Jump to content

Menatal Modes- I Find This Fascinating...?


Simon H
 Share

Recommended Posts

Here’s a question (somewhere near the end of this great long spiel...) I’ve been wanting to ask for some time as its been bothering me and I have a lot of interest in how the brain works in learning and trying to work out efficient learning techniques. I’m a “beginner” English concertina player of about 6 months, largely self taught but just started also taking some lessons. Played around a lot over recent years with other instruments, but settling down with EC.

 

At the moment my playing feels like it is in an extended transition stage, where I can play a tune in several mental modes, but only learn in one or two.

 

Here is what I mean. The first difficult tunes I learned, I did a phrase at a time from workshop recordings, playing over and over again until I had each whole tune off pat. They were learned by positional memory, my fingers just find the notes reasonably automatically, and if I were to actually think about which notes I’m playing I would grind to a halt. Great, tunes hard wired in to tactile memory so to speak. Certainly seems like a good way to learn some tunes.

 

Next I have tunes which I know but as I learned them from the sheet music, I feel unconfident playing them without the music in front of me and need to picture the notes on the stave.

 

Lastly there is a wealth of tunes I know from the folk tradition, which I kind of figure out by ear each time I think of them and play in hit or miss ways, a few phrases right, then get lost and give up.

 

My point here is that when I analyse what I’m doing it seems like I’m using different parts of my mind to play different ways, and they appear to be compartmentalised. I’ve heard tell that many sight musicians can’t easily play by ear, and many who play by ear can’t read music. I don’t want to be constrained that way as I improve, and would like ultimately to be able to play reasonably intuitively from music (or ABC), or improvise, or play by ear.

 

Lastly when playing from music I seem to have to go from the note, through the note name (A-G), to the key in my mind, which feels like one step too many, I’m finding it hard to go from dots to buttons directly, even though I’m playing EC which should be easy. Maybe this will just come in time.

 

My question is really for experienced intuitive players. Does you mind remain compartmentalised like this or do the brain’s barriers fall away as intuitive playing takes over? Do you have regrets about not learning a particular way, or method? Do you still have tunes you learned one way and not another? Do you have any tried and tested short cuts to breaking down the brain’s barriers?

 

thanks

 

Simon

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm an experienced (Anglo) player and seem to have the same brain compartments as you. I have found that a good way for me to learn a tune is to learn primarily by ear (especially to get the "feel" of the tune) and to double-check with sheet music to confirm the details. Of course with traditional tunes it's not always possible to find sheet music that matches the version I've heard.

 

Daniel

 

Here’s a question (somewhere near the end of this great long spiel...) I’ve been wanting to ask for some time as its been bothering me and I have a lot of interest in how the brain works in learning and trying to work out efficient learning techniques. I’m a “beginner” English concertina player of about 6 months, largely self taught but just started also taking some lessons. Played around a lot over recent years with other instruments, but settling down with EC.

 

At the moment my playing feels like it is in an extended transition stage, where I can play a tune in several mental modes, but only learn in one or two.

 

Here is what I mean. The first difficult tunes I learned, I did a phrase at a time from workshop recordings, playing over and over again until I had each whole tune off pat. They were learned by positional memory, my fingers just find the notes reasonably automatically, and if I were to actually think about which notes I’m playing I would grind to a halt. Great, tunes hard wired in to tactile memory so to speak. Certainly seems like a good way to learn some tunes.

 

Next I have tunes which I know but as I learned them from the sheet music, I feel unconfident playing them without the music in front of me and need to picture the notes on the stave.

 

Lastly there is a wealth of tunes I know from the folk tradition, which I kind of figure out by ear each time I think of them and play in hit or miss ways, a few phrases right, then get lost and give up.

 

My point here is that when I analyse what I’m doing it seems like I’m using different parts of my mind to play different ways, and they appear to be compartmentalised. I’ve heard tell that many sight musicians can’t easily play by ear, and many who play by ear can’t read music. I don’t want to be constrained that way as I improve, and would like ultimately to be able to play reasonably intuitively from music (or ABC), or improvise, or play by ear.

 

Lastly when playing from music I seem to have to go from the note, through the note name (A-G), to the key in my mind, which feels like one step too many, I’m finding it hard to go from dots to buttons directly, even though I’m playing EC which should be easy. Maybe this will just come in time.

 

My question is really for experienced intuitive players. Does you mind remain compartmentalised like this or do the brain’s barriers fall away as intuitive playing takes over? Do you have regrets about not learning a particular way, or method? Do you still have tunes you learned one way and not another? Do you have any tried and tested short cuts to breaking down the brain’s barriers?

 

thanks

 

Simon

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm an experienced (Anglo) player and seem to have the same brain compartments as you. I have found that a good way for me to learn a tune is to learn primarily by ear (especially to get the "feel" of the tune) and to double-check with sheet music to confirm the details. Of course with traditional tunes it's not always possible to find sheet music that matches the version I've heard.

