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PostPosted: Fri Aug 21, 2020 7:22 am 
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Mr.Gumby wrote:

It's a well worn cliché but you have to wonder if it still holds true for the current generations of players.


It would be interesting to find out the rough percentages.

Now I have to be clear that when I say a person "can sightread" I mean be able to perform from sheet music, music completely new to them. That's what "being able to sightread" means in the ordinary music world.

Sure I know ITM players who can read sheet music, but it's pointing a finger at one note, saying "that's an A" then pointing at the next note saying "that's a B".

Sightreading means, especially in fast music, reading a bar or two ahead of where you're playing.

Seems that most of the ITM players I know either don't read music at all, or only read ABC. The very existence and popularity of ABC suggests to me that literacy in staff notation isn't anywhere near being universal, because in realms of music where literacy in staff notation is universal ABC is unknown.

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PostPosted: Fri Aug 21, 2020 8:16 am 
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No Richard you said this and that what I was responding to:

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Irish trad musicians often can't read staff notation, but use ABC notation (to the extent that they use notation at all).


That's a separate issue from the sightreading part of your post. And it just doesn't ring true for, as I said, the current generations of musicians. FWIW, there's no reason whatsoever for traditional musicians to play tunes from music they haven't seen before. That said, there are plenty who can wear different hats and step into different situations. An awful lot of young (and not so young ) musicians go through third level music education these days.

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PostPosted: Fri Aug 21, 2020 11:27 am 
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pancelticpiper wrote:
The very existence and popularity of ABC suggests to me that literacy in staff notation isn't anywhere near being universal, because in realms of music where literacy in staff notation is universal ABC is unknown.

ABC was designed as a literate form. It was, as I understand it, never intended to be read as 'ABC', but rather as a portable, compact way of storing staff notation, where the ABC text requires less storage space and provides more flexibility than images of the resultant notation. It is not equivalent to just writing out the note names of tunes, and to suggest that it's unknown in literate realms on the basis that some have adopted it for other purposes or you or I don't use it much seems to be making considerable assumptions.

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PostPosted: Fri Aug 21, 2020 11:49 am 
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There's computer/internet based ABC and there's the longstanding system that uses the names of the notes as a shorthand to jot down tunes, a system that has long been in use by traditional musicians. Below, as an example, a snap of concertinaplayer Yvonne Griffin using a non computer version teaching a tune, some time during the nineties:

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It's one of several non staff notation systems used by traditional musicians. Let's not (once again) confuse the two. But it is a stretch to suggest the very existence of one system or the non existence in other circles is in any way proof that staff notation is not known or used by traditional musicians.

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PostPosted: Fri Aug 21, 2020 4:29 pm 
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"There's computer/internet based ABC and there's the longstanding system that uses the names of the notes as a shorthand to jot down tunes, "
This is very important, to avoid confusion. The "abc" system of notation widely used in Ireland which I encountered 40 years ago is not the same as the "abc" computer-based system. Many people outside Ireland do not appreciate this. But it works both ways - some Sligo musicians held workshops at a Stonehaven Folk Festival, south of Aberdeen, 10 years or so ago, and proceeded to notate a tune on a blackboard using the Irish "abc". I had to point out that nobody apart from myself had come across it before.

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PostPosted: Sat Aug 22, 2020 2:19 am 
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Similar to the way I write music out for myself to play, only I just use capitals, then add a superscript 1 for the next higher octave, or a subscript 1 if it goes lower than middle 'C' (C4).

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PostPosted: Sat Aug 22, 2020 3:43 am 
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Mr.Gumby wrote:
There's computer/internet based ABC and there's the longstanding system that uses the names of the notes as a shorthand to jot down tunes

Yes, of course, as acknowledged by Wikipedia's history of ABC:

ABC notation was in widespread use in the teaching of Irish traditional music in the late 1970s and most probably much earlier than that. In the 1980s Chris Walshaw began writing out fragments of folk/traditional tunes using letters to represent the notes before he learned standard Western music notation.

In reality, I'd guess that 'much earlier than that' equates to centuries rather than decades, and not just in Ireland. But we still have potential confusion between the system formally named 'ABC', developed by Walshaw and others and frequently used here (C&F) even for snippets, and various other shorthand practices which perhaps need another name (if they need a name at all?).

