no rhythm - to quit or not to quit?

no rhythm - to quit or not to quit?

I’m a whistle player, been one for ~30 years since age 10 or thereabouts and i’ve put the time in. From a musical family, my sibs are both high level musicians, and cos of the one that does play trad i’ve had opportunities to play in bands & for a while was playing semi-professionally (a while back now, like 10 years ago) and even playing festival gigs:
(emperor’s new clothes? am i getting away with murder rhythmically just because the playing is fast and busy and i can hide behind actual accomplished musicians???!!)

but my solo playing is awful (at least every single time i try to record it) - a hopeless rhythmless mess that’s absolutely cringeworthy to listen to and makes me grind my teeth with rage listening back to it. Every single time, i get uptight, i forget to breathe and with my fingers it becomes a mechanical process where i start overthinking everything and I *have* to watch my fingers like a hawk.
speaks for itself, what i like particularly is the way i rush the phrases together in the a-part and then draaag them ooout to infinityyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy in the b-part. Class. Not.
this is by far the best set of reels i recorded solo which isn’t saying much
hornpipe and some reels. I mean ignore the fact that the Cnats are being fingered sharp oxxooo and its still cack.
some jigs, what’s good is that its steady yet sounds as rushed AF, yet stumbles over every ornament like a drunk uncle to the detriment of the rhythm.
what i want to stress is these are the very *best* i recorded, from literally months of.

The only good thing i can say is i know without doubt when it’s subpar, and exactly why, and that isn’t always the case when i’m just sat playing for fun - a lot of that sounds alright to me, as does when i busk oddly enough, (probably because I honestly don’t give much of a damn, i don’t know why.)

The worst bit is the metronome in my head just goes completely as soon as i press record. Even if i start alright, the first minor mistake i make, my heart starts racing and the rhythm goes down the drain.
When i have a few pints in me in a session, i’m alright, (i hope) playing with others, I can play complex stuff well as long as i have company, but even changing tunes in a set where i’m left on my own for a couple of bars, the @rse can fall out of it completely. Example below from a random session where i started a set:
you can hear my whistle distinctly, how i clearly have no idea what i’m doing rhythmically. And how i lose it rhythmically every tune change. No excuses, the other players here are clearly excellent.
The perception of other musicians (somehow) appears to be that i’m a skilled player, and in the mix i (superficially appear to) add a lot because i know every tune going, can pick up tunes on the fly, and have crisp ornaments. Its easy enough to sound good playing with good musicians (as long as nobody listens too closely)

in total i must have recorded 100+ hours of my solo playing over the past couple years. You would think there’d be one half-decent track but nooo. And if it was anything other than criminal offenses against rhythm, i’d be okay with that - but rhythm’s the most important thing, it makes me think that its always a rhythmless mess hidden within the sound of a band or a session, and that i therefore have no musicality.

Establishing rhythm’s probably the cutoff in my mind between beginner and intermediate.. if i can’t do that, then i can’t really play… End of. Its a pretty low benchmark, and i fail it repeatedly, despite harbouring the delusion that i’m, what ?? able to mix it with high-level players ?? if that’s not arrogant to say (which it is!)

also Have got something wrong with my hands the past 6months or so (rsi? carpal tunnel? idk), doesn’t help, at least with that i know when its affecting me its not always when my hands are playing up (tho obviously when they are its not going to be my day) It does mean i can’t play low whistle at all atm tho.

I’m seriously considering just packing in and quitting for good, selling my instruments & never playing again. It might be my ego, honestly i really don’t care anymore, i am just fed up of the fact that every time i start a tune in a session, i’m praying for somebody to jump in before i lose my way. the novelty has worn off - ‘ooh the excitement - can i actually get through a tune on my own with decent rhythm and feel’?! It’s far more likely that despite my percieved ‘good days’ that i’m not some maverick but more likely utter cack and delusional. Terrible all the time! - not because i haven’t worked hard enough or practiced the right things, but because i don’t have any innate musicality whatsoever.

I’m tired too. tired of the continual uphill battle against the constant negativity in my head. tired of continually trying to act like i have belief in myself and discovering yet again that i was 100% right to have doubts. Even if its just anxiety/ nerves it hardly matters at this point, seeing as the result is the same and doubtless everyone else gets nervous too funnily enough they can still contrive to bash out a tune

Re: no rhythm - to quit or not to quit?

Find a teacher.
Play something for them.
Ask what they think.

Re: no rhythm - to quit or not to quit?

TheHappyCamper, I have not listened to any of the recordings yet. I will. Before I do though just looking at your OP I have to ask, do you have anxiety? If so I’m not qualified to resolve all of your concerns. If, however, your OP is solely about issues with rhythm then it’s probably just nerves (most all players are stressed under certain conditions). In the latter case you are your own worst critic & hopefully this thread will resolve some of those issues regarding your rhythm.

But, no, don’t quit music yet. I’ll get back after listening to all those recordings. Take care!

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Re: no rhythm - to quit or not to quit?

I did listen to the bunker hill set. You’re obviously playing with good musicians. I get what you’re saying in the criticism of yourself. I don’t disagree. In fact you’re probably spot on. I know this doesn’t look good.

But…the fact that you know what’s off indicates you comprehend the problem(s). Question is (going out on a limb) Is it due to anxiety, typical nerves or total lack of rhythm? For now I’m nixing any assumption that you have no rhythm.

Yippie (?) 😉

Posted by .

Re: no rhythm - to quit or not to quit?

TheHappyCamper, reading the last words of your post, I can deeply relate but in a different context.
To not hijack the thread, i’ll get out of my long-winded character and say this in as few words as possible. I’ve been street performing for a long time now; and even after all of the support, encouragement, and generosity I’ve received over the years, for some strange reason I am convinced that I am a nuisance and that I am lucky “the people” put up with me and my “noise”.

It is absolutely baffling that there is all of this evidence ーproof even, that we are doing just fine; but under the surface, we will convince ourselves that we’re not fine at all, for NO reason. I don’t get it.

I’m sorry, but I don’t have any advice or solutions. What I can say, is that judging from your language(“terrible” by “tonedeaf” ???) it sounds like you’ve convinced yourself that you’re a bad player. I’ve listened to all of your tracks and I’m under the impression that you’re not actually a bad player, but that maybe you’re just not satisfied with your own playing. I am very proud of myself and happy with how far I’ve come on the concertina and the piano, and I don’t believe I’m a bad musician by any means; but I *lose sleep* over dissatisfaction in my playing. In the end, all that dissatisfaction means is that I have something to practice, which is ironically fulfilling in it’s own right. My responsibility to myself, is to not confuse that dissatisfaction with judgement. I hope that makes sense.

I hope you find what you’re looking for. Good luck!

Re: no rhythm - to quit or not to quit?

@AB: Do have an anxiety disorder (as of the last 8 yrs or so.) Have medication for which helps a bit with eg sleep, (before i was on it i couldn’t get fully asleep or stay under no matter how tired i was.) Get normally nervous on top like everyone does. I think when i get uptight i do something different but i can’t figure it out. Whether i grip the whistle different idk, tighter. who knows?
It drives me berserk that i can play the same tune totally different an hour apart and (i think tho i can show no recorded evidence) play it well solo with good lift one minute and then lose the rhthm and continue to play it wrong for as long as i have patience enough to try and get it right (plenty of recorded evidence of that unfortunately).

My experience listening to other musicians suggests that while players have peaks and troughs in their performance level they are mostly consistent playing at a given standard with error bars. They don’t eg lose all rhythm. Occam’s razor suggests that its overwhelmingly likely that i too am consistent within a standard with error bars rather than being intermittantly great then terrible.
That i sound fine in a mix isn’t a paradox because as long as you don’t slow down or speed up you’re going to siound like everybody else: that i have ornaments that pop out make me sound better than most, to a casual ear, and because i have literally thousands of tunes and can pick up tunes on the fly by ear and have an encyclopedic knowledge of trad and can tell you what CD this obscure tune or that tune’s on, i can blag being competent (or in fact more than). I guess no harm done since they don’t notice and nobody’s really called my bluff (except this one rude jerk on here a while back…) - i am getting away with it, but *I* notice, and its p***ing me off.
Whats odd tho is even playing with others i know if i’m on it or not, even if they are oblivious. When i’m playing badly the instrument feels physically awkward in my hands and i start watching my fingers. When i’m (seemingly) playing well, its a different story.
But actually, listening back to recordings of me playing with others, no matter whether i thought it was good at the time (those actual recordings typically are from 10+ years back, long before i developed my anxiety disorder, or started having troubles with my hands) i don’t think its particularly accurate playing either, i am more critical of it than i would have been back when i recorded it at the time, and critique it with rhythm being the primary consideration.

