How to Rate One’s Own Playing?

How to Rate One’s Own Playing?

Claudine mentioned this in the isolation thread, and I thought it was worth starting a thread for it, as it’s a deceptively simple subject that can lead to a lot of difficulties (not to say anything of hurt feelings, so let’s be kind to each other, okay? *grin*) You better advanced players who’re more connected to the source, like Jeremy, Will, Brad, LongNote, Pol, etc. will be of much help to us beginners here with your comments. So….how should one go about rating one’s own playing?

How do you know when you’ve crossed that imperceptible gray area between beginner and intermediate, and intermediate and advanced? What standard do you use against your own playing? What measurements do/should you use? If you’re in isolation, are recordings too high a standard for you to use so you don’t become frustrated and give up?

It’s a well-known fact that in the US many players will err on the side of thinking they’re better than they are. Partially, I think, it’s because that because the further one moves away from the centers of Boston, San Francisco, and Chicago, you have less and less players close to the source of the tradition, and so you’ve less to keep you humble. On the other hand, I’m often told that I need to be less hard on myself, and that I’m better than I think I am, so perhaps you can go to the extreme the other way as well, and assume that you’re worse than you are, which is *still* not a clear indication of where you are in terms of level of playing.

Anyway, if you have no sessions with expert players in them to compare yourself to, it’s harder to realize that you’ve still a long way to go even after ten years of playing, so this discussion might help some of us avoid that pitfall — so much the better.

I should probably temper this discussion with the caveat that you can get too into this whole rating thing — the important thing, of course, is to enjoy yourself and the music. However, some of us most enjoy ourselves when we know we’re on the right track with what we’re doing, so I think the discussion is valid and worth it.

What benchmarks should a player look for that will tell you when they’ve hit those mysterious level changes between beginner, intermediate, and advanced? How can you get a clearer idea of where you are playing across the wide spectrum, in truth, especially if you’re not in an area stuffed with good players? Inquiring minds want to know.

Zina

Re: How to Rate One’s Own Playing?

Its all about your own experience - I cant tell from an American point of view. But I know about me I am really hard on myself - and I dont think its a bad thing. It keeps you focused and you get determination to be better than you are. The turning point really for me - that made me think that maybe I wasnt as bad as I thought is that musicians in galway started offering me gigs - I couldnt believe it at first. But see, as you say Zina alot of people arent near musical centres so how do they rate themselves? Ive no idea - I havent been in that situation. But Ive met loads of people who think they are better than they are and loads who think they are worse than they are. So ive been no help at all - sorry 😉) I still think I’m terribly bad tho!

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Re: How to Rate One’s Own Playing?

I think that everybody reaches a stage where they know that what they are playing is really music, not just exercises, or parrot-fashion playing of somebody ellse’s style.

It’s that time when you’ve tweaked a tune until you know that it’s working. I think it happens one tune at a time - you play it, you know it sounds so sweet, and tehn you move on to the next level of frustration.

With regard to jumping levels from beginner up…I think you’ll play some stuff where you are the expert, then some where you’re just back to the beginning.

I agree that you can get into the whole rating thing too much, and I know from previous threads that people do tend to think of themselves as beginners for a long, long time…..but, I think that’s good….for every tune you nail and make your own, there’s another one that you let go. Rating your ability can also be a very false idol to worship…cuz we all get days when we are awful players and should just go wash dishes or something instead of tormenting the cat with tune bashing.

Compliments from other and the appreciation of your playing by others is perhaps the best indicator of progress.

Remember though, success is fleeting, enjoyment is forever.

Andy

Re: How to Rate One’s Own Playing?

Great thread!

I think people who do not play are more likely to use those terms to "rate" players. As we all know, playing the fiddle is a fluid experience that changes daily. One day you can really breeze through a tune and your fingers go exactly where they should. The very next day, your fingers feel like lead and won’t work at all. I suppose the fewer times the latter occurs the more "advanced" you are but even that depends on the tunes you are learning and playing!

This all begs the question, are we masochists for playing such a frustrating instrument and loving it so much??!!

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Re: How to Rate One’s Own Playing?

Well, I’m a teacher by vocation — I teach Irish stepdancing — and somewhat methodical by nature. In any art that’s also a craft, there are always certain benchmarks to look for that you can tick off on a list that a student has learned that tells you where they are on a general list.

For stepdancing, for instance, before I’ll let a student test out of Basics, they have to 1) know the steps we’ve set for them to learn, 2) be able to stay with the music while dancing, 3) be able to keep their upper body still, erect, shoulders back, arms down and relaxed into place while dancing, 4) be up on the balls of their feet to the best of their ability, and 5) have their feet crossed and turned out from the hip to the best of their ability.

I’m not a fiddling teacher, though, and while I’m sure that those sorts of benchmarks exist for fiddling, I’m not sure what they are. Seeing as many beginners as I do during our slow session, I do have a partial list.

Someone who is ready to move on to intermediate might have the following benchmarks:

1) acceptable intonation (tune)
2) acceptable bowing facility (keeping the bow at the correct angle to the strings, hair on the string, bowing technique, string crossings, etc.)
3) be able to stay more or less at a set tempo
4) be able to learn by ear (speed of learning not an issue yet)
5) be able to hear a tune as a whole thing, not a series of notes or fingerings
6) once they’ve got the tune learned, they can play it through steadily without stopping, at one tempo, regardless of small mistakes.

I’m not sure I’ve got all of them. I haven’t got a good list for intermediates to advanced fleshed out yet, and if anyone does, I wish they’d list them, because I feel like I’m stuck in intermediate for lack of knowing what to work on in a good order.

I’m a little leery of compliments, Andy, because many of them are meant to be more like encouragement. (I’ve given lots of those myself, and have seen them taken a bit further than I’ve meant, so I don’t want to be guilty of the same thing!) I’m even leery of taking being asked to perform as proof we’re doing well — the way I’m figuring it, the reason why AMF gigs is because most people we perform for have no idea what Irish music is really like, so they think we’re great…Dirk and I are under no illusions, though, that that is the case, we know we’re still beginners, all right, maybe intermediates, at least for the Denver area, but certainly in a place like Boston we wouldn’t be playing out yet. (Our main advantage, in my view, is that we have an uillleann piper. Insofar as I know, we’re the only local band that has one.)

I personally like to have set goals to work on — it gives me something to work towards, something to celebrate when I get there and past, and it’s hard to do that without knowing what those goals are! So I wish some of you players like Conan and such would chime in here…

bb, bet you’re better than you think. *grin*

Zina

Ps

I’d guess that a fluter would have to exchange embouchure and air control for the bowing…

zls

Re: How to Rate One’s Own Playing?

Good compared to what? I play with the best - therefore I want to be as good as them, I’m sure people off the street would think I’m good enough - but y’know….

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Re: How to Rate One’s Own Playing?

Hi BB,

Good compared to where you were six months ago….You have to accentuate the positive to keep playing. If you only compare yourself to other players, well, is that really a positive thing?

At some point, if you are persistent and kind to yourself, your own unique voice will come out. It doesn’t mean you’re as good or not as good as anybody else, it’s yours.

Andy

Re: How to Rate One’s Own Playing?

I agree with bb there, Andy — yes, it’s great to know that you’re improving and it’s always good to stay positive, but some of us (not everyone, I know!) does better with something to work on and a goal right there in front of you, and it’s not discouraging in the least (well, at least unless I’m in a mood). bb, I envy you your exposure to great players. You must learn a lot just by watching them, and even more by playing with them.

