), power outages (and missing internet connection as my main source is thesession). On phone I find the screen too small to see fast and easy.

Tune book and printed out files I prefer to use most of the time as I can just set them on a music standard and set at correct height without seeing nothing from the sun smiling in a screen. Also when my eyes are tired I prefer a paper over a screen. The book with tunes I have is actually a teaching book so most tunes I use are print outs from the session (and elsewhere) that I put in a map with tabs. Basically creating my own "book". But there will always be people that like to collect tune books, or want specific versions. And in the right country you may also take some along if you have a library sub.

Re: Are tune books obsolete in the digital age?

"tune books are obsolete now in the Digital age"

I doubt it! It’s a bit like the the "concept" of the paperless office. With the introduction of more and more complex software, usually offering print options, people want a printout, even if just for portability (so more paper consumed now, than ever before).

Paper tune books are good, imo, and personally I prefer them to digital format, all things considered.

For me as a fiddle player, I sometimes like to mark fingering in pencil, which is not possible in digital format.
Downside is that the books are rarely designed to stay open if used on a music stand, unless they’re ring-bound.

PDF format is handy if you just want a single tune to print off, instead of needing the whole book were it came from.

Re: Are tune books obsolete in the digital age?

Recent personal experiences would suggest otherwise : see https://thesession.org/discussions/47267
We launched "The FluteFling Collection" on the 9th of July, 3 weeks ago today. The launch event sold 39 copies of the book, which we considered a reasonable start. The book went for sale online on the 20th July, and has sold another 50+ copies to Scotland, England, the island of Ireland North and South, France, Germany, Spain, Netherlands, Croatia, USA and Australia. Last I heard there had been 11 ebook sales, that has probably increased by now. We obtained funding to pay our contributors but paid all other costs ourselves. We have recouped our investment within 3 weeks, and money from any further sales will be used to fund future "FluteFling" events, perhaps even returning by the end of this year.
Two other Scottish flute players have also recently released tune books - Tina Jordan Rees [this month ] and James Duncan MacKenzie [Dec.2021].
Jacky Daly has just released a book of over 200 of his own compositions.
QED.

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Re: Are tune books obsolete in the digital age?

Tune books - all Scottish, I’m afraid, but that’s my bag - I have recently, since beginning of 2020, purchased (with their year of publication):

Handmade Tunes - Ross Ainslie (2011)
The Errogie Collection Volume 1 - Adam Sutherland (2016)
The Tune Book - Lochgoilhead Fiddle Workshop (2017)
The Highlander’s Revenge - Bruce MacGregor (2019)
Gordon Duncan ‘s Tunes 3rd edition - Gordon Duncan Memorial Trust (2020)
The Collection - John McCusker (2020)
The FluteFling Collection - FluteFling (2022)

I’ve got loads of digital tune books, but browsing them is a pain and so I only use them if I don’t have a paper copy.

Re: Are tune books obsolete in the digital age?

Didn’t know about the new(ish) John McCusker book - now ordered, thanks!

Also good to hear that the FluteFling book has covered its costs.

Re: Are tune books obsolete in the digital age?

Not an either/or issue. Of course books are useful and my laptop/phone has its time and place, as does my incipit book. I also print and file everything I look at on-line. I’d hate to have to rely exclusively on one or the other.

Re: Are tune books obsolete in the digital age?

If you want to study Irish music, as I do, the best way to do it is look at a paper score.

Re: Are tune books obsolete in the digital age?

Kellie, I can’t possibly disagree more.

If you want to study traditional Irish music, then listen with deep attention to traditional Irish music.

The paper score is, with rare exception, the barest possible skeleton of the music.

The music doesn’t exist on the paper.

Sure, you can get useful metadata on the tune from the paper score like the name, inferring the tune style, the key, the mode, the color of the ink, and what font the transcriber chose to use that day.

There is no music on the paper. Just ink.

Re: Are tune books obsolete in the digital age?

