That * AHA* Moment!!

That * AHA* Moment!!

Help! I’ve played the guitar for about twenty five years, and for a long time I’ve been happy with the level I’ve reached, but I took up fiddle about five years ago (playing mostly Irish and Scottish traditional music) and am still waiting for that *AHA* moment. I play/practice for about an hour or so most days (as well as listening to loads of stuff such as Liz Carroll, Kevin Burke. Liz Docherty and Aly Bain) and can struggle by, but feel at this rate that it’ll be about eighty years by the time I can match my competence on the guitar. I’m hoping that I will stumble across some piece of advice that will magically lead to a transormation in my playing.

So what I’d like to know is - what have other people out there found to be their *AHA* moment??

Help! You’ll make a middle-aged guy from Scotland very happy!

Re: That * AHA* Moment!!

You are not alone, Allan!

I, as a flute player, have got the same trouble with the box, and I don’t think there ever will be a Turning Point as such for me, it’s just a case of resigning myself to stumbling slowly forward (and that’s even when no drink is taken).

Sorry to make a happy man feel very old.

Danny.

Re: That * AHA* Moment!!

The more you practise the easier it will become, but one tip i can give you is to pick a tune, and keep playing it over and over. Start off slow and then when you know it like the back of your hand quicken it up.

I am 19 and have been playing since i was about 10 (it really doesnt seem like 9 years) although i must admit that when i was younger i wasnt mature enough to realise that i needed to pracise. I am being trained in classical playing though would much rather play irish trad.

Anyway, the most important key to playing the fiddle is to be very strict with yourself. Make sure every note is exactly in tune and the only way to do this is to is to practise slowly and listen very carefully. A good tip would be to practise scales and there are some classical training exercise books that will help to make your fingers stronger and faster - Kreutzer and Urstudien (both German i think but have english text) Using these as a warm up before you play will be beneficial.

But keep up the good work and it will come, and when it comes you’ll know it. One day you’ll be playing "the tune the owl cow died with" pretty soon with perseverance it will all fall into place.

Good luck!!
Angie

Re: That * AHA* Moment!!

The *AHA* Moment would surely take a lot longer to arrive if you’ve never had any experience whatsoever of playing a musical instrument. If you’re already a player your muscles and tendons will already be trained and developed to a certain extent, likewise the nerve connections which control them, your brain is more "wired-up" to playing music, you know how to listen with concentration, and you know about practice and what it takes to achieve a result. These are all positive things which help to shorten and make easier what is intrinsically a lengthy and difficult process.
Trevor

Re: That * AHA* Moment!!

Ohh now - wait a minute, Trevor……..emm….actually, I agree with most of what you say, esp. wrt neuronal wiring etc. Also Allan transferring skills from guitar to fiddle is still in accordance with your muscle/tendon assertion.
But for flute vis

Re: That * AHA* Moment!!

Danny, isn’t the primary striking motion of the finger actuated by muscles in the forearm, which act in pretty much the same way whether the fingers are flat or arched?
I agree that the closer the instruments the easier it to transfer skills, the most obvious example being a fiddle player who takes up the viola (a fiddle writ large - cue posts from messrs michael gill and bigdave no doubt!). The major difficulty with the fiddle is learning bow control, and there is precious little in playing a non-bowed instrument that can prepare you physically for that (but see Footnote below). If you’ve already played the guitar, the piano, or flute, the (left) hand will be reasonably well developed and progress in fingering should be that quicker.
As you know, I’m an experienced cellist who took up the fiddle 2 years ago. Bowing control was almost instantly transferrable from one instrument to the other, fingering took a little longer but only because a cellist’s fingers tend to be thicker than a violinist’s (same applies to a guitarist, now I think about it), and I’ve had to learn to move my fingers out the way pdq in the first position on the fingerboard to make room for the next one to come down on the string - but all violinists have to be able to do this anyway when they shift to the higher positions, it’s in the nature of the instrument.
If you know about relaxation of the hand and fingers when playing one instrument you should be able to reproduce that state that much more easily when learning another. A good test for this on the stringed instruments (fretted and no-fretted) is, if you can do a good relaxed and controlled vibrato on one, can you transfer that skill fairly quickly to the other instrument? Incidentally, the degree of relaxation necessary for a good vibrato on the fiddle is the same as is needed to do effortless shifts up and down the fingerboard. (I’m not going to enter the argument whether vibrato should be used in itm - that’s irrelevant in this particular discussion).
Footnote. I’ve often wondered whether the phenomenal bowing control that the great cellist Pablo Casals possessed had anything to do with the fact that he was an international standard tennis player - and tennis racquets in those days (early 20c) were fairly hefty items!
Trevor

Re: That * AHA* Moment!!

