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Learning by ear vs learning from notation


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Not only, but that's my go to for a non competitive back up.  It's probably because (1) I learned fiddle in a Quebecois style with an up bow/lift on the down beat for a strong accent.  This up bow becomes the return (air) stroke for my down beat chug which I play as a down bow with the very tip.  (2) Most of my playing has been for dance music with a piano or upright string bass which need little help hammering out the down beat line.  It's something I instinctively began doing also to complement the vocalist in a discreet manner.  On the duet concertina I like to play with the melody centered in the overlap zone rather than right lead, left accompaniment.  Using the zone I can generally have enough free fingers (2) for my chug and I'm getting so I can tap a bass lead as well.

 

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I think that learning by ear makes writing tunes easier. The longer you learn to do it the more tunes you remember.( Very handy at sessions). Getting back to the tune writing, it does enable you to recognise that a tune you are writing sounds similar, or just like one you already play. It can then be bent in another direction so it is similar to but not the same as .

Lots of tunes follow certain patterns and against that is the accompaniment that goes with it ,So accompaniment also becomes easier as well.

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The traditional way to learn tunes in Ireland, Scotland, the Appalachians, was to learn to sing the tune first. In other words it was in the memory before you worked on the fingering. An older musician would sing the phrases to the younger, who would sing them back until they were correct. The instrument was not touched until the tune was learned.Then the fingering learning. Then the decorations...

 

I would be fairly certain that many people on this list will be able to sing some tunes that they have not (yet) learned to play...so we still benefit from memory for music today. Memory before playing, before reading.

 

Gradually this method, which is classic for an oral tradition, seems to have diminished.

 

Robert

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On 7/28/2022 at 1:31 PM, robert stewart said:

The traditional way to learn tunes in Ireland, Scotland, the Appalachians, was to learn to sing the tune first. In other words it was in the memory before you worked on the fingering. An older musician would sing the phrases to the younger, who would sing them back until they were correct. The instrument was not touched until the tune was learned.Then the fingering learning. Then the decorations...

That is fascinating - just about the most interesting thing I have read this year! Thanks.

_______

I tried to follow this up, and found this short item on Wikipedia - nothing specific to Ireland, Scotland,  Appalachians though...

Edited by lachenal74693
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On 7/28/2022 at 1:31 PM, robert stewart said:

The traditional way to learn tunes in Ireland, Scotland, the Appalachians, was to learn to sing the tune first. In other words it was in the memory before you worked on the fingering. An older musician would sing the phrases to the younger, who would sing them back until they were correct. The instrument was not touched until the tune was learned.Then the fingering learning. Then the decorations...

 

I would be fairly certain that many people on this list will be able to sing some tunes that they have not (yet) learned to play...so we still benefit from memory for music today. Memory before playing, before reading.

 

Gradually this method, which is classic for an oral tradition, seems to have diminished.

 

Robert

I can't try to play a tune until I can whistle/hum the melody first, but then I can't read music so don't have much option. Of course there is the problem that if I remember/whistle the tune wrongly then I  play it wrongly, but I console myself by saying that this the traditional way that tunes evolve.

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Clive, I think wrongly is too strong a word.  There seem to be different standards for different types of music and for different audiences.  I don't quite understand why but when I work on playing the "Bee's Wing" I fret over not getting it exactly as written but with "Fishers" I'm shamelessly all over the place.  We contra dance musicians take vast liberties with all kinds of tunes but my (limited) experience with Morris and English Country Dancing is of a much stricter approach.  When I listen to a Bach sarabande as played by some utube virtuosos, It sounds interesting but lifeless to me.  I can't help hearing it as dance music and the way I'm playing it would get me thrown off the stage and into the back row of the orchestra pit!

Edited by wunks
punc.
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On 7/31/2022 at 1:00 PM, wunks said:

Clive, I think wrongly is too strong a word.  There seem to be different standards for different types of music and for different audiences.  I don't quite understand why but when I work on playing the "Bee's Wing" I fret over not getting it exactly as written but with "Fishers" I'm shamelessly all over the place.  We contra dance musicians take vast liberties with all kinds of tunes but my (limited) experience with Morris and English Country Dancing is of a much stricter approach.  When I listen to a Bach sarabande as played by some utube virtuosos, It sounds interesting but lifeless to me.  I can't help hearing it as dance music and the way I'm playing it would get me thrown off the stage and into the back row of the orchestra pit!

This has some similarities to the old saw about the difference between old time and bluegrass: the old time musician uses the instrument to show how good the tune is, and the blue grass musician uses the tune to show how good the musician is.  I'm not saying I agree with or condone this, but it is something I've heard said, and it certainly draws a distinction between two approaches to music more generally.

 

A classical musician usually tries to be a conduit for what the composer imagined, which they can only do by playing the notes exactly as written.  A jazz musician tries to find other possibilities in a tune and can only do this by treating the written tune as a starting point rather than an end in itself.  A dance musician tries to make it easy for the dancers to dance, and that means adding bounce, sway, and swoop to the rhythm.  There is no single right way to play music.

 

 

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We had problems learning Traditional French tunes, as when we started none were written down . Many traditional tunes are learnt by ear and sometimes mis heard and introduced in a nearby village with a variation. Some tunes I heard had a different A part, or B part . Some tunes even had the wrong A with B, or visa versa. It does make you wonder that some of the old traditional tunes we play are not exactly what the composer composed.  At least we are enjoying ourselves, whilst the composer maybe spinning in his grave.

Al

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I'm all for combining both methods, learning by ear and being able to follow the dots. But my main reason for qualifying the ability to read music is that there are so many gems hidden in plain sight. You can open a page and pick through, bit like and archeologist, some are treasures...some, not so much. But the ability to find them is so lovely. Amongst 'others', I'v been 'digging' in the Vicker's Collection for a couple of years now, and it still turning up lovely stuff...I may never have found them otherwise.

Edited by Stephen DOUGLASS
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