Brad has mentioned his player friend who says he’s learned a lot more from the insults than from the compliments, and I have to agree there. I’d much rather someone gave me a bald assessment of my playing skills than giving me praise that makes me sound a wonderful player when there’s no way I am, no matter how much they mean to make me feel good. Of course, there’s a happy medium there, it’d be nice to think someone might be aware that that bald assessment might sting a bit. 🙂 But I’d rather know than not know where I need to improve…

Of course, I’m aware that’s just me. Not everyone’s so thick-skinned. ;)

Zina

Re: How to Rate One’s Own Playing?

yes - same here - I’d rather bald facts, no matter how they sting and I’d rather the goal to strive to be the best. Good one zina - I think we understand each other!

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Re: How to Rate One’s Own Playing?

Hi Zina,

Great thread, by the way.

Insults from a friend can be a positive thing…at least you know where you stand, and yes, false praise is no praise. My point is that it is very easy to become discouraged when you focus on the ability of others and don’t set your own goals. I did mention originally that once you nail this month’s project, move on, learn more.

You only stop learning when you rest on your laurels.

BB, I hope I didn’t offend …. that was not the intention, but, when I decided to learn the mandolin, a very highly rated teacher in Dublin refused to teach me (and very very insluting with it) because of my age. The only reason I play, every day, is because I know that I’m getting there, one step at a time. For me, it’s personal expression and personal progression.

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Yes, too bad you can probably play circles round me, bb! *grin*

So…obviously you’re thinking you’re not an "advanced" player, bb, so that must mean you consider yourself intermediate — what do you think you’d look for in yourself that would mean that you’re actually an advanced student? Or do I read you wrong and you consider yourself an advanced student and not a master player? Use lots of words — I’m really interested, as I consider myself a beginner/intermediate who wants to get to intermediate and then intermediate/advanced fairly quickly. 🙂

zina

Re: How to Rate One’s Own Playing?

Zina, your list of indicators isn’t just for beginners—those are the things we focus on every time we practice, even after 20 years. Individually, each of us probably has one or two (or three or a dozen) particular weaknesses that take more work. I have bouts where I struggle with pinky intonation, for example, and then times when it’s fine for weeks on end.

I understand the desire to measure yourself against some standard, but the only one I’ve found so far that really works for me is to compare my playing to the potential playing I hear in my head. That mental sound is an amalgam of all the listening I’ve ever done, so it includes many good players and hundreds of little characteristics of "good" playing. Bobby Casey’s inventiveness, Ciaran Tourish’s counterpoint, Kevin Burke’s impeccable beat, Elieen Ivers’ perfect intonation, Tommy Peoples’ sense of where to put ornamentation, and so on. Even Will Harmon’s imagined tone, rhythm, melodic taste, etc., has a place in this sound.

When I listen to what’s in my head and then hear what comes off my own strings, I know I’m still a beginner—what I have to learn still outweighs what I already know.

I think wondering how your playing rates compared to *other players* is something that diminishes the more you play with others. Sooner or later, most of us realize that we all have different strengths and weaknesses as players, and in a session or even a band, the trick is to blend in so your weaknesses don’t detract. Let the strengths (yours AND everyone else’s) shine through, and you’ll be warmly welcomed back.

Maybe the mark of moving beyond "intermediate" status (whatever that is) is when you can sit in with strangers and not worry about whether or not you’ll be able to contribute musically. Doesn’t mean that you have to play spectacularly or know tunes no one else does, or know all the tunes everyone else does. Just means that you’ll contribute to the others having a good time (and your playing won’t wreck it for them). When you can focus on that—without *worrying* about it—then you’re "advanced."

Eh?

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Andy, the age thing — that’s just idiotic, in my book, and good on you for not taking it. There’s two different meanings of "discrimination" (or perhaps, that should be "levels" of discrimination) and as far as I’m concerned, that teacher went the stupid route. 🙂

One of the things I love about my dance school, Heritage Irish, is that Ariel Bennett considers all dancers dancers, regardless of their age, and treats them all to the same high level of expectations. Many teachers won’t take adults because they can’t be champions. Who gives a flying leap, is my take. If a dancer is serious about wanting to dance, then they should have the chance.

I think the same thing about the music.

Zina

Good on ya, Will — but then, consider that in order to get into a class at Gaelic Roots and many other learning festivals, you have to do a placing round. So there’s got to be some kind of standard that players use, and what the hell is it? I’d like to know so I can work to it. I agree that everyone has weaknesses and strengths to their playing, but there’s a degree of that that separates the advanced weaknesses from the intermediate. I’m a long way from being able to walk into a strange session and be able to contribute well without worrying — my main strength at this point is sticking to not playing in those expert sessions!

George Keith told me that he wouldn’t play in a session of exclusively East Galway players because he wouldn’t be able to add to the music. George’s playing would be at home in the most august of company, of course. There’s discernment and a certain discrimination at work there, of course. So I’m aware that the concept is true from more than one source.

In the meantime, I’m stuck at my level, wondering what order to work on things, because working on everything at once never has worked well for me… 🙂 So, gimme, gimme…. *grin*

zls

Re: How to Rate One’s Own Playing?

I don’t think there can ever be a definitive answer to this question as there are so many factors involved. Who or what are you rating yourself against? Do you want to play like Tommy Peoples or simply play a tune straight through? Why are you rating yourself? To encourage yourself to greater things? To place yourself somewhere in the hierarchy of your peers?

I find that my goals change all the time; one day I’ll want to have a crisp technique for my triplets and a simple style, another day I’ll want to improvise right through a tune; sometimes I want to sound melodic like Mairt

Re: How to Rate One’s Own Playing?

When I moved to Vermont a couple years ago, I decided to learn Irish flute. The only flute teacher I could find was a Scottish Highland piper who dabbled a little in Irish flute and knew a handful of Irish tunes. He’s a great piper, but not an Irish musician. After a year, I thougt I was really rocking! Then I got into the local Irish music scene/session and found out how wrong I was. I then realized that I was still a beginner and had so much to learn.

With the help of my new Irish flute teacher, I’ll get to the intermediate level someday. Compared to him, I have a long way to go. The whole point of this story is that being around top-notch musicians helped me determine the level I’m at. Until I met a bunch of good local Irish musicans, I was a bit delusional about my level of playing. I had no other flute players to compare myself with.

Joyce

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Re: How to Rate One’s Own Playing?

I like Conan’s last thought. Ultimately, you are playing for you own enjoyment and you are your worst critic. I don’t really like the idea of rating people. I had a music teacher in college who would never go to any sort of music competition because he didn’t want "music" to be put in the category of football or any type of sport where there would be a winner or loser.

The musicians that really impress me are not the ones who can play really fast. That just means they’ve practiced a lot. Let me hear them play something slow like Blind Mary or Carrickfergus. If they play the piece technically well, but with no passion, then they aren’t really going to impress me. But if the slow stuff brings out some emotion in me, I know that person may not be "advanced", but they have the passion of the music deep within their soul and their potential is limitless.

Re: How to Rate One’s Own Playing?

Hi Zina,

Whatever level your on, or think your on. If when playing at a session people tap their feet on the jigs/reels and mostly stop talking on the airs, then you are on the right track. All the technicalities etc. don’t mean much if this doesn’t happen.

Good luck,

Dave.

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Re: How to Rate One’s Own Playing?

If you enjoy playing and are continuing to improve then youre on the right track. How you compare to others isnt important.

Re: How to Rate One’s Own Playing?

After I posted (and on my way to a meeting) I thought of the same thing Zina brings up—what about getting into classes, which all too often use some sort of beginner/intermediate/advanced categories?

