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mathhag

Practice and repertoire

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I have thought about this post many times but fear there may be no good answer. But here goes

some of you may know from my previous post that I have only been playing concertina for about 2 1/2 years. It is the first instrument I have ever played and in March I will turn 69.
I have the great benefit of a glorious instrument, Dipper #47 or 147 if you are Colin ( an insurance story) and I have had the opportunity to learn from Doug Barr, Mairead Hurley, and Noel Hill in person . I am using Caitlín’s wonderful online course and had incredible help from Bruce McCaskey. I have been totally smitten with this instrument. Nice that my husband has been totally supportive. He says I have never wanted to spend money on anything before. I have committed to at least one trip each year to learn more. I live in a VERY remote area

 

So I play almost everyday and it is my great joy.

 

Finally I get to my question. Right now I have about 30 tunes I can kind of play, using abc notation primarily. I have only ten that I can play by heart and almost to speed. 
 

Should I be adding tunes, which I love to do or working on getting the tunes I have better?

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I would recommend if there is a tune you love and it sounds exciting to you add that to the list and practice it until you are really happy with it - and keep practising the tunes you know that you like but if there is anything in your repertoire which you find less interesting don't bother practising it as much as the ones you really like out of a sense of duty. If you really like a tune its worth spending time on, and even finding different ways of playing that same tune. I usually spend time on a really good tune thinking "well what is the best way to play this so as to get the most out of it" you will be surprised to find how exploring the alternative ways of fingering can make ornamentation or accompaniment more natural or sound better.

 

This is my opinion, I hope it is of some use to you. Above all its great to hear you are enjoying playing.

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What great advice. I have wanted that permission

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I'm very new to concertina, but have been learning new instruments regularly (and not with any great skill, I should add) for the past 50 years.

 

My suggestion, based on what's working for me, is to start learning some new tunes completely by ear, using no tab or notation.  It's hard, or at least it's very hard for me, compared to reading the notation.  But there are so many benefits:  First, while I learn the tunes more slowly, I get them memorized much more quickly.  There's no discrepancy between the tunes I can play and the tunes I can play from memory.  (Though sometimes I might need to hear the opening bar.)  Second, in listening intently to get the notes, I'm also getting the pulse, the phrasing, and some of the articulations, so I'm playing the tunes better from the start.  Still tons of room for further advancement, of course.  But I'm much more musical in my playing when learning by ear.

 

I'm looking forward to trying Caitlin's online course.  But I started with Edel Fox's OAIM beginner series.  You can pull up the notation from OAIM if you choose to, but I'm intentionally ignoring it.  For each tune (each lesson is one tune), Edel breaks it down in discrete phrases,  The first time she plays a phrase, there's some on-screen tab showing which button and which bellows direction.  I only look at that to see what button she's starting on, mostly because I can't help myself from taking that shortcut.  But I couldn't interpret the rest of that tab in real time even if I wanted to, so I instead just replay the phrase, again and again, until I've got the notes by ear, then move onto the next phrase.

 

Like I said, it's not easy.  But it starts playing BIG dividends quickly, and it gets easier the more you do it.  My eventual goal is to be able to learn tunes while at a session.  That's a big part of what goes on at the one session near me--collective learning of new tunes.   

 

Apologies if this isn't really addressing your question.  I'm sharing it because with other instruments I insisted that my ear wasn't very good, and thus I needed the notation.  Turns out I was wrong, and just being stubborn about putting in the effort.

 

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You are most definitely addressing my questions. thank you

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When I was a beginner, I began building up a collection of tune books, and at least once a week I would go through one, identifying tunes I really liked, and noted them for further attention.

Even today, I still randomly dip into a book I have not looked at for a while. I open it at any page and find some tunes I have not studied before. It is surprising how often you can pick up a good tune that way.

I had no internet connection then, and had not heard of ABC notation, so books were the way to go. Although I have thousands of tunes in ABC notation, bu it is still pleasurable to dip into a real book.