"If you want to study Irish music, as I do, the best way to do it is look at a paper score."

It depends what you mean by ‘study’. If you want to learn play it well, the best way is surely listening to – and, if possible, one-on-one tuition from – the good players.

Tune collections, especially the older ones, are useful for accessing repertoire that you may not easily find on recordings. Sheet music could also be useful, perhaps, for more detailed analysis of tunes – e.g. comparing different settings of a tune or studying relationships between different tunes – all of which is interesting for what it is, but not essential to being a good player.

Re: Are tune books obsolete in the digital age?

I would have thought the best way to study any type of music would have included the words "listen to" rather than "look at".

Re: Are tune books obsolete in the digital age?

My tuppence worth,

Searching music online is great if you know what you are looking for but I like to have a copy on paper too. Tune books are also great to browse through.

Yes, you can also do that online but you don’t want to be stuck in front of a screen all day. Mobile phones are too "footery" to do any serious work although, I daresay, a tablet is a good compromise.
I also have one of those e readers which I liked for some time but the novelty wore off!

So, for me, books will never be obselete. Nor will CDs, vinyl, or even 78s and cassettes.

Oh, by the way, apologies to our overseas members who are not familiar with the term "footery".
🙂

Re: Are tune books obsolete in the digital age?

Obsolete is a big word I think. At least now. But in the future.. I can imagine that it could be true.

I guess that over time there will be more and more people that only go online and never use tune books.

People like me. I go online 100%. The best format for me is thesession. I would love that all the tunes that are in the tune books were in thesession. But for sure the authors of those books (and those that inherited the rights) have the right to keep all the tunes in the tune books and nowhere else.

Why do I prefer online? I have many reasons for this but I can tell you that the main ones are the possibility to play the audio and the fact that I can simply use my mobile phone which is just perfect, I can enjoy it anytime anywhere.

Re: Are tune books obsolete in the digital age?

Books are only obsolete until you have no electricity, or if you have no data signal.

If the proverbial poop ever hits the fan, we will all be thankful to have things on paper.

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Re: Are tune books obsolete in the digital age?

Personally I prefer being able to hear things, however tune books are still useful for finding less common music.

Re: Are tune books obsolete in the digital age?

I dislike online music. Yes, I can print off the .pdf and put it on a music stand, but the majority of what you find online, particularly stuff that has been put up as ABC, lacks the detail and subtleties that suggest how the tune should be played, they just show the basic notes. I also love to spend hours leafing through old sources, looking for interesting old tunes that have been forgotten and need resurrecting.

And when it comes to new compositions that are still in copyright, a lot of them aren’t available online, only garbled versions that other people have transcribed from recordings. If a composer puts their work on the interweb it becomes very difficult to charge for it. But if they publish a book of tunes and people buy the book they get paid for their work.

Re: RE tune books obsolete in the digital age?

I like both, I like to see different versions of tunes, and when a setting has been published in a book you know more care and accuracy has been given to it (not that careful and accurate transcriptions aren’t found online). Tunebooks often contain annotations about the tune, or about the source too which I find enriches the experience (again that’s often but not always present on thesession). I extremely rarely print out settings unless I’m getting someone to play them, I dislike random pieces of paper and ring binders make me feel like I’m in one of those nightmares where I’m back at school.

Online is great obviously and super fast, but… Just like with paper books, convenience is not the only factor - people like to have a physical object, for me it is a visible reminder on the shelf every day of the experience I had learning the tunes inside, and a subtle little reminder that there are more to learn if ever the time presents!

Re: Are tune books obsolete in the digital age?

Being able to search for just about any tune online is amazing, and also being able to find numerous variations.
I do like to learn more by ear and write out the trickier parts on a notation pad.

But I also love having the physical tune book itself.

One thing that I’m working on for myself though is.
I’ve purchased a nice hardcover moleskine music book which has a blank page beside a notation page I’m writing out the tunes I play and on the blank page whatever history I can find.

