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learning to play by ear?

The Sandman 08 Oct 12 - 05:41 PM
alex s 08 Oct 12 - 05:53 PM
Jack Campin 08 Oct 12 - 06:01 PM
treewind 08 Oct 12 - 06:10 PM
Steve Shaw 08 Oct 12 - 06:11 PM
Stanron 08 Oct 12 - 06:17 PM
Jack Campin 08 Oct 12 - 06:32 PM
The Sandman 08 Oct 12 - 06:33 PM
GUEST,999 08 Oct 12 - 06:41 PM
Steve Shaw 08 Oct 12 - 07:30 PM
Tattie Bogle 08 Oct 12 - 07:32 PM
Jack Campin 08 Oct 12 - 08:06 PM
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Bobert 08 Oct 12 - 08:18 PM
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The Sandman 09 Oct 12 - 05:37 AM
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ripov 18 Oct 12 - 07:03 AM
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Jack Campin 18 Oct 12 - 08:49 AM
ripov 18 Oct 12 - 09:19 AM
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ripov 18 Oct 12 - 09:47 AM
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GUEST,Peter Laban 18 Oct 12 - 10:08 AM
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Subject: learning to play by ear?
From: The Sandman
Date: 08 Oct 12 - 05:41 PM

I would be interested to hear how others, developed their ear playing.
I developed mine by using written music.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: alex s
Date: 08 Oct 12 - 05:53 PM

Not trying to be funny, but I developed mine by listening.

I went to lots of sessions and gradually got used to hearing chord changes, chord progressions and key changes. Unless a tune is very complex you soon get a good "feel" for it.

I think I can walk into most sessions and get a reasonable grasp of what's being played and so join in fairly well. My music-reading son says he envies that ability.

My classically trained colleague/bandmate, however, can do both (i.e. play by ear or instantly sight-read) - that to me is the ideal.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Jack Campin
Date: 08 Oct 12 - 06:01 PM

Scales and modal improvisation/noodling (this was on the flute).

There are lots of scalelike tunes that fall naturally under the fingers once you've got used to playing similar sequences - Barbara Allen, The Broomfield Hill, Lovely Joan and so on.

And there are other tunes that are largely made of arpeggios - they seem natural after you've done some noodling around with those.

I've always used written music as well but can't recall it ever doing much to help me play by ear, except that I could do a quick scan of the tune to establish its key signature, mode and range.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: treewind
Date: 08 Oct 12 - 06:10 PM

Sat in sessions, listened and tried to follow.

Prior to that, I could read music and given some time could learn to play things from memory. Even now my ability to retain what I've learnt by ear is limited - in a session I may (sometimes) be able to play along with a tune someone else is doing after three times through, but 5 minutes later I've forgotten every note of it. Repeat every week for a month or two and it'll start sinking in.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 08 Oct 12 - 06:11 PM

Dick has responded to two threads on the Session on this issue and now he's at it over here on this flogged-to-death topic. No-one is taking much notice over there. Hardly surprising when someone rolls up to tell us you learn by ear by reading "the dots," I suppose. In three posts, all short, quasi-enigmatic and undeveloped, both here and over there, Dick has thus far failed to elaborate as to how reading the dots has anything to do with learning by ear. Go for it, Dick, old chap. We're all ears.

_________________________________________________

It doesn't matter where else it was discussed. At Mudcat it is a viable topic, and may or may not take a new direction than some other forum might offer. A couple of you are determined to follow behind GSS and "out" wherever else he is discussing music and not offering anything new or helpful to the conversation. You're demolishing good threads. Stop the stalking, and don't be surprised if a moderator removes you inappropriate remarks. ---Mudelf


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Stanron
Date: 08 Oct 12 - 06:17 PM

I got involved in playing with bands whose material I didn't know. I'd get maybe twice through the verse as the singer sang and then be expected to play the tune. I could already play by ear but doing this over a few years and I got a lot better. There were no rehearsals and no dots. This was strictly for money and no one paid for rehearsals.

I started in the early 60s. There was no internet, if there were teachers they were unaffordable and classical. I learned chords from friends and used those to play stuff I heard on the radio as best I could.

In a way learning by ear is really learning by memory. You have to be able to remember what goes through your ears in order to be able to compare it to stuff you play on your instrument.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Jack Campin
Date: 08 Oct 12 - 06:32 PM

I think some people here have had formal instruction using the Curwen sol-fa system.

How old were you when you started and how long did it take?


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: The Sandman
Date: 08 Oct 12 - 06:33 PM

to be serious, the best way is to learn simple tunes like nursery rhymes first and then play them in different keys, not appropriate for harmonica players but for instruments that are relatively chromatic a very good idea trying them in different keys, then scales and different intervals and learning to associate certain intervals with differnt tunes the first opening notes ba ba black sheep, are the intervals for tuning the fiddle, a major sixth,do to la is the opening of my bonnie, so stsrt of with associations. gradually go on and try christnmas carols and eventually more difficult tunes, BUT DO NOT USE THE DOTS


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: GUEST,999
Date: 08 Oct 12 - 06:41 PM

I assume dots are music notation ??

I can figure out what notation tells me to do, but it's much easier for me to hear the song a few times and go from there. YMMV.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 08 Oct 12 - 07:30 PM

then play them in different keys, not appropriate for harmonica players but for instruments that are relatively chromatic

I haven't read such twaddle in a very long time. And here's me thinking you played the harmonica.


"Relatively chromatic." Heheh!


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Tattie Bogle
Date: 08 Oct 12 - 07:32 PM

I learned to read music at an early age, and was, I suppose. to some extent dependent upon written music. I managed to learn long piano pieces for school concerts without the music in front of me after repeateldy playing it WITH the music - but that's learning by rote, not by ear.
Then about 12 years ago, I started on other instruments where learning by ear was more of the norm, although we might still be given the "dots" after the lesson was over.
I have to agree whole-heartedly that both skills (reading music, and playing by ear) are totally compatible, non-exclusive and complementary, and if you can do both you are "quids in".
Having read with some degree of horror, another thread on here, which initially sounded quite interesting, but rapidly degenerated into a slanging match, can I make a plea to get any petty arguments/personality clashes out of Mudcat forthwith!


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Jack Campin
Date: 08 Oct 12 - 08:06 PM

"Relatively chromatic" is a pretty good description of a recorder. You can do a much wider range of keys easily than on a whistle, and in principle you can play in any, but it does get harder in the extreme ones. Ditto a simple system clarinet, 8-key flute or Northumbrian pipes. Or for that matter the lever harp.

On a descant recorder I can play "The Lea Rig" in every key between B major and F major in descending semitone shifts; it's an interesting exercise. I must pull that one out in a session sometime. (I haven't been in the same session as Cathal McConnell for a while, but he has a perverse fondness for that sort of trick and would go for it).


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 08 Oct 12 - 08:17 PM

I can play Auld Lang Syne and Dirty Old Town in three different keys on any diatonic harmonica. Dozens of other tunes in two keys. And I routinely play in five different modes on diatonic harmonicas: Aeolian, Dorian, Ionian, Mixolydian and Lydian. No bending, no overblows. As for relatively chromatic, it's either chromatic or it isn't chromatic. If it's diatonic with a few possible accidentals, it still isn't chromatic. Let's not alter definitions.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Bobert
Date: 08 Oct 12 - 08:18 PM

Gotta a $2 pitch pipe, a $20 geetar and a couple folk music books with the chords diagrammed over the changes...

That was, ahhhh, 1964... Come a long way since then...

B~


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Jack Campin
Date: 08 Oct 12 - 08:49 PM

Let's not alter definitions.

Nobody's altering anything. "Relatively chromatic" is a new term for something that could do with a name. If you have a different term for instruments that can play in any key but not with equal ease, what is it?


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 08 Oct 12 - 09:00 PM

It's chromatic if it can play every note of every scale. Like a chromatic harmonica. Not like a stock D/G box, that can play every note in the diatonic scales of D and G, and a couple of crucial accidentals to boot, but not every note of every scale. A B/C box is chromatic. The fully-chromatic instruments I've mentioned can play every note of every scale but that does not mean they can play in every key with equal ease. I doubt whether that applies to most "chromatic" instruments. You can play every note of every scale on a C chromatic harmonica but you cannot effectively play Irish music on it. Which implies that you can't play in every key with equal ease. Etcetera. You have an instrument that plays diatonic scales and some, but not all, accidentals and you need a name that does not include the word "chromatic." Or maybe you don't need a name!


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: The Sandman
Date: 09 Oct 12 - 05:37 AM

the essential point is this, try simple tunes in as many different keys as you can, even in b flat on an anglo, gradually build up the diificulty of the tune, my advice is to leave reels with many parts to last.
my point about the harmonica was that on harmonicas that are not chromatic, once you have learned a tune on a d the positioning will be the same on an e, so there is absolutely no point, the positioning of all keys is different on a chromatic harmonica.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: banjoman
Date: 09 Oct 12 - 05:54 AM

I am confused - ok I am a banjo player - but I learned to play using fingers not ears.(not applicable to harmonica)

Written music confuses me further, to me its just a mish mass of dots and lines which mean nothing. I do sometimes envy those to whom it means something. As for me, I listen to a tune over and over and when its in my head I can play it on banjo or guitar or harmonica


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Johnny J
Date: 09 Oct 12 - 06:10 AM

I mentioned somewhere on the other threads that I believe everybody has the ability to "play by ear" unless they are profoundly deaf, of course.
However, for various reasons, they have never developed this skill.
Perhaps, they haven't had much interest in music until now or have "forgotten" after years of formal musical education and relying on "the dots".

As others have suggested, the best way is to pick a tune or song you know "off by heart" and try to find the notes of the melody on your instrument. In all the various keys, if possible. It all depends what you play and arguments here about what is or what is not chromatic aren't particularly relevant or helpful here. Keep it simple.

There's a lot of controversy about learning scales but I would suggest it's a good idea to find out *for yourself* where the "doh, ray, me......etc" are...in each key. You don't even have to worry too much about what key is which as long as you can learn to find your way about the instrument.

Now the above is assuming that you haven't played a particular instrument before and, possibly, have no previous knowledge of music.

I can imagine there's likely to be more difficuly if you already play music from "the dots" as you have to "unlearn" a few things or, at least, put them to the back of your mind.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Johnny J
Date: 09 Oct 12 - 06:16 AM

As you will realise, my last post is very "simplistic".

Almost every player will pick up some musical theory along the way even although they may not be able to read written music, e.g. guitarists will usually know which keys they are in and which chords to play(Sometimes :-)) ).


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 09 Oct 12 - 07:02 AM

I do sometimes envy those to whom it means something. As for me, I listen to a tune over and over and when its in my head I can play it on banjo or guitar or harmonica
That is to be applauded. The trouble with a lot of people to whom the dots mean something is that they mean the wrong thing: rigidity.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: The Sandman
Date: 09 Oct 12 - 07:59 AM

That is to be applauded. The trouble with a lot of people to whom the dots mean something is that they mean the wrong thing: rigidity"
not so, a good musician, who works from the dots, realises there is a lot of interpretation in the dots, this is true in the classical world and in the trad world, in the classical world the interpreation of the dots is at the command of the conductor, and in quartets etc it is down to a consenus of the four players but the music is not rigid it is open to interpretation.
in the trad world a good example of the lack of rigidity is the interpretation of dottedness in hornpipes, for example in Scotland they are sometimes swung more than in ireland,
then there are jigs, they are often written out evenly, but they are not intended to be played that way, the vast majority of trad musicians who read music, understand this.
"once you have learned a tune on a d the positioning will be the same on an e, so there is absolutely no point, the positioning of all keys is different on a chromatic harmonica."
ok, I cant see your problem, bit i will clarify.
take a blues harp in g, take a blues harp in a, play a tune on one, play the same tune on the other, the positioning of the tune is exactly the same on both,
this is not the same when you take a chromatic harmonica in g MAJOR play a tune on it ,then on the same g chromatic harmonica play the same in a MAJOR, is that clear?


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Les in Chorlton
Date: 09 Oct 12 - 08:56 AM

Hasn't there has always been a trade off between playing from dots, learning by ear and playing fom memory? Isn't that why so many tunes have survived in so may different variations?

Isn't that why so many tune books have survived in every format from the backs of pieces of paper, via individual musicians tunebooks to a number of re-published versions of The Complete Dancing Master - plundered by CJ Sharp when he stopped collecting tunes.

I simply don't hear all the notes in most country dance tunes. When I learn by ear I then go on to play only some of the notes in the tune. Know, at 66, and after learning to play off the dots 8 years ago and can play all the notes AND generally in the right order.

To repeat another point I have made a number of times - these are mostly country dance tunes ie they survived because people played them for dancing. You can play them for any reason at all. But their is nothing traditional or specailly important about playing them in sets of 3, very quick and withouy saying what any of them are.

In our tunes sessions we ahve dots for those who can use them and most play from memory and a few can pick up the tunes after 1 or 2 hearings.

All good fun

L in C#


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: The Sandman
Date: 09 Oct 12 - 09:46 AM

a very refeshing post, les, music should be fun, if people get too much up their own backsides about it, they need to reevaluate


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: GUEST,highlandman at work
Date: 09 Oct 12 - 10:21 AM

How does one go about learning/improving ear playing after having learned to play exclusively from notation?
It's about training your brain/ear/fingers (or voice) to make connections, and a multi-pronged approach will be best.

First of all, spend time with your instrument and very simple tunes (nursery rhymes were suggested) and try to pick them out bit by bit.
You learn to recognize intervals and reproduce them only by doing it, and of course doing it badly at first. You then move on to recognizing chords and chord changes the same way. A little theory will help narrow down the possibilities when it comes to chord changes, too.

Second, if you're one who learned the "dots" in such a way as to make you an organic playback device, you will be well served to learn the theory to go with it. Seriously, theory applied to the music you already know will go a long way to helping you understand -- and later, hear -- the aural implications of the various bits that go together to make a tune or chord progression.

My problem has always been the reverse. I got very good at ear playing very early, and scamped the discipline of learning to sight play. It's hard work to remedy that, and may be just as hard to learn to use your ear after years of being a servant of the dots.

-Glenn


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Jack Campin
Date: 09 Oct 12 - 10:21 AM

Another way to learn is by finger pattern and muscle memory. It's common for Highland pipers to learn by watching the instructor's fingers - in some bands everybody keeps on doing that for years. And fretboard positions are used a lot in the early stages of learning the oud. Guitar and lute tab formalizes that into a notation system.

Of all of those, the oud method is the least disruptive to ear learning, since it's a fretless instrument and you have to listen to yourself, wherever your basic idea of where to finger the note comes from; there's a natural transition to ear or staff notation playing.

You often hear rock-centred guitarists who've been more screwed up by learning through tab than any classically-trained player has been by staff notation. It shortcuts the imagination as much as cranking a piano roll.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: GUEST,highlandman at work
Date: 09 Oct 12 - 10:28 AM

"It shortcuts the imagination as much as cranking a piano roll."
YES! Well put.
-G


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: selby
Date: 09 Oct 12 - 11:11 AM

I believe I can play reasonably well from the dots and remember/learn tunes by rote, but can no matter how hard I try, I cannot play in a session well.
I loose the tune if someone is not playing the same as me and once lost, although I may know the tune well, I can not find it again, anyone else have this problem.
I play English Concertina.
Keith


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Leadfingers
Date: 09 Oct 12 - 12:24 PM

All of us have different brain connections to our ears and our fingers ! Some lucky ones CAN sight read and busk a tune equally well while others HAVE to have the music in front of them .
I Suffer from two things that are mutually xclusive - A GOOD ear , and terminal Idleness , so although I do know what each pigeon sat on its telegraph wire is , I have never sat down and learned to read properly .


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: The Sandman
Date: 09 Oct 12 - 01:20 PM

yes,Terry, but you play well by ear.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: GUEST,The Don
Date: 09 Oct 12 - 02:51 PM

'It doesn't matter where else it was discussed. At Mudcat it is a viable topic, and may or may not take a new direction than some other forum might offer. A couple of you are determined to follow behind GSS and "out" wherever else he is discussing music and not offering anything new or helpful to the conversation. You're demolishing good threads. Stop the stalking, and don't be surprised if a moderator removes you inappropriate remarks. ---Mudelf'

Mudelf should realize that Dick Miles has a long record of trying to settle arguments on Mudcat that he's already lost on The Session. Dick just does it to score points against people who've proved that he knows absolutely fuck all about Irish traditional music.

It would make far more sense to advise Dick to stop posting these threads rather than attempt to clamp down on those who rightly question his motives.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 09 Oct 12 - 07:20 PM

Well said indeed, Don. One does have to ask whether a dishonestly-conceived thread can really be a good thread. There are two threads currently active on TheSession to do with learning by ear which were honestly conceived and which are brilliantly productive.

Anyhoo:

Keith wrote I believe I can play reasonably well from the dots and remember/learn tunes by rote, but can no matter how hard I try, I cannot play in a session well.
I loose the tune if someone is not playing the same as me and once lost, although I may know the tune well, I can not find it again, anyone else have this problem


You hit the nail on the head. Learn a tune from notation, or even from just one particular recording, so that you can play it at home confidently, then take it into a session. You're toast! That is perfectly normal and is what is to be expected. It happens to me whenever I pick up a tune from a CD. The best way to learn a tune is to learn it from people playing it in your actively-listening/interacting presence. You can't always wait for that (I know - I live in the middle of nowhere in an area in which people who play Irish tunes are like rocking-horse shit). Stick with it, though, and dismiss any notion that might be lurking that you're right and they're wrong! Eventually you'll still be screwing up, but you'll be screwing up with insouciance!


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Jack Campin
Date: 09 Oct 12 - 07:40 PM

One does have to ask whether a dishonestly-conceived thread can really be a good thread.

On just about every forum I've ever been on, a significant proportion of the most interesting discussions have been started and occasionally prodded by trolls, crazies and utter idiots. How good a question is depends on what answers you give it. I think of inputs of spluttering nuttiness into a thread as something like the randomized, pattern-disrupting suggestions you get from the I Ching. They're a challenge to your imagination to do something constructive wih them.

Selby: I seem to see an unusually large proportion of English concertina players come adrift playing by ear, even after years of experience - either they can't do it at all or it sounds stilted. I don't see the same in many players of bisonoric instruments. My guess is that the ergonomics of the English isn't a good fit for most players' low-level neural processing.

I am always delighted to hear how many people at Whitby manage to play the English with guts and expression - I don't hear much playing of that quality in Scotland. Maybe there's more of a community for them in northern England? If so you need to find it.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Acme
Date: 09 Oct 12 - 08:06 PM

It only matters to a couple of you that this "argument" has ever happened someplace else.

No one else cares.

You're trashing one thread after another as you challenge someone you disagree with. So don't participate in threads that GSS starts, how difficult is that? They will languish for lack of participation rather than die from a strangle-hold around the neck of the reader trying to see past the bickering to the actual meat of the discussion.

I'm making a point of spending more time above the line, posting lyrics in a project of Joe's, and reading, without remarks, to learn more about the songs I'll be dealing with in my father's extensive collection. You guys make this really difficult.

SRS


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 09 Oct 12 - 08:12 PM

Sure, Jack. It's just that some of us don't like to see honest-to goodness posters being hoodwinked by someone who starts threads here with ulterior motives. This self-same thread could easily have been started with with a honest statement from the instigator that he has found frustration elsewhere in responses to a particular topic and in consequence he'd be interested to hear what we think over here from our perspective. Simple. All too often, though, the threads we're talking about here are started after the instigator has had a bust-up on TheSession, and he knows that some of us are over here too. Poisonous, no?


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 09 Oct 12 - 08:16 PM

This isn't a thread about songs as far as I can see, so I fail to see how anyone in this thread is making your life difficult in the way you describe.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Don Firth
Date: 09 Oct 12 - 08:21 PM

"The trouble with a lot of people to whom the dots mean something is that they mean the wrong thing: rigidity."

The trouble, of course, is not with the "dots," it's with the people.

When it comes to performing a piece learned from the "dots," it's no different from an actor who has memorized a speech, say, from a Shakespearean play, learned from a script or from a book.

I have heard a number of different recordings of Marc Anthony's speech from "Julius Caesar" ("Friends, Romans, countrymen. . . .") performed by different actors. John Gielgud, Lawrence Olivier, Marlon Brando, and others. And each actor had his own take on it. They were all well done, and they were all quite different.

The "rigidity" is not in the "dots," it's in the person performing the "dots" and not having an overview of the whole piece of music and what it's all about.

Anyone who simply refuses to learn to read music out of either laziness or some irrational fear of "the dots" taking over their minds and rendering them "rigid" is depriving himself or herself of the availability of a vast resource of material.

Playing by the dots or playing by ear? No reason whatever that you can't do both.

I do. Why limit yourself?

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 09 Oct 12 - 08:39 PM

Those actors are all incredibly accomplished and experienced in their trade. A seasoned player of traditional music who has learned thousands of tunes and played in many different situations will be perfectly fine using dots to learn a new tune or two. He or she already knows that dots are far less than bare bones and that their art demands the utmost in flexibility. OK, so take your Shakespeare speech into a class of thirteen-year-olds down the local comprehensive and ask then to read it out. Yeah, you can encourage them and praise them, but on a purely objective level their performances, considered alongside those pros you mentioned, will be stilted crap. That's what you get from learning by rote from a book/dots. Stilted crap. So what do you do? You tell them that the words on the page are useless in themselves as a guide to performance and you take them to hear Gielgud, Olivier and Brando. The real thing, not a thing on a page. The with learning traditional tunes are obvious. You get under the skin of this music by listening to it, preferably in live playing, not by reading squiggles on a page.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 09 Oct 12 - 08:41 PM

I'll swear I typed the word parallel in there somewhere.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Don Firth
Date: 09 Oct 12 - 09:04 PM

Steve, that's not a reason NOT to learn to read music.

Or, for that matter, read in general.

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Acme
Date: 09 Oct 12 - 09:37 PM

Steve, I don't have to justify why I read particular threads or why I'd prefer they not be filled with your petty-ass squabbles, and your stance that you can trash threads at will if you feel the reason it was started is "dishonest" is reprehensible.

Don, you know better than any how my father learned to play guitar - you taught him. He knew how to read the notes and make notations when he was writing songs or transcribing. It's a way to learn something on your own and it's a tool to pass music onto others who aren't in the room to hear. He was much better at memorizing that I am - I see it in my son, also, memorizing long complex classical pieces on guitar that I would never have remembered on the piano. I took many years of lessons, and I entertain myself at the keyboard, but I tend to think that the notes on paper got in my way, as it may for others with dyslexia. The act of reading was more of a challenge, so the music was harder to learn. I'd have preferred (in hindsight) to explore approaches to music theory that involved more playing without a sheet of music in front of me all of the time. I'm not saying I wanted to learn by ear without knowing how to read music, but if I had mastered improvisation based on theory I think this would have supported the notes better when I got around to them. (Perhaps only another dyslexic might understand this possibly backwards approach I'm suggesting.)
   
SRS


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 10 Oct 12 - 04:37 AM

Don, I can both read and read music. Very useful skills, both. But using your ability to read music to learn, as a beginner or relative beginner, Irish tunes is not useful. Let there be no confusion.

