Fiddler technique

Fiddler technique

Just recently got interested in Irish traditional music and particularly fiddle. I’m absolutely amazed that some of these guys can get any kind of sound out of it whatsoever but actually a couple of the ones I’ve seen make quite a characterful noise.

Tell you what though, some of them left hands…. Jeeesus christ I wouldn’t have thought you could do anything with that. And some of them bowing hands…. crikey, I don’t know how they manage to pull it off.

A really good example of triumph over adversity I suppose. Or ignorance is bliss? Not sure. Maybe a bit of both.

I suppose they’re helped massively by the fact that they never play out of first position. Still, I’m having a hard time deciding if I’m impressed or dismayed quite frankly!

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Why dismayed?

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Just shocking technique really.

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To hell with technique Asriel. I bet Einstein’s physics homework was rubbish, didn’t stop him!

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If you enjoy playing and maybe others like it. Would it matter what position or technique?
Shocking.

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Shocking from a classical viewpoint, but European violin pedagogy isn’t the be-all and end-all of violin technique. I’d rather hear a master fiddler, with all of the nuances of tone and interpretation thoroughly internalized, than some mass-produced player of the classical system. The latter are suited for following scores and a conductor. That’s what they are trained for, not to express individuality and soul. Of course, master classical violinists transcend their training, just as a good fiddler can do more than provide rhythmic playing for a dance.

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"I suppose they’re helped massively by the fact that they never play out of first position."

Don’t be so condescending. If you are, you’re not welcome in Irish music.

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Been in both classical and traditional worlds of violin/fiddle playing and I have to say you can’t beat the freedom of traditional ‘techniques’! It may not be welcome by all but with a little understanding it runs deep! Yet classical style of playing a violin is a beautiful expression in itself with great precision and discipline….may they appreciate and respect each other! Asriel dont be a stirrer eh ;)

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Violinists playing during the seventeenth century, when many of the Italian master violins were made, rarely played in the higher positions. The violins of Stradivarius and Amati were constructed for first-position playing, with occasional excursions into third or fifth position. Sounds like the fiddlers’s range, eh? High-position virtuosity is a product of the nineteenth century, not some universal goal which every player should aspire to.

And I agree that the remark in the initial post was massively condescending.

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I didn’t find it condescending. Are you really saying it’s not easier to not ever have to play out of first position?

And - ! - mass-production of classical musicians is NOT true to the classical tradition. Playing classical music requires as much musicianship - I didn’t say more - as any other style, and at least on the violin, a far greater mastery of technique. Whether any one individual would rather listen to one than the other is immaterial to the last point.

For the OP - yup, traditional musicians don’t always have impeccable technique. But, they’re good to listen to, anyway. Ever see a picture of Dizzy Gillespie playing trumpet? Any trumpet teacher will tell you not to puff your cheeks out like that, but he sure could play. I think your triumph over adversity and ignorance is bliss nailed it. Go with "impressed".

PS Just like you wouldn’t want to puff your cheeks out to blow a horn, don’t let anybody tell you you have to play with poor technique in order to fiddle well. You will have to do some things differently, for sure, but keep on playing with a straight left wrist! etc.

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@ Asriel — You should work on your grammar a bit: you never leave first position. If you’re trying to be entertaining, however, rather than to impress, just carry on with the stream-of-thought, get-it-off-your-chest methodology. You manage to convey more than just the meaning of the words that way. Perhaps more than you realise.

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O.P. I have no idea what you are talking about!

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Ah no. Lots of people getting the wrong end of the stick, so that’s my fault for not being clear.

What I mean is I’m watching these old fiddlers and some of them manage to make a pleasing tone DESPITE having a technique that really makes things more difficult than it need to be. (and also probably on quite poorly made fiddles I imagine? Anybody know anything about that? Were they any good?)

Good technique isn’t something that somebody made up just to look classy. It makes things much easier and makes playing more efficient and consistent. Does wonders for tone too. It’s just funny to see some of these fellas getting away with all sorts so to speak.

Probably sometimes it was a case of having to overcome a bit of poor technique that gave them their distinctive sound. It’s interesting.

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I see what you mean. But is there any artistic technique that is poor if it works?

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It might be ‘poor technique’ from the point of view of a classical (for want of a better name) violinist. Can you think of any reason why they choose to play the way they do, rather than playing some other way? Bearing in mind your opening sentence?

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It’s not about technique, it’s all about attitude. Sure, a lot of trad players would probably sound "better" (that’s a very subjective judgement) if they had more classical technique. They’d also sound better if they used more expensive fiddles. But that simply isn’t what this music is about. It’s all about making great music using whatever happens to be available to you.

If you ask a classical and a trad player to play a solo, the classical player will inevitably pick an extremely complicated piece - right up to the dusty end with a dozen different bowing techniques and probably a bit of left hand pizz thrown in. At the end people will clap, but they’re not applauding the music, they are applauding the musician’s display of virtuosity.

But the trad player may well pick the simplest of tunes, then play half a dozen variations of it without ever leaving 1st position. Every foot in the house will be tapping, people might get out of their seats and dance. At the end they will applaud the music, not the man.

The bottom line is that great technique isn’t a prerequisite to making great music, it is just a few extra colours on the pallette.

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Mark M : < The bottom line is that great technique isn’t a prerequisite to making great music, it is just a few extra colours on the pallette. >
I totally Agree, and to me, this guy has Both.
f4
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Kx2LtClMFQ

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@ Mark M: I still say that when classical music is done right, and received in the right spirit, it is as much about the music as any other kind of music is. The technique can be perfect, but if the music isn’t there, it’ll fall flat. That’s not to say it’s not possible to have all the technique *and* have great music too - it absolutely is. It’s just really hard. And the fact remains that there do seem to be a lot of classical musicians these days who seem to feel that if you just get all the technique right the music will happen on its own, and the result sounds like music made by a computer. But, I believe, and many others who live in the world of classical music believe too, that this idea is not true to the music; that to play Bach or Beethoven or Brahms or Paganini well requires consummate musicianship as well as impeccable technique.

@ Asriel: your topic is a valid one. But, it can be a sensitive one. Unsurprisingly, this place is haunted by many feisty spirits who believe that their music is unquestionably superior to any other. And there’s some truth to what’s been said above - plenty of Irish fiddlers don’t use bow technique that gets the maximum ring and sonority from the violin because that’s not the sound they want. (Some do. Martin Hayes comes quickly to mind.) (To use another jazz example, think of Miles Davis playing into a Harmon mute directly into the microphone. Far from the fullest, most resonant sound possible from a trumpet, but it was the sound he wanted.) But it’s also true, it seems from my viewpoint, that "techniques that make things more difficult than they need to be" do, in fact, occur often in traditional fiddlers of many locales, and I think you’re right, that there are things traditional fiddlers do, that don’t hinder traditional fiddling so much, would make classical technique impossible. IMHO, tact does usually preclude bringing things like that up in conversation, though. (Ironically, that last sentence isn’t very tactful, but I can’t think of a way to say it differently.)

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I have a student who has decades of classical violin experience. He decided to take Irish lessons thinking it would be easy. He told me a few months in that he’d always looked down his nose at fiddling, but now is amazed at how much harder it is, particularly the things we do with the bow.
Personally, I think they’re both pretty difficult, just for different reasons.

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Neither’s easy, that’s certain. It’s easy to imagine somebody with decades of classical violin experience having difficulty mastering fiddle technique. I could see such a person, whose muscle memory has been so trained to one thing, finding another thing more difficult. But, from a purely objective viewpoint (not that such a thing is possible, but let’s imagine), I see classical violin technique - as represented by, for example, a Paganini caprice or a Bach solo sonata - as the pinnacle of technical (*not* ‘musical’) mastery of the instrument.

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It isn’t poor technique, it is different technique. Once you put aside your preconceived notions about right and wrong, it becomes easier to understand. Doesn’t mean that there are some techniques that work better than others to produce certain sounds, just that there are more techniques and approaches than are accepted in the classical tradition.
The paths to enlightenment are as numerous as the people who seek it.

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"It isn’t poor technique, it is different technique."

I don’t agree. I think one of the hallmarks of traditional music is that refined technique isn’t necessary. Does that make me wrong, and you right? Whose preconceived notions are we talking about?

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I don’t agree that refined technique isn’t necessary in traditional music.

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Hmm. Maybe that term is relative. Would you agree that traditional music does not require the level of refinement of technique that Paganini does?

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Did Paganini play traditional music in an ‘authentic’ way ? Did it sound traditional ?

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Could he sing and play the fiddle ? Dance and play the fiddle ?

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"Would you agree that traditional music does not require the level of refinement of technique that Paganini does?"

Frankly, I don’t think that classical music requires the level of technique that Paganini does. Paganini required that level of technique.

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These are ambiguous words, tdrury! Refinement and technique have many shades of meaning, and those meanings are different in different genres. As an extreme example, watch a Chinese erhu performer. The erhu is a bowed instrument like the violin and has a similar range. The techniques used have few similarities to violin technique, but the good players are able to command a range of emotion and subtlety in their playing analogous to the effects a good violinist can produce on a listener.

Perhaps it’s just an accident of history that fiddle music is played on an instrument which is also used to play European art music!

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What?

What just happened?

The last few posts are just absurd. Sorry. Did Paganini do a song and dance? Did he play Irish music in a traditional authentic way? What on earth are people talking about?

Can we stop talking about classical music? There are too many misconceptions to have a sensible discussion and now some people who are just clearly being silly to cause an argument.

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Paganini was a showman and played spectacular pieces using devices like scordatura. (Also used in some fiddle styles, eg Shetland.) Some even suggest that he used ‘trick’ (i.e. cunningly constructed) violins.
The classical technique produces beautiful music, and so does traditional fiddle technique. There are areas of overlap & classically trained violinists often play fiddle very well. My teacher is an example. However, a skilled traditional fiddler has quite as much ‘technique’ as a skilled classical player, and much of it is special to him or her and is not easily replicated by a classical player.

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It is obvious that technique affects playing. Holding a fiddle against the chest/in the crook of the arm drastically impacts the ability to shift (or rather, the ability to shift back to first after having shifted out of it). The tension of the bow, and the point at which it is held, both impact the mechanics of tone production dramatically, as well as the behavior of the bow. "Collapsing" the left wrist against the neck requires the player to compensate with the shoulder and elbow when changing strings. Using, or not using, or using different types of shoulder- and chinrests can inform— radically alter, in fact— every other part of the playing technique.

It’s a fact that some techniques (e.g. using both chinrest and shoulder rest to hold instrument independent of left hand) make certain things easier (e.g. shifting, efficient string crossing). It’s equally true that some techniques make certain things more difficult. In those cases, it is absolutely accurate to say that players who can accomplish those things while using technique which makes them more difficult are overcoming an obstacle in doing so.

It’s stupid and counterproductive to frame the issue in terms of "good" or "bad" or "classical" or "traditional" (though this being the Session, everybody will of course do so anyway; bring on the flaming brickbats). For each individual player, it should be a matter of what works for them, and for the music they wish to play.

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The dance and sing question was me wondering about the requirements of other forms of showmanship (as mentioned in the previous post - crossing with it). I guess singing not so much in the Irish tradition but Michael Coleman danced and played. What I was wondering about regarding authenticity was covered by the link that Mark M gave.

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Sorry not so much mentioned by Meuchlerin as related to the hold.

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Meuchlerin: < "good" or "bad" or "classical" or "traditional" >
I for one, and I’m sure there’s many other Trad Fiddler’s out
there, maybe even Tommy Peoples etc.
Who, would love to be able, to do this .
f4
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zVE8Jy_pPfc

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I look at "classical" music as just another of the world’s many musical traditions.

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Ahh that reminds me. There was a thingy on BBC Scotland a while ago about Nicola Benedetti and Aly Bain talking about traditional music together.

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@David50, could you clarify your comment?

Generally speaking, mileage may vary; mine certainly has.

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When I said "Paganini" I meant "the music Paganini wrote." Singing and dancing notwithstanding, and with all possible respect intended to Fiddle Aunt and gam, whose posts I’ve seen many times and whose views I respect, I just can’t agree with the notion that the technique required for, and used in, playing jigs and reels is comparable to that demanded by a Paganini caprice.

