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Learning by ear vs learning from notation


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28 minutes ago, Peter Laban said:

 

 

My experience with (Irish) traditional musicians who only learn by ear suggest the way they retain tunes is different from those who learn from notation: ear learners tend to appraoch a tune as a structure, singling out the important notes and 'hanging' the phrases off them, filling the gaps as it were  while sight learners often tend to see a string of notes they have to memorise.

That's how I do it.  The filling in of the gaps is the context and/or "flavor" I wish to impart.  I can't imagine a written score conveying the subtleties and embedded variations in a Quebecois reel for example.

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Learning by ear and playing by ear require some different skills. Performing a tune learned by ear might be better called playing from memory. Playing by ear is more a case of being able to play a tune (alone or with others) that you have not learned/practiced in advance. One way to get better at that skill is to (slowly and patiently) practice playing all the various intervals in a key up and down and making those actions second nature for your ears and fingers.

 

Playing by ear is a lot like talking—you want to hear certain sounds and you do whatever you need to do to make those sounds (choosing the words, whispering, shouting, emphasizing certain words, etc.). You can do that automatically and instantaneously while talking because you have spent years and years trying your hardest to successfully progress from the "goo, goo, ma, ma stage" to the "dad, I need to borrow the car stage."

 

Obviously, learning to play as well as you can talk is much, much easier said than done. Luckily, there are only 12 notes and relationships you need to learn and practice. And only 7-ish in simple music.

 

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3 hours ago, David Barnert said:

So where does improvisation in performance fit in?

I suppose that anything improvised during a performance could be called playing by ear. But there is some grey area. For example, I am learning an old song (by ear). I have "composed" variations for some of the measures (again by ear) that I mix and match as I play the repeats. Since it is a little different each time, you could say that I am improvising and playing by ear. But I have practiced the variations in advance. So am I improvising or playing from memory? I think it is a little bit of both.  

Edited by Jim2010
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I don't think you would ever regret knowing how to read music. But the notation only tells you a fraction of the story about how a tune could be played. There is so much more to the rhythm and dynamics (especially with a bellowed instrument) that you will never learn from notation.

 

When I'm learning a new tune, I will usually start with notation if available, but with the understanding that it is just the skeleton of the tune. Then I will listen very closely to a favorite recording of the tune. And for any given part of the tune, I might imitate that aspect of the recording or experiment with my own ideas. By the time I have practiced a tune enough to say I have learned it, I will have memorized it and won't need the sheet music anymore.

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To add to this very chatty topic; as someone who does a bit of both, writing music, and reading to a degree as well.. My outsider approach is maybe different to most; as I enjoy improvising [without any music in front of me] and find it easy.  Yet also I can create new melodies which I then write down [on paper with pen] frequently too. There always seems to be something to put down; a new melody unheard even in my previous memory, until I stand there and create it.  Then once it is there [if on paper] as I work by hand.. I may go back to it weeks later and hopefully be surprised or maybe satisfied with the tune created!  Like meeting up with an old friend again!  

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Simon , I agree with what you're saying.  Improvisation leads to composition and the realization that music isn't about imposing one's will upon an instrument.  We have limits as they do.  A concertina will tell you what it wants to play.  Last week my F above middle C stuck open both directions and all of a sudden I/we are playing these hauntingly beautiful melodies !

 

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Father Christmas bought me a concertina when I was quite young but he neglected to include any instructions, so, in a process that must have been quite painful to hear, I had to find the tunes for myself. That is the only instrument I learned that way. I have played many instruments since, but they have all been from notation. The concertina was the only instrument I played, where I could just hear or think of a tune and play it right off. Then I got married, my wife hated the concertina, she prefered my harp, so my squeezebox had to go. Now 60 years later, she has gone and I am getting a new instrument, somewhat better than my original. I shall be approaching it both ways, just sitting, conceiving and playing, as well as working through written tunes.

I am new here by the way, so, hi to all and much love from me <3

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Welcome to concertina.net from me, at least.. I hope you will enjoy getting back to playing your own concertina, and share that experience with others here? I know I have found great to share that similar interest with others ( since I joined in December 2021..) So carry on playing!

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There's a guy called Mark Morley-Fletcher (Play in the Zone) who does a lot of videos (YouTube) on this sort of stuff. I also get emails from him. Here's an extract from one on learning to play from memory:

 

Most of the approaches that have been scientifically verified to improve learning actually reduce performance in the short-term. They only start to deliver the goods over periods of days and weeks 

So if you judge progress by whether your ability to play from memory improves during a practice session, then you’re holding yourself back.

Don’t feel bad about this! It’s just part of being human.

A study by Robert Bjork and Nate Kornell had students try two different practice strategies – one designed for short-term results, and the other optimised for long-term progress.

Measurements confirmed that the students actually did better with the long-term strategy. But 80% of them (incorrectly) rated it as feeling less effective.

 

Elsewhere he states (if my memory serves me correctly) that the very process of learning by ear helps to embed the music better in your brain.

 

LJ

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Of course, the faster you have to play, basically the more intuitive the playing has to become; there's no time to think at the usual level. Yet when learning, on the other hand, you can take passage slowly firstly, and become more familiar with the notes, accidentals, etc.. used. So both approaches are necessary in the long term.

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