I agree—when I’m forced to label myself that way, it would be nice to have some standards for guidance. Thank god at Gaelic Roots they do it for you—-"You go to intermediate, you to beginner." All the student has to do is play to his or her ability to be placed. And I doubt that the "placer" is thinking, "well there’s an intermediate player." More likey, they’re thinking, "She’s got good rhythm and a sense of phrasing. She’s beyond the beginner class, but could really use some help on those triplets and rolls, and how to interpret a tune. She’ll gain a lot from the intermediate class."

When it *is* up to me to categorize myself (say, to get into an appropriate class), I’m at a loss unless the class description tells me what each category will cover. Then I just choose based on what I want to learn.

So—-blah, blah, blah—no one has yet offered those standards you’re begging for. Reminds me of "you’re question is too small for my answer." Maybe it can’t be done. Which sounds like a fun reason to try, eh? I’ll take a stab at it, even though I don’t think this would be very useful for me (maybe it will help you and others). And I’m offering nothing more than my own shot in the dark here—certainly NOT gospel.

To move from intermediate to advanced as an ITM musician, your playing should demonstrate the following:

(1) Consistent control over tone, intonation, note articulation, rhythm, phrasing, accents, and dynamics to the point where these qualities enhance the tune and do not unpleasantly distract listeners. Such control should be second nature, not forced or requiring constant mindful vigilance, and will be used to bring expressiveness to the music.
(2) A well grounded but personal sense of taste and discretion in using ornamentation and rhythmic and melodic variations. This includes playing pre-arranged variations but extends to the level of true improvising (heading into master territory here).
(3) For the session musician, an extensive repertoire—somewhere in the neighborhood of at least 500 tunes on up.
(4) In group situations, the ability to immerse yourself in the overall sound and mold the qualities in (1) of your playing to enhance the overall sound.

In short, an advanced musician has control over the technical aspects of playing his or her instrument, knows what s/he wants to express with the music, and knows how to sound good with other musicians. I think most advanced musicians also have an educated or innate understanding of music’s forms.

Now the difference between advanced and masterful—to me that comes down to all of the above and a mix of pushing the technical envelope with grace, originality and creativity, playing with energy and soul and depth of emotion and making it sound effortless, and having compassion for the music, yourself, your instrument, other musicians, and listeners.

So on this scale, I’m an intermediate player who suffers bursts of advanced insights that feed my masterful imagination….

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Will, yer a god. This takes this out into in bite sized chunks so I can figure out a game plan to get there myself without getting discouraged that I’m not Frankie Gavin level yet! (Conan, if I compared myself to Mr. Gavin, I’d have to open a vein, so I don’t. *grin*) Now I just need to figure out my path from where I am now to the stuff you’ve given me, Will, and anything anyone else offers.

I have a hard time reaching goals that aren’t delineated clearly, and I know I’d get discouraged if my only articulated goal was "be a Frankie Gavin level player!"

I think it’s not "your question is too small for my answer" but that the question is too big to be put any less simply. 🙂 Funny how the tradition offers so many of those, and that’s partially why, I think, it’s so hard to come up with easily written down answers.

Zina

Re: How to Rate One’s Own Playing?

Will, that’s probably as good a definition of an "advanced" musician as we’re likely to hear; I especially like the point about being able to assimilate your style into a group situation.

Zina the point I was making about Gavin was that when you reach the dizzy heights of an advanced player, then you should begin to compare yourself with the greats and see what you can improve on. At least, that’s what I would do but then chance would be a fine thing! I remember talking to a kid I was doing a bodhran workshop with and he said his goal was to copy every technique that John Joe Kelly used. When I asked him what would he do then, he replied "What else is there?". So I told him maybe he should learn a few tunes…
It’s the old chestnut: the more you know the more you realise what you still have to learn.

Re: How to Rate One’s Own Playing?

Zina, with the exception of "godawful" and some less pleasant terminology, I’m sure that’s the first time anyone has ever used my name and god in the same sentence….

Funny you keep mentioning Frankie Gavin. To me, his playing empitomizes lift and swing and life in ITM fiddling. To the little degree that I have any of that in my own playing, it comes from listening to Frankie Gavin. If you’re looking for a path to being an advanced player, Frankie Gavin has paved the way.

In fact, judging from your mp3’s on the AMF site, you’re ready to sprint a ways down that path with a little help from Mr. Gavin. I highly recommend sitting down with a recording of one of his reels (my favorites for this exercise were Derry Craig Wood, Sean Ryan’s Reel, and Collins Reel, aka Coen’s, Tommy Coen’s, and less widely, Cottage in the Grove—if these aren’t posted here yet, I’ll try to type them in soon). Learn the reel(s) and then play along with Frankie, at first ignoring everything except that swinging, free and light lift he gives to his bowing. Play the reel with the recording over and over—at least 20 minutes every day for a week. I promise your playing will jump light years in lift and expressiveness. And most of this will come from exactly what you’re currently looking for—a more fluid, effortless bowing. As a step down that path, this is probably the most important one. While you’re working on it, don’t worry too much about intonation, clean ornaments (especially bowed triplets), or a perfect left hand. Just get the bow moving and relaxed and try to recreate the sound you hear Frankie making.

I’ve used this same technique to focus on rolls (Kevin Burke: Kid on the Mountain), drive (Kevin Burke: Silver Spear personal tape and Farewell to Erin from the Bothy Band), triplets (Sean Smyth: Maids of Mount Cisco), tone (Eileen Ivers: Maudabawn Chapel), daintiness (Martin Hayes: Paddy Fahy’s reel from the Lonesome Touch), single bow power (Altan: pick a tune!), and so on. Concentrate on any one concept for a week, then let it melt into your playing over the long term. Come back whenever you feel you need a refresher…it helped me to stick to one or two tunes for each concept so that the tune became second nature and I could really focus on the given concept. The skill or mindset then transfers on its own to other tunes, and pretty soon its a trademark of your own playing.

And don’t expect miracles. I still can’t swing like Frankie Gavin, but then I don’t play as much as he does. At least I can do what I can do, thanks mostly to all the wonderful role models we have out there.

Hope this helps…

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Re: How to Rate One’s Own Playing?

*grin* Guess I’m going to owe you for the lesson, then, aren’t I, Will? Hehehe… Cool, I’ve been trying to figure out how to get you to give me a bit of one, and now I know to just beg…. Heh.

Do you know, for some reason, I haven’t any of Frankie Gavin’s solo stuff at all in my collection? How the hell did that happen? I’ll have to go get a few.

Miracles, b- hell, I’ll settle for improvement. 🙂

Con (if I may call you by your first syllable), I guess what I meant was that I’ve a ways to go before it would help me to actively compare myself to Frankie Gavin to figure out what specifics to work on — frankly, at this point it would be like having to just adding water to a pond to make it more like the sea! 🙂

Zina

Re: How to Rate One’s Own Playing?

The more I grow into beeing a real (somedays lousy somedays pretty good) intermediate player the bigger seems to grow the distance between me and the experts……

it

Re: How to Rate One’s Own Playing?

RE: Frankie Gavin - Someone who was once close to Mr Gavin tolde me that he used to practise Bach violin partitas - they will definitely get your fingers moving, dont know about the swing. Nice tip Will re: playing along but isnt his playing "fast" I dont think I could keep up btw I agree about his playing - lots of drive but still good swing and energy

Re: How to Rate One’s Own Playing?

only ***** rate their own playing

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Re: How to Rate One’s Own Playing?

