learning styles

learning styles

I’m curious how people go about learning tunes. I’m starting to feel as though my learning process is flawed, because I learn tunes extremely fast and then once I know how to play them, they never get any better. My older tunes lack a lot of the rhythm and flair I am learning to incorporate into my newer tunes. I might give my older tunes a cleaning and rebuild to see if I like them any better now that I have more skills to play them with. And I might start to spend more time on each tune and not consider it "learned" until I have a solid foundation of rhythm, ornamentation, and maybe a couple variations worked out. For the first three years I was happy just to get the notes right.

How do you all go about learning tunes? Slow? Fast? One at a time or in a burst of multiple acquisitions on a slow, rainy weekend? Do you pull out a metronome? Play a simple and boring part over and over again until something interesting happens to it? Do you just hear one in a session so many times that one day you just realize you know it, even if you never noticed it before? How do you get them to stick in your head? How do you pick which tunes to learn? Is "route" pronounced "root" or "rowt’? Does everyone else hate the automatic Grammar and Spelling Checker in Microsoft Word as much as I do?

Reeling and Hornpiping

Same here. I’m amazed how many different ways there are of playing, for example, St Anne’s Reel. It usually takes me several bars to recognize it.

Today i was trying to get a better grasp of hornpipes, what really they are and how they’re played. Usually i see people describe them as being played with a "dotted rhythm" jumpy feel, but i’ve seen reels described the same way. I’ve seen hornpipes played pretty straight without the jumpiness. It still baffles me.

I did find out that the hornpipe was originally a reed instrument made (of course) of horn. I found pictures and a sound sample here:
http://www.gmm.co.uk/ai/reedhorn.htm

I hate most of Microsoft Word.

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Kerri, you’re asking all the right questions, or at least the same ones I ask myself at least twice a week. The only one I can answer with any authority is, yes the auto grammar and spell check must be based on Hal from 2001: Space Odyssey—the ultimate in totally defective feckin’ know-it-alls. The good news is, you can disable it (no, not by throwing your cpu off a bridge). Click on Tools on the menu bar, then spelling and grammar. Click on Options and then click on the various boxes to remove the little check marks from "services" you want to disable. Viola—no more squiggly colored lines all over your writing.

On to learning tunes. My guess is that this is a highly personal and variable (even for one person over the course of his or her life as a player) process (is that pronounced "prohcess" or "prahcess"?). So all I can describe is how it works for me. It will be interesting to hear how others do it and compare notes.

I prefer to learn tunes by ear directly from another player. This happens at sessions, especially if they play the tune four times through, or if they play it week after week. As a fiddler, it’s easy enough to pick up tunes from another fiddler, but I really like getting them off other instruments—concertina, banjo, whistle. I tend to listen to the whole tune rather than searching for every little ornament and bow phrasing. So I’m freer to interpret the music on my instrument. It’s also fun to push my fiddle technique to capture the nuances that other instruments might use…make my triplets as crisp as the banjo’s, for example (probably impossible, but my triplets are snappier now because I had something to shoot for). After years of consciously seeking out tunes from other instruments, I now aim for this same mindset when learning tunes off of fiddlers too—saves me from copying exactly what they’re doing.

When a live player isn’t available, I learn off cds a lot, and tapes of Thistle and Shamrock. Same techniques apply here. Sometimes I’ll slow down a tune on a variable speed tape machine, but I only do this when I’m intentionally trying to copy the player. For instance, this helped me better hear Kevin Burke’s swoopy bowing patterns and Martin Hayes’s moving triplets.

On complicated tunes (e.g. Dispute at the Crossroads, the Shetland Fiddler, Beare Island Reel, Tommy’s Tarbukas), I usually have to ask the player (or tape) to slow down and perhaps to repeat some phrases to make sure I’m getting the note sequence correct. I’m particularly careful about "ending phrases"—those runs that typically end the A and B parts of tunes. Such as, for a reel in Dmajor: |af (3gfe fdec|d2…..| So many of these sound alike yet contain small important differences. If you want to play these tunes with other people, it’s best to learn the "standard" phrasings. I might tinker with variations after I’ve learned a tune, but not until I’m sure that I understand the tune’s structure and essence. Sometimes the variations introduce dramatic changes to that structure and essence, but I want that process to be conscious, not haphazard.

Easier tunes usually land on my fiddle through osmosis, just by playing along with someone who knows the tune. Rolling in the Ryegrass or Tobin’s…these kind of straightforward tunes are relatively easy to pick up on the fly. Sometimes I learn such tunes just by hearing them over and over, and then they pop out of the fiddle one day. This happened even as a beginner—I once thought I’d composed a great little reel, all in a flash, only to realize later that it was a well-known tune just seeping through.

I don’t use a metronome. Sometimes I tap my foot, sometimes my bow hand does all the rhythm. The pace is usually slower than session speed, but not so slow as to lose the liveliness—unless a passage requires unfamliar fingering or bowing (the more tunes you learn, the less frequently this happens). I don’t think about t the bowing while I’m cementing the notes in place, and most times, the bow takes care of itself. I get most tunes up to speed in 10-15 minutes, and the bowing changes to suit the pace and lilt. As Kevin Burke says, the bow only goes in two directions, up or down, and you either bow a note seperately or slur it with another. It doesn’t get much more complicated. If a passage feels awkward, I may isolate it to try 4 o 5 different bowing approaches—single bows, searching for which notes I want to accent; using more down bow for emphasis; using more up bow for emphasis; and different combinations of slurred notes.

Some tunes stick better than others. Some just resonate more with my tastes. The ones I have to work on are those that I learn because they’re someone else’s favorites, and I want to play with them. I had a hell of a time getting Jig of Slurs into my head. It’s an easy enough jig, maybe too easy. I won’t say it bored me, and I knew I had to learn it for the session crowd. But I wasn’t motivated on a personal level. The only reason it sticks now is because I’ve played it a zillion times in the last year. But I never practice it on my own.

I also transcribe every tune I learn, mostly so I can share it easily with others, but also to spur my memory. Funny thing is that just writing a tune down helps stick it in my mind—sometimes I actually "see" the notes on the staff when I’m taking off on a newly acquired tune. Written music also allows me to study a tune’s structure from a different angle—some patterns are as easy to see as they are to hear.

As for which ones to learn, see the Common Session Tunes list in another discussion. The short answer is learn all of them. The long answer is learn all of them and then learn some more. I keep a mandolin at my desk and pick out tunes while waiting for the pc to boot up or while on hold on the telephone.

Oooph. Too much to digest? The key for me is that we learn this music by playing it, not by doing drills and exercises (except to improve those bowed triplets and rolls). Playing in a weekly session really helps. So does an occasional day- or night-long bout of playing nonstop. And listen, listen, listen. Cds, tapes of yourself, other players. It all adds up.

Hope this helps!
Will

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I run into a similar thing with older tunes. There are tunes that I haven’t played in 5 years or more. Every time I try one, it still sounds exactly the same as it did 5 years ago, inspite of the fact that my fiddling has improved quite a bit (there was a lot of room for improvement, so improvement came easy,…. actually there is still a lot of room for improvement). But, if I take 15 minutes with the tune, slow it down, and run through it carefully, I can ‘update’ the tune, and bring it up to my current level.

I only learn new tunes, when I feel like it. Sometimes, I am really motivated, like I was earlier this month, and try to learn to many tunes at a time. For me, 3 tunes at a time seems to work ok, but I can go for months without learning another one.

I have four different ways to learn tunes. The most common way for me is to learn the tune from music notation.
I’ll usually play the first part through about a dozen times, and then go on the second part. Sometimes, I break each part down and learn it phrase by phrase. Phrase by phrase is the most effective method for me. Once I can keep the rhythm fairly steady, I’ll set the metronome to about half speed. For a reel, I’ll set it for 120, and play with 4 clicks to the bar. For a jig, I’ll set it to about 60. Then I practice like that for half an hour, trying to get my rhythm right in sync with the metronome, and try to get as strong a tone as possible. I work out any bow direction problems at this speed, and try some ornamentation, to make sure that it works with the bow direction.
I don’t bother with any ornamentation any more at this point; I add it in later, after the tune is well in hand.
Then, I’ll work on the tune at about 3/4 speed, 160 clicks of the metronome, playing 4 clicks to the bar, for a reel, 80 clicks for a jig. This tempo is a little too fast to play a tune which hasn’t already been learned to a certain extant, so if the tune isn’t ready, then it will get really sloppy. If so, I slow down for a while, and try to iron out the sticky parts. This is the slowest way to learn tunes. It can take me 20 hours of practice, over the period of a month to get the tune up to tempo, and feeling comfortable.