You are probably right about the the forearm muscles controlling fingering, Trevor - carpal tunnel and all that. Although box fingers are at 90 deg. compared to the flat flute fingers, so there must be some difference….essentially, I have to admit, I don’t actually know, but FEEL there’s a big difference. Maybe I’m trying to reconcile my own relative ineptitude as a box player compared to being, dare I say, quite competent on the flute. Maybe it’s the pushing and pulling you have to get used to on the button box.
Your little comment about Cassals’ tennis ability - what did I say before about sportaholics and musoaholics? Remember?

Best

Danny.

Re: That * AHA* Moment!!

I have played guitar for over 30 years, and started the fiddle three years ago. I found that the secret for me is to play the easiest pieces I could find which sound good when played slowly.

I play about an hour a day, and I play sessions and/or jams twice a week. I find playing Irish fiddle frustrating for two reasons. The first is that anything, even a scale, is very difficult on the fiddle compared to guitar or almost any other instrument. The second thing which is frustrating is the sheer number of tunes you must learn to be able to play even a quarter of the time at a session. I also play at a weekly old time/contra dance. Not only are the tunes a little slower, but there are fewer of them, and each is played for 5 minutes or more, making it much easier to play by ear. After a year of old time, I started playing much more Irish music. I took lessons every 3 weeks for a while, but I consider myself mostly self-taught, using Mel Bay books with CDs. These include "110 Ireland’s Best Session Tunes" and "Mel Bay’s Complete Irish Fiddle Player". Both come with two CDs. I tried to learn the easiest tunes which were played at sessions, and get them up to session speed. These were polkas and jigs (Tripping up the Stairs especially). Being a guitarist and mandolin player, I would flatpick the tune on the fiddle until I had the left hand part memorized and somewhat fast. Only then would I try to bow it. After learning half a dozen polkas, two dozen jigs, and some single jigs (pretty and slow), I set out to build a basic repetoire. First I made a point of asking the session players the names of the most popular tunes after they were played. I don’t bother with tunes I haven’t heard at least 3 times, no matter how beatiful they are. I scoured the Internet looking for tune lists, and learned only those tunes which apeared on several lists, and were played in my local session. I recorded 6 sessions on my minidisk. Once I got an ABC program running, identifying tunes became easier. Now I know about 100 Irish tunes, which I play over and over. I occasionally use a metronome and set it just a little faster than I can comfortably play, but not as fast as my local session plays most tunes. I also play waltzes.

One thing which helps me is playing fiddle with amateur singers in my neighborhood. We play blues, country, bluegrass, and some rock. I play fiddle leads which sound somewhat like guitar leads, and I get lots of encouragement from the singers, whose standards are somewhat different from the session players. Without this encouragement, I doubt if I would have continued.

Re: That * AHA* Moment!!

Hi Allen….the AHA moment may be different for everybody, but if it is any help, for me it was when I realized that I would enjoy playing even more if I quit trying to sound like someone else, and started trying to sound like me. I realized that I had a lot of qualities in my music that I had been trying to change, but wasn’t having much success. I decided to ‘play to my strengths’, i.e. to do those things that I do well, to do those things that come easy to me, and to allow my strengths to define my style. This all came after about 15 years of fiddling.

A good number of fiddlers make the mistake of trying to sound like one of the ‘masters’, and in their own eyes fall short of this goal. Of course they fall short….if one of the ‘masters’ tried to sound like you, or me, they would fall short, also. Learn what you can from the masters, and incorporate it into your sound. Use what you learn to add to your strengths. Start learning from fiddlers at all levels, including those who are just starting to develop their skills.

Perhaps the first step is to take an inventory of your strengths, and go from there. You would be surprised at how far just a few strengths can take you. Once you have established your own style, you’ll be able to see how mortal the ‘masters’ really are. In many cases, they also have a limited pocketful of strengths, but utilize them in unique ways. Explore the instrument and find your own ways to get great sounds, and then utilize those sounds in your music. Forget about somebody elses strengths and concentrate on finding and developing your own. It is much more satisfying, and will take you a lot further.

Hope this helps,
Scott Donaldson

Re: That * AHA* Moment!!

I’ve had no real "aha" moment, but I did slowly come to the the realization that, in order to meet any goal of what kind of fiddler I wanted to be and what I wanted to get out of playing this stuff, I needed to know what kind of fiddler I wanted to be and what I wanted to get out of playing this stuff. *grin* Oh, and I needed to find out whether I was the kind of person who could do the things necessary to get there.

