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learning new tunes by ear


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Well, it's pretty gratifying to hear that the methods that others are fairly similar to the ones I've evolved for myself. A couple of things become apparent from the discussion: I really would benefit from finding and playing with other like minded musicians. So far, I've not run into many who are interested in British or European style trad. They are probably out there, I simply have not met them yet; ergo I gotta get out more.

 

 

Another thing is that it's obvious that I've neglected the powerful tool on which I write. I'm not much of a hand with this machine, (hell, I have yet to come to terms with the quote button) but the advantages pointed out here are plain. I somehow keep forgetting the vast stash of tunes in the recorded links page and have yet to explore the potential of the Tune-o-Tron.

 

Chris's comments about learning to identify the common structural elements of the style and figuring out ways to put them together with some kind of musicianship are especially germaine; I came to Concertina after years of playing Chicago style blues on the harmonica. It didn't take long to recognize that about 90% of blues is made of stylized vamps with lead instruments improvising over the top. After 5 or 6 years on concertina and the musics most often played thereon, I'm starting to put together what Chris so aptly calls the "library" of hooks, vamps and riffs.

 

Now, if I can convince my left hand and right hand to cooperate a little more closely, I might really get somewhere.

 

So, tell me again: How does one get to Carnegie Hall?

 

Thanks, people.

 

Rob

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moderation in all things...

 

Except in ear training, I would propose. ;)

 

 

One would think so....but my ear is my ear. All my dot reading from piano lessons started at age 7 on and my ear is still the stronger. :blink:

 

Yes...it seems that the ear is a very powerful tool. I envy those who have such facility reading--one of my good friends is one of the best pianists I know, and she plays ONLY by reading. Me, I grew up copping licks beginning at age 11 and probably earlier and, despite forcing myself to read for a period of years, essentially abandoned it entirely because hearing it goes to the hands so much more rapidly.

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I mostly learn songs by ear....I often prefer dots because I'm lazy, and it's easier for me to read it.

 

In my experience though, learning to play songs by ear is one of the best exercises you can do to help your ear training. The more you do it, the better your ear gets.

 

Plus, when you play with a group that does originals, there usually isn't time to write out a chart when you're learning a new song, and without a good ear, you can be dead in the water.

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I learn songs by ear almost exclusively and I get the same problem - an idiosyncratic version. As they are folk songs I tend to get away with this unless they are wellknown or have choruses!

 

When learning instrumental tunes I use ear and dots - ear for the rhythm and dots for the notes. I taught myself to read music very recently but can't read note length very well. I often put tunes into Noteworthy Composer. Then I record them to MP3 using Audacity and play them over and over again. Finally I play along with the tune with the help of Amazing SlowDowner. At first I read the score. Gradually I find I can dispense with it.

 

I use Noteworthy Composer a lot. If I can't find the dots or abc to tunes I have on a CD I like, such as the recently released Whichchurch Hornpipe, I then work on playing the tune by ear, and when I have reached the stage where I can hum the version reasonably well, I write down the notes in a simple abc format and produce a scoreprint using Noteworthy Composer. With the aid of the free Noteworthy Player, I find there is no need to record them to MP3 using Audacity to play them over and over again or play along with the tune with the help of Amazing SlowDowner because you can easily slow tunes down with Noteworthy Composer, simply by altering the number of BPM and play them over and over again with the built in Noteworthy Player, especially useful on tricky or faster bits of the tune. The resulting scoreprint provides a useful backup, in case I forget how the tune goes, or want to share it with another musician.

 

I appreciate that Noteworthy gives a somewhat mechanical rhythm - not quite right - but this process works for me.

 

Well, so does all electronically generated music, including midi, which is why it is nice to have a band recording of the tune to hear what a group of good musicians (or musician) make of the tune, putting their collective/individual interpretation on it as guide to what you can do with the tune and personalise it.

 

Chris

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i just play along with the song until i get it, hitting random notes/notes i can pick out along the way. i have the amazing slow downer, and it's just awesome, but noel hill really has me whipped into shape. in the advanced class, he plays the tune for us while we record it both fast, slow, and with instruction. then, he has us pick up our concertinas and play with him ALL at the same time. at first it didnt really work out, but after several years, i can just pick up a tune on the flute while he's playing, even hearing over everyone else.

 

so... in retrospect... i really should be using the slow downer again, because it's easier to just play while it's slow. i guess i stopped cuz lately i had been going over my uncles cd's, which i have been listening to my entire life, and i know how they all go.