 

Daniel

 

Well, I've been playing the English concertina for approx. two and a half years and it's a subject that fascinates me too and I concur with everything Daniel says. Prior to that, my only musical instrument experience was an attempt to learn the melodeon. I managed to learn to play the melodies of a few tunes on it but was never comfortable with playing the left-hand accompaniment. As I couldn't then sight read, I initially learned all the tunes by ear, a phrase at a time, until I could hum them. When I got my first concertina, it helped that I already knew a few tunes, in my head. So, all I had to do was figure out the correct buttons to press, which is easier, in my opinion, on an English system concertina and the tune gradually came to life. As my fingers got more familiar with the button positions for the two main session friendly keys of D and G, my playing improved and I could play the tunes faster and more together. It was at this stage, some six months after I started, that I decided to have a go at learning to sight read, after a fellow concertina player at a session kindly gave me a copy of his collection of session tunes in sheet music form. This was a new challenge and one I haven't mastered to the extent that I can sight-read fluently but it is good enough to enable me to get the gist of a tune for which I do not have a recording. There is an old joke. "How do you tell the difference between an English and an Anglo player? Well, the English player is the one who puts his music stand up before starting to play!" Now, however I learn a tune in the first instance, whether solely by ear, or from sheet music, I commit that tune to memory and only refer to the sheet music or a recording of the tune, as a reminder if I occasionally forget how a tune goes. In that time, my ear and my fingers have become trained to the extent than I can now sometimes pick up some sessions tunes I have never heard or played before, well enough to join in to the end of the tune, though I might not remember the tune afterwards sufficiently to be able to play it again at home. So, musical notation is just an aid to helping me learn the tune and once comitted to memory through repeat hearing, that's good enough for me as even we English players, don't set our music stands up at your average English (or Irish) pub session, though if you are playing in the West Country Concertina Players band at Kilve, it is de riguer! At the moment, I mainly play just the melodies of tunes, just a single note at a time and that is easy to do. Trying more advanced ways of playing, introducing chords and drones, etc into the playing, where appropriate, to add substance and texture to the tune, especially if playing solo, frankly does my head in! Having to remember where two or more fingers go at once, definitely stretches by brain, but that's my next project. To sum up my learning experience, it has ultimately been to familiarize myself mentally and physically with the keys, such that I know automatically where to put my finger(s) to play a particular note whether heard or from a score. And to that end, it is a good idea to learn to play in lots of different keys, as a familiarity exercise, even though you may rarely end up playing in them at a session. So, get practising those scales!!

 

Chris

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Can't comment directly on concertina as I'm not playing it long enough but I do know from playing whistle & flute that many tunes have similar phrases. Once one learns those phrases in one tune, they fall readily to hand in a new tune. So the more tunes you learn, the more patterns you come across and the easier it gets. I think playing the 'wealth of tunes' you already know from the folk tradition will reward you well, partic. if you can figure them on the fly, without thinking about which button is which.

Also good brain training is playing a tune in different keys - when your comfortable in one key, try around to see where it fits elsewhere and follow it. Lot more interesting than Sudoko at any rate!!

Edited by tombilly
Link to comment
Share on other sites

For me, there are definitely compartments and they definitely broke down long before I started playing concertina.

 

I started out my musical life as a classically trained cellist. I developed the ability to sight read very fluently, so that I coould hold my own in a chamber music session.

 

Then I started playing folk music on instruments like the 5-string banjo and the hammered dulcimer. I could pick up tunes by ear, have fun with them, playing harmony lines or embellishments. But I had no facility reading music on these instruments. And I couldn't do any of this extemporaneous stuff on the cello.

 

I made a concerted effort to do the crossover thing and found that it wasn't all that difficult. By the time I started playing concertina, I was able to treat it as both a "classical" instrument and a "folk" instrument.

 

Come to my "by ear" session at the Northeast Concertina Workshop in April and we'll discuss this.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

And I'm in the process of doing exactly the same thing; originally a competent pianist but never learnt to play by ear, then took up accordion but only by ear; now I'm determined to do both on the duet.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

As a stereotypical Anglo player, I play by ear. I can read music a bit (OK with pitch, don't understand about dots/duration, etc), and occasionally pick out a melody line on the box if I want to fix a tune in my head. But can I remember it when I try to play it again without sheet music? No I cannot. Once I have a tune in my head -- and this can take a while, admittedly -- I can pretty much work it out fairly fast (these are English traditional songs rather than dance tunes) once I get the first note -- and then the process of trial & error coming up with counter-melodies/chords takes a bit longer. This is a process familiar to my neighbours, as I spent last night listening to Walter Pardon's version of The trees they do grow high on repeat. Poor neighbours. :(

 

Completely different to playing my sax, which is pure one-note-at-a-time stuff, where I'm very tied to the sheet music, but find it easier to memorise after a few plays through.

 

Interesting thread, anyway. B)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

If music is akin to speech, a language with various dialects - then look at how a child learns to converse. Copying sounds, learning phrases, reforming and matching them them better to what they hear back from their immediate family - takes a few years but our youngest at four has a pretty good line of constant chat going at this stage :) He will learn how to read & write language in years to come but only from a position of relative vocal mastery of the language.

