Raising your Game

Raising your Game

Ah, surely, have others of you noticed how significantly the company you play in at sessions affects the quality of the music you play yourself?
I’ve just talked in LOF’s ‘How do you get your tunes?’ thread about how I played differently and up a few notches in a small session in Corofin with Mary Shannon, sister of Sharon. And when the inimitable Tim Edey joins us here in East Kent for a pub gig now and again, my mate Jim O’Shea and I, we end up playing out of our socks (but not cheesey tunes!). Similarly, dreadful sessions where there is max porridge from several bad accompanists and/or tune players makes me hit wrong notes, do crap phrasing, and generally play like a Spanish cow. (Sorry, it’s a skiing expression).
Does any of the rest of you worldwide have the same impression?

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Yup. It’s true. Unfortunately. Tim Edey…now there’s a great player. So’s Mary Shannon, for that matter, and don’t she and her sister wear the greatest clothes?!

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Totally agree there Pete. I’m amazed at how much better I diddle when the experts are around! - my own theory is that when the tunes are flying you don’t have any time to think about what you’re doing so its kind of like a reflex action in the old fingers!… mind you everyone I meet in sessions seems to be a expert - its a comparative thing!

YIPPEEE three more hours to go then Summer holidays til Sept!!! WAYYYHAAAYYY!

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Like a Spanish cow “comme une vache espagnole” - That’s how the French tell me I talk French. Crap accent, crap phrasing, limited vocabulary.
I can see the parallel.
Hmmm - “Je faire la musique comme une vache espagnole” ?
Like I said, crap.
It certainly does help playing with better players though.

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Yes, I always play better with good players as long as I know their repertoire. Even when they are playing much fster, I can usually still keep up as the timing is usually more accurate. They also are more likely to be playing “the tune” properly and any variations or ornamentations are logical and unlikely to put you off. I noticed this at Newcastleton at the weekend and even more so after I returned to grim reality on Monday. 🙂

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There is a problem here. If everyone agrees that playing with people better than yourself raises your own playing, then aren’t we doing a diservice to our betters, by making them play with their lessers?

All this “you’re better than me” stuff really is minefield of clashing egos and sniveling underdogs. Far far better to keep an ear out for what’s good in the playing of your so called lessers, and let that raise your game

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Interesting point. Some of us lesser mortals 🙂 perhaps take it for granted that those players whom we perceive to be “better” will naturally be more confident and disciplined in a musical situation. So, maybe, we shouldn’t rely on them to help us raise our game but make an effort to do it ourselves.

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Hmm, “confident and disciplined”? Could go either way this. I like to adjust my playing to fit those I’m playing with, and if this means slowing down then that’s fine. Except that if you’re playing with someone who is so bad that their rythm is just completely off the wall. Then you have to do the hardest thing and try and block them out. Awful thing to have to do, but it’s either that or pack in

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But Michael, you *have* to have that attitude and pick out the best in lesser players cuz no-one in the world is better than you 🙂

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No, I reckon Michael’s better than me 🙂

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LOL! Well, I do a lot of playing with people who are beginners or who aren’t beginners but who aren’t familiar with Irish music. To them, I’m lots better (eventually they’ll learn enough to know I’m really only an intermediate player), but I learn a lot by having to slow down, and they very often give me a lot of insights that I didn’t have about what goes into this stuff, because I have to think about what it is I’m doing.

I play a lot with my peers in that fairly wide “intermediate” category. We have a lot of fun together, and we learn a lot. We teach each other our tunes that we’ve learned from one place or another. We go to workshops and festivals together. We run around to sessions together. We drink and party and have fun together.

I play with people who are better than me a lot, too, those people who fall into the expert and hotshot ranges. I learn about how the music’s supposed to sound, feel, clip along. I learn that they’re just human beings too. I find out how far I’ve still got to go to get where I want to be. Along the way, we have a lot of fun.

If music is a game (and there’s no reason why it should or shouldn’t be), then I’m having an awful lot of fun, and it’s the sort of game where it’s rare that anyone loses (depending on what they want to get out of the game, I suppose.)

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To answer the original question:
No. I play as I play. Sometimes well, sometimes not so well. Occasionally very well.
But it comes from inside me, and is not to do with the way other people are playing - with the obvious exception of the situation Michael describes, where another player is actually really incompetent to play and is making an incoherent mess to the point where no one can hold the tune together.

I wonder whether the people who say they “play better in the company of better players” really do so. Is it actually true that you play better?, or is it just that the overall standard of the music is raised by the better players, and that you feel somehow part of that higher standard.

£0.02

Dave

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I do indeed play better, because you can “catch” the feel off of a better player, somewhat like a skin disease, Dave. ;)

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But, unless you’re really shite, there’s no such thing as a better player. Just a different player

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Is this the name dropping thread?

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Michael Gill, when did you turn into Pollyanna!?! *smirk*

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Hmmm…when I go into session situations, I certainly don’t think in terms of who’s “better” or “worse” than whom. I wouldn’t even know what criteria to use to make such judgments. And it’d be apples and oranges anyway (is the person with weak tone and a zillion tunes ‘better’ or ‘worse’ than the person with lush tone and steady but wooden rhythm or the person with great lift who plays _only_ polkas? Got me). I’m not sure what I’d gain from thinking that way, and it would probably detract from the potential for craic with my friends.

Even the mysterious session ‘pecking order’ (which is not necessarily based on skill or repertoire; often it’s just age, or seniority at that particular session) may shift during an evening, and it’s not unusual for the apparent top dog to back off and encourage someone else to step up. Or for three or four players to share that role.

