Once and for all - how to learn Irish fiddle?

Once and for all - how to learn Irish fiddle?

Hello to you all, and many thanks in advance to those of you brave enough to read this whole thing and perhaps even give an answer :)

My predicament is what I would except to be one of the most basic and commonly asked ones, and yet I have found no satisfying answer to it after poring through the web for quite a good while. So I hope this thread will be useful for many others to come.
I love the sound of many trad Irish tunes and would like to know how to play them on the fiddle, but have only basic technical and a bit of classical training.

So the big question is:
What are recommended methods for averagely capable violinists with no traditional background to learn to play traditional Irish fiddle?

While keeping the following in mind:
1. I have basic yet solid fingering and bowing technique.
2. There are no sessions, trad teachers or experienced trad players I can learn from in my area – I’m looking to learn by myself.
3. I can quite easily pick up the pitches of the tunes by ear, but currently find it verging on impossible to identify and point out rhythm and phrasing when listening to performances. (I can read sheet music as well, but both intuition and some reading tell me that I’m better off learning by ear)

My end goal is in a nutshell to be able to play trad Irish tunes, with everything that includes – rhythm, emphasis, ornamentations and everything that makes Irish music sound Irish. For those who say “there’s no such thing as trad Irish style, but many different styles” – fine. I’m all right learning any of the traditional styles, or a medley of them.

What I’m looking for is practical advice – “demystifying” the learning process if you will. I’ve read lots of advice in the vicinity of “listen a lot until you get the feel of it”, and honestly I think that kind of counsel only suits prodigy musicians, and frustrates beginners like me, barring them from learning – we’re here to play because we want to enjoy it :)
While some of you experienced players out there might feel it’s wrong to decompose ITM into discrete, learnable and practice-able mini-skills and techniques, I’m quite confident in my opinion that it is possible to learn this way, and much less frustrating than picking up bits and pieces by watching or listening.
Please, if you disagree with me and think learning trad music cannot be methodized – don’t make this thread a battleground for that argument. There are plenty others.

Thanks a bunch to all respondents, looking forward to playing!!

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Re: Once and for all - how to learn Irish fiddle?

Poja, I don’t even play fiddle but I am self taught in the accordion playing exclusively Irish music and getting better at it. There will likely be people with better advice but I’ll give my two cents.

-every tune you learn is a new venture into the style and will teach you something new.
-learning a tune does not stop with knowing the notes.
-listen to many versions of the tune and pick the ones you like best
-slow these versions down and really figure out what they are doing, try to imitate it
-repeat for the next tune

The big challenge can be that you might be listening to the wrong artists to start with. And with that I mean that not every recording will teach you the most suitable style/ornamentation… All you can do is listen to a lot of the music to get a feel for it.

Also, get a feeling for the basic forms of ornamentation in the music, cuts rolls short rolls trebles and all that. If you can recognize the ornamentation it makes listening and figuring out much more easy.

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Re: Once and for all - how to learn Irish fiddle?

You’ve asked musicians who do carry on an oral tradition *as an oral tradition* to not carry on an oral tradition as an oral tradition.
The advice to listen isn’t just given for sh*ts and giggles. it’s the same thing as learning a language. You can hash out all of the rules and verbs you want, but eventually you’re going to need to listen to how they flow together out in the street.
I hate to say it but as a classical musician, you’re going to have to unlearn a lot of what you know to really *get* it. You can’t just play a dance music as a classical piece and throw in ornaments and call it irish music. Just as you can’t throw white rice and some raw fish on top of a pile of seaweed and call it sushi. There is a tradition there, it’s a language in it’s own right.

Re: Once and for all - how to learn Irish fiddle?

You’re being a bit harsh there TBB. In all fairness just listening to the music works but will not magically make you a better player. At best it will train you, recognizing patterns in the language more easily.

But languages can be taught in a focused way as well. Just because the music is a language does not mean that you can’t make a plan for learning it.