Re: no rhythm - to quit or not to quit?

There are extremely good musicians who CANNOT play to a click. There are also great musicians that never practiced with a metronome and it shows.

Anyway, we’re about the same age, I have almost as many years on my main instrument (guitar), and I have the same voices in my head sometimes. I had a conniption when I zoomed in on a friend’s recording and saw how precise his rhythm was, and the dude has probably never practiced to a click in his life. I won’t lie and tell you that there’s no such thing as innate ability. Heck, look at little kids on on the playground and you’ll see that some people just have better physical awareness and dexterity from a young age, something that plays into this beyond just the mental stuff of learning tunes and listening critically. I also won’t lie and tell you that anyone can reach the same level of performance, it’s obviously untrue.

But you’ve got something very important: You’ve got musical taste -- you can hear what you’re missing -- and you have an inner critic that isn’t deluding you into ignoring your taste. These are incredibly important tools.

Okay for the actual critique (as if I have any place in doing such a thing …):

My immediate guess is that you have decades of practicing imprecisely, and almost certainly at too high a tempo, which is something almost everyone does. Almost all of your complaints boil down to something being imprecise: You say your ornaments are sloppy -- this happens if you’re playing them faster than you’ve mastered. Those little spots where the rhythm stumbles a hair -- it’s almost always when you breathe, but I bet if you really slowed it down and focused on exactly where to put those breaths so you didn’t slow down, the hesitancy would disappear. Don’t like the swing in your tunes? You solidify that by practicing excruciatingly slowly and only speeding up when you are convinced you’ve practiced it exactly at the excruciatingly slow speed, and then you practice at a slightly less excruciating speed. It’s slower than what you do to learn a tune. It’s slow enough so you can hear if you’re off by like a 32nd note or something. This is how you get the precision you lack. It might take months or a year to get back up to the speed that you’re playing at, but when you get back there, your fingers and lungs will remember that precision.

I’m going to make a radical suggestion: Put some time into a new instrument, one that doesn’t have transferable skills from the whistle, and learn that new instrument to a metronome. Just put the whistle down for a month or so and settle into a new routine. Then come back to the whistle, and see if anything has changed.

For me, that instrument was drums. My rhythm -- not just the timing, but just the sensibilities, and the ability the really make the click DANCE -- improved immensely. Granted, I’ve practiced with a metronome my whole life (off and on) for my main instrument, so that’s not what I was trying to get used to, but I can say that having zero background in percussion and then learning a percussion instrument let me focus on that one aspect of my playing.

The other suggestion I’m going to make is: Don’t use an actual metronome if it’s giving you anxiety. Me and a friend like to use a drum loop (for rock) instead of a click, it really helps to settle into the rhythm even when it’s just a bass-snare-bass-snare, it’s easier to feel than clickclickclickclick, and that helps make us relaxed and we all play better when we’re relaxed, right? It might be hard to find something appropriate for practicing trad but you’ll want something that lets you slow it down. Ideally you’ll use a DAW for this so you can record yourself ALL THE TIME, while the click or drum loop is going. This is how you get over anxiety from hitting record and from playing to a click, you just have it happening all the time, and eventually you relax. It sucks before you push through it but it really does work for almost everyone.

When you go back and do this, you’re going to have to tear everything down to its absolute barest bones and do ONE thing at a time if you can. Don’t practice a tune, practice single notes if you have to, single bars where you had a problem, just simplify everything. It’s going to take some time, and you might have to avoid doing fun stuff like sessions or playing with friends for a bit while you do it. Like I said, it can suck before you push through it.

But one thing is you have GOT to be a little less hard on yourself. I don’t mean to stop putting your playing under a microscope and looking for ways to improve, but you’re in your head and it’s making you uptight and tense and creating a feedback loop. I experience the feedback loop sometimes. I am not a great player in any genre, least of all in trad music. I have some idea what my ceiling is at any given time, and I have to remind myself every once in a while that there’s always something new to learn, and sucking at something is the first step to getting good at something.

Re: no rhythm - to quit or not to quit?

I’m still a beginner, so feel free to take anything I say in that context.

Can you play rhythm, feel and pulse at 50bps metronome? If not, I’d get a few tunes there and then ramp up slowly ensuring that you can consistently hit the rhythm, feel and pulse.

For this exercise, for jigs, each beat of the metronome equates to one triplet.

The last thing I’d say, and this is advice for learning anything, that I picked up from playing the ancient Chinese game Go:

The difference between a beginner and a master is the master knows the fundamentals.

I don’t think you consider yourself a master musician, so be okay with having some things that seem basic, be the thing you have to work on. There’s no place you need to be than where you are, and that you’re seeing and working on something is itself a great sign of wisdom and skill.

There’s no destination, especially with traditional music. If you mastered rhythm you’d have the next thing that needs work, and that will always be true.

I’m not saying don’t work on rhythm, tear into that shit like a rabid wolf on Easter, just try to extend yourself some grace. 🙂

Re: no rhythm - to quit or not to quit?

If you are prone to anxiety (like me) then as you hinted your heart rate can be all over the place during a tune.

Our perception of time is affected by the heart rate, So this really could be your root issue if your rhythmical pulse is off.

Because of the racing heart it’s a common feeling for me to a) start a set too fast if I’m nervous or b) perceive time is slowing down and I’m playing too slowly if I get nervous halfway through because I forgot what tune to play next.

For a while I had a little stash of propanolol from the GP which is a beta blocker commonly used for performance anxiety and that does wonders. Propanolol stops adrenaline from making your heart rate go up.

Breathing exercises and consciously slowing down breathing are also very powerful if they work for you. Perhaps tough on a whistle!

Re: no rhythm - to quit or not to quit?

From the perspective of someone who was sitting a metre away in a recent session, Mr Camper sounded great.

Re: no rhythm - to quit or not to quit?

I wanted to add for anyone reading that propanolol is not for everyone, has contraindications so don’t take it unless you’ve been prescribed it!

Re: no rhythm - to quit or not to quit?

Just an observation.
To me it seems very noticeable you’re hyper focused on the areas you think you’re lacking “rhythm/lilt” but just gloss over the many equally important bits to being a player you seem to have (which I’d only dream of).

“… I only get by as I have crystal clear ornamentation” “only get by as I pick up tunes instantly and know thousands”

I think we’re all capable of obsessing about the bits we’re “deficient” in, and simply not noticing/valuing the bits that comes easy to us which are equally important.

I’ll be honest, I did see the rhythm issue in your killfenora link (possibly because I was looking for it), but honestly my main impression was “I’ll never be as good as they are with ornamentation”.

Possibly this is the human condition!

Re: no rhythm - to quit or not to quit?

@belayatron: thanks i think.
But what use is any of that stuff without fundamentals?
If i’ve spent my life immersed in this music & surrounded by high-level players as i have - its like *i missed the point completely*
I went to all that effort to learn a whole bunch of advanced technique which at the end of the day means very little - it’s decoration which needs something of substance *to* decorate.
You can’t dance to my playing or clap along to it. Therefore it’s s***.

Re: no rhythm - to quit or not to quit?

There aren’t many tin whistle players I care to listen to completely solo - Cathal McConnell, Mary Bergin, Micho Russell………….generally speaking I prefer it as an ensemble instrument and listening to the Bunker Hill session it sounded fine - ok you lost the tune a couple of times but most of us have done that, if you’re playing with other musicians it mainly gets covered. It seems you are overthinking the whole process and obsessing about it isn’t going to improve your playing - most of us are our own worse critics.

Re: no rhythm - to quit or not to quit?

Im quite sure many here would love to be able to play like you do… myself included.
But if your not happy there are a number of approaches for you to try;
The metronome . Click every note . If you just use click every 4 or 8, well thats not a lot of help. Or 1and 4 for a jig etc you need to get every note bang in and evenly spaced. Its a training aid, dont worry that its mechanical . Just do it . 6 clicks for a jig etc .
Obviously this means tunes without ornaments at first . Get back to basics. This will open up new vistas for you in the long run.
Next is learn to play another instrument . With different mechanics , banjo or something . I could make a lengthy explanation but I cant be arsed 🙂 trust me on this .
You and others can argue all day against these suggestions , but Id suggest giving it a few months of daily persistent practice . Then get back to us ……
The other thing is IMO your issue is exactly the same as me when recording solo. So change your approach, get a bodhran player , take your mind off the recording. Dont stress over it, accept the imperfections, ( he says !)
Get some lessons from a highland piper if you think rhythm is a problem with whistle …… its potentially much worse for a piper…..
also you could go through the process of learning how to play a drum kit……
its up to yoi how much effort your willing to put in to achieve your aims….
also the pleasure of playing one instrument is the same as another , if your fingers/ hands are having issues its a good idea to try another instrument, keep you humble and open up a new door.
If you just want to sound off and not actually get better ignore everything ive said. 🙂 cheers

Re: no rhythm - to quit or not to quit?

