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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Picking a fiddle tradition - What would you do???

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NCnotes - Posted - 07/30/2021:  23:12:38

I love Celtic/Irish folk and have listened to it for many years. I already play violin, and for my "midlife crisis" I decided to try playing what I love listening to (instead of what a conductor assigns).

BUT... I live in the U.S., not Ireland! And I found that around here (North Carolina), the old-time/bluegrass jams are much more common and easy to find and easy to join. To join an Irish session, I've got to drive so far! But go to any local folk jam around here, and they are playing OT/bluegrass.

Living here in the beautiful green land of Appalachia and the Smoky Mountains, the birthplace of many well-known folk artists/bluegrass bands (and Earl Scruggs) should I just give up on the Irish? But I've literally got an entire Spotify playlist of Irish tunes that I play along with. I like the freedom of bluegrass (i.e. improv in the key of D, vs playing the melody over and over) but I suspect I'll never be any good at it...not enough of a bluegrass lover to pull it off...

But living here, I feel like I could become a pretty authentic OT bluegrass fiddler whereas I would always be kind of a Fake Irish fiddler?

What do you think? Does where you live, matter a lot?
Thanks for any advice / experience on this!

Lonesome Fiddler - Posted - 07/31/2021:  02:13:20

Not that I've ever lived in a fiddling hotbed (I'm an L.A. native), but when I found myself in a midlife music crisis I decided to try the fiddle. I soon found my way into a very happening L.A. OT scene. I enjoyed the heck out of it. Barely a week went by when I didn't go to two...sometimes three...jams.

Eventually, though, I got itchy fiddle feet. I tried the Bluegrass scene but it was just too much like my old rock-and-roll guitar-playing days. Everybody was too damn serious and bent on making a buck.

Not much later I bought an Irish Fiddling book on a lark. I'd open a page and and just randomly take a stab at stuff that caught my eye. And yes, there's unconscionably beautiful music on every page.

Still better, the Irish tunes loosened my brain and fingers to the point where I can now pretty much just think of a tune I like and start to play it. I now sit on my front porch and play classical tunes, show tunes, rock & roll licks and jazz licks. I don't do them very well, of course, but the neighbors have yet to give me a dirty look.

Edited by - Lonesome Fiddler on 07/31/2021 02:14:22

RichJ - Posted - 07/31/2021:  03:33:41

Why should the choice of a fiddle style be determined simply by where you happen to live? A question you may need to ask yourself is why you like to play the fiddle. Is it the challenge of learning a difficult instrument, playing music, or socializing?

groundhogpeggy - Posted - 07/31/2021:  04:38:51

I guess your choices, all of our choices, are to either join the local crowd, learn to love it, or play what you really love, and be happy to play by yourself.

Some people are so lucky to have the kind of music community around them that they love to play...some people can't find it around them. I tried to sell out to the BG crowd around here, but I just couldn't take it after three or four years...I did love the opportunity to play in a little amateur band, but the music got on my To me, I have to play what I love and I can't enjoy anything else much. Of course, some people seem to love all types of music.

Are you anywhere near John Cockman? I'm on his Bluegrassdaddy site (costs money to join)...but he's really into ANY kind of fiddling...he has a lot of Irish on his site. He has a lot of local jams and stuff, so if you're anywhere near him, you might wanna look him up...Blowing Rock, I think is where he is.

Swing - Posted - 07/31/2021:  04:39:26

Try going on

Play Happy


boxbow - Posted - 07/31/2021:  05:29:27

I often choose to learn this tune or that for a specific reason, i.e. as a skill builder or as a fun jam tune or what have you. The skill builders sometimes won't gel because I might be learning from sheet music or from a recording with no reference to bowing techniques. I play for my own entertainment, mostly. In the social milieu of a jam there are other benefits. Along the way I've learned to not be too fussy about genre if I've found some players I like to spend time with. I also learned that it takes some chops to play the Irish properly, and I'm not gonna work that hard. OT was made to order. I can sound bad AND authentic.

UsuallyPickin - Posted - 07/31/2021:  05:32:23

Well .... to play alone or to play with others is always a choice that has to be made. Any "good" playing will improve ones skills. Though as an orchestra violinist I expect your technical skill level is well advanced. Playing skills will travel from one style to the next. Persevere , play what you love, hang in there and play with the OT or Grass folks, you will likely find a few other folks that love a bit O' the Irish too. Play On! R/

ChickenMan - Posted - 07/31/2021:  05:35:59

Irish is the way to go, especially if you already love it. It's in your head from listening (half of the battle, frankly) and you won't have to unlearn much of your classical training other than losing the vibrato. OT had a way of making classically trained folks stand right out as violinists rather than fiddlers.

