How Do You Choose Your Style?

How Do You Choose Your Style?

I was wondering how I go about practicing a particular stlye on the fiddle, because I just finished reading this book from a fiddle player and he said that you have to choose one style of playing otherwise you will never sound "good enough"…..I love all styles, but am confused about finding which one I believe I would play the most in the future.

Blu

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Such an interesting question. It’s almost like asking, ‘which of these four girls do you think I should Marry?’. Probably none at this time since you’re in love with them all!

๐Ÿ˜‰

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Blu, Read through the thread "A Question of Style" there are some very useful suggestions and links posted there. I would say, listen, listen, listen. Find what you like and go there. (I’d also say I disagree with the advice from the book). When you are starting out you learn choices and by all means learn them. Which ones you employ define the style. You can list a lot of fiddle players whose "style" reflects many influences but they are most definitly "good enough". I’d also guess that they started out like wee sponges just absorbing everything that they heard and finding the style they liked best. I

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I second Anny—specializing in one style is overrated. It is possible to play well in several styles, though it takes time and careful attention to the nuances.

That said, you might progress more quickly if you focus at first on a particular style. It will also give you a frame of reference for understanding the differences with the other styles.

In my experience on Irish fiddle, one of the key differences is in the frequency of use of single versus slurred bowings. And IMHO, it’s valuable—and not unreasonable difficult—to learn both of these approaches to bowing. Plus, the finer details (when to use rolls versus cut notes or triplets, drive versus lyrical pulse, use of double stops, doubling, etc.) tend to fall into place more readily when you match them to the "preferred" bowing style of a given region.

I tended to study one fiddler for months at a time when I started out, and drifted toward Sligo and then Clare styles because of that. It took willful effort to launch into Donegal fiddling, but I’m glad I did (and listening to Altan records was more than enough incentive), and I enjoy being able to adapt my approach to fit the tunes I play. That is, I would use a different bowing and ornamentation to play John Mhosey McGinley’s, say, than I would for Morning Dew. I know nobody will ever offer me a recording contract, but I like to imagine I could sit in a session in Ennis, Miltown Malbay, Galway, Dublin, or Buncrana without overly disturbing the flow. I’m still working on Sliabh Luchra….

So the short answer is immerse yourself in one style, give it a good thrashing, and then try another. Concentrate on understanding the nuances and differences, and you’ll eventually get a handle on most of it. And enjoy the trip.

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Something else just occurred to me. I don’t know where you live, Blu, or if you have access to other people playing Irish trad music, but it never hurts to learn to play in a way that fits in with the local crowd. If you have a favorite local session, listen to what and how they play. Ask the more experienced musicians there for their preferences.

Some nights, our Helena MT session has a distinctly northern feel, and other nights it spins more into Clare or Sligo or sometimes even modern Americanized Irish goulash, courtesy of Solas and Cherish the Ladies and Liz Carroll. I enjoy all of it.

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Anyway, do we really have a choice in the matter? Aren’t we all simply creatures born of our own local sessions? Shaped not by the albums we study but by the hours we play together with friends? The ultimate goal of any session isn’t to show off any one persons talents as a (insert style here) player, but rather that the entire group blends together as one.

I’m still working on Clare style to the best of my ability, and I can surely say that the sounds I’m making may come from somewhere in Ireland but they’re not exactly from Clare. I’m not about to give up, but I wonder if there is ever going to be a full payback without several years worth of sessioning in Clare pubs. Be that as it may, I find the Clare bowing to be the most practical approach to playing tunes at a good tempo, so I’m sticking with it.

*if you haven’t been to the session.org before, this is the part where Will Harmon strongly (yet respectfully) denies any truth to statements made above, and gives well reasoned and encouraging responses to all points. I love him for that. Go Will!* ๐Ÿ˜‰

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As Usual Will has got it right. I must add however that you will always drift into the style of the people you play with most. Therefore you must choose your local session very carefully and pick the one that plays the style you choose.
Caoimghgin .. even after several years of playing in Clare pubs it will be very difficult to hang on to the style once you go back home. My solution to the problem was to stay in Clare! (and I don’t regret a minute of it).