*****?? I dont think so sweetie - I’d say people who want to be really good and who are really serious rate their own playing. Will - you have really defined what an advance player is - I can never find the right words. But there is another thing I was thinking, when joyce said she met the local Trad musicians she realised how far she had to go. Its about where you are as well. Where I’m from I’m not bottom of the barrell - in Gawlay I’m pretty close to the bottom. But at the moment I wouldnt say I was a beginner maybe and lower/middle intermediate. But compared to the others here I am a full beginner. It all depends on who you play with😉) ***** indeed!

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Re: How to Rate One’s Own Playing?

Michael, we have only one rule here at The Session, and that’s to Be civil. If you can’t be Civil, you will soon find out why we call Jeremy the Benevolent Dictator. As far as I’m concerned, you’ve pretty much crossed that line, but I’ll leave that up to Jeremy.

Oh sure, bb, pretty close to the bottom and getting asked to play out with other players? Uh huh. *grin*

Zina

Re: How to Rate One’s Own Playing?

You musicians are sooo hard on yourselves 😉

Re: How to Rate One’s Own Playing?

yes we are, but someone has to be - dont know about anyone else but if I were to listen to my non trad friends and family - I’d think I was the bestest fiddle player in the entire room. Luckily tho I have ears and can hear well 😉)

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I think i’m fab! All my different personalities have told me so, dont i agree! Yes We Do.

Lucky none of us are crazy huh!
Jamie

Re: How to Rate One’s Own Playing?

you head case 😉)

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Re: Choose the right role model

you know a keen trad musician died and of course went to heaven where he met up with all the greats from the past, but he heard glorious fiddle music coming from behind a door and it was definitely Frankie Gavin, so he turns to his angel friend and says "I didnt know Frankie was dead". The Angel replies "He’s not. That’s God, he just thinks he’s Frankie Gavin.

Re: How to Rate One’s Own Playing?

hahhahhaha,teeheehee. I love that joke - its one of my favourites 😉)

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yeah its a good ‘un

Re: How to Rate One’s Own Playing?

Good one! Can’t wait to give that joke a try! Gavin was living in Austin not too long ago — perhaps still does. He tends to keep to himself and doesn’t get out to the sessions, which is a great pity. The ITM sessions in Austin, Texas are some of the hottest I’ve heard (believe it or don’t.).

Re: How to Rate One’s Own Playing?

Gee, once again, I get home fom work to find a great discussion raging on the session! My favorite jazz saxophone teacher had a very Zen outlook on life, which goes well with his jazz style - by the way. He suggested that a good musician will always harbor a "biginner’s mind." I still love that idea. No matter how much we learn, if you approach it with humility, and the mind of a child, perhaps the ego won’t stop us from learning more, and reaching the horrible "learning plateau."

Other than that, there are all kinds of difficulties that come up with this topic. I’m playing out here in Colorado to gain experience and to use that as part of learning, but since players of any level are scarce out here, there’s a risk that people might get the impression that our band is better than we are. Did you know, for instance that there are only, maybe ten or eleven uilleann pipers in Colorado? Two or three have been playing long enough to give lessons.

Anyway, so being like a lion in the dessert out here can make us a bit stir crazy, so we try to entice some good musicians to come visit us and give lessons from time to time. Also, the web is a great new tool for reaching out a bit, and trying to get the kind of help and feedback that might be available in Boston - or even better - Ireland. My view is that frequent lessons with top musicians will help me understand better where I am.

I totally agree with BB and Zina in that I’d rather have a "bald assessment" than a compliment - from a teacher. Although some encouragement from a teacher on what I’m doing right is okay, I’d also like to have an equal balance on what I need to improve, and some suggestions on how to go about it.

I think generally, we won’t get a realistic assessment from someone who isn’t a teacher. People around my part of the world are pretty tactful, and will either give out honey-like compliments, or tuck their heads and scurry on… At some point, I expect I’ll encounter the brash type who tries to throw a real stunner at me to see the look on my face - but is that sort of thing useful from the point of view of learning?

When playing out, I think that there is a certain amount of managing the image that has to be done. If people are generally acting upset at hearing my music, then it’s probably time to play somewhere else, or not at all. If there are a certain amount of compliments coming in, then you are probably okay, provided that you aren’t asking for more money than you are bringing in to a place, or scaring away customers…

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Re: How to Rate One’s Own Playing?

benevolent dictator indeed.
and there’s me thinking the internet was democratic

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The internet was democratic?

Michael, who told you that? … may I be wrong, but using slang that might insult or offend anybody is not to be rated as remarkable democratic culture … but back to the topic: in this thread and in several others often is pointed out how hard musicians (beginners, intermediates or advanced) are to themselves. What do you mean when you say rating his own playing is foolish or whatever? how do you avoid rating?

Re: How to Rate One’s Own Playing?

the only way that would be possibe is if the person couldnt care less wether they were good or bad. Which really doesnt sould like any muso’s I know😉

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Re: How to Rate One’s Own Playing?

I think that that clues into that whole balance thing…you have to have some discernment, have standards, have an ideal and a goal in mind, as well as being aware enough to know what your playing really sounds like and where it falls on some kind of scale, and yet you also have to be willing to be gentle enough on yourself that you just don’t throw up your hands in despair and chop up your instrument and throw the pieces into the river.

If none of us cared about improving and getting our playing to be better, then music would be a rather awful thing to listen to, yet at the same time we need to enjoy the journey (and our own music) as well.

Zina

Re: How to Rate One’s Own Playing?

I never meen to offend, sorry.
But back to the topic …
All I meant was that rating your playing is naval gazing.
It’s not atractive

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Re: How to Rate One’s Own Playing?

Fair enough michael, but tell me, if you play, what do you play & what do you do instead of rating yourself? Anyhoo - I think its very attractive to be completly down on oneself 😉)

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Re: How to Rate One’s Own Playing?

Well, bb dear, judging by Jamie’s general reaction, it’s at least attractive on *you*. *grin*

Certainly, it seems to be pretty ingrained into ITM — players who aren’t at the very least modest usually get ragged about it (or at least insulted behind their backs!). There’s just so much to learn and so much to improve on at any level — how could a player ever think they’re more than satisfactory!?

Zina

Re: How to Rate One’s Own Playing?

Instead of rating myself, I rate others
… and learn

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No Navel Gazing!!!

I agree, Michael: rating one

Re: How to Rate One’s Own Playing?

I think it is daft to give yourself a pat on the back for knowing millions of tunes. They all sound the same anyway. You should make the effort to forget some tunes instead.

See if you can order in your head groups of tunes that are similar, then try to wittle them down abit

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Re: How to Rate One’s Own Playing?

In walking, you "rate" yourself by whether you can stand upright, stay upright, move in the direction you want to go, not walking into things…any number of things that give you milestones on whether you can walk or not, and tell you how well you walk.

How did the concept of "rating" get such a bad rep? Sheeeeesh. If you can’t have any discernment about your own playing, then you’re not going to be a good musician, period, it’s as simple as that, starting with things as basic as "are you in tune" to "can you remember a tune" — that’s all part of "rating" your own playing. If you want to be a good musician, no matter what your own definition of good is, then you’re automatically going to have to be able to judge how well you’re doing, by whatever your own standards are. It’s not rocket science. It’s not a psychological insult. It’s just the way things are.

As to the number of tunes you know, I’ve forgotten some tunes through lack of practising them. And then gone to a session where they played just those tunes. Damn. No such thing as learning too many tunes, so long as you can play them all. 500 tunes is actually a fairly low number; most of the expert players I have talked to on the subject know at least that and usually far more. Two years ago, I asked Shannon Heaton how many tunes she knew and, after some mental arithmetic, she figured about 1000 of them. She doesn’t "give herself a pat on the back" about it, and in fact feels that she can’t know enough tunes (so I guess she isn’t "daft" by Michael’s friendly little definition).