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Re: Once and for all - how to learn Irish fiddle?

Wasn’t meant to sound harsh, but the immediate disregarding of working on learning by ear is a bit baffling to me.
Just as you can get good solid sound out of a violin by practice, so can you recognize rhythms, pitches and structure.
Welcome to Thesession!
May your fiddle always be full of music or guinness :D

Re: Once and for all - how to learn Irish fiddle?

If you’re used to a somewhat pedagogical approach, maybe a bit of work with a method book might be the thing. I recommend Pete Cooper’s book, "Mel Bay’s Complete Irish Fiddle Player" as a possible starting point. Now, before the others gasp and shake their heads, I emphasize "starting point". Pete does offer a kind of systematic approach to bowing and ornaments, and phrasing. The book comes with a CD, so you can correlate the sounds/phrases with the written notation. Plus the book offers a modestly good selection of mostly standards that we often play at sessions, and somewhat graded in order of difficulty.
Having said that, I will say that Pete’s bowings, and ornaments, etc., are not the only way to play the tunes, and yes, we do need to listen, a lot, to get the feel for it. BTW, I feel there is no "once and for all" in this, we’ve each got to find our own way. You may now open fire, folks…

Re: Once and for all - how to learn Irish fiddle?

You might benefit from the series of videos at the OAIM (Online Academy of Irish Music). There are some free samples to watch, and then you can sign up for monthly paid access to the full set of lessons. They range from rank beginner to more advanced technique.

It’s not as good as working with a teacher, or being embedded in a local culture of live musicians you can hang out with. But better than random YouTube videos. I signed up for a while to get some of the more advanced flute lessons, and learned a few things. Here’s the link: https://oaim.ie/

Re: Once and for all - how to learn Irish fiddle?

@TBB: To be fair to the OP, they did not ‘disregard learning by ear’, they merely said that they needed something more than simply listening in order to make progress.

@poja: It seems to me that what you are looking for is some instruction on the ‘mechanics’ of bowing and ornamentation - exactly what to do when and how. Learning these discrete elements alone won’t give you the style but, in conjuction with avid listening, it could certainly help you along. There are, no doubt, many tutor books out there - Matt Cranitch and Pete Cooper are two authors that spring to mind; there are also various free online resources that could be helpful, like this https://www.fiddlevideo.com - and past threads on this site (try a search on "bowing"). None of these will ‘make’ you into a traditional fiddler - and some bits of advice might prove less useful than others - but, as long as you keep listening to the best Irish fiddle music you can find, they will give you some pointers on how to achieve the sounds you hear. You have already got over the first hurdle in recognising that what you play does not sound like the players you aspire to play like.

Re: Once and for all - how to learn Irish fiddle?

This isn’t what you are asking for, but the right answer here is to take lessons with a good teacher via Skype or a similar service. A teacher will be able to help you with everything you are asking for and the process will be much quicker and more painless than going it alone.

Re: Once and for all - how to learn Irish fiddle?

Well for sure listening is the primary thing. immerse yourself in the music. It has to become part of your daily life. I am not quite gasping and shaking my head at Mackeagan suggestion of Pete Cooper’s book, "Mel Bay’s Complete Irish Fiddle Player" but I think there are better books. I always recommend Matt Cranich’s, The Irish Fiddler’s book. It explains everything and introduces all the techniques and ornaments progressively as you work your way through the 52 tunes in the accompanying CD. IT also gives an interesting background to some of the old players and styles.

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Re: Once and for all - how to learn Irish fiddle?

Welcome to thesession.org, poja!

