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Mary B

How to learn to play by ear

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Wow, how many EC players around! :D Thinking a bit about the subject, that generalization could have its origin in the fact that EC was originally a 'posh' instrument, meanwhile the anglo was more likely played by peasants. Just an idea!

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I'm much better at picking up tunes by ear on fiddle than on concertina, too. But I suspect has nothing to do with the distance of the instrument to your ear: I think that the fact that you have to tune the notes on fiddle, when concertina is already tuned, helps to develop your ear. And the choices of notes on fiddle are more limited than on anglo, and somehow more logical.

 

OTOH, I played fiddle for 15 years, and if not knowing at the beginning where the 'tina notes where, the intervals between the notes of a tune were already deeply rooted in my memory.

 

Just my humble experience. :)

 

Cheers,

 

Fer

 

I'm much better at picking up tunes by ear on the harmonica than either the recorder or the anglo. I have been playing both harmonica and recorder for about the same length of time but I learned the recorder formally from dots and the harmonica informally by ear, so I think the way in which the two were learnt is the key factor. When I started with the anglo I was already a competent reader of dots so I have learnt in a mixed way. I started out by playing tunes I already knew how to play on other instruments, but as I got to know where the notes were, I started learning some tunes from the dots.

 

I think I readed in this forum or elsewere that, generally speaking, people who plays by ear feels usually more comfy at the anglo; while the 'dots readers' feel better with the english.

 

This works for me, because although I can read music am very lazy and slow to, and only look at the score when unable to learn something by hearing :D

 

Cheers,

 

Fer

 

 

 

AS sweeping generalisations go that is probably as wrong as most!

 

I have to agree with that response. I found it was more about which I felt more comfortable with. I tried both EC and anglo and did not find the EC particularly intuitive, whereas with the anglo it definitely was intuitive for me and I was away quite quickly. That may have had something to do with the fact that I could already play harmonica so was familiar and comfortable with the in-out approach.

 

Being able to play from dots has a lot more to do with being comfortable with the notation and the instrument you play is irrelevant.

 

Geoff

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Thank you for all your helpful responses. I will start to work on following your suggestions.

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I think I readed in this forum or elsewere that, generally speaking, people who plays by ear feels usually more comfy at the anglo; while the 'dots readers' feel better with the english.

 

From my perspective, I think there's an element of truth in that statement. I used to play an EC, but could really only ever do so by reading the music. Then, when I started the Anglo I found it easier when I started playing by ear. I think the reason may be that, certainly for straightforward tunes (eg in C or G), there are limits to the 'wrong' notes that can be played on an Anglo. Conversely, with every note an option on the EC, it is more of struggle to make sure one is playing the right note.

 

Actually, historically, the EC was played by the educated middle classes in their drawing rooms reading music; whereas the Anglo was adopted by the working classes who rapidly learned how to play it with no recourse to music, or even the ability to read music. I realise that doesn't, necessarily, imply Anglos are easier to play by ear (after all, they were a heck of a lot cheaper to buy, thus were the only concertina available to the working classes), but it may be a factor.

 

Regards, Chris

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I think I readed in this forum or elsewere that, generally speaking, people who plays by ear feels usually more comfy at the anglo; while the 'dots readers' feel better with the english.

 

Well to add to the random sample, I could play music both by ear, and from dots, on other instruments long before I took up the EC.

 

I took up EC rather than anglo because (1) an English came my way first and (2) my brain just doesn't do bisonoric ....

 

 

[ edited to remove a random smiley that accidentally appeared in the middle of my text ]

Edited by Steve Mansfield

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A good way to learn tunes 'by ear' is to get a 'Slow-Downer' programme. I use one called 'Best Practice' this can be downloaded free from the Web. It will allow you to play back a tune at any speed that you can manage, whilst keeping the original pitch, or you can change the pitch/key of the piece. You can also 'bracket' a section of the melody for reapeating ad infinitum.

I find this very usefull when tackling a complicated piece or one with chords that are more difficult to figure out by ear.

 

This is a lot easier than my first attempts which involved jogging the needle back on Vinyl records or my second generation attempts with multi-speed reel to reel tape machines..... however my prefered method is a combination of playing by ear and reading the dots, get the feel and most of the notes by ear and use the dots to search for that elusive lost note.

 

Geoff.