Also, I remember early on playing at sessions with some brilliant musicians and struggling myself only because their style or sense of timing was so different from my own and I didn’t know–at that stage in my playing–how to adapt.

As a more experienced player these days, I no longer have that problem, and I’ve also heard other experienced players adapt to me. So for me, it’s not a matter of who is better, but who happens to be carrying the tune at that moment in time, and how the other players want to respond.

Do circumstances sometimes ‘raise my game?’ Sure. When the pulse is strong, when the mood is right, when the pints are smooth and I’m in the moment, yes it feels like I can play out of my own skin. Great fun. Does it say anything about the quality of the other musicians in the room? Only that they’re capable of contributing to (or at least not detracting from) a strong pulse and an enjoyable overall mood.

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Er…it’s also a possibility that those of you who are good players have forgotten that when you’re beginning and in that amorphic intermediate stage, you don’t have to go looking to see if people are better than you – it’s impressed upon you every time you play.

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Lol, no I remember that feeling all too well, Zeens. But if that’s the case–that everyone else in the room is a better player than you, then what good does it do to focus on that fact? In my experience, one of the steps to becoming a decent player was to quit ranking myself against other musicians. Doesn’t mean you can’t admire someone else’s tone or triplets or repertoire or third position playing (? 🙂, and aspire to that for yourself. And I agree 100 percent that you can catch another player’s feel just by playing with them–that’s what it’s all about.

Maybee it’s all about timing. When I’m in a session, I try to focus on what people (including myself) do well. The strengths, rather than the weaknesses. Of course, if someone starts a set, and their rhythm is wandering I might emphasize a strong beat to get things on track–so I’ve acknowledged a weakness, but my attention goes immediately to a strength.

Back at home, I might mull over some areas in my own playing that I think need improvement and woodshed on those. I’d probably search my memory for an example to shoot for from someone else’s playing. And I’d be aware of any discrepancy in my ‘performance’ and what I aspire to–that’s how we improve.

But I think it’s important to hold that more critical mindset for home or workshops, not sessions or gigs.

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I go to sessions to enjoy the people, and they’re usually better quality than me so I feel like I’m a better person for hanging out with them. The music just keeps our hands busy so we don’t drink too much.

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Who said I focus on it? *grin* Oh, all you good players, I can’t be having with you, you’ve all forgotten what’s it’s like to be us little people… *smirk*

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A good fiddle player can get a salutary reminder of what it was like to be a raw beginner - on the technical side at least - merely by reversing their hold on the fiddle for a few minutes.
Trevor

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I remember what it was like to be little, Zeens – then I took up cooking as my hobby.

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And, Michael Gill, since I’m in the middle of a woodshedding period right now, I realized I finally felt ready to take on Jenny’s Welcome to Charlie and not be afraid of murdering it entirely, so I’m learning it now. (You may or may not remember chastising me for thinking it was too big a tune for a beginner. I still think I was right, I’m only barely doing it justice now, and that’s lifting Paddy Glackin’s setting and ornaments almost whole as an exercise. I’ve gotten to the third part at this point, but have to go clean house now – I’ll come back to it later this evening.) I shall think of you every time I play it. *grin*

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*smirk at Jack* Hey, now, remember, on the 18th – only one truffle. I’m supposed to be on a diet.

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Zina, we’ll just see if you can only eat one.

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If you’re only buying me one, I’m only eating one. *smirk*

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They come in a small Chinese take-away box with 20 pieces. Temptation will rake havoc with your discipline.

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LOL – only if you buy them that way. You can’t tell me they won’t sell you just one.

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Send me the leftovers.

Seems to me if the words “better player” cross your mind at a session, then you’ve focused on it. Language helps shape our perceptions, for better or worse.

Re: Jenny’s Welcome…sigh, another tune I’ll have to learn just so I can play with Zina next time we’re in the same room. Slow down, will ya?!

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About six weeks ago, I had Chulrua here to do a house concert. Afterwards, while the band was unwinding, having a beer, chatting with people, a bunch of us started a small session. Although we play together often, we’re usually pretty ragged, playing a bit faster than we’re really able to as a group, (though some individuals can). After 20 minutes or so, Patrick Ourceau joined us and led off a jig set. He set a moderate, steady tempo (think Mary MacNamara or Kitty Hayes). All of a sudden, we all sounded much, much better. We all stayed together, held to the tempo, didn’t stumble over passages that are usually tricky, etc. He was able to get us to play at our level, rather than attempting to play above it.

I didn’t notice this effect last September, when we had a similar session with Tommy Peoples. It was a different group of players, many of whom hadn’t played together before. But Tommy didn’t attempt to lead, he just followed along quietly, so you wouldn’t expect him to have much impact on the other players.

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HelLO, Harmon, that’s the whole point of a woodshedding period, isn’t it? Getting better and getting more tunes under the belt? Hell no, I’m not slowing down. Catch up, willya? *smirk*

BTW, I can’t seem to play Dance of the Honeybees as anything but a damn hornpipe. It just won’t barndance for me…

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Zina, they give me one free for buying the box – the rest will be for you. I’ll get a bunch of different flavors so you won’t get bored. My favorite is cognac, but I’ll get the Baily’s, Grand Marnier, kahlua, etc.

BTW, I’m listening to music live from WW on Clare fm right now… lovely!

http://www.clarefm.ie

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You are an evil, evil man. I don’t dare tune into Clare FM right now, or the house will never get cleaned for tomorrow.