SRS, Not only have I not trashed this thread, I've contributed to its substantive topic. Neither have I asked you to justify your choice of threads to read. But I am puzzled as to how a thread which is mostly about learning tunes by ear can upset your plans to post lyrics and study songs. That's all. Have a nice day.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Les in Chorlton
Date: 10 Oct 12 - 05:03 AM

I am not at all clear why playing by ear is held by some to be some amazingly important skill. It is a a skill and so is playing from the dots. Being able to sit in a session and play a tune after one hearing is also a skill - a more impressive skill than simply learning slowly by ear. Being able to play complicated tunes in unfamiliar time signatures is also an impressive skill - learned by millions of children worldwide - but nevertheless impressive.

Now, we sit in pubs and for the large part play simple country dance tunes ie tunes that were written and have survived for the most part because somebody played them for dancing. Most of us who do this love the tunes, love playing them, love playing them with others and enjoy the social company of our friends whilist we do it. Some of us play in bands whilst people dance - also great fun.

Some people who play in pub sessions seem to claim some special relationship with the tunes that can only be gained by learning by ear, playing by ear or being able to pick up tunes on one or two hearings.

Am I alone in thinking this claim is inconvincing and that in terms of the last 400 years the pub tunes session is not particularly 'traditional' (sorry, I don't know what that means either) but something that has mostly grown out of the 60s/70s Revival?

Best wishes

L in C#


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 10 Oct 12 - 06:35 AM

It doesn't matter how untraditional sessions are (actually, you could say that most instruments played in sessions are untraditional - we could rule out just about everything from Irish sessions except for fiddle, flute and pipes). We are playing tunes that are passed on via an aural process, which is why you hear tunes played differently everywhere you go. That is the heart and soul of the music. Tunes are not laid-down successions of notes. Without fail, in my experience, people who see the tunes that way always play badly. Rigidity would see this music off, and rigidity is what you get when lots of people learn tunes from tune books or play from music. Flexibility means that you get together with your mates, you listen to them, they listen to you and you never need to practise or "work out a version." You can do that with your gigging band but you don't do it for sessions. A tune notated on a page adds a layer of authority that is totally at odds with how the music is passed on.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Jack Campin
Date: 10 Oct 12 - 06:53 AM

Your flashmob would have been more mobile and more weatherproof with two music stands less to carry.

It extends the range of situations you can play in if you can play well by ear. Christmas carol singalongs, old people's home entertainment, whetever. Doesn't have to be in any way traditional.

Stockhausen made it a minimal requirement for anybody playing in his groups that they should be able to play back ANYTHING after only one hearing. Even if their instrument was a trumpet and the sound was recorded crowd noise. I don't imagine the Stockhausen family band did many nursing home gigs but they had what it takes.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Les in Chorlton
Date: 10 Oct 12 - 07:14 AM

You state this case extremely well Steve and much of it is gernerally endorsed by people who play in pub sessions.

I have infront of me "The Nothumbrian Pipers' Tune Book", John of The Green The Cheshire Way" and "The Great Northern Tune Book - Edited by Matt Seattle from The William Vickers Collection of 1770 and I can throw in The Compleat Dancing Master for good measure. Not to mention O'Neill's 1001 Dance Tunes of Ireland - collected in Chicago? Loads and loads of other written sources have come to light in the last 20 years, as I feel sure you are aware.

It is clear that the written and aural tradition have both contributed and continue to contribute to the survival and the reproduction of these great little tunes. It has been argued that one reason that tunes in Irish Sessions are played in threes, and often the same sets of three is because the record companies that recorded Michael Gorman, and others, found they could fit three tunes on a 78 record. How traditional is that?

I completely agree, how could I not, that people getting together in small groups to sort out what tunes to play and how to play them, leads to good tunes played well. The evidence from the written sources shows that this has happened over the centuries and many versions of some tunes have evolved. The logic also leads us to expect this process of evolution to continue and in some places it does. Odd though that at loads of festivals the tune players get together and manage to play pretty well the same versions of hundreds of popular tunes.

What the tune books do, and we have ours on the tables in The Beech every time we meet, is enable people who sight read and could not play in most other sessions to sit down and join in with the rest of us who play from memory, however we learned.

I like that.

As for rigidity few things are more rigid than another set of Michael Gorman reels played so fast it's hard to tell what they are, especially when nobody names them either before or after they have been played.

Best wishes

L in C#


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Les in Chorlton
Date: 10 Oct 12 - 07:17 AM

Jack, we could manage with less music stands. We could actually manage with none but that would mean some of our friends could not play with us. As far as I know most of the Beech Band enjoy playing with the rest of the Beech Band. Maybe you would too?

Best wishes

L in C#


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: The Sandman
Date: 10 Oct 12 - 07:33 AM

most traditional musicians who read music understand that the notes are not rigid, for example jigs are written evenly, but they are not played evenly, the same goes for hornpipes the amount of dottedness is open to interpretation, again most music readers are aware of this, sometimes in scotland and england they are played more dotted than in ireland.   
Classical musicians who read from music are aware that the music is open to interpretation, they do not generally speaking play the notes from the music rigidly, you are of course right about listening to each other.
hear is an example of four musicians playing from music who are not playing rigidly, if you are patient or flick on to the end, the final piece, which is for a quartet, at 4 30 is not rigid
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9kck9jxKgz4


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Jack Campin
Date: 10 Oct 12 - 07:35 AM

I think you mean Michael Coleman.

I can't speak for the Irish scene, but in the Scottish one the reason for tunes most often going in sets of two or four is because that's how you want them for the most common dances. And because of that demand, there were a lot of recordings that strung together sets in that way. Often the names got mislaid in production, so people who learned the tunes off records got the wrong names or no names at all.

I'm not often near Manchester these days but yes I'll look you up if I get the chance.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Les in Chorlton
Date: 10 Oct 12 - 07:48 AM

Thanks Jack, it is indeed Mr Coleman

Les


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Stringsinger
Date: 10 Oct 12 - 02:26 PM

I teach a basic jazz guitar class. I have found that the best way to improvise is to sing what you hear in your head and attempt it on the guitar. George Benson,
John Pizzarelli, Slam Stewart and others have shown this technique by singing and playing their "lines" together.

In some cases, you can hear musicians such as Oscar Peterson groaning in the background of his playing. This is because he is trying to vocalize his ideas.
The same is true of Errol Garner.

A while back, someone recorded Sir John Barborelli (sp?) conducting the symphony, I think it was the London, and he literally sang along with the music as he conducted. It was quite humorous.

Music is a language and it's necessary to speak it as well as play it. The speaking
is vocalizing.

Growing up listening to Charlie Parker, I was able to sing most of his jazz lines although I couldn't play them as fast as he did.

Vocalizing what you hear in your head and then playing it is imperative to playing by ear.

I have a technique which I call "singing chords" in which I have the student numerically identify the pitch of the chord while singing it. This enables the student to actually sing the voicing of the chord prior to playing it. Great ear training.

When I was in music school, the assignment was to write four parts in conventional classical harmony and have the movement of the notes be according to the rules of four part choral work. I had difficulty with this until the assignment was "played" on the piano then I understood it. Some approach it differently preferring to "see" it first and then internalize it.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Don Firth
Date: 10 Oct 12 - 02:27 PM

"Tunes are not laid-down successions of notes. Without fail, in my experience, people who see the tunes that way always play badly."

Steve, I can agree with that up to a point. But in the same way that one can deliver a speech from a book or script in a variety of ways, one can learn a tune from written music and also play or sing it a variety of ways—the best being to spend some time with it and try it a variety of ways.

The problem you're focusing on is the deficiency of the musician, not any deficiency in using written music as a means of learning the music.

If a concert pianist can learn a twenty-minute classical etude from sheet music, then bring a whole new interpretation to it, someone with a halfway decent musical and/or dramatic sense sure as hell ought to be able do it with something far less complex.

Canadian pianist Glenn Gould recorded the Goldberg Variations twice, a couple of decades apart. The two renditions are quite different, even though in both recordings, he is playing the same notes.

The notes per se do not contain all that much information. Pitch and duration. That's it! And any halfway decent musician should be able to put his or her own individual interpretation on how the notes are played.

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 10 Oct 12 - 03:02 PM

The notes per se in an Irish tune book don't even contain anything like sufficient information about pitch and duration. Let alone that the whole tune as notated does not contain anyinformation about rhythmic subtleties, variation or ornamentation. And this constant comparison with classical music interpretation is somewhat bogus, with respect. There is nothing like the scope in classical for putting your own mark on it in terms of variation in melody and rhythm and for adding ornamentation. Just like there is nothing like the scope in diddley music for going off half-cock with the music as there is in jazz. Half-way decent musicians will listen to a lot of other half-decent (or better than half-decent) who play this music, not try to start from scratch, or, at best, with vague notions, with a tune-book.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Don Firth
Date: 10 Oct 12 - 03:13 PM

"There is nothing like the scope in classical for putting your own mark on it in terms of variation in melody and rhythm and for adding ornamentation."

Sorry, Steve, but you're just flat wrong about that.

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: The Sandman
Date: 10 Oct 12 - 03:29 PM

I agree,Don.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Ebbie
Date: 10 Oct 12 - 03:39 PM

Some years back a neighbor of mine asked me if she could start attending my Friday night jams because she wanted to train her ear.

At that point she had been in a recorder band for several years which played primarily for 'international folk' groups and they did everything from dots which she read smoothly and readily.

She/we discovered she had an excellent ear. I admire her greatly; she is highly motivated and continues learning as her repertoire grows steadily. She still practices her music every day.

On a different note (no pun intended) a peeve of mine is singers whose songs are too rigid. To my mind, a song that has a story to tell should not have each syllable of equal length nor should words be forced to rhyme unreasonably (I remember one singer who sang "comFORT" for 'comfort'.

For the same reason, when I listen to recited poetry I don't like the 'bambambam bam bam' approach. I want a poem to be read almost conversationally. Let me fill in the rhymes.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: selby
Date: 10 Oct 12 - 03:55 PM

Placing tin hat firmly on head, where does tempo fit into playing by ear?


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Ebbie
Date: 10 Oct 12 - 04:08 PM

I was responding to various posts that referred to different 'interpretations' of songs and tunes.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: JohnInKansas
Date: 10 Oct 12 - 04:27 PM

While I can't really give much advice how others should learn to play by ear, I can give a pretty fair description of how I did it.

1. Learn to whistle. (around age 4 or 5 is a good time)

2. Listen to some music and learn to whistle a tune. (start at around 5 or 6, maybe)

3. Annoy everyone within hearing by whistling tunes all the time whenever you're outdoors - Mama may hit you where it hurts if you do too much of it indoors? (good forever, until all your teeth fall out and you can't do it at all anymore)

4. Blow 50 cents (two weeks allowance) on a cheap harmonica and figure out where the notes are that you've been whistling. (around age 9 or 10?)

5. Somewhere along the line you should learn a little bit about reading the dots. I was lucky enough to have some good classroom instruction around age 8 - 10. It will be much more helpful later.

6. Notice that reading the notes can "put a tune in your head" and practice playing the tune without looking at the notes. (It's easier and more fun at any age.)

7. Continuing from #4, really annoy everyone by never being without your harmonica (or whatever other thing you've picked up) and almost never shut up and put it away.

8. Join the school band using whatever instrument your parents picked for you, because it was cheap.

9. SING, preferably in a quartet or choir, since it forces you to "feel your way to the right notes" without benefit of all those keys, holes, strings, and frets.

10. Discover that (at beginner/intermediate levels) "school music" is really boring, so find the joys of "noodling" when you practice. You must learn how notes fit together eventually, so lots of practice just playing "sequences of notes that form natural combinations and sound good" will help you develop a "sense for harmonic relations" that will be helpful forever. (And it is a lot more fun than all those marches, and should become so "mindless" that it's better to be "usefully bored" than being "uselessly bored."

11. Keep playing something until all the music stops.

(YMMV)

John


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Don Firth
Date: 10 Oct 12 - 04:53 PM

Absolutely right, Ebbie.

I've learned many songs from recordings and directly from other people--and from written music in song books. Lots of Lomax, Sharp, various singers' collections.

When I learn a song from the dots, I then study the words carefully and play with the song.

When I was taking singing lessons from George Street (taking singing lessons is something else that "purists" have wall-eyed fits about--"They'll make you sing like an opera singer!!" Not hardly!!), he had me bring my guitar to the lessons. After the technical exercises and such, he'd ask me to sing whatever song I was currently working on. As I sang the song, he would often interrupt me and say, "What does that line mean?"

Now, he knew perfectly well what it meant. But he wanted to make sure that I knew what it meant and wasn't just singing the song by rote.

If you know what you are singing about, then the subtle, or not so subtle variations tend to take place naturally.

Don Firth

P. S. I've heard plenty of singers who do not read music, but learn their songs from records and such, who are little more than biological music boxes. Crank them up and away they go. Mechanically, not, apparently, even aware of what they're singing about. Sad. Kinda boring, really.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: GUEST,Stim
Date: 10 Oct 12 - 05:09 PM

I think that it doesn't matter as much how one learns a tune as it does what one does with it after one has learned it. If you do no more than play the tune as you learned it(whether from playing the dots, or copying a recording,or reproducing what you heard in a session) it's not very interesting.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Kim C
Date: 10 Oct 12 - 05:10 PM

I started playing by ear when I was 5. That was 40 years ago. It just sort of happened and I can't tell you how. At the time, I thought everyone could do it.

Sorry, not much help. ;-)


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Don Firth
Date: 10 Oct 12 - 05:15 PM

Excellent, John!

I learned the rudiments of reading music when I was a teen-ager. I got interested in opera (weird kid!) and along with a couple of friends, started taking singing lessons from a retired opera singer.

After running me through the drill (breathing, relaxation exercises, establishing what my range is, basic exercises—scales, arpeggios, vowel sounds, diction), she wrote out the exercises on a sheet of manuscript paper for me so I could practice at home.

I didn't know how to read the dots, but my sister was taking piano lessons. She showed me where the notes on the practice sheet were on the piane. So I'd sit at the piano and "one finger" the notes and try to duplicate the pitches with my voice. I didn't realize that I was ALSO training my ear at the same time.

Then, some years later, when I started taking classic guitar lessons, I pretty well had to learn to read music.

I can't look at a piece of music and sing it right off. I'm not a great reader. But I've done enough of it so I can puzzle it out just by reading the dots. But with a piano handy (which I can't really play beyond the "one finger" method), or with a guitar in hand, I can pick it out easily on the instrument and learn the tune that way.

I've learned a whole helluva lot of songs from song books, without having heard anyone sing them before I started to learn them.

Refusing to learn to read the dots is cutting yourself off from a huge resource.

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: GUEST,Stim
Date: 10 Oct 12 - 05:23 PM

John left out one important thing, and that is:

12)Keep trying even when people around you seem to learn faster, know more, and play better that you.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 10 Oct 12 - 06:07 PM

Hmm. Interesting that Don and camp-follower Dick should disagree with me about the difference between classical and traditional Irish, but neither gave a single reason for their disagreement. Basically, if you are in an orchestra or a chamber group or playing a solo piece of classical, a piano sonata for example, you will not go down well if you piss around with the tune (as in diddley), add capricious ornamentation here and there (as in diddley) and change the rhythm (as in diddley - subtly) intended by the composer. OK, there is a modern trend (resurrected from "classical" times,no doubt) to add the occasional twiddly bit in a concerto, and to do your own thing in a cadenza, but that is not the same as what you do - what a good player is expected to do - with a diddley tune. If you can't, or won't, see the difference then there really is no helping you.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Leadfingers
Date: 10 Oct 12 - 06:10 PM

Stim is right there - No matter how 'good' you may be , there is always someone (Usually a Smart Arse Bloody Kid) who can blow you off the stage . Ask Les Paul about it - OR Louis Killen !


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Don Firth
Date: 10 Oct 12 - 06:15 PM

Steve, apparently you aren't particularly well-acquainted with Baroque music. Adding a lot of "diddley bits" was generally left up to the performer, who added his own. It was part of his job as a performer.

It's an old, time honored tradition. . . .

(Egad! There's THAT word again!!)

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 10 Oct 12 - 06:15 PM

And Don, while I may have already said this, there is no harm in reiterating it: no-one is advocating refusing to learn to read music. Nobody. I actually did GCSE music at the age of 46 with the specific intention of learning to read music. So stop saying it, eh?


I got an A star, by the way. Feckin' genius, I am. My performance piece was Carolan's Concerto on harmonica. I got 40 out of 40. And I can read music now.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Stanron
Date: 10 Oct 12 - 06:15 PM

Steve, apart from the fact that you bring unpleasantness in posting to the level of an art form, are you sure you are in the right thread? This is supposed to be about learning to play by ear. Or so I heard.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 10 Oct 12 - 06:18 PM

I'll put some jokes in if you like. Oh, wait a minute...if we want jokes, there's no shortage of jokers in this thread. At least I don't misrepresent myself, old chap.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 10 Oct 12 - 07:01 PM

And I happen to be extremely well-acquainted with baroque, classical and romantic-era music, Don. Bits of renaissance and medieval as well, though I don't pretend to know as much about those. Best to not post such unwise assertions. I do believe I covered your "diddley-bits" point in a post above. And you still don't get it. Playing around with tunes in the way that good players of diddley music do is absolutely not comparable with the kind of interpretation that classical players employ. In fact, when it comes to diddley music, the word "interpretation" carries a sort of pompous allusion that I personally reject. Wrong word, wrong spirit. Different worlds starting from totally different starting points, both musically and (almost more importantly) socially.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Jack Campin
Date: 10 Oct 12 - 08:09 PM

if you are in an orchestra or a chamber group or playing a solo piece of classical, a piano sonata for example, you will not go down well if you piss around with the tune (as in diddley), add capricious ornamentation here and there (as in diddley) and change the rhythm (as in diddley - subtly) intended by the composer.

And how much variation did you ever get between different run-throughs of the same set with a band like Planxty?

You aren't comparing the same performance situations.

Listen to the beginning of each of these versions of the Bach Violin Partita #1:

Arthur Grumiaux

Jascha Heifetz

Rachel Podger

Gidon Kremer

Alistair Brown (viola)

Henryk Szeryng

You probably do get occasional performances of Irish tunes that stand out as being as far from the norm as the odd one out in that lot, but I doubt you ever get such determined effort put into being different from everybody else. (In Scottish terms, I would say the player I'm thinking of is doing a J.F. Dickie).


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 10 Oct 12 - 08:44 PM

Well, Jack, they are all playing the notes that Bach wrote, and they are also playing the music of a composer who, notoriously, gave far less direction than most other great composers as to instrumentation, tempo and expected style of playing. Do you prefer the Goldbergs on harpsichord or piano? What did Bach say? We don't know, do we? Let's see you carry out a similar exercise with the start of Beethoven's violin concerto...

Exceptions that prove the rule don't make for persuasive arguments...


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Jack Campin
Date: 10 Oct 12 - 08:54 PM

they are all playing the notes that Bach wrote

Yes. But they are playing significantly DIFFERENT notes from each other.

Can you not tell which is the odd one out? I'm sure that performance can be argued to be exactly what Bach meant, just like all the others.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: ripov
Date: 10 Oct 12 - 09:24 PM

I'm a reasonably good reader, but a bad rememberer. Not that I don't know the tunes, but as someone once said to me at an Irish fiddle festival, "I know what you mean. I can play anything so long as someone remembers it for me"
And if you play an Irish (or English or anything else) tune not in the same way as the rest of the players in the session you will get some funny looks!

Jack, those renderings of the allemande are as beautiful as they are different. But could you dance to them? They are after all baroque, not romantic, and from what are basically dance suites. Art music tradition was well distorted by victorian "correctness".
One hope I had as a newcomer to "folk" many years ago was that it would shed some light on how the music of Bach and earlier composers should be played. I discovered that there was not even a concensus of how "folk" should be played (not necessarily a bad thing!).

But as to the thread, I struggle through constant repetion of each phrase, initially from the dots, then putting them away until I get stuck. In a session of course you don't have to remember, you just "read" what the others are playing (look at fingers, listen hard); and hopefully the tune will eventually embed itself in the brain, so you can play it solo. Singing and improvising on your instrument are a help (as John in kansas suggested). And it's a great help as well if your instrument is tuned to the others you're playing with and not one of those silly black....but that's off thread I think!


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Don Firth
Date: 10 Oct 12 - 09:37 PM

Sorry if I'm getting up your nose, Steve, but I get bloody fed-up with some of the stuff I hear from some people who seem to consider themselves to be absolute authorities on how folk music should (MUST!) be played. And their constant harangue about how you can't learn folk music from written music, and how studying music theory will bind you to a whole bunch of arbitrary rules and stifle your "folk creativity," and, in general make pompous pronouncements about how any kind of formal musical study will destroy one's ability to do folk music.

The scene: The mid-1950s.

So I'm sitting there in Howard's Restaurant, drinking coffee with this singer who is one of the better known singers in this area. I'm a relative beginner compared to him. He has been haranguing me because I am taking classic guitar lessons, the better and faster to learn to use my fingers to accompany folk songs and ballads, and he mourns for me due the fact that I took some voice lessons before I even got interested in folk music. I don't even mention to him that I'm planning to change my major from English Literature to Music because I want to make a career of singing folk songs and ballads professionally—like he's doing. I know damned well he'll try to talk me out of it, and even get a bit nasty in the process.

He—let's call him Fred—brags that he can't read music, he's never had any musical training, and didn't learn to play a guitar out of any manuals, he figured out all the chord fingerings on his own.

As Fred and I are sitting there in the restaurant, he asks me if I'm going to the Blue Moon Tavern tonight and lift a few. "No," says I, "I'm singing for a group at the Seattle Public Library this weekend, so I want to spend some time practicing."

"Practicing!" he snorts. "I never practice. It's a waste of time, and it leads to stilted playing and singing. I'll ruin your natural style."

"Oh," says I. "Then how do you learn new songs?"

"I just play them over and over again until I know them." (!!)

"And," sez I, wide-eyed in amazement, "you never—practice?"

"Never!" sez he.

O-o-o-o-okay. . . .

Some time later, his sister tells me that before he took up the guitar and singing folk songs, he had taken some nine years of violin lessons!

Okay, Fred, that was pretty funny! Tell me another one!

Simple. He didn't want the competition for available singing jobs!

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Acme
Date: 10 Oct 12 - 09:43 PM

I love your stories, Don. Any closer to finishing that book?

Lots of good points. Pardon me while I depart for an evening YouTube Bach binge. . .

SRS


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Les in Chorlton
Date: 11 Oct 12 - 05:33 AM

I have been singing as long as I can remember and singing in folk clubs since 1964. I tried to played country dance tunes, for that is what most tunes in "Sessions" are, on mandolin and recorder since 1964 and I could play a few but could never "hear" all the notes in many. When I played what I "heard" kind friends said - "you are not playing all the notes".

My wife learned piano as a child. We bought a harmonium she played all the notes from the dots and we made good music.