As Scotty says, it’s different for everybody. The reason for that is that we all have different ideas of what "competence" is, of what you need to get out of playing this stuff, of what we’re going to *do* with things like the ability to play up to a certain standard that you’ve decided to set your hat at. And that’s just fine and dandy, those differences.

But remember, if your idea of an "aha" moment is that you’re going to learn a single trick or some way of looking at this stuff that’s going to turn you into a fabulous fiddler, then you might want to more carefully define what a fabulous fiddler is, because there’s rarely only one thing that will suddenly turn one into Frankie Gavin (thank god!). The best "aha" moment, in my opinion, is the moment in which everything you’ve learned up to that point synthesizes into one big whole.

Unfortunately, this only raises the bar, and you’ll spend the next eternity learning stuff for the next "aha" moment. *grin*

There, my two cents.

Zina

Re: That * AHA* Moment!!

Allan, I played banjo, guitar, and mandolin before taking up fiddle, and I remember too well the frustration of abruptly losing whatever musicality I had on those other instruments as soon as I had the fiddle in my hands. But stay with it—if fiddle calls to you, the rewards are far greater than even your best night on a guitar.

On fiddle, you’ll get little aha moments from your left hand—when your rolls start to work, when your intonation suddenly jibes with what all those fixed pitch instruments are playing, and when you can finger different notes for each of the three chops of a scratch triplet.

But the BIG AHA will come from your bowing hand. Fiddle only sounds "right" when the bowing finally clicks. That’s where all your pulse, lift, and tone come from. So focus your efforts there.

Some of your guitar motions and sense of rhythm will transfer, so you’re probably already ahead there. I know a good fiddler with 20 some years of rosin under his belt who played mandolin and guitar before taking up fiddle, and he says he still thinks of bowing like flat picking. You’d never guess it from how fluid his bowing is, but that’s the mental image he uses. Worth a try to see if it helps you.

Of course, the key to great bowing is relaxation—tickling one end of a curved stick under tension with a hank of horsetail to rub precisely perpendicularly against the strings and with just the right amount of (constantly varying) pressure…all while your hand just floats limp and graceful, as easy as breathing. Gotta be one of the more ridiculous Rube Goldberg contraptions ever devised by humankind. Might as well try brain surgery with a remote control model airplane….

So be patient with yourself, and concentrate on rhythm and tone with that right hand. Imagine that your fingertips are caressing the strings (Stephane Grapelli credits his great swing and tone to playing not with the bow but with the bow *hand*). Forget the bow is even there. Play *a lot*—get obsessive and play four hours a day for a month—your bowing will improve lightyears (though you might not notice it till another six months pass). Play with other good fiddlers. Stick to a dozen or fewer tunes until they really start to cook. Pick a jig, slip jig, and reel that you already play and woodshed on them till you forget everything else. Find their pulse and play each tune at least 30 times every day.

Oh, and give it another 5 years or so, and consider yourself lucky (and a natural) if you sound half as good as you aspire to. Just don’t give up.

Posted .

Re: That * AHA* Moment!!

Amazing! I can post my first discussion on a tired Saturday evening here in Scotland and wake up next morning to find 10 replies.

I think everyone seems to be saying that that there is no *AHA* moment. And that’s fine by me. There’s no point in me assuming that I’ll stumble across the Holy Grail. It reminds me a bit of the South African golfer Gary Player, who used to be convinced that one day he would find the `secret’ of the perfect golf swing. But he probably spent to much time and effort that was obsessively counterproductive (and boring to be honest), that even for a guy who one several majors he probably didn’t realise his true potential.

Playing the guitar for years definitely has helped. I think I did have an*AHA* moment with the guitar (fairly early on) when I realised that hammering on/hammering off etc was an easy to play quicker and more fluidly. This guitar experience has helped enormously. Wherever I am with the fiddle, I’m several years ahead of what I would have been if I hadn’t learned that guitar and got used not just to the left hand movements, but the general experience of learning a musical instrument.

Will’s point is spot on. It’s frustrating to be musically proficient on one instrument and then be miles behind on another. But that’s life. I’m not about to give up. I think the idea of picking a few tunes and trying to get them perfect and slow is something I know in my heart is the right thing to do. But my head tells me to pick up the speed and act like someone who CAN play. And I’m always learning new tunes, which is a good idea in lots of ways (and there’s always a buzz from learning a new tune – like a Christmas present) but I should probably learn to consolidate a bit more.

