Notation, Tab or Memory – what’s best?
December 5, 2020 at 10:44 am #44723
I’m new to the fiddle and Fiddlehed [so pleased to have found Jason and you all].
Do you think I should be learning to read notes on the stave, learning with E0 EL1 etc, or aiming to memorise the tunes? At the moment I find memorising after using the Tab is best, and just keeping the Tab to get me going when I forget. Is that good or bad practice?
Any advice will be very gratefully received!
December 5, 2020 at 1:43 pm #44724kaceysmith2Participant
Welcome!! Personally I began Fiddlehed before Jason started incorporating his note reading lessons/exercises and though I had some familiarity from piano, I just used his video instruction and tabs. Committed tunes to memory. Some folks think learning totally by ear is best. For me, the ear has come last and still a WIP. I decided to begin using the scores and learn notation so I could get involved with other tunes like thesession.org where I could figure out how to play a new song and also double check the rhythm/timing
. In sum, I think all three learning modalities are important to having a diverse approach to learning tunes. Again, welcome to an online happy place!
December 5, 2020 at 3:40 pm #44731
Thank you, Kacey, that’s really helpful, and of course you are right!
I guess it’s a bit like driving an automatic car, but not being able to manage a manual transmission [I think that’s probably a ‘stick shift’ to you!]
OK, point noted. I’ll use the tab, which is super easy, but also keep trying to learn the staff notation also, and the memory/play by ear thing, so I can drive your car [and your neighbour’s] as well as mine!
Again, thank you so much for taking the time to reply.
January 14, 2021 at 6:22 pm #45469OwenParticipant
Hope you’re enjoying your fiddle journey. I started mine about 30 years ago, when I took 3 months of lessons from a very good teacher. I never went any further than those 3 months, but about 4 years ago I felt the need to start learning again. I searched for an on-line teacher and found Jason on the Fiddlehed site. Although I could read a little bit of music, I ignored that and followed the same process you did, tabs and practice till the tune was learned.
But, isn’t it true, that the tune is never fully learned until, as Jason says, it is “audiated”, or that the tune is in your brain, and you can hum or sing it. Once that happens you can relax and just play it, by yourself, or maybe even in front of others. That part is difficult for me.
Although, I have some arthritis in my hands (72 yo with some manual labor), I play every day and it has become quite important to me. Wished I had embraced it more years ago, but I have a hold on it now, and we’ll see where it goes. Good luck, have fun.
January 15, 2021 at 4:56 am #45472
Thanks so much for taking the time to reply to my post!
My journey is very like yours so far as the violin is concerned. Then at 60 I decided I’d learn electric guitar. That was six years ago and really I never made much headway, so it was largely a ‘not very joyful’ activity. I wish I’d spent that 6 years learning violin, but, you know what they say, ‘the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago, and the second best time is today’!
Then I did a MOOC with Curtis School of Music [wonderful – The World of the String Quartet] and listened only to SQ’s for the best part of three months. I decided I’d like to play a few bars of Smetana or Schubert and bought a violin about four months ago [a Gliga Gems II] and looked for an online tutor.
That led me, via a somewhat circuitous route, to Jason and Fiddlehed, and I’ve had a lot of musical joy ever since [even with the scratching!]. Though I still have the intention of learning something classical, I’ve completely fallen for fiddle rather than violin, if that makes sense.
So, notation still has me foxed, but tab I can do, and, yes, you are right, once I’ve actually ‘audiated’ a tune I’m done [maybe with a quick refresher].
I still want to learn notation, though, so I can [in the future] play things I find sheet music for but which don’t have tab. I’m writing out tab above the notation at the moment [rather laborious] in the hope that it somehow sinks in by osmosis. We’ll see.
Again, thanks for your reply. Take care and stay safe, and, obviously, keep fiddling!
January 16, 2021 at 1:35 pm #45485
I find both notation and learning by ear to be useful, as if different parts of my brain are involved in the learning process.
(I started learning fiddle 10 years ago as a 50th birthday present to myself, but since there was a lot of “off” along with the “on,” I feel like it’s time to fish or cut bait with it! I’ve followed some Fiddlehed stuff before, and knew that I now wanted to dive into the program)
I have a lot of experience learning by ear and tab on my (clawhammer) banjo. I have found that, while I can learn fine with both, the tune that plants itself into my fingers and brain are the ones I learned by ear, from a teacher going through it. So while I use both the paper and the ear, doing as much as I can by ear to plant the seed in my brain at first helps me remember it better. Then I can fine tune with notation.
Also, if you can’t hum the tune, you don’t “own” it yet. I try to create an ear worm with a tune I’m learning, which of course is both wonderful and awful. When it finally dies a natural death, then I’m friends with the tune.