A thousand years later I bought a mondola and played the few simple tunes I had from whenever. Then I dug out my wife's tune books and over a period of a year or so I learned to play all the tunes she played on the harmonium. I can know play very slowly many tunes from the vast collections of country dance tunes and choose the ones I like, then play them quicker.

At Whitby then later at Shrewsbury Festival I went to "Beginners and Improvers" tune workshops. Dots on the website 9 months before the festivals. For the last 4 or 5 years the "Beginners and Improvers" tune workshops at Shrewsbury attract around 100 people playing a massive variety of instruments. Most have the dots in front of them - many play from memory.

Around 4 years ago we started a "Beginners and Improvers" tune workshop in our local with a tune book of 20 tunes. We know have 100.

Last night we had 2 guitars, 1 bass, 2 fiddles, 2 recorers, 2 whistles, 2 flutes, 2 accordians, 2 melodeons, 2 concertinas, 2 banjos, 1 mandolin, 1 set Northumbrian Smallpipes and 1 uke.

Probably a better mix than usual - no 'cellos or harps on this night. And slightly more women than men. Unusual for a session? Maybe not.

We play as an acoustic ceilidh band of between 20 and 30 musos and have much fun.

We are simply doing what tune players ie musicians have been doing for hundreds of years, some learn by listening to recordings or from others, some learn from dots, some play fro dots and most play from memory.

But I have to say that, just as at Shrewsbury, the dots enable a lot of people to participate, many of which would not sit in a pub session and try to join in.

If you can learn a tune after one or even 20 hearings - good for you. If you can sit down in our sessions and play a tune you have never seen before from the dots, also good. The majority of us are somewhere in between.

Some people on this thread have explained and great length about how sophisticated the whole process is and in some cases how these great little tunes can only be understood and played by playing by ear.

Maybe they are right but I am not convinced. Perhaps they could get some of those people to say what the tunes are called. Is that too much to ask?

Best wishes

L in C
The Beech Band M21 0XJ

Folk at The Beech M21 9EG


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: The Sandman
Date: 11 Oct 12 - 05:44 AM

corect les,music is about enjoying yourself,I enjoyed myself playing with the NMEC FROM the dots,
i enjoy mself playing from memory in folk clubs and at sessions,
in fact what i dont enjoy is playing with players who speed the tune up or play the wrong chords, and much as I think it is a good aim to try and play without dots, I would rather play with good musicians who are using dots and listening to each other than musicians who are not using dots but not listening


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 11 Oct 12 - 06:04 AM

I can't hear them properly as I'm on a crappy little netbook for a few days, the best I can do is about a two-minute gap between one and the next, and they sound like what you hear from someone else's Walkman on the bus. You could possibly make a case for any one of 'em being the odd man out. One's in a different key on the fiddle, one's on a viola, one's played by Wacky Gidon (wacky when I saw him in the 70s and wacky to this day - brilliant possibly but still wacky). None of them is Menuhin, unfortunately. I'm unclear as to what point you're trying to make. They are all interpreting the work of a composer who often gave notoriously-little guidance as to performance. Those players have considerable latitude as to how they play the piece but it is not the same thing as the latitude I have when I play Trip To Durrow. I am not saying more or less, just different. I can vary the tune, I can add all manner of ornamentation which I can change from playthrough to playthrough and every time I play it, I can play it straight or with swing, fast or slow. I adapt what I play according to what I hear around me. Finally, you've set individual solo performances of a Bach partita against band performances by Planxty. Hmm. You are far more free when you are not collaborating with other players. Why don't you compare some different solo performances of an Irish tune? Start with any of MacDara's. Compare his playing of Rolling In The Ryegrass with Matt Molloy's playing of it (which is what I was doing in my head when I first herd MacDara's). They are playing the "same" tune but you could struggle to make that out to begin with. You don't get that with your Bach.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: GUEST
Date: 11 Oct 12 - 01:54 PM

What did Bach say? Not a lot, I believe, as the machine as we know it had only been developed shortly before his death, but it would seem he was warming to it.
It was well established by the time Beethoven was composing seriously, so THAT question is a bit specious.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: TheSnail
Date: 11 Oct 12 - 03:35 PM

It strikes me that there are two different things being discussed here, how you learn tunes and how you play them.

I have learnt some tunes purely "by ear" without ever having seen them and some from "the dots" without ever having heard them. Mostly, I have used a combination of the two; it helps reading a tune to know what it sounds like and the notation can help with those twiddly bits it's difficult to pick up as they race past in a session. Even learning tunes that I've never heard, I know what similar tunes sound like.

I'm not sure what "playing by ear" means. If it means playing from memory without the music on a stand in front of you, does it matter how you learnt it in the first place? I prefer not to use written notation in a session so that I can concentrate on listening to the other players. The trouble is that some people who do play from memory still don't listen. "Ooooh! I know this one. Vroooom!."


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 11 Oct 12 - 03:46 PM

Well, if someone has learned from dots or, almost as bad, a single recorded source, they are far more likely to carry the conviction that they have it right and don't have to listen. That's my experience from playing in mixed sessions for over 20 years. I could even go so far as to claim that I can tell from someone's playing whether they learned it from dots. Less so in the case of long-seasoned musicians who have learned mostly by ear in the past. They are the only people who can afford to pick the odd tune up from dots out of expedience. The only time I ever look at dots is as a last resort if I can't make out some twiddly bit of a fast tune, as you were saying. Even then, it's better to seek out another version in order to construct your own work-round.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Don Firth
Date: 11 Oct 12 - 05:56 PM

To those poor benighted souls who seem to think that anyone who takes formal ("classical") musical training gets brainwashed and transformed into a robot that can only play exactly what's on the IBM card inserted in the slot in the top of his or her head, listen up!

"Classical" music is something of a misnomer in the context of formal musical study and training. Prior to the "classical" period in music, say, in Renaissance times, musicians—often aristocrats who enjoyed listening to and making music—would get together and play music for and with each other. The instruments might be a lute or two, a cittern, perhaps a virginal (early form of harpsichord), a case of viols (bowed instruments of various sizes and ranges), and a case of recorders (same idea), and whatever other instruments anybody happened to enjoy playing—even the early 4-course Renaissance guitar, not much bigger than a baritone ukulele. Some of the above. Or only a couple of the above.

Oftentimes the music they played from would be nothing more than a melody line, either written out in some form of tablature, or notes not written for any specific instrument. Frequently, that was it. They would
IMPROVISE
around the melody.

In modern parlance, we generally call that a "jam session," and it's the same sort of thing that happens when a group of jazz musicians get together and play, more often for their own enjoyment than for that of an audience, even though non-playing listeners may be present.

These sessions in manor houses and palaces took place in a salon or chamber (room). As the years rolled by, composers took to writing works that could be played by such pick-up groups. Later on, it began to become formalized, the instruments were specified (two violins, one viola, one cello—the formal formula for a string quartet). Or violin, viola, cello, double-bass, and piano, the instrumentation for Franz Schubert's "Trout Quintet," Schubert having based the melody on a song he had heard.

This, of course, is what is now known as "chamber music."

Typical of the instrumentation of the early "pick-up" groups can be found in such modern groups as The Baltimore Consort, who play music from that earlier period. CLICKY. The personnel and instrumentation of the group varies from time to time. I have about a dozen of their CDs.

Groups similar to those in the early salon gatherings still occur! A few years ago, I found myself invited by a friend to join her at a particular English professor's home for an evening of making music. "Bring your guitar," she emphasized.

The gathering was in a large house on Seattle's Capitol Hill. The house, mansion, really, had once been owned by a wealthy lumber baron, and some of the rooms were quite large. In one of them, where we gathered, there was a baby grand piano and a harpsichord. A number of people brought instruments of one sort or another (a couple of violins, a few recorders, someone played the flute, someone else the oboe, etc.).

We spent a most enjoyable evening playing music for each other (I sang a few ballads), and we spent a fair amount of time improvising around the professor playing at the harpsichord.

The people gathered there ALL had some measure of classical training, I'm sure they could ALL read music, and we spent the evening IMPROVISING. The only one who was actually reading was the professor, and he did a few things without written music.

No. The folk music enthusiasts who have all kinds of notions about classical musicians being slaves to—the Dreaded Dots—ought to spend a little time around some musicians OTHER than their own kind!!

Learn something about the rest of the world.

Don Firth

P. S. By the way—one of the classes I had at the Cornish College of the Arts music conservatory was "Sight Singing and Ear Training. The textbook for the class was How to Play by Ear, by Emmett Wilson.

Being able to play by ear is considered to be essential to the well-trained, well-rounded classical musician.

P. P. S. Steve, you say that you can tell whether someone has learned a tune from the dots or learned it by ear? I would challenge you on that.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: TheSnail
Date: 11 Oct 12 - 06:18 PM

Sounds like a bit of a circular argument, Steve. If playing in a particular way is proof to you that people have learnt "from the dots" then that proves that learning from the dots causes them to play that way. Do you have separate evidence of how people have learnt their tunes? Did you ask them?

Sorry Don, but I still don't understand what "playing by ear means".


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 11 Oct 12 - 07:40 PM

No. The folk music enthusiasts who have all kinds of notions about classical musicians being slaves to—the Dreaded Dots—ought to spend a little time around some musicians OTHER than their own kind!!

You persist in arguing in parallel, Don. A bit Like a guy who goes to a session but who insists on playing "his" versions. Nobody is claiming that anyone else in whatever genre is being a slave to dots. Aunt Sally must live at your house, Don. No-one is claiming that dots have no place in music, that you're a criminal if you learn to read dots or that dots are the divil's own invention. But advocating that beginners in traditional music will come to no harm if they learn tunes from books and/or set up music stands in sessions is just nonsense. There may well be nothing traditional about sessions, etc., but there is damn sure nothing traditional about people down the centuries playing traditional music from dots. Nothing!


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 11 Oct 12 - 07:49 PM

Sounds like a bit of a circular argument, Steve. If playing in a particular way is proof to you that people have learnt "from the dots" then that proves that learning from the dots causes them to play that way. Do you have separate evidence of how people have learnt their tunes? Did you ask them?

You made that circular argument, not me. I've played in sessions every week for 20 years almost without fail. If someone turns up with a tune they've learned from dots, or from a single recorded source, it's bleedin' obvious. They will play it their way and no other way. They fail to see how vitally important it is to accommodate other people's take on the tunes. And it puts them in grave danger of not listening flexibly to the other musicians.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Don Firth
Date: 11 Oct 12 - 08:27 PM

Steve, I never advocated setting up music stands in sessions—or at sing arounds, or "hootenannies," or at song circles. Or using written music in concerts or other performances.

Learn the song or stay off the bloody stage!

In fact, I left the Seattle Song Circle when people started bringing song books to the meetings and singing out of them. Several of us did.

However, you made an extraordinary claim, and extraordinary claims demand extraordinary proofs.

I know a lot of songs. I have learned them from a variety of sources, some directly from other people (they write out the words for me and sing it at me until I can remember to tune). Or I learn it from a record, playing it over and over while scribbling down the words. I have several feet of shelf space containing older vinyl records, and a sizeable bookshelf full of CDs. A variety of music, but mostly recordings of folk music.

I have about twelve feet of bookshelf space containing various song books and collections. Some song books compiled by popular singers of folk songs, e.g. Joan Baez, Theodore Bikel, Ewan McColl, Gordon Bok, et al., containing the words, along with the tunes written out in "dots," some collections such as English Folk Songs in the Southern Appalachians collected by Cecil Sharp, several books of songs by the Lomaxes, Evelyn Kendrick Wells' The Ballad Tree—and on for about three pages.

Tell me, Steve. If I learn a song from a recording (by ear), then some time later I check the same song in a song book just to make sure I have it right—or if I learn a song that I have never heard sung from Alan Lomax's Folk Songs of North America, memorizing the words, then learn the tune by reading the dots—and then, I later hear someone else sing it—

Or suppose I learn a song by ear from someone who, in turn, learned the song from the dots in a song book? Or someone learned a song by ear, and being musically literate, writes out the words and the dots for me?

Or any of a variety of methods, do you really think you could actually tell from the way I do the song what the route is by which the song entered my memory, then out my voice and my fingers?

Really?

I'd like to put you to the test sometime.

####

And when playing with other musicians, as I often do, I listen carefully to what the leader is doing and follow that lead. Not note for note, of course, but as part of the "ensemble," adding my bit if and when it's appropriate to do so.

Like a musician should!

Hell, man, I've been at this for going on sixty years!

Don Firth

P. S. And who the hell is Aunt Sally? I don't have an Aunt Sally.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 11 Oct 12 - 08:45 PM

I just sing it and try to pick it out.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Don Firth
Date: 11 Oct 12 - 08:55 PM

". . . that beginners in traditional music will come to no harm if they learn tunes from books—"

What "harm" can they come to? I know plenty of people who learned their first folk songs from song books, then went on to be fine singers of traditional material.

No. To try to discourage a beginner from learning songs from written music is doing them a great disservice. There is absolutely nothing "harmful" about learning traditional songs from written music. Especially if they have access to hearing traditional music, it will do them no harm whatsoever, and it will provide them with a valuable resource for learning songs.

There are no sharks in the bathtub!!

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Jack Campin
Date: 11 Oct 12 - 09:37 PM

If someone turns up with a tune they've learned from dots, or from a single recorded source, it's bleedin' obvious. They will play it their way and no other way. They fail to see how vitally important it is to accommodate other people's take on the tunes.

Sometimes it is more vitally important to tell people with those alternative "takes" to get stuffed.

I learnt the Breton ballad tune "An Alarh" about 30 years ago. I first heard it sung as the tune for "The Twa Corbies", and came across it in a Breton songbook a bit later. The two agreed, because the way I first heard it sung was as Morris Blythman did it, and he got it direct from a Breton musician in the 50s.

You do not hear it done in ANYTHING like that way any more. The original is a wonderful lyrical tune with a flexible metre, which the book got down right. Some Scottish folk-rocker in the 1980s ironed that out into a rumpty-tumpty march tempo. It's boring dancefloor crap. It has lost all the individual character that made Blythman pick it out for that ballad. It is usually belted out with a thrashing DADGAD guitar accompaniment

oer his white banes when they are bare
WHOOMPA WHOOMPA WHOOMPA WHOOMP
the wind sall blaw for evermair
WOPBOPALOOPBOPABOPBAMBOOM!!!

In this instance (and a good many like it), *fuck* the folk process.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Don Firth
Date: 12 Oct 12 - 02:00 AM

Speaking of "The Twa Corbies"—

The first version I learned was "The Three Ravens" from Thomas Ravenscroft's Melismata (1611). I heard it sung on a record by Richard Dyer-Bennet, then learned it (from the dots) in Dyer-Bennet's folio of twenty songs. Some years later, I ran across another version, American, in a collection of folk tales and folk songs by Richard Chase. This one had a somewhat different set of words and it use the same tune as "Ye Banks and Braes of Bonny Doon." Absolutely exquisite version!

The folk process had been very good to it.

Then sometime later I found yet another version of it. Same song, but hardly recognizable. "Billie Magee Magaw." About a pack of crows chowing down on a dead horse!

The folk process had crapped all over the ballad!

So—the folk process is a highly mixed "blessing."

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Les in Chorlton
Date: 12 Oct 12 - 03:55 AM

At Whitby then later at Shrewsbury Festival I went to "Beginners and Improvers" tune workshops. Dots on the website 9 months before the festivals. For the last 4 or 5 years the "Beginners and Improvers" tune workshops at Shrewsbury attract around 100 people playing a massive variety of instruments. Most have the dots in front of them - many play from memory.

Around 4 years ago we started a "Beginners and Improvers" tune workshop in our local with a tune book of 20 tunes. We know have 100.

Last night we had 2 guitars, 1 bass, 2 fiddles, 2 recorers, 2 whistles, 2 flutes, 2 accordians, 2 melodeons, 2 concertinas, 2 banjos, 1 mandolin, 1 set Northumbrian Smallpipes and 1 uke.

Probably a better mix than usual - no 'cellos or harps on this night. And slightly more women than men. Unusual for a session? Maybe not.

We play as an acoustic ceilidh band of between 20 and 30 musos and have much fun.

We are simply doing what tune players, ie musicians, have been doing for hundreds of years, some learn by listening to recordings or from others, some learn from dots, some play from dots and most play from memory.

But I have to say that, just as at Shrewsbury, the dots enable a lot of people to participate, many of which would not sit in a pub session and try to join in.

If you can learn a tune after one or even 20 hearings - good for you. If you can sit down in our sessions and play a tune you have never seen before from the dots, also good. The majority of us are somewhere in between.

Some people on this thread have explained and great length about how sophisticated the whole process is and in some cases how these great little tunes can only be understood and played by playing by ear.

Maybe they are right but I am not convinced. Generally it's a dozen or so people playing the same tune at the same time in a pub. Perhaps they could get some of those people to say what the tunes are called. Is that too much to ask?

Best wishes

L in C
The Beech Band M21 0XJ


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 12 Oct 12 - 04:47 AM

Don, I don't give a stuff about songs. I don't do songs and I have no opinion on how anyone should learn to play/sing/both a song.

Jack, I agree about telling certain people to stick their versions up their bums. You have to ask yourself (and them) where they got those versions from. They almost certainly weren't learned in a decent session. As I wrote in a recent article, there is a world of difference between authentic variation and unmusical misunderstanding. Knowing the difference is the thing. And I note that you too are drifting into the world of songs. I am thinking exclusively about the kinds of tunes we play in sessions, not songs. I am cheerfully clueless about such things (about everything, probably).


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Les in Chorlton
Date: 12 Oct 12 - 05:38 AM

Steve,

I am not being passively agressive here but do you believe that their is something special about a group of people playing tunes in a pub? So special and unique maybe that cannot be achieved by people who can and do play from music?

Best wishes

Les


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Don Firth
Date: 12 Oct 12 - 02:22 PM

"Don, I don't give a stuff about songs. I don't do songs and I have no opinion on how anyone should learn to play/sing/both a song."

Then perhaps you should be a bit more specific in what you're talking about.

But what I said about learning songs, whether by ear or from written music, holds for ANY kind of music, vocal OR instrumental. Whether the person plays creatively or stiltedly depends more on their own innate musicianship than it does on the source from which they learned the piece.

And as to your claim that you can tell what source someone got a piece of music of any kind from just by listening to the way they play it, I don't think so. I doubt if anyone can.

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 12 Oct 12 - 08:37 PM

Fer chrissakes, I did not make that claim. I can tell straight away if someone is playing a tune in our session that they learned from dots. Not songs, not music "of any kind." And I can't tell you the source but I can tell if they did not learn the bugger by ear. And I I have been specific about the fact I'm talking about tunes. I trust you can read.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Don Firth
Date: 12 Oct 12 - 10:17 PM

I still doubt that you--or anyone--can really do that with any certainty. In some cases, perhaps. But not everyone.

You're not reckoning with the innate musicality and creativity of the person involved.

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Jack Campin
Date: 13 Oct 12 - 05:03 AM

I can tell straight away if someone is playing a tune in our session that they learned from dots.

Even when it's the same player, and an experienced one?

I doubt you could tell which of the tunes I play I learned each way. Mostly I don't remember.

There are a lot of tunes I picked up using both dots and live or recorded performance, using both before trying to play it myself, and either might have come first. Think you could categorize those from hearing how I play them?

People who make Steve's claim are usually comparing apples and staplers. There are players who turn up at sessions for the first time having learned all their stuff from notation. Of course they sound different. They sound different because they don't have much experience.

You can sometimes tell when somebody's learnt from a particular recording - particularly when the tempo on the recording is odd. Most people in Scotland play "Miss Gordon of Gight" at a funereal pace because Alasdair Fraser did it that way, and they learned it from Fraser's recording, directly or otherwise - if, like me, you got it directly from the 18th century print source before Fraser recorded it, you're more likely to put some energy into it (hint: it's a reel, and there is a reason why it should go as fast as possible).


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: TheSnail
Date: 13 Oct 12 - 05:05 AM

Steve Shaw

I can tell straight away if someone is playing a tune in our session that they learned from dots.

Could you enlighten us as to how you do that?


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 13 Oct 12 - 06:28 AM

Jack, what have I said? learning from dots can work for people who have long experience of playing this music. I've said that more than once, I believe. They know what is required in terms of applying the standards they have learned from years of their ear-learning. They know that dots do not, cannot, represent this music in any real musical sense whatsoever. It still isn't the best way but you can get away with it. It might be the only way if you're doing what you did with Miss Gordon of Gight. But you have a good deal of experience. My argument is that learning from dots is not harmless for people who are still in the earlier stages of developing their understanding of this music. It implies that there is a short-cut way of getting into it fast. You yourself didn't, I'm sure, get this music under your skin in a few months by learning tons of tunes from tune books. You've listened, you've interacted with other musicians, you've studied... Slow is best, by a long chalk. That's what I'm saying. Getting out there, drinking beer, listening, joining in, interacting, having a joke, telling lies, swearing, having the motivation to be in that setting - that's what it's about and that is what a music stand in your kitchen can't give you. And if you can't remember how you learned a tune it's because you learned a damn sight more by getting out there and playing it with your mates than you did from that score you might have learned it from all those years ago. But that needed your insight and experience, which is what we all know you have, which is what beginners have not got.

Snail, perhaps you've learned your tunes from books, in which case you would have difficulty in telling.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: The Sandman
Date: 13 Oct 12 - 06:59 AM

Jack, what have I said?
I suggest this , what did ory say, or, do what ory say http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b77npOKfUsI
do what ory say


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Don Firth
Date: 13 Oct 12 - 03:30 PM

"Fer chrissakes, I did not make that claim. I can tell straight away if someone is playing a tune in our session that they learned from dots."

Steve, make up your mind.

In the first sentence quoted above, you deny that you made the claim.

Then, in the second sentence, you make the claim you deny having made again!

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 13 Oct 12 - 07:08 PM



You claimed I claimed this. I claim I claimed no such thing. My posts do not support you. I really do have better things to occupy me, Don. Nighty night.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Don Firth
Date: 13 Oct 12 - 07:30 PM

Okay, Steve, if you want to back away from a statement you made several times in your posts above, having realized that you were flat wrong, that's okay with me.

It's up there for anyone to read. A couple of places.

The real doozy as far as I'm concerned was your saying, essentially, that if you encourage a beginner in traditional music to learn to read music, you will be harming them. I've taught many beginners in folk music, starting them out learning to read if they don't already, and they're doing quite well, thank you. No visible—or audible—harm.

Nighty night. I'm tired of arguing in favor of the obvious.

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 13 Oct 12 - 07:47 PM

I should like to remind you that not once have I said that learning to read music will do you any harm. I deliberately learned to read music myself at the age of 46 and I've never looked back. One of the best things I ever did. So will you please bloody stop saying that I'm saying that learning to read music would harm anyone. You either do not understand plain English or you are being deliberately capricious. I am saying that the harm comes when inexperienced players of this music think that it's hunkydory to learn tunes, fast-track, from notation. If you can't see the difference then you are either being deliberately stupid or you have an agenda of some kind that we're not privy to.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Don Firth
Date: 13 Oct 12 - 08:36 PM

You're getting hysterical, Steve.