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It’s ok Zina, Claire Keville was playing with a fiddler and harpist when I posted that, but now some yank is singing a song from India. Wait, hold the presses – we have Brian McNamara playing hornpipes on his pipes now… ahhhhhh

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Oh, and you’re evil about the truffles, too. *grin*

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Well, thank you all for a lively response! In GB Thornton’s truffles (Sheffield, I believe) are pretty much insurpassable, Zina.
As for ‘there are no good or bad players, we’re all just ourselves’, no way, let’s get real. There are the most of us who are good in parts, and we are the intermediates. Then there’s a bit at each end, I reckon, on a normal curve of distribution. (1)The beginners, who might move into the middle with time, practice and sensitive accepting encouragement from the main body of us ‘middle’ people, and add to this group also the chronically poorly skilled, insensitive, unmusical, who have bought an instrument or a shaky egg and will never get past first base, sad but true. And (2) up the other end the truly gifted, like Tim Edey, Mike Mc.G, the Shannons, and the …we know who they are. Play with them, and there’s no doubt, most of us would play better every time. Don’t tell me an order doesn’t exist, it’s just that most ITM musicians are generally nice people who don’t peck each other much.
Interestingly, ego enters the picture here too. Some guys are really good at being performers, earning loads, promoting themselves, holding and entertaining their audience, and yet I note (surreptitiously) that their actual musical skill seems not so great as many better musicians, who are not so successful.
O, I’m rambling, must be a Friday night, I’m off down the pub for some Kent beer.

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Another place to visit to try the chocolate! I’ll never catch up.

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Zina that’s too too quick, you must spend your life eating chocolate in front of your PC

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And don’t ever ketsup on chocolate either Zina.

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LOL – As it happens, I’m taking a break from cleaning and eating my lunch, though it’s 2:00 in the afternoon here (14:00 for youse other side of The Pond). Lunch happens to be three hard boiled eggs, not chocolate. Although I do have chocolate covered raisins in the pantry, they are verboten until I just have to.

But generally I am usually to be found sitting in front of the computer, doing graphic work, or a website, or doing some digitizing for a bit of embroidery, all of which I do for a living. The Session is always up in a window, and I type fast. 🙂

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Pete, some of us really do think of players as different, not necessarily better or worse than others. Who’s to say that Tommy Peoples is a better fiddler than Frankie Gavin, who is better than Matt Cranitch? It’s subjective, at best, and you’d be trying to rank across different styles. Why not just say that you like Tommy’s triplets more than the other’s, or Frankie’s swing, or Matt’s tone? And why even stoop to picking one over the other–Tommy’s triplets aren’t necessarily ‘better’ than anyone else’s, just good and distinctively his. Same goes for nearly any other feature you can call attention to.

I’d say the same is true of most experienced players, not just some imagined top tier. In the sessions I play in, the experienced players are all good at what they do. Yes, they each have different strengths and weaknesses, musically, but everyone does, even musical savants.

Is there a difference between people who eat, sleep, and breathe music, and people just starting out, or those who play but put other priorities before music? Of course. For most of us, technical proficiency is directly tied to the amount of time we play, and the quality of our attention during that time. But once you’ve put in the magic amount of time (which I believe is different for each of us), the differences between you and other musicians become less and less quanitfiable and more qualitative. Er, qualitative not in the sense of good, better, best, but in the sense of one player’s approach features different qualities than another.

All I’m saying is that ranking people by some mysterious formula of technical proficiencies is counterproductive. Music is about expression, not perfection, and we each have something our own to express. Junior Crehan was not the most technically brilliant fiddler ever to play the tunes, and his tone got shakey late in life. But I could still listen to his recordings all day–lively, honest music, played from the heart, with generosity and individuality and unself-consciousness. Do those qualities deserve to be ranked ‘lower’ against the technical flash of Frankie Gavin or the Leahys or Sean Maguire? To what end?

Maybe the friction that underlies this thread stems from the fact that most of us serve a lengthy apprenticeship on our instruments, where, for years, we’re not entirely competent. Our ornaments are muddy, our intonation wavers, our timing wanders, our tone disappears in a shriek. It takes most of us years to overcome these challenges, and years more to get more or less consistent. Yes, in the beginning when we struggle with these issues day in, day out, it’s easy to say someone else plays better. But in fact, it’s because we aren’t yet quite actually _playing_ music ourselves. We’re trying hard, and we’ve got all the pieces in a row, but they don’t quite click yet. When they do, finally, you find yourself playing with your ‘heros’ and finding out they’re human too, capable of having weaknesses in their playing, and bad days, and that indeed, you can play with them. I think you also reach a point where it becomes very easy to hear the strengths in another person’s playing, to listen to the music rather than the technique, no matter what stage they’re at.

Sure, there’s always room for improvement, but it’s within yourself, not against some pre-set standard that says, “rolls must be played thusly, and meet the following 7 criteria for mastery. Rhythm must not vary more than 0.00167 bpm across every four bars, etc.” If that were the case, we’d all sound the same, and how much fun would that be? Even CCE’s programs and exams for trad music, as structured as they are, shy away from specific standards for technique. They have to, to accommodate personal expression and choice.