January 17, 2021 at 3:28 am #45492
Hi Carolyn, and thank you for your post, which is really interesting. I’ve never learned notation [I’ve not been a musician of any type really] but I’m enjoying fiddle so much now, even though I’m at the early stages and there is so much to concentrate on all at once. I’ve just learned enough to get through ‘Tennessee Waltz’ without looking at the tab, and that’s taken me a couple of weeks really at about half an hour a day two or three days a week [work!]. Knowing the words and singing along in my head has really helped. Yes, definitely an ear-worm of the wonderful-awful kind [it’s in my head when I wake up at night].
I’m starting to realise what A2 and D1 sound like, and so on, so I’m guessing/hoping that as I play more things will become easier to play by ear, as I’ll know where to put my fingers to get the note I want.
Now I’ve got the tune to TW I can concentrate on the rhythm and the tone; my first real goal is to play TW as well [or maybe close to] as well as our fellow fiddler Bluegrassgal. Fingers crossed for that.
Take care and stay safe!
January 17, 2021 at 7:31 am #45494
My trouble with the Tennessee Waltz is that the by-ear version in my head tries to co-opt the notation! But reading printed music can reveal things about the tune that I wouldn’t have thought of or heard myself. (I’m not that good with coming up with variations or subtleties)
I first became interested in the two ways of learning when I realized what at different experience it was, reading a book vs. listening to an audio book. I believe I would say that listening to a book is a richer experience, making its fingerprint in more areas of my brain, even though I prefer reading, which may be about being able to control the experience with timing, speed, skimming, re-reading a section to easier pick up where I left off.
I can still play a few tunes I learned at music camp (no notation) years after not thinking of them, which is not my experience when learning from notation unless I work on it often enough to own the tune. And even then, it’s not quite the same.
The joy in working on playing by ear is when your fingers finally seem to know just what to note to play to match the note in your head.
January 17, 2021 at 12:53 pm #45495
Hi Carolyn, as a beginner, I didn’t at first understand quite what you meant when you said you could ‘fine tune with notation’. But now I do understand, so I’m very grateful – though I’ll need to gain some more experience before I fully understand it practically, by doing it myself!
I just played the A part of ‘Kerfunken Jig’ [very proud of myself, even with the scratches] from tab, so now I’m going to be taught by you [thank you] and download the notation also and try to get inside the mind of a real violinist like yourself! OK, fine tuning …
Take care and stay safe.
January 17, 2021 at 2:00 pm #45496
When I try to learn a tune by ear (fiddle or banjo), I use my app “Anytune” to slow it down. But sometimes, no matter how slow I make it, I can’t figure out a phrase, how they get from one note to another in a certain measure. I can get there ok, but I know I’m not doing exactly what they are doing, and I LIKE what they are doing. So after trying it myself, I’ll hunt down some sheet music, and then, Ah Ha! They are doing a run up to it, but playing this certain note twice in a row! So I’ll play that sheet music section until it feels familiar with my fingers, then I’ll go back to the slowed-down tune and slip it in.
Sometimes, I’ll come across some sheet music where they do a phrase a little different than my audio source. If I like it, I’ll sub it out.
That’s a brief explanation of what I mean by using sheet music to augment learning by ear.
January 17, 2021 at 3:41 pm #45497
First, thank you for your earlier post. Having played the A part of ‘Kerfunken Jig’ using the tab [I’d got it in my ear by watching Jason a couple of times], I had dinner, went back to my fiddle and couldn’t remember at all how it went. Not at all. But I’d downloaded the notation so I spent a while figuring out the note-lengths and then pretty much worked out how it sounded again. Then I played it, ‘fine tuned’ it [as you might say] a bit from the notation, listened to it again and I wasn’t far off.
Your example above has also really helped [that’s two lessons you’ve given me now!] to see when else it would be useful. I can absolutely see how that could work, and be so valuable.
I think as a result of the kind responses from you, Kacey and Owen, I have the answer to the question I first asked on December 5: I’ll listen to the tune until it’s in my ear and then use the tab to pick my way through the notes until I can read notation, when maybe I’ll let the tab go. Hmm. That’s a plan. I’ll let you know how it goes [but I think it will take a while!]
Take care and stay safe, and thank you for your replies.
January 17, 2021 at 4:46 pm #45498
Great! And in the end, you will discover what works best for you. You will both be humble enough (by then) to not preach the “only right way” to others, and also confident enough to not let others give you self-doubt on what works for you.
January 18, 2021 at 2:36 am #45499
I’ll keep that advice in mind, always!
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