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PostPosted: Sun Aug 16, 2020 1:31 pm 
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I am just learning the D whistle, I am at the stage I can play very simple slow tunes, no half holes, no ornaments.
Reading tabs, I don’t find natural but persevere.
Reading the score, I get on a lot better than tabs.
Playing by ear, I can’t really do it (I hope to in the future).
I was wondering where to put most of my effort?
Opinions please.


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PostPosted: Sun Aug 16, 2020 2:38 pm 
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Can't remember who said it, but : "Read with your ears".

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PostPosted: Sun Aug 16, 2020 7:35 pm 
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PatrickintheForest wrote:
I am just learning the D whistle, I am at the stage I can play very simple slow tunes, no half holes, no ornaments.
Reading tabs, I don’t find natural but persevere.
Reading the score, I get on a lot better than tabs.
Playing by ear, I can’t really do it (I hope to in the future).
I was wondering where to put most of my effort?
Opinions please.


Were you already a musician before, or is this your first instrument (long-time musicians have more practice at picking things up by ear)? How familiar are you with the genre (again, those who've been at it longer are more used to certain intervals, ornaments, musical structures, etc. common to Irish music)? In addition, the more "comfortable" you get with the instrument itself, the more comfortable you'll be with what the intervals are, etc. and can guess/improv/"sightread" better.

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PostPosted: Mon Aug 17, 2020 2:39 am 
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If you can't naturally play by ear, then I would suggest reading notation is the best way to go.

I'm not an ear player, but I can read notation slowly, & I know it will come with practice.

There is another form of music notation called ABC Notation, maybe take a look & see if that works for you.

(I actually use my own modified version of it),

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PostPosted: Mon Aug 17, 2020 3:40 am 
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Was I previously been a musician – No not really, I had a bit of a go at trumpet 40 years ago, nothing to speak of. Oh and played a bugle when I was about 12 or 14.
As suggested, I will look at the ABC Notation, always good to look at new things.
I can see there are advantages of each approach, but I am leaning towards the score approach.
To be able to efficiently read music, I see as a skill in itself. So I think I will mainly concentrate on that.
I Just wondered what most of you more experienced people do, or did while you were learning.


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PostPosted: Mon Aug 17, 2020 7:33 am 
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I'm new to whistling and I am still in the learning stage but I will share what has been working for me. Everyone's learning style is slightly different so what works for one person may not for another.

Like you I tried the tabs at first and found them cumbersome.

I've tried to pick up tunes by ear but that is an ability that is not yet developed much in me. I am working on it but I can't rely on it to learn a new tune.......yet.

I don't read sheet music (at playing or singing speed) but I have been singing in church services since I was very young and can "decode" the notes to the corresponding ABC notes. So what I've been doing is trying to find the sheet music and then writing the lettern notes under the notes. I only use the sheet music until I've memorized the tune. The notes help me understand how long to hold the note and my hand written letter tells me the fingering. I also find that it helps to find a video of the tune and listen to it multiple times until is is someehat familiar to me.

I don't claim this to be the best method. It's just what I have migrated to at this time. I'm interested in hearing what/how others do it.

Thanks for bringing this subject up.


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PostPosted: Mon Aug 17, 2020 1:06 pm 
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TxWhistler - Great to here from another learner, Its helpful to hear from the more experienced players, but comforting to hear from someone in the same boat as me.
Funny how your slightly more familiar thing is the note name (ABC…), whereas mine is relating the dot position on the score to the fingering and blowing. As you say we are all different.
It is difficult but rewarding when I get something right. My ambition is to be able to play without tabs or the score, but I think that will have to wait.
Any more learners out there, lets hear from you. (Some say we never stop learning).


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PostPosted: Mon Aug 17, 2020 1:52 pm 
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PatrickintheForest wrote:
... I am leaning towards the score approach. To be able to efficiently read music, I see as a skill in itself. So I think I will mainly concentrate on that. I Just wondered what most of you more experienced people do, or did while you were learning.

Natural ear-learner, here. I learned notation and ABC for the occasional (as in seldom) necessity of it, but have never been good at reading either one. I agree that reading is a skill and an advantage, but it's not necessary, either; whether they can read or not, Trad musicians in particular tend to go by ear, and that becomes an advantage when you play on the fly with others.