Zina

Re: How to Rate One’s Own Playing?

I like Crannog’s walking annalogy.
That innocence a child has of just getting on with it is just the kind of way you should approach music.

It used to bug me when people who knew nothing about diddly music complained that it all sounded the same. Then it struck me that it is the very naval gazing I’ve been complaining about that is resposible for this. The constant analysing has created a culture where the onus is on tiny things and consiquently, millions of tunes have been created that have only tiny differences between them.

Collecting tunes is like collecting anything. Stamps? Little china figures?

I’m not dissing collectors, just pointing out that people who don’t collect stamps are not interested in peoples’ stamp collections. I would, however, very much enjoy being shown a stamp collector’s half a dozen or so personal favourites.

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Navel gazin’

This is almost a return to the old discussion on competition. Such things are more important to some than to others, just a case of different personalities. I think it’s important to have goals, but i don’t much care to evaluate my playing very precisely. I’m either having fun with it or i’m not, and when i’m not it’s usually because i didn’t practice as much as i should have.

Naval gazing, on the other hand, is going to the harbour to look at ships.

Re: How to Rate One’s Own Playing?

In order to practice effectively, don’t you need to constantly rate your own playing, look at
youself hard, and listen to yourself? In otherwords, practicing is an act of naval gazing! I argue
that if you don’t do that, then you aren’t practicing effectively at all. For instance, LOTS of teachers
suggest looking in the mirror while you practice to make sure the fingers aren’t flying
too high over the tone holes. Sitting in front of the mirror in this way is a way of giving yourself
feedback. The same teachers have suggested making recordings of yourself and listening to them
to get feedback. Do you suppose that’s vanity? Maybe it is if you never get lessons or listen to
recordings of good players to get some perspective. If you don’t look to others as well as yourself,
then you are musically isolated. I argue that those who don’t spend any time trying to do some
self-assessment and compare themselves to other players are the naval gazers. In order to get
a realistic idea of where you are in the world, you need to reach outward and look inward as if you
were outside yourself. If you can toss out your own ego and pride while doing all that, then self-
assessment isn’t vanity at all. It’s just learning.

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Re: How to Rate One’s Own Playing?

Hi Zina
Great discussion.While driving home today i was listening to Afterhours-The Bothy Band, and when i pulled out my mandolin at home i was pissed off at myself, because i wanted to play the Kesh jig etc like on the Cd. I think rating yourself against professional musicians on Cd’s etc only helps to frustrate. If i do not sound exactly like the recording i tend to get consious of my playing and tend to stiffin’ up and get worse. I play best when i say to myself " just play and enjoy it" and i tend to relax and play better. I would be isolated in that i do not mix with many people that play music but find that when i play with my few friends that do play they all say that i am making great progress. Maybe they are telling me what i want to hear? I record myself onto a minidisc every few months and when i’m wondering about my own rating i listen to myself from a few months previous and generally feel afterwards that i’m improving greatly. My biggest problem is constantly rating myself and wondering how long more will it take before i’m playing as good as my tutor -probably never. I think that rating yourself is a very natural thing to do because let’s face it learning a musical instrument is not easy, if it was everybody would be doing it. At the moment i have hit a bit of a plateau in my porgress and am constanly rating and getting frustrated. I think it’s best not to rate yourself against recordings but rate yourself against yourself say six months ago by recording yourself, because setting your standards as high as professionals only succeeds in getting you down.

Re: How to Rate One’s Own Playing?

The trouble with this discussion is that we’re not being careful about our terminology. There is a difference between "rating" yourself as a musician, and trying to objectively monitor and improve all the important aspects of your playing.

I don’t "rate" myself as a beginner/intermediate/advanced player because that wouldn’t mean much of anything to me. But I think I have a fairly accurate sense of where my abilities place me in the grand scheme of ITM fiddlers. In other words, I know that my intonation sometimes wanders when my left hand gets tired. I know that my triplets are clear and crisp most of the time, but there are a few instances (those back-to-back triplets in Shetland Fiddler, for example) where they need some more work so that they happen more consistently. I know that my fourth finger rolls are weak on the G string, but they’ve improved a lot on the other strings in the last 4 years, to the point where I use them liberally (where I used to avoid them). I’m still working on better bow control down by the frog, but that comes up mostly on slow stuff so it’s not a huge priority for me. I also know my own physical limitations, particularly in my left hand, and so know how to pull out variations and ornaments relying more on my bow on those days when my left hand isn’t in top form. My rhythm is steady, I’ve got decent lift or swing, and once I’m warmed up my tone isn’t annoying. I’ve lost count of how many tunes I can play from memory…it ends up filling 6-7 hours, so probably well over 500 (although I rarely have time to play half of them), but none of that matters as much as the fact that there are lots of tunes still to learn, especially the ones my session mates are playing that I don’t know yet. I could get much more detailed and precise about my shortcomings—in fact, I do just that when playing in the privacy of my own home—but the above should be enough to show the difference between telling myself I’m an "intermediate" or "advanced" player, and knowing exactly what aspects of my playing I need to work on, regardless of how that ranks me.

Zina, if you still like the labels, then perhaps set your sights initially on becoming a reasonably competent hobbyist. That’s what I’d call myself, and it’s a comfortable spot for a 43 yearold writer with a mortgage to pay. I’d feel comfortable uncorking my fiddle at most sessions, but wouldn’t expect to unduly impress anyone (which is a relief because it’s so beside the point) and I’d be happy to join in on 25 to 35 percent of the tunes at a session of hotshots. And I don’t mind accepting money for gigs or lessons, but neither do I harbor delusions of going on tour with the Chieftains. That’s okay by me.

In short, in my mind, analyzing your playing has less to do with rating and knowing your place among other musicians and everything to do with knowing yourself in relation to your own dreams, ambitions, and abilities.

Posted .

Also, gauging your playing against recordings by top players is risky. It tends to make me feel frustrated and hopeless about my own playing. But I like knowing what the potential is—that it *is* possible to play fiddle, for example, that well. Any more, I tend to listen just to learn tunes, or when I’m driving or proofreading.

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Re: How to Rate One’s Own Playing?

will
You’re so right. Of course one asseses ones own playing.
And that’s very different to rating.
Also, I think the the beauty of diddly music is that it can be mastered by amateurs. It’s pretty easy really. Onle in a few select keys, simple time sigs, all in the first possition ect.
It’s not Paganini

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Re: How to Rate One’s Own Playing?

I just got back from a flute workshop with Patrick Olwell. When I arrived on Saturday, I introduced myself as a beginner who hasn’t been playing very long, which is true. Patrick offered me some flutes to try out. Later, a couple people in the workshop scolded me for calling myself a beginner. (had to be the great flutes I was playing!). I didn’t want to argue because I know that I’m a beginner compared to the level that I want to reach someday.

Sometimes it’s nice to be a beginner. It takes the pressure off a bit. : )

Joyce

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Re: How to Rate One’s Own Playing?

Micheal Gill….

….Assessing one’s own playing is the SAME as rating yourself. I’m glad that you find the music so easy to master..you must assess (rate) yourself quite highly.

No, it’s not Paganini, nor does it need to be…it is the living soul of an ancient poetic people and therefore does not need to be technically pretentious.

By the way, let’s get one more word out of the way…to avoid confusion.

An AMATEUR is somebody who applies themselves to a task for the love of it (from Latin, don’t you know).

Andy (amateur, beginner, I don’t care!)

Re: How to Rate One’s Own Playing?

