Your brain on music

Your brain on music

I am one of those who cannot talk while playing my fiddle. Not even a garbled "ahhhDEEE" to indicate a key change, much to the chagrin of the guy with the guitar who happens to be my husband.

So I sat in on a workshop last weekend given by Tim O’Brien (yes, Bluegrass Heresy, but cut me some slack here) where he talked about singing with the fiddle. Obviously, Tim could sing, do his taxes and order out for Chinese while playing the fiddle, but I was there to learn, so I payed attention. When I got home, I started working on a tune that I’m learning, and decided to try the lilting thing while I played. My god. I can sing while playing. But I still can’t talk while playing. And this was a tune that I’m not even sure I know, but I can play what I’m singing and sing what I’m playing.

Am I the last person on the planet to realize that this works this way?

Re: Your brain on music

I think it’s because your brain is focused on making music, and the singing is part of the music, but the speaking is not. I have difficulty talking while playing too, but I’ve forced myself to be able to spurt out at least a few meaningful things.

The question is: Can you sing the name of another tune that you want to play next?

For me, saying the name of another tune is more difficult than saying something completely unrelated. For instance, I can say "Oh, hey Joe, long time no see!" a lot easier than I can say "Maid Behind the Bar". I think it’s because I have some subconscious mnemonic device that attaches the notes of a tune to its name, and so saying the name brings those notes to mind, and messes up what I’m playing.

Re: Your brain on music

Heh, so now you know how to tell your husband, "Okay dearie, I’m going into The Cat’s Rambles to the Child’s Saucepan for the next tune, and it’s a slide in D, so please be ready." All you have to do is sing that to the melody of whatever tune you’re playing at the time….

Seriously, lilting along is a good way to teach the brain to both play and vocalize at the same time.

It didn’t come naturally to me either, at least not on fiddle, and I’m still working on being able to grunt out tune names without derailing. The extremely odd thing to me is that I can carry on a full conversation while playing mandolin, banjo, or guitar without missing a beat. I routinely talk while playing those instruments and never give it any thought. But put a fiddle in my hands and my tongue becomes a fine piece of knotwork….

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Re: Your brain on music

I don’t play fiddle. Can you carry on a conversation with your fiddle?
It has a head, neck, & body; & you are (sort of) scratching its’ belly. Or is that just too wierd?

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Re: Your brain on music

I can usually say ‘hup!’ That’s about it. 😉

I’ve started to sing backing and choruses to songs while fiddling. That’s easy, but like everyone is saying above, I can’t seem to make a coherent thought come out aside from "HEY JOE!" when someone walks in that we know. I should try lilting the tune while I play, that’s a great idea.

Singing while fiddling is great and all, but I really want to sean-nos dance while I fiddle without falling on my face! Woo hoo!

Re: Your brain on music

I can’t talk while playing the whistle. I’ve tried and tried, but it just aint happening. Is it because I’m crap?

Re: Your brain on music

I also belong to the utterless while playing the fiddle.

In order to play fiddle I´ve trained my ears to listen very closely to how the sounds come out and where my fingers are. Recommended by/ and to all fiddlers!

If I start talking I will have to ignore my focus on that and depend on the muscle memory in the fingers. I can only keep on a very few syllables, but if I try jamming chords on the fiddle I can say more without trouble.

I can do most other things while playing fiddle - including surfing and reading these pages using a footmouse! (only lurking)

Re: Your brain on music

That does it. I’m gettin’ me a footmouse. Is that related to a doormouse?

Joe, I can’t talk while playing flute, either. Come to think of it, I’m not so good at playing while playing the flute.

Pete, I’m going to try the tune name thing. Sounds like the behavioral thing they do where you read a series of color names; the hitch is when the names are printed in colors that don’t match.

Re: Your brain on music

Yeah, let me know how that goes!

For me, it’s not a concentration or focus thing. I can watch Jeopardy on the TV and know all the answers while I’m playing. It’s disconnected in my head somehow from that.

My theory is that I process the music through the speech center of my brain. This may have something to do with the fact that I lilt tunes when I’m learning them a lot, it helps solidify the tune in my brain. I know a couple of players that move their mouths a lot when they play. They almost look like they’re talking. In fact, one player I met a couple years ago actually had this look on her face like she was about to say something the whole time she was playing, and her mouth looked like it was forming actual words… So there may be something to the idea that some people process music through their speech centers (and others do not… I have heard tale of a piper that could play one tune, and lilt another tune to somebody at the same time…)

Re: Your brain on music

I’m one of those people who not only can’t speak while playing, I can’t listen to speech while playing or I lose my place in the tune. Fortunately my husband has learned not to ask me a question while I’m playing, I think partly because he’s the same way himself.