 

As adults, we tend to forget this I think - we look for tools like sheet music when learning how to play an instrument. The reality for me at any rate is that sheet music and the reading of it whilst playing is just an unhelpful hindrance - a barrier. We can carry a language in our head and we can certainly carry a tune so the issue is how to make that tune sound right on the chosen instrument. This comes back to the baby learning sounds, reforming and matching them them better to what they hear back. Except now in case of concertina, it's figuring what finger and muscle movements are necessary. If it takes a child several years to become proficient in a language, seems reasonable that it would take an adult a similar period of time to learn to speak on a concertina or fiddle or whatever.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

If music is akin to speech, a language with various dialects - then look at how a child learns to converse. Copying sounds, learning phrases, reforming and matching them them better to what they hear back from their immediate family - takes a few years but our youngest at four has a pretty good line of constant chat going at this stage :) He will learn how to read & write language in years to come but only from a position of relative vocal mastery of the language.

 

As adults, we tend to forget this I think - we look for tools like sheet music when learning how to play an instrument. The reality for me at any rate is that sheet music and the reading of it whilst playing is just an unhelpful hindrance - a barrier. We can carry a language in our head and we can certainly carry a tune so the issue is how to make that tune sound right on the chosen instrument. This comes back to the baby learning sounds, reforming and matching them them better to what they hear back. Except now in case of concertina, it's figuring what finger and muscle movements are necessary. If it takes a child several years to become proficient in a language, seems reasonable that it would take an adult a similar period of time to learn to speak on a concertina or fiddle or whatever.

 

Thanks for that, a very perceptive analogy. I remember our daughter at 3-4 was constantly experimenting with words, sounds and phrases: "Take a look, take a book, take a wook, wake a took....." and so on ad infinitum. That reminds me so much of the repetitions required to get some phrases off pat on the instrument.

 

The analogy of unlocking facility in language is great, I think the analogy stretches well to cover the need for reading as a means to opening up the wider world of knowledge, and being able to read music too is a way to getting and storing more tunes than the brain can easily hold. Fluent sight reading then has real value too. But as you infer - getting to first understand the language of the instrument fluently is vital.

 

Thanks all for the comments, keep them coming, this really is interesting for me. :)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

If music is akin to speech, a language with various dialects - then look at how a child learns to converse. ...

As adults, we tend to forget this I think - we look for tools like sheet music when learning how to play an instrument. ...

If it takes a child several years to become proficient in a language, seems reasonable that it would take an adult a similar period of time to learn to speak on a concertina or fiddle or whatever.

 

Tombilly,

I'm also a great believer in the language - music analogy!

You're right: children take years to learn to speak proficiently, although they're better at learning than we are, and have nothing to do all day but learn. And they're totally immersed in language all the time, but how many hours (minutes) a day do we learn concertina hands-on?

 

Then there's the script - notation analogy, too.

When children start to learn to read and write their mother-tongue, they're already proficient speakers. They don't learn a word and its spelling. They just learn the spelling of a word they already know. And they don't learn a character string and its associated sound - they associate a sound they already know with the character string.

 

So notation cannot be any more than a rough guide. You have to learn how to use it, and you can't do that without knowing what your instrument is capable of. (It's like with the migrant chldren whom my wife teaches in primary school. They live in Germany, but they speak other languages at home. So they've never heard many of the words they have to read - and let's not mention their German essays!)

 

For me, music comes before any notation - even before any instrument!

We absord music like speech, and we have to let it out. We do this as small children by singing, and then, when we're big boys and girls, we learn to whistle (our first non-vocal music). And because our singing and whistling are not loud enough, or sweet enough, or well enough pitched, we take up an instrument. And we CAN learn to use that the same way as we learned to whistle. By trial and error. We're letting out music that is in us, so we know when it sounds right.

 

That's the point at which we need to start reading and writing - IF we want to progress farther!

 

Because there's another analogy: grammar - music theory.

These give us more insight into what we do naturally without them, and thus help us to be more creative in our verbal or musical expression. We can then say and play things we've never heard before. But both are fairly abstract, and it's a lot easier to get to grips with them on paper. So notation has a use here, too.

 

Having said that, I've collected quite a bit of musical theory over the decades, but I still can't sight-read any of my instruments. (Needless to say, my concertina is an anglo :P ) I can, however, hack the black dots into Capella with the "mouse piano" (that's my way of learning a tune I've never heard), and I can laboriously transcribe a piano score into chord symbols on paper.

 

I take comfort in the fact that the great German minstrel-poets of the 12th-13th centuries were also illiterate. We only know of their poems because they were written down by monks afterwards. There's a lesson in there somewhere ...

 

Cheers,

John

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 weeks later...
And I'm in the process of doing exactly the same thing; originally a competent pianist but never learnt to play by ear, then took up accordion but only by ear; now I'm determined to do both on the duet.

 

 

I just got better when I listened, listened again, and didn't over analyze the whole thing too much.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

 Share

×
×
  • Create New...