You’re not alone in your love for this music, and it sounds like you’ve got a good head start with skills related to playing fiddle and learning by ear. And it sounds like you’re looking for a shortcut. A lot of people will tell you that there is no shortcut, and you have to put in the time and effort. But I do believe that there are some things that will accelerate your learning process with this music, although, I would hesitate to call them shortcuts…

First, and foremost, the biggest things that will accelerate your progress is by truly immersing yourself into the music by listening as much as you can. (I know you already know this, and are more or less rejecting the idea as a way to learn, but it really is advice to heed…) Listening shouldn’t be a passive activity - be involved while you’re listening. Even if you don’t have an instrument in your hands, you have another instrument, which is your voice. Listen to tunes, and sing along with them. But instead of singing "la la la lala", put some syllables to the notes. This is called ‘lilting’, and can be very effective at helping you internalize the Irish style. So try using different syllables for low, middle, and higher notes. Something like "dum" for low notes, "dah" for middle notes, and "dee" for high notes. And then come up with some vocal ways to articulate the ornaments. There’s a reason that this music is often termed "diddley" or "diddley dee", because people often lilt rolls with "diddley". So when lilting along to a tune, it might sound something like "dump a diddley dump a dum…" In my experience with both my own path of learning and with my students, the different syllables help by adding context to the notes, and help with retention of the style as well as the tunes themselves.

Lilting along with tunes will help you recognize the rhythm patterns of the different tune types "jiggity jiggity" for jigs, and "pumpernickel pumpernickel" for reels, etc.

Another thing that might help is internet-based lessons specific to fiddle. There are a lot of fiddle teachers that will teach over Skype or whatever video conferencing app you like. There are latency issues, but a good teacher will deal with the latency in ways that you don’t notice it as a student. (It’s impossible to play music together when there is latency, but a teacher can play, and you can play along so that it sounds good to you - and the teacher has to handle the fact that you’re behind them by the time the sound gets back to them). Or you could start with canned online lessons, like from the online academy of Irish music (https://oaim.ie/), or even just from youtube. Lessons will help you with some of the specifics of how the ornaments are used in Irish (pretty different from classical ornaments), ideas for bowing that will help you with the style, and all sorts of other little pieces. This will accelerate your learning much faster than trying to figure it out completely on your own.

I will also say that it’s admirable for someone who isn’t around the music to want to learn to play it. (I never would have started playing it, if it weren’t from the fact that I knew people that played it, and saw how much fun they were having with it…) But a huge part of this music is the social aspects of it, so you may find yourself discouraged if you’re the only player around.

But Irish music is played far and wide around the world! You haven’t mentioned where you are, which is fine, but you might just look around and see if there are any players near you. On this site, you can search members and see if anyone has listed a location in their profile that is near you (go to https://thesession.org/members and just type your town/city/state/country/whatever into the search box). Or, if you put your approximate location into your user profile, you will then have buttons for Nearby Members, and Nearby Sessions available to you on your profile page!

Again, welcome, and best of luck with your journey into learning to play Irish trad! It’s the most rewarding thing I’ve done in my life!

Re: Once and for all - how to learn Irish fiddle?

I am also a learner and can’t imagine learning without a teacher to guide me. One of the best fiddlers I know relied only on a yearly trip to a summer school, the likes of Willie Clancy week. He spent the winter perfecting what he had been taught there. Perhaps this is something you could do this summer? They aren’t all in Ireland, so depending where you are you might be able to get to one? The suggestion of a Skype tutor is also a good one. I also second learning from OAIM or YouTube or the likes of http://donegalfiddlemusic.ie …if you are having difficulty with the nuances at speed then go right back to learning tunes by ear demonstrated slowly on these sites and build from there, this will help you to pick up the rhythm and phrasing you struggle with at present, my experience has been that these are best learnt slow.

And as everyone else says, keep listening.

Re: Once and for all - how to learn Irish fiddle?

I agree that OAIM is a great tool, especially if you can’t find or afford a teacher. I also recommend going to beginner friendly sessions, if you can find them. Learn the social etiquette, which can vary from session to session, before jumping in. Listen, listen and then listen some more. Good luck and above all have fun!

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Re: Once and for all - how to learn Irish fiddle?

