when your playing falls apart

when your playing falls apart

I’ve been playing for about three years now and have been through many phases where I thought I was making progress only to find myself in another phase where it sounded like I was going backwards. Lately I have been trying to learn a bunch of tunes but when I go back and play those I know they all sound like crap. Either I forget a part, the timing is bad, my bowing gets mixed up, etc. You would think that after three years of playing I should be able to recall and play relatively well tunes I have played hundreds of times. There must come a point when your technical/musical proficiency can compensate for not playing a tune for awhile.

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Re: when your playing falls apart

Beg your pardon.
Hey, 21 …

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The glass is half full…perhaps it is because you are learning and progressing. Your new skills are forcing you to revise the way you play your old tunes.

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life’s full of phases. best not to worry which one you’re in for the next phase may not be better than the one before.

you sound very frustrated. even the tunes you know won’t come out very well when you’re frustrated.

don’t worry about all the tunes you do or don’t know. just find one right now that you like to play and work on that. i suspect if you stop putting so much pressure on yourself you’re tune recall abilities will improve tremendously.

and don’t worry about forgetting tunes along the way. some day somewhere you’ll be reminded of it again and, like an old friend, you can sit down and "catch up."

in any case, good luck with it!

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Its sounds to me like your cramming for an exam.
Take your time.

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The more you practice, the better it’s gonna sound overall. Trust me on that. I’ve only been playing fiddle for 5 years, but now it’s really blossoming. Faster than I could have imagined, though I’ve still got years of work ahead of me… The key is to just listen, listen, listen! I’m finally learning to hear the tunes for what they are, rather than jumbled up, organized noise. That makes it so much easier to play. Technique also plays a big role in how good/bad your playing sounds. As long as your comfortable, it should sound good. Just practice for 15 minutes a day and in a year you’ll amaze yourself… I practice 2 hours a day and I’m astounded.

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I took organic chemistry at a community college. The teacher was an esteemed prof who had retired from a major university, and taught part time. He told us that they had to hire 8 people to replace him in his research. He also told us that he loved organic chemistry from his youth. He had to take organic chemistry 3 times before he passed it. He used to start his classes by asking us if we were enjoying our studying. "You must enjoy your studying", he used to say, in his thick Indian accent, with a smile, sometimes even with laughter. I did not find it easy to enjoy organic chemistry. He was not being sadistic, he was serious about enjoying studying - because learning is often done best when it is enjoyed!

Somewhere along the line, I decided to apply this principle of "enjoying your study" to playing music. Of course, that’s usually why we start playing music in the first place - for enjoyment. So, don’t lose the joy! Play what you can, at a tempo that you can play it, and enjoy it! Sure, there should be some "breathing" in your playing between tension & relaxation, but don’t let the tension dominate. Enjoy whatever you are focused on in the moment, whether it is a delightful melody, an intriguing ornamentation, perfecting a particular technique, entertaining another person, entertaining yourself, learning a new tune……..whatever…….find something in what you are doing RIGHT NOW while you are playing / practicing - to enjoy.

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Good advice, from the previous posts.

I was feeling pretty much the same way, not long ago, and got some similar good advice:
https://thesession.org/discussions/8050

Hang in there….

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Thanks for all good comments. I do find that I put pressure on myself to nail a phrase, ornament, etc. which makes playing more of a task than an enjoyment. I also found that when I’m concentrating so much on technique I fail to listen. Anyways, all of your comments were right on… Thanks again.

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I also used to be very hard on myself and my playing. I look back on videos and recordings, and the very tone of my fiddle is SHOCKING, to say the least. Definetely not worthy of being recorded, haha… But yeah, the more you enjoy the music and let go, the easier it is. Nowadays I just relax, go ahead with the tune and it comes out sounding great. Relaxation is also the key to successfully executed variations…

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21, I notice you’re taking lessons with Brendan Bulger. That’s great. You are very fortunate. However, taking lessons with somebody like Brendan can put you under alot of pressure. You perhaps feel judged and undoubtedly want to play your best.

Don’t hesitate to take breaks from the lessons to let things sink in. Sometimes it’s easy to become overloaded when taking lessons. You simply may be trying to do too much and/or holding yourself to the very high standard that somebody like Brendan implicitly sets.

Just pretend now you’re like a weight lifter and that it necessary to tear your muscles first before you become really buff. there are days/weeks when you’re really sore and feel like you can’t even get out of bed. but rest assured you’re progressing and getting stronger.

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…pick it up where you left off… and dig it.

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What Brendan states about your lessons is a very good point. Lessons do put pressure on a player, that is why I don’t take them.

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Sometimes taking a break can help. I’ve gone through phases on the guitar where I seem to be improving constantly, and then for no reason, everything sounds sh*te. I can be playing the right notes but it just sounds wrong. I used to see this as a sign to practice harder but that usually made things worse. When it happens now, I put the guitar in its case for a week or two and come back to it fresh.

