Thursday, 24 January 2013

Learning to play with 'others'

Continuing to learn new right hand tunes - stuck on the bass end - a way of playing with 'others'

Having largely dumped the Christmas tunes - except for the occasional quick run through - I've started to add more tunes. Which, for me, usually means learning the tune first - via YouTube or getting the ABC and putting it into a converter (see my links). I've added a few 'folkie' or 'nursery' tunes that I already know as well - Drunken Sailor, Scarborough Fair, Polly put the Kettle on, Bobby Shaftoe, etc. Also ones that I don't know, not having come from a folkie background - Buttered Peas, Bear Dance, Dirty Old Town, Buffalo Gals, Dorset 4 Handed Reel, Princess Royal, etc. I'm still working on Theme Vannitaise (there's just a couple of bars that I can't get to work right). Some of them I just sit down and learn - Bear Dance and Scarborough Fair were easy enough, others I just play from the 'dots' - and find that after a while I know enough of the bars to be able to start learning some of the rest. 


I had decided that after Christmas I would start seriously on the 'Left Hand End' - the scary end. And I do work on it every day - a bit. Not surprisingly I find that my hands always want to do the same thing at both ends - Twinkle Twinkle is easy-ish, but when my left hand is following a very different pattern to the right hand it becomes much harder. So I just work on small sections - for example the first couple of bars of Buttered Peas, repeated endlessly, starting slowly and building up speed. After a few run throughs of this there start to be noises from elsewhere in the house - my husband sighing quietly, the dog groaning from his bed, "will you SHUT UP!!" from the room where my son is on-line gaming. The whole thing is made harder by me being tone deaf and having no idea about music theory. I've started to read music books at bedtime to try to better understand things like bars and beats. 

Sorry, I know what the theory is, and I like to listen to music, so my brain must be able to process the information, but I really can't hear 'beats'. I'm not talking about the tremelo 'wet tuning' beats when I play one long note on my pokerwork - I'm talking about the beats in a bar. I have tried listening, but I can't tell the difference in beats between a 4/4 tune and a 3/4 tune. I can cope with beats when it's simple, like "Twinkle Twinkle" - 4 beats to the bar - I can SEE that when I look at the music. Each note is one beat - apart from the couple of longer ones. But show me something with a 4/4 time, but has 8 little dots... No, actually, I can sort of work that one out. It's when it gets more complicated - it hasn't got to be dozens of dots, or complex time signatures - even this sort of thing (Dirty Old Town - Ewan McColl) is difficult to work out. 

I know from theory where the beats should be - but can I 'hear' them? No.

Obviously, I'll just have to work on it - one day it will seem simple.

I came across Noteflight a couple of years ago when one of my students was putting his own compositions into his blog. A free membership allows you to put up to 10 tunes in - with a limited number of instruments. You can set the time signature and the key, and you can change the speed - which is very useful for me. For more tunes and more features you have to subscribe.

I've put a few tunes in that I'm currently working on. I slow them down a bit - to 80 or 100 crotchets per minute instead of 120 then I bung in a couple of empty bars at the beginning, and then try to play along with the computer.

Good heavens it's difficult. Things that I thought I'd got pat become unplayable when 'someone else' is playing at the same time. I find I've got some sections at a completely different speed (the harder sections!) I can't remember the sequence of notes when I'm concentrating on keeping up - even slowed down. I'm pushing in when I should be drawing out - and vice versa. It's very like the only time I got to play with others, at the Melodeon Playday. While I was OK playing alone, or with the massed melodeons playing "Donkey Riding" - I completely lost my head when I tried to play along in the pub. I panicked and just played rubbish. So, I'm now working on a few tunes at a time, I will speed them up as I get more proficient, and then substitute new tunes.

But - still LOVING it.

And I've signed up for Melodeons and More in March - although I've got some rather odd options, having left it too late when sending off my application. One row Cajun in C? Oh well, I'll try something new - who knows where it will take me?

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Into the New Year

I've tried to do some practice every day - twice if possible, as I think that breaking up your learning is more effective. So I'd rather do two (or even three!) shorter sessions, than one longer one. The only day I didn't get to practice was when I was staying in a Travelodge in Loughborough, and it was torrential rain outside - I couldn't even go and practice in the car, as that was some distance away in an NCP car park.

During December I played quite a lot of tunes from Paul Hardy's Christmas Tune book, but in the end I concentrated on four tunes, and tried to learn them: Good King Wenceslas; Ding Dong Merrily (Branle de l'officiel); In the Deep Midwinter; Sussex Carol. They were chosen either because I like them, or because they were themed on, or, in the case of Wenceslas, I found that I'd learned large chunks of it, 'by accident', anyway.

I now sort of 'know' about 15 tunes, although I can find myself getting completely confused at times. I've decided to drop the Christmas ones, to pick them up again when I need them in December, and substitute some more folky tunes - including 'Buttered Peas' and 'Buffalo Gals'. I'll also be working to really learn the ones that I 'know', so that I won't have to think about them.  

I've also started to try and get to grips with the 'grumpy end' - the bass. Oh, wow, that is hard! Trying to do different things with different fingers at each end - not easy. A little bit each session at the moment, and don't feel guilty when I trip over my fingers, or make horrendous noises. It will come.

I sometimes feel that almost everyone playing the melodeon plays just folk tunes, or ones that have been specifically written for the melodeon. I do wonder about the 'melodeon etiquette' of playing pop tunes, etc. There are examples where accordions are used in modern popular music, although they are rare - Jona Lewie played accordion in 'Seaside Shuffle' and there are Finnish Metal Bands with accordion players.  I love Ed Rennie's version of 'Flowers in the Rain', but these examples seem very rare to me. (ADDED: my son has just reminded me of this version of Mamma Mia  - not sure what I think of that!)

Don't get me wrong. I want to play folk tunes. However, I do wonder if there is a reason why there seems to be so little cross over with pop/rock? Is it that many of the tunes can't be played on the diatonic keyboards? I'd be interested to know, as there is so much modern 'folk', which perhaps could be played (and is often very available in guitar books). As an example, I've been playing 'Fields of Gold', which appears in a simple guitar book that we've bought now that my husband and son are having another go at learning the guitar that we bought 30 years ago. It seems to me to have many similarities to more traditional folk songs - or perhaps in my ignorance, it doesn't.