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Hi there Mathhag,

 

this is a difficult question to answer because everyone is different, has a different approach to music, different expectations and goals, individual difficulties to overcome; therefore, whatever advice you get will be from the individual perspective of the answering person and may or may not be of help to you.

 

So here is my personal answer, derived from my personal (limited) horizon. I hope you'll be able to make something of it...

 

To me, the most important insight is that the process of making music consists of many different skills. Being able to play one (or even many) tunes in the closed space of one's bedroom is one very basic skill, but there are many more, such as playing the same tunes with distractions, in the presence of others, in sessions, in ensembles, for dancers, finding variations on the tunes, possibly improvising over the tune, picking out tune harmonies in real time, transposing tunes on the fly and so on.

 

The point is that you will need to practice every skill separately. As long as you "merely" practice the same tunes in the same arrangements in the confined space of your music room, you can do that for hundreds of hours and will still be frustrated as soon as another person enters the room because even the most familiar tune will be gone as if you had never played it before (you have limited your practicing to one skill - tune memorizing -  but neglected working on another one - playing with distractions).

 

You'll be surprised how even seemingly small changes of the environment such as changing rooms, try playing while standing, even leaving the door open will affect your ability to play the tune. Thus, one of the best favors you can do to yourself is try to leave your "comfort zone" as frequently as possible so that your brain becomes used to the changes and environment.

 

I for myself have established a "work flow" in which I try to memorize a tune in the first step (I'm neither a very good sight reader nor a good by ear player), and as soon as I have done that reasonably well, practice the tune against a metronome, then try to speed up the tune until I can play along with a Youtube recording of the same tune. Sometimes I'll do things like record myself and then try to accompany my own recording with a different playing style. Also, whenever I think I've got a tune to a presentable state, I'll take it to a session and show it to other session menbers. If it resonates (as it does every once in a while), it becomes part of the session's repertoire.

 

All of the above serves one umbrella purpose - namely to practice as many of the different skills used in music making as needed to serve your personal goals. Now you say that you live in a remote area, so you don't have many opportunities to play with other musicians (which is one of the most important, satisfying and and yielding ways of making music). However, you can approximate that particular skill, for example by trying to play along with YouTube recordings.

 

So to finally come back to your initial question - my advice would be to not think in terms of "how many tunes should I work on" but look at the tunes as vehicles to get better in as many of the skills you would like to get better in as possible.

 

One of the things you'll possibly experience is that once you widen your repertoire, you'll live in the anxiety to forget pieces that you worked on a longer time ago because now you spend your time working on the more recent ones. That's normal and expected, so the balance between keeping your repertoire so small that you can take care of all of your tunes and learning new ones is sort of hard to keep.

 

Oops, that late already? Sorry, I start blubbering nonsene. Hopefully there are one or two useful ideas in those elaborations...

 

Edited by RAc

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I agree that it is important to learn some new tunes completely by ear. I assume that up to this point you have learned the tunes you now have by reading abc or some kind of notation. It is easier to do it this way in the beginning for sure; but as you have seen, it can create some limitations.

 

To learn your next new tune completely by ear, you might want to try this approach:

  • First, select a simple tune that you don't play at all. Listen to it, maybe very slowly at first, five times, ten times, maybe fifty times--However many times it takes so that you can sing the tune in your head (you can sing it using your voice too; but the key thing is to be able to hear the tune in your head). Once you can do that, you know the tune: maybe you can't play it; but you know exactly how it goes. The idea is to so deeply embed the tune in your brain that you can't get it out.
  • Now, pick up your concertina and try to play the first few notes, using only the sound of the tune in your head to guide you. Hopefully this will go along OK if you keep it slow. If it does, then you can learn the various phrases of the tune, assemble them, and before you know it, you will be playing the tune by ear and picking up the pace.