@ Asriel - it’s tough to talk about these things without the word ‘classical’ turning up. (You’ll notice I didn’t bring it up first.) But as Meuchlerin points out, there’s a false dichotomy that gets set up, ignoring the fact that, as you and he have pointed out, there are absolutely ways to play the violin-fiddle, or any instrument, that will make your job as musician more difficult. "Classical" music has nothing to do with it. That notwithstanding, you’ll run into plenty of people on sites like this one who have been told by umpteen "classical" musicians that their music, or jazz music, or what have you, isn’t as good. That that elitism is found in some classical musicians is indisputable. *But* there are also plenty of musicians of all walks who fully acknowledge the value and musicality of all the facets of this kaleidoscopic art form.

None of this precludes trying to talk about any of these musical forms in ways that make sense. Everything I’ve written about technique here is to support the observation of the OP that yes, it does help that you don’t have to shift from first position, and no, at least in my opinion, that’s not condescending. It’s an accurate observation that can help deepen understanding.

PS to AlBrown - I, too, view "classical" music as just one of many musical traditions, just one that requires more technical virtuosity than most. Please note that nowhere have I made value statements about quality of musicality. I’m just trying to speak honestly and accurately to the OP.

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"I think one of the hallmarks of traditional music is that refined technique isn’t necessary."
"I just can’t agree with the notion that the technique required for, and used in, playing jigs and reels is comparable to that demanded by a Paganini caprice."
These two statements don’t mean the same thing. I agree with the second, but not the first.

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@FIDDLE4: And if Tommy Peoples wants to be able to do that, there are specialized techniques he’ll need which are different from the ones he has already mastered. But that doesn’t mean that Peoples’ chosen field of endeavor is less valuable or worthy than Perlman’s, or that his skill level is "lower" per se (See this thread from a couple weeks ago for many examples of professional classical musicians who are decidedly not "masters" of trad music: https://thesession.org/discussions/34503).

Analogously, if I want to drive a vehicle with a standard transmission, I’ll have to learn how to shift it. Doesn’t mean that my current vehicle is crap or that I’m a bad driver.

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@gam: It’s a question of what is meant by "refined". "Refined" in the sense of "adhering to a rigidly-defined orthopraxy," no. "Refined in the sense of "practiced and polished until it works well," yes.

Though it’s worth noting that the range of what’s considered "good" can be a lot wider in trad than in classical, and also that the bar to entry is a lot lower. You don’t find a lot of self-taught violinists in classical ensembles; you’ll find a fair few of ‘em at the local session.

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What are these "positions" of which you speak?

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@ gam - did you see my clarification of the first statement above?

@ Meuchlerin - I like the analogy. But wouldn’t you say that driving standard transmission requires a more advanced skill set than automatic?

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"Good technique isn’t something that somebody made up just to look classy. It makes things much easier and makes playing more efficient and consistent. Does wonders for tone too. It’s just funny to see some of these fellas getting away with all sorts so to speak."

Asriel,
Sounds like you don’t know very much about trad or classical technique — not that you said you did, but what knowledge informs the comment above? Is it possible that "technique" varies according to the style?

Here’s a trad player with, according to you, less-than good technique, since the left hand is collapsed. And so, according to you, the tone is somehow diminished?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D4fT5V14uns

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@Ergo: Based on the motion of the fiddle against her shoulder, and the absence of any kind of visible attachment, I’m fairly sure that she isn’t using a shoulder rest. She’s supporting her fiddle between her shoulder, her neck, and her left wrist— a technique which itself requires considerable practice to perfect— and therefore can’t straighten her left wrist, because it’s holding up her instrument. She’s obviously tremendously skilled, and her tone and articulation are beautiful. Her style of playing does not require that she be able to shift, so it doesn’t *really* matter that her technique makes shifting difficult. But if she wanted to shift, she’d find her technique to be an impediment.

Technique isn’t a barrier to good music. It’s a barrier to specific other techniques. That’s all.

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Ergo: Correct. That is what would technically be known as a p*ss poor left hand. Also correct that you point out it’s p*ss poor because it’s collapsed. My first violin teacher used to call that the pizza box delivery hand when she was teaching younger children.

But no, I never said a p*ss poor left hand causes poor tone. I said good technique does wonders for tone.

The problem with the p*ss poor left hand in the above example is that the left hand is holding the violin. Without that left hand the violin would fall. Hence… the hand is less mobile and articulate than it could be. Shifting into higher positions isn’t going to work very well from that position. A lovely controlled vibrato isn’t going to be easy to come by. Keeping intonation accurate when crossing strings is going to be harder than it needs to be when the hand is also having to do the job of holding the instrument up.

She can clearly fiddle though. And she has good intonation so she’s overcome that particular problem.

She’s clearly a great musician. I really enjoyed watching that clip and listening to her. In fact, I’m going to check out more of her recordings now. Thank you for showing me, I hadn’t heard her play before.

Ha…. I just watched it again. And I’m even more convinced of what I said originally now. I have no idea how she has that level of fluidity in the left hand when she’s holding the damn fiddle up with it at the same time.
Like I said in the first place, a great example of triumph over adversity.

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@tdrury: Driving stick certainly requires a larger skill set, and is trickier to learn. Driving automatic gets you a perfectly acceptable end result with none of the additional bother, and it doesn’t mean you can’t handle your car. Standard transmission partisans will argue endlessly about how they have better control of their vehicles, are more skilled drivers, etc. Automatic drivers will point out that their mileage is better, it’s awfully nice not to have to be constantly fussing with the stick in traffic, and unless you’re driving under highly demanding and specialized conditions, who cares?

Good analogy, eh? :)

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Highly demanding and specialized conditions? Like those you might find playing full-time for a symphony orchestra? Your analogy is perfect. I’m not trying to be cantankerous - I drive automatic and play Irish trad on my fiddle.

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@Asriel: Calling it "triumph over adversity" seems needlessly judgmental. That’s how she learned it, and it works fine. So what?

I met a gentleman at a festival once who had learned to "balance" his fiddle dynamically between his shoulder, his left hand, and his bow pressure (!) without any chin OR hand grip, because he found that it resolved his chronic RSI issues. When I tried it, it was horrible, like perpetually being on the verge of dropping the instrument (on the tile floor— horror!), and I couldn’t do a damned thing with it, but he was a fine musician. Certainly demonstrated to me how much the rest of my technique relies on a firm chin grip.

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Asriel, it’s worth noting that Liz isn’t alone, quite a few top player have collapsed wrists (Martin Hayes and Jeyy Holland are the first that spring to mind).

Maybe it is a ‘triumph over adversity’. On the other hand it might just be that a collapsed wrist isn’t anywhere near as limiting as you’ve been led to believe.

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"…if she wanted to shift, she’d find her technique to be an impediment."

Not so. If she wanted to shift Liz would just change her hand position.

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@tdrury: Exactly like. :)

Didn’t intend to accuse you of cantankerousness at all. I just started replying and found that the analogy extended further than I had originally intended, so I ran with it.

I started as a classically-trained violist, then got into playing music for morris dancing. Migrated from there into more "fiddly" fiddling. I can’t say that I’ve ever found my classical foundations to be an impediment, but I haven’t found them to be the comprehensive be-all, end-all of violin technique either. In general, I’d say that chin grip is useful and the classical left hand is more flexible and versatile, while trad bowing techniques can bring a lot of variety and neat tricks to the table. And that’s not even getting into the nuances of jamming, playing for musicians, impromptu variation, "attitude"/style…

And I’ve always wanted to learn standard, just to know how.

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@David Levine: And she’d have to shift her posture and grab her fiddle with her chin to get back to first— totally doable, but trickier than it would be with a more solid chin grip and a "floating" left hand. There’s plenty of perfectly effective ways to skin a cat, but some of them are rather simpler and more ergonomic than others.

@Mark M: In my experience teaching beginners, their overall left hand technique improves massively the moment they get the hang of the straight wrist. Straighten their wrist, and suddenly, they can reach every note on the G string, and can control finger placement much better— plus laying a foundation for vibrato later on, but of course that’s *never* appropriate in trad… (NB: heavy sarcasm.)

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@ Meucherin. You asked for clarification. My mention of singing and dancing was because everyone who I recall doing either seems to support the fiddle with their left hand, usually held against their chest or arm - what you referred to in your post.

@tdrury - Yes I know you meant Paganini’s music not himself but isn’t an element of showmanship still part of the ‘package’ when his compostitions are played by someone else ?

I thought the Nicola Benedetti clip was great, especially since a similar interview with Yehudi Menuin doesn’t seem to have found it’s way to youtube. It may have been on the radio and related to and different sort of Scottish ‘trad’ than Phil and Aly.

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@David50: Ah, gotcha. Wasn’t sure what the connection was; now I get it. I haven’t noticed as strong a correlation as you have, but I can definitely see how singing/dancing while playing could influence how people hold their instruments.

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Perhaps Asriel would favor us with an example of his no-doubt stellar playing, which undoubtedly benefits from techniques handed down through the centuries by the violin maestros?

Here at the session this happens periodically, a scornful classical violinist favoring us with purblind opinions.

Meanwhile the rest of us enjoy playing music with friends!

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Interesting topic and thanks for posting. You seem to be ‘watching’ a lot of stuff.

I don’t play fiddle. I do, however play with somebody who’s played Irish music for quite a while. He’s 70 odd now and has played as long as he can remember. (Having said that, I don’t think that says much based on some of the music I’ve heard from members of this site that say they have been playing for ‘x’ amount of years.)

I remember when the smoking ban came in he had a lot of trouble re -learning how to hold the bow without a smoke in his hand. He’s got those big ol’ sausage fingers too. If you were to look at him and think about technique, I’d imagine it wouldn’t be great. However I don’t l


He never looks at musicians really. He uses his ears. Have you tried that?

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@ Meuchlerin - you didn’t accuse me of cantankerousness. I had just read what I’d written and it seemed like it could be taken that way, so I wanted to clarify.

@ David50 - yes, showmanship is part of the package. Unprecedented technical command of the violin was a critical part of that showmanship.

@ all - Playing with a collapsed wrist can lead to physical problems like carpal tunnel. It doesn’t always - neither does smoking always lead to lung cancer - but it can. It is also limiting, for reasons that the OP clearly laid down above. This doesn’t mean it’s not possible to play well like that - it just means it’s harder.

This conversation seems to be winding down, in the same way they always do; "Look, Liz Carroll/Martin Hayes/whoever does it this way - it can’t be bad!"

Smoking can’t be bad for you; Grandma and Grandpa both smoked a pack a day for decades and both died in their nineties!

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Fascinating cross-post with the comment about the smoking ban!

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I’m not actually sure what’s going on here. I’ve not at any point said anything bad about trad players or trad music. In fact I said I was enjoying learning about it and watching footage of the old players.

So what’s all the arguing about?

Yes I’ve seen some pretty fruity techniques. Not quite as fruity as the inferiority complex amongst some people here though.

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I’m writing from my phone, so I guess I hit submit too early.

The crux really is not what you’re looking at, but what you’re listening to. - even better - what is it you are listening FOR? (That’s not an inferiority / superiority complex)

Some members post here on a daily basis and I can tell they have no idea what they are listening for.

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I don’t know who posts regularly and who doesn’t.

I can tell from some of the comments though that some people have absolutely no clue what they’re talking about but would happily argue the hind legs off a donkey nonetheless.

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Yep - you’re right there. 100%. Some also think that getting the last word in constitutes an argument.
Use your brain and ears to filter all of that.

So - what is it you are listening for?

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@Asriel: Your tone of condescension ("triumph over adversity," "ignorance is bliss" etc.) got people annoyed right from the off. There are some people here who will happily— or rather, with righteous sanctimony— insist on the inherent superiority of "real" (whatever that means) ITM until everyone else gets bored and quits, and that’s *without* provocation.

Re: listening, rather than looking, for skill: a fair question, as far as it goes. But it’s worth remembering that in every genre, there are some people who are, by any "objective" standard— intonation, tone quality, overall command of instrument— not very good, but who make very good music nonetheless. Bob Dylan is the quintessential rock example: lousy voice, not much good at guitar, tremendously powerful music in spite of it. Of course, there’s also people who are objectively *and* subjectively bad musicians.

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Ps - you yourself have already apologised for not being clear and used the words "ignorance" and "shocking" to describe the technique applied to an instrument playing the music many people here hold very dearly. Maybe you are being a little sensitive and over reacting and posting without reading into what some are saying.

There are some valid points up there…nothing fruity or bathed in inferiority.

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Being fair, Dunning, there are a certain number of chipped shoulders on parade upthread. Also a great many valid points. Actually, I’m surprised that there hasn’t been more input from the ITM True Believers’ Brigade.

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{*Actually, I’m surprised that there hasn’t been more input from the ITM True Believers’ Brigade.*}

Who are they?