PatrickintheForest wrote:
My ambition is to be able to play without tabs or the score, but I think that will have to wait.

It depends on what your performance goals are. Being able to go by tab, notation and ear equally well would be to anyone's advantage, but if you only intend to play by yourself in private, then notation should fit your needs. But if you intend to play in front of others, you want to be able to dispense with having the dots in front of you, and just let 'er rip.

Some people find notation to be the most comfortable, but I would advocate also exercising your capacity to learn by ear, because it will free up your ability to make what you play your own. As to how to do it, think of this: I'm betting you already know the tune to Mary Had A Little Lamb, don't you. Now think of all the other tunes you can knock off by memory: there's a big slew of 'em, isn't there. So you already know how to learn by ear; it's just the natural process of memorization through repeated exposure to a source you can listen to - and as it becomes a fixture in your head, you transfer what you have to the whistle, or whatever instrument you're playing. That's the basics of the process.

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PostPosted: Mon Aug 17, 2020 2:48 pm 
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Nanohedron wrote:
.... Get a new tune memorized in your head, and then you transfer it to the whistle, or whatever instrument you're playing ...
"... and then you transfer it to the whistle... " Just like that!

I reckon it took me an hour or so on the whistle, every day, for several months to get so that my fingers knew where to go, without me telling them, more often than not. I reckon 'more often that not' plus some experimentation is enough get a tune over.

Maybe I am slow, and was a late starter (50s), but I don't think it's easy.


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PostPosted: Mon Aug 17, 2020 3:35 pm 
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Bit of a cross-post, sorry; I'd edited a bit for clarity while you were posting, but this'll stand. :)

david_h wrote:
Nanohedron wrote:
.... Get a new tune memorized in your head, and then you transfer it to the whistle, or whatever instrument you're playing ...
"... and then you transfer it to the whistle... " Just like that!

I reckon it took me an hour or so on the whistle, every day, for several months to get so that my fingers knew where to go more often than not. I reckon 'more often that not' plus some experimentation is enough get a tune over.

Maybe I am slow, and was a late starter (50s), but I don't think it's easy.

I never said it was easy. I merely show the map, which is a simple one. Of course one has to contend with one's level of experience, aptitude, age, etc., but the map remains the same: In ear learning, memory is the only thing that counts. Your instruments play no part in your memorizing a tune; their job is only to "report" what you've memorized. "Instruments" includes whistling, humming, or lilting: if you can do that with the tune, then obviously you've learned it. It's a simple equation, but simplicity isn't necessarily easy, especially at first when you're still finding your fingers. And fingers have nothing to do with it either, BTW: Ear learning is memory alone. I repeat: memory alone, and nothing more. Muscle memory is a different matter with its own set of grievances. Consider how we have new stuff continually added to our memory banks, and we don't even give it a thought; ear-learning memory is just part of that same kit and kaboodle, only more focused. Or not, as the case may be; sometimes you pick up tunes without having realized it.

What is the purpose of this simplest of maps? To remind one not to put the cart before the horse. It's good news, because it says that while you're finding your fingers, you can still be memorizing on the side. That's a win-win, in my book. :)

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PostPosted: Mon Aug 17, 2020 5:31 pm 
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I learned to play bass and guitar by ear, but I find it much easier to read the notes when learning a tune on the flute. I often have a version of a tune that I like available to listen to and a version Notated and I switch between them till I settle on a way of playing that’s comfortable for me and sounds good.

The notes don’t have to be rewound/replayed or slowed down.

Person to person, I think learning by ear is better, but if I have to choose between a recording or the written notes, I often prefer the written notes. Partly that's because the recorded player is often eager to trot out his ornaments and variations and I feel like I need a simple version of the tune first.


Last edited by PB+J on Tue Aug 18, 2020 4:38 am, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Mon Aug 17, 2020 6:11 pm 
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PB+J wrote:
... if I have to choose between a recording or the written notes, I often prefer the written notes. PArtly that's becaue the recorded playerr is often eager to trot out his ornaments and variations and I feel like I need a simple version of the tune first.

