I think the same can be done with caution with Irish tunes. When people say that Irish traditional music is an aural tradition and you should learn by ear and not by notation that is true. You should strive to train your ear to learn this music via osmosis and resist the urge to “cheat” and look at the music too early in the process of learning an individual tune. However, glancing at transcriptions of the music can help clarify some muddy areas and help you grasp and remember the tune better, much in the same way that seeing the lyrics to Franklin’s Tower helped correct the faulty words that my mind’s ear was hearing.
I am trying to learn basic tourist French right now prior to a trip to Quebec this summer. I have some audio instruction “tapes” that I got from the library. Since I am a visual learner (and a fairly good speller) it really helps me comprehend the language better if I can pair the audio with the written. So for me, pairing a written phrasebook with the audio helps give me a more complete picture of the expression. The same holds for music: audio + notation vs. audio only.
Jerry Garica also said “If you’re wondering why in an old-timey band you can’t understand the words very well, it’s because we don’t know them, and we can’t figure them out off the records, so we make up our own as we go along.”
When you can’t understand the exact words you replace them with words of your own choosing based on what fits or what you think it might be. The same is done as a player with your choice of musical notes. You may not like what you see when an Irish tune is written out and may prefer your own way of hearing it. There’s nothing wrong with that, as long as your aural version is driven by purity of intent and not held back by your ignorance or skill limitations. You get to choose how “enlightening” you find someone else’s idea of what the notation should be. Use it as an aid, not as a crux.