More than one way to take up an instrument

Posted on: 9th March, 2015

Category: Music

Contributor: Mark Holland

Hunky Dory stocks a huge range of instruments, accessories, CDs and vinyl. Contact Mark on 023 8834982 or pop in to have a listen.

Formal or freestyle? Learning to play a tune ‘by ear’ or starting on page one of the sight-reading manual? For many this is a consideration when thinking about how to go about ‘taking up’ an instrument, when it comes to deciding how our children should proceed, it’s a different matter altogether. In the shop I often meet parents who can’t decide between the two; it becomes a problem when they can’t decide which may best suit their child and end up not choosing at all. My advice is to try them on one, see how it goes and if it doesn’t seem to be working you can always try them on the other one.

There is a lot to be said for both methods. In an effort to educate myself I asked two local musicians who both teach piano, in different ways, for their thoughts.

John, who is formally trained, has had great results teaching people the ‘learning by ear’ method. People can go to him with the music or songs that they want to hear, want to play, and quite quickly learn to express themselves on the keyboard in a way that gives them great joy and encouragement.  Particularly for those of us who struggle with the structure of formal education.

John often picks up students that have tried the ‘by the book’ method and have been left cold, uninspired, and even their natural aptitude choked, to be allowed unfold their wings in fertile ground and soar to unimagined planes to express themselves quickly. They are often playing on the keyboard the songs they wanted to play, the songs they have in their heads, the songs that they want to be played, within weeks. There is no better encouragement.

Tonya has a different has approach. She knows well that learning staff notation is structured, a bit like schoolwork, and doesn’t give instant results, but it’s not that hard. Learning to read music takes time but is much simpler and more straightforward than learning the alphabet.

Every one of us has different aptitudes, capacities and skill levels, but for most of us there is a limit to how many tunes we can keep in our heads. The ability or skill to read music means that, as time goes on, a player can at any time go back to a piece they have played before (or a piece they haven’t) and play it as they read it from the sheet.

It is hard to know if one method is detrimental to the other.  It may be that if you can play a few tunes by ear, you find it hard to go back to the beginning to begin on the formal training of sight-reading, but with a little application you could be back up to speed sooner than you think, and have learned a new skill in the process.  Often people who have reading or concentration difficulties have a gift to pick stuff up by ear.

For adults in particular who may have less time on their hands and just want to be able to knock out a tune or two, learning and playing by ear may be a fast track.  But for those of us who are a bit more ambitious, it’s the guy who can read the music that’ll get the gig.

I was talking to a (very lucky) person today who is hoping be in Mali this year in time for The Desert Music Festival.  As soon as I got home, I had to put on one of my favourite albums, which just gets better with time — a collaboration of two of my favourite musicians, blues guitarists Ali Farka Toure and Ry Cooder’s ‘Talking Timbuktu’. If you like that, then I would also recommend Ry Cooder’s Paris Texas sound track.  Hope you enjoy.

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11th October, 2017  ·  

Submarines, American Sailors, and the Underwater War in Irish Waters, 1917-1918
by Dr John Borgonovo in The Parish Centre, Clonakilty
on Thursday Oct 26 2017 at 8.30 pm

In 1917, unrestricted submarine warfare by German U-boats brought the United States into WWI and created a crisis in Britain. To defeat the submarine menace, an American naval fleet was dispatched to County Cork, bringing about 10,000 sailors with it. This talk will explain the circumstances of this extraordinary event, and how Cork residents dealt with their unexpected American guests.

Dr John Borgonovo is a lecturer in the School of History at UCC. His publications include Spies, Informers, and the 'Anti-Sinn Féin' Society: The Intelligence War in Cork City, 1920-1921; The Dynamics of War and Revolution: Cork City, 1916-1918; Exercising a close vigilance over their daughters: Cork women, American sailors, and Catholic vigilantes, 1917-18; Something in the Nature of a Massacre: The Bandon Valley Killings Revisited (with Andy Bielenberg). His latest publication (with co-authors John Crowley, Donal Ó Drisceoil and Mike Murphy) is the highly acclaimed and magnificient Atlas of the Irish Revolution. In July of this year, he organised a very successful conference on Winning the Western Approaches - Unrestricted Submarine Warfare and the US Navy in Ireland 1917-1918.
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11th October, 2017  ·  

Apple Juicing Day in Clonakilty next Sunday Sept 30th. All welcome to bring their apples from 2-6pm to the Clonakilty Community Garden (on entrance road to Clonakilty Lodge).

Building on the success of its inaugural 2016 event, local voluntary environmental organisation Sustainable Clonakilty invites people to bring along their apples and press them to extract their own juice to take home, using the group's Apple Press.

Volunteers will be at hand to assist in the procedure. Bring along your apples washed; clean containers to freeze your juice (milk/juice bottles or cartons, plastic bottles with caps); clean, sterilised glass bottles to pasteurise with swing caps or suitable for 26 mm diameter metal cap.

A limited number of new 3 litres juice bags that are suitable for freezing and pasteurising, can be purchased for a nominal fee on the day also.

This is a free community event and donations will be welcome to cover costs.

For further information, please contact Xavier at or text at 086/0476124.
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26th September, 2017  ·  

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