[*I can tell from some of the comments though that some people have absolutely no clue what they’re talking about but would happily argue the hind legs off a donkey nonetheless.*]

@Asriel - welcome to The Session :)

I guess I’ll work my way up the thread and comment on those aforementioned points of observation / technique.

There is one recurring trend I find here, and on other threads too - if someone points out a bit of bad fiddling technique, eg collapsed wrist, bad posture, skewy bowing, cack-handed fingering, nebulous tone, crap intonation, tickling the instrument - at least 2 or 3 posted video examples featuring ‘famous’ players will follow, to try to ‘dispute’ / justify the points in question, thus proving that those things are fine. They are not!

Django Reinhardt played excellent music with two fingers and two stumps - so should we chop off bits of our fingers so we could play as well as he could? Have a think …

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I’d argue that Django is a bit of a special case. He lost his fingers in a fire, that’s by no fault of his. He addapted his technique to be able to make beautiful music and not let his disability effect him.
How is that relevant to the argument again, Jim? I’m not seeing your point.
As far as bad technique goes, hey, does it really matter as long as they’re making good music? If a classical mandolinist looked at my posture when playing and how I hold it, I can assure you they’d find lots wrong with it. I enjoy playing though and to me, that’s all that really matters. I’m not saying learning proper technique is bad, I’m just saying having fun is more important to me than technique.

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Bad fiddling technique is bad fiddling technique regardless of the genre. I take issue with the expression ‘collapsed wrist’ to describe the way Liz and Martin hold the fiddle in the clips above — the other ‘faults’ mentioned by Jim "bad posture, skewy bowing, cack-handed fingering, nebulous tone, crap intonation, tickling the instrument" will not be found among decent-level players of any style. There is a difference between ‘bad’ and ‘not the way I was taught’.

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I agree completely, Gam.

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[*I take issue with the expression ‘collapsed wrist’ to describe the way Liz and Martin hold the fiddle in the clips above *]

@gam, how else would you describe it? Some call it ‘collapsed wrist’, some say ‘pancake wrist’ - it’s just a way of describing a left-hand posture. The main (general) issue with this is that it makes it more difficult (but not impossible) to shift up to a higher position (and back down again) than if the wrist was straight.

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In Irish music, how much does anybody shift?
I mean, really :P

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[*In Irish music, how much does anybody shift?*]

@BB - not much, but that’s hardly the point :)

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@ Jim — The words ‘collapsed’ and ‘pancake’ are derogatory, aimed at students of classical music to make them feel bad about doing it. How about ‘secure’ or ‘fixed’ or ‘stable’?

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"Nebulous tone" - I love that phrase. I’m not sure what it means but I think I know what YOU mean and that’s what’s pretty about it.

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Here is the thing about Benedetti and Aly Bain that I mentioned earlier. The whole thing is on youtube in 3 parts if anyone wants to watch it:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DwyYoUPjRw4


They don’t argue. There is mutual respect. Both appreciative of the different styles of music. And also a lovely bit near the end where Benedetti plays Aly Bain’s fiddle and says it has a very sweet tone compared to her Strad…. and at the same time Aly Bain I’m sure is just in utter wonder at the fact that he has one of the best violinists and one of the most amazing violins in his kitchen… at the same time!

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Jim, that is exactly the point: In Irish music, shifting is not needed as much on fiddle or mandolin because it is in first position, or the first 7 frets of the instrument. If you aren’t shifting all over the bloody place, why would you need to use a hold that has shifting in mind?

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[*The words ‘collapsed’ and ‘pancake’ are derogatory, aimed at students of classical music to make them feel bad about doing it. How about ‘secure’ or ‘fixed’ or ‘stable’?*]

@gam - why do think that? Have a look at this : http://stringtechnique.com/pedagogy/lhpos/09.html … it couldn’t be more obvious why this a bad habit and an impediment. Look at the the wording too - perfectly neutral, don’t you think? Straight or collapsed?

@BB - Yet again, this is something that has nothing to do with the specifics of playing Irish music on a fiddle. It’s got everything to do with the basics of playing the fiddle / violin at root level, at the point even before you play a single note. I know you can’t see the picture, but it is simply a comparison of the correct and incorrect way to hold the instrument, and explains quite simply the reasons why it is bad practice.

@Asriel - ‘nebulous tone’ - it’s just another way of saying ‘insecure intonation’ - meaning, out-of-tune, not just on the odd note, but on most of them. The degrees vary, as does their acceptance of being ‘OK’ or otherwise, depending on who is listening :)

There’s one thing that does grate on me, and that’s the tendency to put everything into either the ‘fiddling’ or the ‘classical’ bucket. With a *good and proper* training on the instrument by a *good teacher who knows his/her stuff* (regardless of the musical genre), there is absolutely nothing at all that should impede playing a different kind of music. Absolutely nothing.

Yes, of course the techniques for playing jigs and reels are different to playing Handel sonatas, and they may need to be learned, but there’s nothing in proper instrument teaching that ‘breaks any rules’. One may have to learn additional things, but if you feel you need to ‘unlearn’ anything, well sorry, but there must have been some problem along the teaching / learning route in the past.

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The caption in the first picture says "you can see how the fingers are pulled out of position". This is only applicable if the resulting position is not the one you want. There is no explanation of why it should not be done except that ‘it is wrong’. There are no comments at all, unsurprisingly, about any advantages inherent in this position. I should perhaps make it clear that I use the classic position myself; but on rare occasions I use the traditional position because it is easier for certain tunes. I can well understand why some players use it all the time, and I think it is patronising to assume they don’t know what they are doing, or worse, that they are doing it wrong.

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Are their any health issues ?

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None that I know of; but I’m not a doctor. I know what people say, but I’ve never seen any evidence.

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This whole discussion seems quite odd to me. It seems there are some people for whom the actual technical expertise is the goal — and so we hear of things that are ‘better’ because they enable creation of certain types of tones or more ‘ease’ (whatever that means) in shifting to higher positions. That is fine, but odd to me. I have the impression that what people like Liz Carroll and Martin Hayes view as their goal is making especially fine traditional Irish music. It seems especially snobbish and elitist to criticize their technical approach when they are clearly achieving exactly what they are trying to do. Arguing that they don’t have total mastery of their instrument and are limited in what they can do seems silly to me. They are doing exactly what they set out to do, and they have more than enough technical ability to achieve the goal. Saying they could do it more easily of they had better technique is also beside the point. I have not heard these masters say they are limited by their technical ability. If the sounds they wanted to create required rapid shifting of positions, I expect they would play differently. But it doesn’t, and their focus is on creating a very special expression — which I for one am thankful for.

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BlindBard:
"If you aren’t shifting all over the bloody place, why would you need to use a hold that has shifting in mind?"

I know what you mean but a posture/grip that makes you feel like you’re struggling to hold your instrument can’t be a good thing.

I’m self-taught and would be in pancake mode if I spontaneously took up my fiddle and played a tune but the important thing is that I’m fully aware of it. I can’t shift as easily, the intonation on some notes could be improved, I sometimes find that my left thumb (unconsciously) has been gripping the fiddle - and the more I work on all this, the more relaxed I feel.

Good posture is good posture.

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I’m curious as to what the OP meant in referring to "characterful noise."

Matt

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Is there any suggestion that Liz Carrol and Martin Hayes are not achieving the intonation and tone that they want ?

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Ah, hi Matt.

I meant it has a certain quality to it. Errm, yes that doesn’t help much does it.

Ok let me try a bit harder. I guess on some of the recordings I’ve listened to there is a sort of dustiness and a smokey woodiness to the tone. It’s quite a haunting sound on a lot of the things I’ve heard.

I suppose if you consider the brilliance and clarity of a soloist under the bright spotlight of the concert hall, then the Irish fiddle is what it sounds like by candlelight.

That make any sense?

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Meuchlerin@< But that doesn’t mean that Peoples’ chosen field of endeavor is less valuable or worthy than Perlman’s, or that his skill level is "lower" > I was’nt saying Tommy’s was, just they ( Both Classical and traditional ) both, have a great respect for each other’s music, especally in the Fiddle department.
Once on the TV this man said he could handle Scottish Trad ok, but could’nt get the swing of the Irish Music.
It was harder for him to do as a Classical violinist. ” And Bless Him ”
f4
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XkZvyA69wCo

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Klezmer is another type of traditional music that a number of classical musicians have admitted they have a hard time getting the feel for.

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"I guess on some of the recordings I’ve listened to there is a sort of dustiness and a smokey woodiness to the tone."
To get that you need a fiddle with 20 years worth of rosin caked on top which has done countless hours of session playing in fuggy bars before the smoking ban. ;-)

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Ahh the smoking ban. Don’t get me started. That ruined pubs that did.

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@gam: "The words ‘collapsed’ and ‘pancake’ are derogatory, aimed at students of classical music to make them feel bad about doing it. How about ‘secure’ or ‘fixed’ or ‘stable’?"

As well as being as overcomplimentary as ‘collapsed’ is pejorative, ‘secure’ and ‘stable’ both describe the straight-wristed left hand grip, so they aren’t much good for differentiating here. ‘Fixed’ isn’t much better— with the exception of vibrato, the straight-wristed grip is as much a ‘fixed’ position as the other. If we’re aiming for neutrality, why not go for a matching pair of descriptive terms, like ‘straight’ and ‘bent’?

@theblindbard: "If you aren’t shifting all over the bloody place, why would you need to use a hold that has shifting in mind?"

So that you could if you wanted to, for starters. More options. Often makes transposing easier.

@Jim Dorans: "With a *good and proper* training on the instrument by a *good teacher who knows his/her stuff* (regardless of the musical genre), there is absolutely nothing at all that should impede playing a different kind of music. Absolutely nothing."

Um, no. There are a very great many genre-specific skills, and no single teacher is likely to impart all of them. A solid foundation in versatile technique, however, will enable you to *learn* any genre, provided that you’re willing to be flexible and adapt your technique if necessary… and it may well be necessary.

Having said which… a straight left wrist and a firm chin grip will allow you to do a lot more, and to do it more easily, than holding up the bloody instrument with your left hand will. A bow grip that allows your wrist to move will give you better bow control and a wider palette of tones and techniques than a stiff-wristed one.

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Meuchlerin: You’re wasting your time I think mate. All them things have already been said lots of times above.

They don’t want to hear it. They seem to have this idea that all classically trained musicians are condescending and derogatory so they’re just not going to take any notice of a thing they say.

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OOI, I’d recommend against "a firm chin grip". No tradition I know would recommend that. Certainly not good classical teaching.

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@Asriel - calm doon, mate :)

@Meuchlerin - I still maintain that good training will not impede playing other types of music. Can you give me an example that would? Yes, I agree that trad, bluegrass, jazz, snazz require additional techniques which may need to be learned (ghost bowing and chopping, eg) and no, I didn’t say a good teacher could teach you every style. I do generally agree with your rationale, and it makes a lot of sense to me.

@gam : when I make a statement about, eg, bad technique, bent wrist, playing out-of-tune, clumsy fingering, holding the bow 1/3 of the way up the stick or whatever, it’s usually because I have seen countless examples of people doing these things, then realising there is a better way because it is plain and simply wrong. Just as wrong as holding a golf club halfway down the shaft. Doesn’t stop you playing golf, does it?

I don’t care what people do as regards good / bad form on the fiddle. I really don’t. But if there’s a question / discussion about it, I’ll speak up.

As for what players like Liz Carroll and Martin Hayes think about playing with a collapsed wrist (if they even think about it at all), I couldn’t care less. They play good music and they play it well, as has been mentioned before. I just don’t think it’s good form to hold up one aspect of bad form as a good example, or try to excuse it, that’s all.

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See, Asriel, your last message has an "Us and them" mentality behind it.

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Perhaps people think you are condescending because you say things like "actually a couple of the ones I’ve seen make quite a characterful noise".
Perhaps people think you are being derogatory because you use adjectives like "shocking" and "p*ss-poor".

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@Ben Hall: Fair point. "Firm" is the wrong word. I’ll rephrase: stable, ergonomic neck and shoulder support that allows the player to hold the instrument securely without support from the left hand. It’s the left-hand independence that allows increased reach and agility, shifting, and vibrato.

@Asriel: Really? Because I’m seeing people who are more or less agreeing with me. Also, are you being deliberately obnoxious, or just aiming for cheeky and missing? Independent of any points you’re trying to make about technique conducing/impeding good playing, you’re coming across as condescending, dismissive, and rude.

