learning to play the accordion by ear

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dan
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Re: learning to play the accordion by ear

Post by dan » Thu Sep 22, 2016 10:20 pm

I'm one of those that can ''read the dots if they already know the tune." Which is to say that the link between my ears and the keys is faster than the link between my eyes and the keys. That's a matter of practice--on the oboe, where I did a lot of sight-reading, those pathways are about equal. I play regularly in a gypsy swing group. I used to think improvisation was pretty much the same skill as playing by ear but it ain't necessarily so: as I often demonstrate, it is possible to shred on a solo only to fall flat on one's face when asked to play the tune. :) When it comes to learning those tunes (the "head" in jazz parlance), I can and have gone either way--fakebook or ear.

Sometimes when I try to play by ear I blunder through it, playing ten times as many wrong notes as right. Other times I have what a friend called "copy fingers," able to mimic short phrases on the first try. I suspect the difference is preparation--warming up with scales to find the notes that will likely be employed--and really knowing the song--so that the blurs of notes in a fast reel can actually be hummed individually.

My current (overly-ambitious) project is to learn Swing Valse by Gus Viseur on CBA. This is a tune with many variations, and I've noticed myself struggling with the sheet music in places where it differs from the recording I know best. This may be a good tune to learn primarily by ear, with some aid from sheet music if I get stuck and maybe some of the embellishment improvised. Any tips?

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Re: learning to play the accordion by ear

Post by dunlustin » Fri Sep 23, 2016 9:04 am

Just a thought:
Emil Vacher is said to have been unable to write down his tunes, relying on a friend to get them copyrighted.
Are tunes more likely to be "ear friendly" if composed by someone who doesn`t read music
If so, are there any other well known ear composers...
(Now that`s weird - can`t do question marks ÉÉ)

george garside
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Re: learning to play the accordion by ear

Post by george garside » Fri Sep 23, 2016 9:52 am

To play a tune by ear it first has to be stored in the memory! An accurate test of this is to be able to hum or whistle the tune. Otherwise you may be able to play bits here and there but not the bits in between. However , whereas a dot reader naturally learns/plays a tune starting from the beginning a by ear player may well start by playing a few bars or phrases from different places in the tune i.e. the bits that can be hummed and whistled. It is then down to some serious 'listening' to fill the gaps or maybe playing them very slowly note by note from the dots which many 'non readers' can manage.

As to 'by ear' composers there must be plenty of them. A notable example was Sir Jimmy Shand who composed over 200 tunes during his 50+ year recording career. There are two books of his original tunes available from'' Muchty Music'' the Shand family website and several CD's taken from the original masters. Other CD's and indeed original 78's come up on ebay regularly. Incidentally he once said that he could read the music for any tune he already knew!

george

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Re: learning to play the accordion by ear

Post by JeffJetton » Fri Sep 23, 2016 12:28 pm

dunlustin wrote:Are tunes more likely to be "ear friendly" if composed by someone who doesn`t read music
If so, are there any other well known ear composers...
Paul McCartney supposedly never learned to read music. Can't get much more ear-friendly than him. :D

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Re: learning to play the accordion by ear

Post by JeffJetton » Fri Sep 23, 2016 12:34 pm

george garside wrote:To play a tune by ear it first has to be stored in the memory!
Although I have learned some tunes initially by picking them out by ear and putting them down in notation. Transcribing, that is. That's using the ol' ears, but only to figure it out. Remembering what I figured out, well, the dots are quite helpful there!

So I guess that's "learning by ear", but not really "playing by ear"?

george garside
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Re: learning to play the accordion by ear

Post by george garside » Fri Sep 23, 2016 12:45 pm

learning how to play the instrument is vitally important to both 'earists' and 'dotists' so as to be able to easily get the box to play what is in the memory or on the sheet of paper !

Instrumental skills need to be well honed by regular scale practice ( 12 scales) developing fine bellows control, a light touch on the bass etc etc if what is in the head is going to sound half decent. In other words you think/remember up 3 notes down 2 up 4 down etc etc and the fingers do the business without conscious thought as to where to what to prod next. Similarly the left arm presses or pulls the bellwos gently or a bit harder to control the dynamics . etc etc etc.

In respect of instrumental skill there should be absolutely no difference between good 'earists' , good 'dotists' and good 'bit of bothists'

george

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Re: learning to play the accordion by ear

Post by donn » Fri Sep 23, 2016 3:32 pm

JeffJetton wrote:
george garside wrote:To play a tune by ear it first has to be stored in the memory!
Although I have learned some tunes initially by picking them out by ear and putting them down in notation. Transcribing, that is. That's using the ol' ears, but only to figure it out. Remembering what I figured out, well, the dots are quite helpful there!