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Hey Bernie! Find me some work and I’ll leave this decadent, American lifestyle behind me! If the choice is between a double mocha latte-grande coffee on every street corner and a good session at a small pub, I’ll take the session! Heck, I’ll even get that dual-citizenship thingy people keep telling me about.

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Blu, it sounds like your author has a long thin thing blocking his orifice….. the style you should choose and learn is, you guessed it, your own style. Copying’s fine in the mean time, but hell, are you a fiddler from Donegal? no, then why should you confine yourself to that style? the original Donegal fiddlers only did it ‘cos thats what their main influences were. Your own style will develop somewhere near the styles you most like anyway, you don’t have to choose. (sorry about the rant!).

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I’ll again second Kenn’s remarks. I have been interested in finding out about different styles because primarily I hear people refering to them and was unsure what the differences really were. I wanted to do some serious listening. There are particular bowing patterns and ornament choices that I hear different people utilize and there are some that I like better. It’s the process of discovery that is interesting. I also tend to be a real traditionalist and would not want to even attempt to identify my style as something specific unless I knew exactly what that was and what I was talking about. I would also add that once you’ve learned the basic conventions of "Irish" style playing that a more particular style will find you.

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As a mandolin player, I have a question to all you bow gurus; what are the different styles and what makes them different? And does it matter to the quiet mando player in the corner trying to get heard by the rest of the players?
—Marty

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Bernie, be careful or we’ll all infer that we’re invited to Clare and you’ll have a crowd of Yanks on your doorstep! *grin*

Blufiddle has plenty to chew on now, all of it good. I agree that most of us end up sounding like our chosen local session, but each of us can influence that sound too. This is particularly true here in the States, especially in the hinterlands, away from the typcially Sligo influenced sessions in NYC and Chicago (what style predominates in Boston—anyone know?).

In my case, adrift and treading water (well, porter on most nights ๐Ÿ™‚ in the middle of Montana, it was up to me and a few friends to create an Irish session, and to set its basic tenor. The fact that we’ve learned from a variety of sources, and have concentrated for periods on Donegal, Clare, Sligo, and Galway musicians (largely through recordings, but also face to face, and even through a few good books) means that our session "style" tends to wander a bit, but it is often distinctive enough to say, "there’s a set of Donegal highlands," played very much in a northern style (mostly single bow, percussive triplets, few if any rolls, a tendency to play the same note consectutively (e.g.: dB|A2 FA AddB|A2…|), all of which gives a more squared-off sound than say the Sligo approach, which our session might segue into next, with a flowing, roll-filled, slurry version of the Roscommon Reel.

Now if I haven’t lost my point, I’m sure you have…all I’m trying to say is that Blu can have some influence over his local session’s "style," assuming he plays there. Where this leads is up to him and his session cohorts, but I think it’s good to be conscious about it. A player growing up in Feakle will no doubt subconsciously adopt an East Clare style, but that same player would no doubt be very conscious that his or her style was different from someone born and raised in Ballymote or Glenties. And if those other styles (and perhaps even repertoire) were appealing, s/he might introduce a bit of that flavor at the Feakle session.

So, while I agree with Kenn’s point above about not *having* to choose, it’s also okay to make a more conscious choice, particularly if you’re not bound by a pre-established local tradition.

Will

(So Kevin, how’d I do? ๐Ÿ™‚

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Will,
I live in Colorado, and even though I’m pretty young to be doing this, every Sunday I attend the local session at our Irish Pub.

I like the idea of trying out styles first…it’s just that the guy of the book said that if you play different styles, you’ll sound like a hybrid.

Blu
P.S. Will, I’m a girl ๐Ÿ™‚——takes less mystery out of who I am!

