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Using Reference Recordings
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DanielB
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June 19, 2014 - 9:29 am
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Okay, so you are learning a new song.  One of the things I learned to do first is to find some recordings of the song to use as reference recordings.

When you go to practice a song, if you listen to a recording of it right before you start practising it each day, it refreshes your memory of how the piece goes.  Especially if they are good recordings, they can even inspire you a bit and remind you why you wanted to learn that piece in the first place.

(And hey, if you don't LIKE listening to it, then why in the world do you want to learn how to play it? LOL)

With reference recordings, I was taught it is best to find several (at least three) different performances of the piece if you can.  Listening to a different one each day before you tackle the piece, you can notice different little touches or slightly different interpretations of the timing or phrasing or dynamics.  That bit of variety helps with coming up with your own good version of the piece, instead of just copying one single performer's idea of it.

Ideally, you want to find recordings that are in the same key you are going to learn to play the piece in.  An added plus of these modern times is that with youtube and etc, you may be able to find decent video where you can see the hands or at least bowing of the person playing, and you can watch for any moves or tricks that may help you to play it easier/better.

Especially if you play by ear, listening to a reference recording before practising can help you to avoid the dreaded "practising it wrong".  Since you just heard it, you aren't as likely to leave out bits or play similar bits in wrong places as if you were just playing it off the top of your head in practice. 

For readers, especially if you can follow along with your eyes on the score as you listen, it can help make tricky bits more obvious and refreshing your memory so you can focus on making it flow more naturally when you actually start playing it in practice.

Personally, I also make it a point to listen to (and watch, if possible) each piece I am practising on a given day at least once during the day when I intentionally do not have an instrument in my hands.  I hum or whistle or sing along, and find it helps with getting better ideas for the dynamics and feel of the piece.

"This young wine may have a lot of tannins now, but in 5 or 10 years it is going to be spectacular, despite the fact that right now it tastes like crude oil. You know this is how it is supposed to taste at this stage of development." ~ Itzhak Perlman

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Oliver
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June 19, 2014 - 10:45 pm
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However, the situation emphasizes the superiority of sight reading which just about eliminates the need for ANY prior reference material.   There are other situations where the idea of references just doesn't work say, for instance, playing in a 2nd chair in an orchestra.  ( One conductor I knew DID pass out free practice CD's to the orchestra but that was the full orchestra, not parts. )  And real life sometimes requires performance just a couple days away and there is not much time for references, if available at the moment anyway.

I know that reference music is desirable and helpful but nothing beats the strategy of sight reading.  Instant music in an instant world.

When you come to a fork in the road, take it.

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coolpinkone
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June 19, 2014 - 11:14 pm
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Good points. Thank you Daniel.  I agree.  I wish I had done more of this.  Especially with Thaxted.  I worked on it for a hour and forty minutes tonight.  Yes, I choose a bit out of my league and an unknown song... But I kick myself for not playing that click tract and you tube piece over and over.  I feel I am close to getting it so I really don't want to give up.   Great article.  I think this is why all the holiday songs are so fun and easy for me.

Oliver ... I am so very grateful that I can read music because I am weak with ear playing.  Reading music has open up the doors to the music that I love that made me want to play in the first place.  Still my music reading is not advanced. 

Good thoughts!

Vibrato Desperato.... Desperately seeking vibrato

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RosinedUp
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June 19, 2014 - 11:31 pm
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@Oliver You've shown that ear playing isn't good for every situation.  And I have a lot of admiration for sight reading skill.

But I believe the "situation" was "you are learning a new song".  You may be missing the point that without listening, you haven't learned much about the piece.  Practicing and playing a piece while reading it, you may learn to get through the tricky parts while reading from the sheet, and you may learn some new technique and may learn to be a better sight reader.  Beyond that, if you can't play, hum, whistle, or sing the piece, or replay it in your mind, without reading, what have you learned?

Many people could pick up some English text on some deep topic in philosophy, physics, or phrenology and read it aloud at first sight without any distracting errors.  With a little practice they could manage correct inflection and pronunciation of its jargon so that an expert might mistake the reader for another expert.  However, were the reader confronted with questions after the reading, they would be at a loss, and the game would be up.  On the other hand, if someone listened repeatedly and put their attention on the concepts involved, they might have a chance of understanding the concepts.  They might be able to explain and extend the ideas.

I think that for some, it is routine to play a piece at sight without listening or really learning much of anything about the piece.  Others listen as they read (perhaps even without playing), and still others listen before they play.

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Fiddlerman
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June 20, 2014 - 8:26 am
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Using recordings as reference is a super time saver. Even though you probably can't pick out a 2nd violin part from an orchestra recording, you certainly can pick up on tempo, temperament, dynamics, which parts are the most important.....
In my 25 years of full time symphony player, I had to learn 3-5 sometimes WAY more pieces every single week. Probably about 1 1/2 to 2 hours of music a week. Granted, later in life a lot of the performances were pieces that I had played at least once in my life. In any case, any time there was a new piece that I had never played before, I would try to listen to some recordings before even getting started and my sight reading skills are outstanding. :)

"The richest person is not the one who has the most,
but the one who needs the least."

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1stimestar
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June 20, 2014 - 2:12 pm
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Yep.  When I get a new song, I almost always go to youtube first.  

 

Opportunity is often missed because it wears suspenders and looks like hard work.

 

Alaska, the Madness; Bloggity Stories of the North Country

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RosinedUp
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June 20, 2014 - 4:49 pm
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I play mostly by ear, so when learning a tune, I usually turn first to memory or recordings.

I haven't put much practice into sight reading, so my reading skills are rudimentary.

