What should a classically trained person learn to transition?

What should a classically trained person learn to transition?

Hello, I know my last discussion was posted yesterday but I have to ask today because me and my friend (who plays classically trained violin) are meeting tomorrow to play and was wondering what anyone on the sessions advice would be for her to play fiddle. It would help me and her out a ton!!!

Thanks🙂

Re: What should a classically trained person learn to transition?

Kellie, have a look at the recent thread about "Coming from a classical background to fiddle music" here :

https://thesession.org/discussions/39538

You can message me if you want any specific questions answered.

Re: What should a classically trained person learn to transition?

Listen. A lot. And then when that is done, listen more.

Play along to recordings. Slow them down if necessary.

Go to ceilis and internalize the rhythms.

Be humble, ready to learn, ready to change and progress.

This is more about mental things than about technical bits.

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Re: What should a classically trained person learn to transition?

Play what you know, play what you’re currently listening to, play what you think works for the two of you, play as good as you can but don’t be afraid to experiment or push your limits. Learn from each other and look forward to the next time the two of you session together.

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Re: What should a classically trained person learn to transition?

If we’re talking specifically about fiddle here… there’s a few things that escaped mention over on the other discussion linked above. Firstly, THERE ARE NO RULES. Except this one, and even that can be broken. I will myself, in a while. All advice is meant to be helpful, but don’t think that you’ll cause offence if you ignore something that you aren’t finding useful.

Secondly, repertoire is important. Many, many books of standard tunes will be flung the way of the intrepid voyager who crosses the line between classical and trad… ignore them, they aren’t useful to you yet. I’ll come back to a couple that might be later. In the meantime, try and find good playing - ask for recommendations. There are countless great albums out there, and many older ones can be found on Youtube. Don’t be swayed by anything jazzy or funky, try and listen to recordings of older generations first. Start with Michael Coleman, James Morrison, and work your way forward. These are the roots of the recorded tradition (though it started long before), and without understanding where the music comes from, it is difficult to assess the quality of some of the more commercial parts of the tradition that exist today. Learn the tunes that these guys played - many of their sets are still session standards today. Try to learn them by ear, if at all possible, and not from the notes. The character of the music rubs off quicker that way.

Thirdly, ornamentation is critically important. A roll is most closely approximated by a turn [ ~ ] in classical music, but the rhythm is different. This can be solved by slowing the ornament down (as a beginner would) to transfer the playing of it into muscle memory, but more importantly by listening to other players and trying to understand how they produce the sound that they do. Imitation is good, but ultimately a great player will probably develop some distinctive ornamentation of their own. However, rolls (though the basis of fiddle ornamentation) are only the start - there’s a whole world of flicks, tricks, crans and other delights out there to be delved into, copied, obsessed over, driven mad by. And again, listen listen listen.

Fourthly, bowing. I know it got mentioned, but there are a few things which are specific to ITM that (surprisingly) weren’t. A good classical player will have good bow control, and a variety of techniques at their disposal. This is both a help and a hindrance. Basically, you’re going to be a bit like a skilled artist who’s only allowed to paint in primary colours, since most of the classical techniques at your disposal are going to be of occasional use at best. Really, you’re looking for a light, relaxed legato style - something which sounds easy to achieve but isn’t. The hold should be relaxed, too. Try lifting the pinky finger off the bow, see if it makes a difference. Try crossing the strings a different way. Experiment. What feels good, efficient, smooth? Be lazy with it sometimes, you never know when you might need a breather in the middle of a set. Part of the joy of ITM for fiddlers is the lack of restriction on how you structure phrasing and build pace and rhythm into the music with the bow. It’s interpretive, it’s collaborative, it’s improvisational, it’s dependent on a good ear, on sympathetic playing and on being able ABOVE ALL ELSE to listen to those around you. The music lives and dies in company - solo playing is fine for practice, or for the stage, but for the main part it’s social music, and needs to be played in good company. That’s where you learn to bow. In cramped sessions, where there’s not enough room to use the whole bow, where it’s warm and noisy and things get played too fast, and you can only do bowed triplets by using your first two fingers and nothing else.

(At this stage, once the repertoire has developed a good bit, it might be useful to look at a couple of books to get an idea of how one approaches style. Matt Cranitch has a useful book for fiddle learners. There’s also David Lyth’s cracking book which annotates the playing of some of the old greats and shows what’s actually going on.)