The second way that I learn tunes, is to sit down with another fiddler, get him or her to slow down the tune, and show it to me phrase by phrase. This way, I can pick up a tune in 20 minutes or more. Within a day or two, the tune is up to tempo, and feels comfortable within a week.

The third way, is to sit down with a recording, and try to get the tune, again phrase by phrase. If I have a few notes which are different from the recording, I can live with that. It takes me about one or two hours to get a tune this way, and it feels comfortable in about a week. My ear is not very fast, so I use this method to learn waltzes, slow airs, marches, melodic type pieces, etc.

On very rare occasions, I can pick out a tune by memory. I might be noodling around, and come across a familiar phrase, and then, I can get most, or all of the tune. If I am missing any phrases, I can usually find a local fiddler at the fiddle club, to help me with the bits. Tunes like this require the least effort. I will usually have everything feeling comfortable in less than half an hour.

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Scotty, the metronome use is interesting to me. I’ve used one on occasion, but never when learning a tune, only to check my tempo to prep for playing for dancers, or to make sure that I’m not changing tempo when skating through a difficult passage or tune transition.

Most tunes come with their own metronome, if you know what I mean. They seem to work best at a certain speed…e.g., the Morning Star for me goes a little slower than Maudabawn Chapel and that goes slower than Eileen Curran, and that goes slower than Toss the Feathers, and they all run last compared to Last Night’s Fun. Of course, put them all in a set and I’ll stick to one tempo.

I also like to play the same tune at several different tempos just for variety, and to see where it will take me. Martin Wynne’s #2 makes a wonderful slow air. Having played it that way keeps me from racing away with it when I do play it up tempo.

The other device I’ve used for a metronome is recorded music. I find it much more stimulating to play along with Martin Hayes or Kevin Burke or Sean Smyth helping me anchor my rhythm. It helps me hear where to lean into the beat and where to ease off it a bit…something no metronome yet has done for me.

As for getting tunes into the head, I know a fair number of players who lilt a tune for a week or so before even trying it on the instrument. I do that some, but am much more likely to use this notion to work out variations or test how one tune might slide into another. And I don’t often do it outloud because my vocal intonation is worse than my string intonation.
Will

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Kerri,
Sounds to me that you may have hit a plateau. This is when, despite your best efforts, you just don’t seem to making any headway. One of the most obvious symptoms of this ailment is that all of your tunes seem to have the same old boring cadence. What’s worse is when you covertly start to loath your own playing and learning new tunes feels about as interesting as doing a load of laundry on a dreary Sunday afternoon. I’ve hit a number of plateaus along way so far and it can be a very frustrating place to be. Moreover, working ever more diligently on technical stuff can sometimes make things worse. Thus, I think a good solution to the plateau dilemma is to rattle up the routine. If you’re going to sessions a lot, perhaps you want to scale back, or quit for a while. If you’re playing jigs and reels all the time, perhaps you want to focus on slow airs. And so forth. I think the very best way to cure the plateau blues is to take a trip to Ireland. I did this a little over a year ago and I subconsciously soaked up so much music and inspiration that learning tunes now seem more like recalling (or recreating) happy memories. In any case, that extra special and elusive lift that great players put into tunes takes time and a whole melting pot of experiences to cultivate in your own playing. And how one approaches that, as Will alluded to earlier, is of course a very personal matter. Good luck and happy playing.

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I just wrote a long, long reply and then I did something stupid with my keyboard and everything just vanished. Here is the essence of what I wanted to say:
My beginner

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I too tended to return to old habits when playing tunes I learned 20 years ago. So I made a conscious and major effort to re-learn them—just throw out everything I thought I knew about them (notes, bowing, accents, ornaments, etc) and start over. It worked, and as I plowed through all those early tunes, the work grew easier because I was finding similar "solutions" to problem passages. I also took on each tune as an individual—really taking each on one its own merits—and this influenced how I bow and ornament them. It was well worth the effort because I salvaged many otherwise bland tunes and now they’re as rewarding to play as any others, plus they practically play themselves becuase I’ve basically known them for so many years.

Will

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Does anyone find after working stricktly on technique or when attempting to break bad habits, that (at least temporarily) their playing suffers in general? Obviously, you have to grin and bear it, but I wonder if this is a common problem.

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Yes, the technique improves but the music suffers. I once heard a contest fiddler from the north country (won’t say which one) whose technique was flawless—perfect pitch, super crisp fingering, smooth as silk bowing…and not a hint of life or pain or joy or even enthusiasm. I don’t mean to say her playing didn’t have a certain amount of lift—it was danceable, but not something you’d instinctively tap your toe to.

In my experience, such playing is the exception. Most of us are much sloppier—but also more alive, more in touch with the music itself. It’s why we play in the first place.

So I do as few drills as possible, preferring to work on technique by just playing the tunes. If I need a brush up on rolls, I’ll play a tune chock full of ‘em and do it over and over, concentrating on the rolls, but not neglecting the tune for it. With a little practice, I’ve found that you can work on any specific technique this way—intonation, speed, bowing motions, fingering, phrasing, even sight reading. And the music suffers less for it.
Will

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For whistle players, I think the phenomenon of improving technique while trashing the music occurs dramatically when learning/practising tonging (i.e. single tonging, double tonging, triple tonging). At least in my view, such tonging is a vital in indespensible way of doing important phrasing and ornamentation on the whistle, but too much of it and using in the wrong place really wreaks havok on a tune. But as Caoimghgin suggests, I guess you just grin an bear it for a while—or yank the bloody thing right out of your mouth…

Technique drills - blech!

I am finding that my overall playing is suffering as I try to concentrate on technique. What I gain in precision, I am losing in rhythm and continuity. It’s as if, in trying to be "accurate", I am damaging the bigger picture. Like every time I stop to think "OK, NOW I’m going to do a roll… and NOW I’m going to try a triplet, and NOW I’m going to put the emphasis on the 3rd and 7th beat… NOW I’m going to play single notes instead of slurring, and NOW I’m going to slur…" all I end up with is an erratic collection of moments instead of an entire tune. My best playing happens when my mind is completely blank, and even if it’s a little boring, technically, and usually sparsely ornamented, it is getting gradually better with time. Every time I think, I lose the tune. Perhaps a wholistic approach is best. More playing, more listening, less thinking.

Has anyone ever tried using a metronome clicking on the off-beats? I think I might try that later just for fun and see what happens. I find it tough to get into the "groove" of a metronome, but when I nail the right tempo with the thing and get off the ground, it can be very hypnotic and help me concentrate on rhythm without thinking about it.

Incidentally, I had this great dream a couple nights ago that I was playing the piano (I was classically trained and still can’t play much without rigorous breakdown and sheet music). I was just bashing away, playing horrible sounding chords in a random order, not thinking at all about what I was doing and letting my hands and fingers fall wherever they chose without judging the outcome, and a crowd gathered to listen. I started to realize it actually sounded pretty good. I thought to myself "how is that possible when I’m just improvising a totally random assortment of notes?" Then I realized my rhythm was bang on and there were these beautiful runs and rolls happening between my random chords, and that there was an odd symmetry and regularity to the bizarre chords I was playing… I woke up very proud of myself, thinking "Hey I just learned how to play the piano!" Not sure what this means exactly, but there’s some profound musical lesson in there somewhere.

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Sounds like you were playing Jazz!

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Or accompaniment on a Michael Coleman record….๐Ÿ˜‰

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Funny, it did remind me of a comment a jazz player friend of mine said: There are no wrong notes in jazz. If you hit something that sounds a bit off, just play it three times and voila!

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When I started playing Irish music (more than twenty years ago!) I started by learning tunes from records (no CDs back then). I never really bothered with the ornamentations, since I couldn

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Jorg, I think you’re right, among other things, about ornamentation: if in doubt, take ‘em out. A tune can come alive plenty well without them. I find that as my playing has evolved, I use ornamentation less and less, and focus more and more on phrasing. I know "phrasing" may sound a bit technical too, but I simply mean the way a tune hangs together in its own, unique way. Ornamentation can mess with all the good stuff that makes a tune what it is, a tune.

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Glad to hear the input about ornamentation. I heard a player this summer who really opened my eyes to the concept of simplicity - his playing was absolutely beautiful - almost made me cry - and it was simple, unhurried, and sparsely ornamented. He’d often just let the long notes hang in a way I can’t really explain. No vibrato, no roll, no triplet, no special attack, just a solid, perfect note all on it’s own that I would keep hearing long after the end of the tune. I think some of those notes are still hanging there.

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I often hit plateaus, or work on one thing so much that I ignore everything else. But sometimes you just have to do that. The key is to occasionally drop it; then when you come back to it you may find to your surprise that you can do it well. I think the brain sorts it out subconsciously.