I’ll have to try lilting the tune as I play. It may prove very entertaining (especially for any onlookers).

Re: Your brain on music

Yeah, please don’t do your lilting-while-you-play thing in public, though! 😉

Re: Your brain on music

I can sing while playing guitar or even piano (which I can barely play), but I can’t speak more than two words without tripping into gibberish. I once saw a woman in a shopping mall playing some nice piano music while carrying on an animated conversation. I’m afraid I soptted and stared. But what really impresses me is Andy Irvine singing while playing all that nifty polyrythmic bouzouki stuff up and down the neck. But I’ve also seen him fall off a stool, so that makes me feel better (actually, the stool collapsed, but that doesn’t make as good a story).

Re: Your brain on music

I think it’s the bowing that ties up the brain cells. I find I can talk only if I’m
playing sustained notes. I’ve seen other fiddlers talk while playing
but their bowing goes out the window as soon as they start with that.
In a session a couple of years ago I sat near Ged Foley (on fiddle) and
he called out key changes to a guitarist without missing anything.

Re: Your brain on music

David Kaynor, Bob Childs - and I’m sure many more can play an fiddle at the same time. It’s not about whether it can be done, but the necessity of doing it. Many guitarists can carry on in depth conversations while they play, but it’s the odd flute player who can communicate while in the heat of a tune.

Re: Your brain on music

I find it relatively easy to sing and play the fiddle at the same time… but only as long as the melody i’m singing is the same as the one i’m playing.

I’ve seen players such as Bruce Molsky and Nancy Kerr take this ability to extreme levels tho.

I can’t hold long conversations while playing the fiddle tho. Probably just a word or two… or to let a guitar player know whick key is coming up next.

🙂

Re: Your brain on music

I have always been able to lilt (or scat, as they call it in jazz) the notes I am playing. I can only sing while I play guitar if I am doing something on guitar so dead simple that I could do it in my sleep. A few years ago, I spent a lot of practice time trying to improve my accompaniment, but it always came at the expense of the singing. And since, when singing, it is all about the song, I decided it was best to focus on the vocal part of things, and I am back to dead simple accompaniment.
I find that, more and more over the years, that I can talk a little when I am playing, but I think it is because the playing is done more by the fingers than the brain, so it frees my brain up to do other things like carry on a conversation.
Except on the box, I need to focus on that pesky thing—so many buttons, so little indication of which is which!!!!!

Re: Your brain on music

I can talk and play the piano or organ. Agree with AlBrown on the box. The added dimenesion of the bellows makes it tough.

My box teacher is amazing. He can carry on a conversation when he is playing. I suppose it is a matter of practice and having the instrument be an ‘automatic’ as it were. He has asked me to try and learn it as a technique for making my playing more ‘automatic’. I satill can’t get two words out without a screw up.

But when I play box , I am quite capable of screwing up without the added dimension of expounding on the state of our political system or Mother Church.

Your mouth on music

When you screw up just say, "this is my own version." ~
" Like the ornamentation?"
{use this frequently} ~ "Ahh Lovely!"
You’ll still screw up. But most people will not know what hit ‘em.
Just a little artistic liscence.

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Re: Your brain on music

I find it difficult to carry on a conversation while I am playing an instrument. Also, I can’t talk to someone while I am trying to type something such as this message.
And. last but not least, when I am playing melody and trying to accompany myself at the same time or singing and trying to accompany myself at the same time, that seems to require more brain cells than just accompanying someone else who is playing the meoldy.

Re: Your brain on music

For simulataneous fiddle w/vocals , take a listen to Dave Swarbrick (solo) on LIVE AT JACKSON’S LANE. Three songs - "Bonny Black Hare", "Lovely Nancy", "The Two Magicians" - and if you didn’t know it was live, you’d swear it was overdubbed.

Re: Your brain on music

Jasus ..don t yous realise …..thats why its so hard to play in a NOISY session because you cant hear yourself play …well thats the same thing when you speak ..and you are playing your first instinct is to listen to your own voice…. the first thing that interupts you..(its Closest to your ear)…thats why your co -ordination between voice and ear is …up the -left and you have to choose one or the other ( if you play by ear)
Most propably …..all the trad players …will have noticed this