From:Steve Shaw- PM
Date: 11 Oct 12 - 07:40 PM

"But advocating that beginners in traditional music will come to no harm if they learn tunes from books and/or set up music stands in sessions is just nonsense. There may well be nothing traditional about sessions, etc., but there is damn sure nothing traditional about people down the centuries playing traditional music from dots. Nothing!"

[And the assertion in that last clause assumes something about traditional musicians that I think you would have a hard time verifying.]

And you just said it AGAIN, right above.

"I am saying that the harm comes when inexperienced players of this music think that it's hunkydory to learn tunes, fast-track, from notation."

How the hell is someone SUPPOSED to read that!???

I am not stupid. And the only agenda I have here is that counseling beginners in music, any kind of music, that learning to read music will do them harm or inhibit their progress in any way sounds like an attempt to sabotage them.

BAD COUNSEL!

Don Firth

P. S. I've said my say. There's no further point in chasing each other around the bush, repeating the same things over and over again.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Acme
Date: 13 Oct 12 - 08:55 PM

Aarrgggh.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Jack Campin
Date: 13 Oct 12 - 09:16 PM

Don, I think you are missing the point that Steve is talking out for a specific experience. You DO get people turning up at sessions with sheet music and attempting to play from it in that setting. Doesn't work very well at all and if the sheet music user doesn't understand the limitations imposed by what they're doing, it can be a real drag for everybody else and can send them down a black hole where they never get to to the point of playing the stuff in a way that anybody would want to listen to.

I encounter them frequently, in a large city with a very active trad music scene; some of them haven't changed one iota in 20 years (I could say the same about some people who only learn by ear, though). I'm okay about playing with them occasionally; I can usually inject a bit of life into the proceedings. Maybe Steve finds them more frustrating because he lives in a much smaller place with fewer options for getting away from them so that something more inspiring can happen.


the harm comes when inexperienced players of this music think that it's hunkydory to learn tunes, fast-track, from notation.
counseling beginners in music, any kind of music, that learning to read music will do them harm or inhibit their progress in any way sounds like an attempt to sabotage them.


Steve was cautioning against using sheet music as your primary source for repertoire and performance practice, not against knowing how to read it per se. And there ARE people who don't see the point of listening. They aren't a bugaboo Steve made up.

Something else sheet music can do to some folks is focus their attention away from the performance situation, so they aren't thinking about the audience. It's pretty hard to read the audience and a score at the same time. Unfortunately a lot of ear players are also capable of the same failure of attention. Maybe they're focusing on something like a music stand in their heads when they should be looking at who's around them and asking, what am I communicating? are they listening? what could I do to make them listen? (There is a whole package of ideological claptrap about how "a session is not a performance", designed to excuse that).


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Don Firth
Date: 13 Oct 12 - 10:40 PM

Thanks for clearing that up, Jack.

THAT, I can agree with. As I said some distance above, I (and several other of Seattle's singers) stopped going to Seattle Song Circle when some newbies starting lugging armloads of song books to the meetings and bored the hell out of the rest of us by stumbling around trying to read a song they didn't know, and apparently hadn't even looked at before. Last I heard, they're all sitting around reading the songs out of "Rise Up Singing," like a hymn-sing!

Sorry! I prefer swapping songs with people who are interested enough in the songs to learn them and live with them awhile, not just read them out of a book.

If that's the kind of thing that goes on at some sessions, then I can agree with "leave the sheet music and song books at home!"

But if a person learns a song or a tune from the dots in a collection, then comes to a session and is willing to hold back a bit until they get the hang of it, then I can't see that "learning the tune from the dots" is any kind of problem.

My main objection was the idea that learning to read music or learning a bunch of tunes ahead of time from written music "harms" a beginning player of traditional music.

The "dots," and knowing how to read them is a valuble tool for learning material. Not a shackle.

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: selby
Date: 14 Oct 12 - 05:46 AM

I have lost the plot here I learn from dots so therefore I don't understand folk music because i cant play be ear is that what we are saying?
Keith


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: MikeL2
Date: 14 Oct 12 - 06:11 AM

hi Bobert

<" Gotta a $2 pitch pipe, a $20 geetar and a couple folk music books with the chords diagrammed over the changes...">

Gee man you had the same "tutor" as me. lol !!

My father played in a dance band and though he could read very slowly he never used the written music except occasionally to work out a new song he had not heard.

He encouraged me to learn to read and play from the dots but hey I wanted to be a footballer so never got into learning. My sister did go to a piano tutor and took all the requisite exams etc etc She is now a very accomplished pianist.

maybe this background helped me to "hear" the music and I just had listen to a song or tune a few times to be able to work it out on my guitar.

I would describe my way of learning was one of playing from memory rather than by ear.

Of course now the memory is fading and I wish that I had learned the rudiments of music and how to play from written music.

Cheers

MikeL2


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 14 Oct 12 - 06:35 AM

THAT, I can agree with.

Well I'm glad about that because it means you agree with exactly what I've been saying all along. In sum, Don:

*I don't think it's wrong for anyone on the planet I can think of to learn to read music. In fact, it's a wonderful thing, I did it myself in my mid-40s and I wish I'd done it sooner.

*I do think it's a bad idea for inexperienced players of Irish traditional music (and "similar") to learn tunes from notation.

Something else sheet music can do to some folks is focus their attention away from the performance situation, so they aren't thinking about the audience. It's pretty hard to read the audience and a score at the same time. Unfortunately a lot of ear players are also capable of the same failure of attention. Maybe they're focusing on something like a music stand in their heads when they should be looking at who's around them and asking, what am I communicating? are they listening? what could I do to make them listen?

That is a very interesting point, worthy of a thread unto itself I'd say. We talk a lot about how to learn by ear, etc., but we don't talk enough about how to listen whilst playing. I try to forget that there are non-players who may be listening. I think that, in a session, that's a dimension you don't really need. If they enjoy what we're doing, great, and what we're doing just might be all the better if we shut them out (in the nicest possible way). Not always easy. I'll try to latch on to one or two of the more experienced melody players and interact with what they are doing. Even eye contact can be a great thing. That seems to automatically tighten up my own playing (in the good sense of the term). You sometimes get that ego thing with some people who, for example, think the tune has started too slowly and who single-handedly try to accelerate everyone else. In circumstances like that the active listening collapses and the whole thing becomes a bit of a chore. Very frequently it's bodhran players who seem to be the worst listeners - they think that possession of a circular section of dead goat in a wooden ring magically imbues them with a faultless sense of rhythm and tempo. Well, I suppose it might have, had the goat be appropriately sacrificed to the correct gods.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 14 Oct 12 - 06:58 AM

been


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Stringsinger
Date: 14 Oct 12 - 11:33 AM

The learning of Irish tunes from notation is only a first step for people who read music, the next is singing the tune if you can (dowdling) then putting on your instrument and find variations for the tune by exploring your own or others.
Micheal Coleman seems not to play the tune the same way twice. To get to that point, you have to know the tune thoroughly and whether you do that through notes or by ear is incidental.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: GUEST,Peter Laban
Date: 14 Oct 12 - 12:10 PM

I am not sure it is. In my experience teaching Irish music I have found there's a significant difference how, say, local teenagers who have learned their previous music by ear and by assimilation and those, often Europeans or Americans, who come to it not only later in life but from a background of (a degree of) formal music education and reading.

The ear-learners approach a tune from a very different angle, often very quick to 'lift it'. Sight learners seem to be very much prone to stick to the notes they learned while ear-learners see the structure of a tune, filling it in in different ways as they go along, immediately varying the melody in the traditional manner.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Don Firth
Date: 14 Oct 12 - 06:39 PM

Again, that depends more on the individual's innate musicality than it does on how they first learned the tune.

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 14 Oct 12 - 06:52 PM

I make a plea to get any petty arguments/personality clashes out of Mudcat forthwith!

I'd call that a hopeless plea from Tattie Bogle - not on the Mudcat where anything can turn into a spat.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 14 Oct 12 - 07:20 PM

I don't agree, Don. Innate musicality has little to do with getting traditional Irish tunes under your skin. That has far more to do with getting yourself steeped in the music (apologies for a cliche I try to avoid), which is achieved by listening a lot to it, loving it and learning to play it with other like-minded people. By ear.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Jack Campin
Date: 14 Oct 12 - 07:36 PM

Very frequently it's bodhran players who seem to be the worst listeners - they think that possession of a circular section of dead goat in a wooden ring magically imbues them with a faultless sense of rhythm and tempo. Well, I suppose it might have, had the goat be appropriately sacrificed to the correct gods.

Some other traditions deal with that better. In Indonesian gamelan, the most senior player is the one who beats the gong agung (the really huge one: one beat every phrase). They will have graduated to that by working their way down every metallophone in the group, highest to lowest. Which recognizes that an old-timer might not have the virtuoso chops any more, but gum they'll have the timing right.

In Ottoman classical music from the Sufi tradition, the small kettledrum (kudüm) keeps the beat, again with rather infrequent taps. It has a sound that cuts through anything. It is considered to be an allegory for the creative impetus of God as the Prime Cause behind every event that occurs in the universe.

Perhaps we should insist that bodhran players graduate to the instrument after playing everything else in the traditional lineup, and that they should take on reponsibility for synchronizing every event in earthly time. Is that too much to ask?


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Don Firth
Date: 14 Oct 12 - 07:47 PM

Academic, Steve. I can't imagine anyone who has NOT listened to Irish music—or Appalachian ballads or Swahili chanting or Bach fugues—digging up a bunch of sheet music and learning tunes in that particular genre without hearing it ahead of time and getting some idea of what it's all about. That's how people get interested in a particular type of music in the first place. Hearing it and liking it. And wanting to play it.

From that point on, it depends on their inherent musicality. And if they have any at all, the more they participate, the better they get.

It has far less to do with where they learn a tune than it does with what they do with it AFTER they learn it. Or have BEGUN to learn it.

Basic.

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 14 Oct 12 - 07:49 PM

No it isn't! I have two bodhrans at home. I keep the better of the two dubbined but it hasn't been out of the spare bedroom since 1998. I was a typical offender in my early days, filling in with the drum on every tune I didn't know how to play on the harmonica. What a bastard I was! I learned that the best way forward was to listen to the tunes and learn 'em and leave the damned drum at home. I haven't picked it up for about 12 years but I reckon that, within minutes, I could play it just as well as most of the shits who turn up to sessions with it. And, I assure you, that is saying very little indeed!

Two questions: is "dubbined" a word? And am I still that bastard? :-)


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 14 Oct 12 - 07:50 PM

That was a response to Jack.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 14 Oct 12 - 08:11 PM

Nah, you don't get it, Don. So I go and buy a few Ded Dannan, Bothy Band and Planxty records. I love 'em and play 'em to death. I get to learn a few of their tunes on the mouth organ. I go to a session. I can't even recognise, let alone play, 95% of the tunes they are playing. So I get a couple of those Mally tune books and fast-track myself into learning a bunch of tunes from them. Think I can play them? Not on your Nelly. I've been too impatient. I've done it all wrong, starting from when I bought the bloody tune books. This is not difficult music but it is still an ancient tradition. There subtleties, nuances and, dare I say it, a few hidden secrets. You don't just swan in and get good in a few months. It doesn't take much technique, not even much memory, and you don't have to be a virtuoso. But you need to learn a lot of things that are not on records or in tune books. To think you can get away without doing all that is to insult generations of people who have preserved the heart and soul of this music. Now, Don, how come I know all this even though I live in the middle of nowhere in Cornwall with no Irish melody players around me? Do you think I deliberately want to make things difficult for myself? Or do you think I'd rather take a long time getting it right even though there a risk of my snuffing it before I get there?

And all that stuff in the first part of my post is entirely true. It's just that I've seen the light.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 14 Oct 12 - 08:15 PM

They're not ded yet. De Dannan.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: ripov
Date: 14 Oct 12 - 10:40 PM

An inexperienced player won't sound like an experienced one, whichever way they learn the tune and however innately musical they are, and one who is not 'immersed in' or at least familiar with, a tradition or style will not give as authentic (however you define it) performance as one who is (is quality of performance a consideration in a "public" session?).
But I agree that someone learning by ear will probably make a better approximation initially; and playing from memory is better than needing the dots TO PLAY THE NOTES; which really means we haven't learnt it at all (possibly, and forgivably, because of a poor memory).
Although some of us, as we mature, like the dots just to remind us which is the right 'B' part.

But - Steve Shaw - "If someone turns up with a tune they've learned from dots, or from a single recorded source, it's bleedin' obvious."
Well maybe they've been playing it the same appropriate traditional way in the same session for the last 20 years.
Surely what's obvious is that either they're inexperienced (20 years inexperience maybe), and need encouragement and advice, or that they just don't listen to those round them.
Or that they just prefer a different version.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Don Firth
Date: 14 Oct 12 - 10:54 PM

Ripov's got it.

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Les in Chorlton
Date: 15 Oct 12 - 04:33 AM

Indeed he has.

I feel this thread has got to that point where anything and everything worth saying has been said, misunderstood and repeated - only to be ignored by following posters.

Les


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 15 Oct 12 - 06:02 AM

I've heard some brilliant "inexperienced" players. You can find 'em all over YouTube for a start. Experience is not measured in years, as one part of your post seems to imply. Many of us who inhabit TheSession have bitter memories of a prolific poster and useless player who set himself up as a guru of diddley music with the main qualification that he'd been playing it for "30+yrs" and his ability to name-drop the famous folk he'd played with (I almost said fiddled with but held myself back).

But I agree that someone learning by ear will probably make a better approximation initially

A "better approximation" of what?

...they just don't listen to those round them.
Or that they just prefer a different version.


These are both manifestations of the same problem. Go to a session worth its salt with concepts of "versions" and you'll soon be put right.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: TheSnail
Date: 15 Oct 12 - 06:25 AM

Been a bit busy with my involvement with Lewes Folk Festival including helping to run a couple of instrumental workshops and going to a couple of others.

Steve Shaw

Snail, perhaps you've learned your tunes from books, in which case you would have difficulty in telling.

I described how I learn tunes in my first post to this thread. Here it is again in case you missed it -

I have learnt some tunes purely "by ear" without ever having seen them and some from "the dots" without ever having heard them. Mostly, I have used a combination of the two; it helps reading a tune to know what it sounds like and the notation can help with those twiddly bits it's difficult to pick up as they race past in a session. Even learning tunes that I've never heard, I know what similar tunes sound like.

I have been actively involved in workshops for around twenty tears and heavily involved in the music for about as long before that as a listener and dancer.

I have also been much helped by attending some of the workshops we run at the Lewes Saturday Folk Club with tutors such as John Kirkpatrick, Alistair Anderson, Pete Coe, Tom McConville, Tommy Peoples, Tim Laycock, Nancy Kerr and James Fagan, Andy Turner, Sandra Kerr, Pete Cooper, Dave Townsend and many more. With one or two exceptions, they sent us written music in advance. It saves time learning the notes at the workshop so that we can concentrate on playing the music.

On the other side of the coin, ten years or more ago a friend set up a practice session to learn the tunes played in the local sessions out of the public eye. This grew out of a concertina players evening that I was already running (he turned up with a banjo.) With support from me and Valmai Goodyear of this parish he started an all instruments practice session. We put together a set of tunes that we could guarantee would be heard in the local sessions and handed out photocopies. The format is to go round the room choosing a tune which would then be played as slowly as people wished and as many times as it took. This is just as edifying a process for the more experience of us as it is for the beginners.

We added more tunes and eventually they were published as The Lewes Favourites http://www.lewessaturdayfolkclub.org/LAFC/TheBook.html.In the introduction to the book it says "Please remember the music here is only a guide!".

We have taken this idea round several folk festivals. The first time we did it, I dropped the others off and went to park the car. By the time I got back, the House Full signs were up.

Several people on this thread have pointed out that learning the notes is only the first step to learning the music. I can't see that it matters whether you learn the notes from the dots or by ear. The best way to learn the music is by playing with others and that involves listening.

I'll ask again, Steve, how can you tell straight away if someone has learned from dots? I'll do my best to understand.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Les in Chorlton
Date: 15 Oct 12 - 07:46 AM

Well put Ms/Mr Snail,

as far as I can tell this is what loads of people have been doing for hundreds of years - although clearly I am not really sure.

Is it worth making the point that we are talking about playing around 32 bars of faily simple music - either from memory or from the page or somewhere in the middle.

Having heared Speed the Plough (major key version) or whatever, in loads of sessions - and more importantly being played for dancing, I am inclined to think I have heard the same tune played pretty well the same. I don't think I have ever heard it played very differently.

As for "The dots don't really represent the tune" - they are not tunes of masonic secrecy - to be revealed only to people at obscure sessions where the influence of dots can be purged - they are 32 bars of simple dance tunes.

If people can write the dots of classical pieces written orchestras of dozens, jazz pieces by Basie and Ellington and folk played by Bellowhead then I rather suspect that someone somewhere can write the dots for Speed the Bl**dy Plough.

This attitude that only in some obscure session, open to only those who have been purged of dots, can the real soul of a tune be revealed is simply b*llocks.

It reminds of the early collectors who went out and arrested songs and a few tunes and locked them up in CS House because they thought that was the best thing to do.

Best wishes

L in C#


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Jack Campin
Date: 15 Oct 12 - 08:26 AM

If people can write the dots of classical pieces written orchestras of dozens, jazz pieces by Basie and Ellington and folk played by Bellowhead then I rather suspect that someone somewhere can write the dots for Speed the Bl**dy Plough.

There are a few different kinds of transcription around. Most of the Ellington ones I've seen were a bit skeletal, and you did need to have heard some Ellington to use them. But anyone who wants to play jazz at all will have done. Many trad music scores are in the same spirit: they do tell you what to do, if you have a reasonable familiarity with the idiom. Which isn't all that hard to come by in an age when so much electronic media is available.

Other kinds of transcription are much more informative and much harder to use. That's the kind of thing Bartok did, and which is still very much alive in the jazz world. They use paper as a surrogate recording machine. You need much less familiarity with the original if you're given that much information, but those scores can be VERY hard to read. The amount of rhythmic precision in some of Bartok's "parlando rubato" song transcriptions has sometimes defeated me entirely, and so have some bebop-era jazz solos on paper.

Then there are some in between, like Dunlay and Greenberg's book on Cape Breton music. It's a long way above Mally or O'Neill in precision and historical doumentation but a good bit more user-friendly than Bartok.

There are SOME tunes with individualized histories and performance traditions that aren't readily available in print. What you do near the end of "Lady Leverpark" when playing it for the dance, for example. But the session scene doesn't transmit that sort of thing very effectively. Nor does it generate interestingly varied versions of tunes in the way that the process operated before the session scene came along: the older process used a mix of one-to-one aural transmission and paper, and like the evolution of biological organisms, the fact that it took place along lines of descent that involved very few individuals meant that things diversified fast. Large-group performance blurs and simplifies, it doesn't often create anything strikingly new.

So, I'd say some of the purported benefits of an aurally based session tradition (over a paper-based one) are overrated. Yes, it does get individual participants playing with much better style. No, it doesn't have much going for it as a creative process that develops new music.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 15 Oct 12 - 08:45 AM

Agreed, Jack, but sessions are only one part of traditional music. Not a very old one at that. There are people still composing "traditional" tunes that quickly get assimilated and "given the treatment" in sessions. I've been playing some tunes for years that I'd thought were ancient then discovered that they are often less than 30 or 40 years old. Sessions make sure that those tunes get played and, er, "processed". That can't be bad, eh?


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: GUEST
Date: 15 Oct 12 - 10:40 AM

There seems to be a bit of a dichotomy here.
The thread started as "learning to play by ear", but seems to have got mired between playing and learning.
Personally, I can't read the dots (or golf sticks, as we Paddy sophisticates say) so I've learned everything by ear.
In sessions, surely, virtually everybody PLAYS by ear.
As Sir Thomas Beecham said (the British) don't know much about music, but they love the noise it makes".
Surely if one's rendition suits the environment it's played in, all the other arguments are just sophistry - and an opportunity to do a little soap-box oratory by those who feel that their opinions somehow matter.
Go out and play the way you're comfy with - anybody who doesn't like it will (I'm sure, politely), tell you the perceived error of your ways.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: TheSnail
Date: 15 Oct 12 - 11:39 AM

There seems to be a bit of a dichotomy here.
The thread started as "learning to play by ear", but seems to have got mired between playing and learning.


Just so, GUEST. That is a point I raised in my first post. I don't know what "playing by ear" means. If it means playing from memory, I have yet to see any clear evidence that it makes any difference how you learnt it in the first place. Steve claims he can tell but seems reluctant to explain how.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: The Sandman
Date: 15 Oct 12 - 11:59 AM

Surely if one's rendition suits the environment it's played in, all the other arguments are just sophistry - and an opportunity to do a little soap-box oratory by those who feel that their opinions somehow matter.
what an excellent comment


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 15 Oct 12 - 12:15 PM

You started the thread, Dick. ;-)

Ah, environment. Can mean a big pub, a little pub, a quiet pub, a noisy pub, a gig, a kitchen, playing solo, playing with a couple of others, playing in a monster session, playing it in a recording studio. Can mean your mates' playing levels, knowledge and tolerance of your "renditions." Yes, it sounded like a sage remark, unless you read it as meaning throwing your hands in the air, saying sod doing it right, anything goes, just play the bloody thing...

Playing by ear, learning by ear, yeah, a bit loose. But if you learn a tune by ear you're hardly going to play it any other way anyway. If you learned it from a tune book, unless you're experienced, you will not be playing by ear. You will be playing it from the dots you remembered by playing them over and over again so many times that you can do it according to the dots but without them in front of you any more. So let's just call it learning tunes by ear. That fixes it.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 15 Oct 12 - 12:29 PM

"So let's just call what we're talking about learning tunes by ear" is what I meant. Grr.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: The Sandman
Date: 15 Oct 12 - 12:59 PM

yes, play that thing, but not anything goes, listen to the other players whether you are reading dots or playing without dots


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Jack Campin
Date: 15 Oct 12 - 01:10 PM

If you learned it from a tune book, unless you're experienced, you will not be playing by ear. You will be playing it from the dots you remembered by playing them over and over again so many times that you can do it according to the dots but without them in front of you any more.

But, you end up in much the same place by learning to reproduce a specific recording by playing along with it over and over. And that happens. Some people manage to completely lose any feeling for the overall shape of the tune that way (it's most obvious when they've done it with slow airs). At least if you start with notation you *know* you've got some interpretive work to do.

It gets worse. We now have YouTube. Which provides a means of aural transmission of crappy literal-minded insight-free renditions that spans the globe, with the prevailing culture of the medium labelling you a "hater" if you suggest any performance is anything less than wonderful, and a built-in mechanism for hiding negative comments.


In sessions, surely, virtually everybody PLAYS by ear.

There are a few round here where that isn't the case.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: The Sandman
Date: 15 Oct 12 - 01:27 PM

if you are playing with anybody else, whether you are reading from music, or playing without dots you should be using your ears, or plying by ear, or listening.
for example when i was playing here even though i had the music in front of me i was listening
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9kck9jxKgz4


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 15 Oct 12 - 01:31 PM

You should know you have interpretive work to do. Which it I keep saying it's OK for experienced players. I agree about learning from recordings. Just one source is fatal. And YouTube is a minefield. Unless you have experience. There's the conundrum.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 15 Oct 12 - 01:32 PM

Which is why. Grrr again.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: ripov
Date: 15 Oct 12 - 02:52 PM

Jack - you're so right about slow airs - I've never heard one played yet with anything like the feeling it must have started with, they seem to degenerate into just a slow succession of notes.

