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I Just Wanna Fiddle . . .

Posted by bj on Tuesday, June 30, 2009

This weekend I went to a really nice all day jam party given by a great guy named Greg. He's had this party yearly for the last 17 years, and invited me when I met him at the flea market. I knew this was going to be primarily a bluegrass event, but also knew some OT players from my jam would be there, so I was hoping to get some fiddle tune playing time in. And though I did just that, the rain, which forced everyone under a couple canopies, didn't let me play fiddle tunes as much as I was hoping.

I like to listen to bluegrass, and the folks are really wonderful. The music was fabulous. The food was scrumptious! And I did have some fun.

But playing at a bluegrass jam, for me, is an exercise in frustration. You only actually play something, besides chopping or chords, maybe 10% of the time (or even less at a large jam circle) and then you have to do it with the spotlight on you, which kinda sucks, since that means, at least for me, that I get to play badly the 10% of the time I get to play, and with everyone listening intently to me while I'm screwing up, since they're doing something mindless like chopping. The rest of the time is taken up in chopping or longbowing chords, and trying to stay out of everyone else's way while they take their breaks. In other words, a lot of hurry up and wait. No offense to you bluegrassers, please, but geez, I'd rather just PLAY.

Oldtime jam style is so much more FUN! You just keep playing, and no one is listening to your mistakes since they're also busy playing.

The folks I did get to play some OT  with, Greg (different Greg) and Sophie and Carol, invited me to another jam on Monday night (last night) really close to home. They told me we'd be playing fiddle tunes and they'd be getting some tunes ready for a dance or two they'd be playing later in the year. Wow, sounds like fun, huh?

I got there, and recognized some of the folks from the Saturday jam. Then the banjo player sat down. His banjo had a back on it. Uh oh.

We did 4 fiddle tunes out of about 30 or so we played from around 7:30 until 10PM. And I sat there and chopped and chorded and tried to figure out the complicated jam etiquette, and wished I had driven there so I could bug out early. Nice people. Great food. But I would have gotten more fiddling in practicing at home for fifteen minutes, and my practices are NEVER  that short! 

Greg did tell me later that this wasn't a "typical" jam for them since a lot of folks showed up since they were in town for the party over the weekend, and they were more of the 'Grass and Country Crowd. I guess he was trying to convince me I should give it another try . . .

I dunno. I just wanna PLAY. And, for me, chopping doesn't qualify . . .



12 comments on “I Just Wanna Fiddle . . .”

Swing Says:
Tuesday, June 30, 2009 @11:45:32 AM

Unfortunately enough, this is not that uncommon. I have experienced this many times and usually just give up and either listen or leave. They are generally very nice people as you said, and I am willing to bet that they enjoyed having you there.

Some times you just have to put up with events like this... the last one I went to turned into a rock fest.
Oh well, Play Happy

bj Says:
Tuesday, June 30, 2009 @11:57:46 AM

I was actually considering building a washtub bass for BG jams so I could just have fun without worrying about
1) chopping
or
2) taking breaks!
Might make it more enjoyable and allow me to interface with my 'grasser friends in a nicer way. It's either that or bring the guitar, which I'm truly awful at, since I never play the dang thing.

mudbug Says:
Tuesday, June 30, 2009 @11:58:13 AM

Hey BJ, why don't cha make that washtub bass you were thinking of. Then when you're in situations where you don't enjoy the fiddlin', you could groove out on bass.

bj Says:
Tuesday, June 30, 2009 @12:04:45 PM

Yeah, it does sound like a plan. Only thing negative about it is that it's another bit of gear to carry, and though somewhat portable, not as easily so as a fiddle.

Cyndy Says:
Tuesday, June 30, 2009 @12:08:49 PM

Yeah! Do it! Build that bass.Then we can share bass playing stories. (smile) I'm hoping to be able to play along comfortably with some basic stuff by the end of the year. Hard to find practice time, though. Fiddle happily eats up a lot of my time. I'm also curious about learning to play a washboard. I saw one played this weekend and it's kind of a cool sound.