@Jim Dorans: It all depends on the flexibility of the player. Learning and being comfortable with holding the bow at the frog isn’t an impediment… unless you let ingrained orthopraxy stop you from exploring the range of effects you can get with a mid-stick grip just because it’s "wrong". Some folks do that on purpose, and for reason: gripping the bow closer to the centerpoint changes its behavior and ‘feel’ in intriguing ways.

Players who limp along with a mid-stick grip because it’s "traditional", trying to get frog-grip sound out of the instrument and wondering why it’s so bloody hard, can benefit a lot from learning frog-grip technique… and frog-grip players who aren’t getting the nuances of certain trad bowing patterns and sounds can benefit from giving mid-stick a whirl.

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There seems to be a presumption that over the centuries the best way to do things has been figured out, and that certain things work and other things do not work. You might want to rethink the assumptions used in that process. I don’t see why someone should be surprised that it is possible for Liz Carroll to achieve fluidity using her approach. If you thought such was not possible because she uses a p*ss-poor hand position, then perhaps you don’t understand as well as she does what is important to enable fluid playing.

Shifting gives you "more options. Often makes transposing easier."
As though everyone needs or desires those options. And usually transposing in ITM is not done by going to higher positions. The sound of playing up the fingerboard is not what most players usually want in their jigs and reels.

"A solid foundation in versatile technique, however, will enable you to *learn* any genre .."
And if your goal is to learn the techniques to be able to play ‘any genre’, that makes sense. But if your goal is to play ITM, then I do not see the validity of the point.

It seems there is something you want these performers to play that they are not playing for you — and you think the reason is because they can’t play those things because they don’t have a flexible enough technique. That is a fundamentally elitist attitude. They are playing what they want to play, and their technique is well adapted to it.

Personally, I keep a straight left wrist and use a Franco-Belgian hold, but it is because that is how I was taught. I don’t presume it is fundamentally better or that it makes it easier to play ITM.

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@Fiddler3: "It seems there is something you want these performers to play that they are not playing for you — and you think the reason is because they can’t play those things because they don’t have a flexible enough technique… They are playing what they want to play, and their technique is well adapted to it."

Fair enough. My point is not that their technique is intrinsically wrong or unsuitable for their needs and preferences. I’m trying to defend the validity of a wide variety of techniques against the "good"/"bad", "right"/"wrong" dichotomy that Asriel is promoting with comments like "triumph over adversity". I’m also trying to acknowledge that some techniques are more versatile than others— not better, necessarily, or more inherently suited to ITM or any other genre*— and accomplish different things, because the one point that Asriel got right (in between being rude and making value judgments) is that technique influences and informs how people make music.

I’m not campaigning for technique reform in ITM. I’m not demanding that ITM musicians play "what I want to hear". I want everyone to play the music they want to play, in the way they want to play it. I’m saying that IF you want to do A, B, and C, technique X will make it easier than technique Y; if you DON’T want A, B, or C, that is also fine.

If your next point is that "real ITM musicians don’t ever do A, B, or C, because it’s Not Traditional," we have very different ideas of what constitutes a tradition.

*other than classical, which has much more ingrained and formalized ideas

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@Meuchlerin
I agree that right/wrong or good/bad leads to a sense of inappropriate disparagement. I also do not think versatility is intrinsically better than lack of versatility.

Here is an interesting video clip about a certain cook in New York.
http://vimeo.com/16077855

Mr. DeMarco has all the technique he needs to do the one thing he wants to do — make pizza. And he has done it essentially the same way for nearly 50 years. He certainly is not proficient in all the techniques of food preparation that a trained chef would know, but I would say, by the measures that really matter, he is eminently successful as a chef.

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For those arguing for the "non classical" or "traditional" approach to playing fiddle, how would you teach a complete beginner to hold the bow or hold the left hand against the fiddle? If they are going to be playing ITM only would you teach them a collapsed wrist and a right hand half way along the bow?

Someone earlier used the analogy of holding a golf club. The very first thing a learner is taught is how to grip the club properly and take a proper stance, based on many years of acquired learning and experience. This gives the player a much better chance of hitting the ball well.

It would seem to me that the same holds true for any new skill, including fiddle playing; is it not better to learn good habits which make it easier to improve and play more efficiently. I’m certainly no expert but I really don’t fully understand the distinction made between traditional and classical, or indeed any other genre of music. I have had lessons from really good teachers (both classical and traditional) when I started playing a few years ago and the first thing they all focused on was good foundations eg. bow hold, left hand position etc. I still fall into the habit of collapsing my wrist, but when I work at trying to straighten it does feel I’m in better control.

I don’t think I’ve heard anybody argue that players like Liz Carroll and Martin Hayes can’t play fantastic music without using the normally accepted left hand position. But can we not agree that it’s best to learn to adopt the best possible techniques to make it a bit easier for ourselves?

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"can we not agree that it’s best to learn to adopt the best possible techniques to make it a bit easier for ourselves?" — Absolutely. The best possible techniques for what you want to achieve. As I said before, bad technique is bad technique. But ‘different’ is not ‘wrong’.

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I was actually shown the grip part-way up the stick from a friend of mine who played viola all throughout high-school. She called it the "balance point" and that it would be a bit easier for me to control what I was doing with it.

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@gam: I’d venture that a "bad" technique is a technique which doesn’t allow you to do what you want to do, or is causing you injury (RSI etc). A technique which meets your needs and wishes to your satisfaction and isn’t injuring you is a perfectly fine technique.

@DavidEd: I’ll admit that if I were starting a beginner out, I’d teach them straight wrist and frog grip, and get them a shoulder rest. It’s what I know how to teach, and they can always adapt it to their needs and preferences later, when they’ve got a better idea of what they’re doing.

@Fiddler4: "I also do not think versatility is intrinsically better than lack of versatility."

Intrinsically better, no. Whether it’s desirable or not is ultimately down to personal preference. I’m an engineer, I can’t help myself; I want all the utility and all the options. Others don’t, and that’s okay too.

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{*As I said before, bad technique is bad technique. But ‘different’ is not ‘wrong’.*}

I maintain that using a collapsed wrist to play fiddle music is most definitely wrong. And, I believe it to be bad technique too. I was just about to post a reply to Meuchlerin’s last post, when I refreshed, and then saw the two posts above. My explanations below will clarify what I just said, re ‘bad technique’ …

@DavidEd - I think you made some excellent points there. Oh yeah, it was me with the golf club analogy. Could have used the ‘crap boxer’ one, but anyway …

@Meuchlerin - I hear what you’re saying about the different bow holds. I’ve nothing against experimentation, and I fully accept the maxim "if it works for him/her, don’t change it."

Lots of things work. Self-made difficult and awkward left-hand fingerings can be made to work (usually that’s because of lack of knowledge, and the "don’t worry, your fingers will sort themselves out" advice from people who don’t actually play the instrument. Yep, it happens. On here. A lot. :)

People with perfectly normal physical arm and hand functions can adopt awkward postures and attitudes, and still get by, because they know no better. They get by. Some do pretty well. The human body is amazing …

People often ask, "why do trad players hold the bow so far up the stick?" Does anyone really know? One reason (from my own experience in teaching) : it’s a physical insecurity (in a way similar to collapsing the wrist to support the instrument), because simple bow balance hasn’t been learned, and holding the bow the normal way at the frog results in unwanted bounce. OK so far, but that severely restricts what you can do well (playing a slow Irish air is one example).

So, if the argument is that it doesn’t really matter for Irish trad, then the counter argument is that playing Irish trad prevents you from playing other music (which it most certainly would). So where are we now? If you learn the basics properly, you then have the freedom to learn other styles of music without physical impediment if you so wish, later on. It’s an individual choice, although often that choice is made too late.

Yes, of course the ‘1/3-way-up-the-stick-hold’ feels a lot different, but I’ve yet to hear any tonal advantage, either as a listener or as a player. Has anyone?

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Gam: "different is not wrong".

It just is sometimes mate, I’m sorry. It just really is. Regardless of what you would like to believe.

If there was a music teacher teaching beginners how to play with a collapsed left hand, that would be very wrong.
If there was a music teacher teaching beginners to hold the bow anywhere other than at the frog, that would be very wrong too.

If that was your kids being taught them things, I’m sure you would have something to say about it.

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Regarding what I just said above…

Of course we need to make an exception and allowances for anybody who for whatever reason isn’t able to play the way things are usually taught.

If somebody has a physical impairment or something that means they have to hold the instrument differently, that’s 100% ok. And those people I’m sure will always be encouraged to do whatever they find works best for them.

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So fiddlers with playing styles which don’t follow "the way things are usually taught" must be impaired or otherwise deficient, eh?

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Just a nuance: I don’t agree at all with what Asriel says above. However, there really are more logical, better ways to hold a fiddle than, say, the way that Liz Carroll holds it. What I always think is that if you’re as brilliant as Liz Carroll, then fine, play however you want to play; if you’re not that brilliant, then you might get further - and get further quicker - if you play using more sensible, simply better holds. More conventional if you like.

IOW, the stars can do what they want; us mortals might as well take the easier, better option.

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Asriel, you seem to have a very narrow view-point on what is "right" and what is "wrong"
Does it really matter as long as we can play the music in a style and way that we find pleasing to the ear?

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My post above was supposed to be directly after Asriel’s latest. Larry’s intervening post makes mine read differently. Interesting …

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OK all you classic wannabes. Try this. Hold your fiddle with the ‘collapsed wrist’ that you so readily disdain. Put your index finger on the f on the first string, your middle finger on the c on the second string, your third finger on the G on the third string, and your pinky on the D on the fourth string. Easy isn’t it? Now keep your fingers there, and move your wrist to the straight position.
Some hope.
How about those people who play with the button against their chest and the fiddle on the forearm? Is that ‘wrong’? Do you really think that someone who has been playing for decades should listen to you and change what they are doing because you say it is wrong? I think you have a nerve. Do you not think that there might be advantages to playing with a ‘collapsed’ wrist that you don’t know about because you don’t play that way?

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Yes you’re right gam, that’s a bit of a stretch. Good point mate.

It’s been an interesting and good discussion for me. I’ve been learning a lot from the valid points that a lot of people have made. And I’m still enjoying listening to the tunes and reading about the history. And I’ve been playing Liz Carroll on mp3 all afternoon. It’s wonderful.

Thanks.

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Easy-peasy, gam. Bring the left elbow to the right, and let the whole left arm pivot around the neck. Not even a stretch. Hell of a chord, though. :)

I assume you’re addressing Jim or Asriel in your second paragraph? If not, I say again: "different, not wrong; do as you please".

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Now that you mention it gam, I’ve always had a more "diagonal" wrist when playing mandolin. Not something I learned, it just felt natural. Funnily enough, some wise guy once pointed out how strange he thought it was that I placed my fingers that way instead of keeping my wrist in more classical guitar position. I immediately realised that my reason for keeping a collapsed wrist was the reach - I could reach several frets more than with a "proper" position.

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@GAM: "Do you not think that there might be advantages to playing with a ‘collapsed’ wrist that you don’t know about because you don’t play that way?"

What are the advantages?

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@Jim: "Yes, of course the ‘1/3-way-up-the-stick-hold’ feels a lot different, but I’ve yet to hear any tonal advantage, either as a listener or as a player. Has anyone?"

My experience is that it’s not a tonal thing so much as a bow-handling thing. Changes the behavior of the bow in the hand tremendously, and makes some patterns/rhythms/styles much easier to execute. Puts the finer bow-control that you get when playing near the hand (e.g. near the frog, if holding bow at frog) more toward the middle of the bow, and decreases the amount of leverage you can exert. Also, holding closer to the center means that you can get middle-bow string crossings with much less wrist motion, due to shorter lever (sorry, engineer).

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@DavidEd: Helps to hold your fiddle up, for one. :)

Joking aside, I can see how it might make it easier to play ‘bar chords’ as on a guitar, putting a finger flat across more than one string to play drones/double stops/etc. It certainly makes it trickier to reach OVER strings without touching them.

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Is there an argument that the straight road always leads to the same place and that wandering off it reveals new ground and new perspectives ? If Carrol and Hayes had been diligently learning a ‘proper’ hold they may not have been doing something took them to where they are now.

Would we want our trad heros to all sound the same ? Isn’t this ‘classical’ training (in whatever instrument) designed - partially - to to produce off-the-shelf musicians so that the nth violin can be replaced without much change to the sound of the ensemble ?

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@David50: There’s a lot to be discovered by messing about without set rules. But one way or another, everyone’s got to learn how to hold the fiddle and find the notes. It doesn’t take any more diligent learning to get good at it one way than another, you’re just building different muscle memory.