I can understand why someone would want to rate themselves compared to other players, and I understand why it’s helpful to assess one’s own playing, but they *can* be very different things. That’s what I was trying to get at in my previous post. Personally, I prefer to avoid the labels that tend to go along with rating (beginner, intermediate, etc.) and focus on specific skills, techniques, and concepts. All I was trying to suggest earlier was that—for me—it is more productive to say to myself, "I need to work on those moving triplets, articulate them more clearly by coordinating my left hand better with my bow movements, and lightening up on the bow so there’s more space inside the triplet for the different notes to sound." That helps me far more than thinking, "I’m an intermediate fiddler and to become advanced I need to do better moving triplets." Frankly, I don’t care what label I end up tagged with, as long as my playing is improving (or at least not declining too quickly 🙂.

To my mind, none of this has anything to do with what kind of music you play, whether it is technically demanding or not, or whether you intend to perform, play in public sessions, or play only for yourself in a sound proof booth. At some point, most musicians develop an inner ear that allows them to measure their playing against itself and against the whole universe of possibilities, not just compared to how other musicians play. That’s how you tap into your own sound and your own potential.

Another way to look at this is to consider Tommy Peoples’ bowed triplets. To my ear, he does them differently than most other fiddlers. He’s been quoted as saying that he tried for years to get his to sound like everyone else’s, with no luck. But you can’t say Mr. Peoples is not an "advanced" fiddler, despite this "flaw" in his playing. The point is, that isn’t a flaw—he does them *his* way (and lots of other fiddlers try to emulate him). But he didn’t get there by learning "standard" triplets and then moving beyond.

And we’ve all heard recordings of some of the old masters, whose intonation or tone would never be accepted at a highschool orchestra. Yet they’re still role models among ITM musicians for lift, rhythm, spirit, taste, ornamentation, variations, you name it, and they demonstrate a highly "advanced" understanding of the music.

I just don’t think the labels do us much good. Focus on honing the specific skills rather than on where your skill level places you, eh?

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Re: How to Rate One’s Own Playing?

Maybe we need a new thread, How to *Assess* One’s Own Playing, to discuss all the specific skills and concepts, and strategies for improving them.

For example, I once heard Yo Yo Ma talk about a teacher of his who would challenge him to think about individual notes in faster passages. Ma realized he was skimping on tone on notes that weren’t naturally emphasized in the music. He claims this realization, and the work he did to correct the problem, led him to a new level of playing.

It made me realize that if I haven’t thought about a particular note in the process of learning and playing a tune, I’m probably not playing it as well as I could. It forms a weak point in the tune, which sometimes spreads to infect the notes around it. So now I listen for that in my playing and then disect the phrases that need extra attention. When I put them back together, the whole tune sounds better and goes more smoothly. Ironically, the notes that need this kind of attention are usually in the "easy" passages—they tend to fall under the fingers with too little consideration precisely because they’re "easy."

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Re: How to Rate One’s Own Playing?

I started playing 2-1/2 years ago when I was 50, so I’m 40 years behind those who started at age 10 and have no realistic expectations of ever catching them—-but I came up with some informal "goals" for myself to measure whether I had at least gotten over the 1st hump of the learning curve:

1. To have a repertoire of a minimum of a dozen or so "common" tunes that most everyone would know in just about any session.
2. To be able to play with other people and.
3. To be able to play "in sync" with other people.
4. To be able to get "back on track" if I make a small mistake when playing with other people.
5. To be able to play in at least a "slow" session.
6. To be able to play at least one tune at enough speed for people to dance to—-and have them dance to it.

I would "rate myself" as an "advanced beginner" or maybe a "beginning intermediate", though I’m not in it for the competition or the ratings——I just love to play the music.

Otherwise, I agree with the major themes of Zina’s definitions (way back toward the beginning of the thread—-repeated below—-though I’m a button box and concertina player, not a fiddle player).

"Someone who is ready to move on to intermediate might have the following benchmarks:

1) acceptable intonation (tune)
2) acceptable bowing facility (keeping the bow at the correct angle to the strings, hair on the string, bowing technique, string crossings, etc.)
3) be able to stay more or less at a set tempo
4) be able to learn by ear (speed of learning not an issue yet)
5) be able to hear a tune as a whole thing, not a series of notes or fingerings
6) once they’ve got the tune learned, they can play it through steadily without stopping, at one tempo, regardless of small mistakes."

Re: How to Rate One’s Own Playing?

… one more time thank you, Will - this time for sorting out the terminology and the mess of misunderstanding…… very helpful!!!

And BTW: I wasn

Re: How to Rate One’s Own Playing?

I’m glad Will and crannog get the point.
Why did rdunlavey just repeat the old naval gazing from earlier in this discussion? (millitary ships in the harbour)
How many times does it need saying?
"Rating" is positioning oneself in a hierarchy, not good.

Mcbear 365
I already said I don’t rate myself, I rate others
And I love being an amateur
And I didn’t say I find the music easy, I said it was easy.
That’s rating the music, not one’s playing

The point is that beautiful music does not have to be difficult to play. Surely we can all agree on that.

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Re: How to Rate One’s Own Playing?

I would have thought that regulars knew me well enough by now and could take it for granted that perhaps I might have *meant* "assessed" instead of "rated", especially since as far as I can see, the posts I have written on the subject seem to indicate that that’s what I meant, rather than being ever so fussy about the word I used. I’m not into labels, nor am I into discouragement, and I’m quite surprised that some of you who should know better think that I would be — I’m especially surprised at you, Will.

And, Crannog, no, I don’t think a baby thinks it all out; however, I’m not a baby at this point and I DO think, and in fact think quite well about what I do, how I want to do it, and how I want to get to the future. Feel free to learn however you feel you best learn — certainly I intend to do so. A kid keeps trying even though it keeps falling down, and the kid sees that others can do something it wants to do, and so has a model to base walking on — the baby’s general goal, even though the baby does not articulate it to itself in that way, is to walk just like it sees everyone else doing. Take your sarcasm and do something else with it.

I’m done with this and possibly with all the rest of it as well. I’ve got enough to do, including trying to be a better player, to waste time like this.

Zina

Re: How to Rate One’s Own Playing?

There are two kinds of people (or maybe more - but I’m just going to mention two) The kind who are happy to play music for the sake of music, who love it, have a great time and thats good enough. Then there is the other, happy to play, love it to bits, live for it, think about it, want more than to be an average player. What is so wrong with that? you all have your favourite players - cds, pay to see musicians and bands, they didnt get where they are today without determination and a GOAL, GOAL, GOAL.
MIchael I think your comment about diddly being mastered by ametuers is a bit wrong. It can be played and played nicely by anyone whos willing to learn…..but to be a master…..I’d say takes more effort and talent than 99.99% have got. you could probably count the true masters on 2 hand hands. I wonder have you ever, ever heard a master play trad in your life? I was at the Willie Clancy FIddle recital last night, now that was amazing, sorry michael not an ametuer in site - few masters tho. James Kelly, Brendan McGlinchy, Vincent Griffin & loads of up and coming young stars, it was brilliant, I’d strongly recommend you go next year Michael & maybe have a listen, its well worth it 😉

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Don’t go away, Zina!

Forgive them, they get so serious about a silly discussion. I both assess and rate everyone as silly. 🙂

The only label i want right now is that of a learner. I like amateur too, since it means someone who does something for the pleasure of it.

Two kinds of persons

There are 2 kinds of persons in the world: those who believe that there are 2 kinds of persons in the world and those who don’t.

Re: How to Rate One’s Own Playing?

Glauber you always know just what to say to lighten the mood 😉)

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Re: How to Rate One’s Own Playing?

Actually, there are three kinds of people! Those who count, and those who don’t. 🙂

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Re: How to Rate One’s Own Playing?

