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Getting To Grips With Abc And 'the Dots'


michael sam wild
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The Anglo is the first instrument that led me to tackling notation. I needed a diagram for fingering and cross row work. Other instruments, I've done it all by ear.

I found Abc pretty helpful and now sem to be able to play slowly from the dots in tunebooks. Usually helps if I'd heard the tune before.

 

Just recently I was showing my grandughter the scale on the piano and we did a diagram of Doh, Re, Mi etc using the colours of the rainbow. Nicely an'octave'! She enjoyed that

A friend at Whitby told me he has a friend who 'sees' tunes in various colours.

I'm now looking into work by Kodaly etc to see if that sort of work can further enhance my reading facility. I don't get the mathematics of music but that may be a legacy of bullying teachers and my natural rebelliousness which made me switch off.

 

Any useful ideas gratefully received. I found Roger Digby's workshop at Whitby very helpful this year

 

Mike

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My "dots" reading is pretty ropey. At best, an aid to working out a tune that I know already. One thing I would say is make the most of the tunes you know and have have the dots for. The thing that I find hardest about dots is not the pitch (I can read that fine), but the note durations. By sitting down and looking at the dots for a tune I know already, I've found this helps makes sense of quavers, crotchets, dots, and all that, for when I'm looking at a less familiar tune. It also helps me if a sort of mentally tap my foot while reading the notation -- I've found this particularly useful with jigs, cos it's quite easy to do "1-2-3, 1-2-3".

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A friend at Whitby told me he has a friend who 'sees' tunes in various colours.

I'm now looking into work by Kodaly etc to see if that sort of work can further enhance my reading facility.

Associating colors with pitches is a concept classically associated with absolute pitch, which this friend's friend probably has. If you don't (I don't, most of us don't), then this might not be of much help.

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I found Abc pretty helpful and now seem to be able to play slowly from the dots in tunebooks. Usually helps if I'd heard the tune before.

I am full of admiration for those able to work up/play a tune from written notation. Pitch, note duration and rhythm all have to be mastered before a piece can be accurately played; then it's down to interpretation.

 

Those of us who play by ear have it "easy" by comparison, in my opinion ;). We can "hear" the sound of notes on our instrument keyboard, and once we have the tunes in our head, and memorised, they just "pop out" and can be played with relative ease (albeit with work on alternative fingerings on the Anglo).

 

I think that ABC notation is great. A couple of plays on the Tune-o-tron will filter out tunes which I don't like, leaving the occasional tune which I might like enough to consider learning.

 

Some tunes just seem to "arrive" in my head; obviously absorbed over a long period of time. A "nice" way of learning, but I guess there will be question marks about the accuracy of this method. I call it the "folk process", as do others, I'm sure.

 

Peter.

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The problem with dots is that they very often only tell part of the story. Many of the abc files out there are true and faithful to the tune within the limits of standard written notation as regards pitch and (mostly) note length, although woefully few contain proper rests or phrasing marks to assist the player. Very often the first time/second time through notations are grossly misleading and inaccurate. That's bad enough for someone who can read music but must be utterly disheartening to those new to the concept.

 

Many classical composers wrote complex notation which guided the player towards every subtle nuance and allowed little or no room for individual interpretation. Folk song/country dance music does just the opposite and presents you with the bare bones of the tune and leaves a cavernous void for the novice to negotiate unguided.

 

So a player who can read notation well and has a good ear has all of the aces ... <_<

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I do fine with the dots, wish I could do the ear thing with something besides the voice. Actually was complemented on my sight reading last December at Robin's Classical guitar meeting which is held in a book store. Being Christmas time, I picked up a book full of Carols and started site reading tunes, a lot of which were new to me. The fellow sitting next to me said, "You sight read very well." I was a bit shocked.

 

Alan

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I came across this article headed " GCSE Exam strikes false note with Albarn" which I thought might be of interest.

 

Damon Albarn of Blur was recently surprised to learn that students can gain an A grade in music without being able to read or write music. He says students should be forced to learn how to read and write music.

 

The greatest composers of the classical tradition wrote their music in the form of notated musical scores - the language and grammar through which the masterpieces of the musical canon have been passed from generation to generation.

 

But it is now possible, it has emerged, to gain an A grade in GCSE music through every big exam board without being able to read or write music. It is a development that has aroused the ire of musicians, and not all of them classical traditionalists. Damon Albarn, lead singer of Blur and co-creator of Gorillaz, argues that schoolchildren should be "forced" to learn staff notation.