Does Winifred Horan sound like Kate MacLeod? Or Mark O’Connor? "Classical" training doesn’t seem to have damaged them, or made them indistinguishable clones.

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[*Puts the finer bow-control that you get when playing near the hand (e.g. near the frog, if holding bow at frog) more toward the middle of the bow, and decreases the amount of leverage you can exert.*]

Fair comment in terms of the laws of mechanics, but it decreases the amount of bow you can actually use. If you don’t think that matters, well, let’s just call it a day on that one, eh? :)

[*Hold your fiddle with the ‘collapsed wrist’ that you so readily disdain. Put your index finger on the f on the first string, your middle finger on the c on the second string, your third finger on the G on the third string, and your pinky on the D on the fourth string. Easy isn’t it? Now keep your fingers there, and move your wrist to the straight position. Some hope. *]

@gam, sorry to disappoint you, but that’s not a difficult thing to do (even on a 5-string violin), although it is easier to make that chord shape using only a normal straight wrist. Maybe it’s difficult for a trad tune player who has never played a 4-note chord, but really it’s just a simple 1st position chord where the fingers go where they normally would (apart from the fact that all fingers need to be down all at once).

What is the point you are trying to make?

I’d love to know how playing with a collapsed wrist has an advantage over playing with a straight one (apart from supporting the weight of the instrument at the expense of freedom of hand movement).

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No offense, but I actually find Horan to be just that, an indistinguishable clone. And Mark O’Conner has always held the bow with his thumb around, not within, the frog. But he’s not indistinguishable, not at all.

And since it seems we all appreciate seeing fiddlers do things the "wrong" way so we can say, "Yeah, but that’s the exception," then I offer this clip. You’ll have to be patient while the guitarist starts it off.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cQ_Q-RGQDzI#t=174


To me, ‘collapsed wrist’ is not a bad thing. I use a standard hold, and I’ve actually tried to play with a collapsed wrist to see what it was like. But I found it very difficult, particularly when playing a lower string against a higher drone. I did find one thing, though. The collapsed wrist makes it easier to do cuts across the strings, meaning perpendicular to the string, rather than bringing the cutting finger down from straight above. Either way works, of course, but by cutting across the string, you can get the tiny tick without stopping the note, so it’s a little different, and sometimes smoother, sound. I now use a kind of combination, moving my wrist as I need to move it to get the sound I want.

@jim — "I maintain that using a collapsed wrist to play fiddle music is most definitely wrong."
I don’t like people saying the wrist — or a bowhold — is "wrong." If you can play with a collapsed wrist as well as Liz Carroll or Martin Hayes, then you’ve got some credibility in judging them or their technique. But I think "wrong" is not a valid critique.

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Re: Fiddler technique

Most of this discussion is way out of my league. I have a fiddle that I can just barely play. There isn’t anything I could add about technique one way or another, because I’m so new at it that I don’t really understand most of the issues above. I have, however, been a performer for decades. I learned during those years that technique doesn’t matter much either way, if your audience doesn’t like what you give them. Do any of you remember The Fiddlers Three concert, back in 1977? Doug Kershaw, Jean Luc Ponty and Itzhak Perlman were on the same stage. They presented three vastly different styles. Check out the video, but focus on the audience response. The applause-o-meter say it all.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J3bF0vsGQOw

Re: Fiddler technique

@Jim: "If you don’t think that matters, well, let’s just call it a day on that one, eh?"

Like so many other things, it’s a trade-off. Depends what you’re doing.

"that’s not a difficult thing to do (even on a 5-string violin)"

Fairly tricky for those of us without six fingers on our left hands. :)

@Ergo: "I actually find Horan to be just that, an indistinguishable clone."

Ah, but indistinguishable from whom? :)

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It is a false dilemma to say one must choose a teacher who teaches bent wrist or a teacher who teacher straight wrist. That, of course, is not the way it works. The real question for someone who is setting out to learn ITM is whether you are learning in a way that captures you and keeps you. Most students never get very far — giving up within the first year. A contributing factor is the mind-numbing attention to things that are largely irrelevant. Most of the traditional students had teachers who did not insist on straight wrist because the teachers knew it didn’t matter. The net effect is more players and in particular, more very good players of ITM.

The cost is that these players might not be well suited for classical orchestras. But I expect that was not usually their intent going in. If it were, they could find a different teacher and run the gauntlet.

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[*Fairly tricky for those of us without six fingers on our left hands.*]

Six fingers on each hands is when to start worrying :)

Even counting the thumbs …

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For Larry, a mass-produced violinist:
http://i.ytimg.com/vi/Iak6Iuk9T9s/maxresdefault.jpg

Great bow grip, eh?

And I am all in favor of pancakes, as long as they are artisanal.

And, didn’t we just have this discussion? I haven’t completed my homework on bowing technique from that one yet, so I’ll leave this advanced course to y’all.

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OK, Rosie, you made me do it.

"The music has an elegaic quality, with subtle, but repetitive motifs concordant with the most dissonant possibilities in the use of the 13-tone scale. Yes, the thirteen tone system is what is employed here, in this important work. The 13th tone is a microtone between the 5th and 7th interval, which produces an ephemeral sound, out-of-tune yet tuneful in its own inimitable way.

The forceful dynamics required in the execution of this piece [Igor, in the previous review, can we edit out the "knocking seven shades of shit out the instrument" part and put in some other phrase to convey urgent, yet delicate forcefulness - cheers] only add to its subtlety and will make it rank among the truly great modern masterpieces of its time."

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Well played, Jim! Let’s get with Igor and talk commas and hyphens, OK?

Off I search for the 13th note.

BTW, the violinist is a real crackerjack in the new-music world, as is the pianist, and I think some would hold the piece in esteem something like what you describe, and some might even prefer the "earthy" way of putting it.)

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Well, excellent stuff from the girls above, although not quite my cup of tea. Actually, that description above (minus the note to Igor) was what I put along with my Efnofl Violin Concerto. You’d be surprised just how many people took it seriously, and it was quite embarrassing to have to actually ‘put them right’.

Re: Fiddler technique

Efnofl?

I was just trying to find a nice sentence I have somewhere about a fiddler playing "perfectly out of tune." Anyway, that’s the idea.

Re: Fiddler technique

So when a fiddler plays a "characterful" note it’s an inability to triumph over adversity, but when a violinist plays a microtone it’s "ephemeral," not to mention "perfectly out of tune."

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Re: Fiddler technique

Going back to the ‘collapsed wrist’ thing - it’s been established that some people play perfectly well with this posture, and part of the debate seems to be about whether it’s correct to ignore this in teaching a violin beginner / improver.

Both Kenny Baker (RIP) and Byron Berline, two excellent bluegrass fiddlers, used a ‘pancaked’ wrist, and they shifted a lot from 1st to 3rd to 1st position with ease. I say ‘with ease’, because it was easy for them. All they did was straighten their wrists, because the heel of the hand was against the heel of the fiddle neck joint, so they had to move the wrist upright so they could finger the notes in the higher positions.

I don’t have the source any more, but there was an interview in Frets magazine some years back, and Byron Berline said something like this : "[on shifting] I just straighten up and get up to the higher notes." No problem there, for him anyway.

Having to un-collapse a collapsed wrist is simply one more impediment in teaching someone to play. I think the ‘it doesn’t matter for Irish trad’ is a very narrow-minded mindset. What if you become brilliant at Irish trad, and decide you want to explore other great music on your fiddle? You want/need to shift to 3rd position, but you’ve never learned to un-collapse your wrist in order to do so?

Anyway, here is the guy I was talking about :

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Y8sStWw7Po


The music starts at 01’23, and the shift is at 02’19

Obviously not Irish trad, but I needed something to show shifting with collapsed-then-straightened wrist.

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I have nothing to say about whether a bent wrist *should* be corrected by a teacher or not. But you might be interested in my experience. When I was at school having violin lessons, I was always being told off - everyone was - for the bent wrist. And when I was thirty, I took up the fiddle again for a few months, and I again had a bent wrist, and my teacher again told me off. This time I argued - what does it matter etc. Anyway, I had to give up again because of career commitments. Fast forward another thirty years, and I take up the fiddle yet again. Two things were different this time - first, no finger pain because of all the touch typing I’d done over the years. And second, no bent wrist. It doesn’t even feel comfortable to bend it now. And guess what - I’m not brilliant, but this third time that I’ve taken up the fiddle is the best of the lot. I’m much more into the groove. So it’s worked for me…! :)

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Big hands too that guy in the clip above.

Anyway, people keep mentioning this "characterful" thing that I said right at the start.

I don’t see why people have picked up on it and seem to have managed to take offense so much. It was a compliment for fecks sake.

Ergo just said above: "So when a fiddler plays a "characterful" note it’s an inability to triumph over adversity"

No. That’s just nothing like the gist of what I originally said. I never said the fiddlers have an inability to triumph over adversity. I said the complete opposite. I said the fact that they make surprisingly good music given some of the awkward techniques going on…. and that’s a triumph over adversity.

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Ergo: I cannot speak for Jim, but I shall offer the I myself read his program note as tongue-in-cheek. (See his follow-up.)

And just to make matters worse: I was referring to a *fiddler* who plays perfectly out of tune. And I told him so, and he agreed. I would not describe it as "triumph over adversity," which is a notion to which I am allergic in all spheres (including the cancer discussion, another story), but he is indeed a beautiful player who is not the cleanest. he would say the same, and I love his playing, which I find very musical. I would not make any generalizations following up on this, like that fiddlers can’t play cleanly or that players who are clean (from whatever idiom) lack soul. I’ll find that post—I dig playing my clarinet Es alongside my buddy’s open (and doubled) E. I have E-string envy.

I was playing a Buddy MacMaster tune at a ceilidh the day he died, and my instrument kept objecting, not speaking. I figured it was objecting to his death—not literally, but I liked that idea, even though I would rather have played cleanly.

Personally, I am very very interested in imperfection and its gifts. The way that sometimes an untrained singer will sound extra-expressive. But there are other ineffable matters too. In re: "adversity"—I do find that difficulty and struggle can create interesting music—in my written, out music, I work with high register and such for this reason (without truly harming the players though). This is a big aspect of the shakuhachi tradition, so I’ll leave it at that.

And deliberate grit, imperfection.

here is a funny (I think) little picture about my lack of piano technique:
https://blogs.princeton.edu/iamnotmakingup/2012/11/29/ipiano/

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Thank, you , Aunt and Asriel, for your moderating influence. And Aunt, I do indeed find your experience of great interest.

As a wind player and rookie, I have a basic question, which I could not quite answer from the above. A friend in Cape breton (the only place I have played trad) recently pointed out to me the way they hold the fiddle there,which seems similar to, or identical to, the collapsed wrist. Is it? It it distinctive?

Could there be a yoga term for this? The warrior wrist? Nah? The pretzel wrist?

Aunt, I think we could start a sub-group for those who just want to share their experience rather than pontificate about right/wrong. The chromosomal makeup could be interesting. Just sayin’ …

Re: Fiddler technique

"they make surprisingly good music given some of the awkward techniques going on" is not a compliment.
I think this thread is turning into a loop, so I’ll bale out now.

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Re: Fiddler technique

"Personally, I am very very interested in imperfection and its gifts. The way that sometimes an untrained singer will sound extra-expressive." Your mean, say, singing a lullaby as to a babe in arms rather than one at the back of a concert hall ?

Re: Fiddler technique

[*A friend in Cape breton (the only place I have played trad) recently pointed out to me the way they hold the fiddle there,which seems similar to, or identical to, the collapsed wrist. Is it? It it distinctive?*]

I don’t think it’s distinctive, but it’s very common over multiple genres.

Hey, just imagine a fiddler winning the title of ‘Fiddle Champion USA, 2014’, raising his fist up high in the air, then collapsing it, shouting, "Yeahhhhhhhhhhh!!" :)

@Ergo : "So when a fiddler plays a "characterful" note it’s an inability to triumph over adversity, but when a violinist plays a microtone it’s "ephemeral," not to mention "perfectly out of tune."

You need to listen to my video above, and read that whole ‘ephemeral’ paragraph, in order to get the joke.

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"The music has an elegaic quality, with subtle, but repetitive motifs concordant with the most dissonant possibilities in the use of the 13-tone scale. Yes, the thirteen tone system is what is employed here, in this important work."

