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Learning By Ear


Sharron
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The discussion on sessions has moved on a little to learning by ear versus the *dots*.

 

If there is anyone who feels that the pressure of learning tunes is never-ending, try sitting back with a recording and just listening for a bit. Find tunes that move you enough to want to learn them. Listen to styles from different areas. Listen to the same tunes by different people/groups. In fact just stop and listen, take down the barriers that we all tend to build up as adults and go back to listening with a childs simplicity. I bet you will find phrases that pop up into your head without asking them too, don't fight it it, just keep listening and eventually you find more and more phrases keep popping up, and so on.

If it doesn't then I think it is a matter of *barriers*, you need to listen more and more and leave it as a background music on repeat.

 

I really think children have it nailed when it comes to any learning. They don't *ask* how/why, etc. they just accept it and let it happen, we definitely as adults have barriers against learning. I know I do.

 

I still use dots as well depending on how I come across a tune, but as it is only the bare bones I find recordings with the tune on and listen, to put that lift, etc. into it. Plus dots can be useful if you are just leafing through some books and come across a tune you like the sound of.

 

I don't think there is a good/bad way of learning tunes, but I do feel you need to go beyond the *dots* to put expression in. Check out all those *slow down* programmes out there, they nearly all give you a trial version to try out.

 

Sharron

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I try to open a tune-book and read a page or two a day, singing quickly through the tunes to see if there are any I like. I also tape around 5 hours of folk off the radio a week to listen to in the car.

Any tunes I like, get scribbled down into a jotter set out with pages for 6/8s, reels, marches, slows etc. If a tune gets into the jotter and I can still remember it the next day, it is a good,memorable tune and I put it on the computer for eventual inclusion in a set, when I have enough similar tunes.

 

I got to this point by writing music down from tape, starting a few notes at a time and working up to a few bars at a time - this is probably the best training for remembering tunes (providing you read music). If you don't read dots, it is still good practise to listen to 4 bars and sing it back to yourself, rather than try and play along first.

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I read (badly, kind of like a 2nd-grader) but am starting to incorporate the ear in the process. I plan to start humming along at the jam session on tunes I can't play yet (the majority) because my ear is really really good (so says my mother the picky-arse music teacher), and this should help when it comes time to focus on learning the tune.

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For me, it comes to this: I am inspired to learn a tune not by how it looks on paper, but by how it sounds. When I hear a tune I want to learn, I listen to the recording over and over or ask the person who played it to play it again, or whatever. Only afterward do I look for written sources, to make sure I have it "right" and to document it in case I forget it. If I can't find a written source, I write it down myself.

 

The point is that at the time I decide I want to learn a tune, I generally have better access to an aural source than a written one.

 

This obviously doesn't hold for situations where I am "assigned" to learn a tune by some other party (dance caller, band leader, etc). But even then, what I do is play it from the dots enough times that I can learn it by ear listening to myself.

 

In my other life as a cellist, everything is learned (and played) from paper. It's a whole different ballgame (sorry, I'm watching the playoffs right now--5/3, bottom of the 8th).

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I've always wanted to be able to play be ear (can't wait to see what Jim Lucas does with that phrase) but was convinced it would be very hard and something I would do sometime when I had a lot of time.

 

But I guess I play a little by ear without knowing it. I've picked up tunebooks with tunes I did not know and picked up on mistakes (misprints) and corrected them. Later I found out that I was right. When I play something, I know (as do we all) when I've played a wrong note and can fiddle around and find the right one. I've now convinced myself that is what playing by ear is and I can do it. With a lot of practice. (If it isn't, please don't tell me until after I start learning to play by listening!)

 

It's just that I read so fast and it is so easy for me to do it that way. BUT there are times when written music is not available. When I was playing hammer dulcimer, I would use dots to help learn the tune, but then play by memory after that. I would never refer to the music when I was playing. Someone mentioned in another thread that it doesn't matter how we learn. I think the idea was that after we learn a tune, we all just play it. I like that philosophy. I think I can see a problem would exist if we still try to use written music while playing in a group. It would slow things down.

 

So, Jim, are you going to nail me for saying fiddle around?

 

Plink plink,

Helen

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I find that playing from ear is something that I can do as long as there is no pressure, that the version is strictly as the dots dictated, and that the speed is moderate, in short, not in public.

 

Put the dots infront of me, and I don't really read them, I barely scan them and I can play at all but mad fiddle speed, and no amount of extemporisation worries me. I have considered confidence, tune familiarity, the attitude of others to those like me. Perhaps its a result of learing an instrument, any instrument, for the first time at the age of 45. Pehaps its just the way it is.

 

Those who, like my teenage kids, can listen to a tune through twice and start instinctively playing in, with, or around the others are more fortunate than they realise.