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Yeah. Just what Clare needs. More Yanks and Germans buying holiday homes near the cliffs.

Bravo Will! Bravo! ๐Ÿ˜€

Blu,

Yes, it’s been said by more than one ITM musician to choose a style and stick with it, probably because they hear us Americans mash it all together depending on our album collection. I don’t know if that is entirely avoidable since we’re supposed to learn by ear, and if it is, I’d imagine that might be something to work on when we’ve reached a more advanced level. Maybe the general consensus is ‘don’t sweat it’ and you’re style will choose you in good time.

BTW, please edit out the ‘marrying four girls’ post for ‘marrying four guys’. Honest mistake ๐Ÿ˜‰

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Well, there’s some truth to that hybrid notion, but in the States at least, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, or perhaps even avoidable. Over here, almost everyone sounds a bit hybridized.

Of course, if you set out to be a purist in just one style, no doubt you’ll run into something else you like the sound of, and then what?

Chances are Blu, no matter what you do, you’ll end up sounding a little like everyone you learn from, and in Colorado, that’s likely to mean a blend of styles. Don’t worry about it. I think it’s far more important to learn to just play well (good tone and intonation, good rhythm, timing, and pulse, and with feeling and personality). Let others worry about how to peg your "style."

Re: the Cranitch book—it is a decent book, but it mostly teaches Cranitch’s style, which is somewhat influenced by his classical training (which he undertook alongside trad music). It’s also just plain idiosyncratic, and I’d be leery of ending up playing just like Matt Cranitch (mostly because it makes more sense to play like yourself, as suggested by ceiliog above).

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I just read throught the notes on style in Cranich’s book and he basically says but imitate only for a short time. In other words develope your own style. He also breifly touches on the effects of the accessibility of recorded music evening out the traditional styles. Good or bad that is reality. So I figure if I play a certain tune in more of a Clare style that’s ok as long as I know it is Clare style and so on. Truthfully, I tend to play like my first fiddle teacher, who plays like most of the people around here. (It’s a small community when we get right down to it.) I just really don’t know what that is. From what I’ve read, it seems to be Sligo or at least leaning that way, maybe its the "session" style that Will talked about previously. There is some truth in what Cranitch says about the globalization of styles and for those that are interesting in preserving the original then the continued awareness of the differences is important. No one has addressed Marty’s question about styles on instruments other than fiddle. I’d be interested to know as well

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Isn’t it true that we are in an exciting time of the world - how do you choose your style in regards to anything these days when we have access to the whole world through the web and other media. We are at a point in history when the world is moving and blending and we have to ask ourselves that question about just about everything we do. It is a big question - does anyone know the answer?

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Styles are funny, it’s a feeling you get from the music & it is very hard to define in words. So much emphasis is put on fiddle styles & other instruments have their own styles as well. In fiddle styles it’s not only a matter of bowing it also has something to do with the style of swinging the tune. Even more than how you swing it, I’d say the tunes have more to do with it. Sligo is put as "highly ornamented" & that’s one terse way of describing it, but it’s really a lot more than jamming ornaments wherever you possibly can. Anyone who says that Donegal style is just all single bows & less swing is missing the boat as well. The thing is to learn the music that is played around you & get a feeling for that music. You’ll suck up some kind of style and as you get your own favorite players you’ll fall that way. Never try to ‘force’ a style, just let it happen, a style will come on it’s own eventually. The players who do have a style were usually people who came from that region or a region filled with transplants from there.

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Totally agree Brad, I think it’s important to allow your own style to develop rather than styfle it by applying rules (regional style rules) when you might be a thousand miles away and never have been to that place anyway!
Todays great players developed their own playing from being in the environment where their particular regional style predominated, and added their own induividual flare. There’s a huge difference in the type of learning between a native aural learner starting young and a distant, often "later-life" learner using cd’s/computer etc, I’d think preserving the tradition can be left to the natives who can hopefully retain the other parts of the tradition as well, and others can play it the way they want to hear it without worrying about which region they’re suposed to be copying.
I often play cajun, I don’t worry if it’s New Orleans or 50miles N. of New orleans style! but a guy born and raised down there might well have a well founded prefference (what he grew up with)!

