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I'm not too sure how to phrase this question so I will blurt it out

 

Like most people, I have always found learning the words to songs quite easy

especially the chorus - I guess because it is repeated

After a few singalongs, I will have learned a couple of verses too

And the weird thing is when I then want to sing them say a year later I still remember them enough to sing along

 

 

But I really struggle with learning a tune to the point I can play it without the music

I just cannot get the notes into my head in the same way I can get the words

 

As an example, I might have sung hark the herald Angels 3 times one Christmas when I was a kid - I don't think I've needed to read the words ever again

Whereas last Christmas I played it 20+ times (much to my wife's discomfort) but for the life of me I could not play it today

 

To me, the concertina isn't a "formal" instrument that you would expect to have a music stand with you wherever you play

and with both hands occupied there's nowhere to prop up the music

I was wondering about getting a pair of "google glass" specs - but they are way too expensive

 

So, is the ability to quickly learn a tune something that I will only get with years of practice?

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These tunes that you have trouble playing...

 

Can you sing them (not the words, the melodies)?

 

If you can sing the tune but have difficulty playing them on the concertina, you need to learn a little music theory. Tunes are built of patterns that you will learn to recognize and to play when you hear them.

 

The first three noted of Doe a Deer, for instance is notes 1, 2 and 3 of a scale.

 

The first three notes of Dueling Banjos is notes 3, 4 and 5 of a scale.

 

There are many more examples, but not so many that it is unrealistic to expect to become familiar with it.

 

If you can’t sing the tunes (i.e., can’t remember how they go when it’s time to sing or play them), then you need to consciously look for those patterns when hearing them, or when the tune is fresh in your mind, and remember them so you can piece the tune together later.

 

It also helps to write the tune down in music notation (either on paper or a computer) so that the process helps etch the tune in your mind (and you have a reference you can refer to in the future). Don’t know music notation? Learn it.

 

Yes, some people can play concertina very nicely without knowing music theory or how to read/write music notation. But if you’re having trouble, that would be a good direction to focus your efforts.

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You may not be able to remember how to play "Hark the Herald.." but I would guess that you haven't forgotten the tune.  In that case the problem is connecting the tune in your head with the instrument.  If you are reliant on playing from music you probably haven't had to build this connection - your connection will be between the note on the stave and the button on your instrument.  

 

You haven't said what mental process you are using to try to recall how to play the tune.  Are you trying to remember the sequence of notes, or sequence of fingerings, or visualise the sheet music, or something else?

 

There are at least two possible approaches to this. One is the approach used by classical musicians when they have to play from memory - and these are usually longer and more complex pieces. I can't offer any advice on this, but there is plenty available on the internet and elsewhere.

 

The other is to learn the tune in a completely different way, the way those who play by ear do.  For me, this involves first getting the tune in my head by repeated listening, and then finding the right sound on the instrument by trial and error. Initially this will mostly be error, but with more experience you will find the right button more easily (this was probably your experience when you first began to play from music). As David has pointed out, most music is made up of patterns, and those patterns tend to occur in many different tunes, so once you have become familiar with those patterns you will have a mental library of fingering patterns and will be able to call on these to play not just an individual note but an entire phrase.  With time and practice it should become possible to play almost any straightforward tune once you have it in your head, with only occasional stumbles at particularly tricky sections, just as a fluent sight-reader can play almost anything put in front of them.

 

This all takes time, just as learning to play from music takes time, but it becomes easier.  Take a tune you know well in your head. If it is one you already play from music then forget about whatever method you are currently trying to use to recall how to play it (it might be better to start with one you don't already play). Instead, start from the beginning by searching out the buttons by trial and error. 

 

 

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Thanks both
When I first got my concertina (last October) I tried to play Happy Birthday

At that time I could not read music - it was very painful for my family to endure

Obviously I was learning the instrument too - so progress was slow

 

After a couple of days and very aching little fingers I could just about rattle it off

 

Then I went in search of a tuition book and, with Christmas looming, sheet music for carols and I've not looked back

 

Its only as I have become more proficient that I have realised that reading sheet music when playing a concertina is 'odd'

 

Anyway, if I am trying to piece a song together without sheet music I try to match the notes to the the tune in my head

sometimes I hum the "words" to try to get to the melody

 

When I do this, I frequently find I end up needing accidentals which are more difficult for me to play and so I lose heart

 

I realise this is likely because my starting note is wrong but after I shift that around a couple of times and still cannot muster it I then move on

 

I've not tried writing the music - as fiddling around with the concertina is so much quicker - but maybe I should give it a go

 

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well, what both David and Howard wrote is spot on, but I feel like adding something frequently underrated:

 

Translating music from visual representation to a given fingerboard is one skill. Translating the same visual to a new fingerboard is another skill (we had discussed this before). Translating music from the ear to your instrument is yet another skill, and so is memorizing tunes*. Each skill needs to be developed and practised individually and independently, and very few skills required by musicians come for free when developing another skill.