Lastly, choice. You’ve listened to all the greats, to generations of fiddlers with wildly different styles. You’ve tried to imitate, to absorb, to ingrain the music. You’ve learnt half a hundred tunes. You’ve spent hours agonising over the difference between a short and a long roll, and wonder if there really is such a thing as a cran that you can play on the fiddle. You’ve eradicated half of what you used to know about bowing with the judicious use of alcoholic beverages and are now so relaxed you could be used to prop a door open. Great. But how do you know what bit of technique to use where? How much is enough, or too much, or not enough? Well… there’s no easy answer to that. It’s the sort of thing you have to make your own rules up for. Or better yet, feel your way through it. Play. Listen. Learn. Repeat.

And remember what I said about there being no rules? Well, that wasn’t entirely true… but most of them are implicit - understood without being spoken. Others are to do with etiquette (for those, get a hold of the excellent book, Last Night’s Fun by Ciaran Carson, which will help a lot) . But by this stage, you won’t need my advice any more. You’ll be figuring it out for yourself. Which is exactly right.

Re: What should a classically trained person learn to transition?

As well as listening a lot, record yourself as much as possible while practising. Compare it with what you’re listening to.

Re: What should a classically trained person learn to transition?

Learn by ear, not from the dots. Play easy tunes, such as Twinkle and Happy Birthday , etc., and move on from there.

Re: What should a classically trained person learn to transition?

The first thing to learn is the attitude. Relax and absorb the music, then let it flow from you with out worrying about whether what you are doing is right or wrong. There is no right and wrong in traditional music, just good and bad. No one is ever going to say to you ’ You played that wrong, go away and practice it twenty times’. But sometimes you’ll play something and know that doesn’t sound great - it’s then your own responsibility to find a way of playing it that does sound good. Once you’ve got it sounding good then it is right, no matter whether it is the way others play it or not.

The other thing that classical musicians often fail to grasp is that traditional enthusiasts aren’t particularly impressed by gratuitous displays of technical brilliance - they would rather hear the Irish Washerwoman played really well than a Paganini caprice. Use your technique to enhance the tune, don’t use the tune to show off your technique.

Re: What should a classically trained person learn to transition?

Matt Leavey just said (for what it’s worth) everything I would have said, but more succinctly and stylishly than I could ever have put it.

Re: What should a classically trained person learn to transition?

"Use your technique to enhance the tune, don’t use the tune to show off your technique."

Some of the best, succinct advice I’ve ever heard on this board, Mark. That’s now a phrase that I will use with students. Cheers

Re: What should a classically trained person learn to transition?

I would second the recommendation to pick a recording, put it through a slowdowner and play along. Really listen for phrasing and pulse, not just notes. Set that track on repeat and play it a bunch of times until you feel like you can sound the same as the recording.

This goes for all instruments, but fiddle especially. Bowing and bow sound are a balance between bow placement,bow speed, and the weight you put into the bow. It’s very hard to get the right balance without careful listening and imitation.

Re: What should a classically trained person learn to transition?

Caoimhín Mac Aoidh has written a brilliant little discussion about the internal repeating grammar of Irish Traditional Music. The ‘call and response’ form of many tunes is part of this. Train your ear to listen for these forms. Learn to listen to the alliteration of musical phrases and figures repeating and echoing each other. It
is here where you will find the ‘lift’ and pulse of the music. www.ictm.ie/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Mac-Aoidh-Final-TEXT.pdf

Re: What should a classically trained person learn to transition?

For someone who has already mastered the mechanics of playing their instrument I would argue against the ‘play along’ method and the use of slowdowners etc. You do however need to listen to A LOT of traditional music so that you understand what it is you’re aiming for, without that what you produce will almost certainly be some sort of cheesy pastiche. But traditional music isn’t baroque music - you’re not trying to exactly reproduce something that happened in the past. Tradition is a living, changing thing, and to do it well isn’t a case of slavishly copying someone else’s playing, it’s about taking the old tunes and colouring them with your own character, based in no small part on the techniques you know and are comfortable using.

Re: What should a classically trained person learn to transition?

Kellie, can you tell us how long your friend has studied classical violin? Just curious.