I’m really sorry to hear your tale HC. Your playing is great, but you’ve got to a place where destructive self-criticism is destroying the playing for you.
I say this not in a critical way but the negative words you use when describing your playing are way over the top.
It goes further than “perfection has become the enemy of the good” you have a demon sitting on your shoulder and it’s trying to destroy your playing.
Is there a player, of any sort of music, who is so good that they can perform and say to themself “yes, that that was perfect!”
As a player gets better their perception of their own playing will advance too and so they will know about faults that no one else realises are there. That will happen to the best player in the world!
I don’t know what to suggest other than staying out of situations, self-recording etc, where the destructive demon has a chance to get at you. Try to accept other people’s judgement that they are happy to play with you.
Very best wishes and I hope you find a way through.

Re: no rhythm - to quit or not to quit?

Do you drive a car, HappyCamper, or ride a pushbike?

If so, you’ll know what a nightmare it is when you have to think about every action at the same time as trying to navigate moving obstacles. You don’t really start driving or cycling until you get to the stage where you’re barely even aware of what your hands and feet are doing.

Might you do better playing in a session because there’s so much going on that you haven’t got the mental bandwidth to focus on the mechanics of rhythm and technique? So you have to just … drive?

Maybe forget about rhythm for a bit. Forget about Irish trad. Learn a few other types of tunes, play along with recordings, and have a bit of fun; try some idiotic extemporisations, and laugh when you crash and burn. When you catch yourself keeping the beat, just remember that it means you’ve got the inbuilt sense of rhythm common to most humans and you can use it when you play.

Re: no rhythm - to quit or not to quit?

“I’m seriously considering just packing in and quitting for good, selling my instruments & never playing again. It might be my ego, honestly i really don’t care anymore, i am just fed up of the fact that every time i start a tune in a session, i’m praying for somebody to jump in before i lose my way. the novelty has worn off - ‘ooh the excitement - can i actually get through a tune on my own with decent rhythm and feel’?! It’s far more likely that despite my percieved ‘good days’ that i’m not some maverick but more likely utter cack and delusional. ”

I have that exact thought about once per year, sometimes more. I can’t tell you how many times I have threatened to sell the pipes. And it’s tempting because they are worth actual money. Usually, someone talks me out of it and I can never make that committed a leap to not ever playing again. Very committing, with pipes, because it’s not like you can just get some new ones if you change your mind.

I don’t have any real advice for how to fix it. I try to play in sessions where I don’t feel that way, but it’s easy to get it wrong and then get all wound up, thinking, “That was horrible and I suck at this, and everyone here knows I suck!” Then you get stuck on a solo set (oh, sh1t, no one knows this!!), and your adrenaline kicks off and you cannot play for anything. Hate that. I try to lay low in sessions, not start tunes, and just hide amongst everyone else.

Your playing sounds fine, by the way. I’d have a tune with you. Pretty sure we did at a festival in Moniaive a zillion years ago.

Re: no rhythm - to quit or not to quit?

Yeah agree with everyone who said it, this playing sounds very good.

If it’s for a record why not record with e.g. a good bodhrán player rather than completely solo.

Re: no rhythm - to quit or not to quit?

I’m decades from being able to handle an instrument that well, so take this with a pinch of salt. To my ear, from the recordings, the role you play in a band and probably when ‘joining in’ at a session is very different from solo playing or maybe leading a tune at a session.

With solid rhythm and phrasing from others your whistle is like a bird singing along with a slightly fluid rhythm and crossing the phrasing. Sounds good. I guess the other players need to be confident in what they are doing. I would be a happy punter.

Listening to the solo recordings I kept willing you to use breaths to emphasise the ‘question and answer’ phrasing and only play across the phrase boundaries as a variation. I think it’s that with such an ornamented style the most breaths within a phrase stand out and mess up the phrasing

Re: no rhythm - to quit or not to quit?

… style most breaths within …

done - whistles for sale

well i just spent the past 3 hour trying to play something anything on any whistle whatsoever. some of them esp low whistles i can’t hold the damn things correctly because of my screwed up hands
Back to tin whistle (where i don’t have a valid excuse) trying to play a tune i know well ((john naughtons/ another paddy fahy’s) from lonesome touch) which isn’t quick. After some time i reached the point of reason where i realised that no matter how many times i tried, its beyond me to play basic rhythm, so i snapped the whistle (didn’t really intend to but the way i was sitting it was over my knee in my hands so…). With reflection i would have done better to slam my fingers in the door i guess, there was nothing wrong with the whistle. So that’s my high D gone - no D whistles left (have a low D but can’t play it for any standard of play because of my RSI/ whatever.) No more sessions then for the forseeable future whether i change my mind or not. If i wasn’t such a raging egomaniac i’d have given up long ago, 30 years of fail is enough, i’m through. I reach this point eventually with everything i do, when reality breaks through and i realise that something i spent my life doing i don’t particularly want to bother with anymore when i realise i never left the beginner box.

Whistles for sale:
1 Copeland low D - barrel is slightly curved but it still plays very sweetly. I don’t know when that happened but i never noticed any difference in tone.
Burke whistles - in aluminium low C, Eb, F, brass G
Colin Goldie low E narrow bore (soft blowing)
Killarney whistles - alto A, Bb C, Eb (all brass)
I think that’s it, if i see any more i’ll put them on the list. I can’t be arsed to estimate prices in my current frame of mind so make offers.

Re: no rhythm - to quit or not to quit?

HappyCamper, I am listening to your solo recordings and it is absolutely not true that you have no rhythm! Playing with no rhythm would sound like just a mass of notes, whereas this playing is musical and actually quite lovely, little pauses here and there notwithstanding. I found myself nodding along. Even if you said this is your cherry-picked best playing, it still proves that this level of playing is within your capability and in my opinion it shows you a fine player with all the innate skills necessary. Not a beginner!

What you do have is a tyrannical inner critic and I feel like the word “demon” that someone used earlier is not too strong. You sound really discouraged and I hope you will reconsider quitting altogether, maybe just take a break for a week or two to get some perspective before you sell all your whistles.

You said you get to this point with everything you do, and I would really encourage you to do some work around the inner critic, perhaps with a book or spiritual practices or a therapist. I struggle with this too and it can really suck all the joy out of your life, and you don’t deserve that.

Signing off with a link to a comment Gimpy made to me on this topic which I’ve found enormously helpful. All the best to you.

Re: no rhythm - to quit or not to quit?

Honestly, you sound like a textbook case of someone who would probably be better off taking a break. Put them all in a drawer for three months and don’t bother even thinking about it in the meantime. Never mind your brain, it would do your hands a world of good.

I would also say (a) stop practicing as much (whatever you’re doing isn’t working anyway) and (b) you need help, and I’m not quite sure whether that’s help from a musician or some other kind of professional, but you need to work with someone in a way that’s more structured than angst-ridden forum posts.

Last question: do you teach? If not, I’d consider it; I for one have learnt far more about my instrument from teaching than I ever have in lessons.

Re: no rhythm - to quit or not to quit?

Years ago, that mentor of mine really helped me focus on the life-long pursuit of *progress* rather than achieving “perfection.” Nowadays there are blogs about this very idea: The traits of perfectionism certainly ring a bell for me: all-or-nothing thinking, being highly critical, feeling pushed by fear, having unrealistic standards, focusing only on results, feeling depressed by unmet goals, fear of failure, low self-esteem. All of which is counterproductive—none of those will help you fulfill your potential. It’s much more effective (and healthier) to replace all that with a gentler focus on *progress.*

Ultimately, we each have a choice to make—do I want to be a miserable perfectionist or a happy poser? In either case, there’s some self-delusion: the poser thinks they’re better than they are, while the perfectionist is doomed to endlessly believe they are worse than they are. Maybe we’re better off in some middle ground—doing the best we can, with what we have, where we are now.

It may help to compartmentalize how you approach playing music. At home, focus more on incrementally improving skills and understanding (though also make time to play just for fun). At a session or gig, let go of expectations and play purely for the craic. (Even if you muck up, that becomes part of the craic. The worse things go, the funnier they are in the retelling.)

A sense of humour, especially regarding one’s significance in the universe, also helps. 😉

Re: no rhythm - to quit or not to quit?

