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Sometimes you just have to jump in and DO it.

Posted by bj on Sunday, July 12, 2009

After my experiences of the last couple weeks, I've come to a very incredible realization. Sometimes you just have to jump in with both feet and DO it. Whatever it is. And it's time for me to put aside my n00bism and just . . . fiddle. I've got the basic building blocks in place. I just have to keep using them all until they become second nature. And it's already happening.

Does this mean I won't practice and work on getting better? Nope. But what it does mean is that simply PLAYing, in the truest sense of that word, is going to take precedence from now on. Jane calls it the "Aw, the hell with it" attitude.

I've realized that getting better now will continue to happen as long as I keep playing a lot. And since that is NOT a hardship, but more like a compulsion, it's just not something I need to worry about or obsess about anymore. It's just gonna take time, that's all. And I will probably never be as good as I want to be. That's okay, gives me a constantly moving goalpost that I will glance up at from time to time while I'm PLAYing.

Those who strive for perfection, to the point where the simplest tunes turn into nothing but exercises, instead of the fun musical pieces they can be, are losing sight of why we actually do this. It's called PLAYing for a good reason.

Learning a huge number of tunes is a part of what I realize is helping me. Some people (one of my teachers, actually) says it's better to learn a few tunes well, as if learning them for a performance. I strongly disagree, at least for me and the way I learn, simply because learning lots of tunes helps me to play those few tunes MUCH better. Every new tune is teaching me new things and also teaching me new approaches to my old tunes. I've begun to realize that I never play Angeline the Baker exactly the same way any two times through, I always change a diddly here and a bop there, do it shuffled here, and unshuffled there. I think that's a good thing. And I don't think it would be possible for me to do that if I learned a few tunes well as if for a performance. I'm not a performer. I'm a fiddler. There's a HUGE difference. Learning tunes as if for a performance sets them in stone-- it's Classical Weenie thinking. I don't want my playing to be fossilized. And too many exercises and formal practices can do just that, I hear it in the "playing" of others at times, which just doesn't sound like the person playing it is having any fun. I want to sound like I'm having fun. And I do.

One of the things I've been doing lately is listening to fiddlers who play a tune 20 times through and never repeat it the same way any one of those times. Can I do that? Maybe not yet, but I am bound and determined to get there. That's the next stretch, and I hope to achieve it without thinking about it a whole lot. That's part of what I figured out, the more you think about things the less you actually do them. I've overintellectualized every other damn thing I've ever learned. I'm not doing that anymore. This old dog is learning a new trick.

Playing with other people as much as is possible has helped a huge amount, and I plan to do it as often as is humanly and financially possible. Recently I've been in a couple jams where there were fiddlers there so far ahead of me that I'll never catch up. I've also been the "lead" fiddler at a slower jam, with just one other gal, and in teaching her some of the tunes I know, I learned new things about those tunes myself, new ways of looking at them and hearing them. Playing with the great players shows me new tricks and techniques, or unique ways of combining the simpler tricks and techniques I already know. And playing that square dance yesterday told me that I've only just scratched the surface of what's possible-- a huge eye opener. A surprising one, since I square danced for almost 12 years.

Another thing I've come to realize is that though I still have a long way to go with my bowing skills, I have a good basic command of my right hand, and I've got drive in my bow. My bow knows where it's going, and (98% of the time) has enough control to get there, though maybe with a fair bit less finesse than I want to achieve. But that'll come if I just keep PLAYing.

My left hand is getting better simply by playing with others. The more I play with others the more my timing, and the coordination between right and left hand improves. My intonation has taken a huge leap forward, and though I still sometimes get slightly off track when playing alone with no backup, I don't often get off track when playing with others. The exception to this is when I'm using my pinkie a lot, which because of my disability will throw my whole hand into the wrong position so I then have to recover from it. Sometimes I recover well, sometimes less so, but it has gotten better with time. And there's also a small miracle in the fact that I can now play better with my pinkie than I did a year ago. Is it like everyone else's pinky? Nope, and it never will be. But I'll take what I can get, and what I now have is better than what it used to be. Maybe I can improve it more, simply by PLAYing.