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I agree with Brad and Kenn and I think we’ve all said in one way or another that your particular style will find you or will develop with the experiences and influences you have. Brad has touched on another wondering I’ve had and that is the tunes themselves and is it not logical to think that a tune that originated in Clare lends itself to that style etc etc. With our ability to hear music from everywhere we have a great opportunity to explore it all. Just me personnally however, I still want to hear stuff in its purist form, not even necessarily to play it, I’ll play the way I play in truth but I want to be able to identify it. My questions about all this stuff actually came out of a workshop where I saw a very good tenor banjo player trying to teach a fiddle player a tune in the Donegal style. It set the workshop off to a completely different tangent and I felt a bit left in the dark because I didn’t know what they were talking about and therefore walked away feeling more discouraged than anything else.

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Thank you all, I like the idea of allowing my style to come to me. It just discouraged me, because hearing "you have to choose one style and nothing else," made me think that I could never play this song or that song because it doesn’t fit into the style that I would play most. It made me feel a little bit too isolated.

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Even the experts sometimes talk through their a***s, at least he’s more anal retentive about it than we need to be! (hope he doesn’t read this website!).

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I’m a big advocate of the slow-go style. At least, that’s the only one I’m getting a handle on.

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Thank you Kenn, you put a great smile on my face!!! ๐Ÿ™‚

Cuchulain54, slow-go, I like that…. ๐Ÿ™‚

So, do I just need to let everything come to me naturally with a little help from my teacher, you all, etc.???

Blu

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Hey BluFiddle, think about it this way—when I was in Art College, we didn’t have to pick a major until our Junior year. We were encouraged to try all art forms, painting, printmaking, sculpture, drawing, ceramics, etc. Think of that as representing the different styles. You are "in school" to learn, explore, absorb. Then later on you can perhaps feel more strongly about what you’d like to specialize in after you’ve immersed yourself in everything. You need a foundation first, anyway before you can truly make an educated choice, I beleive. So don’t worry about it, for before long you’ll find you are truly a "painter" or a "sculptor" or whatever. And even that can change at some point down the line if you so choose.

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You don’t "choose" a style
A style is who you are.
PP

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Well, yes, personal style can’t be chosen, but regional style can be studied and chosen. Maybe that wasn’t so a century or so ago, but it is now.

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Being a fiddler far away from where styles grow naturally in my surroundings, I pick my influence from the records I listen to and try to imitate.

I guess being able to pinpoint what style I’m copying will be helpful in the learning process in the long run. So here comes my question (hope you don’t mind a sidestep off the beaten track):

I’ve been listening alot to Bryan Rooney’s "The Godfather" and "From Leitrim to London". What style can he be categorized in ? (The title of his last album suggests a wide area…)

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Just wondering whether you might have all misunderstood the author originally quoted by Blu by assuming that he/she meant one style, regional or other, within _Irish_ music.

What may have been meant was stick to one type of fiddle music (i.e. old-time, bluegrass, Irish, Scottish, qu

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Thank you Steve, that was my original question, but the other suggestions really helped me with other questions I had as well.

Andee, Thank you for that great example, now I can apply that example to both my fiddle playing and my art!!!

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Leave it to Bro’ Steve-O to correct our collective detour ๐Ÿ™‚

I think a lot of the advice we’ve already shoveled out still applies. Yes, it would be tricky for the average fiddler to convincingly play Texas Swing, Cajun, and Irish. Even a talent as stellar as Mark O’Connor does better with idioms that more closely match his swing background—his Irish stuff is a bit stilited to my ear. But it’s worth picking up a copy of his Heroes cd to listen to his range across many styles.