Yeah, that can be an issue. In Trad we speak of the "bones" of a tune - its fundamental, pared-down essence - and whether by dots or ear, that's what one wants to grab, not being distracted by a performer's special encrustations and variations. It gets easier the longer you're at it, but sometimes a recording is so free-wheeling that it's hard to pin down what the new tune's bones actually are. Or sometimes the tune is so naturally complex and acrobatic, and I'm so impatient, that I'll go to the dots and memorize that way. In my case that's the exception, but it's why I learned the dots in the first place: a backup system for those special cases.

A tune's bones give you a blank slate, if you will, to work out your own ornaments, breathing, and variations. That's the way it should be: you make the tune your own. Because notation is usually ornament-free, it can to a limited degree be compared to having the bones, but it's really not the same thing, since every example is going to be someone's version of the tune. Not that that's a bad thing; it's just that the bones go deeper. In the end, you go with what works for you, but I recommend finding the bones as good exercise for the ear.

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PostPosted: Tue Aug 18, 2020 4:02 am 
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Nanohedron wrote:
Your instruments play no part in your memorizing a tune; their job is only to "report" what you've memorized. "Instruments" includes whistling, humming, or lilting: if you can do that with the tune, then obviously you've learned it... ... And fingers have nothing to do with it either...
Perhaps I wasn't clear that by "to get so that my fingers knew where to go, without me telling them " I meant in the same way I don't have to tell my lungs, vocal chords or tongue where to go when whistling, humming, or lilting. I wasn't referring to 'finger memory' as usually applied to being able to play a tune, but a more generic 'knowing the instrument' so that tune in head will transfer to tune on instrument without thinking about notes or fingers.

When I was [re]starting whistle about ten years ago somewhere on the web was a discussion "If I can hum a tune why can't I play it on my instrument ?" that had many good suggestions but I can't find it now. One, I think in the context of button box, was that trial and error, 'hunt and peck' did lead to the error rate going down and for tunes to start coming out roughly right first time - which is what one needs to adapt 'on the fly' in a session.

For me it is very much a two stage process with 1: tune into head via ears and 2: tune from head onto instrument, being independent. Although, 1: hear a phrase 2:sing the phrase 3: play the phrase, can work in a workshop situation when I have only heard the tune through once or twice. (and, thinking about it, I sometime lilt a phrase between my normal 1 and 2 above if I'm having trouble finding it.)


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PostPosted: Tue Aug 18, 2020 12:53 pm 
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david_h wrote:
Nanohedron wrote:
Your instruments play no part in your memorizing a tune; their job is only to "report" what you've memorized. "Instruments" includes whistling, humming, or lilting: if you can do that with the tune, then obviously you've learned it... ... And fingers have nothing to do with it either...
Perhaps I wasn't clear that by "to get so that my fingers knew where to go, without me telling them " I meant in the same way I don't have to tell my lungs, vocal chords or tongue where to go when whistling, humming, or lilting. I wasn't referring to 'finger memory' as usually applied to being able to play a tune, but a more generic 'knowing the instrument' so that tune in head will transfer to tune on instrument without thinking about notes or fingers.

Do you have less of this trouble when you work from notation?

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PostPosted: Tue Aug 18, 2020 2:21 pm 
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Nanohedron wrote:
Do you have less of this trouble when you work from notation?
What trouble? We are not born knowing where the notes are. I manage pretty well now with tunes in most modes and one or two sharps which is all I need on whistle/unkeyed flute.

My initial post was pointing out what you put in half a sentence took me a few months. During that time it was encouraging to hear others say that it might not be easy, otherwise I might have given up.

I don't read music. Not in the way I do English text. More like at primary school running a finger along the page and joining up the syllables. Certainly not like these folks who can hear what they see or just somehow play from the score. I can decode it though, and transcribe what I can play, so I get by. Although on the keyed flute once I get beyond one or two sharps I'm better off with the notation to start with. Somehow, for example, seeing a dot on the middle line leads me to the B flat key in D minor until I can set the dots aside. Maybe with practice that won't be needed.

Getting back to the OP, I never found much use for tab - BUT there are many tunes where I remember how to start by having a mental image of the finger positions.


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