 

for me, the ideal way is to have the tune entirely in your head and go at it by your head without the recording, but that happens spontaneously rather than on purpose. has anyone ever just played a tune that you didnt know if it was real or not, but that it came out of your fingers? i did that with "i have a bonnet trimmed in blue" and "the cameron highlander." the second one i hadnt heard for at least 5 years before it came out of my fingers.

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I learn songs by ear almost exclusively and I get the same problem - an idiosyncratic version. As they are folk songs I tend to get away with this unless they are wellknown or have choruses!

 

Not sure if it's a problem - isn't that how folk tunes evolve and mutate - people pick them up by ear from someone else but hear them slightly differently. Someone else learns from them and so on. So you end up with families of tunes and versions of songs for that matter that are clearly related.

 

Yes and no! If someone else does it, it's evolution. If I do it, it's probably just a mistake because I haven't interpreted it correctly!

 

As regards songs I do change the odd word or borrow particular phrases from other versions if I really like them. I very occasionally put together a Frankenstein version from, say, three different versions. But generally speaking I try to stay close to a particular original. Of course, after twenty years, the version I know will change, and that's evolution. With regard to song tunes I don't have much choice. I just do the best I can.

 

As regards instrumental tunes, I'm at a very early stage of exploration and struggling to keep up. My immediate environment if very resticted in scope (standardised largely on the Lewes Favourites collection) and I think this is very good for a beginner. Of course, there are lots of other tunes I like and am learning, but if I want to hear them played I'd have to lead them myself and that will be some time off.

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I started on harmonica, then melodeon, and now play Anglo. On the way, there was a diversion to try Bb trumpet.

 

As often as not, these instruments all require the dots to be transposed. That means you never learn a direct association betwen this line or space on the stave and that button on the instrument.

 

Thererefore, I have never got beyond "decyphering" music rather than reading it.

 

I have been learning Anglo for about two years and I guess I can knock out about 24 tunes. A tune a month sounds OK, but 24 tunes out of the estimated umpteen zillion available is a bit pathetic!

 

I need to know the tune well in my head before I can make any sort of attempt at transferring it to the Anglo. An additional complication is that the Anglo forces you to make choices, and as I learn the instrument better, and find different routes through the maze, I have to go back and relearn my earlier tunes.

 

Sometimes I realise I'm not ready for a particular tune yet, and I put it on the back burner. Sometimes I recognise a "figure" or "trick" from an earlier tune, and the new tune comes quickly.

 

But it's just play play play: a few minutes on the new tune, play something familiar, then return to the new tune. Attack on a broad front: I always have some tunes I can play in a "finished form", some I'm polishing, and one or two I am trying to put together. And always end the practice session on a tune you enjoy playing.

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I've been trying to learn how to play by ear because I may lose my central vision in a few years. I play in several different situations with different constraints. In all of these situations I usually play both fiddle and English concertina.

 

Every month I play for an English country dance group. We usually get the list of tunes about two weeks in advance and have twenty or so, of which four might be new, to prepare. I'd guess that we prepare about 200 tunes a year, not all of which become part of the standard repetoir. These tunes may be in several different rhythms and are usually in diverse keys. We typically do not have a recording to work from. Written music is essential for this situation. We've been doing this for the last 15 years, so we've figured out how to produce danceable music while reading. Some tunes have been etched into my memory by repetition in that time period without any effort to memorize them on my part.

 

Every week I play in an Irish session. The bar is too dark to see music if I had any. I've learned how to pick up tunes at playing speed either by watching fingers (hard if the fingers you are watching are on a different instrument than the one you are playing) or by making sure I find the important parts of the tunes and getting the rhythm-- often playing a simplified version before adding in ornamentation, though some tunes have bits of ornament which are essential to the nature of the tune. Other musicians often listen the first time through the tune, play the basic framework of the tune softly the second time through, and play with ornament (often their own) the third time through. For me that's not usually the repetitions in the set but rather the weeks that the tune gets played.

 

I've also gone to workshops where someone was trying to teach me a tune by ear. They usually play it once at speed and then start at the beginning breaking the tune into small bits which they drill very slowly at first and then speed up. These bits often don't make any musical sense to me, though sometimes they are the motifs characteristic to part of the tune. In this teaching style A1 takes about half of the available time, A2 somewhat less, B1 gets only a little coverage and B2 is often just barely covered. While I might be able to play the tune by the end of the class, it never sticks when I've been taught this way, and I find the class very difficult and not particularly satisfying.

