I haven’t done very well in keeping this fiddle blog up to date lately! I’m ashamed to see that it’s well over six months since my last report. That’s partly because I am spending less time on the forums (and I still don’t have much of value to contribute here, being a novice player). Fortunately I have spent plenty of time playing though, so that’s the main thing.
It’s now about 16 months since I started playing the fiddle, and I am still taking regular lessons with my teacher Gina Le Faux, using the American Fiddle Method as repertoire. Although I have volumes 1 & 2, we’re not racing through them, more going over and over some tunes for weeks and months, developing them, working on the bowing and rhythm etc. In this group of tunes my best ones are Angeline, Red-Haired Boy, Soldier’s Joy, The Girl I left Behind Me.
Then at the same time, I’m also learning some tunes by ear that I “just know” (from hanging around the bluegrass scene and playing banjo for the last few years) or that I hear at sessions. As my teacher isn’t that familiar with this stuff, I tend to just work it out by ear for myself and then play it to her (quite rough!) and then again, we work on bowing patterns and so on. I don’t usually write these down. I seem to find it quite easy to work these out from a couple of listens – or go to Youtube or something to play it a few times so that I can “get” it if I am missing a few bits. At the moment the tunes in this category include Chinquapin Hunting, Over the Waterfall, Ashokan Farewell and (new this week!) Shove the Pig’s Foot a Little Further into the Fire. I thought I might transcribe that one too so that I can take some reference music to my teacher next week.
So – lessons are going well even if I’m still not doing enough solo practice at home. Struggling with fourth finger work and double stops, and just need to put the work in! I’m playing out a lot though, which is so enjoyable. For quite a few months now I have been playing fiddle at my regular bluegrass/old time jam and I find it much easier to improvise a solo on fiddle than bluegrass banjo. I also play along on fiddle tunes as much as I can although I can’t keep pace on most of the ones they crank out. I’ve also started spreading my wings and trying some more jam sessions – I went to the monthly old time jam in Sheffield for the first time, which was very different. Much more a proper OT jam, almost all tunes (most of which I had never heard before) and that night it was all in G! Another night it might all be D or A tunes, apparently! I just sat in the back and tried to pick up some of the tunes by ear. I’ll definitely be back. I’ve also been to another small bluegrass jam and a local folk jam which is a more eclectic mix of mostly English songs and tunes, with some Scottish tunes played by another fiddler. They let me sing a couple of bluegrass songs and the rest of the time I try and play along on fiddle as discreetly as possible! This is all good stuff and grist to the mill of my learning. Playing with others is just the best, so enjoyable.
Lastly I’ve also been to a few more great gigs over the last six months and got to see some superbly talented fiddlers playing, including Alex Hargreaves (wow!) playing with Sarah Jarosz, the lovely Bruce Molsky, impressive young talent Mike Barnett with The Deadly Gentlemen, Aidan O’Rourke with LAU, Kimber Ludiker with Della Mae and Pascal Gemme with Genticorum. It’s really hard to come up with a favourite as they were all so fantastic to watch and listen to, although with a myriad of different styles on show. We also took a wonderful trip to Germany back in December to take in a few gigs on the Bluegrass Jamboree tour which featured The Deadly Gentlemen, Cahalen Morrison & Eli West and Della Mae. Here’s a clip of the DGs playing in the hallway in Leeds back in November for your delectation. Looking forward to more great music in 2012….