Bowing and the bowing hand are what I find the hardest (I’ve joined the club, I think!). I tend to bow by instinct really. I try various types of bowing patterns (through reading and listening) but at the end of the day I keep coming back to the way I would play something on the guitar – single notes and slurs in pretty much the same places. Maybe I’ve convinced myself that this can’t be a good thing, but maybe it’s not so bad after all. They’re probably the tunes I can play best. So maybe I should play to my strengths and make the best of what I’ve got.

Cheers!
Allan

Re: That * AHA* Moment!!

Whoops - pasting in from Word obviously has its downside. An AHA moment I think!

Allan

Re: That * AHA* Moment!!

I play the whistle and the borderpipes for a few years now and havan’t found a decisive AHA moment but rather a accumulation of moments, ie:

The first time I played a jig all the way through and felt I was enjoying the tune not just trying to get to the end.
The first time I led a set in the session.
The first time I led a set or joined in, and just didn’t want to stop and didn’t need to.

The biggest moment came when I was practicing and my mind wandered off and I kept playing. Two or three minutes later I realised I was still playing and stringing more sets together but not having to rack my brain to find them. I sat and kept playing for about an hour and when I stopped that is probally the nearest to an AHA moment I have had.

If you stop trying to get somewhere and just enjoy the journey you’ll get there faster.

Enjoy the challenge of a new tune or any tune. Dont worry about an aim just play and enjoy making a sound you like. Its doing this that enabled me to not get to fustrated and keep playing. That and playing with others and listening to them to.

Hope this rambling is useful.

David

Re: That * AHA* Moment!!

Allan, that’s because some of us obviously have no real lives. *grin*

zls

Re: That * AHA* Moment!!

A musical friend once put forward the theory that your technical ability on an instrument and your ability to hear the details in the music do not progress at the same rate; rather they each take a turn to surge ahead.When your ear is ahead, you can hear all the discrepencies between the way you are playing and they way you want to play. When your techical ability catches up you are fairly satisfied with your playing. Maybe the AHA moment is when the two abilities are exactly in synch? That would give hope for many AHA moments to come in the future.

Re: That * AHA* Moment!!

Danny,
Wrong Allan! I’m Alan that plays with Craig -sorry you missed us in Glasgow -could be doing with a flute player right now………
Alan

To Allan and Alan

Oops! sorry to both of ye’s then!
Can’t say when I’ll be next back up in Civilisation..

Boo hoo….

Danny.

Re: That * AHA* Moment!!

Allan, it’s not uncommon at all for guitar players to be frustrated (even to give up in frustration) when they take up the fiddle, because they’re so used to sounding good on the guitar, and they just can’t cope with the bow. However, as other kind folks have pointed out, you have all kinds of technical abilities going for you already. Please don’t give up: it’s worth it. As a violinist/learning fiddler, I can speak of a particular aha moment, regarding rocking the bow, as in Devil’s Dream/De’il Amongst the Tailors. As I tell my students, you start out practicing slow, use very little of your bow, middle to upper part of the bow, move your right hand only slightly, in little circles, and once you’re confident playing slowly, keep increasing the tempo, and at some point, it’s like Harry Potter when he first gets on the broom and discovers he can fly. You’ll know magic is happening; you’re rocking the bow, and you can feel it (but not explain it). I can only do this if I’m in good practice, am thoroughly warmed up, have both feet on the floor and am completely sober.

This doesn’t help much, I’m sure; the essential lesson here is practice, practice, practice. And love it, or what’s the point?

Carol

Re: That * AHA* Moment!!

For me, as a ‘band’ player rather than a session player, the AHA moment is when it’s tight and everything clicks. It doesn’t matter too much how well (i.e expertly) the individuals play, when it all comes together because everyone practiced their bits, it’s a truely great feeling. Maybe even better than just ‘AHA’!

I went from Guitar to Bouzouki about 2 years ago. I practiced so much I’m probably better on Bouzouki now but I’ve never had an ‘AHA’ moment when playing alone, only with others when it seems that what I do on bouzouki fits as well as it did when I was playing guitar.

Good luck allan (from another middle-aged? guy from Scotland).

Craig.

Re: That * AHA* Moment!!

There’s this really really great guitar player (won’t name him) who sits in our session some times. The trouble is he plays the fiddle, and he’s rubbish. The odd thing is that he started on the fiddle so you think he’d know better. He knows all the tunes no problem, but he just can’t bow or play in tune.

Everyone knows those spooky talented multi instrumentalists. You know the ones, they just pick up anything and make it sing. But great musicians don’t neserccerally (how the heck do you spell that) have to be like that, as is prooved by said guitar player above.