There are a couple points that I will add. First off, “red light syndrome” is a real thing. I think there’s additional pressure or stress when you’re being recorded, *especially* when you’re playing solo. And we are our own worst critics. I have recorded two albums plus I have two other recording projects in the works, currently. And I am just resigned to the fact that there are moments during that process that I am utterly convinced that I am a horrible player. A lot of that comes during the mixing/editing, where you are hyper-focused on the little details, and can hear your own shortcomings. But it’s a difficult image to shake out of your mind.

And I despise recording with a click track. At the very most, I will record a “scratch track” with a click, but then even with the click turned off during playback, I can hear myself adjusting to it, whereas, adjusting to another player is a smoother process. (If I record a scratch track with a click, and then record myself playing along with that track without the click, the resulting track is nice and steady, but I don’t hear the tempo adjustments the same…)

Another thing that I have discovered during the recording process is that a lot of the “playfulness” that I put into my music is done with subtle timing changes, and that was developed playing with other people. When I record myself solo, that playfulness comes across as sloppiness.

And finally, one of God’s cruel jokes on us as musicians is that the better we get at playing music, the more we can spot the imperfections that being human makes inevitable. And in a lot of cases, the better an Irish musician gets, the less likely it is that they will find session playing to be enjoyable, because the music may not be up to their standards. Even if their whole purpose for learning to play was to be able to join in sessions. Having said that, I do pretty regularly run into very accomplished Irish musicians that seem to find joy even in sessions that I wouldn’t consider to be very fun. Some of that may simply be that they make a living out of playing Irish music, and they want to at least appear that they’re having fun. But I have had conversations with a few ‘famous’ players about it, and honestly, I think that they thrive as much on the human interaction as they do on the music.

FWIW, I think your playing sounds pretty nice. As to whether you should pack it in, nobody else can answer that for you. If it were me, the questions I would ask myself include:

“What do I want out of playing this music?” Is my desire to be a ‘famous’ Irish musician? To make a living? Or do I just want to play simply for the enjoyment of it?

“Do I get enough personal fulfillment out of playing?” For myself, I don’t live to make the recordings, I live for the moments in sessions where the flow of endorphins is directly tied to the flow of the tunes. And for me, the good certainly outweighs the bad.

“Is there anything I can do to subdue my inner critic?” For myself, in regards to listening to recordings of myself, I think the answer is no. But there are plenty of things that could possibly tamp down the negativity, ranging from substances (antidepressants, alcohol, THC, etc.) to therapy. And, as others have suggested, maybe taking a break and seeing how long it is before you miss it might do the trick. For me, I have a hard time going a week without picking up an instrument.

Re: no rhythm - to quit or not to quit?

I just listened to bits of those recordings you linked to - and they sound great, to me. As someone said: you need a break. You’ve got yourself all tied up in knots and you need to loosen up. Come back to it later, and just enjoy the music.

Re: no rhythm - to quit or not to quit?

@Calum: not often tho i did teach once or twice, one time at Rhine Valley Irish Association feis ceoil back in 2009, they had our band and more notably the shaskeen celidh band teaching classes, and i got the low whistles (for better or for worse) for a week (or maybe a long weekend.) I did feel like it was good for me and hopefully for them at the time.

@gimpy: ‘do I want to be a miserable perfectionist or a happy poser?’ great quote very funny and true. I was pretty happy go lucky at one point and probably closer to the happy poser end of the spectrum - was playing good gigs, with cracking musicians, i must be doing something right? was the logic.
Then anxiety became part of my life, and lately issues with my hands, i swear to god at times it sounds like i never played in my life or have no musicality. the anxiety chips away at everything till you don’t want to do anything and it would be easier to just quit anything and sell my instruments in favour of takeaway food until the money runs out. which would be a depressingly short time the current economic climate no doubt.

Re: no rhythm - to quit or not to quit?

I just listened to your best set of reels again. You play in time until you make a tiny fumble or don’t breathe in the right place. It’s impossible to play an instrument without sometimes finding mud patches, and it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been doing it.

When you come back to it – and you’re right, you need a break – you’ll find yourself playing something where there are awkward note transitions in a phrase and you get just fractionally behind.

You can play it slower, and that’s the best option if you’re rusty or uncertain on a piece. But you can also take some of the buggers out. Every time I can’t get past a point where I lose the timing, I run notes together so I can play it well – the full phrase can go back in later, and it I means I can enjoy it now. When I get really bored of fat-fingering the same bit, I sometimes spend half an hour working out how many notes I can delete from the stupid thing and still play the tune recognisably. Chopping it up in retribution can be fun.

When you pick up your whistle again, remember it’s your music and you get to decide how you play it. Think about the opening riff of the Sex Pistols’ Pretty Vacant: you could probably manage that after about a week of learning electric guitar, but it doesn’t mean it’s not an inspired bit of playing.

Re: no rhythm - to quit or not to quit?

Happy Camper, anxiety and physical ailments often go hand in hand (no pun intended). It’s hard to be upbeat about your music when your body doesn’t do what you expect it to. It feels like betrayal—your mind creates this beautiful music and then your hands and fingers disfigure it till it’s unrecognizable.

It’s a vicious circle—knowing that your hands aren’t working ramps up your anxiety, which in turn ties your fingers into knots, which creates more anxiety, and you end up seizing with frustration and panic. Music? Hah, that left the room a long time ago.

I’ll echo the advice above—be kind to yourself, take a break, put the whistles someplace safe, and go immerse yourself in something else. Preferably some activity that doesn’t come with any benchmarks you need to hit.

I’ve had times where I thought, instead of music I should’ve taken up painting. No audience scrutinizing every moment. No one can hear your mistakes. The degree of physical coordination and agility required is almost nil. You can literally paint over any glitches. A rustic or primitive or abstract style is still considered art.

But I’m driven to make music and lucky enough to do it for my own enjoyment. I’ve read it somewhere before on this forum, that an amateur is “someone who does what they love even though the results are often disappointing.” Which is why I focus on enjoying the “doing” and don’t pay much attention to the “results.” 🙂

Re: no rhythm - to quit or not to quit?

@whistlingfionn: your 2 posts make a lot of sense.
i don’t feel like i’m innately struggling with the speed or ornaments (i do far more and far more blithely when it is going well), but when i make a mistake like you say, i don’t recover - its alright when i’m managing to be relaxed i think, and i can even turn mistakes into good things occasionally, but the head space i get into when trying to record something or when i get uptight generally.. isn’t conducive. as soon as my heart starts racing and my fingers stiffen and i forget to take breaths or take a breath thats too deep and end up with a lungful of stale air i can’t get rid of… then i’m on the verge of losin the thread.
your previous post seemed to get it more than most. the bike analogy.

@drsilverspear: we did indeed have a tune at moniave. that was the coldest festival i have ever experienced in a tent about a mile from a bonfire that offered a hypothetical warmth. good times. I wore damn near everything i packed, including on stage, and it wasn’t enough, to the point that i was glad i haven’t shaved for the potential extra warmth my beard gave me.

general: what do i want out of it? just to get the buzz, i get a kick out of playing when it just feels natural, the worst of the rhythm doldrum is i’m working too damn hard trying to do things that on a good day i don’t need to think about and i feel short of breath and the whistle feels like some odd thing i never held before. Luckily i can still get into it most of the time in a session for a bit, but it requires more and more alcohol to get the anxiety to f- off and let me just play. And for my hands to unfreeze. And it happens less and less.

Re: no rhythm - to quit or not to quit?

Is it only anxiety making your hands stiffen, HappyCamper, or is it something else as well? I ask because I have inflammatory arthritis, and quite a few of my finger joints no longer bend at all.

The best thing I ever did for when the pain and stiffness is at its worst is buy a whistle from Jakub Szczygieł at Goldfinch. It’s as light as a feather and the most forgiving thing I’ve ever played. His whistles are well tuned and so easy to blow that even an asthmatic like me can get at least half the third octave without much effort, and I’ve never done that on any other low D. Just thought I’d add that in case you are getting problems with your hands.

Whatever happens, stop recording yourself. A good few of us probably turn into bumbling imbeciles the instant a red button is pressed, and anxiety is quite bad enough on its own without adding torture to it.

And when you next pick up a whistle, you’re not allowed to play anything except the bottom note. Get it as long and as steady and as strong as you can. Use a tuner if you’ve got one, and focus on keeping it bang on pitch. After you’ve done this for a while you’re allowed to blow it into the second octave, and the third if you can do it on that whistle, but nothing else – just keep going, all octaves but only one note, long and steady.

Once you’ve bored yourself silly by doing this for long enough, see how your body feels. If it’s helped, always start your practice with it.

Re: no rhythm - to quit or not to quit?

