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Off the Cliff . . .

Posted by bj on Sunday, December 27, 2009

I've been putting in the time. But lately it's just . . . NOT WORKING. We talk about those Plateaus we hit, but this time I feel like I've gone off the cliff.

I've gotten slower instead of faster, clumsier instead of more nimble, off intonation instead of nailing the notes, and every one of my bows is possessed by bow gremlins that keep the bow from tracking straight, and make those two cartoon characters, Screetchy and Scratchy, who I thought I'd banished for good, establish permanent squatter rights on my strings. It seems like I've always got too much rosin or too little rosin, it's never just right. And bowhair tension is the same way. Slack off a bit and I'm on the stick, tighten a bit and I'm bouncing like a superball against a concrete floor.

This is especially frustrating since the Salzard fiddle has never sounded better (well, except when I play her.) The new Prims have settled in nicely and sound clear and lovely, and her new setup has her bass growling and her high end so sweet it tugs at my heart to hear her (well, except when I play her.)

And, whenever these episodes happen, that old enemy, TENSION, makes a reappearance. This time it's in my neck and shoulders. It's trying to move into the left hand, but so far ** knock on wood! ** I've managed to head off that invasion.

I've tried putting away my "new" tunes for awhile and going back to the tunes I know best, in hopes that familiarity will keep the klutziness out of my bow. Useless. Old Joe Clark has really become a mean old man.

I've gotta wonder if it's because of the unusually long hiatus I've had from playing with others. Going on three weeks, since everybody was busy with Christmas, and we postponed the usual jam until the tuesday after Christmas.

Maybe this Tuesday night's jam will break my bad streak. I hope. I'm supposed to drive out to Central Pennsy to meet RobBob and some of the other FHO folks midweek, and I'd hate to sound like some rank beginner then.

28 comments on “Off the Cliff . . .”

mudbug Says:
Sunday, December 27, 2009 @12:37:21 PM

I'm truly sorry to hear that, BJ. Maybe the fiddle is trying to tell you something. If it wants to go slower, learn an Aire, play slow enough so that it's NOT clumsy.............and slow enough so that your intonation IS on. Or put it on the shelf and practice the banjo. No matter what, get rid of the tension, it's NOT the end of the world, even though it might feel like it.

bj Says:
Sunday, December 27, 2009 @12:50:20 PM

Go without FIDDLING? What are you-- NUTS????

mudbug Says:
Sunday, December 27, 2009 @3:29:27 PM

Like Zorba the Greek said, sometimes it's just not the right time to play.

bj Says:
Sunday, December 27, 2009 @3:36:04 PM

I know what you're doing. That reverse psychology thing. Besides, I'm not greek . . .

Tennessee Tom Says:
Sunday, December 27, 2009 @4:23:07 PM

I've had similar thoughts, and I think it's part of growing pains. Probably, your ears are now hearing mistakes that they didn't hear before. You'll now be able to improve by leaps and bounds. 8D


Tennessee Tom Says:
Sunday, December 27, 2009 @4:28:59 PM

BTW, what's RobBob doin' up in PA? He's supposed to be down in the Carolinas withme!

bj Says:
Sunday, December 27, 2009 @4:35:10 PM

RobBob and/or his wife have family up this way, I believe. So I get to borrow him for a bit. :-) Besides, you now have Joe Cline down your way more or less permanently. And all his friends he'll introduce you to . . .who ALL play.

And yes, my ears are certainly hearing my mistakes! As for the Leaps and Bounds, from your lips to The Big Kahuna's Ears, PLEASE! LOL!

Tennessee Tom Says:
Sunday, December 27, 2009 @4:55:01 PM

OK, pls give my regards to RobBob. I guess I'll meet him soon enough. I have family in his home town!

As for Joe Cline, Would you pls resend contact info via PM? I've lost some emails during my recent move. Seems there are LOTS of great fillders her in Charlotte. I'm a-gonna be happy here. :)


Mandogryl Says:
Sunday, December 27, 2009 @5:00:15 PM

I read your blog earlier, and thought about it all afternoon. I believe it is nothing more than nervousness.
You will be/are fine. A week from now you will be saying to yourself, "What was that all about?"
I'm sure that on Tuesday you will be back to normal.

bj Says:
Sunday, December 27, 2009 @5:09:26 PM

Joe Cline is the Best Guitar and/or Mando Slave a fiddler could have! But don't tell him I said that, his head already won't fit through doors. Besides, the minute you compliment him he plays LOUDER. And he's already LOUD. If you listen to our jam recording of Maggots in the Sheephide, he's the mando on that tune.