Re: Are tune books obsolete in the digital age?

Listening to something can only get you so far. Looking at it is actually much more efficient but a combination of both is the best option.

Re: Are tune books obsolete in the digital age?

But without listening, looking at it gets you nowhere.

Re: Are tune books obsolete in the digital age?

kelly, taking the lord vetinari route with music is certainly beyond my skill. music is certainly better on the page with no silly musicians forcing their inturpetation onto the art. luckily we are playing traditional music, so a bit of grit is to be expected. my crippled hands certainly add their own daft colour to the music, and for that i appologize.

Re: Are tune books obsolete in the digital age?

In the same way that story books are absolute, they aren’t.

There’s one major benefit to tune books, older ones in particular, is that they can have a gem in them that simply isn’t online yet.

Re: Are tune books obsolete in the digital age?

"Listening to something can only get you so far". It’s always worked for me.
"Looking at it is actually much more efficient" - "efficient "in what way ?
"but a combination of both is the best option". The first is vital, the second is optional.

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Re: Are tune books obsolete in the digital age?

agree with you 100 percent, Kenny. i can’t quite put my finger on why ;P There’s just something about this music that i’m finally starting to understand. my ear is getting a bit better, transfering what i hear in my head to the whistle has been surprising me. don’t need to get the mandolin out to rely on rote memorization of fingering anymore. cheers!

Re: Are tune books obsolete in the digital age?

"Listening to something can only get you so far."

Hard to overstate how misguided that sentiment is. This is music. It’s sound, it’s aural. This music in particular is mostly made up of short, repetitive melodies in a handful of keys/modes. I mean no disrespect, but if you need ink spots on paper to analyze or understand it, you’re in the wrong game. Might want to take up poetry instead.

On the other hand, if you find some enjoyment from reading or studying notation, by all means, read and study away. But please don’t presume that doing so in an essential, or even useful (beyond perhaps being a memory aid), habit for playing this music well. You’d be doing yourself a disservice, and you’d be wholly missing the point of how many, many people make and play and understand this music.

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Re: Are tune books obsolete in the digital age?

"Listening to something can only get you so far. Looking at it is actually much more efficient but a combination of both is the best option."

Maybe be for porno, but not this music.

Re: Are tune books obsolete in the digital age?

"Listening to something can only get you so far." Listening matters. In this music it will *always* get you where you need to go. It’s not the only thing which you can use but it is the most important.

But there is much to listening well.

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Re: Are tune books obsolete in the digital age?

I wrote that.
Print is static, copy and paste is not.
I have a stack of printed tune books Breannath, Sean Ryan, Timber, Shaskeen Tune books…..

I NEVER refer to them now, gathering dust ( as has been said ) until the lights go out, and we are back to candles and paper.
Love Out
Pat

Re: Are tune books obsolete in the digital age?

Kellie: "Listening to something can only get you so far."

It got a lot of traditional musicians a very long way.

I don’t deny the usefulness of reading music. You might find referring to the dots helps with filling in a few notes that you can’t quite pick out by ear, or perhaps just getting them a bit quicker – that’s fine. But you’d be hard pressed to find any sheet music that conveys all the ornamentation, phrasing and expressive nuance you can hear in a good performance of a tune. I would turn your statement on its head and say, "Sheet music can only get you so far."

Re: Are tune books obsolete in the digital age?

Dots are just a map of the tune, recordings are photos of the tune and ABC is like a bad bus stop timetable of the tune. One may look at a map and photos of an area and get an idea of what it is like BUT you won’t really know until you actually go to that place.

Re: Are tune books obsolete in the digital age?

Being able to read music proficiently will create more opportunities musically, it’s a no brainer,often times I find people poo poo it because they have not been dedicated to the challenge.Its a distinct possibility that digital will become obsolete before tune books.

Re: Are tune books obsolete in the digital age?

It certainly won’t do you any harm but it’s not strictly necessary for our kind of music.
Nor for "folk", country, rock, even jazz etc.