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jomac is right about the brain sorting things out subconsciously. But it only does it if you have a specific commitment to learning something in particular.

If you look at your own experience, you can find some examples of this. Here are a few of my own:

The first time that I noticed it, it happened like this….. I had been fiddling for about a year. I had started out with a book titled BEGINNING OLD TIME FIDDLE, by Alan Kaufman, which came with a vinyl ‘sound sheet’, a 33 1/3 rpm recording pressed on a square vinyl sheet. For practice, I would play along with the tunes on the sheet, except for a tune titled ‘EBENEZER’, because it was to fast for a beginner. So, I would let the record play, and sit that one out. One, day, I decided to try the tune, even though I hadn’t learned or practiced it . So, when the tune came up, I turned to that page in the book, and tried to read and play the tune. Well, the tune was going faster than I could read, but to my amazement, the bow and the fingers kept up, until the realization of what was happening hit me. In my excitement, I lost the tune, and try as I might, I couldn’t duplicate the tune at the tempo of the recording. But, it told me that somewhere inside my noggin, there was the potential to play these tunes, if I could only access that potential.

About, a year after that, I had left my tape recorder on to record a fiddle radio show, while I went out and partied in a bar with some friends. When I came home, I listened to the tape, and found a tune that I absolutely loved, one that I ‘just had to learn’. Problem was, I had only ever learned one tune by ear, and that was a slow waltz, and this one was much too fast for me. (MAGGIE AND JIGS TWO STEP) But, I listened to it about a dozen times before I went to bed, determined to learn the tune in the morning. As I slept, I had a dream, dreaming that I was playing that tune! I realized what was happening, and in my dream, I looked down at my fingers to see what
notes they were playing. I only caught a bar or two, before I woke up in my excitement. When I got up in the morning, I played about 3/4 of the first part, before listening to the recording, to see if I really did learn the tune while I was sleeping! I listened to the recording a few times, and had the entire tune in about fifteen minutes! I have never learned a tune as fast, since.

Hitting plateaus: The story of my life for the first 12 years of fiddling.
I’m not certain, but I think that it might have to do with the lack of specific goals, not necessarily motivation. I know that I was always highly motivated, my frustration was evidence of that. Sometimes a break was in order, and helped some. Other times, I tried to overpower the plateau with concentrated effort and work. For me, in retrospect, I think the problem was that I lacked specific goals. I didn’t know which tune to learn next, so I would open a book, and ‘surf’ through the tunes, sight reading a lot of them, but not learning any of them. I would work on general things, like keeping a loose wrist, but I didn’t really know if I was practising it correctly. I felt like I was wandering in the dark. If you see elements of your own approach here, the solution might be found in selecting something specific on which to concentrate, such as cleaning up part of a tune, or learning a new tune by ear if you haven’t done it before. Find something, anything to which you can devote a week of effort, and do it. The key is having a specific goal, preferably one which excites you. General motivation alone, will not do it.

If motivation might be part of the issue, phone your local retirement home, and arrange to go over and play a few tunes for the residents.
That will get the creative juices flowing, and you may find a wonderful new outlet for your music. If you do this on a regular basis, you eventually will stumble upon others who want to join you. Having commitments ahead of you, brings immediacy to your practice time, and helps you to make progress, helps you to find musical friends, helps you to find satisfaction in your music, not to mention the benefits of the practical experience in front of an audience.

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Great advice Scotty. I don’t know if I’ve ever articulated for myself that distinction between motivation and a focus on specific goals, but your first 12 years on fiddle sound a lot like mine—great desire to play, but doing it in a vacuum. I relied heavily on recordings to get me through the initial learning, and had the benefit of 8 months of excellent lessons from Linda Danielson in Eugene OR. A few spot lessons from Kevin Burke, Liz Carroll, and just watching Johnny Cunningham and Aly Bain also helped (are helping still!), but I wish I’d had lessons once a week for a year or so to steer me more efficiently through the questions about bow technique, fingering, phrasing ,etc, that we all have to work through.

The last three years for me have shown me the benefits of setting specific goals each week or at least each month. Learn specific tunes, work on specific shortcomings in my playing, and even setting a "big picture" specific goal: become a decent session player (which is different in several ways from being a decent stage performer). This last goal helps me see my other priorities (tunes, technique) more clearly, e.g., what tune to learn next? Well, which one will most enhance my session playing?

I too have learned tunes by dreaming them first, and I’ve also had tunes just roll out on the fiddle by playing in a dream-like state of mind…not zoned out but rather zoned IN. Burke emphasizes this as being completely relaxed physically, but mentally "fierce" in pursuit of the tune. That’s my latest mantra….

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A Word in Favor of Technique

Well, I have to jump in on this. What’s supposed to happen (and what too many classical teachers and players ignore), is that the technique becomes second nature, so automatic that you can allow the life and spirit of the music to come through. If good technique kills the music, then something is very wrong! There are many palyers out there with dazzling technique and boatloads of feeling in their playing. "It’ll kill my feel" is no excuse for sloppy playing, you can have feeling AND technique.

Technique

Yes! The technique allows you to express yourself. Not a lot of people are really good classical players, and maybe that’s why there’s a misconception that you "just play the notes as they’re written". That’s not true; there’s ornamentation you have to deal with (just as in Irish music), there’s dynamics, expression, etc. Then you have to do all these things in a way that is consistent with the spirit of the music and that particular style (just as in Irish music!). In fact, the notes are the easy part.

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Scotty, you are so totally right about the need to set goals. This was one of my strategies for transcending my most recent bout with the plateau dilemma, which for me wasn’t so much a matter of motivation but rather of focus. The goal I set for myself—and achieved last spring—was to compete in one of them there competitions (for me, the adult whistle competion in Detroit). I then acquired a teacher who cracked the whip on me every week and helped me work up the requisite tunes. I did very well in the competition and am continuing to enjoy many divendends from the hard work, which, among other things, involves worrying less about technique and focussing more on the musical dimension of the tunes I play. What my next goal(s) might be, I’m not too sure, but the idea of performing at retirement homes strikes me as quite appealing.

The drab plateau

somebody write a tune with that title. That would be hilarious. In fact I think I will. It will give me something to do. I’m having a bit of a struggle with depression right now, which makes it difficult to get excited or ambitious about anything, and makes getting beyond where I’m at seem unlikely. I’m sure this is the main reason I’ve been stuck for so long.

Is it twelve years of frustration and "darkness"? I’ve heard that a couple times in this strain now. That’s daunting. There was a fiddler who I begged to give me lessons in Calgary when all I could find were classical violinists who assumed they could teach Celtic music because of their rigorous training - He was too busy (and probably disinclined) to teach, but once when I said "Watching you play makes me painfully aware of how much work I still have to do," he leaned over and tapped on his chest and said "It comes from here". that’s the only lesson I ever got out of him, but the most powerful one I’ve ever had. I went home and REALLY thought about my relationship with my instrument, and it became quite obvious why it was so unco-operative.

I wonder why the most important lesson I ever had is the easiest to forget.

Play, repeat

I think the only real qualification someone needs to learn a musical instrument is the ability to hear that sound constantly, most of the time badly played, and not be discouraged. If you want to play any instrument, you need to like that instrument so much that you will keep going to it, keep playing. Eventually, after a couple of decades, things start to make sense (either because you’re finally beginning to learn, or because your brain has finally started to decay — either way, you will be happy).

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12 years in a dark plateau…. I would have given up. You won’t spend 12 years in a dark plateau, either. Sorry, I didn’t mean to sound so
discouraging. Yes, there were difficult times for me. I am sure that is true for everyone, in almost everything that we do. But, for what it is worth, it makes it all the more satisfying when we do achieve our goals. If it was easy, everyone would do it, and then where would we be?

Depressed? Yes, I have been a little depressed lately, what with the
incredibly tragic events in New York. Earlier this week, I composed a tune in G and Em, and it didn’t adequately express the depth of my feeling. So, I composed two more parts to it. I don’t know, yet, if I will ever learn to play the tune, but it is a comfort to know that it is there. Don’t have a name for it yet, and I won’t steal yours, but your suggestion has given me some ideas.

For anyone interested in ‘doing the retirement home thing’, send me an e-mail, and I will be glad to offer some direction in booking ‘gigs’, etc. I do a lot of this, and I find it tremendously satisfying, absolutely beyond words. You really don’t need any help from me, just follow your instincts, and have fun. But, if you want any info, or whatever, let me know, and I’ll be thrilled to help in any way I can.