Stephanie, I'm not usually the nervous type. Though you are right -- In a week I'll indeed be wondering what the hell this was all about. I really do think it's just a jam jones. I need my jam fix.

Cyndy Says:
Sunday, December 27, 2009 @5:29:06 PM

I had a couple of rough fiddle weeks not too long ago and one thing that helped me over a few really hard days was to just do what I *could* do (for me it was working on theory and memorizing things like arpeggios around the circle of fourths) rather than worrying about what I couldn't do (in this case I was trying improvise on a particular tune and I was having no success at all no matter how hard I tried). I also upped my listening "practice." I think you're going to find, soon, that you're back on track playing better than you did before. Really! C

fiddlepogo Says:
Sunday, December 27, 2009 @6:27:22 PM

I can relate- I've had a hiatus or two lately and they played havoc with my fiddling-
first swine flu (too tired to practice) and then Christmas music at gigs. I love it, but instead of doing gigs with 1/2 to 2/3 fiddle, it's maybe 3 or 4 carols I never learned the words to.

Overall though, in the last few years, plateaus have been fewer than they used to be.
I think part of it has been because I've gotten to be a stickler about:
1. Tightening the bow hair to the same tension (bow feels the same)
2. Tuning every practice session (even if it doesn't sound like it needs it- the notes stay in exactly the same place)
3. Rosining with exactly the same number of strokes, so the amount of rosin is consistent
4. Making sure my bowhold is exactly the same.
5. Starting off with my two favorite warm up tunes, Seneca Square Dance and Ebenezer.
Seneca somehow gets the shuffles flowing right because the first part is simple and relaxed,
and the B part challenges the E string intonation a bit- then Ebenezer challenges the E string intonation a lot. Be on the lookout for tunes that work in a similar way for you.

I'm not quite a stickler at it yet, but I'm getting better about cleaning rosin off my strings with a cork.
Several times now, a practice session has started out badly, then it occurred to me to clean the strings, and voila! Back in the groove!
Apparently excess rosin kills the tone AND makes intonating during warm-up harder. If I'm hunting for the right intonation, I'm not really flowing with the music- I'm stressed.

Good luck finding your way out of your slump!

bj Says:
Sunday, December 27, 2009 @6:40:58 PM

Michael, I just don't have it in me to be that compulsive! Though generally I already do most of what you say, though not to the degree you do.

One thing that's been throwing me off is that I've really relaxed my bowhold over the last couple months, which is a GOOD thing. But the bow grip on my best bow had the leather come loose, and I had to remove it, since it would keep moving under my hand and I was getting pain because of that movement. Without that leather, and with my more relaxed bow hold, my hand travels up the stick, and I'm constantly having to readjust back down. Or use a different bow, none of which are as comfortable playing as that one used to be when it had the grip. Another thing to get fixed. ** sigh! **

janepaints Says:
Sunday, December 27, 2009 @6:46:11 PM

I experience similar in all the creative areas of interest: fiddling/guitaring/composing/improvising/painting/writing. IMO it MIGHT be like farming: let a field lay fallow now and then. Don't work it. When painting feels like a big struggle, I don't paint--I'll play music or write instead. Most of last summer 'jazz' was what wanted to come outta my electric guitaring. So that's what I played. At summer's end the jazz-urge lessened and bluesy-rootsy-punky stuff began to predominate. Late last winter songs (with lyrics) were flowing. Then they didn't flow. Then, about a month ago, noodling on guitar one morning, a pretty good song appeared, all-at-once and complete. I don't know why these 'shifts' happen but, for me, things work best when I 'go with the flow'--accept that one aspect is kinda stinky for awhile, and likewise accept it when it feels like anything is possible, all systems 'go', everything looking rosy again. I've noticed similar in my listening habits. There will be times--usually one season (about 3 months) when ALL I wanna listen to is OT fiddle-n-banjo stuff, then it'll shift to rootsy simple electric noise, then shift to great-sounding pop-rock recordings (oldies stations are good for that, especially if they play lots of stax/motown/beatles/stones etc.). Then will come a phase of jazz listening, or classical listening, or talk radio, even POLKA shows. In every 'phase' my mind/ears seem to only me able to focus upon narrow aspects, while ignoring many others. Again, things feel best if I just go with these 'seasons.' Maybe it's a pisces thing. I dunno.

Andah1andah2 Says:
Sunday, December 27, 2009 @7:11:38 PM

It's all good BJ. Your frustration will turn to satisfaction in a few days. It's the usual ups and downs of what you are passionate about.

