Learning by ear – BBC iPlayer

Jim Johnstone at Foot Stompin Scottish Music

Jim Johnstone at Foot Stompin' Scottish Music

In the house we were talking the other day about techniques of learning music by ear. Both Clare and I used cassette players alot. The technique being that you would have a recording of the tune you wanted to learn, set the tape counter to zero, learnt the phrase (or note!) by continuously rewinding to zero on the counter. Of course after a while the zeros moved slightly and you had to wait longer to get to your bit. When you had ‘got’ the phrase you then reset the counter to zero on the next phrase and started again. I also had another method for the bagpipes. My dad’s record player had a pitch control on it (for some reason) and I was able to tune bagpipes from Bb to A on it. Using this method I learnt Andy Renwick’s Ferret (from Polkemmet Grorud Pipe Band) and The Clumsy Lover (The Battlefield Band – On the Rise).

Anyway Clare had been listening to the fabulous Robbie Shepherd’s Take the Floor whilst driving home. The next morning she was talking about these great Jim Johnstone tunes she heard on the programme. She went to the BBC iPlayer and found the tunes. We then (I joined in) located the start time of each phrase (sounding familiar?), used the mouse to ‘pull back’ the time bar until we got it right. We learnt 2 brilliant tunes. It goes to show that whatever the new technology you can still use the oral traditions of learning. Great fun.

These techniques can be forgotten in this technological age which is a pity. A great strength in Scottish music is the oral traditions and we need to make sure that all our musicians still are able to learn this way.

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