Ah, the word "important" in classical music. In my youth, as a serious classical string bass student, whenever an "important" work was assigned, I knew it was going to one of those difficult pieces that no one ever really wanted to listen to but that, somehow, we’d "grow" as musicians and audience for having performed it and heard it. Barf me out the door. :)

Cheers.

Matt

Re: Fiddler technique

Jim: My wrist was whacked there.

Me:[*A friend in Cape breton (the only place I have played trad) recently pointed out to me the way they hold the fiddle there,which seems similar to, or identical to, the collapsed wrist. Is it? It it distinctive?*]

Jim: I don’t think it’s distinctive, but it’s very common over multiple genres.

Me again: I meant to say "distinct"—in other words, is the wrist I have seen in Cape Breton pretty much the same as what you all are describing? Just curious as to whether it is similar since participants sometimes make distinctions between subspecies and single out CB as having its own thing, not the same as Celtic/trad/whatever elsewhere.

And I enjoyed your elfin ephemeral concerto—more to follow!

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@David 50: "Your mean, say, singing a lullaby as to a babe in arms rather than one at the back of a concert hall ?"

I’ll assume that was a genuine question. Well, that is one possible example. I teach a course on "the everyday and art," which has to do with the line—or not—between everyday activity and art. (I have been musing over the ice bucket challenge and may bring that into class next year.) This is hard to explain in 20 words.

But also in actual "art". here is one example I can put my hands on:
https://vimeo.com/80636199


Thinngs that might be rough around the edges, which is not to say sloppy. (I also like really refined things.) Other artists who bring this up: Yoko Ono, Yvonne Rainer. Thet’re not trad musicians tho.

And there are questions of technique, intention, context, expression, consumption—and all—

I guess I can just say the binaries (which often cross and contradict one another) in discussions like these interest me, but more in the blurring than in the segregating.

I am Rose Marie McSweeney, and I approve this message.

Re: Fiddler technique

[*Me again: I meant to say "distinct"—in other words, is the wrist I have seen in Cape Breton pretty much the same as what you all are describing? Just curious as to whether it is similar since participants sometimes make distinctions between subspecies and single out CB as having its own thing, not the same as Celtic/trad/whatever elsewhere.*]

Pretty generic, I think. There’s a lovely crowd of folk from Cape Breton, who come to the USA Fiddle Hell, and I notice there are many of those collapsed wrists, and they all look pretty much the same as those everywhere else.

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Thanks Jim—What is fiddle hell?

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(You devil, made me ask it …)

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@Rose. Yes, it was a genuine question (should have been "You mean…") but with an element of challenge. I don’t think that most traditional song, be it at the cradle, chain gang, religious gathering or wherever is thought of by the singer as ‘art’ but more, as you put it, as part of ‘the everyday’. The expression coming from the situation and from the past experience of presenting it in song in an everyday acoustic environment rather than from training.

Now sure, on a couple of occassions I have heard interviews with traditional singers who, when faced with performing night after night for a living, realised that some coaching to help them protect their voice might be a good idea. But it seemed to be from ‘health and safety’ angle rather than training to help with expression.

I have a friend who is a conservertoire trained singer. At a camp fire sing song I often think she is holding back something that would not be appropriate in the circumstances - and probably keeping to herself observations and suggestions that might be useful to the rest of us.

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Ah, David50, that is all very interesting. I notice in the trad world (my little piece of it and hearing pros and others) that there is such a wide range of approaches to technique. Some singers who—for lack of a better way to put it—seem to have more modest technique can be very expressive and musical. And especially in a tradition where people play multiple instruments and such, it makes a lot of sense. For example, I hear a lot of women sing very breathily, which at times I respond to, but I tire of it too. Just my impression.

I guess an example that made me think: At one of my very first trad sessions, I was really impressed (and still am) with the skill, expression of devotion of people who do not identify themselves as pros or even as having any special skill (*their* self-identification, not mine). There was one guy who sang a trad song, and he doesn’t have much breath control. His itch wavers, [bless you, autocorrect—that’s PITCH]; he takes breaths in the middle of phrases. None of that mattered to me, because I thought it was very conversational and expressive. But *now* I have heard him sing it a few dozen times the same way … and it’s not my favorite. Just my impression. But maybe there’ll be another time I hear someone who does something similar and I’ll eat it up.

"Interviews with traditional singers who, when faced with performing night after night for a living, realised that some coaching to help them protect their voice might be a good idea. "

That is really interesting! Makes sense, though I had not thought of it exactly. My better half is a guitarist who sings occasionally. he has a beautiful voice but, like many of us on any instrument, he doesn’t warm up. I;ve wondered if he could possibly be straining his voice.

By the way, my fellow composers of so-called concert music often express a preference for singers who "don’t sound like classical singers." Understandable, interesting and so on. But I have spoken with classical singers who find that very frustrating, because they have trained their voices to work in a specific way for specific reasons. One was offended to be asked to sing like,, say, Britney Spears! (Vocal fry etc., many say bad for voice.)

Anyway, it would be interesting if there were more attention to health and safety, like you mention, if people want/need it.

Re: Fiddler technique

Incidentally, shouldn’t it be "fiddle technique," rather than "fiddle technique"? Though in my beloved Cape breton they might say "fiddle ‘er technique." :-)

Right, this is not the language board; that’s on a different street.

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Egad. Incidentally, shouldn’t it be "fiddle technique," rather than "*fiddler* technique"?

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No, that’s fine, but Egad is wrong. It should be Eadg.

You walked right into that one :)

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H & S was why I asked up the thread if there were any health issue related to this left wrist business. Any hint that there were and I would hope a teacher would teach the safest option.

Several respected Irish flute players put the head of the flute on their shoulder, and it does give a very stable hold to perform embouchure gymnastics with, but at least one (I can’t remember who) does not teach it and was quoted as saying ‘do what I say not what I do’ because potential neck problems.

Every song workshop I have attended has included a vocal warm up. Good practice - and no doubt the leaders have liability insurance …

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Rose Marie: I have looked back at my original post and thought it should have said ‘fiddle’ technique.

But no, when I first wrote it it was on the back of just watching hours of old footage on youtube of various old fiddlers. And like I’ve been saying all along the thing that struck me was I would see this old fella picking up a fiddle with some very ‘interesting’ bow holds or left hands or whatever… and to me with my background I was just seeing things that stood out like a sore thumb… so I’d be thinking crikey, that’s odd… and then they’d start playing and it was utterly charming and I was blown away.

So yes, really it was technique of the old fiddlers that I was commenting on to start with. ‘Fiddler technique’.
Somewhere it turned into some silly debate about the rights and wrongs of how to teach violin/fiddle.

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Jim: Yes of course. I’m in my late 30’s, I live in Lancashire, England. I started violin lessons at school when I was 9. I went to Chethams in Manchester until I was 18 with violin as my first instrument but I didn’t pursue it any further than that. I’m a teacher, but not a violin teacher. I still play with a local community orchestra but that’s about it.

Re: Fiddler technique

"I said the fact that they make surprisingly good music given some of the awkward techniques going on…. and that’s a triumph over adversity. What is wrong with all you people looking for some reason to argue when somebody is actually being complimentary?"

I think many just disagree with your premise and find it insulting. And since you are admittedly surprised but good playing, you seem not to know what you are talking about when you call it awkward and adversity.

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@Asriel: I was truly just bemusing that we use the item, rather than the practitioner, as the adjective—well, usually. (Like, we would usually say flute technique, I think?) In other words, sort of a joke that "fiddler technique," because I was imagining using the technique **on** the fiddler—not on the fiddle! It;s all fine and speaking of words, any day when I hear the word "crikey" (which, is, well, like once every dozen years so far, given where I have lived) is a good day.

Yes, I understand how you are filling in/clarifying your original post. And it is interesting to see how one can do things one’s own way in isolation or without input on "shoulds." I find this even *with* training where I am self-trained on *some* instruments and will find out here and there some really helpful thing I did not know. I know some other examples of this that are interesting, but less from trad.

@Jim: touchée! I do indeed walk into strings quite frequently, but I try not to get attached to them. And specifically not if it’s DAGDAD, though if I were to run into the Dagda, I would try to stick around a bit, if permitted. My next concerto for you though will go E-G-A-D and you will have to make those great faces in your elf-concerto, but this time **while** playing.

And frig, it’s really called fiddle hell. Have you all sold yer soles to the debbil?

@David50—I am quite disciplined at reading every single post, but I do think I missed your earlier one. Sorry about that. All very interesting. (I have mentioned before): I taught a class with a choreographer who was amazed at the way musicians tend not to warm up our bodies, even if we do scales and stuff. And that was classical musicians. There are plenty of classical musicians who have limited body awareness and self-care, right? Though it has been getting better. One thing I was reminded of in your comment was that the Zeltsman Marimba Festival has offered yoga, I think. In my course we had an Alexander teacher come in—but that needs real training.

(I had an injury in college and was thus *forced* into body awareness, though I see now H&S is related to and distinct from Asriel’s original point.)

I am interested in the flute position—is it flute you teach/play? If you feel like amplifying your, um, profile.

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@jim — You need to listen to my video above, and read that whole ‘ephemeral’ paragraph, in order to get the joke.

Nice! I’ll be checking in for treatment next week.

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Re: Fiddler technique

It’s appropriately called "fiddle hell". It’s got fiddles. And it’s hell. :-(

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@Asriel - thanks for the info.

@Rosie - [*And frig, it’s really called fiddle hell. Have you all sold yer soles to the debbil? *] - I don’t subscribe to superstition and the supernatural, however I do believe that I may possessed by a ring binder.

@Ben [*It’s appropriately called "fiddle hell". It’s got fiddles. And it’s hell. :-( *]

The only possible thing worse than that would be a whistle hell. But, you are right in a way. Fiddle Hell is all about meeting, teaching, learning and playing music, and there are players of all levels of ability. Therefore the music playing ranges from exceptionally brilliant, through average, sometimes all the way to atrocious scrapage.

At the end of it all though, everyone comes home with something positive.

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"At the end of it all though, everyone comes home with something positive."

Some, maybe. Not everyone. And I didn’t hear anything approaching particularly good when I went, let alone "exceptionally brilliant".

But I’m being unfair. I only went to the one. It was enough.

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"…I may possessed by a ring binder…" I think that’s the boiled eggs, Jim.

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haha! … but more chance of being possessed by a ring binder than by the devil … point to ponder.

Anyway - [*Some, maybe. Not everyone. And I didn’t hear anything approaching particularly good when I went, let alone "exceptionally brilliant".*]

@Ben - that was the Bristol Fiddle Hell 2009. When you were at that little session, a few people remarked to me that they thought you were a good player. Actually, those people consisted of beginner-to-improving as far as playing tunes confidently and competently went, so I can understand your frustration. The U.S. Fiddle Hells are much bigger, more varied and offer a lot of different styles too. I guess Drumshanbo is more up your street - fair dos.

Re: Fiddler technique

"whistle hell"
Even the words make me squirm—

I looked up the Mass. fiddle hell and was wondering whether the one concert (?) would be worth a schlepp.

Over here in US, we have binders, but they are full of women. I think you had to be there.

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Well, there’s Darol Anger and Matt Glaser for starters … it’s in Westford. MA. Where are you?

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Yes, Jim, thanks, I saw. I guess i was just wondering how much of a concert it is. And I do not know all the suspects yet (Darol yes; new to Matt).

If it were whistle hell instead of fiddle hell I would sign up whole hog.

I am in central New Jersey most of the time but travel to Boston where I have "people," so I may give it a go.

Re: Fiddler technique

Matt Glaser co-wrote the book ‘Jazz Violin’ with Stephane Grappelli. He’s big in bluegrass too.

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Thanks for sharing that, Ergo. That has all the lift of a shipping crate full of anvils. After watching that I need a drink. Fortunately, the water in my town is contaminated, so Ihave a perfect excuse.

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I like it ok, if not my most favorite thing ever—though I’m always up for a drink. 5string, I think I recall we are pollution-vexed neighbors of a fashion.

Problem is, I can’t hear/watch any trad video now without expecting Jim’s "oh no!" face to come on screen. ;-)

I thought that Tom Morley died ca. 1600. ;-)

Re: Fiddler technique

"@Ben - that was the Bristol Fiddle Hell 2009. When you were at that little session, a few people remarked to me that they thought you were a good player. Actually, those people consisted of beginner-to-improving as far as playing tunes confidently and competently went, so I can understand your frustration."