I'm adding stuff into my playing just because it's FUN, not because it's an exercise or a skill I need to learn, and in approaching it that way, something magical is happening. Swinging the bow over to catch that bass accent between two melody notes will sometimes just-- happen! and actually surprise me. Same with slides. They're just  . . . happening, without me thinking about 'em, or making any conscious decision to do them. And here I am grinning from ear to ear at the sheer serendipity of it!

I'm playing a lot with my eyes closed these days. It's a good thing. What the hell do I need my eyes for? Oh, you raised your foot?  *blush!*

Though others have already told me so, I didn't feel it in my heart of hearts until now.

I ' m  a  F I D D L E R !

17 comments on “Sometimes you just have to jump in and DO it.”

fiddlepogo Says:
Sunday, July 12, 2009 @7:24:00 PM

This is new???

Seems like "Jump in and do it!" has been your motto
ever since I've (virtually) known you!

Cyndy Says:
Sunday, July 12, 2009 @7:25:59 PM

I'm imagining what it will be like one of these days to be able to say, "I'm a fiddler!" and it's got to be one of those never-to-be-forgotten moments in life. I am really happy and excited for you . . .

bj Says:
Sunday, July 12, 2009 @7:31:27 PM

"This is new???" he says to the gal who invented wimpynoodling . . .

ajisai, you're probably already there, your own self hasn't caught up with the notion yet, I suspect.

Cyndy Says:
Sunday, July 12, 2009 @9:10:36 PM

I'm not there yet but ever since the Indiana Fiddlers' Gathering I've been experimenting, taking risks, discovering new ways of playing . . . It feels (most days) like I'm moving from beginner to something else and hopefully that something else IS "fiddler." It would be nice to close the gap a bit between my skills and my enthusiasm. (smile)

fiddlepogo Says:
Sunday, July 12, 2009 @10:24:32 PM

Yes, "wimpynoodling" may be new,
but "jump in with both feet" has been your style
as long as I've known you.

Now, if you were to show some restraint,
that WOULD be new! ;^D

(Truth is, you probably show more restraint with words,
and more boldness with new ventures than I do)

mudbug Says:
Monday, July 13, 2009 @2:40:23 AM

BJ, it seems like you're enjoying yourself with your path of playing "when-ever, where-ever, with who-ever". Jimi Hendrix was a great jammer also, and look where it got him. ( good, not dead).

FiddleJammer Says:
Monday, July 13, 2009 @5:54:46 AM

bj Says:
Monday, July 13, 2009 @7:04:04 AM

Agisai, the way to "close the gap a bit between my skills and my enthusiasm" is the "Aw, the hell with it!" attitude. It was like a gift of wings that lifted me up to the next level.

FiddleJammer-- same path, different feet, different day. :-)

mudbug, I'm playing with the 'grassers tonight. There's a goal here, since they're going to be playing a square dance and I've decided that's something I want to do a lot more of someday. And humbled's advice on that will be firmly in the front of my mind so I don't get buggy bored with chopping.

Michael, there's a certain restraint in my behavior that isn't as visible when I speak about doing things. Probably because I'm talking myself into getting over it and pushing forward. I started out as a painfully shy kid. I know. Hard to figure, huh?

hardykefes Says:
Saturday, July 18, 2009 @11:40:14 AM

Acquiring new skills and doing exercises are no contradiction to having fun.
Go out and jam a lot and with as many as possible, still practice at home to be able keeping up with them and fitting in.
As long as you learn your intonation and timing by playing with others you are behind and might be disturbing. (No offense meant.)
The fun you experience want to be shared and this is the case if your skill level matches your fellow musicians.
Keep up the good work, go out and have fun but don't quit practicing.

bj Says:
Saturday, July 18, 2009 @12:00:40 PM

People learn in different ways, hardykefes. I'm sure you, as a teacher, have realized that by now. From what you say on the forums, I can tell you teach in a way very different than my teachers and mentors. Terri is a great mentor, and I've had others who are great mentors and teachers who keep telling me that the right road is through playing with others. I can't recall a single one of the teachers and mentors I highly respect EVER telling me I have to play scales and exercises. And I disagree that "doing exercises are no contradiction to having fun". Maybe there's as many different ways to teach as there are ways that people learn, huh?

hardykefes Says:
Saturday, July 18, 2009 @1:51:51 PM

I am not telling you what and how to practice, but I may suggest: just practice.