So I guess that's "learning by ear", but not really "playing by ear"?
I do that, but I can't really read music. I mean, not on the accordion - musical notation I understand, of course, and I can easily read if playing saxophone for example, but haven't had much motivation to learn how to do that with the accordion. I write the notes out because it sure does serve as an aide to memory, both short and long term. Short term, I can puzzle out the notes measure by measure onto the page where I can see them, and then when I learn to actually play the tune, it's there for reference. Long term, if I've forgotten the tune, I don't have to start over from the beginning. I'm probably repeating myself, here, in this apparently perpetual thread. Anyway, it is sort of learning by ear, but not entirely.

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Re: learning to play the accordion by ear

Post by dan » Fri Sep 23, 2016 10:31 pm

JeffJetton wrote: So I guess that's "learning by ear", but not really "playing by ear"?
I like the formulation offered by George at the beginning of the thread. Playing by ear = learning by ear + playing from memory
A skilled sight-reader (like Franz Liszt) and a skilled earist (like Jimmy Shand) represent only two of four skill combinations. One can also learn by ear but play from transcriptions, or learn from sheet music and perform from memory. And there's some overlap: a good reader will need to incorporate nuances of rhythm, intonation, and phrasing that can only be learned by ear from exposure to that style of music.

When I've had trouble playing something by ear, sometimes the bottleneck was at my ears and could be solved by more listening, other times the bottleneck was at my fingers and required scale drills, slow practice, alternate fingerings.

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Re: learning to play the accordion by ear

Post by george garside » Mon Mar 20, 2017 7:45 pm

george garside wrote:Playing by ear - Some introductory 'pointers' (in no particular order)

1. The term 'playing by ear' is the everyday term for ''Learning a tune by ear and playing it from memory''. It is therefore quite logical that before attempting to play a tune you must be able to hum, whistle or sing it! It is also logical to start with tunes that are already stored in the head rather than trying to learn a new tune to play. i.e. separate the process of learning a tune (memory) and playing it (instrumental technique).

2. Those completely unfamiliar with the piano keyboard will need a keyboard chart ( off the internet or any piano or accordion tutor book) . Those unfamiliar with accordion bass layout will need to download a bass chart from the internet. Those who have not 'put on' an accordion before will benefit from advice on how to adjust straps use air button, control bellows etc etc. This forum is there to answer such questions so feel free to ask!

3. Don't worry about playing a tune in a particular key. Instead concentrate on learning the scale of C and using it initialy for all tunes. Anybody already playing the accordion from the dots but wishing , additionaly,to learn to play by ear will of course be able to use a veriety of keys and should of course do so.

4. We now come to a fundamental difference between learning to play from the dots and learning to play by ear. If reading the dots you will quite rightly start a tune at the beginning - where else!. If learning 'by ear' you can start anywhere in the tune i.e. play the bits that are going round in you head i.e. little jingles. you can then gradually build up the tune rather like adding pieces to a jigsaw. Also don't worry too much about making mistakes, just keep going as far as you can and skim over your mistakes (they can be rectified later)

This technique of learning a tune piecemeal is used in folk musicians sessions where it is customery for a tune to be played at least three times through. Those who don't know the tune may pick up the odd note first time through, a few more second time through and maybe some decent chunks third time through. Next time they come across 'that ' tune being played they have a good start and my even have found it on a CD and had a good listen and play at home!

5. ''Poking and Proding''. A great many tunes use a relatively small number of different notes and the next note is often not far away from the one before so to speak. Many tunes also start on the 'keynote' eg the note C if playing in the key of C. So try a simple little tune eg the saints go marching in. It starts on the keynote i.e. C so play C, then try to find the next note by pocking and prodding. (its next but one higher i.e E) then prod out the rest of the notes .

That's enough for now as I am not going to attempt to write a tutor book ( my melodeon tutor book took 2 years to get right) . I will however return shortly with a simple explanation of how the bass works and one or two other matters.

Don't put the box away, keep it somewhere handy and get into the habit of picking it up a few times a day if only for 5 or 10 minutes. This is much more useful than setting aside an hour on Sunday . Something will crop up to prevent it and the same may happen the week after and then the box is left to fester in a cupboard!

Listen, experiment and poke and prod

george ;)

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Re: learning to play the accordion by ear

Post by donn » Tue Mar 21, 2017 2:36 pm

Some people who are better musicians than I am, think it's easiest to learn a tune starting at the end and working back. Or near the end, of course. A bit you can reasonably manage in one go, and then learn the bit before that and put them together, etc. Can't say I've ever tried it myself, but they were pretty positive.

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