I’ve studied a wide variety of musical instruments, musical styles, and dance styles, and have learned a lot from each of them. (But the operative word is “studied”. Many them, I haven’t really “learned”, much less “mastered”! But on a few, I can muddle through passably. And when it comes to Irish Dance, well, my claim to fame is that at one time, I was able to fool quite a few Irish folks into thinking I knew what I was doing!)
Playing music by ear is a technique that is accessible to beginners of all ages. It makes music fun, and takes the boredom out of practicing. It gives you the kind of challenge you get solving crossword puzzles, but builds a skill that provides innumerable benefits, including the ability to interpret, improvise, and embellish a tune.
Sheet music has highly appropriate uses. It also has highly inappropriate uses. The amateur musician needs to know how to make good use of it, and how to steer clear of its pitfalls. This article is intended to provide that guidance.
Slow sessions are valuable, and a heck of a lot of fun. Sheet music should be avoided while actually at the session though. For a really slow session, “trading tunes” may be a more useful concept than “playing together”. But with a really qualified session leader, both goals can be attained.
The right equipment and the right technique can make it a lot easier to learn to play a tune.