Wow! Thank all of you amazing people for putting in the time to write down such detailed answers on such short notice!! (Reverend… wow)
Tutor books and online video courses definitely sound like excellent options. If anyone has additional recommendations regarding these, I’d be thrilled to hear them. (I’m slightly leaning away from Skype teachers for budget and flexibility reasons)

I’d like to discuss "listening" as a learning technique a bit more. To make it clear, I’m not disregarding it, especially since so many traditional musicians seem to swear by it. I simply believe that listening alone is not a practical way to learn playing. I’ve already accumulatively listened to hours upon hours of traditional Irish fiddling, and not learned a thing about how to play it. So obviously when you say you’re learning how to play from listening, you’re also doing something on top of it - and what it is that you do, is what I’m trying to make clearer and less mysterious.
So I think there needs to be a more practical, feet-on-the-ground approach to learning from listening.
Such an approach would need to answer a set of questions, the most basic ones being:
Who should I listen to?
Where can I find good recordings of them? Are there good free resources for recordings?
Should I be progressing from certain players to others, or listening randomly to whoever I find?

And more complex questions that touch on the actual musicianship:
What should I be listening for when I listen?
How can I learn to identify bowings, ornamentations, phrasings etc. in a recording?
How should I translate what I listen to, to playing skills?

Reverend went into answering some of this with lilting, but more thoughts on it, or better yet, good resources on it, would be welcome.
I honestly think that this website is a historical opportunity to organize this community’s vast wealth of knowledge and experience into organized methods and tips, that would be useful not only for me but for anyone trying to learn Irish trad through the Internet.

I’d like to once more thank all of you for the stunning dedication!

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Re: Once and for all - how to learn Irish fiddle?

I’m sorry! But if you are really serious, you’ve got to frequently and routinely play this stuff with all sorts of other Trad Irish music playing people live and casually.
I know it is terribly unpopular but learning by playing along to recordings or books can’t match up to sitting in with experienced players. It is a breathing contemporary living tradition and one has to be in the osmosis zone!
May you find a way and good luck!!!

Re: Once and for all - how to learn Irish fiddle?

@Yhaal House: I salute you for upholding the tradition (salute!).

However, not everyone has access to what you propose (luckily I do). If you live in a trad-supporting area, it’s hard to appreciate what it’s like for people who develop an interest, but have nobody within reach to play with. And those folks will still attempt learning the music anyway, regardless. Because the music itself is grand.

The Internet helps, and it’s no real substitute. But I don’t think that’s a bad thing, as long as the main body of the tradition is carried forward by those who can interact in person, and not those learning in isolation. The best thing an Internet-learner can do is travel to one of the major workshops that focus on the music. That’s the cure for local isolation.

Re: Once and for all - how to learn Irish fiddle?

"2. There are no sessions, trad teachers or experienced trad players I can learn from in my area – I’m looking to learn by myself."

Where are you?

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Re: Once and for all - how to learn Irish fiddle?

Really I hope this helps. Not at all meant as an argument. I think this problem is universal whether you’re learning any traditional genre, Irish, Gullah, Quebecois. Swing, take your pick. Confusion about where to start, what to do first, what’s the best approach? Like you I was an experienced musician, albeit in other genres, and thought it might be fairly easy to pick up the new (to me) Irish thing. I had to discover the one thing I was doing that got in my way. Overthinking. Yup, he hardest thing for me was to quit overthinking, focusing on the obstacles, and learn to listen. Yet again, I found that the thing I voiced as "not working" for me was the thing I most needed to learn. Note: listening is not easy, just the only way to truly "get it". So, listen to tunes, there are a gazillion resources. and listen to parts of the tunes, small phrases and figures. After a while you’ll start hearing the things that make it Trad. As important, listen to yourself. Learn to identify the difference between what you play and what you hear being played. Don’t just listen, you know, put on a CD while you’re doing "stuff". Listen actively, break it down, repeat. Eventually you’ll be able to hear what’s going on, to distinguish between performance playing, show band stuff, and what I’d call session driven trad. Emulate that. Others here have given great advice. Take baby steps, There are no shortcuts. Don’t be picky, after a while you’ll find your style and develop your voice. But most of all don’t overthink. It’s my experience that we can overthink, over-prepare, to the point of a near-catatonic state. Get a teacher, Skype, OAIM, find somebody to play with even if it means travel, go to workshops. Play with youtube videos and recordings. Sure some ways are better than others, but you’ll find something that works. Just don’t overthink the problem. Celebrate small successes. They’ll lead to bigger things. If this isn’t helpful ignore it. I still wish you good luck.