But I did feel some accomplishment from learning The Ash Grove from the sheet alone.  I plodded through it note-by-note, but it didn't "click" right away---I was just playing notes, not the piece.  After an hour or so it suddenly "made sense" at some level---somehow came together similar to how an idea or a sentence makes sense.  After some more playing, and listening to my playing, I learned the sound of the tune and was able to play it by ear---"from memory".  Only after that learning did I check my work by listening to recordings of it.

Presumably things would have clicked a lot sooner to a sight reader with an ear, as I believe I was initially limited by the accuracy of my playing.smile

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Oliver
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June 20, 2014 - 8:05 pm
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"accuracy of my playing"    What do you regard as "accuracy" ?  Pitch?

The ability to recognize a note (on paper) even including pitch, has almost nothing to do with finding and playing the note(s) on a finger board.

"Sight reading " is not a dirty word and is really not much more difficult than learning to type on my ridiculous laptop keyboard.

When you come to a fork in the road, take it.

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RosinedUp
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June 20, 2014 - 9:51 pm
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Oliver said
"accuracy of my playing"    What do you regard as "accuracy" ?  Pitch?

The ability to recognize a note (on paper) even including pitch, has almost nothing to do with finding and playing the note(s) on a finger board.

Pitch and timing, especially what I might call fluidity or fluency.  I have to plod through the dots and sometimes count them out slowly before I know what they should sound like.  So my first runs through an unfamiliar piece are by fits and starts, you might say.  After I smooth it out a bit, it starts to sound right.  Then IDK, I can start to appreciate the scale it uses, at a low level, not so much cerebrally, I mean.  Then hearing myself play it, I learn the sound, and can play it back without the sheet.  Of course I'm talking mainly about fairly simple melodies.

What do you mean by recognizing a note, identifying its letter name?  And IDK what it means to recognize a note including pitch.

I think I know what you mean about typing ... so far I just haven't tried much to learn sight reading.

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coolpinkone
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June 21, 2014 - 2:36 am
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Good topic and Point of View.  I like hearing how people "get" through a new piece.  

Vibrato Desperato.... Desperately seeking vibrato

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DanielB
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June 21, 2014 - 6:30 am
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@Oliver: Well, I don't personally agree with the "superiority of sight reading" or the idea that it somehow makes the concept of listening to music before doing the practice necessary to perform it somehow worthless.

But by the same token, I don't believe in the "superiority of playing by ear" either.  

Both are useful skills, and I believe it is worth some work to be able to do both, if you can. 

The "superiority" arguments never do much except waste a lot of perfectly good pixels and time that folks can be spending playing music rather than playing "I am better than you because _____" games.

My point is more that one of the good things about our current technology is that there is so much music easily available to us compared to any other time in history.  It is something that can be enjoyed, certainly, but also broaden our scope of musical influences.  In the case of orchestral music, I think perhaps it could allow a player to be able to get some perspective of "the big picture" of how the whole piece can sound before practice, so they can have a better understanding of how what they are doing is a part of that.  I think that could lead to at least better motivation, or perhaps inspiration might be the more appropriate word.

It may be a useful learning tool for some folks.

I will concede the possibility that listening to recordings of performances of a piece one wants to learn may be of more use in other genres than symphony/orchestral music.  But not everyone has goals set in symphony/orchestral.

Not to say that there is anything wrong with wanting to perform historical pieces, if that is what you like.

"This young wine may have a lot of tannins now, but in 5 or 10 years it is going to be spectacular, despite the fact that right now it tastes like crude oil. You know this is how it is supposed to taste at this stage of development." ~ Itzhak Perlman

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Oliver
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June 21, 2014 - 8:25 am
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"Superiority" is not the issue but "context"  may be.  I tend to champion sight reading because it is often characterized as something more painful than going to the dentist even though it isn't and opens a vast repertoire. 

When I do play from memory I also find more room for interpretation and that is a nice change of pace sometimes.

My thinking goes more towards the beginner than the seasoned player who knows just what they want and how to do it.   And when I'm a listener I don't care how it is happening.

As Shakespear said ............ "The play's the thing !"

When you come to a fork in the road, take it.

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coolpinkone
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June 21, 2014 - 12:54 pm
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I always love reading the input on both ear and sight reading.  I am kind of mad that I haven't mastered either one.  My thinking if I suck at one thing, then possibly I would not at the other thing?? right???? 

But again I tend to make bigger progress reading the dots and faster than if I play by ear.   I used to always play songs on piano as a child by ear, but I never got as far as having the tool to play what I want when I want.  

I think it is like having a good road map to me... I can squint and pull over and figure stuff out.  When I play by ear, I keep trying over and over and over.  But I think with the sheet, I finally, and weakly at least get somewhere inch by inch.

Not debating, just blathering.

Vibrato Desperato.... Desperately seeking vibrato

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Oliver
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June 21, 2014 - 1:43 pm
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In fact, my choices are often a matter of time economy and may not be about the  music  at all.  My impatience is a factor and I like that I can access hundreds of ready to play songs on the internet.  (At one time I had a collection of about 1500 midi files.  That indeed is "reference music" but I didn't stop there.)

When you come to a fork in the road, take it.

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Fiddlerman
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June 21, 2014 - 5:33 pm
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Both skills, reading sheet music and playing by ear, are valuable. Reading music will get you through a lot more repertoire at a quicker rate providing it's written and available. :)
The only skills that you must have in order to enjoy playing and even performing publicly, is the ability to make music no matter how you choose to do it. :)

"The richest person is not the one who has the most,
but the one who needs the least."

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