If you find the second part of this process impossible, then you likely do not yet know in advance what a given button will sound like until you play it. Put another way, you hear the note in your head, but you're not sure which button, played in which direction, will produce the sound you want to hear. This is where the tedious business of practicing scales and intervals, and singing the notes as you play them, can be just the thing.

 

I apologize if this is really off the mark. I hope it helps.

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Such wonderful suggestions and thoughtful approaches. The only thing I can’t do is play in sessions because there aren’t any. 
but I am going to try to learn a tune completely by ear. 
I also just changed my practice room and have been making many errors since then so RAC I am sure I should work on your advice.

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2 hours ago, mathhag said:

I am going to try to learn a tune completely by ear

Start with some really simple tunes played on a melody instrument. 

 

Mally Productions publishes books with accompanying CDs that each contain maybe a hundred tunes.  It is really just the CD that you need, but the book might be nice to have as well - just do not peek at the music until you have learnt the tune by ear.  Rip the CD and then play it back through a slow down program. 

 

If you have not tried using one of the many 'slow down' programs then this might help you a lot. 

 

I use Transcribe! which is available for Windows, Mac and Linux but there are several others such as the Amazing Slow Downer.  I think that you can slow down with Audacity which is a free, open source program. 

 

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It sounds as if we were pretty much the same age when we started - I was 66...

 

I'd like to endorse what has already been said by many of the responders. They describe more or less the path I

have followed, and continue to follow.

 

In particular, I think that it's a very good idea to learn the tunes (even very simple ones) that you want to learn, rather

than the tunes which are effectively 'selected for you' in an introductory tutorial. That's why it's also a good idea

to acquire a few tune books early on - you can scan through them and concentrate on those tunes which appeal to

you. That in itself is an incentive to learn (as has already been stated). I'm 5-and-a-bit years into this exercise now,

and it works for me...

 

Pick out a couple of tunes which are relatively easy to learn, but which aren't in the 'usual' repertoire. It's a real morale

booster to have folks say, 'Hey that's a good tune, I haven't heard it before - show me...'.

 

I said 'simple' above. Don't be fooled - somewhere, there's a recording of one of the leading lights on this forum

playing the 'simple' tune 'Pop Goes the Weasel' - it's really amazing what can be done with a (deceptively)  'simple'

tune, and you don't have to be a virtuoso player to spice things up and make it more 'interesting'...

 

I hope this serves to reinforce the encouragement you have had from others

 

Edited by lachenal74693

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On 1/15/2020 at 11:43 AM, mathhag said:

I have thought about this post many times but fear there may be no good answer. But here goes

some of you may know from my previous post that I have only been playing concertina for about 2 1/2 years. It is the first instrument I have ever played and in March I will turn 69.
I have the great benefit of a glorious instrument, Dipper #47 or 147 if you are Colin ( an insurance story) and I have had the opportunity to learn from Doug Barr, Mairead Hurley, and Noel Hill in person . I am using Caitlín’s wonderful online course and had incredible help from Bruce McCaskey. I have been totally smitten with this instrument. Nice that my husband has been totally supportive. He says I have never wanted to spend money on anything before. I have committed to at least one trip each year to learn more. I live in a VERY remote area

 

So I play almost everyday and it is my great joy.

 

Finally I get to my question. Right now I have about 30 tunes I can kind of play, using abc notation primarily. I have only ten that I can play by heart and almost to speed. 
 

Should I be adding tunes, which I love to do or working on getting the tunes I have better?

No!

 

I think 30 tunes is far too much to be hanging on to. Instead work on mastering your instrument. Because tunes are not hard to image, while playing them in different keys on the Tina is.

 

Too, our health can, and does, limit how we learn, or try to, and how much we can memorize. I have trouble with that as I grow older, my attention span shrinking with age. There is nothing that can be done for that except work with it!