 

"The idea of it being completely absent from the most important exams of your childhood is disgraceful," he told BBC Music magazine. "I used to write for small orchestras when I was 15. I sold my soul to the devil and became a pop star and forgot about it, but in the past few years I have got back into orchestration after an almost 20-year hiatus. I'm so slow now, and if I'd just kept it [up]. I think anyone interested in music should be forced to learn that discipline.

 

"If you don't learn to read music, then there's a whole tradition that becomes very exclusive and shouldn't be," added Albarn, whose opera Monkey was staged at the Royal Opera House.

 

However, according to Richard Baker, head of composition at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, understanding staff notation is far from a sine qua non of musical excellence. "It depends what you believe a secondary school musical education is for," he said. "If it's about accessing the western classical tradition, then of course you need to learn staff notation. If you think it's about giving children some understanding of a wide range of musical traditions, then teachers should have the flexibility to talk about other ways in which music is transmitted. If students are learning to play western classical instruments, then they will learn to read staff notation. But if they're learning uilleann pipes, or tabla it's arguably less important.

 

"Just because a musical tradition is transmitted through staff notation does not mean that it is superior; you only have to spend half an hour with good Indian musicians to appreciate that.

 

"Where I think Damon Albarn is right is that if you think you are ever going to need to use staff notation, you need to learn it young, like every other kind of musical skill."

 

 

Amazingly, many artists have managed to stave off the critics despite not being able to read music. In 1997 it emerged that Luciano Pavarotti could not read a score. The Italian tenor told Corriere della Sera: "I am not a musician, I don't go in too deep. If you have the music in your head, and you sing it with your body, then you'll be all right." Incredibly, Paul McCartney has managed to busk his way through a career spanning five decades without knowing how to read music. Vangelis, who composed the scores to Chariots of Fire and Blade Runner, is more familiar with synthesisers than semiquavers, while Irving Berlin's inability to read music did not stop him writing There's No Business Like Show Business and White Christmas. Les Paul, the jazz guitarist, has not been hindered by his lack of formal knowledge, nor has US soul singer Jill Scott, pictured, who said: "I don't read music, I don't write, I don't play. All I can do is tell you how it goes, like 'dumdum-dum-dumde-dum'.

 

Personally, whilst I have learned to play by ear and prefer to play by ear (Peter T and I have contributed to this topic before in another thread and are of the same vein) because it is not only part of the aural folk tradition but essential in sessions, in order to follow and learn new tunes, I have taught myself basic notation sight reading quite late in life. It is an advantage when I want to learn a new tune and the only source is staff notation from a tune book. I have no idea whether music from other lands and cultures (the far east for example -Japan, China or South America) have their own forms of written music notation, either ancient or modern. Perhaps there are C.net musicologists out there who can answer that question. Edited to add that the English Concertina is designed for sight reading, all the notes on the lines of a stave, are on the left-hand side and all the notes in between the lines, are on the right-hand side. I play English of course. I imagine sight reading on the Anglo and duet would be more difficult as it is on the melodeon.

 

Chris

Edited by Chris Drinkwater
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I imagine sight reading on the Anglo and duet would be more difficult as it is on the melodeon.

 

Chris

 

Musical notation is just like tab for a C/G Anglo -- all the push notes are on the lines, all the draw notes are in the spaces. ;)

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I imagine sight reading on the Anglo and duet would be more difficult as it is on the melodeon.

 

Chris

 

Musical notation is just like tab for a C/G Anglo -- all the push notes are on the lines, all the draw notes are in the spaces. ;)

 

I've never noticed that, but I suppose it's true to a point, though I do know I generally play most things up an octave from how they are wrote. The biggest trick early on was remembering where the accidentals were when played outside of C, G and their relative minors. Once I got those in my head though it wasn't too bad.

 

Alan

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The reason I drew my button diagrams was because often I go to buttons across the rows that don't fit the commnent on the stave lines and spaces.

Regarding ABc I must get sussed about the tune -o-tron. I may be asking some questions!

Quite a while ago I got a book and cassette from Dave Roberts (RIP) of Blowzabella. The book had tunes from William Mittell's MS and the cassette was simple synthesiser generated version of the tunes a few times through. It left you to make your mind up if you wanted it and left variations to the musician. I found this great and want something that takes the tunes from dots or ABc and gives me the bare bones quickly.

I would love to be able to access all these tunes in books without waiting for a CD to come out, and I never bother with tunes titled 'unknown, or Gan Aimh' which might in fact be great Walton's of Dublin do nice 101 tune and CD books which are very helpful too.