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Lessons with a good player *can* put pressure on the student, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Brendan Bulger is a stellar fiddler, but that doesn’t mean he has unrealistic expectations of his students. Even if he does, *you* don’t have to share in them. Most music teachers are thrilled if their students simply show some effort between lessons and bring their enthusiasm and open-mindedness with them each week.

Lessons—especially from such a good fiddler as Brendan—will save you all sorts of mis-steps and wasted effort. You will progress more quickly and with more solid skills with lessons from Brendan than without. Realizing that should actually take some pressure off—you’re doing the best you can with some of the best instruction and guidance available! Don’t sweat the rest!

So be patient with yourself. Three years is just the very beginning. For most people, it takes at least 5 years of steady effort on fiddle just to start getting the basic techniques to settle in and work consistently. Then you’ll spend at least another 5 years learning more melodies. And the rest of your life combining it all to make genuine music. There’s no end to it, really. I’ve played for 25-plus years and I learn something new just with my bow hand almost every day.

You can’t make an omelette without scrambling some eggs. You can’t learn without making mistakes. Keep Brendan’s tone and phrasing and inventiveness and smoothness in your mind’s ear as a sound to aim for, but let it come—don’t try to force it.

And remember the definition of an amateur—someone who does what they love, and keeps at it, even though the results are often disappointing.

Another thought that helps me when I seem to be backsliding. The Lakota Souix have a saying: "The first thing a person thinks after they die is, ‘why was I so serious?’"
🙂

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don’t mean to suggest Brendan Bulger is pushing too hard or doing anything other than what a good teacher does. it’s just that being in the presence of somebody as good as Brendan can make you a tad self-conscious and/or over-eager to please.

i mean, i don’t believe a word of the rumor that Brendan Bulger beats his students mercilessly when they screw up ;)

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A lot of good advice so far.
There are times whn you can see small progress, times when it all seems backward. I remember when I was learning guitar, I used to practice in the lunchtime at work. I felt I was not progressing till somebody said "You’re getting better." Being so close I couldn’t step back to look at my own progress. Now, on a different instrument, I look back on my playing from three years ago and realise that my repertoire is much larger, I am more fluent, and tunes that I have only heard but not learnt come much easier under the fingers if someone leads them at a session.
As also already said, as you learn more you have to go back and re-work how you played things before. I think it was Paco Pena, the celebrated guitarist, who, after years of acclaim and success, took a sabatical to re-think all his fingering techniques.

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To be clear, I was responding more to Unseen’s post.

Brendan, you post reminds me of tales I’ve heard about Paddy Keenan’s dad slapping him when he fumbled a note. Sheesh.

Agreed that a good player can bring out the self-critic in any of us, but that’s our own fault. A slight shift of attitude lets us be inspired rather than intimidated by talent close at hand. Totally up to us, individually, and what we bring to the situation. A good teacher usually spots the incremental progress a student is making well ahead of the student him/herself.

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It strikes me that ‘21’ is still in that stage of grappling with all the elements of playing tunes on fiddle at once, none of them separately mastered yet. That’s how it is in the beginning—a bit like a plate spinning act. You’re trying to keep your bow straight and smooth, hit the intonation, remember the tune, think about phrasing, commanding fingers to add in ornaments, oops, there goes the beat, and oh yeah tone quality, all the while reminding yourself to enjoy it and not tense up. And someone who’s been at it for decades makes it all look so easy.

A few tips:

1. Strive to make it look and sound easy yourself. Rather than shooting for perfection, even in one area, aim to make it sound and feel effortless. Relax, and let that easiness come through in the sound.

2. Warm up on a tune you can play. Notice how you tense up in the "difficult" parts. Now go play it in front of a mirror, and notice how hard it is to see the tension. Look at how small and slow the movements are that produce all the ruckus you’re making! It looks a lot less frantic than it feels. Tap into that—bring the simplicity of the mirror image inside your arms and hands and fingers.

3. Instead of thinking in terms of "easy" and "hard," think of what you’re learning as "familiar" and "unfamiliar." When you try something unfamiliar, it will feel strange and maybe even awkward. But if you repeat it and practice it, the more familiar it gets, the "easier" it becomes. Rather than psyche yourself out that something is "hard," just remind yourself that it’s new and unfamiliar. When it becomes familiar, it won’t seem hard anymore.

4. Periodically balance how much you have still to learn by reminding yourself of how far you’ve come from where you started.

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oh, got it. whoosis, well, it still is worth clarifying anyway that BRENDAN BULGER DOES NOT BEAT HIS STUDENTS. REALLY!

(i wonder how many people who wouldn’t otherwise have read this thread are here now….)

i’d heard that story about paddy keenan.