No, Jim, that looks to me as if you don’t understand why, for me, it really was hell. Those people you describe as "beginner-to-improving" were probably the people I actually enjoyed chatting and playing with. It was the "instructors" that bothered me*. They came across to me as smug, and with little reason. I wasn’t at all impressed with the standard of playing or musicianship, and they exhibited a self-satisfied air that kind of depressed me. I think if the whole thing had been more collaborative and less about showing off I might have liked it more. (Oh, and by the way, contrary to the implication of your comment, I wasn’t just at one "little session" but stayed and got involved in the whole weekend of hell.)

* Now I come to think of it, on the whole I don’t remember them describing themselves as "instructors" or "teachers" - I think I’ve only heard you describe yourself as such. They called themselves something like "facilitators". Something like that. It was what I imagined it to be like to be at a Moonies induction camp. I kept wondering if someone was going to try and convert me. :-O

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Fair enough, Ben. I’ll pass on your constructive comments.

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In case anyone’s wondering why I bothered to post the response I did, it was because I didn’t like the implication that I would feel frustrated to be playing with "beginner-to-improving players". I’ll play with anyone who’s fun to play with.

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Re: Fiddler technique

Also, just to follow up. I’m not so sure about the quality of the Irish instruction. If Tommy Peoples were going to be there, as I think Jim implied, then that would be great. But I don’t see his named listed.

http://www.reinerfamilyband.com/schedule.html

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Re: Fiddler technique

[*Also, just to follow up. I’m not so sure about the quality of the Irish instruction. If Tommy Peoples were going to be there, as I think Jim implied, then that would be great. But I don’t see his named listed.*]

@Ergo - I didn’t imply anything about Tommy Peoples being there (not even sure he’s ever been across to your side of the pond). I just answered a question about Fiddle hell. As for the quality of the Irish instruction, it’s pretty good, but if you don’t know any of the instructors on the list, then I guess it’s difficult for you to make a judgment.

If you thought posting a video of the playing of Tom Morley as an example of instruction was a good idea, then I suggest you have a look at the Tommy Peoples video above, esp. around 08’50. See if that’s more to your instructional requirements.

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I am just sad that the URL for the TommyP link has the word SUCK in capital letters. WTH? I mean, if it were a whistle performance, ok, but ….

:-(

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@jim — "If you thought posting a video of the playing of Tom Morley as an example of instruction was a good idea, then I suggest you have a look at the Tommy Peoples video above, esp. around 08’50. See if that’s more to your instructional requirements."

I guess you’re implying that you’d prefer Tom Morley over Tommy Peoples as an instructor?

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Re: Fiddler technique

Ergo, I’ve never seen Tommy Peoples doing an instructional fiddle workshop, so I really can’t comment.

If you look again through that Fiddle Hell list, Darol Anger is there. What more can I say?

Re: Fiddler technique

He’s not an Irish trad player or teacher, and neither is Matt Glaser, as good as he is. I’d like to see a person who actually plays Irish fiddle seriously, rather than listing it as one of several genres, and I don’t see any. There are good local teachers around — Laurel Martin and George Keith come to mind. And if you’ll go to New York for Laurie Hart, you (Reiner) could have gone to New York City to get Tony DeMarco.

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Oh … I think I took us down a different road …

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No Rosemarie. I did.

Fiddle Hell was mentioned as a learning opportunity. I wanted to see who was teaching Irish fiddle, since this is The Session, and went from there.

Apologies to anyone who felt sidetracked.

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Ah, it’s OK, Mr Ergo’s already made up his mind. Anyway, there are quite a few levels of instruction at the Fiddle Hell, many of them not exclusively in the style of Irish Trad. Dave Reiner himself is a two-time winner of he Wisconsin State fiddle contests, and he’s been running these events for years. He know his stuff, and he picked all of those instructors for good reasons.

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No worries here; I’ve learned a lot.

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It seems obvious then. Why is it a thing? If you want to learn Irish trad fiddle, don’t go to this Fiddle Hell thing. There are Irish trad gatherings up and down the East Coast of the US — Catskills Irish Arts Week, Northeast Tionol, Swannanoa, and probably a lot more that I’m unaware of as I’m not there anymore. All those have teachers who are Big Names in Irish trad, and they’re great fun.

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This panned out exactly as I expected.

I went to Metronome Hell one year. A whole weekend of sessions, workshops, concerts, album launches, busking…

Then I woke up and discovered my pet woodpecker had escaped.

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"Big names in Irish trad."

HAHAHAHAHA!!!

Funny stuff.

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Expecting to see fiddle players using strictly classical violin technique is like expecting a blues singer to belch out their vocals like an opera singer. It would suck. Sure there are opera singers who become good folk singers, and fiddlers with classical backgrounds, nothing wrong with that, but I agree that it can be exciting when someone isn’t classically trained - there’s a diversity of voice and style. I feel uncomfortable, though, about the negative connotations placed on non-classical techniques, as if such players were ignorant. I assure you, they aren’t. Well, I take that back; some of us are ignorant! I don’t know my f-hole from my a-hole but I can make music out of either!

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Sorry I just read through the 10million other posts to find out that mine was quite late for the relevant responses, but I STILL STAND BY MY FART JOKE. So there.

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I was there for that video too gam. The crowds went wild when the final metronome fell into line. Not seen celebrations like it since Kevin Burke finally took off his cap.

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"Big Names in Irish trad"

People like MacDara Ó Raghallaigh have a significant advantage there.

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I borrowed a bit of internet slang from the horsey world, where the acronym BNT, or Big Name Trainer, is used with a degree of facetiousness. Like Irish trad music, it’s only a Big Name to people who live in the exceedingly myopic world of dressage (or jumpers, eventing, whatever discipline you do) and it gently slags off people who place a lot of importance on training with the "right" people, dropping the "right" names. Like those Irish trad players who are quick as lightning to tell you that they played in a session with Kevin Burke last night.

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From the recent posts here, and assuming someone like Tommy Peoples was on the bill, it prompts me to ask the question, what would one want to learn / hope to gain from an Irish fiddle workshop led by him?

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Was the Tab student newspaper after your time? (http://tab.co.uk/)

That might explain it.

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I finished my PhD two years ago, so I dunno. How long has that illustrious publication been out for?

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2009 in Cambridge, rolling out UK-wide since then…

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"From the recent posts here, and assuming someone like Tommy Peoples was on the bill, it prompts me to ask the question, what would one want to learn / hope to gain from an Irish fiddle workshop led by him?"

Jim, are you serious?

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"From the recent posts here, and assuming someone like Tommy Peoples was on the bill, it prompts me to ask the question, what would one want to learn / hope to gain from an Irish fiddle workshop led by him?"

This is kind of like, if you have to ask, then you probably wouldn’t gain much.

The point I was making earlier, though, had nothing to do with "big name" teachers, but with competent, dedicated Irish trad teachers. Just because a fiddler lists "Irish" along with six other skills doesn’t mean he or she is a competent teacher, not even for beginners. There are good teachers around Boston who are not "names" but who would be excellent for Fiddle Hell. I listed a few earlier.

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Jim - Sorry, I think you deserve a better answer.

Anyone who would be interested in Tommy Peoples would probably be most interested in his particular style, because what he does and how he does it is very unlike other fiddlers. His teaching would likely be best used in a master class of advanced players.

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{*Jim, are you serious?*}

@Randy - Yes, it’s a simple question, and …

{Anyone who would be interested in Tommy Peoples would probably be most interested in his particular style, because what he does and how he does it is very unlike other fiddlers. His teaching would likely be best used in a master class of advanced players.}

… and Ergo has to an extent answered it. Thanks Ergo …

Really, my question was quite simple. Given the replies by the Doc above (who is not a fiddle player and has never attended a Fiddle Hell), and others, prompted me to ask it.

Someone leading a fiddle workshop should be able to impart a lot of information quickly and effectively to a group of people (usually strangers) in quite a short time. This is the skill I’ve got in mind.

Workshops vary a lot in content (some are nothing more that a led slow session with some tunes), and others do concentrate on the more technical content and de-mystify some of the aspects of playing. Some attendees are fascinated by trebles, rolls etc, and want to know how to play them. That’s obviously partly dependent on their skill level of course, but the instructor does need to know how to explain and demonstrate thoroughly.

There are some excellent players who don’t make particularly good teachers, and really have never even though about de-constructing a roll (that’s just one example).

The man who organizes the big Fiddle Hell event is himself a twice-winning fiddle champion, and an excellent teacher. All the instructors are hand-picked by him too.

Making the assumption that a Fiddle Hell instructor is not up to scratch, based only on a clip of his playing (and from someone who has not seen him teach) seems a bit odd to me.

I’m never been to a Tommy Peoples workshop. So, I asked the question …

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"The man who organizes the big Fiddle Hell event is himself a twice-winning fiddle champion, and an excellent teacher. All the instructors are hand-picked by him too."

Sorry to keep going at this, but that’s why I questioned the quality of the Irish instruction in the first place. Dave Reiner may have won contests but he isn’t an Irish fiddler, even though his website says he teaches "irish" among others.

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[*Sorry to keep going at this, but that’s why I questioned the quality of the Irish instruction in the first place. Dave Reiner may have won contests but he isn’t an Irish fiddler, even though his website says he teaches "irish" among others.*]

@Ergo - No problem, this is discussion and amicable debate. OK, that’s your opinion, fair enough, and mine differs, simply because I know, and have played with, the man, and I know what he sounds like when he plays an Irish tune.

So, can I ask, are you making this statement from your own aural experience, or from something else? I can guess you’d be expecting that question from me :)

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I’d say readers — if we have any other than ourselves at this point — can make up their own minds by checking out any of the Irish trad tunes on this list:

http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/reinerfamilyband

Other than this, I can’t find anything with him playing Irish — let me know if you have something.

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Thanks, Ergo, for pointing out the recordings of Reiner. I agree with you on this one.

I would pay to go to a master class by Tommy Peoples — and travel some distance for the honour. I doubt I would go to a free class by Reiner, even if it were in my town. I’d be happy to share a few pints with him at a session though.

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Fiddler3-Yes, and a few tunes, too. Reiner at least has some inkling of what Irish trad is supposed to sound like. Afraid I can’t say the same for Tom Morley.
It’s funny how so many of these recent posts seem to churn the same water. The OP has another thread asking about the meaning of nyah. Nyah is what’s missing from Morley’s playing. In the clip below he plays The Wise Maid and it sounds more like Vivaldi than Doherty, which was a recent topic too-classical players massacring Trad. Don’t get me wrong- Morley is an accomplished player with a polished tone, good technique and accurate intonation. In fact I might well go to here him play Vivaldi. But not trad.
Here he is playing The Wise Maid, among other tunes:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=96AtLVEuoog

Here’s Tommy and Siobahn Peoples:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sZAJ3d2JUOM

Need I say more?

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Posting clips comparing different players doesn’t tell you what skills they have as instructors.

Has anyone been to a Tommy Peoples workshop? Or any fiddle workshop? I’m genuinely curious.

There’s an adjacent thread showing clip after clip of Tommy Peoples playing and singing. There’s not one single positive response.

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If they can’t walk the walk…

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Besides Tom Morley’s overall technique (intonation etc.), I give him some extra points for playing without sheet music, and for having fun. It doesn’t look like he’s playing a classical piece (although he may play the tunes exactly the same way each time, I haven’t checked).

But I don’t like his trebles (too much "space" between the notes, see Dinky’s 3rd bar: gB B/B/B - there’s something about that bowing as well) nor his triplets (I can’t pinpoint it though), nor the slide into say, the low E. (I remember another classical fiddler here a couple of months ago, I think he played Joe Cooley’s reel with the same kind of slide - somewhat slow and exaggerated).

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@Jim Dorans:
"Has anyone been to a Tommy Peoples workshop? Or any fiddle workshop? I’m genuinely curious."

I’ve attended one fiddle workshop - really a mix of instruments, but the teacher (who’s mentioned in this very thread) was a fiddler. We learned some new tunes I don’t think I had heard before. Topics that showed up along the way: slurring, uneven jig rhythm, where and how to play rolls in jigs - not that I’d agree with everything, but still a new approach.

In fact, I think I’d benefit more from taking a lesson or two on overall technique (posture correction etc.), from a classical player (how about that!) than going to a "tune workshop".

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I’ve attended workshops with Martin Hayes, Kevin Burke, Tony Linnane and Matt Cranitch. I’ve met someone who had been to a Tommy Peoples workshop who said it was the best. I’m not his biggest fan but I’d go if I got the chance.

Their skills as instructors are irrelevant (although in the case of the four that I mention they were good to excellent). It’s not a question of imparting technique. If you go to one of their workshops and all you come away with is a couple of tunes and some tips on how they do their rolls then you’ve missed the point.