 

As we are reinjecting tunes that may have lain dormant for a long time but who's time has come round again it is quite exciting. Also some new compositions are great and may make it into the tradition by the selection process.

 

It's all a bit like the pros and cons of global warming innit? Some survive and flourish, others don't. I wonder if the selection pressure is from dancers any more or from listeners and players nowadays, in some sessions I wonder if they have ever played for dancers.

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I came across this article headed " GCSE Exam strikes false note with Albarn" which I thought might be of interest.

 

Edited to add that the English Concertina is designed for sight reading, all the notes on the lines of a stave, are on the left-hand side and all the notes in between the lines, are on the right-hand side. I play English of course.

 

 

 

I imagine sight reading on the Anglo and duet would be more difficult as it is on the melodeon.

 

Chris

 

Ah learned something about an English today. Thanks ;)

 

Melodeons number their notes to buttons. Push and pull. It works for me and I can work out how a tune sounds.

 

Chas

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I imagine sight reading on the Anglo and duet would be more difficult as it is on the melodeon.

 

Chris

 

Musical notation is just like tab for a C/G Anglo -- all the push notes are on the lines, all the draw notes are in the spaces. ;)

 

Hey the learnig curve is getting better. I didn't know that. But then I don't really know what I'm doing.

 

Have to check it out now. As I don't read it will take a while. :unsure:

 

Chas

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I imagine sight reading on the Anglo and duet would be more difficult as it is on the melodeon.

 

Chris

 

Musical notation is just like tab for a C/G Anglo -- all the push notes are on the lines, all the draw notes are in the spaces. ;)

 

Hey the learnig curve is getting better. I didn't know that. But then I don't really know what I'm doing.

 

Have to check it out now. As I don't read it will take a while. :unsure:

 

Chas

I was only being semi-serious (hence the wink). It's just about true for one octave in the "home" keys, but I wouldn't recommend taking anything I say about music theory too literally! :unsure:

Edited by meltzer
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  • 2 weeks later...

I have made real progress. I can down load ABC to the Tune-o-Tron from various sources and seem to be able to read from the dots a lot better albeit slowly. It must be how a dyslexic person feels when they make a breakthrough.

I still pefer to play along ad infinitum (PADI) or even ad nauseam! To fix a tune and get the nuances , then interpret it my own way but the reading is a great source of information and insight and new tunes.

Thanks for all tthe ideas.

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My "dots" reading is pretty ropey. At best, an aid to working out a tune that I know already. One thing I would say is make the most of the tunes you know and have have the dots for. The thing that I find hardest about dots is not the pitch (I can read that fine), but the note durations. By sitting down and looking at the dots for a tune I know already, I've found this helps makes sense of quavers, crotchets, dots, and all that, for when I'm looking at a less familiar tune. It also helps me if a sort of mentally tap my foot while reading the notation -- I've found this particularly useful with jigs, cos it's quite easy to do "1-2-3, 1-2-3".

 

Many of us are pretty ropey and reading rhythm from the dots but, as noted by others, the written dots are often only an outline of the tune anyway.

 

If you ever get to hear Alistair Anderson describe how Will Taylor taught himself to read music, do. In outline, Taylor who had been playing traditionally for decades, found himself confined to home by a nasty virus, sent his wife to buy "1001 folk tunes" and started with those that he knew working out what the dots meant. He was quite good at reading by the end of the week.

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I have made real progress. I ... seem to be able to read from the dots a lot better albeit slowly. It must be how a dyslexic person feels when they make a breakthrough.

Soon you will find you are able to read right from the abc notation. That's one of the neat things about abc: it is simple and intuitive enough for a person to read while also being rigorous and well-defined enough for a computer to read.

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Yes that's true. I also find itquicker than noting dots on a stave . I have a small book and after a session etc I can rember the first notes of each part it gradually comes back and I can write it own and play it back gradually. The Willy Taylor story is encouraging. I wonder if it stimulated his writing too?.I ncidentally why do we call it writing when we compaoe? We probably start in our heads or by ear and noodling/doodling? Does the act of writing help or constrain our imagination?. After all traditional cultures were transmitted aurally/orally until quite recently and blind musicians had it all in the head and heart. I want to use ABC and dots as an aide memoire or source for exploration. And they do give a clue as to how music was played, as The Village Music Project shows with its analyses. Better still if we have sound recordings I reckon, if people can transcribe them like Dan Worralll did with Kimber.

 

The dots froze it in time but we shouldn't pickle them in aspic or like flies in amber or it'll be like Jurassic Park ( do I mix my metaphors or what!? George Orwell would love this!)

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