Zina, Sorry !!!!!!! I didn

Re: How to Rate One’s Own Playing?

Well, I’m a bit confused here. It’s nice to know that I can still surprise people, but I’m mortified that I hurt anyone’s feelings, particularly yours, Zina. I’m sincerely sorry that this has happened.

My confusion comes from Zina’s first couple of posts on this thread (and especially her reply to bb on July 2), which emphasize in my ears the rating system of "beginner/intermediate/advanced." All I was trying to say in my posts is that I think there are healthy alternatives to those labels. For me, those words are a very alien way of thinking about playing music. If this seems "silly" to some of you, so be it, but it shapes how I think and feel about playing fiddle. For me, there’s a clear and *significant* difference between comparing my abilities to other fiddlers (which I rarely do) and trying to more or less objectively evaluate my abilities and look for ways to improve (which, for me, has very little to do with what other fiddlers do).

I’m sorry Zina, but your earlier posts strike me as holding to that rating system and how to move from one ranking to another. It made me uncomfortable to post a "definition" of benchmarks for reaching the "advanced" level. I don’t see music that way, and I tried to explain the difference in my subsequent posts.

Forgive me if I did not read between the lines. I heard you say that your "goal" was to begin to move from "intermediate to advanced." I’d have a hard time offering any advice on that. But I can think of tons (too much, no doubt) to say about how fiddlers can improve tone, intonation, phrasing, rhythm, lift, ornaments, etc.

I’d much rather have a conversation about how to play bowed triplets more cleanly—brainstorm among all of us what the likely steps are—as a way to improve our triplets and our overall playing, than a conversation about what level of ability that implies. All I was trying to do was be clear about that.

Zina, I wondered if your step dancing hierarchy that you mentioned was influencing the way you talked about fiddling. And that’d be fine by me—that’s why I tried to "define" advanced. I certainly never meant to insult any other way of looking at all of this, just to meet you where you were coming from and offer my own two cents.

So hang me for being anal retentive and stubborn and a navel asstronomer (sic), but please don’t shoot me first for being an insensitive lout.

(Now do I follow that with 🙁 or 🙂 ?)

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🙁)

Re: How to Rate One’s Own Playing?

Heh, that looks like a frog before it’s been properly banged on a sofa…..

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Re: How to Rate One’s Own Playing?

I know plenty of professional musos who are now where near as good as plenty of amateurs I know.
Diddly music can be mastered in your spare time.
It’s not difficult music.
It’s very ease is its beauty.
It’s the ulimate democratic art form.
Anybody can master it with just a little effort and concentration.
I’ve not heard all you guys but I bet every one of you sound great.
So lets stop beating ourselves up about it and just play.

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Re: How to Rate One’s Own Playing?

I disagree with you Michael about it being easy. Sure, any yahoo can play an Irish tune in their spare time, but it takes a lot of hard work, dedication & passion to make it sound truly authentic and beautiful.

I’m still new to this music scene, but I’ve never heard anyone refer to it as Diddly music. What’s up with that????

Joyce

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Re: How to Rate One’s Own Playing?

As english is not one of my main languages, I don’t know the linguistic subtleties. "Assess" or "rate" - I still don’t understand the difference. According to my dictionary it’s the same, except that the word "assess" may have something to do with taxes (?).

My initial question (to which Zina was refering when she started this thread - thank you Zina!) was: I would like to attend flute lessons in a summer school. But I’ve been playing flute for only 10 months and usually they don’t accept beginners in these classes. So, I would like to know, what level I must have to be accepted to one of these classes. What should I be able to do?

I have some general musical background and some experience in ensemble playing, can read music and can play by ear, also have some breath control as I’ve been playing wind instruments before. But I have not enough control of the flute, my sound is poor and is getting still worse when I try to play at session speed and I don’t know many tunes, maybe 30-40.

So what should I do to be ready for such a summer school? What do they expect me to do? How many tunes should I know, how fast should I be able to play without loosing the tone? Is there anything else to learn before going there?

Any answers are very welcome. Thank you.

Re: How to Rate One’s Own Playing?

Claudine, you should ask them. With the kind of experience you describe, it’s very possible they’d take you. Usually what annoys the instructors is people who think they’re better than they really are. With your attitude, you’re probably fine. You may have trouble picking up the tchunes, just don’t get disappointed. It gets better with time.

But definitely, ask them what their criteria are.

Re: How to Rate One’s Own Playing?

I’m just a lurker, so I should probably keep my nose out of this, but you all sound like such likeable people that I feel compelled to wade in and help, so here goes:
Like many arguments, the ones I see on this thread fall into a classic pattern of people who generally are in agreement but who are operating with differing terms and/or differing approaches to life. From my objective position as a lurker, it seems to me that Zina was wondering how to systemize her progress and is the sort of person who finds it helpful to identify — she called it “rate” — her strengths and weaknesses in a systematic way. Others in the thread seem to be of the right-brained sort who prefer to “wing it.” All of us are after the same thing — having fun, achieving excellence — but we all approach those goals differently: Some of us are Apollonian, some are Dionysian; some are left-brained, some right-brained. (Hint: if you work on a messy desk, you’re probably Dionysian or right-brained; if you can’t function in that mess, you’re probably the other type). It’s all good. But left-brained people won’t benefit from being told to lighten up any more than right-brained people can be shouted into self-discipline. That, from my neutral position on this thread, sounds like it’s the heart of the disagreement and possible bad feelings resulting from this thread.
Arguments about the terms “rate” vs. “assess” are not pointless, but they’re not crucial enough to get hurt feelings over. My guess is that Will was arguing on behalf of a slightly less systematic approach than the one Zina was searching for. Still systematic, in that he’d rather identify particular technical weaknesses and then fix them, while she would prefer to examine the whole package. I don’t know which method is more effective in general, but I’ll bet it has a lot to do with the personalities — we have “big-picture systematic people” and “detailed-picture systematic people.”
The argument about whether Irish music is easy or difficult also boils down to a question of degree and therefore would require the arguers to define their terms. What is “easy”? Relative to surviving cancer, I suppose, it’s very, very easy. Relative to watching television, it’s very, very difficult. Playing the Red-Haired Boy is probably easier than playing Bach’s Chaconne but harder than playing Hot-Crossed Buns. Without a scale, the argument is pointless, but I suppose we could agree that Irish music is fairly easy, but it’s the fiddle (or the whistle, or flute, or pipes, or concertina…) that’s difficult. (I’m kidding!)
One other observation: Will advocates learninging as many tunes as possible, while Michael made the statement that he’d rather reduce the excess baggage. I can see the value of both viewpoints: if you mostly play in sessions, the more tunes you know, the more you can participate. But if you are more of a performance player, acquiring more and more tunes can start to be redundant. The subtle difference between two similar jigs might be enough to leave a session player in the wrong place at the wrong time, so he or she would benefit by knowing both, but a performance-oriented player would be wasting his or her time by learning both.
Sorry for taking up so much space. Just be friends, please, because it makes lurking so much more enjoyable!

Re: How to Rate One’s Own Playing?

I’ll try this again.

To me, "rating" implies comparing myself to other musicians and determining my place in the pecking order. I realize that there are times when this could be useful, but in general I think ratings such as beginner, intermediate, and advanced are too open to wide interpretation to really mean much. I have played ITM for 20 years and I’d be hard pressed to rate myself. Advanced? Compared to what? Such a rating also doesn’t help me decide whether I fit in to a session or class. Instead, I listen to the session before opening my fiddle case—do I know many of the tunes they’re playing? Can I play well at this pace? Most importantly, would my playing enhance or detract from the overall sound? That’s all I need to know for a session. As for classes, I try to find out what the agenda is and look for skills I know I need to work on. If no course description is available, I usually jump in anyway because there’s always something to learn. As a teacher, I’ve sometimes ended up with a wide range of abilities in a class and we’ve always been able to work together.