Several people have already made my points for me. I’d just add that it’s easy to talk yourself into feeling that every little mistake must be noticeable to everyone. They are not.
As Reverend says, “Red light syndrome is a real thing”
Most important: music is NOT a competition.

Re: no rhythm - to quit or not to quit?

@whistlingfionn: Definitely got probs with the hands regardless of anxiety - been 6 months of. Pain, horrible tingling which is somehow more unpleasant than when it hurts, numbness. Have had to mess around with my grip and don’t really play low whistle much now. Not sure what waiting to find out, but my moneys on rsi brought on by typing at this point. Cos my left hand is way worse.
But i did mean ‘anxiety making my hands stiffen’ as well. I don’t really trust my grip any more since my hands got worse and how much to let my fingers fly up - the barrel can tilt relative to my fingers.. hard to explain without pictures. Sometimes i think i’m holding it too tight, sometimes too loose. sometimes it works for a bit and i try to figure out why its working and decide on some factor as being vital, try it another day and it doesn’t help.
its turned a mostly intuitive process into a mechanical one - a one where the components (hands) are different every day, curl of the fingers the position the hand feels most relaxed in, the degree of numbness, tinglng or pain.
yet despite this there are days when the hands feel fine - on the best, playing low whistle is even possible, and playing tin whistle usually feels natural (unless i press the dreaded ‘red button’). or my hands can feel fine but anxiety creeps in (especially the dreaded red button)
i did have a long time where i vowed not to record anything else (that never goes well solo anyway) - but with my hands packing in i did kinda want to try In Case my playing has an expiration date.

Re: no rhythm - to quit or not to quit?

We got a lot of wordy posts here, including yours, but so far, I don’t think anyone has addressed your opening paragraph. In it, you state that you come from a musical family of high-level players, a category you feel does not apply to you. I think you need to explore that. To me, it says all that needs saying.

Re: no rhythm - to quit or not to quit?

So what does the doctor say…. and you’ve stopped typing i hope !
Our health is in our hands . Look after your hands . I had to stop eating dairy for my fingers 🙁 no more cheese , sob ! But priorities ….

Re: no rhythm - to quit or not to quit?

im kinda pseudonymous on here and don’t want to drag my brother the trad player into my rant if possible - suffice it to say he had a different musical journey than me and among other things studied classical music formally to a high level which i didn’t.

Re: no rhythm - to quit or not to quit?

Anxiety is an insidious beast. It can play all sorts of unexpected tricks. I had a crash in 2016 caused by professional burnout, followed by a year of meds and several more getting off them. At the time it happened, I couldn’t play music at all. Couldn’t bear being in a session with other people; could barely get out of the house. Couldn’t listen to music - it either had no emotional response at all, or it left me in floods of tears.
The past seven years have been the journey back from that.
Happy Camper - anxiety occurred to me from reading your first post - before you mentioned it. It can cause you to seize up completely. Until quite recently, I could literally grind to a halt when I felt I was playing under scrutiny; the hands would just not work at all; not good on stage! I could barely hold the instrument comfortably on occasions. The various aches and pains can easily be a physical manifestation of anxiety - I get shooting pains in my feet when I’m stressed, and general muscle/joint cramps. Same issues with tempo - I tend to go off too fast, though it only sounds like it when listening back on recordings - at the time, it sounds right. Luckily, in Joe O’Connnor I have a patient teacher. The issue of heart rate on time perception is very interesting - but puzzling because I have a low resting heart rate…
Getting back to performing, even playing in public, has been climbing a mountain. I don’t have recognisable stage fright - but the same seizing up can still occur - caused me to muff a guitar piece just the other week. And as for Redbuttonitis….. instant, guaranteed deterioration! On a fiddle, you can HEAR it…
Just trying to say that I don’t think your experience is any reflection on your ability or achievement, just temporary circumstances. The thing I learned about mental illness is that it is not like a broken arm, which is painful but definable - anxiety or depression can totally change your entire reality, including your perception of yourself. Even when you know you have the grey specs on, you still can’t see around them. But you have to remind yourself that they are there; the greyness is only in the filter, not the world beyond. The only way out, so I learned, is by increasing the amount of positive thinking you are able to do, and avoiding anything that reinforces the negative. That is partly about remembering to be kind to yourself, even when you don’t feel like it - and also reminding yourself regularly of the positive things you do - which many here have commented on. Gratitude for the good things is not indulgent or smug - it is a powerful tool for rewiring a short-circuited mind… I feel very sorry for your difficulties - but please don’t give up. If you do that, the anxiety has won.

Re: no rhythm - to quit or not to quit?

Okay, I finally listened to your clips. Oh my. Rhythm is the least of your worries. I expected something very different, because I know many musicians in and out of trad with massive deficiencies regarding rhythm. That is not your issue, imo. You are pounding out the notes with no expression or lift, a problem intensified by the fact you are playing with musicians who seem far more comfortable with what they are doing than you are. Comfort is a good word here, because insecurity seems built into your playing. It sounds like you can’t wait to get to the end so you can get to the bathroom and throw up.

You need to be more about the music and less about how well you play it. I don’t need you to impress me. I just want to enjoy the ride. One of your clips has an accordion that sounded like it was bouncing off the player’s lap as he laughed. That’s the quality you need to get into your playing. Forget the pyrotechnics. The whistle should have the jolliest sound of any Irish instrument. Find the joy and the music will make itself. I suspect you already have the technical ability.

Re: no rhythm - to quit or not to quit?

I’m late to the party here, but I did want to offer a couple of thoughts.

First of all, I have to say that when I clicked on your linked recordings, I was expecting to hear something *far* worse than what actually came out of the speakers. These might not be 100% flawless recordings (I’ll leave the nitpicking/feedback to players who are more expert than myself), but you are certainly not “still in the beginner box”, as you put it. There are quite a few players on youtube etc. who quite confidently post things that aren’t nearly as good.

Secondly: I happen to work as a psychiatrist, and… hesitant though I am to give unasked-for advice about something as personal as medication choices… I did feel uneasy when I read the following sentences in your post: “Do have an anxiety disorder (as of the last 8 yrs or so.) Have medication for which helps a bit with eg sleep, (before i was on it i couldn’t get fully asleep or stay under no matter how tired i was.) ”

This made me uneasy because I have a suspicion here that the medication you’re referring to might be some form of benzodiazepine (e.g. Klonopin, Xanax, Valium, Ativan, etc). (Most of the commonly used anxiety medications would not serve double duty as sleeping pills-- which is what makes me suspect you’re talking about benzos).

If I’m incorrect about this, well, never mind. But if I’m correct, I would *really* urge you to get a second opinion (from a qualified psychiatrist) about what it is you’re taking, and to discuss possible alternatives (of which there are too many to list here). I am of the opinion (based on 20+ years of doing this job) that benzos are not a safe or effective long-term strategy for managing anxiety-- indeed, I feel that in most cases they tend to make anxiety worse over the long term. (This is an opinion I share with quite a few of my colleagues).

Just my 2 cents…

Re: no rhythm - to quit or not to quit?

I came back to add sort of what Milo Lear has sort of said.
Reading more of your comments (I have some background in this), I don’t think this is actually much to do with music/the whistle, but you seem to be in lot of mental pain at the moment and spiralling (I’m sorry… it’s awful…)

I’m not going to add too much, but just to say this runs in my family a little and all of us have significantly been helped by seeing a counsellor (I’m not sure what the US certifying body is, but usually there’s a website you can find any local certified ones).

I pushed against it (genuinely thought I didn’t need one, generally thought it wasn’t worth budgeting for, felt embarressed doing it), but was transformative…

They’re essentially like a professional friend who’s paid to listen to you talk without judgement or agenda, asking clever questions (in reality, we don’t tell our friends/family our darkest thoughts/worries).
Simply revealing these and talking about them is… amazing.

I’m obviously just a rando on the internet, but I’d echo the above, put your whistles in a drawer for 6months and forget about them (or loan them to a friend if you need them to be out of the house), and maybe look up paying for a couple of sessions with a certified counsellor (best £40 an hour I’ve ever spent)

Best wishes 🙂

Re: no rhythm - to quit or not to quit?

@Happy. Listened to your bandcamps. Holy s! Your 3 reel sets go straight into my favourites, “get going in the morning” folder, next to all the contra dance and the NY ren fair and Jim Richter and Citterns-on-Ice mp3. As for your solo whistle tracks, they sound exactly like thousands of other whistle solo tracks on youtube. No worse, no better than average. I do not see what you are going about.

Re: no rhythm - to quit or not to quit?