ViolaFiddler Says:
Tuesday, June 30, 2009 @12:41:53 PM

I too had the 'chopping' and 'scrubbing' blues last night at my friend's family dinner and jam. Just imagine 'chording' to a young, loud blues player/singer. I just had to get into what I could play and enjoy the stretch in key changes.
The washtub bass sounds like a good way to enjoy when you can't just fiddle.... Go for it,bj

FiddleJammer Says:
Tuesday, June 30, 2009 @1:29:20 PM

FWIW, a mandolin comes in handy. It's built for choppin' and I find it easy-ish to pick out melody notes. Smaller than a bass.

Your mileage will always vary. :-)

bj Says:
Tuesday, June 30, 2009 @5:08:12 PM

A friend loaned me his mando for a few days. I picked it up for ten minutes, and when I went back to playing fiddle my left hand death grip was WORSE than it ever was after switching from guitar, probably because of the string pairs. That was too hard a habit for me to break, I don't wanna backslide, so nix on the mando.

janepaints had suggested a little tenor banjo like hers that I could tune like a fiddle and crosstune, and she plays hers at the BG jams. But she's so good at it she can blow the doors off of a lot of the players there, which is why I suspect no one's ever mentioned the lack of a back, though it could also be her lefthandedness.

I do like the idea of the washtub. And I did get to try one out at the BG jam. It's kinda fun. Not that I got any of the notes right, but since it's so low key many folks can't hear it anyway.

Humbled by this instrument Says:
Thursday, July 2, 2009 @9:22:45 PM

I too love OT jams, BJ, yet most are bluegrassy around here. Here're a few things I do when I'm not playing my awesome (ahem) leads. I vibrato the notes of the chords on the G and D strings, perhaps A and D (okay that's open) to F# for a D chord, switching to other notes as the chords change, etc. Some don't like vibrato, however, yet the guys with whom I play do. I also practice my long bows and bow control. I use...and I'll misspell this horrendously but I'm not looking it up--pisicatto-- the picking motion with the fingers, which I heartily enjoy especially when the mandolin gently picks an accompaniment to slow songs. Then too, once you get to playing songs regularly with folks, you can add nice backing lics and runs around the vocals and other instruments. I sort of look at the BG scene as a blessing in that...at least I have that! And I enjoy watching the other musicians add their "say" to the song. Just my .02. Thanks,
Humbled

bj Says:
Friday, July 3, 2009 @11:12:11 AM

Humbled, I'll give some of that a try, though my vibrato still is kinda sucky. I can do it, but not very well. It appears that if I want a shot at playing a square dance with one of the area's premier callers, I'm going to have to go to that Monday jam more often than not.

I can also temporarily turn my fiddle into a mando by strumming. Might be more fun than that damned chop.

You weren't all that far wrong. it's Pizzicato.

Humbled by this instrument Says:
Friday, July 3, 2009 @3:26:44 PM

Yeah, and I like to spice up my fiddle picking, sort of pepper the pizzaicato at times, add some flavourful notes.... And I play with an awesome mando player who considers chopping to be like a powerful spice, one to be used sparingly. He forbids the practice on the fiddle. In fact, I rarely hear chopping at my sessions, the rhythm seems to carry itself with the banjo chugging along, etc. Hope all goes well with your Monday jam--and hey it may offer you some fun stuff after you get used to it.... Don't strum the fiddle, methinks, as time spent long bowing the chordal notes would be better spent?
Humbled

playmorebluegrass Says:
Tuesday, July 7, 2009 @8:36:25 PM

i loove my fiddle!!! we get along like "peas and carrots"....you never see me without it. but that's the reason i also carry my guitar....when i don't feel comfortable with my fiddle i break out the blues on my guitar...or jazz or country,,,,whatever....guitars blend with anything. trusty ole G C D chords. chopping on fiddle gets old after awhile...people get mad when i play too much back up on fiddle. so to keep peace i bring my ibanez guitar along as welll...that i way noone gets mad and i still get to play!!! but when it gets tooo wild i have found it best to remove myself...lol. "playmorebluegrass"

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