Will mentioned something earlier in this thread that really got my attention because it is especially relevant to a large part of this discussion. He mentioned something to the effect of, "you have to WORK THROUGH the questions of bowing, fingering, and phrasing…"
It is the kind of comment that I would have glossed over in my early years, but it jumps out and screams at me now. It is a deceptively simple statement, but contains a HUGE truth that is often overlooked.
You really do have to WORK THROUGH the questions….Everyone has to look at all these issues, and decide for themselves, based on their experiences, and whatever info makes sense to them, and proceed and try to get results.

That is where Will and I "wandered in the dark." We didn’t have the benefit of the internet and great sites like this, where we could ask questions and get guidance. With the fiddlers that I knew, they had heard the music growing up, and when they started to play, they just kept trying until they got the sound they wanted. When I asked questions, they simply said things like, "keep trying, you’ll get it."
(Actually, there is a truckload of wisdom and encouragement in that comment, as well.) But, discussion of the sort found on ‘The Session’ and other sites, just wasn’t available to us, so we were left to our own devices. Perhaps, that is one of the reasons that people like Will, myself and others are so willing to offer help to anyone that we can.

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Yup, everything I’ve ever learned—fiddling, writing, juggling (seven objects at a time when I was younger), telemark skiing, being happily married, PARENTING(!!!)—it’s always a matter of *working through* the choices, the physical motions, the mental gyrations, the emotional motives. Some of this is simply a commitment of time: we learn by doing, over and over and over. But we also have to be conscious of the questions such learning poses, always choosing which way to go, then circling back and trying another path—not because the first one led no where (all paths lead somewhere), but just to find out where the other paths lead. This involves WORK, and you have to persever, to work THROUGH till you get where you’re going.

All this is easier with a mentor to point out the paths (some are well disguised as dead ends, or as walls with no hint of a path beyond). But each of us still has to do the work.

"Twelve years of darkness?" No. The first three years are full of enthusiasm and frustration, but you’ve got the excuse that you’re just a beginner. Then the frustration grows deeper for a few years because you’re not a beginner anymore, but you still sound like one, especially to yourself. Remember: listening critically to your own playing is the hallmark of someone who WILL improve. It’s a GOOD sign if you’re not satisfied with your own playing.

But don’t get too down on yourself either. Find people to play with. Find a mentor. Set short term goals that you can acheive. Listen to Bobby Casey, Junior Crehan, John Doherty, and other old masters. Listen to early Kevin Burke. In all of them you’ll hear occasional scrapes, warbly ornaments, off-pitch notes. And you’ll still be blown away (and hopefully inspired) by their playing. Take heart that you can play with similar flaws or even worse and still be MUSICAL.

And keep working on technique. I agree completely with Jeff and Glauber that good technique is what our bones and muscles learn to do so that our mind/heart/soul is free to make music. It is possible to practice drills with great heart.

Work through your plateaus as well. 15 years ago, I was wallowing on a very low plateau, with no Irish teachers around (this was western Montana afterall). So I took three college semesters of classical lessons. I improved my bowing, from how I held the stick to arm mechanics, to how I think about phrasing. I improved my tone and intonation. But the most important lesson came from a fellow student. One morning, he’d overheard someone in practice room #3 *working through* the first book of the Suzuki series, the same primer used by 7 yearolds around the globe. Even though the technique was rudimentary, he told his teacher that he’d never heard those practice pieces played with such depth of feeling, AS IF THE PIECES AND THE VIOLIN UTTERING THEM MATTERED. His teacher was also my teacher, and he told me this story after verifying that I had in fact been the person in room #3 that morning.

As a scratchy, awkward, struggling fifth-year beginner, that event meant more to me than anything I’d learned before. And I began to listen intently for the *music* in my own playing, those all-too fleeting moments where everything clicked and the fiddle sang.

Do it. Build on those moments. When the heart falls out of your playing (and it will, routinely, because we all get distracted by bills and egos and sweat in our eyes and cold fingers and the "better" player sitting next to us at the session), find a way to bring it back. Martin Hayes says he meditates nearly every day. Burke talks about mental fierceness. A few people are known to have a drink when they play, to quiet the self doubt.

Here I go preaching again. But Scotty’s right—I wish I’d had access to all you kindred souls when I was just starting out. I made the most of the handful of accidental mentors I ran across, and now I gain a tremendous amount from these discussions.

One last thought—the definition of an amateur musician is someone who keeps practicing and playing, year after year, enjoying the hell out of it, EVEN THOUGH THE RESULTS ARE OFTEN DISAPPOINTING.

And after a while, you get good enough that it’s NOT disappointing, and you learn to let go of the periodic mistakes or inadequacies.

Fiddle on!
Will

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"The first three years are full of enthusiasm and frustration, but you’ve got the excuse that you’re just a beginner. Then the frustration grows deeper for a few years because you’re not a beginner anymore…."

YES! Thanks for saying that. I don’t feel quite as alone anymore! I’m on my fourth year now (fiddle), and every step forward at this point feels like two steps back. I know I’m improving, but I haven’t got the full payback yet for the time and sweat invested. Thanks for your post.

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This to me is the beauty of these discussions. It helps so much to realize that other people are struggling with the same challenges. While I’m convinced that each of us has to work through them on our own, that doesn’t mean going it alone. We can all help each other, and it’s amazing how much progress you can sometimes make from a single suggestion or piece of advice.

To wit, one of the best peices of advice for fiddlers I’ve ever heard came from Martin Hayes. Early in his learning curve on the instrument, he realized that he was surrounded by technically expert players, and that he just wasn’t as good yet. How could he play with these people if his rolls, triplets, etc weren’t up to standard? He decided to play the tunes simply, even plainly, but focus on "playing them well."

You can still clearly hear that choice in his playing today, years after he gained all that technical proficiency. He still likes to just play the notes, sometimes without any embellishment at all, nothing technical about it. Just beautifully.

Take a straightforward tune like the Morning Star. Play it slowly. Don’t add any ornaments or tricks. Just play the notes and concentrate on producing a smooth rich tone, a pulsing rhythm, clear notes. This alone may take months or years. In the meantime, work on your technique and other skills, but always come back to this simple approach as the foundation. The technical stuff will get better, but you need the solid sound to pin it on.

And keep asking questions, asking for help from more experienced players. Scotty, Brad, and I—and many others—have wrestled with everything you face now, and we’re obviously eager to help wherever we can.

So…those of you working on Tommy’s Tarbukas, how do you finger the second measure of the B part? That nasty little knot of notes that sounds so good when played right: in Gm |Acfe dbfd| I do it in first position, grabbing the flatted e and b with my fourth finger and trying to stay loose so the fourth and ring fingers aren’t tripping over each other or locking up the second time around. Anyone have a better fingering?

Will

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will, for Tommy’s, I am using my fourth finger, and I can’t imagine any other way to do it with the D sharp in there… Sometimes I get all the notes right too, but I have to be very careful about my poor pinky! It isn’t used to being so much a part of the picture.

I did manage to knock off a tune somewhere between working and sleeping yesterday (I must have sacrificed eating) called the drab plateau. I posted it, but I feel like it’s only half done. I might add a little variation to the repeats or something. I was trying for aimless meandering, getting stuck on a particular note again and again, punctuated with a dash of hope and aspiration in the third part. I’d be interested in seeing how others might wish to portray their personal experience getting stuck - anyone care to come up with a "Drab Plateau #2" maybe we could come up with a whole drab plateau SET - one that never seems to be going anywhere but leaves you feeling like you’ve travelled a great distance without being aware of it.

Must go home now. See you all on Monday.

Tommy’s Tarbukas

Second position. Definitely. It’s cheating (and of course not very traditional), because I could really use the work on the fourth finger, which is a weak spot for me.

In measure 2, I go up into second on the F and back into first in measure three by playing the open D. In measure 6, back up into second on the F again, and then back down into first on measure 7 on the C. Anybody know how Frasier actually plays it?

I love Tommy’s. We play Alisdair Frasier’s recording of it for stepdancing class all the time, and I learned it from sheer repetition (the students love to dance to it and ask for it all the time, they love the freaky little laughing bits), although it was weeks before I finally found out what the heck a tarbukas was.

I really like the tune, Kerri! Can I make a suggestion? You should go ahead and post your full name to the thread attached to that tune so anyone recording it or passing it on at a session can give you proper acknowledgement for it. "Kerri, a fiddler in Toronto" just doesn’t have the right ring to it when describing where you learned a tune — although being able to add that you like Blue Sapphire of course says volumes about your taste and discernment. ๐Ÿ™‚

Zina

Re: learning styles

Zina, it’s good to hear your voice again on these threads!

I’ve gone back and forth on Tommy’s, staying in first position or jumping to second exactly as you described it. Not sure which is the lesser of evils for me…. Does anyone play Tommy’s Tarbukas in Eminor? (I hear tell it’s more common in that key in Ireland, and more widely known as Old Sparky.)