 

My early musical training (12 years of classical and baroque violin, from written music, as a child) was before Suzuki methods came in. I suspect that my session experience is close to how traditional musicians actually learned tunes, though there are lots of written tune books which have been used by dance musicians for centuries (at least in Scottish, English, and American traditions-- remember that O'Neil did his collecting in Chicago).

Is the slow, small bits of the tune, deconstructed approach I find in classes by ear an echo of Suzuki methods?

 

What strategies do others use in learning tunes at playing speed in sessions?

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What strategies do others use in learning tunes at playing speed in sessions?

 

I'm one of those fortunate (someone higher up this thread termed it annoying) people who can pick the majority of tunes up pretty quickly - in fact I'm starting to be able to do this *on concertina*, which is the point that I start to think I'm really getting somewhere on an instrument.

 

I've developed a reasonable 'ear' for pitch down the years, but I'm convinced that the real breakthrough for me was learning to play a chord instrument, in my case bouzouki.

 

Suddenly the idea of which chords work with which part of the tune came together in my head, and I started to be able to put (simple) chords to tunes. And blow me down if the same subconscious thought process transferred immediately and wholesale to the flute. I could now very quickly work out the basic structure of a tune in terms of chords, and then half the battle to pick a new tune up was won because the basic shape of the tune was there. I suspect many of those people who can quickly improvise harmonies to tunes they don't previously know are quite often in fact using something like the same technique, and the 'improvised harmony' might actually sometimes be them missing the actual notes of the tune but getting the right chord structure.

 

Also in traditional musicians' favour is the fact that many tunes stay in the same key all the way through; and also once yopu are familiar with the particular style you are playing (I'm good at picking up English and French tunes but rubbish at Scottish tunes, for example) you can begin to 'guess' what's coming next, and if that guess is wrong you've narrowed the options for the next time that bit of the tune comes round.

 

And the *other* thing is to do it sufficiently often that it all just happens - I'm sure that if I was sat in a session and started to analyse what I'm doing the way I have just done in this article, it would fall apart very quickly. Sportsmen talk about muscle memory, and I'm sure the same idea applies to many aspects of musical ability whether it's sight-reading, improvising, or picking tunes up by ear.

 

Sorry, I've rabbited on, here endeth the sermon!

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An additional complication is that the Anglo forces you to make choices, and as I learn the instrument better, and find different routes through the maze, I have to go back and relearn my earlier tunes.

 

That's not a bad thing. I can pick up a tune pretty quickly and play it OK more or less straight off, but it will take time, sometimes years, to refine it until I've got it just how I want it.

 

Only this evening I was running through one such tune, which took me some time to work out the fingering for a particular phrase in the melody. I've now got that right, but I made a mistake with the chords - but I liked the effect so I'm now re-working it to include that new chord.

 

The anglo does force you to make choices, but as you learn the instrument better you'll find you have more of those choices already tucked away in your memory, and you'll also get better at picking the right choice first time.

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>>>> I have a slow-down-play-back, and a looping feature on my digital recorder which helps<<<<

 

I am so glad that this topic was started. So helpful!!!! It has been great to read what everyone suggested on how to learn a tune. In the past few weeks I seemed to have a break through on listening and learning by ear. From this thread it seems that the general reccomendation is to listen to a song till you can hum it correctly then try to pick out the notes on the concertina. I have been listening to one song that I have been humming it in my dream....

 

Now what I would like for you master concertinia players to suggest for me is, a mp3 recorder. I just bought a Scansa clip MP3 player and recorder. But I still have not figured out how to record. Are there other recorders out there that is better? I think I read where someone has one that will actually record then slow down the song for playback...is that true?

 

Thanks :P

 

Pam Howard

Brasstown, NC

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>>>> I have a slow-down-play-back, and a looping feature on my digital recorder which helps<<<<

 

I am so glad that this topic was started. So helpful!!!! It has been great to read what everyone suggested on how to learn a tune. In the past few weeks I seemed to have a break through on listening and learning by ear. From this thread it seems that the general reccomendation is to listen to a song till you can hum it correctly then try to pick out the notes on the concertina. I have been listening to one song that I have been humming it in my dream....

 

Now what I would like for you master concertinia players to suggest for me is, a mp3 recorder. I just bought a Scansa clip MP3 player and recorder. But I still have not figured out how to record. Are there other recorders out there that is better? I think I read where someone has one that will actually record then slow down the song for playback...is that true?