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Well, this is and interesting and timely chat. I am in the same position as Mary B--and in fact got a little verbal "spank" from Greg Jowaisas when I was looking at concertinas with him--and dragged out my accumulated sheet music to play by for even test-driving the concertinas he had to offer. Also interesting that I do play EC. I think new players want to expand their repertoire rapidly, and this is easy to do if you have some sight-reading background. I was delighted that my old "dots" reading came back so quickly. Then I was dismayed to find out that it is sort of frowned on to have paper in front of you. I have a terrible time trying to memorize a tune that I can read---but maybe I am just being too impatient. I think the ear thing takes a week for a new tune; I can sight the dots in a play through or two. So, I have saved the pro-offered site about "learning by ear" and will follow the suggestions and not be so impatient. I do know from past experience with recorders, where I just did tunes by ear--and it did take a long time--and I did aggravate people with the repetitions. I would go way out in the middle of a cornfield with the dog for several hours at a time! Friends would look with a little askance when I would say where I was for the afternoon.

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A good way to learn tunes 'by ear' is to get a 'Slow-Downer' programme. I use one called 'Best Practice' this can be downloaded free from the Web. It will allow you to play back a tune at any speed that you can manage, whilst keeping the original pitch

 

Brilliant, Geoff, and very many thanks for that.

 

One way I endeavour to improve my playing is to play along with recordings (eg the excellent Foinn Seisiun sets from Comhaltas). I've always gone through a contrived method of opening a track in Adobe Audition, slowing it down, etc - yes, complicated and time consuming when all I want to do is play music. Best Practice has made things so much easier. Thanks again.

 

Regards, Chris

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Well, this is and interesting and timely chat. I am in the same position as Mary B--and in fact got a little verbal "spank" from Greg Jowaisas when I was looking at concertinas with him--and dragged out my accumulated sheet music to play by for even test-driving the concertinas he had to offer. Also interesting that I do play EC. I think new players want to expand their repertoire rapidly, and this is easy to do if you have some sight-reading background. I was delighted that my old "dots" reading came back so quickly. Then I was dismayed to find out that it is sort of frowned on to have paper in front of you. I have a terrible time trying to memorize a tune that I can read---but maybe I am just being too impatient. I think the ear thing takes a week for a new tune; I can sight the dots in a play through or two. So, I have saved the pro-offered site about "learning by ear" and will follow the suggestions and not be so impatient. I do know from past experience with recorders, where I just did tunes by ear--and it did take a long time--and I did aggravate people with the repetitions. I would go way out in the middle of a cornfield with the dog for several hours at a time! Friends would look with a little askance when I would say where I was for the afternoon.

 

Funny, I remember that part of our delightful encounter as "encouragement" to learn some tunes so they are in the fingers rather than on the page.

 

For sure a facility at both ways of learning tunes can be an advantage. I think some of the difficulty might lie in that different parts of the brain process visual and auditory input. And we all know that making the connection from either of those processing areas to the fingers can be another giant leap.

 

I will gently remind Michelle that the great performers (Perlman, Horowitz, B.B. King, Noel Hill) do not use written music on stage. Their performance pieces are committed to memory both cerebral and muscle. That's not to say they don't read but the dots would just get in the way when its time for them to make music.

 

In the end the most important thing is to enjoy making your music no matter how you manage to get there.

 

Greg

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A good way to learn tunes 'by ear' is to get a 'Slow-Downer' programme. I use one called 'Best Practice' this can be downloaded free from the Web. It will allow you to play back a tune at any speed that you can manage, whilst keeping the original pitch

 

Brilliant, Geoff, and very many thanks for that.

 

One way I endeavour to improve my playing is to play along with recordings (eg the excellent Foinn Seisiun sets from Comhaltas). I've always gone through a contrived method of opening a track in Adobe Audition, slowing it down, etc - yes, complicated and time consuming when all I want to do is play music. Best Practice has made things so much easier. Thanks again.

 

Regards, Chris

 

 

Glad it works for you too Chris, I got this tip from another member of C.net (Peter laban) so we must thank him too.

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I have a terrible time trying to memorize a tune that I can read---but maybe I am just being too impatient. I think the ear thing takes a week for a new tune; I can sight the dots in a play through or two.

In an ideal world, you would be able to learn be either method.

 

The problem with any tune which you can only play from music, is that unless you have learned the tune, if the music is not available, you will flounder. If you can learn even a few tunes "by ear", these tunes will remain with you until old age takes over!

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I found that I need to hear a tune over and over - slowed own a bit if necessary, maybe split into phrases if it's complicated, until I can sing/hum it.

Once thats done, the tune is in your head and you can start playing it.

 

That's really how I learn tunes at sessions, after I've heard them often enough, and have played along with the odd note to establish the key (I don't have perfect pitch) I can go away and start trying to play it. I may resort to the dots as a reminder as to how it starts, but try not to learn entirely from them.