There are lots and lots of free notation for Irish music out there on the web.

rosinhead - Posted - 07/31/2021:  05:53:21

If there isn't an Irish session nearby then make an ad trying to find others like you in the area. It seems most cities have an Irish-themed bar/pub, and a lot of jams/sessions are hosted at such venues.

In my years of playing Old Time, I have come across several fiddlers that enjoy both genres.

You say that you prefer not playing the melody over and over, but my understanding is that Irish sessions do that. I don't believe improvisation is encouraged in that environment, but I certainly could be wrong. If you host the jam then you can make the rules I suppose.  If there is more than one fiddle then you could take turns wink


farmerjones - Posted - 07/31/2021:  06:06:01

When in Rome, or dance with who brung you, I would immerse in the local flavor. There's a very good chance you'll find closet Irish players among them. You could rub off on them. They could rub off on you.

Authentic? You missed the authentic train by a hundred and twenty years. Who would you more like to play with? A dogmatic control freak, that insists on doing it like they did March 5th, 1896? Or a likeable person(s) that appreciates and respects your efforts, no matter how authentic?

Edited by - farmerjones on 07/31/2021 06:06:47

Flat_the_3rd_n7th - Posted - 07/31/2021:  06:29:27


Originally posted by farmerjones

Authentic? You missed the authentic train by a hundred and twenty years. Who would you more like to play with? A dogmatic control freak, that insists on doing it like they did March 5th, 1896? Or a likeable person(s) that appreciates and respects your efforts, no matter how authentic?


I've experienced people (reenactors, mostly) give me the evil eye because I played some blues notes in Arkansas Traveler.  And maybe tagged it with my favorite bluegrass lick.  Time marches on.

Flat_the_3rd_n7th - Posted - 07/31/2021:  06:35:31

Sorry, I didn't answer the OPs question. I would go with what you like to play. I'm sure you can find some like-minded folks around there to start a small group. It took me forever to find some bluegrass people, but now I have too many jams to go to--it all branches out to another one.

And just because you get steeped in Celtic doesn't mean you can't play Soldier's Joy sometime. Folks may even enjoy the ornamentation you may add.

sbhikes2 - Posted - 07/31/2021:  07:42:48

Something similar happened to me. I heard some Irish music and my first thought was I must learn how to play that! I found out there was an Irish session in my town and I went to it for a few years. But then it went away. A friend invited me to an old-time jam. I did not like the music very much. But I enjoyed the jam a lot and I learned a lot. I even learned how to learn tunes by ear, which was really great. Over time the music grew on me. But I still think Irish music is way prettier.

Our Irish session came back so now I go to both. But your closest session is too far away so what can you do?

It occurred to me once on a drive as I looked out the window at some bleak little town that I thought to myself if I lived in this town and they had no old-time jam, I would start one. I know enough tunes I could do it. Maybe you could start an Irish session in your town. There's a local group where I live called Pint of Irish that does a slow session and produces a book. When I attended their group they emailed the tunes as a PDF to members and the whole group was learning together. Perhaps you could do something similar where you live. I don't know if that would appeal to you but it might be a way to get the Irish tradition started locally by announcing a slow session, sending out some music to whoever wants to attend, then getting together to see where it goes.

NCnotes - Posted - 07/31/2021:  14:29:03

Thanks all! Really interesting thoughts and ideas!
It's pretty split, so you all didn't make the decision for me like I was hoping, ha ha ha!!

By "authentic" I just meant, there are players around here who grew up with the mountain music..learnt it from their family (vs YouTube)... so when you play with them, it's the real deal...feels like a precious opportunity.

I guess I'll keep going to my local jam but bring up Irish/Celtic folk once in a while when chatting...and check the groups/links mentioned.
( I'm putting down roots, drat! There are already people I look forward to seeing, and certain intros/breaks that they ask me to play. )

The funny thing is when I came across somebody 's post (was it on this forum?) who said he lived in Ireland but loved bluegrass and was wondering how he could learn it. And here I am, living in bluegrass heaven and wanting to play Irish. We just need to switch, heh heh heh. I guess we just can't help the music we like!

pete_fiddle - Posted - 07/31/2021:  14:31:32

Choose a tune or two, arrange them to fit comfortably with your own playing skills, favoured style(s), and influences. Then see if others like them. Maybe that's all a player can do if they are not steeped in a single musical tradition from an early age?

gapbob - Posted - 07/31/2021:  20:21:50

It is a long story, but I have tended to want to play just about every style I like. Some are easier to find people to play with than others. Just because you play one style, does not mean you cannot play another.