Re: Once and for all - how to learn Irish fiddle?

Mr. Fasion, did you breathe while you were typing that?

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Re: Once and for all - how to learn Irish fiddle?

Why Ben! I have a Lifetime Achievement Award for Breathing….73 years and counting. In fact, my past career involved breathing for many others who, for various reasons, couldn’t do it themselves.

Re: Once and for all - how to learn Irish fiddle?

Breathing is grand.

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Re: Once and for all - how to learn Irish fiddle?

Lots of great advice already, so I’ll risk some ire and suggest another aid for deciphering the more perplexing rhythmic stuff:

Learn to dance to the music you want to play.

Mind you, not every Irish tune is a dance tune… but many of them are, no matter what regional style you’re playing in or using for inspiration. And there is no better way to immerse yourself in the rhythm and help foster that innate feel for it, -especially- for the different between lift/lilt and flat-out speed, which are NOT the same. When the person playing a tune can truly dance to it also, then it really shows in the music and breathes life into the tunes, even if you’re not playing for dancers or at dance speed.

It’s also a great way to learn the notes of a tune at the same time you’re sussing out the general rhythms, and of telling whether you’ve chosen a good recording to learn from. If you’re listening to someone play a dance tune and it doesn’t make you want to dance … well, you should pick the tune up from a different recording because the version you’ve chosen isn’t "alive."

Now if you’re already backing toward the door, don’t worry: You don’t have to turn into Michael Flatley or Jean Butler. If you were around others I’d say look for set dancing or even ceili dancing, but since you’re on your own, check out sean nos dancing. It’s a lot closer to the music than most contemporary step dancing, and you can easily order an instructional DVD (and maybe in a few cases even stream lessons?) from all sorts of great instructors. Look for the likes of Kieran Jordan, Emma O’Sullivan, the Devane brothers and a great many others whose names escape me right off the top of my head. Or look up videos of people doing it online and try to stomp along for the fun of it. Once you get a feel for the timing it’s all improvised from there, so you’re off to the races…

Re: Once and for all - how to learn Irish fiddle?

if you go to my bio there is a list of players I’d recommend .
There are a series of fiddle bowing books for trad , they can be found on line as pdf . Maybe Listen to the recording he used with the book in hand and that could help you identify what is happening .

Basically I’d suggest taking a Bobby Casey Album , there are some available free online , and play along for a few years trying to reproduce the sounds you hear . Simple as that

Thing is having a technical background that gives you some ability in playing the instrument put you only one step up from beginner . You could be a world class top notch violinist in one style , but a total novice in another…….
expect to take a few years and you won’t be disappointed , it’s not something you can pick up in a weekend !!!
So just like any almost total beginner , start at the beginning by learning simple little trad tunes by ear . A repertoire of several hundred tunes to thousands takes time to build up , so don’t be on any hurry .
With one eye on the destination you have only one eye for the road . Take one step at a time , people have been doing this for centuries , they’ve figured it out …. learn by ear , not to say don’t use the dots , but primarily it’s a listening experience and copying .
Get lessons

Re: Once and for all - how to learn Irish fiddle?

Huh, read the thread thinking I had something to add then Lisa M said it.