 

Chris

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I noticed yesterday in the "blizzard session" in my living room with a couple of neighbors that there is a third way to learn tunes that I sometimes use on fiddle (though not on concertina, it may not be possible on concertina): watching fingers. This works best for me watching a mandolin player or another fiddler, though I've also used it to get chords from a guitar player (which I then play on EC). I once noticed that I was watching the fingers of a whistle player to pick up a tune on the fiddle. This works for me to pick up enough to play along, but essentially nothing sticks.

 

In the classical world you start with the written music, learn it from the notes, and memorize the piece (something I was never good at). It is then sufficiently ingrained that you can concentrate on interpretation and you don't lose the piece.

 

As for whether learning from dots, learning by ear, or learning from fingers or tab (which is essentially a written form of learning from fingers) sticks with you longest: I think this varies for different individuals and perhaps for different tunes. I expect that the tunes that will stick with me into old(er) age are the ones I continue to play, rather than the ones I learned using any particular source.

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I have a terrible time trying to memorize a tune that I can read---but maybe I am just being too impatient.

 

 

just as a side note, here's my take on memorizing: I found that *for myself* (no generalization valid here!), the time I spend with my instrument is way too valuable to waste it trying to memorize a piece... there's a million better places to commit music to memory; for me, right before falling asleep works best - I close my eyes and move my fingers as though there was an instrument below them. Of course that doesn't help with the motorics but helps greatly in memorizing - that's because I normally learn a tune "in chunks" and frequently lose one "link" between them, so remembering the links is the important part for me - so if while I'm doing the "dry excercise" in bed, I forget where to proceed, I can simply go back a measure and start back until the link is in the brain stem. It's drill, really. That way when I take the instruments in my hands the next time, I at least know which notes are next. Same thing also works while driving, waiting for a compilation run or something the like. In the early stages of learning a piece, I normally keep the sheet music around to peek out the links.

 

Once more, that mustn't work for everybody, but it works well for me...

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I have a terrible time trying to memorize a tune that I can read---but maybe I am just being too impatient.

 

 

just as a side note, here's my take on memorizing: I found that *for myself* (no generalization valid here!), the time I spend with my instrument is way too valuable to waste it trying to memorize a piece... there's a million better places to commit music to memory; for me, right before falling asleep works best - I close my eyes and move my fingers as though there was an instrument below them. Of course that doesn't help with the motorics but helps greatly in memorizing - that's because I normally learn a tune "in chunks" and frequently lose one "link" between them, so remembering the links is the important part for me - so if while I'm doing the "dry excercise" in bed, I forget where to proceed, I can simply go back a measure and start back until the link is in the brain stem. It's drill, really. That way when I take the instruments in my hands the next time, I at least know which notes are next. Same thing also works while driving, waiting for a compilation run or something the like. In the early stages of learning a piece, I normally keep the sheet music around to peek out the links.

 

Once more, that mustn't work for everybody, but it works well for me...

 

'Memorizing a tune' learned from printed dots and 'playing by ear' are, I reckon, two very different things.

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I had some success learning to play by ear today! I tried the method of listening over and over to the tune of a song from a new CD. I hit pause after the first note and hummed it while pressing buttons until I found the correct one (I do not have perfect pitch). Then I just kept pausing and repeating small sections at a time. I was lucky that the tune moved mostly by one note steps. I managed to learn the chorus in about two hours. I checked my learning by playing it in different keys (the original was in B flat). I played it in C, D, and F (G was a bad key for singing). Now the challenge will be to see if I can remember it tomorrow and learn the tune for the verses. I cheated a little and wrote down the tune in ABC form as I learned each section, but I will try to play it without looking at the letters tomorrow.

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I have a terrible time trying to memorize a tune that I can read---but maybe I am just being too impatient.

 

 

just as a side note, here's my take on memorizing: I found that *for myself* (no generalization valid here!), the time I spend with my instrument is way too valuable to waste it trying to memorize a piece... there's a million better places to commit music to memory; for me, right before falling asleep works best - I close my eyes and move my fingers as though there was an instrument below them. Of course that doesn't help with the motorics but helps greatly in memorizing - that's because I normally learn a tune "in chunks" and frequently lose one "link" between them, so remembering the links is the important part for me - so if while I'm doing the "dry excercise" in bed, I forget where to proceed, I can simply go back a measure and start back until the link is in the brain stem. It's drill, really. That way when I take the instruments in my hands the next time, I at least know which notes are next. Same thing also works while driving, waiting for a compilation run or something the like. In the early stages of learning a piece, I normally keep the sheet music around to peek out the links.

 

Once more, that mustn't work for everybody, but it works well for me...

 

'Memorizing a tune' learned from printed dots and 'playing by ear' are, I reckon, two very different things.

 

I know, that's why I labelled my contribution as a side note. Sorry, should have spawned a new thread.

Edited by Ruediger R. Asche

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