The Drab Plateau is a wonderful piece Kerri, a remarkable job of expressing ennui through music, and perfect as a slip jig. I’ve added it to my collection, and agree with Zina that we need you full name so we can give you credit.

I can imagine a whole set of tunes: "The Dreary Plains of Toil," "The Low Hills of Mediocrity," "Farewell to Your Dreams," "The Inferior Rake," "The Banks of Despair," "The Unfortunate Hack," "The Humours of Failure," "The Road to Frustration," and, on a somewhat lighter note, "The Jolly Amateur."

Now to come up with the notes….
Will

Posted .

Picture me laughing helplessly

WILL, those are the funniest titles….hehehehehe…..oh PLEASE, you guys, write some of those, write some of those!

hehehe.

I’ve been writing. I’m on deadline. I’m posting right now while I should be writing. I’ve got three stories on deadline for tomorrow and I’m not done yet, and I still have to do the HTML after that. Yipes. It was lovely getting to interview Buddy MacMaster and Paddy Keenan. But I missed you guys! Some great discussions without me anyway. Heh. At least they were shorter without my input! ;)

Okay, nose BACK to the grindstone!

zls

Re: learning styles

You gave me great belly laughs with your tune titles, Will - not an easy thing to do before ten in the morning. My name is Kerri Brown - or since that isn’t quite Celtic enough for the band I was playing in, Kerri O’McBrown. (I played with O’Jeff McKiernan, Brian MacVolke, and Kent MacMcAlister).

I’m going to make a slight alteration to the Drab Plateau when I have the time, and end the repetition of the third part on a B. Flows better back into the A part.

I’ve been told I have to do some work. See y’all later.

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"The Unfortunate Hack": that’s my favorite one! Ho ho ho! Cuts all too close to the (funny) bone for me on some days…

Re: learning styles

How about "The Tearing Out of Paddy’s Hair " or "Toss the Fiddle"? (Maybe Carolan had these sentiments in mind when he wrote his "Farewell to Music".)

or "Ennui Before Breakfast"

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Why stop at one? Let’s call it "Toss the Fiddles."

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I always thought that boxed cooking mixes & cheap pound cake manufacturers made for good scottish tune names like…
Betty Crocker’s Fancy Scotch Measure
Duncan Hine’s Strathspey
Lord Entamenn’s
Pilsbury’s etc.

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Duncan Hine’s Strathspey….hahahahaha

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Hey Will, before you "Toss the Fiddles", consider that those ‘classical guys’ already have a tune called ‘Concert Pitch". They may have beaten us to it.

Every orchestra plays it to start out a concert. No two orchestras ever play it the same. Talk about a tune with ennui. They string section plays the whole piece on open strings, while the brass section plays in E-flat. To the best of my knowledge, it has never been recorded before, and no composer ever claims to have written it. Although I have never witnessed this personally, rumour has it that at the end of the tune, they congregate in the orchestra pit (haven’t seen this before, but I assume that it must be somewhat like a deep hole filled with a dreary bog)and what happens next is a closely garded secret, but we can all guess what a ‘Concert Pitch’ is.

To my knowledge, I am the only person alive, on the face of the planet, to know about this little known ritual. A little old lady told me about it just the other day when my turnip wagon got stuck in the mud on a dreary plateau, and I fell off while pitching turnips at the donkey…..

Re: learning styles

Okay, I’ve got a few: "Nobody’s Favorite", "Haste to the Exit", "Prozac in the Morning", "Merrily Smoked the Crack Pipe"…

Well, that felt good. Now, back to work…

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I saw Tommy Peoples play on Saturday and the only time he ever talks into the mic is to tell teh audience which tunes he is about to play. He’s such a quiet man to start with, the audience often forgot to listen when he started to talk , but like a great elementary school teacher, he would just wait until a few audience members started up a chorus of "SSSSHHHHH!!!" Then clear his throat and nearly whisper "This is going to be Langstrom’s Pony, followed by Molly’s Joy" (or some such). Then he’d play.

I’m rambling, but I can just picture him saying "This is going to be the Impossible Wall, followed by Leave the Back Door Open and Use the Mute".

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Use the Mute! hehehe…oh DEAR, these are so funny….

Scott, Concert Pitch has indeed been recorded — have you never heard the beginning of the movie Fantasia? ๐Ÿ™‚

Zina

Concert Pitch

That tune is also called called "Scale Practice" and "Last Minute Practice Of The Hard Parts".

Re: learning styles

Ahhh…"Use the Mute." ๐Ÿ™‚

How about:

Misery Loves Accompaniment

Smash the Whistles

I Buried My Pipes and Danced on Their Grave

Pull the Knife Out of the Bodhran and Stick it Again

and Planxty Maugham for Somerset Maugham, who said, "Only a mediocre person is always at his best."

The Concert Pitch joke reminds me of another aimed at conductors. What’s the difference between an orchestra and a bull? The bull usually has the horns up front and the a**hole in back.

Sorry. ๐Ÿ™‚

I love this thread!
Will

Posted .

Re: learning styles

In addition to frustration based tunes such as "Boil the Bagpipes Early", we could have a whole batch of Western themed tunes as well, for those who call the New World home, such as "The Grizzly in the Dumpster", "The Scraggy Hills of Brown", "The Odour of Spring" and "Shovel the Walk".

Re: learning styles

Kerri,
Our local guitar and bouzouki wizard Jim Schulz has actually composed a few of those western themed tunes, including a real winner called the Chinook Reel (evocative of those mid-winter howlers that raise the temps by 50 degrees). If he’ll allow it, I’ll try to post some in the near future.

Will

Posted .

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Cool! I come from chinook central - The warm breeze! the irritability! That blessed grey arch - Calgary gets a dozen of them every winter. And I’m homesick. Slap it on here! I promise I’ll remember to give credit where credit is due.

Heheheehe

omigod, these are too funny…"Shovel the Walk" — hehehehe

Awright, I’m still writing and working…but somebody really should take all these titles and we should put them in one place so we can pick’em off and write tunes for them and post them all in one place…we could have them all penned by the same player, like PDQ Bach and Prof. Peter Schickele…let’s see, what would be a good name for our hapless player?

zls

P.S. Chinooks

Oh, Kerri, you’ve not lived til you’ve lived through the chinooks of LA, called the Santa Ana Winds from the mountain range they blow off of. Gun shot and knife wounds go up at the ERs of the city, bar staff get ready for more fights, the towing trucks line up at freeway ramps in anticipation…

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Out here in California it would be The Burning Hills of Gold, The Odor of Smoke and Wet Down the Roof! By the way, this last thread has done my mental attitude more good than anything else I’ve ever read anywhere. Thanks to all of you more experienced players for some much needed perspective and extremly helpful advice. This is the most friendly and helpful Irish music list that I have ever found!

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aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaw, that’s a sweet sentiment Christine. I agree with it completely. I’m very happy to have found such a wise and wonderful group of people to bounce ideas around with.

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What about "Rotate the Tires", "Cold Pizza for Breakfast" and "O’Carolan’s ATM PIN Number"?

"Nobody’s Favorite" and "Shovel the Walk" - LMAO! - This is too much fun!

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Hi, I am a newby, both to this board and to the tin whistle with about 20 tunes under my belt (only 190 to go…). This thread has been really helpful and encouraging, even though I doubt, I’ll ever be able to figure out a dnace tune from a CD. I have had the experience of older tunes remaining at the level that I learned them. For example, the Rights of Man was the first tune I learned, and although my fingers are a lot faster and surer now, my rhythym is still shaking, more so than on other tunes.

I wanted to contribute some tune titles, if I may: Ignorance is Bliss, The Scotch Tape (Strathspey), The Hag at the Firm, The Cash Jig

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Or, for Toronto dwellers (perhaps too much an inside joke for such an international group, but what the heck)

"Aphids in the Smog"
"The Humours of Rush Hour"
"The Hostility Reel"
and
"The Odours of Kensington Market "

Tunes

How about:

Molloy’s Mistake
Last Night’s Disaster
The Galway Bumbler
Reading The Session At Work

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LOL, glauber. It’s funny cuz it’s true! It’s OK though. My emloyers fully endorse my slacking off because I’m the only person they’ve found in three months of looking who is willing to do this job. Here’s some work inspired tune names:

"The Sorting of the Mail"
"The Handsome Courier"
"The Mysterious Stain"
"The Small Talk Polka"
"The Purolator Jig"
"Give me a Coffee Dammit or I’ll Scream"
and finally
"Why are You Bitching at Me? It’s not My Problem"

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The Handsome Courier…

That must be my UPS guy….*grin*


zls

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How about

"The Typist’s Despair"
"The Humours of Inbox"
"Merrily Chat the Secretaries"
and
"Si Beags For More"

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Hey, this newbie Bloomfield’s a natural!
Welcome to the virtual pub! Pull up a chair.