To make a long-winded rant even longer, 🙂, we all learn different things at different points in our development as musicians. I’ve heard rookies who have a great sense of phrasing even though they can barely get the notes out. And I’ve heard veterans who play the notes beautifully, but whose phrasing seems lost in the stream. So who’s to say one player is more advanced than another? You might have a personal preference as to who you’d rather listen to, and judges at a contest will rank the players (because that’s what a contest is for), but someone else will hear them differently. And the two players themselves would likely say the other was better, envying what the other does well.

Whew. Sorry. 🙂

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So what you’re saying, Will, is that us beginners don’t actually play music?

*smirk*

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Yep. *evil grin*

Well, I know I didn’t when I was a beginner. Even now, some nights I have to wonder. 🙂

Besides, Zina, you’ve told me you’re no longer a beginner….

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Jeez Will, I’ve just been for one down the pub for one pint, and look what greets me when I get back!
I agree we all have our intrinsic strengths and weaknesses, and it’s virtually impossible to definine ‘better’ or ‘worse’, but I know from the speed of the processes I see going on in Tim’s mind when he picks up a totally new tune in 15 seconds and reproduces it perfectly, phrasing, etc., the lot, that things come easy to him because he’s got a better musical head on his shoulders than I have, a rare talent, born not made. Whether you like his music more than another’s is almost irrelevant, he’s a loads better musician than me by several factors, and I know it. Your philosophising is OK, but when Samuel Johnson was asked by a clever philosopher chap how he knew the stone lying there in the street was actually real, or whether his whole environment was just an artificial construct produced by himself in his mind, Samuel Johnson replied: ‘Sir, When I strike that stone with my foot, indeed I know it really exists.’
Thus do I know the same, although I’ve never actually struck Tim Edey with my boot, nor would wish to; he’s a young man with no trace of horrible ego, and the nicest person you could hope to meet, quite happy to do the occasional low-key pub gig for peanuts with us, a day after getting back from a concert with McGoldrick, which in my mind makes him an even greater musician.
Aaagh! this is getting too serious, it’s the weekend!

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Heh, sure Pete, some people seem born with a knack, loads of ‘natural talent.’ I won’t argue that. And some just work extra hard to get there (it blows me away how much Kevin Burke and Liz Carroll have learned in the last 20 years–I thought they were wonderful players back then, and now they’re simply astonishing).

But don’t go thinking I’m chewing away here on a big argument, stewing in my own acids. I just enjoy thinking about these questions and blathering my opinions to anyone willing to waste time reading them. 🙂

Still, the fact that Mr. Edey sits in with the peanut gallery suggests that he himself doesn’t worry much about the differences in everyone’s playing. You all must offer him some incentive, even musically, or he wouldn’t bother walking in the door. Maybe, as I’ve suggested above, it’s easier for him to see that incentive than it is for you. Nothing wrong with that.

I’m not arguing that you cannot rank musicians into bad, good, best catgeories, or beginner, intermediate, expert. I just don’t see the value in doing so. On the other hand, admiring and seeking to emulate someone’s skills or style is a great way to learn and improve, without putting anyone up on a pedestal or lowering yourself. In my experience, the language of ‘better’ and ‘worse’ gets in the way of hearing and deciding what you want to sound like, and listening for what you enjoy in other people’s playing (which is generally more fun than coming home from a concert, say, feeling hopelessly inadequate).

In short, getting past the frustration inherrent in being a beginner becomes easier if we stop worrying about how we compare to everyone else and focus instead on listening to what we do well and improving what needs it. This is even more important as we gain experience and proficiency. At some point, it’s no longer about becoming a better technician, but uncovering what we have to say through music. No one can say better what you yourself have to say.

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Only because you won’t let me get away with it anymore, dammit, Harmon. Otherwise I’d be using the tag “beginner” for the next 15 years. But as for the “No one can say better what you yourself have to say,” that’s complete and utter bull puckies, and you know it, considering that you often do it for me, and usually in about 20 less sentences. Er. Usually. *smirk*

Pete, please tell Tim Edey hello for me and that I hope he’s still talking to me, if he even remembers who I am. I was supposed to interview him and review his CD and then left the publication I was working for suddenly.

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Hello. Will Harmon’s “rant” is drawing me out of lurkerdom–at least long enough to say “Thank You, Will”. I really needed to hear “… we stop worrying about how we compare to everyone else and focus instead on listening to what we do well …”. I’m somewhere between Beginner and Intermediate on flute and (the dreaded) English concertina, and progress can be painfully slow some weeks. And the amount of time spent each day playing *does indeed* make a great difference.
Mike (in Central Texas)

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(Will, I like what you wrote, here’s a view that works for me)

If I listen to my music with the one-up/one-down paradigm: then, there are players better than me, I can learn from them; and, there a players worse than me, nope, nothing to learn there :-| (I think it’s an attitude that can keep me in a nice grey thought-place and not have to risk feeling uncomfortable).

When I listen with a an attitude of openness, that each player is simultaneously playing, learning, teaching, and enjoying; then all/any of those paths are open for me to go explore. I’ve found this mode to be increasingly more rewarding and much less stressful than keeping track of where I am in the hierarchy (ok I know where I fit fot this tune, shite, they’re finishing, better re-evaluate where I am for the next).