Seems there is a fair amount of Irish in NC. Old time is great for dancing and the grove.
Remember that someone, somewhere, made all this stuff up, that is the real core of the tradition, everyone puts their touch on it.

bf - Posted - 07/31/2021:  21:10:33

I may be misreading, but why does this seem to come down to an either / or decision for you? Is there not room to enjoy more than one style of playing?

NCnotes - Posted - 08/01/2021:  07:40:56

pete_fiddle "Choose a tune or two, arrange them to fit comfortably with your own playing skills, favoured style(s), and influences. Then see if others like them. Maybe that's all a player can do if they are not steeped in a single musical tradition from an early age?"
Yea, my 'problem' is that I've being steeped in a single musical tradition from an early age - Classical! Since fourth grade. My fiddle tunes come out sounding like little Bach etudes...pretty sure nobody will like them at this point, ha ha! Slowly I am working on changing my sound over..not hitting doublestops like it's a Beethoven symphony, for example...

gapbob and @bf Yea maybe my thinking is too limited. But I've got to start somewhere! Like, deciding to drive far to join the Irish-playing folks, or stay at my local folk jam (singing + "laid-back bluegrass") or try to start a local Irish session (I think I'm too much of a newbie to do that, don't you have to be a GOOD player to do that). I'll keep looking around. Thanks guys!

Earworm - Posted - 08/01/2021:  15:37:41

Explore, enjoy & relax. There's something to learn from everyone.

sbhikes2 - Posted - 08/03/2021:  06:17:01

Most groups won't want a different style of tune introduced in their jams. Old-time jams have to fight off the bluegrass. We don't want to take solos and show off, we want to play together. Irish sessions don't want anything but Irish music because it's about the tradition. At least that's what I've seen.

I totally understand how you say you were classically trained and all your tunes sound like Bach etudes. I have a friend who complains the same thing (and she plays in our Irish session.) I've been taking classical lessons just so I can learn enough bare basic technique that maybe I can stand a chance to learn how to play Irish. I took one lesson in Irish fiddle from a local guy so far. My classical lessons have been over zoom and it has worked pretty well.

The local guy who teaches Irish will do it over zoom or skype too. He takes lessons through the computer from someone famous in Ireland who took lessons from somebody famous. Here's his "card" if you are interested. He may look like a quintessential Californian, but he really cares about Irish music and culture.

Baileyb - Posted - 08/03/2021:  06:40:08

Irish fiddling has many different styles depending on what area its from traditionally.

Sligo style IMHO is the most difficult with all the ornamentation added to the melody. My almost 70 yr old fingers and wrist can't move fast enough to do Sligo justice.

Old Scratch - Posted - 08/03/2021:  08:41:01

If the question is in your mind at all, then go with what's around you. Save yourself a lot of frustration, angst, and loneliness - gain some fiddle cred - and maybe have more fun.

haggis - Posted - 08/03/2021:  14:14:52

I understood the Scots/Irish settled in Appalachia. Scottish music is the way to go.

ChickenMan - Posted - 08/03/2021:  19:43:14

Or Co Donegal fiddling

buckhenry - Posted - 08/03/2021:  22:34:46

I suppose it's easy to say "play whats around you", as I've done, but I didn't come from a classical background and played in an orchestra most of my life. I played the blues with my friends, I joined a rock band once, played in many bush bands and duos of mixed genre, what ever was around at a particular time. But, if I put myself in your situation and had my heart set on a certain genre and couldn't find anything local, I would look within the orchestra. Have you asked your orchestra buddies if anyone is interested, or if they have friends interested in forming a celtic band/group/club. If not you might have to settle for becoming a "pretty authentic OT bluegrass fiddler". Wish I was living in 'bluegrass heaven'.

carlb - Posted - 08/04/2021:  08:29:41

Interesting question in that old time music, which is presently on top of my musical heap, chose me rather than me choosing it. My background has been musical my entire life in that I started singing folk songs from the time I could talk. My Mom started teaching me piano at 5 and I taught myself recorder when I was 6. I continued singing folk songs and listening to many traditional and present day singers and players while continuing classical piano lessons, and starting clarinet at 9 years old, through high school. On the way, I taught myself guitar at 15. In high school I started playing jug band, blues and listened to Leadbelly (actually heard him before I played guitar) and Jimmy Rogers. I continued in that vain in college and through my following 8 years in Colorado.


However, I left Colorado to come to Charlottesville, Virginia, to do a postdoc in biochemistry. I knew what old time music was and figured now that I'm in that area, I should play that while I was there. I played guitar in an old time band, in the style of mixing bass runs and rhythm. I eventually started playing banjo as a method for remembering tunes (my brain needs my fingers to play the tune to aid in remembering it and doing it on guitar in an old time band was a no-no).