Even if we don’t write tunes for all these titles, we should use them as temporary titles for the gan ainm tunes we all know. "Last Night’s Disaster" should fit any number of otherwise nameless tunes….

Posted .

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Great craick!!!! My tummy aches from laughing. Go ahead, have another round, it is on me. Pints for the house…..

Can I take your tune titles to my local session?

Oh, BTW, fiddler on vermouth, where and when are the Toronto sessions? I am just up the QEW, in Hamilton. Will be in ‘TO’ this Sunday afternoon. Anything going on?

Re: learning styles

Ahem, getting BACK to learning styles…. hehehe Only just noticed this post:

"Does anyone find after working strictly on technique or when attempting to break bad habits, that (at least temporarily) their playing suffers in general?
Obviously, you have to grin and bear it, but I wonder if this is a common problem."

Thought I’d share something that I’d discovered while teaching stepdancing.

If a student learns a step without having corrected a form fault, if you try to have them perform the step while correcting the form fault, it’s suddenly as if you tore a hole in their memory — suddenly the step is partially or totally gone, and they have to re-learn the step all over again with the correct form. It occurs to me that this is the same when you try to correct something in your playing — suddenly the tune feels very different under your fingers and you basically have to relearn the thing all over again. Most of the students start getting very discouraged when this happens. I tell them that they mustn’t beat themselves up for what seems to be a normal thing, warning them that it *will* happen and that it’s a natural part of the learning curve — once again, teaching my students gives me things to learn myself!

How about:

"Hurt the Old People" (stemming from a description of dance tunes played really really fast)
"Smother the Piper"
and, in a fall-weather-is-here vein,
"Spiders in the House" (found four so far today)
"The Rakes of Loncleerin" (suggested by a friend when I told him about this thread, don’t blame me)
"The First Frost Polka" (which we just got today and will be understood by any fellow gardeners with prize specimens potted up or tomatoes they want to keep going a bit longer)

Zina

Re: learning styles

Ooh, Scotty! That’s one of the best days of all to come into town! There’s a session at Dora Keogh’s on Danforth and Broadview(ish) that starts at five. It’s a mix with some fantastic players and some newbies. I’ll be out of town, but you should check it out.

OK, I’m at work again -

"What’s that Smell in the Freight Elevator?"
"Lenore’s Coffee Break"
"The Gorgeous Man on the Tram"

I notice my titles are getting less and less Celticish in nature, and more and more about the things that are in my head. YAAAAAAAAAAAAWN. Whew. Good morning everybody. Of course, Scotty, you’re welcome to quote me on any of the titles I’ve come up with that tickle your fancy. I’m thinking of compiling them for my own personal amusement. (Or maybe I should just print this post and put it in a safe deposit box, lest the unthinkable happen and something happens to the session).

Re: learning styles

Your dance experience, i.e. having to go back and learn it all over with correct form, can be filed under the heading "you have to work through the questions of bowing, fingering, and phrasing", to quote Will one more time.

There is a lot of truth to the idea that one must learn each part thoroughly. One of the difficulties, is trying to determine when you have been thorough enough, especially when self-learning.

I, too, used to sit down and spend hours trying to conquer some aspect of technique, and typically was disappointed with the results. The following is not fool proof, but it is surprisingly effective over the long run and requires very little effort. It is based on the notion, that we can commit ourselves to acquiring a skill, and if the commitment is genuine, then our brain will begin collecting and processing the information needed to acquire the desired skill. This in an important concept, and it really does work.

To explain it in different words, if we decide that we just *have* to learn how to play a cran, then we can try it a few times, but not so many times that we learn to play it wrong. As soon as we see it falling into an undesired pattern, we stop doing it. If we continue, we will TEACH it to our fingers (which are connected to our brains via nerves). Once the fingers have it, right or wrong, it is there for a long time. So, we try it a few times, and if we like it, we continue. If we don’t like what we hear, then we stop. Even though we have stopped playing it, we don’t stop thinking about it. We listen for it in other fiddlers music, we listen for other similar sounds in our own music, and we maintain a level of focus on it, along with a similar level of focus on all other aspects of our playing. Don’t obsess over it, but we put it right up there with improving tone, intonation, etc. All this time, we don’t actually try it, we just think about it, knowing that we will try it again next month. In the meantime, we try to get the sound of it in our head, and we look for similar sounds in our music. When we think that our fingers have ‘forgotten’ the earlier attempts we might give it a try. Same thing again, if we like what we hear, we continue with it; if we don’t like what we hear, we stop before we ‘build it into our fingers’. It may take several months to acquire a technique this way, or even several years. In total, you will spend only a few hours of practice time to acquire a technique, and can spend the rest of your time developing tone, intonation, learning tunes, etc.

I guess the point behind this method, is that we must develop the underlying skills if we want to develop new ones which are dependent on those underlying skills. When one is teaching oneself, it is almost impossible to identify the necessary underlying skills, and so one goes about a process of committing oneself to acquiring the basic skills, and, when learning new skills, of periodically testing to see if the needed underlying skills are there. The one basic rule in acquiring new skills , is "if it doesn’t sound the way we want to, then don’t learn it the wrong way. Stay focussed, and it will come when we are ready." It takes patience and discipline, and avoids a lot of frustration. (no more dreary bogs, dark plateaus….)

Bear in mind, that almost every skill is dependent on timing, the ability to hit and split the beat. Here are three typical ways to develop this:
1. practice with a metronome.
2. play along with recordings…. let someone else be your metronome. This is one of the best ways…(If you practice a lot with MIDI files, then you might acquire the same ‘lifeless’ phrasing that you hear on the MIDI files! Beware.)
3. play with other players who have impeccable timing.

Best of luck to all.

Re: learning styles

If you don’t have a metronome, try to find a teacher who taps you on the shoulder with his bow when your rhythm falters. I had one of those - explains a lot! ๐Ÿ˜‰

For the computer age:

The Corrupted Files
The Humors of Microsoft
Bill Gates’s Favorite
Merrily Click the Mouse

and, of course…

Control-Alt-Delete

Re: learning styles

Or "Hewlett Packard’s Favorite"

A very insightful comment, scotty. This is a technique that is completely new to me, and may prove useful. I never really thought about my method of learning tunes until recently, and the question at the top of my mind was "Why, when I play a tune I learned a few weeks ago, does it usually sound way worse than when I first learned it, and fail to improve over time?"

I think the answer lies in the fact that I learn melodies extremely fast. Much faster than I learn the subtleties of technique and phrasing. I can have all the notes of a simple tune I’ve never heard before by the time the session players are going through it for the third repetition. Sometimes it will stick and I will play it alone later, but it usually lacks a lot in the phrasing department, and I have a really hard time smoothing it out. It never occured to me that by slowing down my learning process, I can learn tunes more wholistically, complete with technique, ornamentation, rhythm and phrasing. I usually plow through for hours after I am thoroughly disgusted with what I am hearing myself play, thinking that the more frustrating hours I rack up, the better I’ll be. (A mathematical equation of practice = perfect). I have noticed something Will mentioned - not skipping days is more important than racking up the hours - but I have never simply dropped something (unless we are talking about vibrato) because I can peg it down.

Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.

Happy Thanksgiving, all! I think this is a record breaking post.

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Scott, shouldn’t that be "play along with GOOD recordings"? heh. There’s a can of worms for you, and welcome to it!

Jeff — control/alt/delete —- *snort*

Hey!

Hmm. That left off a long part of the post about learning tunes slowly enough that you learn the phrasing, the meat of the tune, along with the fingering and technical stuff.

Basically, I was saying that learning a tune well enough to sing it long before you set finger to instrument often works very well for me in order to get phrasing as an inherent part of the tune. I learned that first in Ireland from Joan Hanrahan of Ennis, Co. Clare, then forgot about it somehow, and then was thunked over the head with it again by Shannon Heaton. Practicing the tune through for phrasing may change how I see or play the tune, but the process of learning the tune as a whole thing of itself is very useful all across the board, I think.

zls

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mmmmm, worms….with tomato sauce and peanut butter on pumperknickle bread….. Did I see you snort in an earlier post. Seems to me that I also saw you deny ever snorting on another thread. Wait till Bloomfield sees this… :O) Far better to snort pints than wor… nevermind. )))))


Actually, I am not sure that I was suggesting to learn the tune as a whole thing. For me, it is helpful to break the tune down into phrases, and learn it phrase by phrase. Sometimes that approach leads to difficulty at the points where phrases connect, so I need to pay attention to things such as bow direction. Learning phrase by phrase, allows me to identify ‘sticky parts’, and I can do some extra work to make them flow better, sometimes working on one part of a phrase. I also make it a practice to get the phrasing for a tune, but that can change, every time the tune is played.

