Sunday, 9 December 2012

Learning some tunes

After the 'melodeon playgroup' I switched tactics a bit. Prior to that I had just played a wide range of tunes from Paul Hardy's Christmas tunebook by trying to follow the dots. I largely played anything that I could recognise the tune for. However, since the 'playgroup' I've been trying to focus on a smaller range of tunes, and try quite hard to learn them.

I thought that I'd just learn one or two tunes, then once I had those sorted I'd learn some more, but I've carried on practising some other tunes, from a reduced list. I've started to find that I begin to be able to play a couple of bars from the tune from memory, so I add it to my list of things I am learning. I'm still largely leaving the bass end of things alone because except with 'Twinkle Twinkle', I find that trying to work out the bass makes me completely forget the other end. I'm planning to make a more concerted effort with the bass end over the Christmas break - hopefully, by then I will have a few tunes fairly well learned.

Tunes I can 'mostly' make my way through without any major problems: "Twinkle, Twinkle"; "Donkey riding"; "Speed the Plough"; "Skye Boat Song"; "Winster Gallop". I might have to slow down a bit on some sections while I remember where I have to go next. However, I don't really feel that I have completely learned them yet.

Tunes I can remember some bits from: "Polly put the Kettle on"; "Ding Dong Merrily on High"; "Kafoozalum"; "In the deep mid-winter"; "Cock of the North"

What's still on the list: "Shoe the Donkey"; "Keel row"; "British Grenadiers"; "Portsmouth". I can remember very short sections of these - a bar or so.

I know that I need to spend more time looking at the couple of tutor books (and Ed Rennie's DVD) that I have, but I tend to pick up the box when I've got a couple of minutes spare, which results in me trying to remember the tunes I do know.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

The Melodeon Playgroup

This weekend I've been to the Fleece Inn at Bretforton near to Evesham. Strigolino, of, organised a beginners to intermediate "Playday" to give people confidence in playing in public. There was only one experienced player, to keep us all on track, give advice, and show us the inner workings of a melodeon - that was Lester, from whom I bought my melodeon, less than 4 weeks ago.

It was enormous fun. Yesterday we met in the barn at the pub, introduced ourselves, then had a 'massed melodeons' playing of "Donkey riding". I tried to play fairly quietly, as I was quite worried about making horrible honking noises with my melodeon, and I kept finding my fingers going to the wrong places, although at home I can play this through without too much difficulty.

At 12 we had lunch, talked, practiced various bits of music. Then at 1 Lester showed us how the melodeon works, giving us advice about basic maintenance we can do ourselves. From 2:30 to 4:00 we did solo pieces. I managed to get through "Skye Boat Song" with some mistakes, and a number of things that I knew that I was doing wrong (air button!), but felt very pleased to have gone out in 'public' and played, less than 4 weeks after starting to play the melodeon.

My husband, who had decided at the last minute to accompany me, came back from visiting the Gloucester and Warwickshire railway in a torrential downpour, and we went to check in to the hotel. By 6 pm we were back at the Fleece Inn, and in the Barn listening to people playing. 

We had a meal booked in the pub for 7 pm, after which one of the other attendees at the 'playgroup' suggested that as the musicians for the evening session were about to turn up we might want to keep our seats.

In the fairly small room there were people playing: 5 or 6 melodeons, three fiddles, a bodhran, two guitars and a concertina, as well as a percussionist with various instruments including a cajon - which he was sitting on most of the time. This was in addition to all the people who were standing around listening.

After a night at the hotel to the north of Evesham we headed back to the Fleece - finding the road blocked by a flood - it had apparently continued to rain throughout the night. As we were deciding what to do about it another car drove through it in the other direction - it seemed no deeper than a ford, so we chanced it, and got through.

We had gone back to see the Belle D'Vain clog morris side who were supposed to be dancing out, but they only had 5 dancers able to get there. They need 6 or 8, so the dance turned into another music session in the pub.

I've added a couple of videos to give the flavour, although I'm afraid the sound poor. It's not just the fact that the camera was pretty basic, but also the fact that it's hard to record a room full of instruments without it being heavily biased towards the nearest instrument.

The Fleece Inn Bretforton November 24 2012:


The Fleece Inn Bretforton November 25 2012:

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Small steps

I'm continuing to practice. A bit when I get in from work, then again another short session later on. At weekends I try to get three sessions in, if it is at all possible. They don't need to be long sessions, but as a teacher, my understanding of learning is that it works better little and often - especially with physical skills and muscle memory.

