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PostPosted: Tue Jul 17, 2001 6:52 am 
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I generally think you will be happier if you learn tunes by "ear" because all you need then is a CD of a song you like and you can just go for it. This is true for Irish music as well as other folk music (like bluegrass, blues, etc.) which were never really intended to be written down and played the same way twice. These are improvisational forms of music made by people without formal musical educations by and large (in fact, I doubt if many of the greats in these musical areas can/could even read music). I think if you have a certain level of proficiency with your instrument, just learning a tune from written notation is frustratingly slow and painful-- it is much easier to learn a tune by ear. Many times as a guitar player, I have bought a tab book thinking "this will be great, I can learn all these new bluegrass songs!" All I usually get out of it is what key to start with. I can learn the song quicker and better by just listening to it. And I don't feel required to match what I hear note for note. I can make it my own. If you read music, you are much more inclined to copy the song note for note.

That being said, I see no problem with reading some tab to get a basic handle on a new song, and then going from there to make it your own. However, as some have said, make sure the music notations do not become a crutch.

Tres


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PostPosted: Tue Jul 17, 2001 9:12 am 
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I'll sum up my view by saying that I'm right in the middle of the road - stradling the fence - playing both sides... you get the idea. I do believe, however, that playing by ear and learning by ear are two entirely different things and that this muddies the water a bit.

Erik


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PostPosted: Tue Jul 17, 2001 2:11 pm 
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Location: Lincoln Nebraska
Mr. Marsh, you have the soul of a poet and a heart larger than most.

___________________________________________
"Listen to the fiddling father, play the first dance at his daughter's wedding. The mother's slow air played at the bedside of her babe as sleep drifts gently in. The last reel of the night where acquaintance have danced their way into friends. Waltz played by brother, sister, son, and daughter as their parents and grand parents dance on their 50th anniversary.

__________________________________________

This section reminded me of one of the best moments of making music I have ever had. The wonderful lady who single-handedly started a contra dance group here in Lincoln had a very bad fall down a flight of stairs while pregnant with her ninth (yes ninth) child. That fall ended up against a radiator in their home and resulted in an extended stay in the hospital and two surgeries to correct a cranial injury. The wonderful miracle of a child, Claire, and her mother are now doing fine but it was a very long road. At the first dance they were both able to attend, the lead guitar and I played a waltz that we had played numerous times before. As we played Claire's mother and father with Claire got up to dance. As they glided across the floor with tears in their eyes, a family that almost wasn't, our playing changed. I've never played like that in my life that's been full of music. It was the pure joy of watching them dance that let John and I play till we to couldn't due to the tears in our eyes.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that it really doesn't matter how you learn, what instrument you play. The important part is to play, challenge yourself, grow however you can in the music. Someday all the work and joy you put into it will touch someones life in a way it's not been touched before, maybe even your own life.

Mark V.


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PostPosted: Tue Jul 17, 2001 6:41 pm 
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Hi, All.

I never believed in my heart that I could learn a musical instrument until my dad bought me a Clarke C whistle and the Ochs book and tape. I taught myself how to play the whistle and how to read music, just by using this booklet. The tape was messed up pretty early on, but I didn't really need it.

I listen to a fair amount of Irish music, but I have only ever learned one tune by ear. The rest I learn with the dots and lines. I really don't click with ABC notation or any of the other short cuts. I IMPROVE my playing of a tune and my expression if I have a good recording to listen to, but that is not the way I learn it.

The greatest thing about knowing how to read music is that I can learn a tune nobody else around here knows. I don't participate in sessions, since I can't really stay out that late (baby boy and tired wife at home, music starts at 8 or so...) and the only get-together in Fairbanks Alaska is sort of clique-ish. I don't fit in. But I can pick up sheet music for a favorite bagpipe tune and I can transpose to D and play it on my whistle. Or, I can get a modern arrangement of a medieval tune and learn to play something that very few people have heard in several hundred years. With nobody else in town able to play it. If you want "freedom" in music, reading the notes is like being able to read a map that leads you to a beautiful place. If you can read it properly, you can get someplace great. If you even get in the right neighborhood, that can be fun. If you can only go where you are led, you never get someplace that isn't full of people who've been there a while.

Teaching myself the whistle gave me the confidence to tackle the bagpipe (even though I grew up with a piper for a mother, I never wanted to tackle the instrument before I learned to read music) and I will soon be trying to learn to fiddle.

It is always vital to learn to play with heart and soul, but if you can only play a tune after someone else has played it for you, you are not putting your soul into the tune. You are putting your soul into someone else's version of the tune. It is a step away from being in touch with the composer.

Sorry to ramble, but I feel pretty strongly that reading music was a very important thing to learn. I hope my comments made sense.