Go out and jam a lot and with as many as possible, still practice at home to be able keeping up with them and fitting in.

Even the tunes you love to play need practice, don't you think? Practice does not necessarely mean scales and finger exercises although they help to play tunes smoother and 'righter'.
Practice could mean to iron out wrinkles in your tune by repeating the bumpy and/or difficult parts so you can have more fun.... just my humble opinion.

bj Says:
Saturday, July 18, 2009 @2:09:53 PM

Hardykefes, as I clearly said in the article you just commented on, it doesn't mean I'm giving up my practice time, it's just going to be tune-focussed. I play an average of two hours in the evening on days I'm not jamming, and usually pick up the fiddle a dozen times a day besides that two hours for a tune here or there.

Smoother? I play OLDTIME, LOL!

hardykefes Says:
Saturday, July 18, 2009 @2:40:30 PM

Sounds great, sounds you are like me, can't live without my fiddle. Unfortunately time doesn't allow me to attend as many jams I like to.

Smoother, yup, when I'm in NC with all these old fiddle players I am always amazed how smooth and effortless they rip off the ole tunes.
With smooth I don't mean vibrato and all this classical stuff.
For me smooth means that it just flows effortless, the fingers roll through the music in sync with the bow like nothing.
Smooth means to me that there are no finger sequences or combination you have difficulty with, that a tune sounds good without interruption.
Smooth means to me that you have melodies or variation of a tune in your head and you can play it. The technique is not limiting you in expressing yourself or playing out your ideas.

Mandogryl Says:
Saturday, July 18, 2009 @4:47:43 PM

At the end of your blog entry you said it all: "I'm a fiddler".
By definition this frees the player up. I can play a tune differently. Mix them up. Come up with interesting medleys in D even add a tune in G to the mix. What a wonderful approach to music. Mandolin playing is not really this free, the guitar is somewhat. BUt the fiddle, the freest of them all. Sure, I still love Bach. But fiddle tunes, oh, what wonderful inventions.
I enjoyed your entry.

bj Says:
Saturday, July 18, 2009 @4:54:31 PM

Thanks, Stephanie! oh, what wonderful inventions indeed!

janepaints Says:
Tuesday, July 21, 2009 @9:12:09 AM

Yes, yes, yes. Recently a kinda-newbie banjo player has twice busked with me. After the last session I said "I hope ya don't mind that I often play real zippy". She said "no it's like a basketball coach said--just because a young player is 8 years old you dont lower the basket to 6 feet." 'Sink or swim' is good in musicmaking, IMO. It's not life or death, nobody really cares, no great tragedy results, if some notes or rhythms get flubbed, the main thing is persistence, fun, developing a 'i don't give a hoot' thick--skinnedness....and developing them muscles and muscle-memory...recalling my own 'learning days', my desire to be able to keep up with the advanced players served me better than had they 'played down' to accomodate my skill level. It's like birds, fresh outta the nest. Mom & dad bird are swooping all over the place, baby birds fly kinda skittery-scattery---but not for long. Flying is just too much fun not to get nimble at it: "Humiliating & baffling practice makes perfect." :)

bj Says:
Tuesday, July 21, 2009 @9:29:31 AM

Yeah, that's why I keep persisting at my jam in making the better players start tunes, even though they keep trying to defer to me. Yes, they can stick to my list if they want, but if they start the tune, it'll be at a faster pace than I would ever start it! I actually love hanging on by the seat of my pants that way, as long as it's a friendly jam with nonjudgmental friends. Makes me stretch a lot. Now, if it was EVERY tune of a session, I might be grousing a bit, but a good mix of speeds over a session is perfect.

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