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PostPosted: Sat Aug 22, 2020 8:58 am 
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Peter Duggan wrote:
... I'd guess that 'much earlier than that' equates to centuries rather than decades, and not just in Ireland ...
Yes. Surely as soon has notes were known by letters musicians talking about parts of tunes would have used them (" the passage that starts 'cafa'"). In person to person (including a workshop) discussion of a particular tune the octave is often obvious from context. And most of the time whether the c and f are sharp or natural. I suspect for ITM the 'F' is usually assumed sharp and 'F natural' specified as such. Though when doing it myself it's not uncommon for non-whistlers with broader experience of music to correct my 'F' to 'F sharp'.

Somewhere on the web there is an interview with Matt Molloy where he mentions needing to aid his memory with a notebook with tunes written in 'ABCD'. Adding the D strikes me as an efficient way of indicating that it is not necessarily the Chris Walshaw ABC.


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PostPosted: Sat Aug 22, 2020 7:48 pm 
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Nanohedron wrote:
Katharine wrote:
Seems a bit strange to me though that a musician wouldn't notice their key is totally different than everyone else, though!

One would think so, but because of the modal nature of the tune in question, in this case she was able to be fine for most of it until certain crucial elements came up, and that's where the missing sharp told the tale. But I agree that it's rather remarkable that it wouldn't register with her when something was off; it was jarring for everyone but her. So that brings us to your question:

Katherine wrote:
Did this guitar player seem to have a listening problem otherwise??

She did, although I could only speculate as to why, because there seemed to be more than one contributing factor. But I won't let that stop me: She wasn't tone deaf, because tuning her guitar was no issue. She was somewhat able to gather a tune by ear, but normally wouldn't bother because she was hampered - she could get a tune from another guitar or a banjo, for example, but not from a flute or whistle, so that greatly narrowed her options. Some people have instrument-specific needs when it comes to ear learning, but to me that's a sign that the listening muscle is under-developed (we are natural listeners from birth, though, so I would say "atrophied" is the more accurate term). As far as I know, when she formally learned her craft it was only by way of the dots to the exclusion of all else (by tuition or inclination - who knows), and although I had proven to her more than once that, happily, she could indeed learn by ear, it gave her no comfort or motivation to even give it a shot. I also got the sense that she felt that playing by notation validated her musicianship, and that's a hurdle. So she was very attached to sheet music; she was rudderless and unhappy without it. As long as the notation was in front of her she could reproduce what she saw with ease and good tempo, and she was pretty good at getting the basic chordal implications right. But again, it was only because she had sheet music, so if the source was faulty, that's all she had, and curiously her ears played no discernible part in the equation. If a tune started outside of the tonic or it shifted modes, she often lost any ear-sense of what the fundamental tonic was (but she would play the tune intelligibly nonetheless), and I think her militant dots-only-and-nothing-else approach contributed to insulating her from her ability to listen and hear. Ultimately I think the listening thing was due to putting herself in a sort of hermetic bubble, as it were, where the meaning of technical competence was different for her than it would be for me. Over the years I came to wonder what, if anything, she really heard, or if she did hear, then how she heard a tune must be utterly different from what I think of as self-evident. And if it isn't, then I'm even more confused. Whatever the case, her reception shortcomings didn't inhibit her as an output machine that ran on programming, like a player piano. But as we've just seen, as with all program-dependent machines, it's garbage in, garbage out.

The moral of the story is that if you want to go by the dots, then for everyone's sake including your own, bring your ears along.


I wonder if there was anxiety involved? That is, believing she could trust what was on the paper (okay, we'll ignore the sorta-irony of that in the context of this story...) but not necessarily her ears? That's the only thing I can think of. I guess I could see that being something I might worry about in some situations.

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PostPosted: Sun Aug 23, 2020 1:27 pm 
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Katharine wrote:
I wonder if there was anxiety involved? That is, believing she could trust what was on the paper (okay, we'll ignore the sorta-irony of that in the context of this story...) but not necessarily her ears? That's the only thing I can think of. I guess I could see that being something I might worry about in some situations.

I couldn't really say. One might speculate about her beliefs and fears, and whether her goals gave rise to them or the other way around, but we can't know. What was clear was that the session ethos wasn't important enough to her to motivate her to modify her approach, so as far as I was concerned, she was really just slumming. And I wasn't the only one with that opinion; there was no question that she thought her own musicianship entitled her to sit in, even though it was an uncomfortable fit at best. But everyone was polite in spite of all, for she'd been something of a recurring feature for many years; we felt a bit sorry for her, and in spite of ourselves we had a touch of grudging respect for her in coming back again and again as she did, only to fruitlessly bang her head against the wall as ever. That was our perspective, anyway; who knows what hers was. It might have been "Another job well done," for all I know - not that I'd agree. I think we were hoping that one day she'd tire of what wasn't working, and relent.