Moving among different genres is all the more reason to be conscious and deliberate about what you’re doing at any one time. And all of it will influence your personal style as it develops, and that’s okay. Grow with it. Relax and see where the music takes you. Who knows, you may not yet have found the genre that will hold your heart (have you tried gypsy music yet?)….

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I always like trying different ways of doing things, because I hate regretting later on trying something that I know I should have in the past (too confusing, sorry!)…..I just hate regretting things, I always get the "Aw man, I shoulda tried that" voice in my head, when I miss the oppotunity.

I will definitley look for the Heroes cd, it really sounds interesting.

Will, gypsy music?, hmmmmm, maybe ๐Ÿ˜‰
I really want a style that makes my heart feel lighter than air when I play!

Cheers,
Blu

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Blu, where are you? I’m in Lafayette, inbetween Boulder and Denver.

Zina

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Zina, I live in Boulder!!!!

Blu

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Hey Blu — how funny that you’re so close and we didn’t realize! Have we met already — I’m the Chinese woman with the fiddle? Good to hear you’re hanging out at Conor’s — sooner or later I’ll make it up there for Sunday night again. ๐Ÿ™‚ We’ll have to get together and play a few tunes at some point, Blu. I think AMF (http://www.askmyfather.net) is playing in Niwot at Flanagan’s (http://www.flanaganspub.com) for New Year’s Eve, 9:00 to midnight — come join us if you don’t already have plans! Or come up to Longmont at some point for the tune learning session — http://www.slowplayer.org/SCTLS — we’ll look forward to connecting at some point or another!

Zina

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Zina, funny how that happens!…I would love to see you there at Conor’s one Sunday…..And would love to go to Flanagan’s, but I think I’m already going somewhere (humans are just such good communicators! LOL)……If I can I’ll try and see you there, but I doubt it right as of now………..I would really like to meet you, but I’m warning you that I’m a teen….just thought I’d tell you so you can run while you still can! ๐Ÿ™‚, actually I’m warning all of you!….we’re nasty devils we are! ๐Ÿ™‚

Blu

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Well, try and make it up to the SCTLS one Sunday, Blu. We teach by ear only, so it’s good practise at that, plus we try to hold the speed down. We teach tunes on the first Sunday of every month, and we pretty much just play the other Sundays. Otherwise, we can arrange to meet up one of these days for some tunes.

Flanagan’s is a $30 ticket for buffet and other such, so it’s not really a drop in deal. ๐Ÿ™‚

What’s wrong with being a teen? *grin* I’m not too worried. There’s always the music to talk about and play, so meeting other players is always an easy proposition.

Zina

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Yeah, I guess you’re right, but I also just started playing and am reeeeaaaallly slow, so maybe I’ll just watch sometime first….I’m so slow, it’s pretty embarrassing (probably shouldn’t have revealed that…*blush*)…….I’m really having trouble learning by ear as well, so sometimes I will attempt to learn from a cd but I’ve mostly been learning through sheet music (bad, I know…again *blush*)

Maybe if/when I get better I would like to play, but I’m a bit shy right now….my brain still hasn’t fully connected with my fingers ๐Ÿ™‚

Blu

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Nah, we all have to start somewhere, Blu. Some of our players (Dirk especially) can pick up a tune one whip through, others have to have each measure at super slow speed over and over again. No troubles if you’re a little slow as of yet.

You’ll fit right in at the SCTLS — we often have lots of beginners. So come on by! If you need a ride, let me know and I’ll arrange something for you, as I can whip up to Boulder before heading out to Longmont. ๐Ÿ™‚

Zina

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Zina, I’ll have to talk fast because it turns out that I do have plans, I really wanted to go tonight, but unfortunatley it won’t work out…..but thank you and yes, I would like to come to a session one night…..talk later, enjoy the new year!

Blu ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