One model of learning that works for me is a four state system (described in detail on nodes throughout the web):
Unconscious incompetence – I don’t know that I don’t know;
Conscious incompetence – I know I don’t know;
Conscious competence – I know that I know;
Unconscious competence – I just play the tune;

Same tune another listen:

||:
I don’t know that I don’t know; a set/tune/setting/ornament in a session’s “tune space” that I’ve never heard;

I know I don’t know; ohhh, that’s pretty, I want to learn it; or, go to step zero

I know that I know; I’ve practiced, ok I’m on the second pass of the A, the B is coming up it’s a mode change, got it;

I just play the tune, brain is monitoring the ½-pint dancing to the edge of the table;
:|| repeat as needed

I’m having a lot of fun and, in the process, learning lots about my session-mates, the music, my instruments, other instruments, Life, The Universe, Everything, and (sometimes 🙂 ) myself.

Zina you wrote about finding out “how far I’ve still got to go to get where I want to be”; I was just thinking that’s a thought I had while competing at the velodrome and it’s the thought that keeps me growing, learning, and playing music while having a lot of fun at the same time. Thanks for the fun!

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Psst! MikeJV, do you wanna join the Low Caste Frowned-upon Brotherhood of English Concertina Players?

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Dow–quite possibly. Are we badly outnumbered? And, in Texas, *any* concertina player is a curiosity.

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What, just in Texas? Welcome out of lurkhood, MikeJV. We’ll look forward to hearing more from you. At least, Dow will. *grin*

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And there was Dow giving out about me and Aidan name dropping! The very nature of this thread invites massive name dropping. But I don’t mind, it’s not real name dropping as zina says, it’s just other players who are that bit better than the rest of us to the extent that it is worth their while recording, or teaching or performing.

Anyway that’s a mere observation, not the main point I’m attempting to post, so swiftly moving the agenda forward, ladies and gentlemen, harrumph…

Yes, of course, better players can “raise your game”…a tennis metaphor I suspect? but not all the time…and also playing with “less experienced” can also raise your game…(I better watch…I hear that Will and his cronies from the Anti-Heirarchy Police are in this neighbourhood…Hi Will, not spoke to you for a while ha? :~} )Yes, yes, yes, of course we’re all yuman beans, and everyone has their place, etc. etc..peace and love, man. But some people are quite simply better players than others. That’s a fact. Whichever parameters you choose. I suspect Molloy, Tansey and Mulvey *are* better flute players than me. I could be wrong though, but that’s not what I or several milion other people think.

So. where was I? Sometimes playing with better players don’t raise your game. Well, there used to be someone around here who was a pretty good player (I won’t reveal any more about this person, but one or two of you may twig)…This person also drove what is known as a SUV - in the city. This person was also well paid, very arrogant and a serial philanderer. This person would not think twice about slagging off any other player for whatever reason…the occasional bum note, choosing to play a non-Donegal tune, a lapse in tone or cadence, any or a few of the above. To me, this person was horrible session company, and because this person was good, built up a local cult status - but it was all centered around this person. And all the donkeys went hee-haw, and went along with it. THat, in my view, does not raise anyone’s game. So even quite an experienced player like me, felt a bit uncomfortable breaking into the Clique - and you never play your best if you feel uncomfortable. So rather than raise people’s games This Person psyched everyone out. most unhealthy.

Then playing with less experienced players can raise your game. Sometimes you might end up doing a set on your own, because the other people at the session don’t have it. So, you’ve got to make sure you’re able to play the set solo. So then you must make sure all your own buttons are pressed full on. Tone? don’t eff with that. Cadence? same again, but be prepared to slow down if someone knows the third tune in your set. The tune itself? ummm. that’s a given - don’t even dream of trying it unless you can dream about it - that it’s just *there* always in your mind.

Conclusion - IMVHO - yes, good players acn raise your game, sometimes, buut not always - and less experienced players can also raise your game.

One of the main things is to…

ENJOY.

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I know someone who raised pheasants for hunting.

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Was he also selfish, Danny? *grin*

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BTW if anyone’s wondering why I’m online at such an unusual time, it’s because it’s 10am Australian Eastern Standard Time and I never went to bed cuz I was reading an interesting book about how Australian government is undemocratic, and then I couldn’t sleep for fretting about the world’s problems, so I figured what the hell I’ll just stay awake. Now I’ve just got to stay awake for another 12 hours until I can go to bed. It’s Saturday - how many tunes do you reckon I should try and learn in 12 hours?!

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Dow wrote: “Australian government is undemocratic” Wow Dow… so’s ours.

Re: Raising your Game

Zina’s a nd Mike Henry’s posts remind me of:

“History balances the frustration of ‘how far we have to go’ with the satisfaction of ‘how far we have come.’ It teaches us tolerance for the human shortcomings and imperfections which are not uniquely of our generation, but of all time.” (Lewis F. Powell, Jr.)

Applied to our own musical progress, whenever I think about how far I have to go to play the way I hear it in my head, I try to also remember how far I have come. One of the benefits of teaching music is, with each new student, coming face to face with where we all start, and realizing how much I’ve learned since those days.

Zina, you may be right about my bull puckies. Even as I was typing it, I thought of times I’ve heard someone play a tune and thought to myself, “I couldn’t play it any better, and s/he captured precisely the feeling that tune gives me.” But I also have moments when I take a tune learned off a brilliant player and make it my own, and deeply prefer my playing of it. In all likelihood, mine would not be something anyone would pay to have a recording of, but it works for me in a way the ‘brilliant’ version doesn’t.

I guess it boils down to some of us like to measure music and musicians against each other, and some of us don’t. I’ve yet to understand what advantages their are to ranking ourselves in the ‘order’ of musicians. Back in the day when I thought that way, it took away from the enjoyment music offered and hindered rather than helped my progress. But that’s just me.