-Patrick


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PostPosted: Sun Jul 22, 2001 12:50 pm 
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Location: Seattle, Washington
I'm still very new to the whistle, I just started playing it a couple months ago. I previously had no musical knowledge or experience.

But I bought a lesson book with a cd included. That way I can learn the notes and get the rhythems and feel of the song down at the same time. I don't think I'm good enough to just play by ear, but I'm working on it.

Is that what you mean by middle ground? Or will I be permanatley whistle-retarded for the rest of my life? :wink:


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PostPosted: Sun Jul 22, 2001 2:20 pm 
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I'm pretty new at this too and definitely fall in the middle of the road category. here's my take on it.
Reading music: What notes to play.
By Ear: How to play them.
Cheers,
jb


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PostPosted: Sun Jul 22, 2001 2:24 pm 
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Personally, I started playing by ear about 15 years ago, and it is my preferred way to learn a song. The internet and mp3s have finally made it possible for me to pick up more songs by ear, and I'm also glad to find a community of whistlers from around the world. :grin:

I have tried a few times to learn to read music, but it just starts to feel to scientific, and usually it discourages me. I'm sure that if I practiced, I could learn to read music better, and get some emotional pleasure from looking at a page of notes, but I feel that I've already invested much time into learning by ear, and it just feels like the natural way for me.

I think that if one is fortunate enough to have learned music at a formative time, more power to them. but for those who haven't, I recommend trying to learn songs both ways at the beginning, then you will figure out which way feels more nautural for you.

When I hear a song, I can feel the emotions that are being communicated by both the notes and the player. I enjoy taking that inspiration and expressing it back with my own feeling. Its very pure to me. I only turn to tablature when I just cant figure out a passage of mysterious notes.

Though this is my style of playing, I do support the value of preserving songs through notation, taking the temporal, and making it a static record. Tabulature ensures the preservation of the music.

As do communities of enthusiasts.

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-Dawin


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PostPosted: Sun Jul 22, 2001 5:19 pm 
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I think that a lot of what has been said is very good arguments for BOTH sides... but I just have to add a little something:

Written music was developed over MANY years (centuries even) and it is as it is now because it is very useful in describing music. If a song is written properly, the notation will tell you everything you need to know to play it properly. It will tell you how fast, where to put the emphasis, where to hold a note, etc. I am finding that the sheet music I get for irish music is nothing but some notes, not at all what sheet music could be, or even should be.

Coming from a background of classical french horn, you must naturally think I am predisposed to using notation instead of my ear, but the last few years have taught me that you need BOTH to be a really good player, and once you get that good, you only need the sheet music because you will "know" what it should sound like.

Nico


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PostPosted: Sun Jul 22, 2001 6:15 pm 
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It is obvious by the different opinions that there is no clear answer to this question, but I wonder, what does it matter? If you learn better by ear, than fine. If by reading music, ok. Some people learn better aurally and some visually. My background is Highland Pipes and learning to read music was part of the package. Expression is not better or worse because you haven't heard someone play the tune. If you've never heard a tune played and know how to read music, and know, for example, how a reel is supposed to be played, your expression is just that- it's yours. But really, if you need to hear a tune than listen to it, and if you don't, good for you. It's all music. Just a thought...


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PostPosted: Mon Jul 23, 2001 12:04 am 
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An interesting discussion, gang... let me add my 2 cents in. I have learned many tunes by listening to tapes or CDs, and couldn't for the life of me tell you where the sheet music might be. But often the advantage of learning by ear is that a piper/whistler has already 'hashed out' the tune, and you hear not only the intonations that make it flow as a tune, but possible modifications that make it easier to play. On the other hand...living in a place that's probably only second to Death Valley in terms of Celtic activities, written music is priceless.... otherwise, CDs would probably be my only way to learn new tunes. Is one superior to another? I believe that if you're having a tough time understanding how a tune flows, then it's time to travel to another musician and listen carefully... other than that, it's up to the individual. Those who cannot pick up a tune by ear should not be criticized, as often they are superior technicians on their instrument of choice.