Rather, I was referring to learning things like ornaments, or special bowings. If something doesn’t sound the way one wants it to, then refine it if possible, or find something else that will serve the purpose. But, keep the original idea in mind, and keep coming back to it, because, if you do, eventually it will be there, providing your fingers haven’t already learned an inferior version of it. Again, the most likely reason for having difficulty with something is timing. Phrasing only works against a background of steady rhythm. If the underlying rhythm isn’t steady, there is no reference for the ear to hear the phrasing. The same thing is true for a lot of ornaments. That is one reason that I use them sparingly. I only put them in tunes where my basic rhythm is steady. If my timing isn’t ‘up to snuff’ already, then adding ornaments just makes it worse.

Re: learning styles

Scott, who said I was talking to you?!? *snort* heh. Actually, I was replying to Kerri’s post about her phrasing suffering from learning the tunes too fast (wish I had your problem, Kerri). I’ve no beef about your method of learning the rhythm, Scott. So there. *giggle*

Hmmm. Which comes first, the rhythm or the phrasing, and which is more important? Would you rather listen to someone play who has lots of rhythm and no phrasing, or all phrasing and no real rhythm (is that actually possible? one could argue that rhythm is part of phrasing, really).

Yipes! I’m going to be late for class! Hold that thought, I’ll be back in a few hours.

Zina

Re: learning styles

I think of phrasing as how the melody falls on the rhythm—in other words, which notes are attached to which beats. So without rhythm you can’t have phrasing. And without phrasing, you might as well just sit and listen to your metronome.

I like Zina’s idea of learning the tune in your head (lilting or whistling it first) before you try to finger it. But that’s not always practical, and all it really does is spare you the technical worries of your given instrument (e.g., I can hum a tune without worrying about bow direction, string changes, or fingering).

And Scotty’s notion of breaking the tune into phrases to fine tune and then assemble is also useful, but in my experience tends to prolong the process of getting the whole tune.

These strategies may be helpful at some stage, but ultimately most of us want to be able to actually play the tune on our instrument without consciously itemizing each step of the instrumental technique.

To do this require two fundamental skills: the instrumental technique to cleanly produce any of a number of rhythms, notes, and ornaments, and the ability to understand and organize musical phrases into a larger structure (such as a tune). If you have to think about instrumental technique a lot while you’re playing, it wil lbe difficult to knit the phrases together.

But once your technique is adequate (not masterful, necessarily), you can make learning tunes easier by talking through them on your instrument. I’ve heard several top flight players mention this over the years: pretend that the tune is a conversation. Imagine where the natural punctuation would go. Try to hear the musical phrases as two voices in dialogue—a common way to distinguish the two is to play one voice soft and the other a little louder. Then think of one phrase as a question. The next phrase is the answer, given in the other voice.

It also helps to develop a handful of set ways to cope with certain phrasings that are common in Irish music. For example:

A common type of phrase in reels is (Eminor): |E2 BE dEBE| On fiddle, this usually involves a string crossing and several changes in bow direction. One "standard" way to bow this would be:

down-bow the E2 B, up-bow E, down-bow d, up-bow E, down-bow B, up-bow E.

Kevin Burke usually plays this same phrase as:

down-bow the E2 B, up-bow E dE, down-bow B, up-bow E, repeat.

Note that in Kevin’s approach, he’s slurring the first three eighth note counts, slurring the next three eighth note counts, and then tapping out separate bow strokes for each of the last two eighth note counts. He does this even if the actual notes change:

EGBE dEBE would be played: down-bow EGB, up-bow EdE, down B, up E.

(3EEE BE dEBE would be played: (3down-up-down_down, up EdE, down B, up E.

When the bowing becomes automatic for whole phrases like this, it’s easier to think ahead to the next phrase even while you’re playing the previous one. And of course it helps to have more than one "pattern" in your bag of tricks to plug in for each type of phrase so you can vary the sound a little.

Is this too detailed, or is it helpful? Kerri? Zina?

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Re: learning styles

Well, Zina, so you aren’t talking to me! Isn’t that a can of wor… no, I won’t go there.:O) It is too late to clarify this, you couldn’t possibly believe me, but,… I wasn’t talking to you either…))))HA! Well, actually I was, in my initial comments, but the later ones were for Kerri’s benefit.
I should have split my post in two, as you did.

OK, OK, enough kidding around.

Re: learning styles

Here is a little tone building exercise which a fine Baltimore area fiddler shared with me, yesterday. It is designed to encourage the use of more bow per stroke, and hence more tone. Basicly, it goes something like this. Start on any note, with the bow at the frog, and draw a full length bow, followed by a half upbow to the middle on the same note, followed by a down bow to the tip, still on the same note.
Change to the next note on your scale, and play a full length upbow to the frog, followed by a down bow to the middle, and an upbow to the frog. Continue with the bowing pattern through your scale, focussing on using as much of the bow as possible, attaining the fullest, richest tone. The exercise can be varied by playing it at different tempi. Remember, the point of this exercise is to improve your tone by using more bow per note. This means that it represents almost immediate improvement for anyone who uses a bow.

I tried this, and wish that I had been using it for the past 18 years. It is deceptively simple, yet it has innumerable benefits. I can’t believe that I spent 18 years without realizing the benefits of simple exercises such as this one.

Re: learning styles

Part of what I think of as rhythm is the pulse and feel, I guess you’d call it for lack of a better phrase, not just a beat. To me it’s the difference between a steady beat that’s a steady beat, and a steady beat that makes me want to dance or tap my toe at the very least.

Scott, Jessica Ziegler gave me a control exercise that is very similar. You start by halfing the bow, upbow first note to middle of the bow, upbow second note to top, downbow third note to middle, downbow fourth note to frog, and so on all the way up the scale and then back down. Then you split the bow in thirds — first note a third of the bow downbow, second note another third of the bow downbow, third note to the tip downbow, fourth note a third of the bow upbow, etc. Then you do it in fourths of the bow, then fifths of the bow, then sixes, then sevens, and then eight. As you noted, Jessica said that this exercise did any amount of things for your playing, and she was right.

Kevin Glackin told me on my first Scoiltrad lesson that there is absolutely no substitute for playing scales every day, and that he still does it himself.

Zina

P.S. Will

Will, I’m going to have to sit down with my fiddle to figure out whether all that is helpful or not. I tend to look a little askance at any "formulaic" bowing patterns, given some of the advice given me by other fiddlers, but I’m willing to try anything at least as an exercise! My bowing is one of the weakest things about my fiddling, so I’m willing to try ANYthing, actually. ๐Ÿ™‚

Zina

Re: learning styles

I’d never recommend "formulaic" playing, Zina, but when you play a form of music that repeats certain patterns of notes over and over, it only makes sense to have a handful of pet ways to play those patterns. Burke’s in particular works well for the string crossing patterns found in Drowsy Maggie (as posted), Maudabawn Chapel, Pinch of Snuff, Gravel Walks, Tam Lin, Eileen Curran, Tommy’s Tarbukas, Morning Dew, Old Torn Petticoat, Rolling in the Ryegrass, Ivy Leaf, and on and on…and it’s a signature of the Burke sound. So it’s helpful for fiddlers to know—as just ONE way to play the phrase. Similarly, for jigs, you can give a tune great lift by slurring across the beat, from the last note of a bar onto the first note of the next, say. This may sound "formulaic," but no more so than playing jigs that rely on the forumla of 6 notes and 8 beats per bar, 8 bars per half, two halves per tune. Not to mention the sorts of repeated melodic motifs that resonate throught Irish music.

The phrase I posted above is such a common and crucial one to Irish music, in a variety of forms, that every player eventually develops a favorite or preferred way of approaching it. But that doesn’t preclude them from using other approaches as they repeat the tune, giving it a different feel each time round. When you’re first learning, it helps to learn these patterns right off…you’ll do them subconsciously soon enough, and being unaware of the patterns in their bowing is what leads most fiddlers to eventually claim that they don’t use any. I’ve listened to a lot of fine fiddlers over 20 years, and they ALL use certain repeated combinations of bow strokes to appraoch similar phrases (even Mark O’Connor, Stephane Grappelli, Johnny Gimble, Benny Thomason, Martin Hayes). Some just have more combinations—a larger bag of tricks—than others, and some are less aware of their own bowing than others.