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No, it’s not just you will. As I said, I ‘ll never be even *thought of* in the same synaptic connection, as Molloy Tansey or Mulvey. Or Na Gopalleen for that matter. I just don’t have it technically. Or expressively, how Mulvey can just throw in a few well-placed notes to give a tune that Mulvey touch. But the same way a carpenter can cut an accurate straight line through a piece of timber, yeah you can do the bizz, but you need to be able to build on the basic skillls to make your *craft* an *art form*. THat’s the transition I have yet to make. Hope this makes sense.

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Def does to me, Danny. Will, don’t assume that I’m measuring people up against each other. Using a measuring stick is not the same thing as making a value judgement. ;)

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I’m confused. How do you make a value judgment without some criteria to define the value in question?

What I’m trying to get at is the difference between thinking, “So-and-so is better than I am,” vs. “I want to be able to play rolls like so-and-so.” To me, the former implies some sort of undefined measuring stick, and isn’t all that constructive, while the latter implies only that you like some aspect of another person’s playing and you’ve got something specific to aim for in improving your own playing.

Sorry to be such a stick in the mud. I know we’ve danced around this topic before, and I made the same case back then: if you want to ‘raise your game,’ pay attention to the words and concepts you use–the context you create for yourself and your progress. How we think about playing influences how we play.

I wonder if we could have the same discussion about other art forms. How useful would it be for a painter to think, “Jackson Pollock threw paint better than I ever will”? If writers sat down at the keyboard with a mind to all the great books in the library and their own inadequacies, nothing new would ever get written. Why do we treat music differently?

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Good point Zina.
Just to clarify - it’s all very well for me to do a poor mime of Matt molloy’s set Kitty in the Lane, but where a player *begins* to make the thing an art form is choosing what tunes comprise a set. Then you work on how to play the set so that the component tunes feel easy sitting next to one another. (Please note that I have personified the tunes - the dots mean fack all but when they’re played they come alive, and *A particular* Zen interpretation might be that they actually do have a life - and no, Chris, I’m not still on the mushrooms. But I do know a wee bit about Zen Buddhism.

Anyway. this notion, the whole DesCartian hierarchical thing, to which I do adhere, by force of habit, is only one view through the prism of perception, of viewing this thing. Right now, I’m glad just to get out, play tunes with likeminded souls, get a few beers in, have the crack, because if ye don’t enjoy it while you can, there but for the grace of God go I, because you could end up being the most boring-suburban-sunday-morning-car cleaning-fart and live a boring 2.2 kids in the suburbs life. I’m sure the inebriate itinerants have more fun than those lemons.

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I doubt that would ever happen to you Danny. Frankie and Tommy would be knocking on your door begging you for tunes.

(btw, before you have one of your fits, I’m only *kidding*)

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Will - I was gonna hit the sack but the questions you pose are too tantalising to defer.

You’re asking all these analytical questions. Why is someone’s tone better than mine? Their tempo/cadence better than Blimey O’Rielly’s from the Back o’ beyond in Kilfenora. Yet you previously had been saying stuff like, it’s no great shakes if Gavin’s pace was better than …I can’t remember, but Tommy Peoples ahd better triplets, or something.

I’m just a wee bit scared of getting too reductionist wrt our craft. THat’s fine when you’re learning. you need to know all the basic elements of playing your yoke. But when yer a big grown up player like you, or that I’m pretending to be, then all the bits should holistically meld together. Each player is gonna have some bits that they’re better at one side of it thn the other. Same as in real life. But it all comes down to the sum total of their performance. And when and where they’re playing. THere’s this temple in Japan that has got incredible architectural features. But every year they demolish it then build it again. It’s a Zen Ritual. Nothing is permanent art should aways be re-created, because it’s the MAKING of art - analogise with sessions at your leisure - that is the key thing here.

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but is not australia the best of all possible worlds,dow? was it it only yesteryear that you were extolling the virtues of this antipodean other eden? (much to the detriment of your birthplace - and quite rightly so IMO).oh how soon doth the varnish tarnish.
btw, before you have one of your fits,i’m only kidding…well,mostly,anyway…

which just leaves me with a name to drop…- oh yes,william hague was in my class at school.
political anoraks will know whereof i speak,the rest of you don’t have to worry as he’s history now.

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“How do you make a value judgment without some criteria to define the value in question?” – Well, yes. That’s what I said. 🙂

THAT musician is THAT much taller/a better player than me. That doesn’t mean that I think that they’re somehow a better person than me or that there aren’t good things about my playing. So Will Harmon is taller than me. I’m still cuter than he is. *grin*

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Wha…?

Danny, I’m posing most of those analytical questions hypothetically–they follow logically from the “so-and-so is better than me” mindset, which I don’t ascribe to. You’re missing my point. It’s not that Paddy O’Shiobhalliganeymarourke’s rolls are ‘better’ than mine, but that there is something about them I admire and want to incorporate in my own playing.

Case in point. NY fiddler Brian Conway recently came to Montana and gave a small workshop. He generally plays very roomy rolls, where you can hear the pitch of each grace note. They struck me as ‘flutey’ rolls, compared to the more percussive rolls I learned years ago from Kevin Burke. We talked about this in Brian’s workshop. He said (paraphrasing here) that he teaches rolls the way he plays them, and that shouldn’t take anything away from fiddlers who do tighter or more percussive rolls. It’s just another tool in the box. I agree. It didn’t take long to adopt Brian’s approach to rolls. I still do more percussive rolls as well. I like both. It’s not a matter of one approach being better than the other. Is it perhaps ‘better’ to have both tools in your box? Maybe, but that depends a lot on whether they suit your musical personality.