@Happy. Not everybody has Bruce Lee between their legs, not everybody has Ringo Starr in their head. This is something each and every one of us has to accept and be at peace with. If you do not like results of your solo recording, as the doctor said, “it hurts when I do *this*”, “well, do not do it!”. Stop doing solo recording. Record against metronome, against strum machine, against band in a box (BTW, as instructors at Fiddle Hell do, to good effect). Or do not record at all. It is permitted. And now, when you walk down the street and see the busker belting out Wagon wheel against an awful backing track, you know their little dirty secret (no Ringo Starr in their head, either).

Re: no rhythm - to quit or not to quit?

Happy Camper, All I can really say is don’t quit. Nothing worth doing is easy, and time spent on something you love and enjoy is always time well spent. Several times throughout training Hapkido, my Sabomnim would always encourage us by saying that He knew it was hard, but We all went through it to get to where We are. If it was easy, then everybody would do it. Music is very similar. Can’t let the thoughts in your head ruin a good thing. Tell them to eff right off and keep playing, learning and growing.
That particular saying really hit me when I found a park to go sit at and play music. I’ve never considered myself much of a whistle player, certainly not as much time spent as you, and nowhere near as much talent as you either. Any time I play at this park, I always get people walking up asking what instrument that is and saying how beautiful it is. Several times I run into people who’ve played guitar and say they gave it up cause “they can’t play music” Music is all about practice. It’s a language, and a physical skill. I started on whistle to keep my music alive through dealing with CT for many years. Try taking some B6 vitimins and there are many hand stretches you can do. The body is a machine and We need to take care of it. Fundimentals, and good practice of them when even at a level like yours are important no matter what. Fundimentals are the building blocks of any good musician. Got a pang in my chest reading post when you actually snapped a whistle over this.

Re: no rhythm - to quit or not to quit?

Also, for what it’s worth, therapy does really help with anxiety. Meditation is really good as well. Just like anything it is hard to start and you’ll say to yourself “Why am I sitting here just breathing, there’s a million other things I can be doing” but that’s just it, We’re constantly going, constantly doing things. Take some time to destress and breathe, disconnect a bit. I completely feel you on anxiety and hand pain/feeling like you’re not good enough/can’t play again. Fight it.

Re: no rhythm - to quit or not to quit?

As many have said - your playing is so much better than your self criticism suggests.

Perhaps take a break for a short while from playing. Don’t give up. Don’t sell the collection.

The suggestion of working with a teacher to address the opportunities to tidy your playing, as you’d like, is a good one.

Time to cut yourself some slack. Best wishes.

Re: no rhythm - to quit or not to quit?

Please consider what I sent in my PM. As musicians, being without it can really mess with your head and bring you to really dark low places. Stretching is very important for any physical activity, and music for sure is one. I’d bet you anything that the numbness and tingling and seizing up can be fixed. My CT after getting it scanned was coming from pinched nerve on left elbow and right wrist. Was holding my left elbow in too close for mandolin, and giving flute a try in addition to mandolin wasn’t a smart move but, past it now.

Re: no rhythm - to quit or not to quit?

I listened to everything and I believe you’re being way too hard on yourself. Sure, there are some spots where you could improve or be a bit more consistent rhythmically, but overall your playing sounds very musical. If I were sitting next to you at a session, my reaction would be “Oh cool, this whistle player is pretty good and knows some fun tunes!” and DEFINITELY NOT “Oh wow, this person is wrecking the session!”

Everyone has their own technical issues to work on, unless you’re a professional player in the top 1% of the skill bracket. I go through similar spells where I get extremely discouraged, but often it’s because I’m comparing myself to professional musicians who have played the same tunes for 20 or 30+ years.

I would try practicing at a slower pace and maybe even taking a break and focusing on other hobbies/pursuits for a bit to clear your head.

Re: no rhythm - to quit or not to quit?

I guess most have been said and I really hope you get past this rough patch! You are a very talented player for sure!
I have always struggled with rythm and timing myself, and still no way near accomplished yet. I started learning uilleann pipes about six years ago and my whistle playing have really improved since then. So the advice is actually; start learning uilleann pipes 😊
Dont know if that is realistic or desired from your point of view, but I love the journey.

Re: no rhythm - to quit or not to quit?

You’re definitely too hard on yourself. You’re a fine and talented player. Don’t give up!

Re: no rhythm - to quit or not to quit?

I also think you’re being awfully hard on yourself.

Take a break from the music for a few months, the music will still be there when you return.

Re: no rhythm - to quit or not to quit?

“Oh my. Rhythm is the least of your worries. I expected something very different, because I know many musicians in and out of trad with massive deficiencies regarding rhythm. That is not your issue, imo. You are pounding out the notes with no expression or lift, a problem intensified by the fact you are playing with musicians who seem far more comfortable with what they are doing than you are. Comfort is a good word here, because insecurity seems built into your playing. It sounds like you can’t wait to get to the end so you can get to the bathroom and throw up. You need to be more about the music and less about how well you play it.”

@Ailin in response to that long quote above. The point of the 3 tracks with other musicians was to juxtapose a time when i was playing music i felt comfortable with/ comfortable in myself versus my current solo playing where i’m clearly uncomfortable. Albeit i’m the weak link in the tracks above, theres no shame in that considering who i was playing with at the time, albeit it may not be trad or to anyone’s particular taste, (that was me in my mid 20’s and i’m 40 now), i was definitely enjoying myself when i recorded them so you’re wrong about that. I might have been wrong about it being good which i felt at the time, i might be critical of it now but that was me pre-anxiety. So you’re 100% wrong about that ‘sounds like you can’t wait to get to the end so you can get to the bathroom and throw up.’ or at least that i felt that way. (my solo playing now, that might have been a fair comment)
(i wouldn’t play like that nowadays my music tastes have changed, nor physically can i - too much wear and tear)

you phrase it like i have a choice in how i feel - i love the music, i don’t always love how it sounds when i play it, and i can’t always remove my self from the equation as a critical observer (more’s the pity because i feel i do better without the negativity, the rising heart rate and the breathlessness that follows.)
to everybody else: Thanks, you have given me a lot of things to think about and some good advice not to mention a decent amount of empathy which helps. I had a sit in the sun today and played a bit, and enjoyed it, and that’s really all that matters at the end of the day. it might not last much longer but i might get hit by a bus as well so what of it.
And as far as it goes i still enjoy playing in sessions and i’m spoiled by the musicians around at this point in time. i don’t want to gig or anything at this point in life, and i would prefer if my anxiety would feck a long way off and not spoil far too many days but actually music generally sits in the ‘helps’ side of the balance of life and 8 days out of ten i enjoy playing. its just that 1-2 days out of ten and every month or so the self loathing descends for a week or so and it all goes to pot. just hard to see it on the dog days.

Re: no rhythm - to quit or not to quit?

I agree with taking a break or playing less…and let your hands heal, a slow gradual process…
Enjoy life.
Enjoy music.
Breathe. (but I guess that could be loaded advice for whistle players!)

“I had a sit in the sun today and played a bit, and enjoyed it, and that’s really all that matters at the end of the day. “ Great to hear!

The ability to self-critique is one of the traits of a good musician, I believe…
but let’s aim to use it to improve our playing, and not to bash ourselves and compare ourselves…

When I was struggling with anxiety, I did free or low-cost guided meditations from online, there are many available…they typically involve breathing, mental visualization and focus, etc. It helped a bit, and I looked forward to doing one daily (took 10-20 minutes).

Re: no rhythm - to quit or not to quit?

> Breathe. (but I guess that could be loaded advice for whistle players!) <

You can sort of combine it, like the exercise playing only a single note and focusing on getting it as long and true as you can. It’s less naff than it sounds, making you centre, breathe from the bottom of your diaphragm, and relax. (If I’ve got something tricky coming up I sometimes sit there trying to blow 30-second bottom Ds on a low whistle like an effin’ eejit.)

But it’s good to hear that HappyCamper enjoyed playing today. Makes all the difference.

Re: no rhythm - to quit or not to quit?

Excellent post from Ian Stock.
Take care, THC.

Posted by .

Re: no rhythm - to quit or not to quit?

you might laugh, good people of the mustard boards, but when i’m trying to play solo, i forget to do so or get a great big lungful of stale air which i then can’t get rid of…
it would be nice if i could get to a point where i can play solidly solo without the physiological symptoms of anxiety getting in the way, or increasingly stiff and sore hands.
but actually, never mind. I guess its just one of those things. I can contribute fully to a session indeed just got back from a tasty one an hour ago, and if i had to pick between being good at playing solo and being good at playing in sessions, i know which one i’d pick, so i can’t complain. Never mind that my solo playing isn’t always competent. It doesn’t define me.
every couple of months i do get a big down on myself, and i am aware of the mission creep of my anxiety affecting more stuff, and my rsi getting worse, but yeh see above. carpe diem and all that.