Another good tone and bow control exercise is the "Long Note." Start at the frog and draw your bow on one note. Time it to see how long you can make this one bow stroke last before you run out of hair at the tip. Keep the tone even—no scratching or boundcing. Then do it again back to the frog. Aim for 1 full minute from frog to tip, and another minute to get back to the frog. If you can make it last a minute, for for 90 seconds. Just don’t expect your spouse to talk to you ever again.

Will

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Let’s get this discussion off subject again ๐Ÿ™‚

Remembering those 2 great work-related drinking songs:

The Jug of Coffee
and
Boil The Coffee Early

๐Ÿ™‚

Re: learning styles

Thanks Will - I’ve been recently remembering to use the pattern you mentioned. My first and only teacher included that rhythmic pattern (among others) in a list of excercises I’ve since forgotten and lost. She called it "Irish bowing" and said "they do this all the time." (She was Scottish). I didn’t use it much then because the longer slurs were a bit tricky for me as a beginner, but I’ve recently started using it from time to time, and it does a lot fro me. She also included a pattern consisting of an upbow for the first three 8th notes followed by a short downbow, three more slurred upbow notes, another short downbow, and then slurring the last quarter note into the first on an upbow. I don’t know if the math adds up there - hard to explain. Anyhow, these are things I’m only now beginning to remember, as I try to vary my rhythm. Any other patterns I should try, Will?

Re: learning styles

Yeah, I’ve heard fiddlers from other genres pretend that they understand "Irish bowing" by pointing out one or two isolated patterns that "get used all the time," too. There IS some truth to it, of course, because certain motifs ARE repeated in Irish music—they’re part of what distinguishes it from, say, Afro-pop. So of course the bowing tends to repeat, too.

In his book, Traditional Music in Ireland, Tomas O’Canainn examines the playing of Cork fiddler Matt Cranitch. He describes possible bowing for this same "Drowsy Maggie" type of phrase as follows:

down-bow on E2 B, up-bow on Ed, down-bow on EB, up-bow on E to the next bar’s E2 again, slurring across from the off beat to the next main downbeat. Matt apparently uses a cut note (a tap with the ring finger in this case) to break the slurred E into two distinct notes. Then down-bow B, up-bow EFD, down-bow A, up-bow D.

As I type this, it strikes me that there are some very useful "patterns" for jigs and slip jigs too, but I’ll have to break out the fiddle to get them on paper (or online), so maybe by tomorrow….

Will

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Re: learning styles

Anyone with a few spare months on their hands might like to check out ‘Bowing Styles in Irish Fiddle Playing’ (CCE) by David Lyth. He gives a lot of examples by Micheal Coleman,Paddy Killoran and James Morrison and there’s an interesting introduction from Charlie Lennon.
Or you could listen to what other players do,and if that suits your style and soaring ambitions(!!) then just try copying them at the outset.
This is a HUGE thread!
Dave

Re: learning styles

What you get for not being on for a while, Dave! Heh.

And, classical boy, not all of us are good enough to be able to figure out bowing patterns from just listening. *mock glare*

You wouldn’t have the ISDN number for that book by David Lyth, wouldja? I’ll have to check with Custy’s, I guess. It’s not listed at Amazon.

One of the advantages of teaching at a slow session is that I spend a LOT of time playing a tune over and over again slowly, which I don’t always have the discipline for when practicing (when I practice, she said guiltily). I taught Dever the Dancer on Sunday and to my delight managed some new bowings that I really liked. I just love slip jigs — it’s my favorite dance, as well. Dang, it just occurred to me that I should have shown them some steps so they could see how the music supports those kind of steps…

Zina

Re: learning styles

"Classical Boy" - heh.

Well, to defend my fellow "classical boy", it’s not that hard to figure out bowings by listening - just listen for the little break in the sound when the bow changes direction. Yes, someone can stop the bow and then keep going in he same direction, and that’s very hard to hear, but if you’re mainly listening to what notes a trad fiddler is slurring together you should be able to pick that out with a little practice.

Another general rule is that most fiddlers, classical and traditional alike, tend to try for down-bows on the first beat of a measure in 2- or 4-beat phrases and on every OTHER first beat in 3- or other odd-numbered phrases (like slip jigs - if you change bow direction on every note, you’ll be down bowing on the first beat of every other measure). Down bow is also preferred or the last note of a tune. This is because down bows are usually stronger than up bows.

Hmmm… maybe we need a whole new thread for bowing??

Jeff

Re: bowings,and getting other people to do the work…

Zina, I’m happy to say that David Lyth has done all the work!

I suppose I could,if patient enough, get around to doing the same but it would take my cloth ears a very long time indeed.

I’m afraid the Lyth book has no ISBN which must be some sort of record as it was published in 1981 so it’s not that old. You could try and contact Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann at 32,Belgrave Square,Monkstown, Co. Dublin as that’s where I saw it about 7 or 8 years ago.
Jeff,ta for defending us ‘classical lads’ (oh ,Zina,how could you! ๐Ÿ™‚ ) and all that but I would just say that you don’t always have to end on a down and I start quite a few tunes with an up and try to get the off-beat ‘kicks’ on downs - so you get sometimes the downs falling on the ‘weak’ (i.e. 1 and 3) beats.Mind you,that can be overdone.
Dave

Re: learning styles

Hey, I was nearly "classical girl" myself. *grin* But I played viola and noted that most of the symphony violists were men, and was told that it was a rather chauvenistic field, so I said none of that for me and became an actress instead. Heh. Right, Jeff, I started the bowing thread. No need to bore everybody else (ie: non-fiddlers) with the bowing thing!

zls

Re: learning styles

Aha, and now I get my hijacked thread back onto gag tune names and getting stuck. Speaking of getting stuck… nothing more to say, but it’s time to go home anyway. Do you think I could get paid overtime to read the session postings?

Re: learning styles

Zina, do you know the diference between a viola and a violin? A viola burns longer.

๐Ÿ˜›

Jeff

Re: learning styles

They say also that the violinist has a bigger head.

I had this great flute teacher once who also played viola, and she used up and down bow as a metaphor for how to attack the notes. So i guess the down bow is more emphatic, more forceful.

"Irish bowing" means using the bow like a hacksaw, while at the same time jumping and stomping the foot like a maniac, no? ๐Ÿ™‚

It just occurred to me that flutists are usually more concerned with blowing than bowing.

Re: learning styles

Jeff, as Dave mentioned, that’s because the viola is usually still in the case. *grin*

Glauber, down bow doesn’t HAVE to be more forceful. It’s just you’ve got gravity to help. ๐Ÿ™‚

Zina

Re: learning styles

Fingering the second part. Do whatever works. I used to avoid keys with more than 1 flat like the plague due to "pinky" problems.

A visit to the chiropracter (for a different reason" unlocked my pinky and allowed me to use it (after 20 years of struggling but thats another story)

Now to the theme. I finger it and any tune in this key in the first position, but (and I definitely dont mean to teach any grandmothers out there to suck eggs so apologies if everyone knows this already)

When playing a flat or e flat try putting the third finger down in its correct spot at the same time as the pinky. this way you wont feel the strain so much and the third finger acts as a placement guide.

also keep the first finger down on the "f" after you have played that note.

when you play the sequence Acfe dbfd if you have kept the first and third fingers in place you might find the whole thing easier.

more on this - scottish music has lots of tunes in these awkward keys, but i use them as fingering exercises, just by playing then through slowly i find my fingers have become more used to the position required and the tunes in these keys sound nice too. if anyone is interested The Athole Collection has 870 tunes mostly strathspeys and reels

There are 50 tunes in G minor, 53 in B flat major and 25 in Eflat and Cminor. Loads of practice there.

you can also have fun trying to convert the tunes into "Irish" ones

Re: learning styles

Donnchad, thanks for the very helpful advice. I didn’t realize that I was planting my pinky and ring finger together for that eflat d sequence until I read your comment. The idea of keeping the d and f down through the whole passage was new to me, and I’m not sure it will work without me muffling the notes on the e string—hard to keep much arch with my short fingers stretched from f nat to d there. But it’s definitely worth a try—anything to make this passage more consistent (or even *playable*). Thanks!

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Re: learning styles

Will

Thanks for the thanks

If you can read this! On my computer the page has become completely unreadable tho i noticed your post. wish i could read the whole thing!

Re: learning styles

1. I like to go back and rework tunes. I often work them very slowly, even if I can already play it fast. It’s like Tai Chi. It feels good too.

2. Microsoft Word is awful. Every time I try to type something like IHS or HDA (acronyms for my work,) the the thing gets too smart and replaces the TLAs with HIS and HAD. A new axiom for Microsoft: too smart = stupid .

3. Metronomes are good, but not all the time.

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