I'm working a lot on the carols, just because they are tunes that I recognise, so I can at least have a go at getting them to sound as they should do.  I at least recognise when I've played a duff note.

Very occasionally, for just a fraction of a second, I find my fingers thinking that they know where to go next - sometimes they are right.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Christmas is coming

One of my difficulties is that I don't know what tunes should sound like. When I look in a tune book and see "South Australia", "Cock of the North", "Buffalo Gals", then I don't associate them with any tunes. Being of limited musical skill I don't know how these should sound, and so can't play them. I can find the right notes, but while I can see what length the notes should be, I can't yet translate that to my playing. I need to know what the tune sounds like to be able to make a reasonable stab at it.

This means I spend a lot of time looking up tunes on Youtube, or tracking down a MIDI file to be able to find out if I know the tune or not. Actually, I do know most of the ones that I look up, I can remember singing "South Australia" back in "first year" at secondary school. Of course I know "Cock of the North", as soon as I found out that it is also known as "Aunty Mary", I knew what it is - although I don't remember ever hearing the slightly risque lyrics that go with "Aunty Mary". 

On the other hand, while I am not religious, I do know many tunes to carols, and can recognise what they should sound like. I've also discovered Paul Hardy's song books - including the Christmas version. This gives me a large number of tunes that I can practice with to get the buttons and their associated notes stuck in my head. Many of them are also quite slow (think: "Once in Royal David's City", "Silent Night", "In the deep midwinter"). This means that that my fingers don't have to fall over each other, and I can build up speed slowly. I know from having learned to type that it is a matter of muscle memory. As I am typing this I am not thinking about what letter comes next - it is automatic. That is what I need to do with the melodeon - it has to become automatic.

As Christmas is only 6 weeks away, now is the perfect time to be practicing playing carols.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Slow Progress

Since I've booked to go to the "Melodeon Playday" in two weeks time I need to be able to play "Donkey Riding" with at least the right hand end (I really can't get my head around the left hand end for that yet).

I've been trying to get a couple of short practice sessions in each day. Work days I get the melodeon out when I get home for a little while, then have another go later in the evening. Weekends I can usually add another session in the morning - but not too early as I have adult sons who think that getting up before about 10 or 11 at the weekend is unacceptable.

I'm not someone who likes to work a the same tune over and over again, so I've got a couple of books and some printed sheets and I work through a number of tunes, then have another go at the ones I need to be learning. I find that there are some tunes that I can get right the way through, and others that I come to a standstill about half way through, where I can't quite work out what should be happening next. So, I put the music aside and have another go later - I might get a bit further next time, or at least the first bit might flow a bit less jerkily. Part of the problem is that, not reading music, I have no idea if the tune that I am 'playing' sounds anything like it should - I keep having to go back to the Internet to find tunes and find out what they should sound like. Usually I know them, but I had no idea of what they are called.

I've ordered, and received, Ed Rennie's Melodeon Tutor, which has a CD and DVD to help - but I've just discovered that my computer can't play DVDs - so that will have to be fixed before I can watch any of the DVD.

I am making some progress, slow, not so steady, but quite satisfying when I can get through a whole tune with only a few mistakes.

Monday, 5 November 2012

OMG! How good are some beginners!

I made the mistake of lookingat beginner videos on Every one was "I'be been playing 6 days/ 29 days/ 7 weeks/ etc, this is my first attempt" - all of them were amazing. I kept thinking that the next one would be the same sort of thing as my slow 'hunting the right key' attempts - but no.

Oh well, I've told myself that they are all experienced musicians who can play about 3 other instruments - I don't care if it's true or not (it definitely is in some cases). I'm determined to learn to play - I can't undermine my progress by comparing myself with others. Everyone learns at their own speed.

OK, so what HAVE I made progress on? It seems slow, but I find it hard to remember that I have been doing this for just one week. I have arranged to join the beginners 'melodeon playday' in Evesham in 3 weeks time. I'm really looking forward to it, but I have to accept that almost everyone else will be more experienced. I am sometimes able to make it through 'Donkey Riding' without a mistake (right hand end only - but this is important, it's the set tune for the group) - but I've actually only been learning it for about 3 or 4 days - so not too horrendous. I can usually make it through 'Daddy Long Les' version of "Twinkle Twinkle" without a mistake, and today I've started to look at the 'left hand end' the bass keys (the idea of combining the two together is a bit of a way away). I've started to have a go at thing like "Speed the plough" and "Winster Gallop".  I think I need to learn to play "Over the hills and far away" to counter the 'funny' comments of my family!