Re: no rhythm - to quit or not to quit?

“it would be nice if i could get to a point where i can play solidly solo without the physiological symptoms of anxiety getting in the way, or increasingly stiff and sore hands.”

You and me both. Not the hand thing, but the music anxiety thing. To be honest, I stopped making trad the centre of my life, instead focusing on bringing on my young/green horses, which requires engaging with a different kind of feedback and problem solving that demands being outside of your own head. When things go wrong during an Irish music session, it’s an anxiety spiral in your head, which is unpleasant, but you aren’t going to die. It just feels miserable. When things go wrong with young horses, it’s can be fairly dangerous; you’re dealing with a 500kg animal that’s lost its sh1t, and you don’t have time to be miserable because you are actively trying to not get lawn darted, kicked, or squashed. The thing with horses is that only one of you is allowed to freak out, and it’s never you.

I’m not saying that high-risk sport of any sort helps with trad anxiety - other than giving you something else to do - but it helps me put my all-too frequent music meltdowns into perspective.

Re: no rhythm - to quit or not to quit?

Yea appreciated a lot of posts but i’ll single out ian stocks, belayatron, blindbard- - planxty!
@milo lear: the anxiolytic is Quetiapine, its not an SSRI as far as i know. effectively its being prescribed for its side-effect as a sleeping aid as much as anything else.


Re: no rhythm - to quit or not to quit?

@DrSilverSpear: Yea, your post reminded me of the quote by the aussie cricketer who was a pilot during the war (name?) ‘Pressure? An Me109 up your a*** is pressure!’

Re: no rhythm - to quit or not to quit?

Keith Miller?

Re: no rhythm - to quit or not to quit?

It depends on what you want out of the music - if it’s to be at a level where you record/play solo…well, very few of us, I’d guess, are at that level. There are lots of people (myself included) who can play the music competently and are up to doing so in a session but how many of us could play solo in a way that would hold an audience’s attention and be recordable? Very few, I think. This is, in my view, the difference between players and true musicians. That said, as a whistle player I think you play well - I wonder how well you know the tunes you are playing? It can take time to get a tune into the fingers and body to the extent that you can play with without thinking. Your playing (Grainne track) sounds a little self-conscious and studied in places (as you say) but I think the more you play the tune and become familiar with its possibilities the more relaxed you will become with it.

Re: no rhythm - to quit or not to quit?

Wonderful playing - stick with it. I really enjoyed your technique, and that isn’t me just blowing smoke. You have God-given talent and should not give it up.

I am happy to see that a psychiatrist weighed in on your post as well with good advice. I can certainly beat myself up too, but am learning to go easier. It’s a process, so celebrate small victories. Take a breath when you finish and smile. Enjoy the tune and experience first, and then analyze for minor improvements after. We all can only do our lousy best, but that in no way detracts from the fun. Have fun with it and I will certainly keep you in my prayers.

Re: no rhythm - to quit or not to quit?

Hi Happy Camper,
I’m your brother.
I could have written your original post and thought about it many times.
I’m 50, playing since I wads a teenager and rhythm is terrible. Thought about quitting many times. Threw down my whistle in despair many times. So, yes, I feel your pain.

Top tips I’ve heard and my experience.

1. Learn a new instrument
Picked up the trumpet a while ago. Went back to playing Twinkle Twinkle super slow. It focused me on a slow boom boom boom boom rhythm. It helped, a little

2. Play Slower.
A concert double bass player told me to play it as slow as you need for acceptable accuracy -give or take a minor wobble or two. We can’t cripple ourselves with the aim of perfection. Half time, quarter time, whatever it takes. I practiced playing at 25% pace for a month, then 33% for a month. Then 50, 60, 70. After a year of that, and all the boredom and frustration, my rhythm improved- a little.

Now I start every practice playing the tunes I’m working at playing at 50% and then working it up if it’s going well, and staying there, or going slower if needs me. The tunes that pass the 75% mark I will try at that week’s session

Last month at a session I started a set with the Merry Blacksmith. I nailed it. Moderate slow. I didn’t go into another tune, I quit while I was ahead. I couldn’t have been happier.

When my turn for a set comes I either, jump in and see what happens- if it’s popular the whole session kicks in and carries me along, or I play an air, or sing a song. One or two airs or songs are normal at our session.

3. Take a break
Not happening. I love playing too much. Sometimes I head off with the family for a few days or we have a busy weekend and I don’t play. Despite not wanting to it usually refreshes me and after the usual slow warm up I start playing with good energy.

I’m not a solo player, I’ll never be a solo player. Rhythm is always going to be so ething I gave to contend with. When I record myself playing solo I cringe and get upset, so I do it very very rarely. But playing at the session I jump in where I can, I keep up if possible and stop if I can’t. They carry me along and keep me close enough on tempo. They are super supportive. I’ve seen and heard stories about annoying musicians at sessions. They usually involve in your face personalities and not people who know what they can do and fit in as best as they can into the session. That sounds like you and me.

When my turn for a set gets closer my heart starts, the nerves kick in. So I either pass ( no obligation and the group always offers to come back to me later), jump in and see what happens- if it’s popular the whole session kicks in and carries me along. Or I play an air, or sing a song. One or two airs or songs are normal at our session.

I’ve found what works and little victories like my Merry Blacksmith moment make it all worthwhile. Not to mention the friendship and craic of being part of a great session group.

Good luck with everything. Try not take it to heart. Some of those old trad fiddlers and whistlers were all over the place rhythmically. In fact that’s what’s great about them. They work in front and behind the beat all the time. Just work that sweet feel, let the strong rhythm players do their magic and you do yours. It all makes for a wonderful collective vibe that’s worth being part of.

Re: no rhythm - to quit or not to quit?

@TheHappyCamper, let me add one small suggestion to all the excellent advice you’ve received so far.

I’m an intermediate fiddle player who recently started working with a wonderful teacher. When she suggested I video myself occasionally as part of my practice routine, I initially resisted because I hate hearing and seeing all the flaws in my playing. She understood my reaction and said that she had once felt the same way about recording herself. But, she said, she learned to reframe her attitude towards those videos as simply a way of receiving information about what she was doing well and what needed work.

It took me a little while to reframe my attitude - I have a loud inner critic myself - but I’m now able to watch and listen to a video of myself with the questions, “what am I doing well” and “what can I do better” uppermost in my mind. I do find it helpful in the moment. And asking myself what I’m doing well as well as what needs work helps me maintain the necessary emotional distance. If you’re able to make a similar attitude adjustment, you might be less distressed when you listen to yourself.

I wish you well in your music and your emotional health!

P.S. I delete my videos at the end of each practice session: I’m still not dispassionate enough to save them so I can track my progress over time.😊

Re: no rhythm - to quit or not to quit?

@Mike, i know grainne’s/ the kilfenora inside out as it happens - i get what you’re hearing in the recording tho and it does sound stilted like i’m feeling my way through it. There’s something that seems to happen when i’m nervous that i find hard to describe, where it feels like i’m literally trying to think and place the fingers and its not happening naturally. They know where to go!!! but (the wrong hemisphere of my brain?) is trying to backseat drive or something and i’m not really hearing the tune between my ears. There’s no real cadence in my hands like there is when i’m playing decently, like i’m putting each finger down seperately. probably not explaining this well.

Re: no rhythm - to quit or not to quit?

@Happy. not sure if this was already suggested. take up dancing, feel rhythm with your feet, if lucky it diffuses into your whistle. Contra dances, English country dances, Scottish dances, Squares, Morris, Breton, Waltz, Polka, anything where you move to music similar to music you play. Music-free things like Tai-Chi also have intricate built-in rhythms that you may find helpful.

Re: no rhythm - to quit or not to quit?

Take step dancing lessons to drive the rhythm into your feet. Go dancing more and flow with the music

Re: no rhythm - to quit or not to quit?

So sorry that you are going through this TheHappyCamper. The truth is you don’t sound like a Happy Camper at all. I listened to your clips and I thought the playing was perfectly fine. As others have said, you have obvious technical facilities and your rhythm is quite decent. I honestly was expecting a flurry of notes that didn’t sound like music, and that isn’t at all what was portrayed on the recordings. You are being exceptionally hard on yourself. I think your standards are so high you are beating yourself up unnecessarily for not meeting them.