 

Dave

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I find that playing from ear is something that I can do as long as there is no pressure, that the version is strictly as the dots dictated, and that the speed is moderate, in short, not in public.

Dave

 

I don't understand the bit above where you say that yu can play by ear if the version is strictly as the dots dictae. Can you expain some more. It seems to me that playing by ear cannot be constrained by some unseen dots??

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I don't think there is a good/bad way of learning tunes, but I do feel you need to go beyond the *dots* to put expression in.

I learn tunes primarily by "ear". Like David, I'm inspired by the way a tune sounds, and find it rare to get that from the blobs. I DO find notation handy, but only as a point of reference - and certainly not for complete nor "correct" tunes.

 

The dots are just a pre-determined (or set) sequence of notes, devoid of timing nuances and much expression. It takes a fairly experienced player to see beyond the dots to the tune, and even then the true tune may not fully reveal itself.

 

I find even the dots themselves suspect. Traditional tunes in newer collections are sometimes significantly different from their rendition in older collections - sometimes to the point of losing the essence of the piece. Even more recently created pieces can be ill represented if not notated by the author.

 

Going "beyond the dots the *dots* to put expression in" is hazardous if one doesn't "know" the tune - something rarely achieved by relying solely on the dots. For instance, I've heard many people play Edith Fararr's Enrichez vous first note in the second measure with full duration (rather than short, staccato like) which I feel is pivital to this part of the tune. Also consider the second part Pete Jung's Far Away where the falling hemiolas are often botched.

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The dots are just a pre-determined (or set) sequence of notes, devoid of timing nuances and much expression. It takes a fairly experienced player to see beyond the dots to the tune, and even then the true tune may not fully reveal itself.

Reading this thread, and the one about sessions that came before, I'm wondering whether I'm using the dots in a productive manner or if they are holding me back...

 

Here's what I've been doing: First, I listen to music (recorded and live) as much as possible, and with recorded music I tend to focus on one or two recordings for several days in a row. I have to ride the subway one hour to- and from work every day, which was a hassle until I started "using" the time to listen to tunes: that's at least 2 hours per day of good, absorbed listening. From repeated listening, I often end up with "a recording in my ears," that is, as I take a walk or wash dishes or do some other task, I can literally "hear" one of the tunes by memory.

 

Now, it is so much easier for me to learn tunes that I've absorbed in this way. However, when I sit down to sound them out on an instrument, often as I fumble around for the notes, the tune gets lost, for instance, I'll grab the first 1/2 phrase from memory and then hit some incorrect notes, then suddenly I can't remember how it goes any more. In order to push through such a block, if I find notation for the tune in some book, often I can learn the rest very quickly, hopefully ignoring the inconsistencies that Rich mentioned between the written notation and the actual playing of the tune; in other words, I try to play it as heard and not as written, as far as possible. After a few times, I don't refer to the dots any more, since by then (when this works) my own playing and the specific rhythmic version of the tune "in my head" match up.

 

Other times I'll sight-read dots until I find a tune that I already could hum by ear. Then I'll play that tune a few times through, then try to play, without dots, with a recorded version.

 

Learning entirely by ear is coming slowly for me. Using software to slow down the tune has helped, but in a live session I have only rarely been able to pick up a tune, in part due to the pressure of the situation.

 

Am I on the wrong track?

Andy

Edited by A.D. Homan
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Hey! Just listen. A pal of mine got back from a stay In Australia a few days ago and having booked a couple of dates gave me a call to help cover them as a duo. So he came by and played his current tunes into my MD player and gave me his last CD. He chose 11 tunes on Wed. and we did the first show Friday.

He had chord charts but I chose not to ask for them. I just sat and listened to them twice and then picked up whichever instrument I was going to use on each tune, and learned them .

Every one is right , just listen till you can sing the part ,*then* find it on the instrument. Works everytime. Often by the time you find the tune on the instrument you have also memorized it. Then its a matter of recalling the fingering patterns. No mysteries.

Note reading is usefull when you have to play something very long or very complicated in a short time. Apart from that is can be a distraction and *can* slow things down. In a professional "orchestral" situation the side "men" can read if they must.

I'm glad I read well, it saves lots of time being able to sight read at work.But if I perform I am more comfortable if I have memorized with out the use of music *if Possible*. We're not talking major concerto's here. Tunes and songs of various sorts. Light Entertainment. Enjoy the process. AW

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I find that playing from ear is something that I can do as long as there is no pressure, that the version is strictly as the dots dictated, and that the speed is moderate, in short, not in public.

Dave

 

I don't understand the bit above where you say that yu can play by ear if the version is strictly as the dots dictae. Can you expain some more. It seems to me that playing by ear cannot be constrained by some unseen dots??

