Playing Without the Dots

Discussion in 'Trumpet Discussion' started by trumpetsplus, Jul 20, 2011.

  1. trumpetsplus

    trumpetsplus Fortissimo User

    Jun 11, 2006
    South Salem, NY
    Here is a followup blog to my previous thread "I Get So Upset". Please read it as a positive comment on how we may be able to help out students, and not as a criticism of how we have developed as a result of our own training. Also please avoid comments like "I have no difficulty with playing by ear (subtext: I am better than....)". Please comment on your own experiences with this issue, and also please put forward suggestions as to how this issue can be moved forward.

    As before, here is a link to the original article:
    ivan?s blog

    And here is the text:

    Here is a tale that may shed light on why some instrumentalists have difficulty in playing music from memory. I have told you how upset I get when I notice trumpet players with decades of playing experience still needing to be able to see the printed music when they stand up for the last chorus of “Stars and Stripes Forever” by John Philip Sousa.

    This is about James, one of my students, a well-educated, retired gentleman with a lifelong acquaintanceship with music. Over the years he has been studying with me, James has had no difficulty in playing the melodies of some of his favorite sacred and secular pieces, and various themes from classical music. All without the sheet music.

    We were involved together in a summer band playing on the village green. One of the pieces on the program was the movement “Jupiter” from “The Planets” by Gustav Holst. When we sat at our lesson after the music had been issued, James said that he did not know this piece at all. So I played through some of the melodic parts, especially the Chorale. He still did not recognize it, so we read through the music a few times so he could gain some familiarity with it.

    The band rehearsed the music several times before the concert, and James was able to keep up with his part, joining the melody when written.

    I started his next lesson by playing a melody. This is quite common for us; after a few notes, he normally recognizes the piece and plays along with me. However, he was neither able to join in with this piece nor was he able to even faintly identify it. You guessed it; I was playing the Chorale from “Jupiter”. For the record, I must make two things clear: the standard of my playing was more than acceptable, and this technique of playing something unannounced is very common in our lessons.

    Why was James unable to play or even identify the piece that we had rehearsed and performed very recently? And why is James still able to play melodies he is familiar with but has never previously played?

    I believe that the reason he was unable to recognize the piece or play along with it, is because his relationship to the Chorale is confined to seeing it printed on the page. He has taken this music in only through his eyes, not through his ears. If he had thought about the tune outside of the band rehearsals, or heard it on the radio, he would have had a better chance of absorbing the music. The reason he is able to play so much other music by ear or from memory is that he heard all of this long before he ever took up his instrument. Since taking up his instrument he has become more dependent on visual input than aural.

    Traditionally music was learned by a student visiting the master, and listening and copying what that master played. The development of printed music being available to everyone through mass-production has changed that practice. Currently instrumental education is based on visual imagery (reading sheet music). The first lesson will inevitably contain instruction on reading music.

    When we learned our language, it was some time before we were made aware of what the words looked like when printed on a page. We learned to talk before we learned to read. We can all talk “off the top of our heads”. Maybe if our music learning was more aurally based, as in the past, we would be able to play more easily Without the Dots.
  2. Rapier

    Rapier Forte User

    Jul 18, 2011
    That seems to make sense. Although I can't play anything from memory (scales excluded). Even tunes I've learned to peform as a solo in front of band. Without the music I don't even know what note it starts on.
  3. gbdeamer

    gbdeamer Forte User

    Oct 16, 2008
    Very well put.

    I'm a product of the visual imagery (reading sheet music) generation.

    I can play "Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White" blindfolded because a group I played with in college wanted to do it for a gig so we figured it out one day. Unfortunately I only have about a dozen or so songs like that in my head (that I learned without music).

    For anything else I need a chart of some kind.
  4. jiarby

    jiarby Fortissimo User

    May 7, 2011
    My wife is a high school teacher and they really spend alot of time on developing lesson plans that can reach all the different types of learners.

    Some are visual, some are aural, some need to feel it with their hands, etc....

    It makes sense that those same types of learners exist in music too.

    JNINWI Piano User

    Apr 26, 2011
    Trumpetplus I think your on to something. Likewise I had a student that could not pass a test, at all, he would fail miserably. So one day I gave him the test only I read the questions to him and gave him the answer choices (Multiple choice test). He scored 100% . This person had a reading comprehension problem. His brain could not comprehend what he read. But if you read it to him he had no problem. Point of the story is that like your student, maybe some people cannot perform certain memory functions and this prevents them from remembering things like songs, words, etc……
    I recognized the reading comprehension problem easily because I had the same problem as a child in school. It took me 10 times longer to understand what I read, although I read fluently. And at the same time all I had to do was see, or play a song once and it was in memory. Your student sounds like he has the same thing only in reverse. Nice catch Trumpetplus !!!!!! :thumbsup:
  6. kingtrumpet

    kingtrumpet Utimate User

    Sep 20, 2009
    New York State USA
    I am just going to be a Jazz player -- and ad lib, and throw the dots away - and nod to the piano player when I run out of air ROFL
    sorry that didn't help -- but I laughed --- then I came to the conclusion -- learn the music by playing and then write it down ---- oh it seems all so simple ROFL
  7. JakeD

    JakeD New Friend

    Jun 25, 2011
    Teaching should just be based on visual learning OR solely aural. I believe it is pretty common for students to require multiple teaching techniques. It's not a crime for a student to not be able to play by ear. Instead of complaining, have you ever thought that he might need to be taught how to play with more aural rather than visual input? I don't mean to sound snotty; just a thought.
  8. schleiman

    schleiman Piano User

    May 12, 2010
    Austin, TX
    Just out of curiosity does he like that piece? It's easier for me to recognize something if I enjoy listening to it. This will also no doubt make sense as to why I forget pieces, I lose interest in them. Just what happens with me. :)
  9. gmonady

    gmonady Utimate User

    Jan 28, 2011
    Dayton, Ohio
    Musical form from folk to jazz is the expression of the artist's intent to put phrases in a rhythmic pattern. We try to place the dots on the page to "graph" this expression. Most of the time, we get it right, but sometimes, the graphical representation cannot possibly match the artist's intent. In those situations, read the words or hear the notes, as to how those words or notes flow in context of the phrase the artist is expressing. Then play the phrase in that context. That has more power than the dots could ever have. So yes, learning from an aurally based context makes it so much easier (and enhances the quality of the performance) without the dots.

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