Aly Bain, in his biography, stated that he had tried to learn to read music once but gave up as by the time he had got to the end of the tune he had already picked it up by ear. 🙂

I think it becomes more essential when you are required to learn a certain arrangement and/or "play as written. Even with Scottish and Irish music, if you are playing with a larger group for a performance, it helps if you are all playing the same thing. There will be often slightly different settings of tunes, nuances and subtleties, recommended bowing and slurring etc, quiet passages. Even sections where the accordion players get a chance to shine for a few bars or drop out, or second fiddles come in etc.

Of course, all this could be "learned" and practised without the dots by the musicians playing together, learning by ear, and remembering their parts etc. However, being able to use sheet music does help here even although it may be dispensed with later.

Arguably, "the dots" are even more essential when it comes to classical music and the like. I once had a go at joining an amateur orchestra where everything was arranged on "the paper". The music itself wasn’t that difficult to learn by ear but it was the arrangements which I found challenging. i.e. knowing when not to play… It meant that I still had to follow the music…. often quite large sections… when I wasn’t playing. This just didn’t come naturally to me, I’m afraid.

Notwithstanding the above, most non sight readers usually have some knowledge of musical theory for their own requirements even if they haven’t studied it as such or use the recognised musical "language".

For instance, a fiddle player might know very little about notation on the bass clef. He or she won’t usually need it.
I only started to teach myself this when I began to play the clarsach. Although I played keyboards and then PA a bit before that, it was mostly chords with my left hand.

Also, many guitarists don’t read the dots but they know plenty of theory about chords, modes, and so. Not all melody players will have the same grasp of such things.

All of us should have a good knowledge of "timing", "keys", etc. Again, this may be instinctive and learned through experience rather than formal training or study.

Re: Are tune books obsolete in the digital age?

Interesting article in the Times last Friday about "The Aurora Orchestra" and its’ founder and conductor Nicholas Collon.
Referring to forthcoming performances of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5, tomorrow and Wednesday at the Royal Albert Hall - "The Aurora players will again be presenting the piece without their scores, the music all memorised by the instrumentalists……. "
Think about that.

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Re: Are tune books obsolete in the digital age?

Yes, I’m sure that experienced and capable musicians will be able to do this.
In fact most people should be able to play by ear and/or memorise music if they put their minds to it and shouldn’t always need to rely on sheet music as a "crutch".

However, "without their scores" would strongly suggest that they used them at one point to learn the music and/or arrangements in the first place.

Memorising a tune or piece isn’t quite the same thing as "learning by ear" either although there is usually some overlap. In my case, I usually end up "learning by ear" from my own playing as opposed to just memorising a piece of music.

Re: Are tune books obsolete in the digital age?

Ahem! There is a huge difference between being able to knock out an old jig or reel on a fiddle ( no matter how ‘trad cred’ you are and how studied your grumpy indifference to music theory and reading is!!) and playing the correct violin part in an orchestral or jazz piece such as Beethoven, Zappa or Schoenberg!!!!

Re: Are tune books obsolete in the digital age?

Like a number of folks I do rely on Tune Books. I have compiled , (in binders… gasp!), 15 hour long sets, easily accessed, for performance purposes; 2 or 3 sets per binder.
I also keep small manuscript books for all my tunes. In my case, each book contains specific genre collections ie. Scottish tunes (which is MY main balliwick too Donald K) ; Irish Tunes, Original tunes etc. On the staff side I write the first 4 bars of a tune and include the key and style highlighted. Historical information goes on the opposite side.
I would like to have a digital format for both my tune sets and collections but don’t know where to look. Besides I don’t want to use the time for transferring tunes over anyway and…. there are so many great tunes to discover and learn ( HUGE THANKS to The Session), . Using digital technology has its’ place but my system works for me just fine.

Re: Are tune books obsolete in the digital age?