 

Many classically trained musicians are fantastic in translating sheet music in real time but fail poorly at "easy" tasks such as accompanying Twinkle Twinkle Little Star with chord fragments if it is not written out for them.

 

In other words, do not expect the skill to read and translate written music (which you obviously have developed) to help you recall and translate tunes from memory or ear to the instrument. You need ro develop your own individual tool set for each skill you want to master.

 

I, like a number of other concertina players I know, memorize tunes via the keyboard, and so one of the tools I came up with to do so is to fumble for the next note on a "virtual keyboard," eg an imagined keyboard on the pillow before I doze off to sleep. If you memorize tunes differently, you will need different tools but in any case, you will always need time.

 

*there are many other skills needed in music contexts, eg the skill to play with distractions (for example audiences or band members) which are outside the scope of this discussion, but the same rule applies for every of those: You will not develop that skill unless you practice it. For example, if you never play in front of other people but are the best player in the world, all of your playing skills are lost the second you step in front of an audience 

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My mind has a very clear separation between "play from the sheet" and "play from memory". If I stick with "play from the sheet" for too long when learning a tune, I must then spend a whole lot of time "transcribing" it from paper to memory and disconnecting the tune from the sheet. Also, even if I know a tune by heart from listening to it and I can whistle it freely, I cannot play it from ear, my mind just doesn't work that way - moving fingers is not something my mind intuitively connects with the music I hear in my mind. 

 

So if you want to be able to play everything without sheets, my advice is this - decipher the tune from the sheet, phrase by phrase, but then repeat those phrases solely from memory. Stick to the shortest phrase possible and repeat it until one of two things happen - you can play it couple of times in a row without fumbling, or you start to fumble in places you thought you know already. Then stop and take another phrase, from a different tune even, and try to learn that. After you can no longer play even the shortest new phrase without fumbling it badly, play something you know well and end your session. 15 minutes every day is way better than an hour every couple of days. Also, I learn the fastest if I try to learn couple of tunes at once. Your session should look like this - play a tune or two you play well as a starter, then try to learn/practice couple of phrases that are new, then end your session with a tune you play well, this may even be the same tune you opened your session with. If you can't play your "starter tunes" smoothly/don't feel the music that day, then do not play at all at this moment. Play later or next day. This is so you don't imprint mistakes into your muscle memory and you don't feel frustrated about playing. 

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6 hours ago, David Barnert said:

These tunes that you have trouble playing...

 

Can you sing them (not the words, the melodies)?

 

If you can sing the tune but have difficulty playing them on the concertina, you need to learn a little music theory. Tunes are built of patterns that you will learn to recognize and to play when you hear them.

 

The first three noted of Doe a Deer, for instance is notes 1, 2 and 3 of a scale.

 

The first three notes of Dueling Banjos is notes 3, 4 and 5 of a scale.

 

There are many more examples, but not so many that it is unrealistic to expect to become familiar with it.

 

 

 The most useful pattern for me is 1,3 and 5 often parsed with 2 fingers instead of 3.  nearly anything can be built from that.

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Short phrases as mentioned above is an excellent way. Building blocks. Plenty repetition,initially  keep the music there right in front, it's a lovely psychological crutch, knowing you can take a peek.   When when you think your ready, (and you will probably know when) discard the 'dots',  remember the opening phrase, then think of anything else other than the music. A recipe for moussaka, a math problem, anything to divert your 'mind'. This sounds counter intuitive but it works for me. Listening to the 'music' against random thoughts, and NOT overly concentrating on how it 'should sound', allows a space for the 'tune' to flow.  It won't always work as 'planned'...but that's just OK.

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16 hours ago, David Barnert said:

The first three noted of Doe a Deer, for instance is notes 1, 2 and 3 of a scale.

 

The first three notes of Dueling Banjos is notes 3, 4 and 5 of a scale.

 

Since I posted the above,  it occurred to me that “Do Re Mi” (which I called “Doe a Deer”) is deliberately and obviously full of the useful patterns I mentioned, because the song is meant to teach children how music is put together. For instance, the notes on the words “Mi, a name” are the same 345 that I pointed out in Dueling Banjos. Learn to play and internalize that song (in as many different keys as you can) and you will have learned many patterns that you can apply when you recognize them in other tunes.

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I learn tunes slowly.  I came to concertina in middle age with no formal musical background.  I generally find lyrics easy to learn as I am a "words person".