Finally, in 1973, I attend, for the first time, the West Virginia State Folk Festival (had been to the Morris Brothers Family Folk Festival in 1972). There, I heard the fiddler Melvin Wine and was immediately drawn to how he sounded. That was the sound I really enjoyed. I latched on to him and played banjo with him whenever I could (usually 3-4 times a year). From that point on, old time music was what I wanted to play the most.


So I feel that old time music chose me, though I do continue to play and sing other types of music as well.

goatberry_jam - Posted - 08/19/2021:  22:42:07

How's your search going @NCnotes? I'm a little late to the discussion. You shouldn't have to choose a musical genre based only on geography. If that were the case, I'd be playing Arirang exclusively on my fiddle and mandolin.

Where are you located in WNC? There is an Irish music community in and around Asheville. Takes a little digging online to find sessions, but they exist.

I lived in Saluda for a year or so and there was an instrument shop that specialized in Irish/Celtic. The owners were quite friendly and I think they gave lessons out of the shop. They also hosted a Christmas session in town.

Mountain Xpress has event listings, and I am pretty damn sure you will find an Irish/Celtic session there in AVL.

Facebook is also your friend in this regard. There will be something. Keep digging and messaging people. I found Irish and old-time in Korea and China, so I have no doubt you'll be able to find success.

Also, you may find that you simply have to be the community. In Korea and China, there are many oldtime players but they are all loosely connected -- or not connected at all. I am pesky and persistent, but if I'm not, nobody meets up. And so far, nobody has complained that I am a bother.

Edited by - goatberry_jam on 08/19/2021 22:43:37

Old Scratch - Posted - 08/20/2021:  07:09:18

Okay, I just looked up 'Arirang' - the first thing that came up on youtube was this orchestrated rendition of a beautiful song: .  Here's an on-line description of the genre:  Arirang is a popular form of Korean folk song and the outcome of collective contributions made by ordinary Koreans throughout generations. Essentially a simple song, it consists of the refrain ‘Arirang, arirang, arariyo’ and two simple lines, which differ from region to region. While dealing with diverse universal themes, the simple musical and literary composition invites improvisation, imitation and singing in unison, encouraging its acceptance by different musical genres. Experts estimate the total number of folk songs carrying the title ‘Arirang’ at some 3,600 variations belonging to about sixty versions. A great virtue of Arirang is its respect for human creativity, freedom of expression and empathy. Everyone can create new lyrics, adding to the song’s regional, historical and genre variations, and cultural diversity. Arirang is universally sung and enjoyed by the Korean nation.  

And it goes on []

If I were in Korea, I think Arirang is precisely what I would be pursuing ... !

bsed55 - Posted - 08/21/2021:  15:45:39

Years ago I moved to Sacramento. I didn't know anybody in town, but I found a music shop that catered to acoustic musicians. So I posted a sign there saying I was organizing a (so-called) folk music club, and hoped people would come who played music I liked. They did. I met quite a few people from that experience.

The Violin Beautiful - Posted - 08/21/2021:  19:46:11

The area in which you live may determine the most popular playing styles, but for a style as popular as Celtic fiddling, you can find players almost everywhere.

If anything, regional styles have become less prevalent over time as technology has made audio and video recordings globally available.

Social media is a good place to look nowadays, although you still have a pretty good chance of finding a Celtic jam if you find an Irish pub, and most towns in the U.S. have them.

NCnotes - Posted - 08/21/2021:  22:21:05

Hey all! It's been so interesting reading everybody's experiences and helpful tips! Thank you!

Update from here...
I decided to just go with the flow more, instead of being so rigidly set on turning myself into an Irish fiddler (for now) :-)
I changed my mindset to be more simple and just be like, step 1: I'm gonna learn how to fiddle. And that's it.

I've already learned so much from our local to really listen to what the whole group is doing...know when to add stuff and when to back feel when an empty spot may need a lick or a fill...some of these people are total strangers yet playing music with them, feels like knowing them on a really deep level...when we do a good job we kind of all smile and sigh, and we all know that everybody else feels the same.

Several/many people have said that the fiddle genres "cross over" and I do hope that this ear training and creativity I am learning, will cross over if I ever do get into an Irish/Celtic session.

I did some internet hunting and did find an Irish "slow jam" at a music store...about 30 minute drive...but that jam is shut down now (covid precautions). My local jam is playing on, because we sit around I'm still there, still learning. (But in my heart of hearts, I know I haven't got it in me to turn into a fine bluegrass I won't be in this jam forever...but I'm having a great time just learning to play without a sheet of music in front of me!)

Best new skill:
How to tune quickly, outside, on a warm humid morning when your strings go out of tune every few minutes!

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