She displayed a sort of base-level confidence that comes with competence, but her competency came with self-imposed limits that didn't equip her for the more freewheeling, Johnny-on-the-spot nature of the Trad session environment. When we changed tunes mid-set she'd have to stop, maybe ask someone the name of the tune, in any case have to look through her satchel for the right page of dots so she could play along, and sometimes by the time she found it we'd almost be done and about to go on to the next. Sometimes she'd complain, but sitting in as an advanced player in her own way, she knew the rules of the game weren't going to be suspended just for her convenience. And in the end, none of it made any difference to her. If we knew the names of the tunes, sometimes we'd remember to give her advance notice so she could get her ducks in a row, but more often we just let fly, as we expected to. Her only chance to call the shots was to start a set herself, and we were happy to oblige, and did our best to make the result rise above the hidebound. But why such an arrangement made her happy enough to keep coming back eludes me still.

What's really interesting is that she recognized a lot of these tunes as soon as she heard them, which of course expedited her dots-search; But since you already know that much, I mused, why wouldn't you give dot-free playing at least a try? It just wasn't in her equation, whatever the reasons for it.

All else being speculation, outcomes are the only thing we can work with in any concrete way; even knowing causes, prevention is easier than repair, and as an armchair quarterback I do no earthly good at all. All we know is that she'd made it clear that she had cast her lot with notation lock, stock, and barrel, and was dedicated to being what I'll call an "academic" player (for lack of a better, more accurate word); that much is certain, and I doubt she'd disagree. I felt a bit bad for her when her unwavering belief in notation had to be shattered, but it was bound to happen some day. But TBH, I believe that rigid as she was about it all, the faulty copy was less a liberating revelation to her than an embarrassing inconvenience.

Just to be clear, I'm not trying to make a case against notation. I'm making a case against dependency on it, and the lady in question was as extreme an example as I've ever encountered.

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PostPosted: Sun Aug 23, 2020 4:18 pm 
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Nanohedron wrote:
What's really interesting is that she recognized a lot of these tunes as soon as she heard them, which of course expedited her dots-search; But since you already know that much, I mused, why wouldn't you give dot-free playing at least a try? It just wasn't in her equation, whatever the reasons for it.
Which comes back to my point where, from your perspective I "went of on my own track". Ear learning (getting the tune into the head) is only the half of it and for many the easy half.

The other half is getting the tunes out onto the instrument
RoberTunes wrote:
get to know the instrument with great familiarity, regardless of everything else... <big snip of useful stuff> ... Then your fingers will find music correctly, far faster.
which we agreed is not easy. It seems some people who are competent readers never see it as an important enough challenge to take on. That said, all the folks I play in sessions with who also play in amateur orchestras and the like seem very good a playing what they hear.


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PostPosted: Sun Aug 23, 2020 5:24 pm 
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david_h wrote:
Which comes back to my point where, from your perspective I "went of on my own track". Ear learning (getting the tune into the head) is only the half of it and for many the easy half.

The other half is getting the tunes out onto the instrument

I must have misread you, because I recall coming to the very same conclusion myself. I'll go back and see where I went off track, then. :)


david_h wrote:
... which we agreed is not easy.

Not to be a hair-splitter, but I said, "I never said it was easy." Ear performance is easy for some people; it's not uncommon for advanced players to hear a new tune, and after the first or second turn - hey presto - they're playing it, too. But with most such, this is the result of decades of physical practice (getting that mind-body connection down, or letting go of it, depending on your perspective), active/analytical listening (for shapes, patterns and relationships), and ear memory practice (hint: active listening greatly aids retention). All the same, I suspect that a lot of people, including advanced players, probably learn in sections, mostly. Advanced players are just likely to be able to reproduce it more quickly and accurately, is all.

When it comes to performance, the good news is that there does come a time when you don't have to think about what you're doing; you dredge up a tune, and it practically plays itself - although it must be admitted that this hoped-for outcome won't come to everyone at the same time, so all you can do is keep aiming for it until then. Whether from something in storage or something just heard, ear memory's what you transfer to your finger memory. Not remembering all of a tune is one thing, but what your fingers do in executing what you remember depends on how much practice you've had - either on the tune itself, or over the years in general.

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