 

If I have never heard a tune before, and if it has any unusual phrases or features, it may take a month or two to learn it.  The melody itself may take two or three practice sessions.  The rest is working out optimal fingerings and accompaniment.

 

The first thing is to work out where each phrase begins and ends.  Is "that" note the last one of the phrase, or is it the one that leads into the next phrase?  Is "this" section one long phrase or two short phrases?

 

Then it is repetition at slow speed, gradually building up to something nearer to full speed.

 

For a simple tune, I may learn the "A music" (typically 8 or 16 bars) first and then learn the "B music" (and "C music" etc.).  For a very simple tune where the B music repeats part of the A music, I may take a run at the whole thing.

 

For a more complex tune, I may learn phrase by phrase, and, in the most difficult sections, bar by bar.

 

Until I get the sound of the tune in my head, I often find it easier to think of shapes on the keyboard.

 

It is not unknown for me to spend half an hour on a tune and get it almost right, and then the next day I can't remember what it sounds like.  However, it once I have the dots in front of me, I relearn it much more quickly than the first time, and after a few days, it becomes embedded.

 

I know I'm getting there when I find myself whistling a tune.

 

I recently learned a tune called the Cylph Dance.  The A music is fairly simple, but the B music seems not to follow any of the expected "rules" of a folk tune, and requires the use of fingering sequences that I seldom use in other tunes.  Strangely, I made a lot of progress one sleepless night (I've been ill recently) just visualising the fingering, without even having my instrument in my hand.  Somehow, that weird sequence on the B music made sense the next morning when I picked my instrument up.

 

There is no single way to learn tunes, but I think all approaches require breaking the tune down into manageable chunks, and practising a few minutes a day, rather than in a big block.  The OP referred to tired fingers.  That may be tension from trying too hard.  You play smoother and faster when you're relaxed.

 

An ideal practice session starts with something you know well, then moves onto something you're still learning, followed by something you know well, followed by something you can play but are still "polishing", finishing with a short revisit to the one you're learning, and then finish off with one you know well.

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For me, the way to get a tune into my head is by repeated listening. Often this will be a recording or YouTube video (although it can then be difficult not to mimic that arrangement). If I have to learn from written music, I will copy that into ABC (other score writers are available) and play it back - this can be a bit wooden, but it gives me the idea of the tune.

 

Once I have the tune in my head I can then work out how to play it, using the trial and error method I outlined above.  This now isn't usually too difficult for me as I have built up a mental library of fingering patterns I can call on for most phrases. I may need to work harder on some sections and possibly adapt my default fingering - here the ABC or a slowdowner may help me to work out how it goes. (This also allows me to pick up an unfamiliar tune in a session, where I can simply gloss over any phrases I can't work out on the fly)

 

Once I have figured out the best way to play it, this is then embedded in memory through repeated playing (which might reveal some better ways to do things). I might make a note of how I play some tricky sections, possibly using tab although I don't usually write out the whole thing.

 

Then my biggest problem is remembering how a tune starts.  I'm not good at linking tune names with melodies, and even when I have the music in front of me I'm not a good enough reader to make sense of it. However once I have a cue, I can then usually remember how to play a tune.

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14 minutes ago, hjcjones said:

Then my biggest problem is remembering how a tune starts.  I'm not good at linking tune names with melodies, and even when I have the music in front of me I'm not a good enough reader to make sense of it. However once I have a cue, I can then usually remember how to play a tune.

That is where crib sheets come in handy (that is the first two bars of each part of all tunes in the repertoire compressed). Your plight appears to be very common... 

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3 minutes ago, RAc said:

That is where crib sheets come in handy

I have those, but I'm not a good enough reader to make sense of them.  Sometimes the 'shape' of the notes is a prompt, but often I can't recognise even tunes I know well.  I use Mobilesheets on my phone which allows me to store not only sheet music but also actual recordings. However it's not always possible to listen to a recording in a session.

 

I should make more effort to read music and find out where the notes are on my instruments.

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I was listening to a U Tube video recently about Singing Harmonies .A nice tip I heard was to take tunes that you know and try to play them in several different keys  by (ear) . Many tunes will be possible  .Try in the keys of C,G,D.A and F to start with .This teaches you that once you find the start note where to find  next note  .Once you have done that you can also sing and try to find the chords that go with the song . Again do it in several keys just playing Chords .Hope that helps .  Bob

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6 hours ago, Stephen DOUGLASS said:

Short phrases as mentioned above is an excellent way. Building blocks. Plenty repetition,initially  keep the music there right in front, it's a lovely psychological crutch, knowing you can take a peek.   When when you think your ready, (and you will probably know when) discard the 'dots',  remember the opening phrase, then think of anything else other than the music. A recipe for moussaka, a math problem, anything to divert your 'mind'. This sounds counter intuitive but it works for me. Listening to the 'music' against random thoughts, and NOT overly concentrating on how it 'should sound', allows a space for the 'tune' to flow.  It won't always work as 'planned'...but that's just OK.