These guys have the music. It’s all about being in their presence, seeing them play close up and listening to their philosophy and their approach. You go along in the hope that just a tiny bit of what they have rubs off on you.

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I know people who have had Siobhan Peoples as a teacher at Miltown Malbay or Catskills and apparently she is a very good teacher.

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And that was my above point (even though I am not a fiddler *rolling eyes*). Why on earth would anyone serious about playing Irish music take a workshop with someone who might be a good player of other genres, but who plays the Irish tunes in a kind of stilted and weird way, when there are plenty of opportunities — in the US, the UK, and Ireland especially — to attend workshops with the like of Siobhan Peoples, Matt Cranitch, Martin Hayes, Brian Conway, Kevin Burke, Tony Linnane, et. al. As johndsamuels says, those guys have the music.

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"Why on earth would anyone … ?" It could that someone recognises something distinctly Irish that the playing has in common with that of Siobhan Peoples, Matt Cranitch etc but does not recognise differences that set it apart as not being quite ‘authentic’.

I am sure I have enjoyed listening to, and even innocently taken part in murdering, music from all sorts of genres that I do not recognise as being ‘not quite right’ or worse.

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"It’s all about being in their presence, seeing them play close up and listening to their philosophy and their approach."

Deffo true with Mr. M Hayes!

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"I am sure I have enjoyed listening to, and even innocently taken part in murdering, music from all sorts of genres that I do not recognise as being ‘not quite right’ or worse."

Yeah, but are you teaching workshops in those genres that you’re murdering?

I mean, I play Shetland tunes but inevitably with an Irish accent and feel, in a way that might amuse or dismay a Shetlander, but I don’t purport to know what I am doing or that I play them particularly well.

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DSS. You were asking why someone "serious about playing Irish music" should take the workshop, rather than give one. We can still be serious in our interest while being ignorant of the nuances, or more.

So far as tutors are concerned does the Dunning-Kruger effect apply to advanced skills ?

(Crossing - I wonder if the Nicola Benedettis of this world are the opposite of showing the D-K effect - that from an early age they are very, very good at recognising what is not quite right and working to fix it)

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So you are saying that people who don’t know what they don’t know will quite reasonably take an Irish trad workshop with Joe Schmoe the Old Time fiddler who plays a few Irish tunes, not aware that he doesn’t fully understand how to play them so they sound Irish (and if he is giving Irish trad workshops at all, he might not know what he doesn’t know, either).

That still seems a little absurd, though obviously people do it. People do absurd things all the time. I know jack sh ** t about the nuances of Old Time music, but if I wanted to play in that style, I wouldn’t take an Old Time workshop with Paddy O’Furniture the Irish trad player just because he can play a couple Old Time tunes, albeit sounding like an Irish fiddler.

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I heard a few tracks of Nicola Benedetti playing some Scott Skinner tunes 3 days ago, and she played them very well, which didn’t surprise me. I will certainly look out for that recording and give it a listen. However, I doubt very much that she’d be as successful playing "Colonel Fraser". Because she can successfully play in 1 particular style of Scottish fiddle-playing, it does not automatically mean that she can play Irish music, which is what is being discussed here, so bringing her into this debate is a bit irrelevant.

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Call the NSPCA. There’s a dead horse being flogged.

This is a forum for Irish music.
Why does this generic unfocused fiddle stuff keep popping up?
It’s being forced on the readers, in a really passive-aggressive way, again and again and again.

I’ve been in a session where TP was playing. Everyone stopped and just listened. There’s more than just the technique and the notes and the phrasing - it’s everything….. and if you have to ask, you’ll never know.
That’s clear to a lot of us here. But I feel newcomers are getting a disservice by being pointed in the wrong direction time and time again.

I’ll bow out now.

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Kenny - The Nicola Benedetti reference was probably to due to this clip https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ljnlcrNrNaQ which I think *is* relevant to the ‘awareness of nuance’ angle being discussed just now.


It’s getting hard to remember which recent thread posts that are brought to mind were on !

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"I heard a few tracks of Nicola Benedetti playing some Scott Skinner tunes 3 days ago, and she played them very well, which didn’t surprise me. I will certainly look out for that recording and give it a listen. However, I doubt very much that she’d be as successful playing "Colonel Fraser". Because she can successfully play in 1 particular style of Scottish fiddle-playing, it does not automatically mean that she can play Irish music, which is what is being discussed here, so bringing her into this debate is a bit irrelevant."

Regarding Nicola Benedetti, she spent a long time working with Aly Bain & Phil Cunningham, among others, for her latest album. She does indeed play the Scott Skinner tunes well, which doesn’t surprise me earlier. Her playing of some other tunes was actually pretty good, and she was quick to admit (I saw her in concert a while back) that she’s not as good as her co-musicians, and still needed the dots. The most incredible thing was her slow air playing along with Duncan Chisholm (a duet of The Gentle Light That Wakes Me, played with Aly Bain on the album I think), which was beautiful.

The fact she’s learnt with Aly Bain definitely shows though :-)

But then, if I sat down with Tommy Peoples, I reckon that would show too!

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@DrSpear. The analogy with someone who’s music influenced me would be Dave Swarbrick.

His recordings playing in dance style (rather with Fairport Convention) were how I first heard many of these tunes. Then I picked up on the grumbles about his ‘jazzy’ style of playing and cocked a more critical ear. But later I heard recordings of ‘older’ traditional players (one was Tom Anderson, I wish who I could recall who an Irish player was) and thought, "well, I can see how he is respecting what they do". Last time I heard him live he played some tunes from an 18C English manuscript and said "this is how they are, I am not jazzing them up" but they sounded really wierd compared to how younger English ‘traditional’ fiddlers treat those tunes.

So I am left open minded and slightly confused about which aspects of a style of music really are ‘traditional’ and can see how someone, rightly or wrongly, may in good faith recommend workshop’s from someone regarded as doing it not quite correctly.

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Honest, I really do understand apostrophes, it’s my fingers that don’t ! They have the same trouble with tunes …

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Learn the Art of Celtic Violin with John Dabbler!

I suppose it’s called Fiddle Hell for a reason.

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@ David50 "workshop’s" can be excused as a typo, but not "who’s". You’ve obviously been taking lessons from Jim,,,

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The u’se of apo’strophe’s before the letter ‘s ha’s become ‘so ever-pre’sent that, in effect, ‘s ha’s become a diagraph ‘standing for "s"

Per’sonally it drive’s me crazy and the only ‘solution would be to eliminate the apo’strophe key from all of the world’s keyboard’s, becau’se people are bound and determined to in’sert them everywhere.

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Exactly, "who’s" only shows that I sometime’s got it wrong after I learned to type.

(that was genuine and demonstrates Richard’s point !)

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[*Their skills as instructors are irrelevant (although in the case of the four that I mention they were good to excellent). It’s not a question of imparting technique. If you go to one of their workshops and all you come away with is a couple of tunes and some tips on how they do their rolls then you’ve missed the point.

These guys have the music. It’s all about being in their presence, seeing them play close up and listening to their philosophy and their approach. You go along in the hope that just a tiny bit of what they have rubs off on you.*]

People go to workshops for different reasons. Some go out of curiosity, some go to learn general things and other go to learn about specific techniques, and how to improve their playing. That’s the general feedback that I get from my workshops.

As for coming away with tunes, new ideas, inspiration, a feeling of having gained something - that can he had from a good session, a festival, or an event like Fiddle Hell, eg participating in the sessions and jams. It doesn’t have to come from a workshop. Whilst I don’t disagree with the points made about the ‘big names’ who do offer workshops, I’m sure there is a bit of an ‘aura aw roon aboot them’ / hero worship. They may be good, but they are not unique, and there are plenty of equally good players and teachers around who are not so well known.

You find these things out by attending events like Fiddle Hell. I live in the UK and travel to the USA to teach and play at these. Do you think I’d do that if the event was less than excellent? In any case, not a single poster here has been to the event, so I’ll read on …

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"Whilst I don’t disagree with the points made about the ‘big names’ who do offer workshops, I’m sure there is a bit of an ‘aura aw roon aboot them’ / hero worship. They may be good, but they are not unique, and there are plenty of equally good players and teachers around who are not so well known. "

Your first sentence hints of condescension and mockery. Your second sentence is correct, but as to ITM the list of instructors for the 2014 Fiddle Hell does not include the folks you are referring to. I, among the others stated here, would not attend the event for serious ITM instruction. The event, and the instructors, may be excellent for other purposes, and I don’t see that anyone is saying otherwise. Indeed, I am familiar with many of the other listed instructors, have heard them play, live and otherwise, and with respect to their particular disciplines I think they are fine choices.

The East Coast in particular has many fine serious ITM instructors and players to choose from. Something to consider for future Fiddle Hell events.

Cheers.

Matt

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I would not feel right, in a discussion titled "fiddler technique," demanding that the participants execute pure-drop apostrophes. One thing at a time. Perhaps we (?) need to call in reinforcement’s:

http://shebeenclub.files.wordpress.com/2010/06/apostrophe-man.jpg

I look forward to discussions concerning the following topics’ allure: "fiddler’s technique," fiddlers’ technique," "technique’s fiddlers," etc.

Yesterday my *wont* was won’ted by a gremlin. We won’t be fooled again …

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[*Your first sentence hints of condescension and mockery.*]

@Matt - that was not my intention. I’m just speaking my mind. I’d happily retract it if I could re-edit, if it appears to cause offence / wind people up, etc.

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>The East Coast in particular has many fine serious ITM instructors and players to choose from. Something to consider for future Fiddle Hell events. <

You have to wonder, this thing is taking place in MASS and they couldn’t get a proper Irish fiddler to teach at it?
Truly bizarre.

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[*You have to wonder, this thing is taking place in MASS and they couldn’t get a proper Irish fiddler to teach at it?*]

Who would you recommend? Any names?

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Well, there’s Seamus Connolly, he plays a bit.
Living in Groton last I heard.
I believe he teaches.

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This Dunning Kruger fellow isn’t nearly as smart as he thinks he is.

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There are a lot of people playing fantastic Irish music around Massachusetts (there are some great sessions around Boston, but I don’t know who leads them as I was just a blow-in for a night; they were damned good, though, and there were good sessions in Western Mass as well). If organizers of an event wanted to find out who people were, I am sure they could ask around and get names.

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"Who would you recommend? Any names?"

As I mentioned before, Laurel Martin and George Keith are very good local teachers.

Or you could call the Burren in Somerville and ask Tommy McCarthy, the owner and excellent fiddle player, who he might recommend. He knows a bunch.

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Who would you recommend? Any names?"

As I mentioned before, Laurel Martin and George Keith are very good local teachers.

Or you could call the Burren in Somerville and ask Tommy McCarthy, the owner and excellent fiddle player, who he might recommend. He knows a bunch.

Well, that’s good. In any case, I’m sure Dave Reiner has done his homework, and many of the instructors who include Irish fiddle styles have been doing that at the event year after year, since about 2005. It’s funny how I only get complaints from people on here, and not from any of the attendees. Only to be expected, I guess.

I’m sure people will be saying I’m not fit to teach Irish fiddle either.

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I would never teach at any workshop that would have me as an instructor.

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[*It isn’t poor technique, it is different technique*]

I know it’s way up the thread, but I came across it again on a re-read of this (now multi-topic and divergent and getting very silly) thread.

Reminds me of a man who said at an industrial tribunal for unfair dismissal, "They discriminated against me because I was incompetent".

Or, "I’m not a failure. I’m just differently successful." :)

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Jason, I plan not to invite you to teach at my non-existent school. therefore, will you accept?
Sorry for the convenience.

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@johndsamuels:
"Their skills as instructors are irrelevant (although in the case of the four that I mention they were good to excellent). It’s not a question of imparting technique. If you go to one of their workshops and all you come away with is a couple of tunes and some tips on how they do their rolls then you’ve missed the point.

These guys have the music. It’s all about being in their presence, seeing them play close up and listening to their philosophy and their approach. You go along in the hope that just a tiny bit of what they have rubs off on you."

I was more questioning the format of mixed workshops than the pedagogical skills. I’m sure that a workshop with a group of fiddlers (of roughly the same level) would look different. However, a top musician (athlete/etc.) may still be unable to share stuff - be it tunes, anecdotes, technique, whatever.

Jim Dorans said:
"As for coming away with tunes, new ideas, inspiration, a feeling of having gained something - that can he had from a good session, a festival, or an event like Fiddle Hell, eg participating in the sessions and jams."

And I agree fully.