Simple,

 

change the key, its sounds different. I don't know where to start, by the time I can determine the key might have been, its time for another pint

 

 

Change the 'version' or just add some fancy bits, I get lost, thrown, give me the dots to refer to and I instantly know what the others are doing and I can skip over or fit around as necessary. With dots, I can follow multi-part band arrangements, can count umpty bar rests, can even come in on the off beat after the rests (usually). I always feel that I know where I am.

 

 

I can learn a tune off dots one evening, play it at tempo, eyes closed, and next day I cannot even hum it, show me the dots and I can sing it or play it straight off, close my eyes and play it again.

 

Does that help you understand why some people 'need' dots, and that statements like: 'music sheets have no place...' are very hurtful and add to frustration.

 

Dave

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You know, when I was in my elementary school band, I would read music only until I learned it by ear (as opposed to memorizing it by finger movements). I find to this day that it is valuable to be able to read music as a tool to learning by ear. Now in my 50's, I realize that my involvement with music has alway been an ear oriented affair.

 

I wonder if any one else has had a similar experience.

 

Dan

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Does that help you understand why some people 'need' dots, and that statements like: 'music sheets have no place...' are very hurtful and add to frustration.

Dave

Dave

 

I don't think I said either of the things which you find distasteful but if I gave that impression I am sorry, I was just trying to understand your quote.

 

I like your self have difficulty remembering tunes but am OK when I have something to trigger my memory and to support me in my memorised playing. I personally use ABC which provides me with enough information to be able to play tunes which have slipped out of the list I am regualrly play at any one time. I find this convienient as I have a system by which I can capture a whole tune on a business card and therefore can carry a whole mass of tunes in a small space. Follow the link in my signature to my website if you are interested.

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Lester,

 

you did not make the comment, nor do you have anything to appologise for. However the comment was made as part of the other thread that this thread took over from, I suppose it was that I am still reacting to. As I re-read your original comment, and my own posting I can see how anyone might assume that my paragraph was in response to you, it was not. and I am sorry now that it was misleading.

 

I think I know how to follow your link, and I shall be very interested to see your system, I need any help available!

 

Dave

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The ability to read "dots", or standard notation as it is known to me, is a very handy skill for any musician and I have never regretted the time I have invested into learning to read music many years ago. I can play by ear or by reading. I am ok with people who use dots all the time and also with folks who cannot read dots at all.

Here is my big complaint about sessions of all sorts of music: Learn some words! Musicians seem to be content to play the melodies over and over, and they are beautiful melodies, but some the tunes actually have words to go with them and we are fast forgetting those words. If everyone would learn just a few songs then we could take turns singing and also playing the melodies. I have found after many years of playing different styles of music that the people who listen to us like to hear songs as well as tunes, and they like to sing along. Songs are inclusive. I am fairly new to Irish music, which this forum seems to focus on, so maybe I am off base with this complaint. But in other styles of traditional music that I enjoy we are forgetting to sing the songs.

Edited by Rex
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Err Rex err I can't sing for toffee :wacko:

 

I think the change into a song now and again fits very well. I like the changes from the types of tunes to be dotted throughout the evening, so there are changes in pace and flavour.

 

Dave, if it was me who offended I am very sorry :(

It is *only* my opinion, other people are welcome to theirs.

 

IMHO I think *anyone* who has the ability to play an instrument *even slowly* can remember tunes or snippets of them. After all, we know what buttons to press to make a particular sound. That is all there is to it ;) Well not quite.

To learn to play an instrument/learn to play by ear/drive a car/ride a bike, etc. are all *learned* skills. You don't just DO it, you find ways that work for *you* and slowly learn those skills.

 

There is even software on the net for learning by ear http://www.earmaster.com/ you can download a demo. Realy easy to use and quite fun to test yourself with. I downloaded the demo version.

 

I on the other hand remember thinking it was impossible to remember so many tunes. I used to ask people *how* they did it. They always responded with the same advice ''the first 10 are the hardest, then before you know it, you will have 20/50/100'' and so on.

 

My hardest struggle is singing it in my head and then playing it. Great until you hit a wrong note, then the tune goes completely from my head. :angry:

 

Anyway I have just learned a tune off a cd which I found fairly easy considering I have only had my concertina a month, then I played it last night in the session, 3 days after learning it, to find that the first half had a similarity to another tune, and I kept wanting to go to that tune instead. So I stopped playing and went out to listen to the cd in the car. Hummed it all the way back and this time nailed it. The problem never cropped up until that moment. They all thought I had gone daft (been that way for too long now to change) but I just couldn't let my brain get away with it.

 

The other thing I have to say is that the concertina is so easy to learn by ear with in comparison to my fiddle. The notes are always *spot* on :lol:

 

 

Sharron

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