As for fear of being reductionist, there’s a time and place for everything. When you’re in the throes of playing, at a session or gig, it’s no doubt unwise to distract yourself worrying the details. That work is already done. But I’ve played for 25 years or more now and still routinely spend time alone, fine tuning some nuance–the timing of notes within a chromatic triplet, say, or micro-tones between middle finger naturals and sharps, or simple tone production. A big reason I do this is because other musicians I talk with and learn from recommend it–they do it, and they continue to expand their abilities. It’s part of the fun to explore the subtleties of the music and our instruments and our own ideas about the noise we make and the silences we savor.

Um, Zina, I never thought we were talking about who’s a better *person.* It’s you and Danny and a few others who hold to a hierarchy of musicianship, not me. And I know you too well to misunderstand that you apply this to humanhood too.

But you said “Using a measuring stick is not the same as making a value judgment.” And I don’t understand how you make a value judgment without some sort of measuring stick (unit(s) of measurement, criteria, whatever) to frame the value at hand.

If you make the value judgment: “She is a better fiddler than I am,” I have to ask, by what measure? Technical proficiency? Expressiveness? Scope or quality of repertoire? Musical taste? When Danny says he’s not in the same class as Molloy, he cites a difference in technical and expressive skill. Molloy apparently (*grin*, that’s for Danny’s of-late trampled ego) has more chops than Danny.

And all I’m suggesting is why bother annointing people with broad “intermediate” or “expert” labels when the lessons are in the specifics? When Brian Conway asked us to play more open rolls, it wasn’t to say “mine are better than yours,” or “open rolls are better than tight, percussive ones.” It was, “try this and see what happens. At the very least it will help you think about the precision or care you wield with the music you make.”

Besides, I’m not so sure that I _am_ taller than you. 🙂 But Danny is cuter, in a Velveteen Rabbit sort of way, than both of us put together. :oD :oD :oD

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I hope I’m not coming across as argumentative. I _am_ passionate about this topic because I learned some hard lessons early on about the perils of ranking yourself against others. And I’ve learned a lot by ditching the hierarchical thinking. For one thing, most of the musicians commonly thought of as hot shots do not see themselves that way, and they prefer to play with people who aren’t intimidated or awestruck or suddenly cocksure in their presence. It’s enough if you just play honestly, respect the tunes, and know how to have fun (with the music as well as the craic).

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Hallo again Will, Pete here.
I can only tell you what Tim Edey himself tells us about why he joins us for our gigs now and again. He says it’s because he really enjoys himself rather more, overall, when the pressure’s off. Touring with Mike McGoldrick, Sharon Shannon, Capercaillie, etc. playing in front of huge audiences are pressure situations. I’ve seen him, and he actually appears to cope brilliantly with this, but inside the man, he says he’s mentally changing his underpants every few minutes.
He reminds me of Sergio Garcia, the young Spanish golfer, who despite the big time still holds close to his roots, and is refreshingly short of bumptious ego. When he gets back home from a big tournament, he calls up his mates and wants to know if anyone wants a game of footie on the local field.
I don’t think Tim’s just using us for a little idle relaxation; he genuinely seems to enjoy the intimacy (and sprinkling of mistakes!) in the pub gig setting.
Lower your expectations, relax and have fun!

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Look, it’s like those triplets you’re trying to teach me. For you, learning to play those triplets the way Brian wanted you to play them was simply understanding what you had to do with them – and then you did it. For me, I’m not only learning the way that they should be played, but having to learn the motor control to play them that way, technically speaking, because I don’t have that yet. So it’s taking me longer to get them then it did you. Su could get them relatively quickly because she’d been working on them this past year.

After I *do* have that motor control, will there be any measurable difference in our triplets on our measuring stick? Maybe, maybe not. It will depend on other factors as well. Does it *matter*? No, not really, except that I’m naturally competitive and want to catch up to you. *grin*

I *like* comparing myself to other players, especially the really good ones. It works for me. It keeps me motivated. It keeps me challenged, and I thrive on challenge. It doesn’t discourage me one single jot. In fact, in the unlikely event that my playing becomes so technically and spiritually perfect that there’s nowhere to grow to, I’ll probably take up Bulgarian folk music, or astrophysics, or something.

It may not work for everyone, no biggie. But I bet if it works for me, there’s others it works for, too. There’s nothing wrong with that, either.

I am *so* cuter than you, although the jury is out on Danny’s relative cuteness, and you’re definitely taller than me, I remember having to look up at your chin while you were trying to teach me to juggle. ;)

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Wow 70 replies, didn’t think there’s be that much to say.

I fell to looking back to see how many replies other threads generated. Mad Baloney’s ‘Tea OT’ thread did 93, and I’ve just added no.94, as I’m a raving tea addict.

But I see Jack Glider’s ‘What constitutes pure drop in ITM’ takes the biscuit in the past month with 173. Where would we be without Zina et al.’s stateside repartee?!

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Don’t worry about thinking of being argumentative, Will. This is the discussions section, and that’s what we’re doing. Who knows, if someone presents an argument in convincing enough terms, I might even change my mind!

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Pete, I won’t stoop to directing you to another of Jack’s recent threads that topped 400….

Zina, ‘you’re an old soul, but my soul is older.’ *snort*

I compare myself to other musicians all the time, too. But I like to compare straight across techniques or musical ideas, looking for differences and similarities, without necessarily rating things as better or worse.