 

Though I am not a Concertinist, and have played Harmonica forever, today Tremolo, I recently returned to the hobby due to unexpectedly winning an Ebay auction for a vintage Crabb 30 BTN C/G Anglo, I got that for a song ...lol

 

However, I do have a system for acquiring tunes to try on my vintage Crabb. (it has the most enchanting velvety sound). First of all I select simple tunes, the shorter the better. I find that besides simple songs, 'Popeye The Sailor Man' for example, Morris provides lovely and easily learned dance tunes, some with little lyrics which are very easy to remember.  All the which gently teaches scale, breathing, and grows new nerve links in the ANS.

 

My latest one is from Cotswold Morris.  These are best memorized so one can humm them, or sing them. In my case I love to try them on the Harmonica, then the Tin-whistle, to see how close to 'Spongebob Square Pants' music I am. If I like the result I then set about electing a fingering on the Tina which delivers two principal things; 1 few, or no, air button - bellows helps, and, 2 retains the lilt of the tune.

 

That is, while I do listen to Noel Hill, Edel Fox, and Caitlin McGowan, I don't want, nor IMHO, need to put that much into a tune. Besides I think the Anglo shines best in other types of music, so, IMHO, it is not a big oversight.

 

Nevertheless, one needs to be aware that ITM, Irish folk dance music, hangs from just one instrument, and it is not the Fiddle, nor the Uilleann Pipes, nor the Harp, nor the Accordion, nor the Anglo Concertina, nor the Banjo, and so on. The entire tradition grew out of the humble Penny-Whistle. So, in order to get its embellishment near to the source, one should really learn to play that first. Because that is what all those famous people you are learning off of did, or it is from it most of their fiddledy embellishments come.

https://www.facebook.com/noddy.mcnod/videos/10214835206974716/

 

Now some physiology. When we are learning a tune we internalize an aural image, rather like we become familiar with a picture, for example the 'Mona Lisa'. It is from an image we create our singing/humming/whistling, or in my case playing it on the Harmonica - because I have been playing it so long that it is almost as easy as singing. 

The next step will be putting it on your chosen instrument. There are several parameters converging which enable, or prevent, that happening. Those will have been addressed in your foundation course/s. For example, where is the 'C3' note, etc; and how to play a series of notes on a bellows push and pull to get the least air valve demand. These skills are management of another set of skills which you should be building, your motor skills. Those which control you fingers and arms when playing.

 

From experience I found that it pays to perfect motor skills very early in the learning process. So I do a lot on scales, and different ways of playing the same scale on the Tina. It is just like Violin in that regard, one needs to be able to think of a variation in an aural, but not have to think about how to execute it; that is, have over developed motor skills so they become automatic. IOW the secondary ANS becomes a robot for the CNS, which is actually how our body works in mostly everything else. So playing an instrument is very un-natural. That's why when we goof up one note everything after it comes out all wrong.

 

So, in short, work on the ANS stuff real hard, then the CNS stuff can get out of your TINA, and hopefully in a few different keys :0)


Hope that helps.

 

 

Edited by Notemaker
Error.

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On 1/15/2020 at 5:43 PM, mathhag said:

Should I be adding tunes, which I love to do or working on getting the tunes I have better?

 

There isn't a right answer to that question, but from my perspective (I'm a similar age), I would go wider (new tunes) rather than deeper. I have a tunebook with some 600 tunes (Paul Hardy's Session Tunebook - free to download). If someone was to start any of those tunes, I could join in and make a fair stab at playing by ear, and I could play any of them reasonably well from the dots. However there are probably only a couple of dozen that I could pick up an instrument and start playing without dots or prompt, and to vary the playing style spontaneously. To me, that width is valuable, and more valuable than being able to play more tunes by ear spontaneously without the dots.

 

For other people, the important metric is to be able to play a small number of tunes totally by ear and unprompted, and in different styles, and to be able to perform them in public.

 

I do recommend taking a well-known tune and playing it in different keys, and in different rhythms (straight or Hornpipe swung), playing it while reciting the alphabet, or any other way of ensuring it is engraved in your deep memory. However, playing a variety of tunes lets you learn the standard patterns of notes that turn up in lots of tunes, and hence make it much easier to pick up new tunes.