Yhaal House,

I agree and I alluded to this in my second last post.
Using written music is obviously beneficial in the latter situations you have described and much more practical than every musician in the orchestra learning their parts from memory.

However, as Kenny’s post has illustrated, it can be done.

Re: Are tune books obsolete in the digital age?

If anyone has a copy of Ralf Wackers Irish Bouzouki Tutor (the English version) that they’re now considering obsolete, I’d love to take it off their hands, at a reasonable price of course.
If you have one that you’d be prepared to pass on, please, let me know.

Re: Are tune books obsolete in the digital age?

I’m digitally inclined, but for fun I fished out my copy of Mally’s 100 essential Irish tunes.
Leafing through it I discovered some old favorites I hadn’t thought about in awhile, with my scrawled notes and references. I also could see at a glance how many then-unfamiliar tunes I’d learned since those early days. It was a pleasure to browse through it & play some random tunes — I think I will keep it handy from now on!

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Re: Are tune books obsolete in the digital age?

Further to my map analogy above.
The dots for a jig or reel are usually the basic tune.
Its like a tube map or an A to Z, a diagram.
Orchestral scores are rather more detailed.
Like an Ordinance Survey map.
Such is the nature of the musics being written down.
With the Trad Irish you just want the basic shape. You put in all the ornamentations and little extemporizations yourself. In an orchestration you need much fine detail because each part has to fit with all the others plus there’s no improvizing/ ornamentations because the composer has written that all in already!
Whether the dots are on paper or a screen matters diddly squat!

Re: Are tune books obsolete in the digital age?

Ear is best

Re: Are tune books obsolete in the digital age?

"In an orchestration you need much fine detail because each part has to fit with all the others plus there’s no improvizing/ ornamentations because the composer has written that all in already!"

More or less, yhaal. Depends on the composer, the orchestra, & the performance. Some composers & orchestras are quite flexible; while still managing to fit all the parts together.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Fppp8YJ80I

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Re: Are tune books obsolete in the digital age?

I do understand the breadth of it all!
Trying to reduce a whole lecture of one’s reflections (rant?!) to one concise sentence or two is the trub! Blah blah blah!!!


Anyway, since starting to type this posting, I just watched your Count Basie vid! It was so fab I forgot what we were all getting our knickers in a twist about! It has everything: blokes reading parts, blokes playing written parts but having remembered them, blokes improvising, blokes just knowing the tune! But all with much Nyah!!

Re: Are tune books obsolete in the digital age?

Thread undrift. To tune book obsoleters. Do you also obsolete all the tunes in said tune books or you offer to type them all up and post them online? (copyright laws be damned).

Olga Egorova recently played a concert using a sheef/pile/mess of paper music, somebody asked
"where is your ipad?", she answered "kids always play games, always run down the battery". Good
enough reason to stick with paper.

Re: Are tune books obsolete in the digital age?

From a post earlier in the thread, the John McCusker book "The Collection - John McCusker (2020)" was mentioned.

I tried to purchase it via John’s site, https://www.johnmccusker.co.uk/shop/ , but it appears the site is inaccessible - you get a "Hmmm… can’t reach this page" error message.

Did anyone else try to order the book this way?

Thanks

Re: Are tune books obsolete in the digital age?

A bit weird, perhaps, but there’s nothing like the smell of the paper of old-ish tunebooks!

Re: Are tune books obsolete in the digital age?

I love playing along to YouTube videos and learning tunes by ear, but I don’t think tune books are obsolete. I am interested in the whole ambience of folk tradition and by owning and using books like The Atholl Collection, O’Neill’s, Playford’s English Dancing Master, Carolan - ed Donal O’Sullivan, The Mackintosh Collection et al, I am finding all sorts of treasures that never appear online, and also understanding much more of how they evolved, how they relate to other tunes and other traditions and so on.

I do love many of the recently composed tunes too. I’m a traditional music nerd, but I love my nerdery.

If you, dear reader, think that tune books are obsolete in the digital age, then they are - for you. But not for me!