 

Thanks :P

 

Pam Howard

Brasstown, NC

The Tascam DR1 will record and slow down for you plus a whole lot more (overdub, effects, tuner, metronome ) http://www.solidstatesound.co.uk/tascam_dr-1.htm

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Learning a new tune at a session can be simplified by listening for the very basic tune by extracting the diddly diddly's ,as you gradually improve you can add these later. So my advice is to listen a couple of times through then quietly have a go at it.Most session tunes are in C,G or D (mainly G D in the UK) so find the key first and follow my advice.Those players who can play a tune almost with a few listens do so with this method.Those that launch into a new tune without even hearing it are a blooming nuisance.

Al

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amen to the above, esp. the part about trying to filter out the diddlies. If I cant isolate the melody in its simplest form, there's no way that I can teach myself to whistle, hum, etc.

 

Add to that another tip that I found particulaly valuable (I think it was Jody, in another thread altogether): listen for the bass lines and chord changes; when you can run those through your head as well as you can the melody,then you are ready to put the parts together.\ in the manner that Chris stated above.

 

I got to thinking about one aspect of this thread this morning. I had music instruction during all phases of my pretty ordinary public education, all of it choir and ensemble singing. In Grammar School, Muriel S., the music teacher strummed an autoharp and taught us American folk songs by ear.

When I got to Junior High, Ardith M took over and, with piano accompaniment, taught us Tin Pan Alley and Show tunes again by ear.

High School continued under Ardith's tutalege, all the way on 'till graduation.

 

Note that not once in twelve years of school did either of these professional music teachers endevour to teach us kids how to read music.

 

How did that happen?

 

Mind you, this was in a little podunk logging and fishing town on the Oregon coast back in the misty depths of time, but really!

 

What kind of musical training did you have in school?

 

Rob

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What strategies do others use in learning tunes at playing speed in sessions?

 

I'm one of those fortunate (someone higher up this thread termed it annoying) people who can pick the majority of tunes up pretty quickly - in fact I'm starting to be able to do this *on concertina*, which is the point that I start to think I'm really getting somewhere on an instrument.

 

I've developed a reasonable 'ear' for pitch down the years, but I'm convinced that the real breakthrough for me was learning to play a chord instrument, in my case bouzouki.

 

Suddenly the idea of which chords work with which part of the tune came together in my head, and I started to be able to put (simple) chords to tunes. And blow me down if the same subconscious thought process transferred immediately and wholesale to the flute. I could now very quickly work out the basic structure of a tune in terms of chords, and then half the battle to pick a new tune up was won because the basic shape of the tune was there. I suspect many of those people who can quickly improvise harmonies to tunes they don't previously know are quite often in fact using something like the same technique, and the 'improvised harmony' might actually sometimes be them missing the actual notes of the tune but getting the right chord structure.

 

Also in traditional musicians' favour is the fact that many tunes stay in the same key all the way through; and also once yopu are familiar with the particular style you are playing (I'm good at picking up English and French tunes but rubbish at Scottish tunes, for example) you can begin to 'guess' what's coming next, and if that guess is wrong you've narrowed the options for the next time that bit of the tune comes round.

 

And the *other* thing is to do it sufficiently often that it all just happens - I'm sure that if I was sat in a session and started to analyse what I'm doing the way I have just done in this article, it would fall apart very quickly. Sportsmen talk about muscle memory, and I'm sure the same idea applies to many aspects of musical ability whether it's sight-reading, improvising, or picking tunes up by ear.

 

Sorry, I've rabbited on, here endeth the sermon!

 

Steve, I think you are describing me! What you are saying is how I play tunes I don't really know at a session. It's all based on the chords. If you get the chords and a few distinctive figures that is 90% and enough to contribute and not mess things up too much for those that actually know the tune. Of course there is that last 10% and that takes time and work in most cases. Really knowing the tune is the best, but even then the chords offer guidance about what to do with the tune aside from playing it straight and there is so much more to do than that.

 

This is all assuming that there are chords as the basis for the tune. I spent a week last summer in Kilrush, Ireland, sitting in, or trying to at the Mrs. Crotty Festival. Mostly I was frustrated because the way those excellent musicians were playing was very linear. Sure, chords could be put on the tunes and in some situations ITM is played that way, but not these folks for the most part. Chords were implied of course, but I found that if I stated them it kind of limited the music, got in the way and almost trivialized the tunes. It really was not chordal at all so without knowing most of the tunes I had a hard time playing in a way that worked. I managed to have a great time anyway but the ease I feel at American or English sessions was not happening. Several times a guitar player playing chords (skillfully I thought) was shunned and then asked to stop. The poor player was just not getting it. Neither was I, but I knew when to shut up and listen.

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