Steve-
"I've heard some brilliant "inexperienced" players. You can find 'em all over YouTube for a start. Experience is not measured in years, as one part of your post seems to imply"
- Yes, some are lucky and gain a great deal of experience, or at least exposure, in a short time, or even grow up in an environment so cultured that "experience" in the usual sense is almost irrelevant. But in general experience increases with passing time if not at the same rate for everyone.

"If you learned it from a tune book, unless you're experienced, you will not be playing by ear. You will be playing it from the dots".
No you won't be, any more than an actor says his lines from the written word. You'll be playing it from memory. And hopefully using your experience to play it, lets say, sympathetically. How many shakespearean actors rely on an unbroken aural tradition dating back to the bard, and how many learn from books - words - letters - we don't play dots anymore than they repeat letters!

"sessions are only one part of traditional music. Not a very old one at that"
-So what is the main part of the tradition, and where is it kept alive?

To me "folk" music is only a small part of the tradition of communal music making that Don refers to (11 Oct 12 - 05:56) and that I love to take part in.

Don't want to repeat anything else thats been said before so I'll stop now


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: John P
Date: 15 Oct 12 - 04:17 PM

I think of written music as a road map. It is useful to show you how to get from here to there, but when you are actually driving you should have your eyes on the road.

It really doesn't matter if the tune is learned by ear or from written music. All that's important is how it gets played. I've played with mechanical readers and readers who get it and play it right. I've played with mechanical ear-learners and with beautifully expressive ear-learners.

Memorization doesn't enter into it -- someone who learns by ear and wants to play the tune has to memorize it. Someone who learns from written music can either memorize it or not. In my experience, most note-learners who memorize the tunes play them more naturally in group settings, but this isn't always true.

Improvisation is different from both ear-learning and note-learning, although it can be used in conjunction with either.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: TheSnail
Date: 15 Oct 12 - 05:36 PM

It seems we will have to tell our workshop tutors (some of the most highly regarded folk musicians in the land) that they are getting it wrong. Steve Shaw says so.

Steve Shaw
If you learned it from a tune book, unless you're experienced, you will not be playing by ear. You will be playing it from the dots you remembered by playing them over and over again so many times that you can do it according to the dots but without them in front of you any more.

Steve, you don't learn tunes from a tune book so you have no idea what it feels like to play tunes you have learnt that way in a session. Believe me (which you probably won't) it is nothing like you say. Folk tune books give you little in the way of how to play the tune. They give you the notes to play. After that it is up to you based on your experience, your inner muse and, most importantly, playing with other people.

Good Soldier Schweik
if you are playing with anybody else, whether you are reading from music, or playing without dots you should be using your ears, or plying by ear, or listening.

Thank you Dick. Someone has finally come up with a meaningful definition of what "playing by ear" means - playing while listening. I like it. I note that it excludes neither learning from notation nor playing from notation.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: The Sandman
Date: 15 Oct 12 - 05:44 PM

correct


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: GUEST,999
Date: 15 Oct 12 - 05:53 PM

In eastern Canada where I grew up, playing by ear is used to differentiate how one learns music and a related instrument. I learned mostly by ear; that is, I have minimal understanding of notation. I listen and duplicate. A key's a key and chords are chords. Same for timing and tempo. YMMV


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Stringsinger
Date: 15 Oct 12 - 06:31 PM

Playing by ear is associated often with improvisation. A good grasp of theory, how chords work, the harmonic implications of melody, the memorization of chord progressions,
the knowledge of the various voicing for chords can facilitate playing by ear.

Any good jazz man can play by ear because the music requires it.

There is no reason that a musician can't be proficient at reading, improvising and
playing by ear.

There may be an aptitude for retaining melodies.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 15 Oct 12 - 07:52 PM

Quoth ripov: Yes, some are lucky and gain a great deal of experience, or at least exposure, in a short time...

They are not lucky. They are doing it right.

Quoth ripov summore: "If you learned it from a tune book, unless you're experienced, you will not be playing by ear. You will be playing it from the dots".
No you won't be, any more than an actor says his lines from the written word. You'll be playing it from memory.


Well, you truncated what I said in order to be contrary, then ended up saying what I'd said in the first place. Odd. And you forgot that I compared schoolchildren reading Shakespeare out loud from books (excruciating, though you pat them on the head) with seasoned actors doing the same thing (often sublime). If you want children to understand Shakespeare you take them to see his plays. Reading his lines out of a book in a classroom is next to useless, in fact it has turned millions of children away from Shakespeare for life. If inexperienced musicians want to play Irish tunes well they need to go and listen to it. A lot. Not sit at home reading it out of tune-books in their impatience to get going. They'll be able to play it from memory all right, but the only memory of it they'll have is of squiggles on a page that say next to nothing about the heart and soul of the music.

Quoth Snail: Steve, you don't learn tunes from a tune book so you have no idea what it feels like to play tunes you have learnt that way in a session. Believe me (which you probably won't) it is nothing like you say.

I have learned a good few tunes from tune books as it happens. I'm a convert from that nefarious practice. Learning from books taught me entirely the wrong message, that there is a correct version and that you should pontificate about it should you come up against someone not playing it Mally's way. And it taught me precisely zilch about active listening as I learned, the need for flexibility, the subtleties of rhythm and how to vary and ornament tunes. So I have every idea, you see.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 15 Oct 12 - 08:45 PM

I just spotted this: Folk tune books give you little in the way of how to play the tune. They give you the notes to play.

They give you nothing in the way of how to play a tune. They may even mislead you. A 6/8 time signature at the front of a jig, for example, conveys a mechanical notion of something that is as un-mechanical and fluid as can be. A 4/4 time signature in front of a reel gives no hint as to the potential for playing the tune with a bit of lilt. Anyone who even thinks they can notate a slow air is nothing less than a scoundrel. And tune books don't even give you the notes to play. They give you the notes that the person who wrote down that version thinks you should play. The first thing you have to do is to go out with your new tune and be put right. I honestly can't understand why anyone would want to deliberately put such obstacles in their way when they could learn tunes by hearing them played.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: GUEST
Date: 15 Oct 12 - 09:46 PM

One tends to think, Steve, that you still know precisely zilch about listening.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Don Firth
Date: 15 Oct 12 - 10:19 PM

"Learning from books taught me entirely the wrong message, that there is a correct version and that you should pontificate about it should you come up against someone not playing it Mally's way. And it taught me precisely zilch about active listening as I learned, the need for flexibility, the subtleties of rhythm and how to vary and ornament tunes. So I have every idea, you see."

Steve, I hate to be the one to break this to you, but the problem is yours.

I knew right from the start (having read a bit about folk music and its travels from person to person and place to place over the years—or centuries), having run across the same song or ballad in several different books and noting that there are differences—some extensive, some minor—in both words and tune.

When I learn a song, I have to make choices, not just which version to learn, but which small variations in essentially the same version. Choices. And sometimes I make small changes myself, if a line sings awkwardly—or if I hear someone else sing the same song, but slightly different from the way I do it, and I like their way better.

And I pay close attention to the WORDS of the song, and this informs the way the song should be delivered.

And I play a fair amount of classical guitar music, learned from sheet music. I have to pay attention to the sounds that come out of the guitar when I play the notes on the page--and LEARN FROM THAT. The music itself can teach you how it should be played.

This is not ESP. Musicians of all kinds do it all the time!

Oh, sure, I've had the occasional person tell me that I'm doing it all wrong, but none with any real authority beyond the fact that they like the version they know better than the one I do.

Once, in the late Fifties or early Sixties, when I was singing in a Seattle coffee house, one of the patrons asked me to sing "The Sloop John B.", which I proceeded to do. He complained afterward that I "didn't do it right."

"What do you mean?" I asked. I had learned it from Carl Sandburg's The American Songbag, somewhat modified by having heard my friend Walt Robertson sing it.

"You didn't sing it the way the Kingston Trio does it," he griped.

Well lah-dee-bloody-dah!! I would not consider THEM to be the arbiters of the way folk music should be done.

And in your last post, Steve:   this tells me that YOU don't really know how to read music.   I hate to say this, but a fundamental lack of musicality. In much the same way as when some people read a poem, they characteristically do it in a sing-song, allowing themselves to be a slave to the rhyme and the meter—with apparently no knowledge of the MEANING of what they are reading.

When you play the tune through from the dots for the first time, and for many more times, you have to listen, and let the music itself inform you.

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Don Firth
Date: 15 Oct 12 - 10:20 PM

And always remember that it is subject to reinterpretation.

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 16 Oct 12 - 05:34 AM

Easy for "guests" to deliver insults, huh?


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: The Sandman
Date: 16 Oct 12 - 05:42 AM

The first thing you have to do is to go out with your new tune and be put right"
that sounds like you think there is only one correct version of a tune, or/AND only one right way to play it.
   that is WRONG,The tunes were learned and collected from people in different areas, who may have learned them by ear or may have learned them from manuscript, but will have had differing versions, this is IMO FAIRLY LIKELY IF THEY WERE TRANSMITTED BY EAR.
and also possible from notation, human error or even the collectors decision that the musician played a note that the collector thought should be a different one.
the beauty of it all is that there is no correct way or version of a tune, once that happens the music becomes ossified, the folk process comes into play even with composed tunes, that is what makes the music interesting.
PEOPLE WHO TRY TO LAY DOWN RULES ABOUT PLAYING TUNES,are not understanding what the music is about,if someone wants to use staccato or tongueing or no rolls but only trebles or no trebles but trills or rolls, it is not wrong but just stylistically different, that is how music evolves, remember King Cnut he could not stop the tide, neither can any purist stop music developing, they are of course entitled to play how they likeand with whom they like, but there is no RIGHT way


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 16 Oct 12 - 05:45 AM

Jeez. Don responds to my opinions about learning tunes by ear by rattling on yet again about learning songs. You know, Don, I thought we'd cleared that one up. Read my lips:

I...am...NOT...talking...about...SONGS! Then you go on about playing classical music, which has very little relevance to the matter at hand but plenty to do, it seems, with your apparent desire to show us what a bright fellow you are.

As for this piece of tosh: this tells me that YOU don't really know how to read music. I hate to say this, but a fundamental lack of musicality.

Well that says it all. You judge, across the Atlantic Ocean, a person's "musicality" from their opinions expressed in an internet forum. Don, I think I can say with confidence that you have not heard me playing in a session. You're all theory, Don. Typical of dot-learners, I'd say...   :-)


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 16 Oct 12 - 05:52 AM

Most of what you said there, Dick, is old hat. Yes we know all that. It's all been aired in this very thread of yours. You say there is no "correct version" of a tune. Well, I'll buy that. Believing that would ossify the music, you say. OK. But what do you think a bunch of dots on a page represent? One version, unchanging, someone's opinion of that tune, looking very authoritative in the book's fancy cover. An ossified tune!


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: GUEST,michael gill
Date: 16 Oct 12 - 06:29 AM

"The music itself can teach you how it should be played."

I don't think that's completely true Don, though I can understand where and why one could get that impression. Alfred Brendel, for example, talks of the need to go back to the score to get the best understanding of the composers' intentions. But that understanding does not come from the score alone, the majority of it comes from the musicians' knowledge and understanding of the genre and the composer. Of course, with, for example, Schubert, most of the knowledge comes from the knowledge of the scores, but don't discount the knowledge of the music's history, its place in history and its unbroken line of being regularly performed from its creation to this day.

But are traditional, largely aurally transmitted, musics different? I don't think they are in principal, though the fact that they are such a mile apart in degree can change the onus on the word "Should" to "Could". With a traditional Irish jig (or even a recently composed jig in that genre) for example, I think there can be stuff in the music itself that can teach you something of the way it could be played. There may be a cadence that could indicate the end of a phrase, or the repeat of the same bunch of notes appearing in a different part of the bar that could indicate a bit of syncopation. However, what you won't get from these indications is the traditions of, for example, playing through cadences to disguise obvious phrasing and instead of syncopating accents, playing the accents straight, but on different notes.

And in transcriptions of jigs, you will often find, for example, three notes of each half a bar's triplet that are the same. To someone familiar with genre, this can indicate where a slow roll "would" normally be played. But not "should" of course, even though a performance of such a part of a tune over three repeats that doesn't include the slow roll at least once would seem perverse.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: The Sandman
Date: 16 Oct 12 - 06:43 AM

One version, unchanging, someone's opinion of that tune, looking very authoritative in the book's fancy cover. An ossified tune!
   no, steve, because the music is only a guide, it is not sacrosanct, it is open to interpretation as regards how it should be played, jigs are not meant to be played evenly, how much they are swung depends on who you are playing with and by listening to other players this can and will vary from session to session, then there is ornamentation sometimes it is marked, then it   is up to the player to dicard it or use it.
finally without manuscripts,some tunes would have died, you might be interested to know that Paddy Cronin[trad sliabh luchra fiddler] goes through books like o neills and other manuscripts looking for forgotten tunes and putting them back into repertoire., so the music does not ossify, if the musicians have a certain attitude, which is to learn both ways, and to interpret and alter tunes[ even when learned from notation]
I bet you could not tell which tunes Paddy had learned from music and which he had learned by ear


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: GUEST,michael gill
Date: 16 Oct 12 - 07:25 AM

I think the whole argument about the right and wrong way to play play tunes and the correct and incorrect way to play tunes, while not actually dealing in absolutes, is a fundamental pragmatic reality.

I love the phrase, "you've got it all wrong". As in, "Sheesh, oh no no no no no ... that was bloody awful ... you've got it all wrong."

It doesn't mean, of course, that every note was wrong, or even all the notes were wrong. It could even mean, for example, that all the notes were actually right, and in the right order. But while not being specific, there can be no doubt in anyone's mind what the phrase actually means.

Steve has said a few times that he "likes to play he music right". And anyone who understands Irish music, its simplicity, its complexity, its contradictions, its conundrums knows exactly what it means


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 16 Oct 12 - 07:36 AM

And I should like to reiterate. There is a world of difference between authentic variation (which comes from - can only come from - a good deal of listening and playing) and unmusical misunderstanding.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: GUEST,michael gill
Date: 16 Oct 12 - 07:54 AM

specifically Steve: There is a world of difference between authentic variation (which comes from - can only come from - a good deal of listening to and playing with the right people) and unmusical misunderstanding (which often comes from an inability to hear properly. i.e. an inability to play by ear.)


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: The Sandman
Date: 16 Oct 12 - 07:56 AM

But not "should" of course, even though a performance of such a part of a tune over three repeats that doesn't include the slow roll at least once would seem perverse."
   michael, some of the traditional fiddle styles of Donegal,hardly use and sometimes very very rarely use the roll at all, but prefer the bowed ornament, that is not perverse, but fact. there is no obligation on anyone to use rolls, it is a matter of choice, the same applies to bowed ornamentation, bowed ornaments as are heard in Donegal were very rarely used in sliabh luchra, that is not perverses but just different style
playing the music right is subjective, in fact playing any music right is subjective.
to quote Carthy, the only harm you can do to a song is not sing it,
many airs are songs, some tunes were songs, lanigans ball, frost is all over,rocky road to dublin,follow me down to carlow, jolly beggarman, chase me charlie,shan van vocht etc., tunes and songs to a considerable extent are intertwined.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Jack Campin
Date: 16 Oct 12 - 08:01 AM

Interesting example of the relationship between notation and performance tradition here:

Interpreting triplets in Highland bagpipe strathspeys

Highland pipers have always used notation (canntaireachd is simply a spoken notation), but there's always been a parallel oral tradition saying how to use the notation, particularly in rhythmic interpretation. But the intention is not to allow free variation - there is a code there to be followed.

To outsiders it can look a bit Masonic.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: The Sandman
Date: 16 Oct 12 - 08:02 AM

michael,, in relation to using rolls being perverse
i have marked below,HERE###########################################
about absence of rolls from an article on donegal fiddling under the music section.The following article appeared in Fiddler Magazine, Fall 1995 issue.
The Fiddle Music of Donegal

by Michael Robinson
Background

County Donegal lies in the far north-west corner of Ireland. It is noted for the beauty of its rugged coastline and heather-covered moors. The wildness of its geography has provided a defence against invasion for many centuries.

The older name for Donegal is Tyrconnell ("land of Conall"), commemorating a monarchy founded in the fifth century by Conall Gulban, the son of the famed king Niall of the Nine Hostages. (The name "Donegal", meaning "fort of the foreigners", is thought to derive from a Viking settlement on the site of present-day Donegal Town.) During the Middle Ages Tyrconnell was the principality of the O'Donnells, one of the two major branches of the Uí Neill dynasty that ruled Ulster for more than a thousand years. In 1601 the O'Donnells of Tyrconnell and their cousins the O'Neills of Tyrone were defeated by the English at the Battle of Kinsale and fled to the Continent from Lough Swilly in northern Donegal. After this "Flight of the Earls" the English government began a long-term program of pacifying Ulster by giving land to Protestant settlers from Lowland Scotland. Because of the poor quality of the arable land in Donegal, however, most of these settlers preferred to remain in the rich agricultural lands of eastern and central Ulster. As a result, in 1922, when the present border of the Irish Republic was established, predominately Catholic Donegal was separated from the rest of Ulster and it became a part of the Republic, to which it is connected by a narrow corridor of land.

Donegal has a long connection with Scotland. Before the Flight of the Earls, the Scottish Highlands and Ireland were one region united by a single language and culture. Even today, Scotland is jokingly said to be "the northernmost county of Ulster". During the days when the O'Donnell chiefs ruled Donegal, they based their military might on "gallowglasses", mercenary soldiers from the Scottish Isles, which were ruled at the time by another of the great Gaelic dynasties, the Macdonalds, Lords of the Isles. Musicians—at that time the harpers were the most prestigious—moved freely among the courts of the Gaelic nobility in both Ireland and Scotland, and there was no distinction made between the musical styles of the two countries.

After the fall of the Gaelic aristocracy, Scotland became the key to the economy of Donegal. The English landlords demanded rents in cash from their tenants, but the struggling farmers could barely grow enough to feed and clothe themselves, and the local economy was based mainly on barter, with very little money circulating. The system that evolved was that virtually all the adult men in the poorer areas spent the summer months working as migrant farm-workers in eastern Ulster and Lowland Scotland, earning the money to pay the farm rents. Meanwhile the farms were tended by old men, women and children to grow food and wool for clothing. Although the worst excesses of landlordism were abolished by the late 19th century, Donegal remained a poor region and the pattern of seasonal migration to Scotland continued well into the 20th century.
Music

While Donegal may have been financially impoverished, culturally it is one of the richest areas in the Western world. It is one of the last remaining strongholds of the Irish language, and preserves as well a wealth of folklore and traditional customs. The ancient epic poems of the Celts, composed when the Roman Empire was still in existence, were handed down by memory there to be collected by scholars as late as the 1930s. The poetic tradition of sean-nós ("old style) singing in Irish preserves a body of literature that has its roots in the medieval troubadours. And today Donegal is becoming known for its rich and unique musical tradition.

The noted Tyrone harper Arthur O'Neill (1734-1818) mentioned in his memoirs that in 1760 he was invited to a wedding in Ardara "without my harp, for there were plenty of pipers and fiddlers". It was once a proverb that in Donegal there was a fiddle in every house. While many parts of Ireland have a wealth of traditional music, the music of Donegal has certain unique features which set it apart from the rest.

It is generally agreed that the piping tradition is the heart of modern instrumental Irish music. During the Middle Ages, bagpipes of various kinds became popular with the common people all over Western Europe. In most of Ireland, the uilleann ("elbow") pipes predominate. These are bellows-blown bagpipes played while seated, and are known to be several centuries old (they are mentioned by Shakespeare). In Donegal, however, uilleann pipes were the exception, and the more usual type of bagpipes were the píob mór ("great pipes"), an older type of bagpipes similar to Scottish Highland bagpipes. The sound and range of the píob mór have had a great influence on the Donegal fiddle style.

The uilleann pipes have a rather burbly sound, and the fiddle styles heard in most of Ireland are similar, featuring a burbly ornamentation accomplished mostly with the left hand. The bowing is very legato, with several notes to each bow, and bow changes are de-emphasized by being placed on rhythmically weak notes. In contrast, however, the typical Donegal fiddle style imitates the crackly, sputtering ornamentation of the píob mór. Most notes are played with single bows and there is frequent use of staccato bowed ornamentation. These features are also characteristic of the Cape Breton fiddle style, which is also based on the sound of the Highland pipes.
HERE#################################################################
[The characteristic ornaments of the Southern Irish fiddle style, the long and short roll, are totally absent from the style of most of the older Donegal players, although the younger generation has adopted them to a limited extent. The dominant ornament remains the so-called "bowed triplet"—actually two 16th notes followed by an 8th note. The bowed triplet follows the feel of the characteristic piping ornaments of the píob mór.]############

Preceding the pipes, the origin of Irish music can be found in the sean-nós singing tradition. It is a highly ornamented, complex style featuring elastic rhythms and continuous variation of a basic melody. Sean-nós singing is almost always a solo art. The exception is found in Donegal where occasionally singing in unison or octaves can be heard. Because of the improvisational nature of the continuous melodic variation, such a feat would seem almost to require mental telepathy, and in fact it is only very close relatives who attempt it.

A similar feature is found in fiddle music. Until modern times, Irish music was almost always played by a single solo performer (as is still the case today in the related Cape Breton Scottish tradition). Yet in Donegal there is a long-standing tradition of duo fiddling, again usually performed by close relatives. The fact that so many of the tunes come from the piping repertoire has influenced this style. The range of the píob mór is nine notes—a single octave from A to A, plus the G below. Any tune confined to this range can be played in two different octaves on the fiddle without leaving first position. This is called "reversing" or "bassing". (Fiddling in octaves is also heard in the Kerry fiddle style.)

There are other differences between the Donegal style and the rest of Ireland. Instruments such as the tin whistle, flute, concertina and accordion were very rare in Donegal until modern times. Traditionally the píob mór and the fiddle were the only instruments used. Also, there was a much wider variety of social dance steps in common use there, so musicians were required to play for mazurkas, Germans or barndances, lancers and highlands in addition to the usual jigs, reels and hornpipes found elsewhere in the country. In fact, the music for the highland (a couple dance with a hopping step) is almost as common as reels or jigs in the Donegal repertoire. Many Scottish strathspeys were converted into highlands, as the basic rhythm is quite similar.

The use of pipe or fiddle music was common in old wedding customs. These traditions relate much more closely to Scotland than to the rest of Ireland. The bride would enter the chapel with the fiddler playing Haste to the Wedding. As she walked toward the altar, The Wedding Jig was played. When the marriage contract was signed, The Girl Who Broke My Heart was played on behalf of the local bachelors. At the end, the crowd would return to the bride's house to the tune of Tá Do Mhargadh Déanta ("The bargain is made") or Kiss the Maiden Behind the Bier. Almost as important as the wedding was the "hauling home", which occurred about a month after the wedding—a triumphal procession to bring the bride with her household goods to her husband's house. At this occasion, Bring Home the Bride and Oro, 'Sé Do Bheatha Abhaile ("Oro, welcome home") were among the appropriate tunes.