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PostPosted: Mon Jul 23, 2001 10:09 am 
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I have been following this thread with great interest, both as a performer and teacher of music, and as someone with a degree in "Classical" music but who has been performing traditional Irish for the last 10 or so years and is accepted by professional Irish musicians as playing "in the style". When I first played Irish Music, I learned tunes the same way as I had always learned music. I played everything "perfectly" as written. Professional Irish musicians said "that's nice but it's not Irish" This drove me crazy for a very long time! I listened to recordings and thought I sounded just like what I heard. Then I started to tape myself and when I really listened, realized that, yes the tune was the same but the "feel" for lack of a better word was different. That was a turning point for me. I realized that yes I was playing the right "language" but my "accent" was wrong. It was like trying to speak English with an English accent (or American, or Japanese etc) rather than an Irish accent.
Nobody is saying that there is only one way to play a tune, be it Irish, American, Scots or whatever but if you want to play it in a very specific style, you have to listen and imitate the style, style cannot be notated, just as an accent in language is not notated.
I'm not meaning to sound preachy but if you look at the history of Western Art Music (often termed "Classical" it went from being learned by ear and improvised upon in the Medieval period, to being written down and the ornamentation improvised in the Baroque period, to every note, dynamic, ornament etc. being notated by the composer with no room at all for improvisation by the performer by the 19th century. Notation is a tool that can be helpful, but in tradtional music it only provides the skeleton of the true music, the rest has to be added by the performer. The experience of the performer determines how the piece will sound. Even within the same country, the accent(in language) or musical style can vary, that what makes music a living, wonderful tradtion!
Sorry for the rambling, but I wanted to jump on the bandwagon too with my 2 cents!!
Sue


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PostPosted: Mon Aug 13, 2001 8:02 am 
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Location: Holyoke, MA
Sorry to revive what everyone probably thought was a blessedly dead issue, but for the sake of the archives and for those of a scholarly temperament I thought I'd add one little historical note. I was reading The Northern Fiddler the other day and found an exchange in which the old Ballygawley fiddler Peter Turbit was asked by Allen Feldman about the fiddlers of his youth. He replied, "Well the good fiddler I knew in this area besides Ned Turbit was Patrick Campbell, he played by note and Ned Turbit, he played by ear, but they were both good fiddlers--two different styles.
Question: Did you hear much of Master McDermott?
Answer: Oh, I heard him three or four times: he played by note too. He kept a terrible good fiddle.

So, for what it's worth, there's historical sanction for all approaches.


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PostPosted: Mon Aug 13, 2001 10:37 am 
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and another tuppence. . .

I learned to read music, and took up a wide variety of instruments, with varying levels of success. It is virtually impossible to learn a tune on the hammered dulcimer by reading music, because you may be able to find the notes that are on the page, but your hammer patterns will be unworkable.

But with the whistle I find that I get a basic jig or reel tune down far faster by reading the music, then trying it in session where I make what I've learned fit in with what others are playing.

If I try to learn in session, all I get are chord progressions; in session it seems that other whistle players are so intent on proving their speed and mastery of (over) ornamentation that I can't get them to 1) slow down to where I can hear how they get from here to there, and 2) stop with the flourishes and play a straight tune. The only musical assistance I've gotten without paying for it has been from the old men who have nothing to prove and everything to share. Bless the old men!

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Remember, you didn't get the tiger so it would do what you wanted. You got the tiger to see what it wanted to do. -- Colin McEnroe


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PostPosted: Mon Aug 13, 2001 5:06 pm 
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Location: Oklahoma City, OK
I think learning to play by ear is best for children and adults.

Almost every song ever written was first crafted by ear. The process involves hearing something in your head, then working it out on an instrument until it sounded right.

Learning this way, a person picks up subtle nuances that cannot be taught from the page.

My nine-year-old son is learning to play piano by ear and sight using Simply Music's video training course. It is amazing the difference in his response to this method verses the old sight-reading traditional method.

Simply Music's creator makes the point that we all learn to talk first and then read and write second. He recommends the same sequence is best for learning music. Learn first by seeing (others play), hearing and repeating. Sight reading and music theory can come later.
To check out Simply Music go to http://www.simplymusic.net


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PostPosted: Mon Aug 13, 2001 5:51 pm 
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Yes, in the Academic world, learning by the sight reading method is emphasized. But why? It's probably because, if one was to write a song before the advent of the tape recorder, he or she had no other way to insure the note and sequence structure of the song would be maintained or remembered. Sheet notation cornered the market, especially from a commercial point of view. Songs that were reproduced on sheet music travelled farther and faster than songs that travelled by ear.

I do believe that if tape recorders and video recorders had always been around, this would have dramatically affected the way music would be documented and passed down. The academic world would not be so dogged-reliant upon the sight-reading method.

Who wouldn't want to see Bach or Mozart (sp?) on video playing their originals?

Being a published songwriter of many praise songs, I believe sheet music is best to communicate and maintain a degree of uniformity among audiences as a song spreads in popularity. Not everybody has that great of an ear to reproduce melodies, chords and rhythms accurately. Sheet music keeps everybody from straying too far from home.

Purists emphasize accuracy...or an allegience to the originator of the song or tune. Expressionists emphasize to role of creativity by the artist. Each will irritate the other, but both have a vital role in keeping old music alive and appreciated by new audiences.

Cinead

<font size=-1>[ This Message was edited by: Cinead on 2001-08-13 19:56 ]</font>


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