Some of the tunes I can only get part of the way through - if I don't already know the tune then it's difficult for me to make a stab at it, as I don't read music. However, I'm starting to recognise what buttons I need to press for G, A, B, C, D, E at least for the G row when I've got the music in front of me - I can sort of work out which are the other buttons by deciding if I need to go up or down from there. The D row is harder - I need to look at a chart to decide which button to start on, after that I can 'hear' if I've gone wrong - a start I suppose, better than it might be.

I suppose I should make a video and post it, just as a reference for the future. So often you think that you aren't making progress - a new video every month or so would be a good idea, but what to start with?

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Useful information

I've been at this only 10-12 days now (playing for about 4!), and I've already found out a huge amount of information. Vast amounts of useful, free information is out there on the Internet. This is a post to collect some of that together, not just in case anyone else stumbles past this blog - but also so that I've got the useful stuff in one place and can find it when I'm away from my home/ bookmarks/ favourites, etc. - the place to go for information, forums, etc. Specific pages include:
Beginners - does what it says on the tin - loads of useful information for beginners

Find a tune - useful for finding ABC formats for tunes (more about this in the links in Beginners
ABC Convert-a-matic's converter for ABC formats - produces music manuscript and a midi file of the tune.

Inside a melodeon - Youtube video showing the inside of a melodeon.
DaddyLongLes is a music teacher who has loads of useful videos for several different instruments.

I started with his The Melodeon - a beginner's guide series, which explained a lot of terms and made a lot of things much clearer:
A beginner's guide 1
A beginner's guide 2 
A beginner's guide 3
A beginner's guide 4
A beginner's guide 5
He's also got a series of about 10 lessons - links, music and tabs on his website DaddyLongLes. I'm working my way through these at the moment.

There is also an occasional blog about learning to play the melodeon - links also on web-site.

I'll add to this as I find other interesting or useful information.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Beginning the Melodeon

I have been looking for a suitable instrument to learn for a while. I've tried to learn various instruments in the past, with little success - I've always hit the first plateau, and then given up. Not quite sure why, I've learned to speak several languages, I can knit and crochet, I've learned to type, and to take shorthand (although that is exceedingly rusty now) - obviously, I can stick with things, I just haven't with instruments. However, I'd decided that I needed to try again, when a conversation with a friend made it clear what I should go for.

Jill plays several instruments, including the concertina and the bagpipes. I had seen a kid on the front of a narrowboat playing a piano accordion, and quite liked the idea of a folky type instrument. I asked Jill about concertinas and piano accordions, and Jill asked whether I wanted to play an instrument or a wardrobe? Jill suggested a melodeon, which sounded right - a bit of research and I knew that it was what I wanted.

I joined and asked some questions about a suitable instrument for a beginner, and was very quickly offered a recently restored second-hand Hohner Pokerwork - a nice box for a beginner - this one HERE. Fortunately, it's a German made box - the more recent Chinese made ones don't seem to be as well regarded. Even better, the seller lives only a few miles from me. 

So I went to look at the box, spent a lot of time talking about all sorts of things and I ended up exchanging a cheque for a nice secondhand melodeon. My dear husband thought that I had probably finally lost all semblance of sense, but he was nice about it.

So, I'm learning to play the melodeon. I can't read music, I know nothing about how the melodeon works - it isn't completely obvious to the beginner, but I'm learning. I can just about manage "Twinkle Twinkle, little star" and I'm working on "Baa Baa Black Sheep".

Obviously, I'm not just learning the melodeon, but also music theory - about which I know nothing. Our son used to play trumpet while he was at school, and sometimes picks up the guitar, so he has some understanding of music - he's able to pick the melodeon up and get some simple tunes out of it without too much difficulty. 

I keep reading about how lots of melodeon players can't read music and just pick the tunes up by ear - all I can say is how? That seems as far from me now as the idea once was that I would one day be able to hold a conversation in French, or read a newspaper or a novel.