Posted .

Re: That * AHA* Moment!!

Will’s comment just made me think, bowing is a lot like French polishing - getting the pressure, speed, angle, tightness of cloth (read ‘bowhair’) and amount of shellac (read ‘rosin’) just right. If all of these paramaters are right, the rubber* (read ‘bow’) glides effortlessly across the surface (read ‘strings’), leaving a clean, even film of polish (read ‘tone’) behind it.

I’ve recently been making a dog’s dinner of French polishing a guitar-bouzouki, precisely because I couldn’t quite get the above parameters right. I also pick up a fiddle now and again, when I get the chance (I don’t yet own one), and make excruciating squeaks and grating noises. of course, the sensible thing to do would be to practise bowing open strings until I and all around me fall off the edge of sanity. But, as a mandolin player, my left hand fingers already know where to go, which, as others have said in this post, makes it all the more frustrating. Furthermore, plectrum-users, perhaps more than anyone else, have the tendency to tense up in the wrist - which, although not good technique, can be got away with playing mandolin, but sticks out a mile in a fiddler.

Perhaps if I just keep playing mandolin and French polishing, then when I’ve mastered them I’ll be halfway to playing the fiddle. I have heard it said that, if you play the mandolin, you’re already halfway to playing the fiddle (perhaps it works the other way round) but I would say, more like 1/15 of the way.

Re: That * AHA* Moment!!

I played the mandolin before the fiddle and all it taught me was where not to put my fingers. I like the french polishing analogy though. It’s that thing where you just know you’ve got it right and you can’t really explain how you did it (Unless your Will Harmon of course).

Posted .

Re: That * AHA* Moment!!

Oh, no no no no no, David. Practising open string bowing isn’t even *close* to the place where everyone wants to commit murder. THAT would be when your piper is helping someone practise their cran over and over and over and over and over and over…

I can only get away with comments like that right now because Dirk is too busy to read this board… *smirk*

Zina

Re: That * AHA* Moment!!

Mine have come from experimenting with new ideas. I try something, it’s really not what I normally do and feels uncomfortable / unfamiliar. But sometimes I persevere, and one day I use these ideas in a session, and someone says "I love that arrangement" and I don’t see it myself, but carry on, and it eventually becomes part of my repertoire of arrangement techniques.

Learning new ways of doing things means letting go of the familiar / safe, so it always feels uncomfortable to make progress. Sometimes the best learning comes from doing something wrong. That’s the paradox which you just have to accept in order to get better.

Re: That * AHA* Moment!!

Mark, I like that . Very un-trad, but, paradoxically, how the tradition progresses.

Posted .

Re: That * AHA* Moment!!

Thanks to everyone for their thoughts on this issue. It’s incredible what a site like this can do for the sanity of fiddle players! I’ve feel that a lot of the suggestions converge around (a) don’t get get stuck in your ways of learning - be prepared to try something new and (b) work on songs slowly (much slower that you would like to play them) and concentrate on getting them just right - then gradually take up the tempo. I’ve started doing this already and I can feel a difference. For some phrases that I consistenty tried to play too fast for my own abilities, I’ve slowed them down to try and get into the groove of the bowing. Of course, I’ve done this before plenty of times, but the difference this time is that I’m persevering at the slower speed, instead of a `token’ slow play before trying to crank up the pace. I’ve got a glimmer that something good is happening. So maybe this is my AHA moment!

Many thanks.

Allan

Re: That * AHA* Moment!!

Playing various boxes, I get the AHA moment three or four times a year when I hear someone really good and I think, I must learn how to do that.
The problem is once I have learned to do it, I have gone off at a tangent for 3 months and neglected what I previously played. I keep stopping and relearning (unlearning?) what I did previously so my style changes from year to year.
Good thing or a bad thing? Keeps things evolving.

Re: That * AHA* Moment!!

When I saw the subject of this thread and Allan’s name, I must confess I was thinking "Alan Partridge".
Con

Re: That * AHA* Moment!!

I always wanted to be able to play violin so beautifully
that women would be moved to tears. I put off trying for
many years figuring it was too hard, too big a job. But
now I’ve started and low and behold, the women start
bawling immediately when I start playing. I needn’t have
waited so long!
Chris

Re: That * AHA* Moment!!

Your name fits you well, then :)

The only tears I get, are tears of *pain* : / lol

Karen

Re: That * AHA* Moment!!

Precisely Karen, it was meant to be a joke.
Chris

Re: That * AHA* Moment!!

Chris, but it was interesting to think about for awhile *he he he*…some women you have after you! ;) lol

Karen