We’re back! After a year of fully online lessons, it was a real joy to have lessons (including recording sessions!) on the front porch this fall.
This semester, we gave ourselves a new challenge: what if we learned our pieces entirely by ear?
What was once a standard aspect of musicianship can sometimes be a bit of a lost art these days, but it’s great skill to have, and one that also builds important abilities in close listening, too.
What you’ll hear below represents the fruits of our efforts: none of the students ever saw sheet music for these melodies, and all of them succeeded! Below, you’ll see their reflections on how the experience gave them a new appreciation for what it means to play the flute well.
Plus, each track here represents literally hours of work for both students and teacher — learning the tunes, practicing, recording, and then creating arrangements, playing the accompaniments, and editing the audio on the back end. Think of it as a box of exquisite chocolates… we hope you find each of them to be perfectly delicious!
Bridget, flute, age 14: The Mist-Covered Mountains of Home
“It was really fun to learn by ear because it was kind of like a mystery, and I built in my head what I thought the page would look like. When you learn by ear, you familiarize yourself with the song more than when you read the notes off the paper, because you can sightread pretty easily, but if you learn it by ear, you have to really be thinking about what comes next. So you know the song better.”
(Original arrangement of a traditional Scottish tune titled Chì mi na mòrbheanna, written by the Highlander John Cameron (Iain Camshroin/Iain Rob/Iain Òg Ruaidh) in 1856)
Sarah, flute, age 14: Bill Malley’s Barndance
“Learning by ear was hard at first. But once I got it in my brain, it was pretty easy to learn! We did it in sections and eventually put it together. Learning by ear was different from band class because you have to pay a lot more attention to the details. And also doing it by yourself is different from band, because you get all the hard stuff. But band is really fun and I have a lot of friends in the flute section. If the college I go to has a band, I will definitely be in it.”
(Original arrangement of a traditional Irish tune by Bill Malley, a fiddler in County Clare)
Audrey, flute, age 15: La Rosette
“Learning by ear was fun. The rhythms aren’t as confusing, because I wasn’t looking at the music. When I see the music, normally it’s not what I thought it would look like. But I like learning by ear better. I remember the songs better. And I like my song! If it were a story, it would be happening in nature, like a fairy tale.”
(Original arrangement of a Renaissance melody by Michael Praetorius, part of Courante CIX in Terpsichore (1612))
Avery, flute, age 15: Planxty Drew
“Learning a tune entirely by ear was a good experience, because if I had my flute out and wanted to play, I didn’t have to go find the sheet music. It is nice to be able to randomly start playing a song out of nowhere! There’s so much less to keep track of if you don’t need to keep sheet music with you. And when my family wants me to play for them, sometimes I don’t know what to play, but now I have a song that I can play at any time.”
(Original arrangement of a traditional Irish tune by Turlough O’Carolan (1670-1738))
Jonathan, flute, age 16: Polska efter Ludvig Olsson (“Barockfavoriten”)
“Learning music by ear, from a person, means there is a connection. It’s not just ink anymore. It’s like directly from another person, and now we both share the song. This kind of music is more fun than band because I guess there’s more independence than you could have in a large group. You can experiment with tone and speed, not necessarily in ways that are more interesting for the listener, but to me that’s more exciting to hear this kind of tone being created and manipulated. That’s always exciting, you know? That’s something that, when you’re playing together, the group sound doesn’t act the same way. It’s its own fun to be part of something much bigger in a large band, but here there’s freedom.”
(Original arrangement of a traditional Swedish tune from Malexander (a village in Östergötland))