However, you may be as awkward at dancing as me. What I do is lilt along as suggested by Reverend and tap my feet whilst watching set dancing (so couples in sets, not the girls with curls stuff) on youtube. Sean nos dancing may be harder to latch onto until you start to feel the phrasing, but the tune players for it often have strong phrasing.

Re: Once and for all - how to learn Irish fiddle?

> I’ve already accumulatively listened to hours upon hours of traditional Irish fiddling, and not learned a thing about how to play it.

Yes you have. You don’t know *how* to turn that knowledge into playing, but it’s in there. Keep it up. I suspect you’ll find as you work through the books and the like that you have more than a few "a-ha!" moments as you recognise things you’ve already learned to hear without being able to label them.

The common thing that everyone who comes here looking for advice is after is some sort of systematic way of breaking it all down and spoonfeeding it into your mind in a way that feels manageable. This is not possible. Learning to play music well is bloody difficult, and if you don’t feel like you’re struggling, you’re working in the shallow end of the pool and you won’t learn to swim of you don’t get your feet off the floor. That sensation of mental wrestling is learning occurring: your brain doesn’t like it and it will do anything to try and get out of it. Don’t let it.

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Re: Once and for all - how to learn Irish fiddle?

The troubles with learning in cultural isolation and learning by playing along with recordings :
1. Over and over again you will hear the player’s interpretation of the tune, that one time they recorded it years ago. No trad musician ever plays anything the same twice. You get stuck in that one particular random rendition that happened to become the album track and fail to hear the subtle and continuous variations that make the music so fabulous.
2. There is NO EMPATHY! The playing on the recording is influencing your way of playing but it’s one way traffic. Playing music, especially that of any aural tradition, is a conversation, an exchange of ideas. There is no dialogue with your iPod/ Hifi/computer!
3. In order to hear the dozens of randomly remembered and randomly re-invented and randomly re-interpreted tunes at a good session, you have to be there. Your vast CD collection/ command of YouTube/ reams of sheet music or ABC’s can’t compete.

AGAIN, I APOLOGISE FOR BRINGING UP THIS CONTROVERSIAL AND UNPOPULAR VIEWPOINT.

Yhaal.

Re: Once and for all - how to learn Irish fiddle?

Poja - in answer to your question re listening, my belief is that learning some tunes slow via OAIM or similar will give you the techniques to make the sound which you will eventually be able to connect with what you are hearing.

Nothing beats a physical teacher who can explain in response to your performance and needs. I get that expense is an issue, but along the way do try to get a lesson or two as you will reap the benefits and make faster progress.

Re: Once and for all - how to learn Irish fiddle?

And just a thought re a teacher, no matter where you are there will be someone passing through at some point who can rattle out a fiddle tune. Why not ask on here and offer something in return for a one hour lesson - a tour of your city from a native or a few pints? You might get lucky.

Re: Once and for all - how to learn Irish fiddle?

A slightly different angle - given that listening is always good advice.
Find a fiddle video you like, ideally an instructional one for a straightforward tune.
Find the sheet music for that tune online and play through it as a violinist a few times, get the notes in about the right places, until you are starting to play it without "reading" it. No need to worry whether you sound Irish!

Go back to the video and bear in mind you can slow every Youtube video down using the gear-wheel icon.
After WATCHING it a few times through, probably at slow speed, set up a mirror so you can see yourself playing.
Play through with glances at the mirror and compare what you’re doing with the video. Everything - how you sit, the angle of the fiddle, up bows, down bows, slurs, what part of the bow, how much bow, etc etc.

I think it’s very hard to play like a fiddler without looking like a fiddler - can that be reversed?

Re: Once and for all - how to learn Irish fiddle?

Hi poja,

Lots of good advice on this thread from folk who have been playing this stuff for years. The only bit I’d disagree with is having to "unlearn" anything - only to add new things to what you know already. A solid classical technique will be the bedrock for you to learn new styles.

If you have a computer and a webcam, I’m happy to give you a heads-up for free.