The most influential musicians in Donegal during the 19th century and the early part of the 20th century were travelling musicians who also worked as tinsmiths. The best known of these is the Doherty family. These travelling musicians were honoured guests in houses throughout the county. During the early times when instruments were hard to come by, they also made fiddles out of tin.

Similar itinerant professional musicians were known throughout Ireland in the 19th century, but in many cases they were jealous of other musicians and very protective of their repertoires. The great collector Francis O'Neill describes a number of such musicians who took countless tunes to the grave with them rather than teach them to anyone else.

Unlike these, the Donegal musicians were generous with their music and the travellers spread a wealth of local tunes to settled musicians elsewhere in the county. The men who worked in Scotland during the summer also brought back a number of tunes of Scottish origin, as well as books of fiddle music and instructional material for the violin. The Donegal fiddlers may well have been the route by which Scottish tunes such as Lucy Campbell, Tarbolton Lodge (Tarbolton) and The Flagon (The Flogging Reel), among many others, entered the Irish repertoire.

These players prided themselves on their technical abilities, which included playing in higher positions (fairly uncommon among traditional Irish fiddlers), and sought out material which would demonstrate their skills. This included tunes learned from brass bands playing with travelling circuses and the British Army (which sent bands out into the countryside during recruiting drives), and the compositions of virtuoso fiddlers such as J. Scott Skinner (1843-1927), the Scottish composer of, among others, The Spey in Spate and The Gladstone Reel, and James Hill from Newcastle (c. 1815- c. 1860), the author of such tunes as The High Level Hornpipe and The Hawk (also called The Belles of St. Louis). Although such virtuoso pieces are elsewhere played nowadays in a semi-classical style, particularly by Scottish performers, the Donegal fiddlers never lost sight of the folk tradition and successfully adapted these tunes to the traditional playing style.
Players

John Doherty was one of the last of the old travelling fiddlers. The musical tradition of the Doherty family can be traced back at least 200 years. John was based in Finntown, but spent much of his life wandering throughout Donegal, where he was a welcome guest wherever he went. He seldom carried a fiddle with him, knowing that one would be provided at any house where he stopped for the night. John was very gifted technically, with an immense repertoire of uncommon tunes which were handed down through his family. His strong, austere playing shows great influence from the píob mór. It is our good fortune that his talents were recognized during his lifetime and a number of recordings of his playing were made. He was one of the last remaining links to the lifestyle of the old traditional musicians. John's brothers Mickey and Simon and his nephew Simon are also known as fiddlers.

Vincent Campbell comes from the Cruacha Gorma or Blue Stack Mountains of central Donegal, an area renowned for its rich traditional culture. His father was a well-known fiddler and the Dohertys were frequent and welcome visitors to the Campbell home. Vincent's vigourous playing makes frequent use of double-stops and fourth finger unisons. He has many unique tunes, which are now being picked up by the younger generation of players.

Francie and Mickey Byrne, from Kilcar in southwest Donegal, epitomise the Donegal duo fiddling style. Kilcar has long been renowned for its fiddling tradition. The brothers were also influenced by a travelling piper named Mickey Gallagher, a relative of the Dohertys. Francie spent a number of years in Scotland, like many of the Donegal players. The duo playing of the brothers mixed deadly accurate unison passages, octave playing, drones and the occasional harmony note. Their playing had a major influence on the duo fiddling featured on recent Altan recordings.

James Byrne, from Mín na Croise in Glencolmcille, is the most well-known modern exponent of the long-standing fiddle tradition of Glencolmcille. This tradition can be traced back to a number of influential 19th century players who traded music freely with the travelling musicians. The blacksmith John Mosey McGinley was perhaps the most famous among many. James Byrne's father John was also a noted fiddler. James is a strong, technically gifted player with a great stock of local tunes. The genial Byrne has done much to ensure the continuation of the Glencolmcille style by generously sharing his knowledge with many younger musicians.

Con Cassidy exemplifies the Teelin style which is a contrast to the fiddle style heard in Kilcar and Glencolmcille, which were known as fiddling areas for generations. Nearby Teelin had no fiddlers until the early 20th century. However, there was a strong tradition of vocal dance music, known as lilting or mouth music. Con's cousins John and Frank Cassidy were among the first fiddlers in Teelin, and they were strongly influenced by the travelling fiddlers Alec and Micky McConnell (relatives by marriage of the Dohertys). The McConnells' style bears the influence of the píob mór, but unlike the Kilcar style where the píob mór sound is imitated by the use of mostly single bowing and staccato bowed triplets, the McConnells used long bowstrokes to imitate the drone of the pipes and copied the complex piping ornaments with the left hand fingers. Their playing is said to have been very similar to that of Angus Grant, a well-known present-day fiddler from the Scottish Highlands. The Teelin style combined the influence of the McConnells and that of the old lilters. The left hand ornamentation is more complex than the short bow style, making use of rolls and chromatic ornaments. The repertoire holds many marches and waltzes in addition to the usual highlands, jigs and reels.

Tommy Peoples Tommy Peoples came originally from St. Johnstown in northeast Donegal, not far from the city of Derry. He learned to play fiddle from his cousin Joe Cassidy. He has travelled widely throughout Ireland and now lives in County Clare. He played with an early version of the Bothy Band in the 1970s, but left the group after their first album. He subsequently made several solo albums. He has introduced many tunes into the Irish repertoire through his own recordings and via other musicians, particularly The Boys of the Lough and Altan. He has a unique personal style, based on the Donegal single bow style, but influenced by Scottish and southern Irish playing as well, featuring driving single bowing, limited melodic ornamentation and a unique "stuttering" bowed triplet that is reminiscent of píob mór ornamentation.

Paddy, Séamus and Kevin Glackin grew up in Dublin, but they learned from their father, Tom Glackin, who came from the region of Dungloe in northwest Donegal. Paddy was particularly influenced by John Doherty, and has recorded a number of Doherty's tunes on his recent recording Rabharta Ceoil. He has also drawn influences from other parts of the Irish music tradition, particularly the uillean piping repertoire.

Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh grew up in the Gaeltacht area of Gaoth Dobhair in north-west Donegal. Her father, Prionsias Ó Maonaigh, is also a noted fiddler. In addition to her superb fiddling, Mairéad is an excellent traditional singer, steeped in the sean-nós tradition. Mairéad married Frankie Kennedy, a flute player from Belfast who spent his summers in Donegal, and after a stint as school teachers they embarked on a career in music, forming the very successful group Altan (named after a lake in the Gaoth Dobhair area). Altan based their style on the Donegal tradition, combining an energetic guitar and bouzouki accompaniment with classic duo fiddling and Frankie's nimble flute-playing. Their repertoire of tunes is drawn from sources such as Mairéad's father Prionsias, the Dohertys, Francie and Mickey Byrne, Con Cassidy, Tom Glackin, Vincent Campbell, Tommy Peoples, James Byrne as well as a host of less well-known players. Currently Mairéad is joined on fiddle by Ciaran Tourish from Buncrana in northern Donegal, who learned from Dinny McLaughlin, a noted local fiddler. Altan's success has done much to increase awareness of the Donegal tradition in the rest of Ireland, and indeed throughout the world.

Sadly, Frankie Kennedy died in autumn 1994 after a long battle with cancer—a loss felt keenly throughout the world of traditional music.
Books:

    The Northern Fiddler, by Allen Feldman and Eamonn O'Doherty (Oak Publications, ISBN 0 7119 0682 3), is a very valuable reference. It contains interviews with John Doherty, Mickey Byrne, Con Cassidy and a number of other fiddlers of the older generation in Donegal and Tyrone, and a large number of transcribed tunes as well.

    The authors do an excellent job of putting the musicians they describe into a historical and social context by means of copious notes and analysis. In addition, the numerous photographs and drawings evoke the visual surroundings in which the music was created.

    Some of the tune titles are inaccurate. Corrected information can be found on the Internet, particularly on the IRTRAD-L list.
    Between the Jigs and the Reels: The Donegal Fiddle Tradition by Caoimhín Mac Aoidh (Drumlin, ISBN 1 873437 08 0) , with a forward by Tommy Peoples, is a new book which, contains a wealth of information on Donegal fiddlers. However, Caoimhín has been involved with Donegal fiddling for many years, and was one of the founders of Cairdeas na. bhFidléirí ("The Fiddlers' Alliance"), which sponsors a number of fiddle-oriented events in the county. This book is the end product of the years he has spent talking to the players and searching historical sources (such as the Arthur O'Neill reference above). It is crammed full of history, folklore, biographies of virtually every well-known player during the last two hundred years, and a thorough discography.

Recordings:

The following recordings should be available from sources stocking traditional music, and are all recommended to those interested in further study of the genre:

Fiddlesticks: Irish Traditional Music from Donegal (Nimbus).

    Live recordings of fiddlers including Ciaran Tourish, Dermot McLaughlin, Séamus and Kevin Glackin, Tommy Peoples, Prionsias &OACUTE; Maonaigh and Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh.

Paddy Glackin, Rabharta Ceoil (Gael-Linn).

    His brothers Séamus and Kevin join him on one medley.

Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh and Frankie Kennedy, Ceol Aduaidh and Altan (Green Linnet).

    The band Altan in its formative stages. For the trivia buff, Ceol Aduaidh features another Gaoth Dobhair musician, Eithne Ní Bhraonáin, playing keyboards on one cut—she later changed the spelling of her name to Enya and went on to fame and fortune.

Altan, Horse with a Heart, The Red Crow, Harvest Storm, Island Angel, (Green Linnet), Blackwater (Virgin).

James Byrne, The Road to Glenlough (Claddagh).

    James is joined by second fiddle from Peter Carr or Dermot McLaughlin on some tunes.

The Brass Fiddle: Traditional Fiddle Music from Donegal (Claddagh).

    Recordings of Francie Byrne, James Byrne, Con Cassidy and Vincent Campbell.

John Doherty, John Doherty (Gael-Linn).

John Doherty, Master Fiddler of Donegal: Bundle and Go (Green Linnet).

    Many of the tunes on this recording are transcribed in The Northern Fiddler.

Larry Sanger is attempting to construct the definitive website on Donegal fiddling. It's a good place to find further information.

An interview with Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 16 Oct 12 - 08:14 AM

Politesse dictates that you select the relevant bits that make your point, Dick.

I accept your upgrade, Michael. :-)


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: The Sandman
Date: 16 Oct 12 - 09:11 AM

Sory Steve, but Ihave been crrticised on here before for doing just that, anyway my apologies, hopefully somebody might be interested in the whole lot.
here is another veification of the importance of song,
Preceding the pipes, the origin of Irish music can be found in the sean-nós singing tradition. It is a highly ornamented, complex style featuring elastic rhythms and continuous variation of a basic melody. Sean-nós singing is almost always a solo art. The exception is found in Donegal where occasionally singing in unison or octaves can be heard. Because of the improvisational nature of the continuous melodic variation, such a feat would seem almost to require mental telepathy, and in fact it is only very close relatives who attempt it.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Jack Campin
Date: 16 Oct 12 - 09:16 AM

You can read the same text that Dick copied here:

http://www.standingstones.com/donegalf.html

with more readable formatting. As Steve says, only one sentence of it should have been copied to make the point.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: TheSnail
Date: 16 Oct 12 - 10:06 AM

Steve Shaw
And it [tunes from tune books ] taught me precisely zilch about active listening as I learned, the need for flexibility, the subtleties of rhythm and how to vary and ornament tunes. So I have every idea, you see.

No, it shows that you have absolutely no idea. Music notation, at least in folk music, doesn't set out to do any of those things any more than the text of Shakespeare teaches you to act.

A 6/8 time signature at the front of a jig, for example, conveys a mechanical notion of something that is as un-mechanical and fluid as can be.

No. It tells you it's in 6/8. If to you that means mechanical, then that is how you will play it; if you think it means fluid then play it that way. That is up to the musician.

A 4/4 time signature in front of a reel gives no hint as to the potential for playing the tune with a bit of lilt.

Of course it doesn't. That comes from your experience of how reels sound.

Anyone who even thinks they can notate a slow air is nothing less than a scoundrel.

Anyone who thinks that you should slavishly follow the notation of a slow air is never going to amount to much as a musician.

I honestly can't understand why anyone would want to deliberately put such obstacles in their way when they could learn tunes by hearing them played.

The notation puts no such obstacles in your way, they're all of your own making. You seem to have chosen to be straightjacketed by the dots. You seem to have decided that if you learn from notation you have to stop listening. No wonder you didn't get much from it. By rejecting tune books, you have cut yourself off from a vast treasury of music. Do yo regard O'Neill's as the work of the devil? Your loss.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: GUEST,michael gill
Date: 16 Oct 12 - 10:07 AM

And the point was, of course:

"can indicate where a slow roll "would" normally be played. But not "should" of course"


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Don Firth
Date: 16 Oct 12 - 12:39 PM

Steve, what you are avoiding is that I am not talking ONLY about songs.

I am talking about ALL music.


You're dodging the issue.

And no, I haven't heard you play, but judging from what you have said—and your own rigid position on the matter, I think I have a pretty good idea. I have run into this kind of argument before and am quite familiar with it—and with those who continually make it.

And Michael, I DID say that one needs to spend time with the music and learn from it. IF there is information available, such as notes on what the composer was thinking at the time he wrote the piece—or any other information that might be relevant, you of course consider that as well.

I agree emphatically with the Snail, just above.

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: GUEST,sturgeon
Date: 16 Oct 12 - 12:54 PM

'The exception is found in Donegal where occasionally singing in unison or octaves can be heard.'

Not true, I've heard the same in Connemara and West Kerry.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Jack Campin
Date: 16 Oct 12 - 01:07 PM

[Don on Steve]

I haven't heard you play, but judging from what you have said — and your own rigid position on the matter, I think I have a pretty good idea.

I don't think you do. There are samples of Steve's playing on Soundcloud or similar. They're pretty darn good - sensitive and idiomatic.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: GUEST,michael gill
Date: 16 Oct 12 - 01:17 PM

Don, Bit of confusion: You say, "one needs to spend time with the music and learn from it" Are you meaning "the music" as in the sheet music, or the music as in the noise when it hits your ears?


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: GUEST,michael gill
Date: 16 Oct 12 - 01:28 PM

... and I agree with everything thesnail says too (and I suspect Steve does). With the caveat however, that while the notation itself does not put up an obstacle and that such an obstacle is of the musician's own making, There are a heck of a lot of people playing music from notation who have no idea that they have put up the obstacles.

It's like the "guns don't kill people, people kill people" argument. Of course it's true. But if there's a heck of a lot of guns about and they are as easy to get hold of as a bag of rice, then a heck of a lot more people are gonna get killed.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: The Sandman
Date: 16 Oct 12 - 01:43 PM

half full half empty syndrome, there are also a heck of lot of people who do understand about playing music from notation, and do understand about listening to others whilst using it and do understand about musical interpretation whilst playing from music.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Don Firth
Date: 16 Oct 12 - 02:51 PM

"Are you meaning 'the music' as in the sheet music, or the music as in the noise when it hits your ears?"

Both. One needs to listen to what comes out of the guitar or whatever other instrument one is playing as one "plays the dots." Thus also assumes that one is playing the piece for the first time in practice, not in front of an audience.

Study the written music. There are not just the time signature and "the dots," but other indications as well. Usually just above the time signature there will be an indication such as "Allegro" (fast), "Lento" (slow), or any of a whole bunch of indications as to the general pace of a piece. Also, you may see such things as a curved line over a whole string of notes. This indicates that those notes should be play as a "phrase." Other indications include such things as f ("forte"—emphasize this note) or ff ("fortissimo"--really emphasize this note), p ("piano"—softly), etc.. Or a dot over a note with an "eyebrow" over the dot. This is called a "fermata," and it means that you should hold this note for a second before moving on.

There's a helluva lot more information in most written music than just "the dots." One should get a good music dictionary (small, can fit into a shirt pocket, and not all that expensive) to look up these indications.

But there is a measure of freedom for personal interpretation there. For example, how long should you hold a "fermata?" How fast is "Allegro?" How slow is "Lento?" These are things you have to decide. Your own musical sense has to come into play here. Think about it. Play it several different ways. Then decide which one seems the best (and you may revise this later on).

And LISTEN as you experiment.

And--listen to the way other people play the piece. I think you'll find that everybody has his or her own take on it.

There is plenty of latitude right there on the page.

Anyone who thinks that reading "the dots" turns you into a robot just doesn't get it!

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: John MacKenzie
Date: 16 Oct 12 - 02:53 PM

I used to play by ear, but I caught dire ear,


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: GUEST,michael gill
Date: 16 Oct 12 - 02:55 PM

It's not half and half. It wouldn't be nearly as bad if it were. The unfortunate fact is that it's the vast majority. And that that vast majority carry on in complete ignorance of their ignorance. With some, of course, they are such bad listeners that putting the dots down and only using their ears wouldn't make a jot of difference. (I won't name an example, 'cause I'd only get "moderated"). But quite a few, I believe, would benefit a great deal from it.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: GUEST,michael gill
Date: 16 Oct 12 - 03:00 PM

I agree, reading "the dots" does not turn you into a robot. However, if you play music like a robot in the first place, playing from the dots will do nothing to cure you from it. The only cure is to leave the dots alone, not for ever, just until the cure takes effect.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 16 Oct 12 - 03:14 PM

Study the written music. There are not just the time signature and "the dots," but other indications as well. Usually just above the time signature there will be an indication such as "Allegro" (fast), "Lento" (slow), or any of a whole bunch of indications as to the general pace of a piece. Also, you may see such things as a curved line over a whole string of notes. This indicates that those notes should be play as a "phrase." Other indications include such things as f ("forte"—emphasize this note) or ff ("fortissimo"--really emphasize this note), p ("piano"—softly), etc.. Or a dot over a note with an "eyebrow" over the dot. This is called a "fermata," and it means that you should hold this note for a second before moving on.

There's a helluva lot more information in most written music than just "the dots." One should get a good music dictionary (small, can fit into a shirt pocket, and not all that expensive) to look up these indications.


Heheh. Well, in order to respond to this I have to admit that I have looked in several Irish tune books in my time. Perhaps I've been looking in the wrong ones, Don, but I have yet to see an Irish tune book with markings such as lento, allegro, f, ff, p, or with phrase markings or fermata (well, maybe the odd one of those). And if I did find such a tome it would do nothing except convince me that this here is a version. What you do with this version is prescribed. I have worked it out. I am authoritative. This is what you do with this tune. Stray ye not.

Anyway, thanks for the music lesson, Don. I didn't need it because I know all that stuff already. I find it useful when I'm following classical music scores, which I do.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 16 Oct 12 - 03:25 PM

... and I agree with everything thesnail says too (and I suspect Steve does).
Well yes, except for the "Steve-says-something-therefore-my-role-is-to play-the-contrarian" attitude (the gastropod and I have history, Michael :-) ) He does give things away a couple of times in his post when he says it's up to the musician in jigs (you do have to be a bit of a musician before that applies) and that you have to use your experience in reels. Exactly. Which is why dots are bad for inexperienced players.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 16 Oct 12 - 03:27 PM

Damn. Only that first line was meant to be in italics.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Don Firth
Date: 16 Oct 12 - 03:38 PM

Steve, learning a tune from the dots is only the beginning.

THEN the real work begins.

If you can't work it out from there, then I don't know what to tell you. Like I keep saying, it's a matter of musicianship.

But telling people that they shouldn't try to learn music from "the dots" is doing them a disservice. People can. At least, some people can.

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 16 Oct 12 - 03:44 PM

And no, I haven't heard you play, but judging from what you have said—and your own rigid position on the matter, I think I have a pretty good idea.
I wouldn't dream of criticising your playing without hearing it, Don, for the simple reason that so many people on these websites love to misrepresent themselves. I won't name an example, 'cause I'd only get "moderated". I think you should adopt the same attitude. Whatever people say that gets your back up, the proof of the pudding is...


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 16 Oct 12 - 03:45 PM

Damn! I've done it again. Only that first line was meant to be in italics. Sod it.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 16 Oct 12 - 03:51 PM

I can work it out from there (I never do, mind - don't wanna) because I've learned a lot of tunes by ear and I understand that I have to be flexible and that there is no such thing as "the version." Telling beginners who happen to be able to read music that they can fast-track themselves into playing this music well is doing them more than a disservice. It is dooming them to never playing it well. Seen it, got the bloody tee shirt.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Don Firth
Date: 16 Oct 12 - 04:55 PM

So Irish session music is so much more complex than, say, flamenco?

One cannot learn to play flamenco from written music, certainly not without some understanding ahead of time as to what's going on.

But once a person does know, it IS possible to learn new pieces from written music.

Been there, done that.

I'm no Manitas de Plata or Sabicas, but I can do it and have done it.

Don Firth

P. S. Fuller explanation on demand.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 16 Oct 12 - 07:02 PM

But once a person does know, it IS possible to learn new pieces from written music

You see? Both you and Snail always have to qualify your claims that sheet music is OK by saying that you "need to know" first. Thanks for making my point, both of you.

And I'm only saying for traditional Irish music. That's what I happen to know something about. Not songs either. I suspect it's exactly the same for other styles of traditional folk music though I wouldn't ask to be quoted on it.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 16 Oct 12 - 07:42 PM

So Irish session music is so much more complex than, say, flamenco?
How would I know? How would you know? What do you mean by "complex?" More virtuosic? Requiring more playing skills? Harder to learn? More notes, faster notes? Flamenco players find it hard because they're disracted by low-cut tops and big tits (and that's just the blokes...)?

Your question is just bollocks. Diddley music is simple. It is mostly diatonic and the tunes are mostly in regular-sized bits. Virtuosity actually works against good playing if you're not careful. If you think that it's "less complex" than flamenco, well good for you. Playing it right does, however, appear to be somewhat elusive. I wonder why that is. It can't be because it is "not complex". Do you think it could be that a large majority of its practitioners are unable to learn by ear or listen interactively when playing in sessions? Or, worse, have decided they can fast-track themselves into the music with tune books?


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 16 Oct 12 - 07:44 PM

Fer chrissake, three in a row. Only that first line should have been in italics. I appear to have a disease. Something to do with leaning forward too much.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Don Firth
Date: 16 Oct 12 - 08:43 PM

Steve, you're coming on like one of the "folk police." It has to be played YOUR way or it's not right, and your way doesn't include being able to read music.

Well, I've found there's no point in trying to argue with or persuade someone with that kind of mind set.

Sorry if I rained on your parade. You do it your way. I'll do it mine.

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 16 Oct 12 - 08:58 PM

Wassup, Don? I've told you umpteen times that I can read music. Is this the way you have conversations with the people you meet face-to-face? You ignore what they say and construct an image of what you think they should say for you to knock down? Have you thought of having an alternative career in comedy?


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Don Firth
Date: 16 Oct 12 - 10:31 PM

Snotty, Steve!

I am aware that you can read music. What I object to is your advising others--beginners--that they should NOT.

