Music reading conversion – does it get easier?

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Music reading conversion – does it get easier?

Postby StephenWatson » Thu Jan 28, 2016 9:58 am

Hi All

Having been a highland piper for some forty plus years (gosh, feel old now) I have no problem reading music straight from the page and converting it into movement. Except when it comes to Northumbrian pipes. It has been a few years now but I still cannot interpret NSP scores into tunes in real time. As the fingering is different I cannot look at the note and convert it into the appropriate fingering to play at normal tune speed. I always 'see' the highland fingering in my head and then convert it to NSP fingering as I play making my music reading speed too slow to play music straight from the page.

In the old days when we converted to decimal currency (youngsters will have no idea) I would look at the price and converted it back into pounds, shillings and pence to determine its real value so it made sense to me. It took a great many of years and immersion into decimalisation before I no longer felt the need or had to do this to understand its value and I had thought the same would happen with NSP music.

New currency today is no problem and I seldom think of farthings and guineas but highland notation is still part of my life and something I do not wish to leave behind with the florins. Abstaining from highland notation for some considerable time has helped me to 'hard-wire' NSP fingering to some extent but I do not want to ignore highland tunes forever so my question is. Does it get easier to switch from one form to another and back again?

If I know a tune on the Highland pipes I avoid it on Northumbrians (and vice versa) to help keep my head straight . I have tried learning NSP tunes by ear then comparing them to the score to help solidify the notation but I nearly always find I have picked up mistakes that I have to un-learn.

After eleven years I had thought I would be getting the hang of it by now but I still find it frustrating when I cannot play along with others when I have to sight read the music. Perhaps its my age!

I would love to know other peoples thoughts on this.
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Re: Music reading conversion – does it get easier?

Postby Richard Evans » Sat Jan 30, 2016 6:41 pm

I have the same problem in reverse, I find it very difficult to read music for SSP. Don't know what the answer is except to play more and keep trying!
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Re: Music reading conversion – does it get easier?

Postby Francis Wood » Mon Feb 01, 2016 2:05 pm

StephenWatson wrote:my question is. Does it get easier to switch from one form to another and back again? . . . . . . . . . .
After eleven years I had thought I would be getting the hang of it by now


Hello Stephen,

Eleven years of this seems a patient and purposeful attempt and by now you may need an alternative strategy!

I've no personal experience of the conversion problem. But it seems to me that one way forward might be to bypass the sight reading stage where the problem seems to be intractably rooted and gradually build up a core repertoire of NSP tunes to be played by ear. Not everyone is comfortable playing without the dots but if those dots are a worse problem than doing without, they're the lesser of the two evils. It might also overcome the difficulties of those differences in the tunes where they occur in the Scottish and Northumbrian repertoires.

Francis
Last edited by Francis Wood on Tue Feb 02, 2016 8:32 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Music reading conversion – does it get easier?

Postby GrahamRB » Mon Feb 01, 2016 4:30 pm

Stephen are you using dots in Highland pipe settings e.g.grace notes shown?

Have you tried using music, for example, written in the key of G?

I play both SSP and NSP and find that HP notation triggers SSP fingering and if I use it with NSP it still does the same and I'm constantly trying to mentally re-adjust whilst trying to play :roll:
I have less of a problem with plain (no grace notes) notation especially if it's in 'G' ... 'D' is more problematic because of its similarity to HP Amix .
Graham
N. Cambs/S. Lincs
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Re: Music reading conversion – does it get easier?

Postby StephenWatson » Thu Feb 04, 2016 1:12 pm

GrahamRB wrote:Have you tried using music, for example, written in the key of G?


Hi Graham

Yes, tried that! thanks for the suggestion though.

Someone off list suggested I print out music for NSP using squares for the music notation instead of the usual oval shape which may help my brain differentiate between the two. This may work but then I would just slip back into the wrong fingering each time I saw the original music format.

After originally posting I pondered on my question and came to the conclusion that if people can learn to speak and write fluently in more than one language I should be able to do the same with my music (i.e. GHB/SSP and NSP). I suppose I should just get my finger out and get on with it, setting aside a session each week to work on this problem as though I had gone to a class for learning a language!

Thanks to all who commented, interesting reading.
Stephen
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Re: Music reading conversion – does it get easier?

Postby time&tide » Tue Jul 19, 2016 5:45 am

Hello Graham,
You are not alone; this is a relatively common problem for people who play several instruments or for people who speak or are learning different languages, and is relatively easy to resolve. Imagine you have a box in your head entitled GHB, and one entitled NSP, the GHB box is much bigger and older.
When your mind sees music on a page it automatically opens this large GHB box ready to transpose the dots on the page to your fingers. The problem arises when the dots are for a NSP and confusion reigns in your head because the wrong box has been opened. What you have to do is to tell your mind which box to open.

You do this by signalling which box you wish to open. Before starting to read the music and play tunes on your NSP, you must first of all do some exercises on the scales of the NSP, using scales written on the page, not simply running up and down the scales of the pipes, you must look at the dots on the page. First just running up and down the scales looking at the dots on the page, then some runs, and other exercises prior to playing tunes. This only needs to be for a few minutes, it effectively signals to your mind which box is to be opened, and should be done every time before you start to play the NSP. Eventually, when the NSP box is bigger your mind will learn to switch easily between the two.
I play the NSP, SSP, and concertina, both English and Anglo, and if I haven’t played a certain instrument for a while there can be some confusion in my mind as to which instrument the dots on the page refer to. This is easily resolved by looking at, and playing the scales of the instrument I am using. This is literally the key to the box you wish to open, and connects the dots on the page to your fingers.
Yours Sincerely, William
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Re: Music reading conversion – does it get easier?

Postby IainGelston » Thu Jul 21, 2016 9:34 pm

I read music as a series of shapes or patterns rather than individual notes. For instance, the pattern Acec is the same shape on a page as the pattern GBdB, and it is that pattern I read rather than the particular notes. This makes it easier to chop and change between instruments, and is also really handy for seeking out suitable tunes in manuscript collections that might be written in different keys.
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