To me, it is more useful to "assess" my playing against itself, with little or no comparison to other players. Take rolls for example. Rather than wonder whether my roll technique lands me in the intermediate or advanced category, or whether they’re "as good as so and so’s," I prefer to listen to my rolls for specific qualities. Are they clean and clearly articulated or blurry and muddy? Is the main tone strong or do the grace notes obscure it? Do they enhance the rhythm and phrasing or are they herky-jerky or out of time? Do they sound effortless and smooth or panicky and rushed? Do I like where I placed them in the tune or would something else serve better in that spot? And so on.

I suppose you could say that muddy, blurry, obscure, herky-jerky, rushed rolls are "beginner" rolls, and that the other qualities would make for "advanced" rolls, but what’s the point? Why pin a tag on it? In fact, concentrating on the individual qualities rather than the overall effect (or level) is precisely the step-by-step path that I needed to follow to improve my rolls.

In my mind, the all-important difference here (between rating and assessing) is that (1) I can assess my own playing without ever worrying about where I stand in relation to other players or "levels" of ability, and (This is the essential part) (2) "assessing" puts the emphasis on listening very closely to the sound *you* make and *relying on your own discernment* to work toward improvement. I’ve found that one of the most important skills I’ve gained as a fiddler is refining and trusting my own sense of musicality.

Such assessing may be harder for people who are just starting out in music because they aren’t yet familiar with their own musical ability. No doubt, it’s tempting to listen to someone else’s well-developed musical ability or standards and measure oneself against that. But the longer you play, the more comfortable you’ll become with your own musical conscience. It’s just my opinion, but I think you can get there sooner if you ignore ratings such as beg/int/adv and focus instead on listening to how your own ear responds to the nuances and details of your own playing.

From your latest post, Claudine, I think you’re already doing this. Glauber is spot on—talk to someone at the school and describe your abilities on flute, as well as the areas you’ve identified as needing work (tone, breath control, tone at speed, more tunes, etc). They will be able to tell you whether their classes are appropriate for you or not. And if they say you’re not quite ready yet, find a teacher for some one-on-one lessons and apply to the school next year.

Hope this helps.

Posted .

Well said, cuchulain. I must have been typing while you were posting…my response was related mostly to Claudine’s remaining confusion between rating and assessing.

On the number of tunes, I agree…my target of a minimum of 500 tunes was aimed at session players.

Will (from behind his incredibly messy desk).

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Re: How to Rate One’s Own Playing?

I’m going back to my navel gazing. Maybe see some of you in East Durham next week … .

Re: How to Rate One’s Own Playing?

I’m glad the lurker lurked in on this. We were all getting abit frustrated.
Diddley music (onomatopaic) or ITM (acronym) as you call it is indeed harder than watching telly and easier than cancer.
But it is human expectations that worry me.
In the 17th century, whole string sections of orchestras were made up of amateurs, playing music now considered too difficult for anyone who is not a professional.
Human achievement seems inextricably linked with expectation and in our lazy society, expectations are less.
Diddly music was invented, polished and launched on the world by nameless amateurs. So please don’t let it be hijacked in your heads by these people you put on pedestals just because they make a living out of it. You can be and are as good as them.
I’m sick of people telling me "I wish I could play like Kevin Burke or Martin Hayes or whatever".
What do you think Kevin Burke and Martin Hayes would say to that?
"Don’t be riddiculous, play like yourself" is what you know they’d say.
It seems that far from encouraging the playing of diddly music, the top professionals discourage, because people don’t expect to be able to play as well as they.
Please don’t confuse me with someone who just wings it. I have studdied this diddly phenomenom an love it to bits. It’s just that us diddlers should put ourselves into perspective. If you need to pat yourself on the back for something, then all you can really congratulte yourself for is not watching as much telly. We are a bunch of antisocial stamp collectors (And remeber, I’m not dissing stamp collectors)

Posted .

Oh ..

And about this spurious 500 tunes thing.
I know an old bloke I play with occasionally who only knows about 20 tunes. But he’s brilliant
I’m not saying you only need 20, but for him, 20 is enough.
Try not learning any new tunes until your board with ALL the tunes you know.
That should slow your quest down abit

Posted .

Counting tunes

I didn’t want to say this, but i think that unless you’re going to be the session leader, you can have a lot of fun in sessions without knowing that many tunes. They’re all very similar anyway… (sorry for mentioning that!). With practice, you get good at picking up tune fragments and putting them together, and you can play most of the session repertory without really knowing it. This might have once been the standard way to learn tunes.

By all means, learn as many tunes as possible, but don’t try to learn all of them before you start playing sessions.

Re: How to Rate One’s Own Playing?

A shared repetoir is the best repetoir, then its for everyone. Cheers.

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Shared repertoir

Jill, I agree with you, but i’m not sure i understand what you mean. 🙂

It’s always shared, right? It’s all "trad". Or do you mean it’s better to learn what other people are already playing in session than to pick "nice tunes" to learn from a book?

Re: How to Rate One’s Own Playing?

I learned the vast majority of my tunes the way glauber describes. Oddly, it’s a very similar way to learning to walk and talk. You don’t try to increase your vocabulary, it just happens.
When people in a session ask if I know a tune, I shrug my shoulders and say try me (I hardly know the names of any tunes) They play a tune and if I know it, great. If I don’t know it, I’ll know it by the time time they’ve finished (or atleast kind of know it … and I’ll know it better the next time they play it)
Where I play, this is STILL the standard way to learn tunes.

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Re: How to Rate One’s Own Playing?

All lovely, rational points. I notice that she of the hurt feelings has been uncharacteristically quiet — consistent with her threat to "be done with it." May I suggest that those of you who know and love her best flood her mail box with protestations, abject apologies and appeals to come back?

Re: How to Rate One’s Own Playing?

Glauber, I’m quite used to being misunderstood!! Of course, I can’t talk for anyone else, and it seems to be stating the obvious (to me anyway), but I see ITM as an aural tradition that should be available to anyone who seeks it. Like oral traditions, ITM is passed on (kept alive) by the sharing (or swapping, or communication) of tunes.

So if you know a lovely tune that no-one else in a group knows, then you should share it with them. As, you should also get to share in their lovely tunes. Then the group’s cumulative repetoir becomes the shared repetoir of the group through sharing. And it grows.

The idea of scanning a book for tunes is totally abhorrant to me. It seems a meaningless exercise. A trained classical musician could play any book of ITM from cover to cover, fast, without missing a note and still have missed the point. The ‘dots’ do not represent tradition, dots disregard the naunces that make the music Irish, and there needs to be a purpose for learning a tune. Well, that’s the way I feel about it anyway.
Cheers

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Re: How to Rate One’s Own Playing?

Jill, i think we all feel the same way.

Re: How to Rate One’s Own Playing?

I think it would be really nice for everyone to reflect on what unites us to this site. There are some very wonderful generous happy helpful beautiful people contribute to ‘The Session’, and I for one, value every single one.
Cheers

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Re: How to Rate One’s Own Playing?

Oh yes, i’ve had a lot of fun here and learned a lot. I hope Zina will be back; i asked her and she’s very busy right now, so i’m keeping my fingers crossed and maybe she’ll come back after things calm down. If she does go away, i’m going to feel like going away too. 🙁

By the way, i’ll be physically away and without a computer next week. See you all when i come back!

g