Don't dodge the issue with insults.

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: GUEST,Stim
Date: 16 Oct 12 - 11:57 PM

I don't completely agree with Steve's basic point, but I do understand, and have sympathy with the honest frustration that he expressed when he said:

"Do you think it could be that a large majority of its practitioners are unable to learn by ear or listen interactively when playing in sessions? Or, worse, have decided they can fast-track themselves into the music with tune books?"

So yes, over the years, I've run into a fair number of people who play, but don't practice, who never bothered to sit down with someone(either formally or informally) to learn how to keep the beat and get the tune to 'sound right", and who figure that they can play anything at all because they've got "The Real Book" or "1001 Irish Fiddle Tunes" or the Boxed set of "The Complete Chess Masters, and a spontaneous gift for music.

And old band mate of mine used to say, "I wish there were a million more of them, cause they make us sound really good."


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Don Firth
Date: 17 Oct 12 - 12:33 AM

And, Stim, there are four-year college music students who can both play by ear AND play from sheet music note for perfect note. But--they don't make it into any orchestra because they lack the musicality to both read what's on their music stand and follow the conductor at the same time.

Innate musicality. Or in another word--talent.

This lack of talent certainly does not mean the don't want to be in a music group.

But likewise, being able to recite "To be or not to be" in absolutely perfect iambic pentameter doesn't, by itself, qualify one to ba a Shakespearean actor.

The fact that they can read notes--or words on a page--perfectly is NOT the problem.

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: GUEST,Stim
Date: 17 Oct 12 - 01:24 AM

I think there is more to it than mere talent--some students never really flourish because no one has helped them to discover how to express themselves through the music-this, more than anything, is what mentors are for.

There are altogether too many bored music teachers--frustrated performers who took on students as a consolation prize, they can teach students to play the notes, but they don't teach them how to make it come alive.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Don Firth
Date: 17 Oct 12 - 01:45 AM

All too true.

Fortunately, most of the music teachers I've had were excellent musicians and inspiring mentors.

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: GUEST,Michael Gill
Date: 17 Oct 12 - 06:53 AM

Don, specifically, my advice to people new to any particular kind of music who already have knowledge of another and can read music is that they should do their best to familiarise themselves with this new music before learning anything of it from notation. And the only way to familiarise themselves is aurally. Listen to lots and lots of it and then begin to play it from only listening,

And here's why.

Music notation is visual symbols that represent sounds. And for it to be an effective means of communicating sound, you first have to be familiar with what sound each symbol represents. So, for example, someone familiar with Beethoven's style can take a piece of his manuscript written in common time and reproduce the music which, with skill and judgement, would hopefully be recognised by Beethoven himself as an accurate rendition . Or if not Beethoven himself, at least the general population of Beethoven admirers around today. (not with standing the performers own input, of course).

However. common time, as written by Beethoven means something very very different to a player of Irish reels. And yet the two are written identically.

And if you play a reel in the rhythm of Beethoven's common time it will be wrong. Not just different, or the players interpretation, or an example of the performers own input, but just wrong. Plain and simply.

And this applies to lots of the symbols. Another example is the one I looked at earlier where half a bar of 6/8 of three notes the same can mean a slow roll to an Irish player (not with standing the silly and irrelevant aside of a minority who don't play rolls of course). But if the player did that during a piece of Beethoven in 6/8 they'd be wrong, not just different, or the players interpretation, or an example of the performers own input, but just wrong. Plain and simply.



And it's important to note that this is not just theory. I'm not saying this could happen, or there is a danger of it happening. I'm saying that it happens a lot. A heck of a lot. All the bloody time. If you are not familiar with how reels go and you are familiar with common time in the Classical and Romantic sense and you read a reel off notation you "will" play it wrong. All wrong. As in "Sheesh, oh no no no no no ... that was bloody awful ... you've got it all wrong."


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: John P
Date: 17 Oct 12 - 09:29 AM

It really interesting how you guys are all saying the same thing and still managing to argue about it. Why don't you take things one small point at a time with the goal of finding what you agree on?

I've been reading this thread hoping to pick up some tips about learning to play by ear, which I am slow at. Since I'm equally slow at reading music, getting new tunes takes a while. After 42 years of being a performing musician, perhaps I should just accept that I have different skills and move on, but it would be nice to be quicker at picking up tunes by hearing them. Most folks have told me they sing the tune and then learn it on an instrument, but I can't sing, so that method is out. I have a good but not excellent ear, and there seems to be a disconnect between my brain and my vocal chords. Any other good suggestions?


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 17 Oct 12 - 09:46 AM

What I object to is your advising others--beginners--that they should NOT.

I am not advising anybody to not read music. I learned to read music at 46, I do it all the time and it is one of the best things I ever did (though I still don't use it to learn any tunes I play). I AM saying that, specifically, beginners in diddley music are best advised to learn tunes by ear, by hearing them played by good musicians, to listen and interact as they play along, and to leave the tune books alone. For many reasons, clearly and carefully put to you in this thread by the likes of Jack, Michael, Peter and myself. All derived from long experience of playing this music with people of very varied abilities in and familiarity with Irish music. And Don, do cut the indignant crap about insults, eh. There is nothing more insulting than having what you've typed in plain English continually misrepresented. I've lost count of the times I've put you right on the point made in this post.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: johncharles
Date: 17 Oct 12 - 10:14 AM

John P, try whistling, works for me.
john


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Jack Campin
Date: 17 Oct 12 - 10:42 AM

Most folks have told me they sing the tune and then learn it on an instrument, but I can't sing, so that method is out. I have a good but not excellent ear, and there seems to be a disconnect between my brain and my vocal chords.

I don't think it matters how well you sing. It's what the brain's doing that counts. Just thinking the tune, but REALLY LOUD, works reasonably well.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: GUEST,michael Gill
Date: 17 Oct 12 - 10:48 AM

John P. Yeah, whistling is good. But if you really do have a disconnection between your brain and your vocal chords, you probably won't be a very good whistler either. However, being able to sing the tune in your head is more than adequate.

The thing with learning to learn tunes by ear though is the same as anything else. It's really just practice. The more you do it, the easier it gets. I suspect you are slow at it because you haven't practiced it much. Simple as that.

(by the way, we are not saying the same thing. Don advises beginners to learn to read. I'm specifically advising beginners in a genre new to them - especially if they can already read, even a little bit - not to read. For the reasons above)


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: GUEST,Undecided
Date: 17 Oct 12 - 11:02 AM

I often have tunes in my head well enough to know they are coming out wrong. Well enough, even, to recognize that I am hearing the same tune played very differently or with a slight variation, or a close relative of the tune. Sort of "write only memory" - good for comparison but not for 'readout'. Singing them is almost as bad as 'hunt and peck' on a keyboard. I just have to keep trying until it fits.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: GUEST,michael gill
Date: 17 Oct 12 - 11:20 AM

I think that trial and error is not a good way to go about it. It kind of defeats the purpose.

Firstly, listen hard. Listen until you can sing along in your head exactly what you hear. And keep doing this until you can sing the tune in your head fluently and at will and, most importantly, exactly the way you hear it.

Then what you have to do, once the tune is in your head, is play the bits on your instrument you do know are correct on your instrument. And the with the bits you don't know just sing them in your head. At first, this might be only one or two notes, maybe even only the last note if it's the root. Then, you gradually fill in the gaps as you go round and round repeating it. If you make a mistake with a bit, you play a couple of notes you think are right but you hear they are wrong, make a special effort next time round to not play them, just listen to the voice in your head.

You'll find this method much much quicker and more accurate than flailing round at random. Also, if you try to find the notes by trial and error, it will confuse the tune you have in your head and you might start singing it wrong because your listening to the instrument instead of your voice.

If you keep this up you'll soon get to a stage where your fingers will automatically go where your brain is singing. As I say, it's all just practice.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: GUEST,michael gill
Date: 17 Oct 12 - 11:33 AM

And the way I learn most tunes these days is to take a fancy to a tune I hear a mate play down the pub and listen hard. I can usually get it in my head after the obligatory three times through. But by the end of the night I'll have forgotten most of it. How ever, I'll ask my mate to play it again next time (it might be a week later) and because there are some vestiges of it it my addled grey matter, I can sing along in my head pretty well by this time's obligatory three times through. And I can remember it. And I cycle home singing it loud all the way .. maybe 20-30 times through. And I can remember it in the morning and I'll spend a week singing it in my head, god knows how many times through. But not once trying it on the fiddle.

And then in the pub, when it gets played, It just falls under my fingers like butter soaking into hot toast.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: ripov
Date: 17 Oct 12 - 11:49 AM


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: GUEST,Undecided
Date: 17 Oct 12 - 12:08 PM

I should have made clear that it is a long term memory effect. I am OK at learning song phrase by phrase, better than many. I am not too bad at learning a tune on an instrument phrase by phrase. I play 'from memory' all the time. Its just that the memory is not a set of notes, more a contour, sense of harmonic movement, rhythm etc that has to be matched. But I think it is the thing that Jack Campin suggests SHOUTING.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: ripov
Date: 17 Oct 12 - 12:10 PM

Steve - couldn't agree more about the way english is taught ruining the enjoyment of it, with unappreciative pupils just mouthing the words. My kids and grandkids say the same! No doubt school recorder lessons have a similar effect musically! But unlike these schoolkids, we play in sessions and other gatherings because we love the music, or at the least want to find out about it. We just don't always have the facility to immerse ourselves in it in our daily lives.

Why did I say "approximation", and approximation to what?
First I should have said "an - inexperienced - player learning by ear";(help - how do I do Italics??). This player is simply copying what those around are doing. Their style of playing has not yet been shaped by exposure to a "tradition". But because they are copying more experienced (one hopes) players, their playing appears more "authentic" than that of the inexperienced who learn from dots. In either case it will be a while before the traditional style/interpretation becomes a natural part of playing. Some of course have "done it right" (as you say) and managed to be born
into a family where everyone plays in a traditional way, so they grow up regarding that way as normal (and probably go off and do something completely different, as kids do!)
I'm sure this applies in every musical tradition - eg how long does it take for "pop" groups to learn to sing so exactly out of tune? - perhaps many do it instinctively because they are surrounded by "pop" from birth (I'm not sure if you would call that "luck").
But being brought up surrounded by something is not "doing it right" (although it may be one's parents are doing it right); it's pure chance.

A (say) french person reading Shakespeare would hear the words in his head with a french accent. Doesn't a (say) irish fiddler reading the dots hear them in their head with an "irish accent", just as a "classically" trained fiddler would hear them with a "classical" accent. This works the other way as well, for me at least; I find it very hard not to play unmarked turns and graces in Mozart symphonies! (that's not very often these days). But the key here, I think you agree, is experience and custom, not how we learnt to read.

Anyway, why should we be ashamed of our accents and have to hide them, spoken or musical? (except sometimes in a performing environment, which has nothing much to do with folk music, apart from possibly the tunes; and even then we wouldn't like to be thought of as yet another Dick van Dyke).


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: GUEST
Date: 17 Oct 12 - 12:28 PM

I have noticed over the years that playing by ear and playing by reading music each have things in their favour.

Years back someone wrote to Mudcat that s/he wished to have the melody to a specific song. I then posted a link to YouTube where that person could hear the song being done. The poster replied to the effect that he needed the notation. It struck me then that the request was from someone who NEEDED the notation in order to play the song. It was a revelation to me at the time.

However, I will never be able to play a Bach concerto--assuming that one of the brothers wrote concertos--because the various and simultaneous music lines are too much for my memory to hold all at once.

I see benefits to both ways of learning to play music and would denigrate neither method. Being able to do both would be great, imo.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: TheSnail
Date: 17 Oct 12 - 12:46 PM

"Steve-says-something-therefore-my-role-is-to play-the-contrarian" attitude

Steve, my first post to this thread made no reference to you or to anything you had said. That didn't stop you launching into me straight away.

I have been learning tunes in the manner I described in that post for many years. I don't do it to be contrary; I do it because it works.

I have, as I have already said, benefited greatly from workshops with some of the best folk musicians in the land (and one or two from other lands) by learning from the notation that they sent in advance and then turning into music under their tutelage. According to you, they are doing it wrong.

I and others have also, for many tears, helped beginners through the Lewes Favourites sessions where we provide them with the notation of the tunes and then play through them together. We always tell people that the dots are only a guide not carved in stone. I don't do that to annoy you, I do it because I know from my own experience (which is just as valid as yours) that it works. Some of our alumni are playing semi-professionally.

Telling beginners who happen to be able to read music that they can fast-track themselves into playing this music well is doing them more than a disservice.

Nobody on this thread has said anything of the sort. From your own account of your failure to learn from notation, it sounds as if that was what you hoped. Sorry, it doesn't work that way. You have to listen. You have to play with other people. Written notation can be an invaluable aid to that process.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: GUEST,999
Date: 17 Oct 12 - 12:54 PM

Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: GUEST
Date: 17 Oct 12 - 12:28 PM

That post was me.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: The Sandman
Date: 17 Oct 12 - 01:06 PM

You have to listen. You have to play with other people. Written notation can be an invaluable aid to that process.
   indeed, when I was playing at Wath on Dearn town hall, with NMECQ, ONE OF THE ORIGINAL MEMBERS OF THE MEXBOROUGH BAND came up at the interval and said to the guy playing second treble[rob mckie], well lads your good, but second treble was playing the repeated notes in Belphegor, with one finger instead of cross fingering.
those guys were playing with music notation all the time but they were listening, that guy could tell 50 feet away, that Rob was not cross fingering his reiterated notes, cos he was bloody well listening, and he knew t bloody music inside out.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: GUEST,michael gill
Date: 17 Oct 12 - 01:09 PM

It's not an Irish or a classical accent. That's the wrong way to look a it. The two musics are much more different than that. They are different languages. And writing them down has similar incomprehensible outcomes.

A french speaker may read a word and think of water breathing vertebrates where an English speaker could read the same word, the exact same group of the exact same letters, and think of a substance that if ingested could kill you.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: GUEST,michael gill
Date: 17 Oct 12 - 01:23 PM

A classically trained musician familiar with common time who plays an Irish reel from notation in not playing the Irish reel with their classical accent. They are playing it wrong.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: The Sandman
Date: 17 Oct 12 - 01:31 PM

depends on the classical musician, and whether they have spent a lot of time listening to irish reels, Sean Maguire was originally a classical musician


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: ripov
Date: 17 Oct 12 - 01:51 PM

Michael -

No the english word has only one "s". And the confusion would anyway be in the translation, not the spoken accent.
I do agree though that If you weren't familiar with spoken french, even if you only learnt it at school, you would have no idea how a frenchman would pronounce the written words, and the same is the case in different musical traditions. No argument.

I look at different musics simply as accents - although perhaps dialects would better. They are written with the same symbols (perhaps betraying a dots based view on my part!) but pronounced differently. Different bits are accented. Different bits are slurred. Sometimes you struggle to make your instrument/voice produce an umfamiliar sound. And the tradition you first learnt never really disappears from your playing.
But not different languages. We may have problems with the detail of performing in other traditions, but most of the time we hear and understand. We're all musicians. lets not make artificial divisions.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: GUEST,Peter Laban
Date: 17 Oct 12 - 01:55 PM

I would think Séan McGuire had a background as a traditional player, his father being a whistleplayer and all. He just trained as a violinist. Which is not uncommon, the (Dublin) Crehan family of fiddlers went the same route. With an altogether more palatable outcome however.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: GUEST,sturgeon
Date: 17 Oct 12 - 01:58 PM

Seán Maguire was originally a classical musician? Utter bollocks!


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: The Sandman
Date: 17 Oct 12 - 02:18 PM

Sean McGuire
Written by Fear an Ti Musicians (H - Z) Jul 20, 2009
maguire

Sean McGuire: A regional style in his own right.

By Ronan Nolan
In the 1950s and 1960s, when the music of Coleman and Morrison seemed to a new generation to have been there forever, hearing Sean McGuire playing his fiddle on Radio Eireann had an uplifting effect.
Sean Stephen Maguire (he later changed his name) was born in Belfast on December 26, 1927, into a musical family. His father, John, played piccolo, concert flute, whistle and fiddle. His brother Jim, who passed away in early 2002, was highly thought of as a fiddle player. The two brothers recorded an album together in 1982.
At the age of 12 Sean began his fiddle playing. His two teachers were Professor George Vincent, from whom he learned fingering, and Madame May Nesbitt, who taught him his bowing technique.
As a teenager he was first violinist with the Belfast Youth Orchestra and he turned down an invitation to join the Belfast Symphony Orchestra because he felt more at home playing traditional music. "I decided to devote my techniques to the furtherance and promotion of my culture," he once said.
At the age of 15 he broadcast on BBC Overseas Radio. At 22 he won the gold medal at the All Ireland Oireachtas Fiddle Championship, scoring 100% from the four judges.
Sturgeon,he was first violinist with the Belfast youth orchestra, that means he played classical music a well as trad music.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: GUEST,michael gill
Date: 17 Oct 12 - 02:19 PM

"depends on the classical musician, and whether they have spent a lot of time listening to irish reels"

Duh... what do you think I've been saying? Are you unable to reed my post or are you deliberately not reading them?


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 17 Oct 12 - 02:33 PM

Heheh. You said that far more diplomatically that I was sorely tempted to myself, Peter. :-)


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 17 Oct 12 - 02:46 PM

Me: Telling beginners who happen to be able to read music that they can fast-track themselves into playing this music well is doing them more than a disservice.

Snail: Nobody on this thread has said anything of the sort. From your own account of your failure to learn from notation, it sounds as if that was what you hoped. Sorry, it doesn't work that way. You have to listen. You have to play with other people. Written notation can be an invaluable aid to that process.

If you encourage beginners to learn tunes from a book, of course you're encouraging them to fast-track. Why else would you do it? The only "advantage" (utterly misguided to see it that way, of course) to learning tunes from books over listening to people playing is that you can learn a lot of tunes more quickly. It panders to that enthusiasm that then gets degraded into the impatience to get in there and get playing and get the free pints. "Learn" used there advisedly, of course.

As for my "failure", well you wonder why I treat you with the disdain you so richly deserve when you say stupid bloody things like that. As for telling me I need to listen and play with other people, well why don't you go and tell your granny how to suck eggs too.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Don Firth
Date: 17 Oct 12 - 04:00 PM

Steve, you keep talking about "learning tunes from books over listening to people playing. . . ."

I have NEVER said that one should just learn tunes (songs, whatever) from books and NOT listen to people playing (and/or singing). And, yes, if one learns a tune from the notes in a book, at least you then have it "under your fingers" and it THEN becomes a matter of refining it by listening to others.

And what is wrong with "fast-tracking" if you get it right?

Oh, yes! Some newby might get the free pints some night! We can't have that, now can we!?

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: selby
Date: 17 Oct 12 - 04:23 PM

I would be interested to hear how others, developed their ear playing and the answer is?
Keith


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Jack Campin
Date: 17 Oct 12 - 05:03 PM

[Steve Shaw]
Anyone who even thinks they can notate a slow air is nothing less than a scoundrel.

How about this?

Ian Hardie slow airs

They're his own tunes. He died a few days ago; he didn't live to record them all.

Steve, I think you could do them justice yourself, using that notation. You would need to listen to a bit of Ian Hardie to get the idea, but that's not much of an imposition.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: GUEST,michael gill
Date: 17 Oct 12 - 05:27 PM

Don, would you care to reply to my posting beginning:
"Don, specifically, my advice to people new to any particular kind of music who already have knowledge of another and can read music is that they should do their best to familiarise themselves with this new music before learning anything of it from notation."


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: GUEST,Seer
Date: 17 Oct 12 - 05:46 PM

So how about this then?

This my take on things based upon my current understanding


by rote - playing along with something (perhaps in a group setting)

by ear - being able to listen to something, and play it back unaccompanied

transcription - to listen to something and write it down (perhaps using the instrument to play it back by ear first?)


as for learning from dots, or tab. my view is, unless emulating a specific tune (to either play by rote or replay exactly) that is what on paper it represents a snapshot, which i think COULD represent the exact same an aural snapshot when you "learn it by ear".

its what you then do with it that counts.

once you have the song in your mind, if you play exactly as you heard it that first time you're 'just' replaying it. but if you improvise within it, ditch the bits you dont like, boost the bits you do (or indeed bend it to your style, or what you can play better) then thats the folk process - thats you taking ownership.

(btw this is my first ever post on here and controversy aside, nice to see another west country man on here steve shaw :) )


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: GUEST,999
Date: 17 Oct 12 - 06:13 PM

I know a dynamite fiddle player who both reads and plays by ear. I don't know which came first with Chris, but I do know he loves Irish music--reels, songs, melodic pieces (I don't know all the names for the various styles of the music). His playing can get an audience mesmerized; his work is captivating.

Anyway, I was doing an album (33 1/3) in 1980 and for one of the songs needed to have a violin player. That's when I didn't meet him for the first time. He ended up overdubbing two violin parts. Years later, in 2008 I met him at a music festival. So, in 2011 when I was doing a CD I asked if he'd do a few cuts. He did, and I was a happy camper when he did.

I must mention that the music I play is some sort of bastard cross between what songwriters do and folkish music of the 1960s and 1970s with a bit of rock tossed in).

Chris matched the violin to the songs he was on, and he sounded exactly as I'd hoped he would. He can also play well with Celtic music, square dance players, those quartets made up of fiddles, viola-type things, jug band stuff and every-day old rock and roll. He likes some bluegrass, country--in fact I don't recall him mentioning any musics he didn't like.

I don't know quite where I wanted to go with this except maybe to say that people who really love music--your mileage will vary greatly according to your likes and experience/knowledge/inclination, as it should--see that there is a commonality all good musicians share: they love, care for and think about music in one form or other at least more times a minute than people do about sex. Rivers, winds, sky-colours: hell, even the rocks have sounds and songs of their own.

In terms of music itself, what's to say? I hear many good songs, and by that I mean melodies that work well with their lyrics. I hear many poor ones too. But every now and then, along comes Jones. I have written about three beautiful songs in my life, fifty or so better than yer average work-a-day, and seven hundred or so that I threw away because they sucked. I'm working on number four now, but then I'm always working on number four and will be until I nail it. Then I'll work on number five.

I admire the skill of some musicians who can lift music to the heavens, make it take you with it. We wouldn't have those wonderful composers and writers unless we also had the most of us who try hard but miss it by t h a t m u c h.

I will listen to unaccompanied music if ya hold a gun to my head. Yet, there are some singers/groups who blow my mind. I could say the same about Gregorian chants, doo wop, chorus, opera, choir or speech, and I shall: along came Jones.

I understand why so many people who do love music in its variant guises argue so fervently. It's important. And at the end of the day it is what defines such a big part of ourselves. Boil it all down, and that's a good thing.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 17 Oct 12 - 06:43 PM

Steve, you keep talking about "learning tunes from books over listening to people playing. . . ."