I would disagree Mark, re: slowdowners, and add to that a slow visual/audio is even better. Depending upon how many years worth of solid classical training a violinist has had, (especially when there has been little to no trad music to listen to growing up) they will indeed need a slow down type of any and every learning tool. And a very determined desire. 🙂

Forget the ‘flow of the sound’ for a minute. (THUD! No, wait … I said ‘for a minute!’) haha

All the listening on the planet isn’t going to change much of that person’s muscle memory unless it is directly dealt with - apart from thrashing around in an entire tune. Or more commonly, simply freezing.

I see people writing about "no rules" and a kind of do your own thing, thing. Folks I can safely say that such sage advice doth not resonate to a classical player. Except maybe "Whew! Can I drink a beer when I’m floundering through unlearning ONE 2 THREE 4 at 60 on the metronome to a quaver?? Crap… make that a semi!"

There’s lots of good stuff on the threads; I just wanted to mention a couple of things, since much of the help is coming from folks who get the Trad end of this so very well, but who don’t actually play/perform ‘serious’ classical violin. Or even fiddle. Let alone both.

So besides to do tons of listening as said, my first question to every new (aspiring fiddle) student is… how long have you been playing violin? And after I listen to - and watch them, I know better how to go from there - for them. The greater their classical training - the more work. Un-work? 🙂

Re: What should a classically trained person learn to transition?

Heh… Mark, "not playing fiddle/violin" did not apply to you of course. Thought I’d throw that in.

Jim - isn’t your major, Tuba…?? ;D

Re: What should a classically trained person learn to transition?

Diane, I probably ought to expand a bit on my thoughts on slowdowners - I’m not against them at all, they are a very useful tool. What I said was that I don’t think is useful in this situation is playing along with a slowdowner. That is very useful for people who are still grappling with the mechanics of the instrument and getting their fingers in the right place, finding the right note, but that isn’t the case here. For someone who is already competent on the instrument but needs to learn the music it is vital to listen and practice at normal speed to get the ornaments and note transitions sounding right. The slowdowner can still be useful for dissecting things and working out what is going on, but you do that listening, not playing. Then go back to full speed to practice. Articulating every note of a roll playing along with a slowed down recording won’t help you at all.

Re: What should a classically trained person learn to transition?

"Jim - isn’t your major, Tuba…?? ;D"

I wish it had been 🙂

Re: What should a classically trained person learn to transition?

Don’t think of it as speaking another language, think of it as speaking with a different accent.

Re: What should a classically trained person learn to transition?

I totally agree with you Mark. Playing along with a slowdowner; painful. lol

Dunno Jim but I can’t hear Elfentanz on Tuba. See what youda missed?

Re: What should a classically trained person learn to transition?

Better to find someone play articulations/ornaments and go through them slowly rather than depend on working it out via software like Amazing Slowdowner; or am I missing your point, MarkM?

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Re: What should a classically trained person learn to transition?

AB, yes, a good teacher is infinitely better than any software. But I was thinking about people without access to a good teacher trying to learn on their own, and even then I was thinking about the situation where all you can hear is a crackle of notes, so you slow it down and think ‘Ah, there’s a roll there and a cut there’, not slowing down to see how to play the roll and the cut. The only time I really find the slowdowner useful is when I’m attempting to transcribe stuff onto paper.

Re: What should a classically trained person learn to transition?

"Dunno Jim but I can’t hear Elfentanz on Tuba. See what youda missed?"

Diane, posting "Elfentanz" on here would be tantamount to booking your own crucifixion 🙂

One thing I did notice about listening to tunes on the Slowdowner - the ornaments (slowed down) sound different to the way a teacher would play them, slowed-down, for you. So it’s both good and bad, depending on the way you think about it.

Re: What should a classically trained person learn to transition?

This is not universally applicable, exceptions will abound, but there was a story at an Old Time fiddle workshop back in the 80’s. A classically trained violinist struggled through workshops until a moment of enlightenment, when he said, "I get it, a violin is a melody instrument, a fiddle is a rhythm instrument."

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Re: What should a classically trained person learn to transition?

drink more guiness

Re: What should a classically trained person learn to transition?

Listen and Get Lessons
Distance yourself from classical (playing)
Forget about sheet music