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FWIW:

A wise old man who is a world-class expert in another performance art told me a couple of things about mastering something difficult:

Don’t think about anything but the task. Don’t consider other people’s level of performance, or their opinions, when you play. Don’t even think about yourself. Just concentrate on the music, and play it as best you can. It’s just a moment between you and your instrument. All those other things don’t really matter, at that moment.

Go for small improvements, day by day. Don’t hope for big breakthroughs. Make the long journey, step by step. After a while, you’ll be amazed at how far you have gone.

HTH—mickray

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Mick and his wise old man are right. Focus on the tune, or even focus on an element of your playing (Bowing?) that you want to hone. It’s amazing how if, on the flute, you really concentrate on getting your tone improved, all the other stuff that might normally go hideously wrong drops into place of it’s own accord and just happens.

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My votes to mick and mark. Also, 3 years is no time at all. In 20 years time you’ll look back at this thread and laugh.

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21 - this will continue to happen but it means you’re making progress.

I’m not sure if you’re experiencing a shorter or longer term crisis though.

If it’s just come on recently, I think it’s best to put the instrument down and give brain/muscles time to sort out whatever it is they’re up to, and come back to it in a day or two. For a number of years I was putting in 2-3 hours a day and would have days where I just wasn’t getting anywhere. I eventually figured out that rest is very important and that there is more latent learning happening than I would have ever guessed.

I had tunes each day this week (lucky girl), and found that I couldn’t really execute rolls last night for some magical reason…the one called fatigue.

It could also be a longer term thing. i.e. tunes you’ve always played well are now unruly little brats. I’ve been at it for nearly 5 years, and within the last year I have completely overhauled my bowing. I now come back to tunes that I haven’t played since before this effort and find that my new mechanics fight against what I knew to do previously, and everything falls apart until I sit down and spend a good half hour with the tune.

Really though from having read your posts I think you need to schedule rest for yourself.

Cheers.

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21, I totally agree with the person who said words to the effect of, it’s a glass half full/glass half empty situation.

You’re not just learning and improving your fingering and ability to manipulate the bow across the strings. Your ear is improving. Now you can hear mistakes and other things that just could sound better that went by you six months ago. Bet you dollars to doughnuts that’s at least a part of what’s happening here.

Playing music is wonderful whatever your level. I’m an advanced player, but I clap loud and long for the beginning class. Keep on keeping on.

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BTW, I wasn’t being dismissive. If you’ve been addicted to this stuff for 3 years, then you surely will be in 20 years. Everyone else is saying don’t worry about it, you’ll be fine, exactly the same from me. If your age is 21 as your monicker may suggest, then subtract 3 years, all I can say is I wish I had started playing that young.

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Ya have to "feel the Love" each time ya pick it up. Yeah , sometimes we get all balled up in one thinger or the next - the challenges will ALWAYS be there. But we play because we have "the love", so don’t let the "working on it" side take over. If it gets to hard, relax, back up and enjoy the veiw for a while, then peddle onward and upward.

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Unseen - Doing without lessons is fine if you *can* do without them. If we were all better off without them, then there wouldn’t be such thing as them. Some of us need them more than others, but I think most, if not all, of us can benefit from them in some way. I have never had a proper, one-on-one lesson myself (at least, not in traditional music), but I am certainly thinking about trying it sometime.

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Except for the twitchiness, psychological torture leaves no visible scarring, and the kiddies won’t realize they need therapy until they’re old enough to pay for it themselves….

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if all else fails, dont buy cheap rosin. Seriously, cheap rosin can make a mountain out of a molehill in errors, it sounds bad, makes the fiddle sound like you are playing with sand inside it and generally overcome your confidence.

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dont worry! the fact that you think you sound like junk means your ears are getting better. now just catch your playing up to your ears and think you’re great. after that, develop your ears some more, and think you’re horrible.

it never stops. eventually, if you work hard enough at it, your ears develop so far that you never think you’re great! not sure if everyone else enjoys the unattainable goal in the distance, though.

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BULGER BEATS HIS STUDENTS? How much does he charge?

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ROFLing, five!

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Now don’t go putting ideas into Five’s head!

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Recording myself has illustrated how much better off I might be with a good teacher… :(

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Wormdiet, I don’t know where you live, but you might find a nice holiday in Co Kerry to be very useful and enjoyable. Have a look at http://www.kerryfiddles.com/.

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wow, trevor, that looks awesome! um, do you accept blokes who play flute/whistle [cringing in expectation of being slapped upside the head]

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oops! I should’ve read that bio more carefully - my mind was on fiddle-playing for some reason … sorry Wormdiet!
Anyway, Co Kerry’s a great place for a holiday and sessions, and kerryfiddles may well have contacts with flute/whistle teachers in the area.
btw, for the avoidance of doubt etc, my only connection with kerryfiddles is that I knew Gill Newlyn when she was in Bristol - and she’s a great musician and teacher.