I would thank the poster of this to not pretend I've said something I haven't. You put words in speech marks, you are saying I said those exact words. Even if I did, which I don't recall doing, you have robbed them of all context. Knock it off, Don.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 17 Oct 12 - 06:58 PM

Hell of a good post there, Guest999. Just what I feel about music meself. It's good to be reminded of its central part in any life well lived.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 17 Oct 12 - 07:05 PM

Welcome aboard, Seer. What you do with it is what counts is a sentiment I can agree with. I think what the argument revolves around is how best to ensure that enthusiastic would-be players of this music are best prepared to know how to make the best of it. That's what we're squabbling about!


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: GUEST,999
Date: 17 Oct 12 - 08:42 PM

Thank you, Steve. I wouldn't have written that were it not for your posts. They spoke a language I could understand.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 17 Oct 12 - 08:57 PM

I would need to listen to them, Jack. Slow airs are damn tough. I've heard some really great guys playing them excruciatingly badly. The ones derived from sean-nos songs really need, I think, at least some feeling of the song words, even if they're translated. I can honestly say that I don't think I've ever played one properly. I suppose my instrument doesn't help. If it rains one day I'll take a look at those. They do look nice.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Don Firth
Date: 17 Oct 12 - 09:06 PM

Steve, that was a direct cut and paste from your post. That IS what you said.

Michael, I have said all along that one needs to LISTEN to a style of music that is new to one. I have never denied this. What I OBJECT to is when someone counsels a beginning musician that they shouldn't learn to read music. One CAN learn Irish reels from various books and collections, but once the person has learned the notes, he THEN needs to listen to musicians experienced in that kind of music to learn how those notes should be played.

But to tell someone that they shouldn't learn to read music, or at least get a start by learning something from a book is, as I see it, a form of sabotage!

And early on, I did have a couple of folk-types get on my case because I wanted to learn something about music in general, music theory and such. They claimed it would "spoil any attempt to learn how folk music should be done" and limit me to a bunch of arbitrary rules.

Fortunately, I knew better and ignored them—following the advice or another fairly experienced folk musician of my acquaintance who told me that the reason these guys were telling me this was essentially because they didn't want any competition for available gigs.

Turned out he was right.

By the way, rather than limiting me, learning music theory showed me what is possible. It freed me!

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: GUEST,999
Date: 17 Oct 12 - 09:17 PM

Don, of course you're right. Music theory taught me that I couldn't do anything I wanted to on the guitar. Some stuff was garbage. However, I tried it anyway. The theory was righter than me. But I don't think that's what Steve is saying.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: GUEST,michael gill
Date: 18 Oct 12 - 05:33 AM

Don, would you care to reply to my posting beginning:
"Don, specifically, my advice to people new to any particular kind of music who already have knowledge of another and can read music is that they should do their best to familiarise themselves with this new music before learning anything of it from notation."


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: GUEST,Undecided
Date: 18 Oct 12 - 05:40 AM

I'm not sure what the etiquette is round here but since it was in response to a post by me can I say thanks to Michael Gill for giving a useful answer (in his post about singing whilst riding his bike) to the question in the Original Post. I don't agree about the 'trial and error' part but we have moved on now.

I am having trouble reconciling the (separate ?) analogies about Frenchmen and about Shakespeare with the idea of "getting the notes" from the sheet music. When an English speaker reads Shakespeare they are not thinking about the letters making up the words and they are thinking more about what is being said and the rhythm of the words than about the individual words.

But if a English speaking Frenchman wants to read Shakespeare out loud (in his French accent) why can't he use the text to help him learn it, maybe in addition to recordings of native English speakers to help him through parts where his French accent spoils the effect. (if it wasn't a Frenchman but someone from the eastern USA they may even end up with something closer to what Shakespeare would have had in mind).

The difference may be that with an instrument we do have to generate the individual notes (the "letters" that make up the words). But when learning a song or a tune on an instrument phrase by phrase are we really taking it in by "getting the notes" or are we hearing words and meanings and needing to know our vocal chords or instrument well enough to reproduce them without thinking about the notes/letters ?


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: GUEST,Undecided
Date: 18 Oct 12 - 05:44 AM

Not to say that significant individual notes here and there are not handy to hang bigger chunks of tune from.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: GUEST,michael gill
Date: 18 Oct 12 - 05:53 AM

The thing about Irish diddley music is that there's often a heck of a lot going on, some easier to learn than others. Most people find the subtleties of rhythm, articulation and phrasing the hard bits. And the order of the notes in the tune the easy bit.

The question is though, if you have difficulty getting the simple order of notes by just listening, how the heck are you gonna be able to get the rest of it?


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: GUEST,Undecided
Date: 18 Oct 12 - 06:09 AM

If one postulates that tunes are made up of phrases composed of rhythmic and harmonic chunks or sequences (or some similar larger scale units) then that is like asking how someone could be a great orator if they had trouble with their spelling.

Looking at tunes that way also makes it easier to understand how variations 'work' in a way that a "notes in the right order" view does not.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: ripov
Date: 18 Oct 12 - 07:03 AM

Undecided -
exactly so. The notes need to be read and played as patterns and sequences, just as the words do. And playing each note separately, one at a time, produces nonsense in any tradition, as surely as saying one word at a time.

so -
Steve, maybe it's people who have problems reading you're on about?

Jack thanks for the Ian Hardie link, I've tried a couple (only in my classical accent though) - great tunes!

Michael, I don't think it's a matter of notes in the wrong order though. The order, or at least pattern, of notes, is generally fixed by the type of dance. if the player hasn't sussed that out well....(Slow airs may be a bit trickier). Thats why we all stop at the same time even if we're playing the wrong notes (and of course because everyone else has stopped!).
But it is hard to pick a tune up at a session, even without the obligatory football on the pub's tv. Several versions played at once, guitars with different ideas of the harmony; and when I join in the fingers don't always do as they're told! And there's another problem. Tunes are generally written by people who play, and the "finger patterns" are not always comfortable on every instrument.
So I find the dots very handy, if I can find the right ones, just as a guide to how the tune goes.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: GUEST,michael gill
Date: 18 Oct 12 - 07:25 AM

"Several versions played at once, guitars with different ideas of the harmony"

I'd agree it's hard picking up tunes at crap sessions.

And how do you know you've got the "right" dots? If you know the dots are right, then you don't need them.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: GUEST,Undecided
Date: 18 Oct 12 - 07:45 AM

"And how do you know you've got the "right" dots? If you know the dots are right, then you don't need them."

That was what I was getting at in my first post about "write only memory" (which was partially empathizing with someone talking about a disconnect between brain and vocal chords). You know if the dots fit the memory of last nights session the same way that you know if a Beatles tribute band gets the opening chord of "A hard days night" even slightly different.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: TheSnail
Date: 18 Oct 12 - 07:59 AM

Steve Shaw

If you encourage beginners to learn tunes from a book, of course you're encouraging them to fast-track. Why else would you do it?

In some cases, to make it possible at all. Learning by ear is not a universal skill and people have it to different degrees. I have heard that there is an orchestral piece that only exists because Mozart, at the age of about 13, heard it at a concert then went home and wrote it down from memory. Can you do that? You are fortunate to have some skill along that spectrum. Don't begrudge access to the music to those that don't.

The only "advantage" (utterly misguided to see it that way, of course) to learning tunes from books over listening to people playing is that you can learn a lot of tunes more quickly.

Steve, I have said repeatedly said, and so have others, that learning from books has to be done along with listening to the music and playing with others. It is not one or the other.

It panders to that enthusiasm that then gets degraded into the impatience to get in there and get playing and get the free pints. "Learn" used there advisedly, of course.

Heaven forfend that anyone should show any enthusiasm for playing music. I don't know about you, Steve, but I play for the love of the music and the joy of playing music with other people not the free pints.

As for my "failure", well you wonder why I treat you with the disdain you so richly deserve when you say stupid bloody things like that.

Previously: Learning from books taught me entirely the wrong message, that there is a correct version and that you should pontificate about it should you come up against someone not playing it Mally's way. And it taught me precisely zilch about active listening as I learned, the need for flexibility, the subtleties of rhythm and how to vary and ornament tunes.

Sounds like failure to me. I wear your disdain with pride.

As for telling me I need to listen and play with other people, well why don't you go and tell your granny how to suck eggs too.

I said no such thing. As above, I said that, if you are learning from the dots, you need to listen and play with other people as well. Is the message getting through yet? It is very evident from your account of your own attempts to learn from tune books and your use of lines like "learning tunes from books over listening to people playing" that you did try and learn that way in isolation. You had unrealistic expectations of what the written note could do for you. I am glad you have found a way that suits you but presumably you couldn't learn by ear to start with otherwise you wouldn't have bothered with the tune books. Could it be that reading from the dots was part of the path to your present skills? I certainly know that my ear learning has improved over the years but without the dots, I would never have got started.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: GUEST,michael gill
Date: 18 Oct 12 - 08:33 AM

"It is not one or the other"

Of course it's obvious that learning from books has to be done along with listening to the music and playing with others. i.e. one and the other. However, you have to remember that "the other" on its own is more than adequate.

If you have the books, you also "need" to be listening to the music and playing with others.

But if you are listening to the music and playing with others, you do not "need" the books.

I think it's a sad thing to say that if you didn't have the books you'd never have got started.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Jack Campin
Date: 18 Oct 12 - 08:49 AM

I have heard that there is an orchestral piece that only exists because Mozart, at the age of about 13, heard it at a concert then went home and wrote it down from memory.

That's a slightly garbled version of an urban legend about Allegri's Miserere. Several versions of it exist, some predating Mozart by a long time, but it was not published at the time since performances were reserved for the Sistine Chapel.

It's an unfortunate example since its evolution was more like that of an Irish traditional dance tune than just about anything else in art music. Generations of choirmasters added to Allegri's original and occasionally wrote down what they'd done to it. By the time Mozart heard it, it had mutated almost beyond recognition.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: ripov
Date: 18 Oct 12 - 09:19 AM

what "right" dots do you want Michael - the original pdf's that O'Carolan sent to the printers? As Undecided says, its the right dots if they remind you of the tune you want to remember. They aren't (and as said before CAN'T BE) be an accurate representation of a tune that continually varies from time to time and place to place, simply an approximation. But they are very probably an accurate representation of one particular "performance", or how one particular musician remembers the tune.
And yes of course the whole point of learning the tunes is to get out there and play with others (barring some perverse musical onanism).
re crap sessions, it takes time to sort the wheat from the chaff, the good session may be miles away or your mates don't like the pub....: and if you're a reasonable player isn't there some sort of moral obligation to support the inexperienced?


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: GUEST,michael gill
Date: 18 Oct 12 - 09:33 AM

The dots can't be an accurate representation of one particular "performance" either, seeings as there's much much more to the music it terms of the subtleties of rhythm, articulation and phrasing that the dots don't even attempt to represent.

And I find it a moral obligation to steer the inexperienced away from such inaccurate representations of tunes


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: ripov
Date: 18 Oct 12 - 09:47 AM

if the dots represented all those things they would have to followed more slavishly, leaving less room for individual musicianship. But they can still be accurate regarding what they DO represent.

Wouldn't it be better to guide the inexperienced in learning to interpret what they read in the way of the appropriate tradition?


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: GUEST,michael gill
Date: 18 Oct 12 - 10:06 AM

Yes, the dots can be an accurate representation of what they represent. (kind of puts them in their place when you say it like that eh?)

And I think it's important to differentiate between two types of the inexperienced. On the one hand, someone who has never played any music before and cannot read music. And on the other, someone who has played a different genre of music and can already read music.

With the former, I think the dots can help in aiding the memory of a tune that is being learned aurally. But if the source is the dots, they can hinder the aural memory of a tune.

With the latter, what the dots represent to them is not what they represent to someone more experienced in the tradition. The example I gave above is very important. Common time. 4/4, to a classically trained musician means something very very different to someone who is used to playing reels. A classically trained musician who is inexperienced with reels attempting to play them off the page will play them wrong. All wrong. Much better to force them to listen in order to learn a tune.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: GUEST,Peter Laban
Date: 18 Oct 12 - 10:08 AM

'And yes of course the whole point of learning the tunes is to get out there and play with others (barring some perverse musical onanism).
re crap sessions, it takes time to sort the wheat from the chaff, the good session may be miles away or your mates don't like the pub....: and if you're a reasonable player isn't there some sort of moral obligation to support the inexperienced?'



There's a whole lot there I am a bit uneasy with. I know a lot of players who love playing music for the sake of it, and I would include myself in their number, whose prime objective is not to 'get out there and play with others'. Playing with others can be great and at times it can be exasperating. But it's not the be all end all of playing music.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: TheSnail
Date: 18 Oct 12 - 10:11 AM

GUEST,michael gill
Of course it's obvious that learning from books has to be done along with listening to the music and playing with others

Not to Steve apparently.

But if you are listening to the music and playing with others, you do not "need" the books.

You may not need them, Michael, but as I said in my previous post, not everyone finds it so easy. If you are starting from scratch, it helps to have something to go on in order to join in with other players. I don't know what I can do to alleviate your sadness.

It may be a cultural thing. Your preference is for Irish music. The sort of traditional English dance music that I play has a long history of personal tune books. A lot of the tunes played around here (Lewes, East Sussex) come from local hand written manuscripts dating back to the end of the 18C. Many of them were published thirty years ago as The Sussex Tune Book edited by by Anne Loughran and Vic Gammon, music drawn by Martin Carthy (on the train and it sometimes shows). I remember the thrill when I first held the Aylemore MS in my hands and felt the bond with a musician writiing down his tunes in the 1790s as I went through it recognising tune after tune that I was regularly playing in sessions. I can't hear Aylemore play them because he has been dead some 200 years. I just have to hope he wouldn't mind our interpretation of them. There are several other MSS in The Sussex Tune Book including one from the mid 19C by Michael Turner, "bootmaker, parish clerk and fiddler". Another is from the Welch family of Bosham who played for the local dances and the church. Thomas Hardy's family had their own MS spanning several generations. John Clare, the "Peasant Poet", kept a MS. It is said that he used to go into music shops and copy tunes out of the books. Nobody cared to stop him. New manuscripts are turning up all the time. See the Village Music Project. That's not to say that there aren' a great many very good musicians who manage perfectly well without written music but use of the dots has over 200 years of precedent so I don't feel too guilty about it.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: John P
Date: 18 Oct 12 - 10:24 AM

I do a lot of training of new employees at work. One thing that has become obvious is that everyone has different learning styles. So much so that my training now includes an attempt to find out the learning style of the new person so I can adapt my training as much as possible to their style of learning. Another thing I have learned is that, no matter the learning or teaching style, some people get it quickly and some people don't. Of those that don't, some never will and some will, with time, become adequate or even quite good. Learning music isn't any different than learning anything else.

I find it insulting when a workshop teacher insists that their music can't be learned if you start with the written notes. I find this to be a lazy, incompetent, and ego-centric teaching style. Also insulting to my experience, to my self-knowledge, and to my ability to play music well. This type of teaching is not about playing the music. It's about enforcing a learning style on a portion of the learning process. This portion of the process has absolutely nothing at all to do with whether or not the student ends up being able to play well.

I am equally insulted by people who insist that traditional tunes can be notated accurately. I've never met anyone who knows anything at all about traditional music who thinks it can be, although I've debated the issue with a few folk here on Mudcat. The notes on the paper are a road map. The playing of music is the real thing. Learning tunes by ear or by rote is a road map. The playing of music is the real thing.

Like any other type of learning, everyone learns music in different ways. Some will get it and some won't. If the only proper way to learn traditional tunes is by ear, why are there so many really bad players out there who don't read music? If learning from a score is adequate, why are there so many gifted classical players out there playing Irish tunes that don't sound like Irish tunes? To be clear, no one on this thread has said that the written score will give anyone a clear idea of what traditional music sounds like.

The real answer is that there are good musicians and there are bad musicians. The bad musicians will never sound good doing anything. Of the good musicians, some will get it right away about how traditional tunes differ from what you see on the page. Of those who don't, some never will, and some will eventually become adequate or even quite good. Saying that everyone is the same in this regard, or that there is only one way to achieve the desired results, is displaying ignorance of how people learn.

The playing of the music is the real thing.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: GUEST,michael gill
Date: 18 Oct 12 - 10:46 AM

That's all well and good John, if you could break apart the "learning" and the "playing" process. Which of course you can't.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: GUEST,michael gill
Date: 18 Oct 12 - 11:02 AM

TheSnail, the bond you feel with a musician writiing down his tunes in the 1790s is a very thin bond indeed. One devoid of the subtleties of rhythm, articulation and phrasing. Maybe this is why your English music is, compared with Irish music, largely devoid of the subtleties of rhythm, articulation and phrasing.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: TheSnail
Date: 18 Oct 12 - 11:29 AM

Each to their own, Michael. I actually thoroughly enjoyed the workshops we had with Kevin Burke and Tommy Peoples.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Stringsinger
Date: 18 Oct 12 - 12:26 PM

Setting aside the arguments pro and con about learning tunes from say books like O'Neils if you play Irish, once you have a grasp of the style of music by listening to it, you can add to your repertoire from the notes and filter it through your knowledge of the music.

Contemporary jazz musicians work this way, many having played in jazz big bands that require reading and a knowledge of swing phrasing, often determined by the section leader.

It is reasonable that a trained musician who knows how to read music, has a knowledge of theory, chord progressions and voicings, key and time signatures, can learn to play by ear.

Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie learned their craft by going through method books in music for alto and trumpet, requiring them to read music, and I defy anyone to say that either musician was lacking in being able to play successfully by ear, and that is an understatement.

Back to Irish. Many of those musicians are conversant with music notation and use it to broaden their repertoire.

The Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann at its branch in Belfast Square, Dublin, has an array of valuable books to teach someone to play fiddle, whistle, banjo etc.

It is true, however, that to play the music well, you have to be exposed to a good seisiun or master teachers. The notes will not hurt you.

The attitude that you can't learn from music notation is a kind of ignorant snobbery.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: GUEST,Peter Laban
Date: 18 Oct 12 - 01:57 PM

'The Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann at its branch in Belfast Square, Dublin, has an array of valuable books to teach someone to play fiddle, whistle, banjo etc.

It is true, however, that to play the music well, you have to be exposed to a good seisiun or master teachers. The notes will not hurt you.

The attitude that you can't learn from music notation is a kind of ignorant snobbery. '

I imagine you mean Belgrave Square in Monkstown, Comhaltas headquarters.

I believe a session will help you become at best a good session player, to really get the nuances (that will be lost in session), the company of good musicians is essential.

An experienced musician, experienced in the genre we're talking about, can learn tunes succesfully from notation. I think that's been pretty much established somewhere during the last 250 or so posts. A musician experienced and educated in any other genre will not do so successfully and will not learn the finer detail of the music from notes. That too has been established. Remind yourself of that before throwing the old 'ignorant snobbery' remarks about.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Don Firth
Date: 18 Oct 12 - 01:58 PM

Yup! John P. and Stringsinger know where their towels are.*

Right on!

Don Firth

*If bewildered by this reference, see "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy."


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: GUEST,michael gill
Date: 18 Oct 12 - 02:23 PM

Don, would you care to reply to my posting beginning:
"Don, specifically, my advice to people new to any particular kind of music who already have knowledge of another and can read music is that they should do their best to familiarise themselves with this new music before learning anything of it from notation."


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Don Firth
Date: 18 Oct 12 - 04:06 PM

Michael, I agree with what you posted (the one you are referring to). As a matter of fact, a careful reading of what I've been saying all along (rather that a quick, knee-jerk reaction) should make it abundantly clear that I am saying that one must LISTEN to the kind of music one is, for the first time, attempting to learn from written music. Especially when learning from written music. Then, keep revising as one goes along and learns more about it.

What I object to is when some of the people here are saying that one should not attempt to learn a particular style of music, be it Irish reels or Indian ragas, from written music AT ALL.

One needs sources of information IN ADDITION to the written music. Any student of music in a formal school of music or conservatory knows this right from the start—if he or she has stayed awake in class.

But beginning to learn a particular style of music from notation is a start. All the "style" or "interpretation" or knowledge of regional subtleties in the world is not going to do you much good if you don't know what NOTES to play.

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: GUEST,Undecided
Date: 18 Oct 12 - 04:25 PM

Don, are you saying that the "style" or "interpretation" or knowledge of regional subtleties can come *after* one knows which notes to play ?


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Don Firth
Date: 18 Oct 12 - 05:01 PM

How else?

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: GUEST,Undecided
Date: 18 Oct 12 - 05:15 PM

Well, a lot of the work on playing the tune as one wants to may come after having a got a set of notes, and what one wants to do may evolve during that. I just don't see why one would play a set of notes in the first place without having an idea what they were supposed to sound like within the tradition that they come from.

But then I'm coming at it from a "can read music but it helps if I know the tune" angle. (I'll leave attribution of the quote to others in case I have it wrong)


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Don Firth
Date: 18 Oct 12 - 05:39 PM

So you know all about a particular style of music—how tunes should be played. But you don't know any tunes.

Not much different from knowing what color you want to paint a wall. But—if it's going to amount to anything, you have to have a wall to paint.

Sounds kind of basic to me.

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: GUEST,Stim
Date: 18 Oct 12 - 05:43 PM

Did you really have to go this way, Michael Gill?

"Maybe this is why your English music is, compared with Irish music, largely devoid of the subtleties of rhythm, articulation and phrasing."


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: GUEST,Undecided
Date: 18 Oct 12 - 05:59 PM

The vision beforehand of an expanse of yellow with purple stripes and the enjoyment of sitting looking at it when done may be more important than the bricks and mortar.

(but IMO its rubbish analogy)


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Don Firth
Date: 18 Oct 12 - 05:59 PM

". . . devoid of the subtleties of rhythm, articulation and phrasing."

Since when?

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: GUEST,michael gill
Date: 18 Oct 12 - 06:35 PM

"All the "style" or "interpretation" or knowledge of regional subtleties in the world is not going to do you much good if you don't know what NOTES to play."

"I just don't see why one would play a set of notes in the first place without having an idea what they were supposed to sound like within the tradition that they come from."

These two quotes do indeed present a dichotomy. However, the conundrum is neatly solved if the the knowledge of what notes to play comes simultaneously with the listening of the style. i.e. learning the tunes by ear.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: GUEST,michael gill
Date: 18 Oct 12 - 06:42 PM

.... by the way, it's disingenuous to use part of a quote to change its meaning.


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Subject: RE: learning to play by ear?
From: Don Firth
Date: 18 Oct 12 - 09:03 PM

I think I'm getting a whiff of chauvinism here. The kind that says, "If you weren't born within sight of Tara, didn't come out of the womb speaking Gaelic, and don't have shamrocks growing out of you navel, then you'll never be able to learn how to play Irish session music.

I just spent some time listening to Irish session music on YouTube (and I have heard a lot of it before), and I didn't hear anything—INCLUDING the "diddly bits"—that could NOT be learned from written music and played as well as anybody else.

Folk police come in many shapes and sizes, and from various ethnic groups.

Ta ta, folks! Got better things to do than to continue running around this particular bush.

Don Firth

The originator of the thread feels this topic has run it's course and is dismayed at the disrespect shown elder statesmen in the field of folk music. Those of you who don't have anything better to do - take up another hobby - don't follow around people you disagree with just to pick fights and ruin other discussion. It reflects poorly on you and one day may come back to bite you in the ass. --mudelf


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