It just seems better to spend time doing that, rather than post on here, as there already is a load for you to wade through, and obviously not everyone is answering from the same perspective.

If you want to give it a try, send me a message.

Re: Once and for all - how to learn Irish fiddle?

.

I have been where you are and I am sure so have a lot of others I had a terrible time listening to versions of St Anns reel, every one had different nuances and yet came out sounding great ( confusion)"So which one to learn" Get the tune into your head visualise the fingering
Dont over think the bowing. Leave the tune alone, move on, go back and suddenly it’s there
and you have another tune That is yours for life EUREKA

Re: Once and for all - how to learn Irish fiddle?

To my understanding you’re trying to figure out how to integrate the structure and the sound. You ask who to listen to, but the question is, who do you want to listen to all the time? Check out the website of artists that you like; do they offer videos on YouTube, learning books or other tools? Figure out the names of tunes you enjoy and can listen to over and over and find the dots here on the website, then read the music and listen to figure out the relationship between what you see and what you hear. That will help you understand what’s the base of the tune and what’s ‘ornamentation’. Are you comfortable with 6/8 rhythms? Jigs are a good place to start because what you see and what you play are similar and many (Roscommon, etc) make for great starting tunes. Find the list of most popular session tunes on here and start with those. Find multiple recordings and live with them until you ‘know’ what the notes are. Those are just my 2 cents coming from a teaching background.

Re: Once and for all - how to learn Irish fiddle?

Notice, btw, in the above video, that Kevin Burke gets a squeal very early on - reassuring to know that it happens to the best.

Re: Once and for all - how to learn Irish fiddle?

A couple of other, general, thoughts, since it’s too early to start making my usual racket in the house ….

1) Listening, even listening closely, to the music shouldn’t be a chore. If you’re not doing it because you can’t stop yourself, you’re not going to get too far. Maybe that’s too many negatives in one sentence, so if that’s confusing, try this: do it only because you love it, not because it’s a task you’ve assigned yourself.

2) I’ve seen a number of times, here and elsewhere I believe, the advice that you should try to imitate everything about the way the player you particularly admire positions themselves, holds their fiddle and bow, etc. I question that, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the model player probably started as a child, and may have ‘grown into’ ways of doing things that, if not impossible, are not productive for an adult to try to emulate. Secondly, your model may be, for instance, tall and skinny, with long arms and long fingers, while you may be short and fat with short arms and stubby fingers; you might have to figure out a quite different way of managing your fiddle and bow to get a similar sound. For instance, just last night, as an experiment, I tried to emulate an American fiddler who plays with his left elbow resting on his left leg, which is across his right. Well, putting my left leg over my right is so unnatural for me, it would take me ages to get used to it, if I ever could, and I highly doubt it would get me much closer to sounding like that particular fiddler - in fact, it would probably just get in the way. So, I would say, give the ‘close imitation’ a try, but be aware that it might not work for you.

Re: Once and for all - how to learn Irish fiddle?

Here’s thought that may be useful if esoteric. Bryan alluded to an idea that has also been expressed by our own Reverend in other similar discussions…"don’t use your time and effort to learn the notes, rather focus on learning the tune". The notes, each ornament, every nuance is, as often stated, a moving target. Rarely to we play what we hear anyway. We play what think we remember that we think we heard. Better to play the tune as we hear it. That, to my fragile way of thinking, is the definition of what we call the aural tradition.

Re: Once and for all - how to learn Irish fiddle?

What do folks think about the subscription online courses, such as Kevin Burke’s material with Fiddlevideo or Dale Russ’ material with Peghead Nation? Are they a good way to learn?

Re: Once and for all - how to learn Irish fiddle?

"What I’m looking for is practical advice – “demystifying” the learning process///"

OK. The mystery you’re dealing with here is in the bowing of Irish trad fiddle. You’ll hear terms like "lift" used to describe a nice sound or technique, and that comes from understanding how to manipulate the bow to get the feelings and sounds that you want. The other stuff - ornaments, for instance, can come later. But you need to first understand how the bowing works. Then you can start to apply your knowledge to your own playing.