Not every musician has to be a solo virtuoso. Your solo playing is actually extremely listenable…which is more than I can say for many people who post solo recordings…especially on tin whistle, which is probably less of a “solo” instrument anyway (just in my opinion). But not everyone is destined to be a Matt Molloy or Martin Hayes or Kevin Burke or Seamus Ennis or Micho Russell or Mary Bergin or Michael Coleman and on and on. People who are brilliant soloists are very very rare. Many of the older players before the modern super-technical Comhaltas era had rhythmic or technical warts and the music is still brilliant because it has lift and life and joy. It is true that rhythm is extremely important in Irish dance music. But the aforementioned lift, life, and joy also seem to be equally important to me.

Music is supposed to be fun and bring you enjoyment. It sounds like it is actually making you miserable at the moment. I’m with the others that suggest taking a break. I’ve actually found breaks are incredibly good for my playing. Usually if I put an instrument down for a few months, I’ll come back and somehow find I’m better than I was the last time I played. If you aren’t having fun, what is the point of playing? You need to let go of your expected perfection and just get back to why you loved this music in the first place. Obviously the people you have played with, who’s music you seem to admire, have respected your music enough to play with you and encourage you. To me that says enough about your playing to know that you are much better than you think.

Hypothesis - Bad players can appear excellent given the right conditions

The jigs: grainne’s/ the kilfenora - even where there’s not a mistake significant enough that it affects the length of the bar and thus is immediately obvious to the listener (which happens as well), the internal rhythm is wrong *nearly all the time*.

Jigs are 1‘’2‘’3‘’4‘’ as a mini phrase, (ie notes 2 & 3 slightly shorter in each triplet eg 1‘’) - by a competent whistle player this is generally accomplished by tonguing the second 2 notes the only time the notes have the right respective lengths are when the second and third notes happen to be the same eg the first bar of Strayaway Child: beegee, (can’t be bothered to go through grainne’s to find the first time this happens.)

All the notes are the same length - well, for a given degree of accuracy (which isn’t high here.) Any attempt to add lift and pulse here is done (incorrectly) by adding micropauses rather than attempting to differentiate the note length. Once you hear it you can’t unhear it.

I have a hypothesis which is - If a player learns ornaments to a high level, and can play quickly, even if their rhythm is rubbish/ nonexistent they might even appear to be high-level session players so long as they don’t speed up/ slow down over time, the innaccuracies even out over time and the ornaments come through, as long as the ornaments themselves happen accurately and in the right place (which they do)

the proof of the pudding is playing slow and playing solo.

Re: no rhythm - to quit or not to quit?

I listened to your clips and they sound class to me. You’re overthinking it: less think, more play. Or take a break and come back to it. Just don’t keep doing what you’re doing, it’s ruining your enjoyment of the music.

Re: no rhythm - to quit or not to quit?

Stuffing every possible ornament into a tune while playing very quickly sometimes isn’t “high level playing”.

In my experience it’s often someone who simply can’t play without the ornaments, and I mean very specifically “the ornaments they do every time in the same place”.

As the speed increases, they can’t scale their playing appropriately to the speed and the end result is that their rhythm goes completely to heck.

I don’t know if that’s what the OP is struggling with, but I’ve run into it a lot over the years.

This is why I find it sad and frustrating when students in workshops are taught tunes with “baked-in” ornamentation and then always play the tune exactly the same way without being taught about variation and appropriate ornamentation scaling for the tempo.

They come to the session and “play it the way XYZ taught it”. They often don’t understand why they can’t keep up with the session and have rhythm and timing issues if the tempo increases because they are locked into a specific and often-times overly complicated arrangement.

Re: no rhythm - to quit or not to quit?

>As the speed increases, they can’t scale their playing appropriately to the speed and the end result is that their rhythm goes completely to heck.<

Hell, yes! People also get stuck in breathing patterns they struggle to change according to the speed of the tune, and that mucks it up too. Sometimes you can get two sparkling ornaments into a single bar; other times, a combination of air demands and playing speed mean that on one of the repetitions, exactly the same bar might be better cut down to half the notes plus a breath. No one notices the ornaments you don’t play, and it works just as well to emphasise a beat by not sounding the note at all as it does to put in something showy.

>the proof of the pudding is playing slow and playing solo<

It is the most difficult thing to pull off, and especially so on the whistle. But, having come back to it after a long break, I’ve found that bringing lightness and energy and bounce to dance tunes is somehow a lot harder than I remember it being!

>If a player learns ornaments to a high level, and can play quickly, even if their rhythm is rubbish/ nonexistent they might even appear to be high-level session players<

I’m not sure about this. Yes, it’s possible to be dazzled by really fast playing, but what’s lost tends to be timbre rather than rhythm. I guess you’re right in that it could get a bit lost in a session with a lot of players and a wide variety of instruments, but a player with globally poor rhythm wouldn’t be able to hide it for long. Obviously when it comes to tunes they haven’t quite got polished up yet, some players might struggle more with rhythm/emphasis while others are more inclined to fumble notes, but it’s usually just down to familiarity or nerves, not that they can’t do it at all.

Re: no rhythm - to quit or not to quit?

In my experience it’s often someone who simply can’t play without the ornaments, and I mean very specifically “the ornaments they do every time in the same place”.
Well said Micheal. Its not a variation then is it!

It was jim MacGillivrays book “rhythmic fingerwork” to be precise the title. That really helped me tighten up my ornaments and space them rhythmically. Plus of course the groundwork exercises .

Re: no rhythm - to quit or not to quit?

Just to add to the many words of encouragement above, if this is ‘throw in the towel’-level playing, well, there would be a lot fewer people in the world playing music!

Before focusing on what can use refinement (‘cause one can always find something), take a moment (many times over) to celebrate the feel and emotion of the music you’re creating—there’s a lot to like!

Re: no rhythm - to quit or not to quit?

If you are used to playing mainly with others, whether in sessions or in a band, playing solo is a very different experience. You can feel very exposed without the others around you. You refer to it as “hiding behind other better musicians” but from your clips it isn’t that. It’s simply that they provide a familiar playing environment, and when that is missing it can be off-putting. I am usually comfortable playing solo, but I find it very difficult to play tunes from my band’s repertoire because the familiar ensemble sound is missing. No matter how well I may play them, they sound wrong.

Perhaps you are also used to someone else taking responsibility for setting the pace and the rhythm, and find it difficult to do so yourself. I often start off tunes too fast. Some advice I was given was to take a moment to set the pace in your head before you start playing. Another piece of advice was to count at the speed of the semi-quavers - speeding up often happens in the fast sections of a tune, so set your internal metronome to keep these steady and the rest of the tune should take care of itself.

However if you really find solo playing uncomfortable, why do it? Why not just enjoy playing as part of an ensemble?

Re: no rhythm - to quit or not to quit?

@happy. you seem unhappy with your control of note lengths. Through covid, I have been with a zoom group class playing baroque recorder music (La Follia, Telemann Fantasia, etc) and our instructor gave us very specific exercises for learning to control note lengths, an essential skill for correctly playing trills, carrots, and other “unwritten” elements that make “midi player” into music. this was very different from all the “just play it the best you can” irish music teaching. everything broken down to separate elements (tongue articulations, finger articulations, trills, how to play the first note, how to play the first 2 notes, what to do before playing the first note, etc) with exercises to practice them all. Perhaps a small detour into baroque is in order?

Re: no rhythm - to quit or not to quit?

Long tones - the first practical elements taught to beginning students, and desirably exercised throughout the career. Most kids don’t know why; most adults avoid the exercise.

Re: no rhythm - to quit or not to quit?

@TheHappyCamper : that’s interesting - and I know exactly how you feel. The issue, I suspect, is that you tighten up as soon as you turn on a mic and press record. Many people do - even exceptional players. Listening to your playing I think, as many above have said, you’re been very hard on yourself and are paying to much attention to the ultra critical voice in your head (it’s good to have a constructively critical inner voice, but not a punitive one). Listening back to recordings - it’s a bit like listening to voice recordings: you think, yikes, is that me…but to others it’s fine. I should also add that listening to your playing made me want to go away and learn those tunes - there’s plenty of rhythm in your playing and I tapped my foot as I listened. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good (or in your case, the very good).

Re: no rhythm - to quit or not to quit?

A friend of mine, a clinical psychologist, recently published a book (which I had the privilege of copyediting and proofeading, so if there are any typos, they are my fault) on how to deal with extreme performance anxiety and doubt that gets in the way of doing the things you want to do. Everyone, to various degrees, has that little voice in their head that says “I suck at this” and inhibits your ability to do whatever it is. Even if it’s something you are good at.

The book mostly focuses on horse riding and some ultramarathoning (’cause that’s what my friend does), but it’s applicable to everything, including music. If you can put up with the horsey stuff, it might be helpful, or at least help you realise that it’s no just you who feels like this, and there are strategies for dealing with it.