I hope you have a good time at the next jam. I believe you mentioned that you play near Lambertville. There was a great little pub that my wife and I would hit when up that way called "The Boat House". A great place if you've never been there...then again it might not be there anymore.

OTJunky Says:
Monday, December 28, 2009 @5:11:25 AM

It's probably just the saw stroking.

I'm having the same problem. I've so horrified myself that now my conscious and subconscious are at war - and I can't play anything.

Keep at it and you'll eventually come out on the other side playing twice as well as you did before. At least that's what i'm hoping for.

Probably it'll take more than a couple of days though. If you get through it in less time than a couple of months, I'm gonna be jealous...


Swing Says:
Monday, December 28, 2009 @5:24:05 AM

BJ,,, what seems to be a downward slide in your playing is just a passing hiccup. It happens to everyone and on the otehr side of that hiccup oyu will find yourself playing better than before... just keep going...

Play Happy

FiddleJammer Says:
Monday, December 28, 2009 @5:28:13 AM

Might be time to play the banjo more. :-)

Andah1andah2 Says:
Monday, December 28, 2009 @5:31:12 AM

Uh oh, banjo sees a opportunity and musters a rally

bj Says:
Monday, December 28, 2009 @5:37:13 AM

Well, Paul, I already figured out that doing the sawstroke thing my whole practice depresses me totally, so I've come up with a different way to do that, since I think it's ULTRAimportant. I do a short practice in the morning and deal with it then. I do find I'm adding in a little of it here and there into my regular tunes without much thought now, when I play later in the day.

But yeah, "I've so horrified myself" too. Boy did that phrase resonate!

bj Says:
Monday, December 28, 2009 @5:38:26 AM

Poor banjo . . .

bj Says:
Monday, December 28, 2009 @6:45:33 AM

Jane, it's a Pisces thing.

All I wanna play is fiddle tunes. Or other cool tunes made into fiddle tunes. PataPata makes a WONDERFUL fiddle tune! And lately I've been getting the urge to turn Low Rider into a fiddle tune . . . That might be one of those things that turns into a great busking tune. Have people dancing in the street. It's always been a kind of anthem of sorts.

barefootfdlr Says:
Monday, December 28, 2009 @8:10:39 AM

Happy Holidays bj! I do believe your issues have to do with the holidays throwing everything off track as I complained about the same thing on another site. I even contemplated quitting that's how frustrated I got. Instead, I wound up going to my first ever jam session and ended up joining them and now things are getting back to normal somewhat.
fiddlepogo has great tips, as always, that I try to follow consistently except for that last one. I don't have any particular warmup tunes. I just play something that's fun and easy to help wake up my hands.

Must be a water sign thing. :o)

edkarch Says:
Monday, December 28, 2009 @10:04:28 AM

Janepaints may have a point. I haven't turned a piece of wood in two months. I am still working on two 5 strings and trying to play the fiddle. It may also be the lack of a group fix. I got snowed out of two jams and two lessons but managed to jam with some pros in between to lessen the need for a fix.
Winter is almost over as now the days are getting longer.

bj Says:
Monday, December 28, 2009 @11:33:03 AM

Jane's a water sign. I'm not. :-)

But yeah, I think it's just the combination of things that got to me all at once, the biggest being lack of a jam fix. The others, including the sawstroke horror creation, equipment issues, general holiday blues, annoyance at winter and being inside, etc. just piled more wood on the fire. I also get really testy when there's a lack of sunshine, and it's that time of year. I tried the lightbulb that is supposed to help that issue, but it really doesn't do the job.

Ozarkian DL Says:
Monday, December 28, 2009 @2:30:50 PM

Well ur ans to tha prob is simple BJ. Try sum JD or JW ( jack daniels or johnnie walker ). Seriously tho. I think this happens to us all at times. Myself....I case my fiddle fer a day er 2 & it seems to help.

bj Says:
Monday, December 28, 2009 @2:37:37 PM

I got over it by playing badly, LOL! Read my latest blogpost!

I never was one for the demon whiskey, Oz. I'll let you drink my share . . .

AuldNick Says:
Tuesday, December 29, 2009 @2:14:12 AM

Oi vey...try a little klezmer for a while.....
This 'crash' goes in cycles. Some days I think the 'Misses' should
be a wall hanger..back to the pipes..or concertina!
I spent several hours playing along with the Foinn Session CDs
and the 'touch' is (Goddess, I hope) coming back.
So, now you know the meaning of - "Tormented Artist"
If it was easy - it wouldn't be SO dang hard !!

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