Playing with my eyes closed allows me to "sense" a tune more clearly.

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I first played by ear, then gradually learned to read music to the point that I can sightread enough.  Two different processes for sure.  So, when trying to learn a tune I use both ways together.  I fumble along through the dots on a page, usually taped to my cupboard right in front of my chair.  And, along with that, I create or download a primitive file like an easy midi (.mid) to listen to every now and then throughout the day.  I keep the midi on my phone's homescreen, and delete it once I've got the tune in my head. 

 

BUT -- that said -- one other really helpful thing (in my opinion) is to determine the chord progression of the song you want to get into your memory.  If that's an option....because I know not everyone wants to bother with chords.  Create a simple lead sheet and indicate where the chord changes are, above the measures.  Don't need to write out all the notes...just need to know where the chord changes are.  (A song like Hark The Herald Angels has a chord progression, though it's true that some traditional tunes don't really have "chords." )

 

When I was learning to play the accordion as a child (never got very pro), my teacher did not really read music and we used simple lead sheets all the time.  Just the measures with a time signature, the slashes indicating beats in the measures, and the chord symbols above the measures.  The tune was mainly just in my head.  It was helpful to see that melodies usually had simple chord structures and repetitions. 

 

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2 hours ago, bellowbelle said:

I first played by ear, then gradually learned to read music to the point that I can sightread enough.  Two different processes for sure.  So, when trying to learn a tune I use both ways together.  I fumble along through the dots on a page, usually taped to my cupboard right in front of my chair.  And, along with that, I create or download a primitive file like an easy midi (.mid) to listen to every now and then throughout the day.  I keep the midi on my phone's homescreen, and delete it once I've got the tune in my head. 

 

BUT -- that said -- one other really helpful thing (in my opinion) is to determine the chord progression of the song you want to get into your memory.  If that's an option....because I know not everyone wants to bother with chords.  Create a simple lead sheet and indicate where the chord changes are, above the measures.  Don't need to write out all the notes...just need to know where the chord changes are.  (A song like Hark The Herald Angels has a chord progression, though it's true that some traditional tunes don't really have "chords." )

 

When I was learning to play the accordion as a child (never got very pro), my teacher did not really read music and we used simple lead sheets all the time.  Just the measures with a time signature, the slashes indicating beats in the measures, and the chord symbols above the measures.  The tune was mainly just in my head.  It was helpful to see that melodies usually had simple chord structures and repetitions. 

 


When I started learning Hayden, because of how this layout has music theory embedded very directly in the button grid, I found out that it was way easier for me to get accustomed with common melody phrases by playing chords instead. The method was this - I first practiced simple 2/4 and 3/4 tempo oom-pahs of common three/four chord patterns until I could unconsciously move hands to root positions. Then practiced different arpeggio patterns of those chord progressions, and finally moved to linking those arpeggios or oom-pahs with different transitions. This approach really tought me how melody is constructed from harmony and then I already had many common melody patterns already trained in my muscle memory. A second thing about chords - I only get the flow of the tune right when I finally merge accompaniment sucessfully with the melody line. This is why I usually try to learn both simultaneously. It is hard and awkward at first to control both tasks at the same time, and remember what each hand is supposed to do, but it is even harder for me to add accompaniment to a fully smooth melody later on.

 

And a word about muscles - the single best and eye opening tip I ever got from a seasoned piano player was that music is played with your finger’s extension muscles, not flexion muscles. This is because we don’t really use them in everyday tasks, so they can be trained for speed, timing precision and endurance much better than flexion muscles. So @OP - when you end a session with tired fingers focus on which groups of forearm muscles hurt - if those are outer muscles, then it is normal and you just have to train more. If those are inner muscles, then you need to relax your grip and focus on lifting your fingers in rhytm instead of pressing in rhytm and let the residual tension of the hand press buttons for you.  So, a neutral position when you strap in should be with buttons pressed, not hovering comfortably above. You then „prime” your fingers by lifting them. 

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5 hours ago, Łukasz Martynowicz said:

I found out that it was way easier for me to get accustomed with common melody phrases by playing chords instead. The method was this - I first practiced simple 2/4 and 3/4 tempo oom-pahs of common three/four chord patterns until I could unconsciously move hands to root positions. Then practiced different arpeggio patterns of those chord progressions, and finally moved to linking those arpeggios or oom-pahs with different transitions. This approach really tought me how melody is constructed from harmony and then I already had many common melody patterns already trained in my muscle memory.

Łukasz:

 

Did you do this on both sides of the concertina?  Maybe both at the same time?

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