And you don’t realize how close you are on those triplets, and busting loose all over the tunes. Besides, you’re younger than I am (so of course you’re cuter 🙂 and you have more time to keep improving. Catch me, hell. You’ll blaze right past me. Better set your sights on a longer term goal…
🙂

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Thanks Danny, Sometimes I wonder if these nit-picky discussions come off as pinheaded sound and fury, signifying nothing. Oh well.

What the devil are you doing conscious at your hour? I’m off to bed myself….

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I’ve just read through this discussion twice, having read it this afternoon also. I still don’t get it.

What the hell are/were you talking *about*?

*eye roll of despair*

BTW Danny, there’s something I really want to point out, and LOL I shouldn’t, I know, but I can’t resist. You said: “the very nature of this thread invites massive namedropping”.

What?!

Just for the record, it would never, ever have occurred to me to namedrop upon reading this thread, ever. What is it about this thread that “invites massive namedropping”? I’m deadly serious here, please tell, I’d love to know. And if you decide to ignore me (fair enough that’s your choice mate) can someone else please explain?

Ta,
Dow

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Members of Tim Edey’s fanclub in the London area will already have noticed that he is playing at the Hammersmith Irish Centre on 24 July with a really fantastic young box player, Damien Mullane. Worth a trip up to town for, I’m sure.

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You seem a bit peeved, Dow. It seems straightforward to me that if you’re playing with better players (however they are defined!) and your game is raised, maybe one or two of those better players, especially in pete’s case as he’s a fine box player, might actually be famous. That’s all. I wasn’t trying to invoke the powers Detective Inspector Dow of the Namedrop Police.

All about SHITS

Oh okay you’re talking about “SHITS”? Well why didn’t you just say so?!

For anyone who hasn’t heard of this (it’s a relatively new idea in tradworld) SHITS stands for “Subjective Hierarchical Indicator of Technique and Skill”, and it’s simply a scale from 1 to 10. The idea of the scale is to give you a way of quickly assessing the abilities of other players and adjusting your own playing accordingly. The good thing about it is that it’s subjective, and therefore completely meaningless and trivial, but it’s lots of fun anyway, and it provides something superficial enough to talk about at any session.

The most important rule of SHITS is that any famous musicians *must* be at levels 9 or 10, regardless of what people think of their actual playing ability compared to the non-famous. Otherwise the scale ends up not making sense.

At number 10 are what you judge to be the best and most fashionable musicians of the day. So it’s usually gonna be names that trip off most people’s tongues easily, like Tommy Peoples for instance.

The musicians at level 9 are the famous musicians whose playing you don’t like as much (remember that the scale is subjective!), or perhaps it’s simply not fashionable to like them; a good example of a musician a lot of people would place at 9 is Martin Hayes.

Number 8 is the top of the pile for lay session musicians, above all the lowly beginners. These are people whose playing ability you judge to be excellent despite the fact that they are non-famous. They might even be playing in your local area. Shocking thought isn’t it? You might decide to judge yourself to be at level 8. Level 8 musicians never admit to having their eyes set on level 9, but secretly want to be a member of what they see as the 9/10 elite. They know, however, that this is not possible without becoming famous, with all the perhaps unwanted glamour that that entails, but nevertheless, level 8 musicians will try to gatecrash glitzy 9/10 parties, snap 9/10 photographs for magazines and websites, and sometimes even fabricate anecdotes about times when they have spoken to or even played music with 9/10s. Obviously to them it’s better to have this kind of contact with a 10 as contact with 10’s would be more highly regarded in 8 circles, but usually 9 will do, since they’re all in the same 9/10 elite.

The levels below 8 on the SHITS scale move gradually through various intermediate and beginner ranks until finally you get to level 1, which represents a beginner who might know only 1 or 2 tunes. At this level it is important only to take into account how many tunes a musician knows, since style of playing and emotional depth cannot possibly be of any significance when it comes to judging beginners.

The wonderful thing about the SHITS scale is that it’s subjective, and this is what people need to understand. This means that the levels aren’t universally fixed, but rather act as subjective indicators for any one time at any one occasion. The important thing is that line between levels 8 and 9. This is what makes SHITS universally useful to all. Even one individual may choose to alter his/her personal SHITS depending on the occasion. Many people use the SHITS immediately upon joining a session. At one session you might judge yourself to be an 8 if you reckon you’re better than everyone else. At a different session, you might glance around and notice people who you judge to better than you, so in this situation it’s very important to be honest with yourself and be realistic about where you place yourself on the SHITS scale for that occasion, and adjust your playing accordingly, otherwise you’ll never get better.

The other good thing about SHITS is that it makes for great conversation. You can talk about whether you’d place a member of the elite at 9 or 10. You can gossip generally about the 9/10s. You can drop hints to everyone that you think you’re an 8, and maybe make some subtle negative comments about some 6’s and 7’s known to you. The main thing to remember is that it’s *subjective*. Your SHITS is going to be very different from your friend’s SHITS.

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I go to a beginners slow session once a month, and I find that these sessions really help me lift my game. They are great fun, and I find them really motivating to keep playing at home on my own. 🙂

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Interesting how acronymns mean different things in different fields. Dow, in engineering, we have the Superior Heightened Iterative Technique, a practise management goes to great lengths to ensure we follow most of the time.

(Translation for lay people: “never time to do it right but always time to do it over”.)

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The way Tish explains it – this SHIT is the story of my life.