What is learning by ear?
Learning by ear is a method of learning often used in traditional music. It means to learn tunes by listening and copying instead of with music notation.

Why does GFW use this method?
Scottish traditional music is part of an oral tradition which has been passed down over hundreds of years. Many of the tutors learned to play this way and find this method works really well when teaching groups of people. GFW are keen to preserve this tradition and have made it part of the GFW ethos. As you progress with your instrument you will be able to join in with music sessions without having to pull out lots of sheets of paper. Learning without music lets you concentrate on techniques and on the tutor more easily.

How do you learn by ear?
Your tutor will play a short phrase and ask you to copy it. Depending on your level this may be just a couple of notes or it may be a couple of bars. They will tell you which note to start on and they will help with other notes if you are struggling to figure it out. The class will play round the phrase lots of times to make sure you know it really well before moving on a new phrase. Once you have two phrases you might try joining them together and in this way the phrases will build up like a jigsaw until you have a whole tune.

How will I remember the tune when I get home?
Your tutor will give you the opportunity to record the tune during the lesson. If you don't have a specific recording device you may find you can record using your phone. Your tutor will often give you music at the end of the lesson. For those that don't read music your tutor may have a simple tablature version too.

Will I learn to read music too?
This depends on your class and your tutor. You will learn some basic music theory in the course of your lessons and your teacher should be able to advise you how to go about learning to read music at home. From time to time the tutor may want to use music as part of a lesson but they will not expect everyone to be music readers so don't panic.

What if it's too easy/too hard?
Speak to your tutor or a senior tutor. They will be able to focus on areas of difficulty or give you extra things to work on in class. If there is more than one class they may suggest trying a different level.

Handy Hints

  • Remember to listen with your eyes and your ears. Watching the tutors is not cheating! By following their fingers you will have a better idea of the patterns.
  • Listening is almost as important as playing when it comes to practice. Its just as useful to listen to your tune ten times as it is to play it ten times.
  • If you can sing a tune you can play it. When you're listening to your recording have a go at singing/humming/whistling along. Getting to know the tune really well makes it much easier to play.
  • Don't worry about getting every single note straight away. It is normal to forget the notes when you try putting the phrases together.
  • Don't rely on music at home. If you always play from music in the house then you will find it tricky to play without it in class. Use the music as a guide to help but try to play without it too.
  • Go for it! Make your mistakes loud and proud. Learning by ear is a skill which improves the more you do it.

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