 

Best wishes for your future playing.

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On 1/16/2020 at 10:07 AM, Notemaker said:

Nevertheless, one needs to be aware that ITM, Irish folk dance music, hangs from just one instrument, and it is not the Fiddle, nor the Uilleann Pipes, nor the Harp, nor the Accordion, nor the Anglo Concertina, nor the Banjo, and so on. The entire tradition grew out of the humble Penny-Whistle.

Do you think so?

The general musicological consensus, and my family tradition (as an Irishman, in the British-English sense of the word, namely "a person born and bred in Ireland") agree that most Irish dance tunes are essentially fiddle tunes. This is confirmed by the predominance of the "violin keys" of G, D and A, and by the grace-notes that lie so readily under the violinist's fingers. It is not without reason that the tenor banjo in Ireland has been altered to have the "violin" tuning of GDAE. Had I wished to play Irish dance music, I would not have taken up the Anglo concertina, but retained the fiddle of my youth.

 

Apart from that, I agree with you. The key to playing a tune on the Anglo concertina is being able to hum or whistle it.

 

As to width vs. depth of repertoire, the way to go depends on your ambition. If you intend to perform a full gig - be it in the Carnegie Hall or in your neighbour's drawing-room - you'll need about 25 to 30 pieces. If , on the other hand, you intend to appear as a number in a variety show (again, either in the Carnegie Hall or at your neighbour's) you'll need only three or four pieces, but these should be really spectacular, or very funny, or cater to the audience's sentimentality. 

 

I personally find that some pieces are fairly easy to learn, while others take more time. If you start two pieces at the same time, and notice that one of them is taking shape easily, perfect it first, and then concentrate on the more difficult one. But. easy or difficult, choose pieces that you like! Don't just stick a knife between the pages of a song-book, and start learning the tune on that page. If you like the tune, probably others will like it, too.

 

Cheers,

John 

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Hi

I think  having 30 tunes under your belt is the good time to set a new goal of polishing those tunes to your strict aesthetic musical standards. Really working and focusing on individual tunes in all aspects of playing it better will then be reflected on all the other tunes you play and hope to play. imho

 

The repertoire will get bigger organically over time as you discover tunes you want to feel between your hands.

 

Richard

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5 hours ago, Anglo-Irishman said:

Do you think so?

The general musicological consensus, and my family tradition (as an Irishman, in the British-English sense of the word, namely "a person born and bred in Ireland") agree that most Irish dance tunes are essentially fiddle tunes.

 

 

Thanks for the quote.

 

"Irish dance tunes are essentially fiddle tunes. "

 

Imagine that!

 

I am sorry you feel that way.  Yet Internet scholarship is rather like cloud sculpture, it may, or may not, endure.  Is this claim supported by any accredited scholarly work?


I would be curious to know the answer, yet here in the forum is not a proper place for such, perhaps you might later like to PM me about it.

 

 

 

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Everyone’s comments have been really thought provoking. For the most part I will only be playing for myself except when I travel for instruction. The closest session for me is at least a four hour drive. 
Thanking all of you, I think I will pick a tune and work on it for the majority of my practice time. I will rotate the other tunes through the remaining time. I may choose is new tune when I feel like it. Since I play this instrument purely for my own enjoyment.

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Lots of good advice in this thread (I'm new to concertina but coming to it from fiddle and I've given much of the same advice to students). I'll agree that it is worth investing time in playing by ear - it helps so much in getting the music to flow through you onto the instrument rather than coming off the page. As a fellow Mainer, I wanted to also recommend Maine Fiddle Camp - the second June weekend session always has concertina as one of the many instruments offered (both Anglo and English classes). There are sessions with a mix of instruments, including a slow session Saturday night. https://www.mainefiddlecamp.org/june-weekend-ii/

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