You can do that by watching and listening to players, not so much to try to figure out the down-up-down stuff - that comes later - but in getting the bigger picture of how the bowings relate to energy and feel.
Also, want to learn the down-up-down? Go for good books - Cranitch is one - or get a teacher via Skype. But get a teacher who plays Irish trad, not a generalist.

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Re: Once and for all - how to learn Irish fiddle?

You still haven’t said where you’re located, but if it’s the US, there are a number of teaching camps in different parts of the country throughout the year (e.g. Lark in the Morning here in California, Swannanoa in North Carolina) where you can get instruction from skilled, sometimes famous, players as well as hours of sessioning with other attendees. Fun for days!

Re: Once and for all - how to learn Irish fiddle?

Homespun.com is having a sale: 6 hours of Kevin Burke teaching Irish fiddle for US $20. i don’t think he’s the greatest teacher but his particular playing style is pretty conducive to learning IMO.

Re: Once and for all - how to learn Irish fiddle?

You need to be able to identify a skeleton for each tune without the ornamentation. It’s fine to use a score to do that. Then play your skeleton along with different renderings of the tune till you can vary it to fit them by ear. I did that in sessions with a mandolin - which was inaudible to the room but I could hear it myself. A good fiddle is more audible to others than it is to yourself and there are definite advantages to learning with recordings before you go near a session.

Re: Once and for all - how to learn Irish fiddle?

The trouble is that with Irish fiddle music, they have a different style almost with every county and use different techniques. I am not a fiddle player, but can tell these differences, so I suggest you use youtube to listen to as many players as you can and decide which style you like the best and then concentrate on that using the visual clues(fingering and bowing styles as well as the audio clues. Also a good idea to find your local Irish Comhaltas club and they may well have fiddle tutors or at least you can sit in with them to play the tunes and pick up how they play them.

Re: Once and for all - how to learn Irish fiddle?

I can definitely respect a lot of the challenges you’re facing… trying to learn a style when there’s no one around to play it with can be demoralizing at best! However, it’s still a worthy goal to pursue. I would say/echo the following:

1) Definitely try to find some camps or workshops to go to if getting a teacher isn’t feasible. Some have really flexible schedules (e.g. you can go for anywhere from 1 to 6 days, with the price varying accordingly). Fiddle Hell in Massachusetts is one of that type. It’s really helpful to have people around to bounce ideas off of, so getting into conversations in these groups is great.

2) I also like the Mel Bay Irish Fiddle book (it was actually recommended to me by my teacher), but there are lots out there. Just be sure to find one that discusses bowing and technique.

3) Recordings can be found on YouTube, and in my opinion you can listen to whomever you enjoy. Some of the “classics”, though (not AT ALL an exhaustive list), are Tommy Peoples, Kevin Burke, Frankie Gavin, Liz Carroll, Eileen Ivers, and Martin Hayes. Also, lurk on the boards here and see who people talk about :) Listen to how differently they all play, and watch the YouTube videos to help with the phrasing and bowing. YouTube also lets you slow down the video, which might help too.

4) To learn tunes by ear more easily, I got the Amazing Slow Downer app. It will slow down, speed up, and/or change the pitch of your music.

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Re: Once and for all - how to learn Irish fiddle?

Cranitch and the Mel Bay book are great starters but you need to spend face time with someone who plays ITM fiddle. I play ITM banjo and am learning fiddle. The most frustrating part is bowing and the vary subtle bowing changes that make a HUGE difference in the flow of the tune. So, once you’ve learned a few tunes and can play them at speed, and have learned some of the ornamentation (the previously mentioned books will help you there) , then go out and seek some Skype lessons (James Kelly is very good at this), and spend a week at one of the many ITM summer camps.