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Rambling Thoughts

Posted by harwilli55 on Saturday, August 14, 2010

I am often amazed at the highs and lows that seem to attend learning how to fiddle. There are times when I am satisfied, even estatic about a days practice. Then there are those days, when it feels as if I am just starting again and nothing comes easy, nor sounds good. The bad days are pretty bad....if I were a horse....I would ask to be shot and put out of my misery.....lolol. However, whatever was happening on that bad day, the next days practice seems to flow like magic, and I am able to pull off sounds, tones, and riffs I was struggling with previously.  And therein lies the process of progress, it is never a straight line from point A to point B, but rather a series of ups and downs, ultimately the whole rises further than sinking. I also know that when I am pushing my limits, that I am asking myself to do things beyond my present capability, it will not sound good then, but one day it will.

I know there are a lot of factors that affect how I play.  The first factor and perhaps the most basic one relates to how tired I am from my day at work.  Some nights, I have barely have the energy to pick my instrument up.....and when I do.....I am unable to generate much of anything.  Other nights, I may be tired, but when I pick up my fiddle and those first notes sound good.....wow....all of a sudden.....the days tiredness is gone.....and I can play for a couple of hours.

 I really want to work towards getting that OT fiddle sound.  Really, what I want, is that OT rhythmnic drive that makes the feet want to dance.  One of my OT friends came back from Clifftop with a bunch of recordings he made of jams as he was walking to the bathroom, or to get ice.  Wow.....I love the tunes, but it was the energy and drive of the fiddles along with the clawhammer banjos that really get me going.  You can hear when they find the groove and sink into it for a while.  There is nothing to my ear, that sounds better than a bunch of fiddles playing in the groove together.

 Yea.....I have yet to figure that out.....how to make that rhythmic groove shuffle happen . I can play the notes of  tunes , but cannot seem to reproduce the rhythm.  Lots of work to do there.....and I know it will come with time.  So, I am at a point, where I have plenty of tunes I can play that I can participate in local jams without resorting to the dots.

Which brings me to my working on learning by ear.  One of the things as an adult learner, is that I have found is the fear of being wrong is so much greater than when I was a child.  As a child, playing wrong notes, simply was part and parcel of learning. It is just what you did....explored.....tried new things......etc. When I started playing mandolin as an adult, I had not read music in perhaps 25 years.....so, when I began reading again....I was back in the first grade reading "Dick & Jane".....the upshot was that as I progressed with my reading, my dependence having notation grew also.....and then the learned helplessness set in....why memorize when it is already written.....nae need to work that hard.....

So, now that I have been dependant on the dots and can read pretty well, I am finding it harder to jump off the cliff(so to speak), play bad notes to develop my ear.  What has made it easy to play in most any jam situation, especially when tunes I don't know are being played, is I can pick up the mandolin, or guitar and play the chords.  Nothing easier than that.  Yet, that is the biggest deterrent to learning since I am not concentrating with fiddle in hand to find the notes.  Avoidance means I can participate, not only participate, but contribute to the jam. It also means, that I will be clueless about the tune at the end, and I haven't gained any experience working it out.....ahhhh....so, I am beginning to leave the mandolin & guitar at home......concentrate on the fiddle.....and spend time developing the ear to finger connections.

I don't expect to be good at picking up tunes on the fly any time soon, but I do know that by keeping myself independent of reliance on the dots, eventually, I will become more capable of going into most any situation and being able to pick up new stuff then and there. That is my ultimate goal. Of course, a lot of that will be dependant on working on the technique and gaining more control of the bow and fingerboard, which is what home time practice is becoming. 

Ultimately, I find that I am transitioning from a  tune aquisistion focus to a skill/technique focus nowadays. That is a good thing.  I have the confidence, that I will learn tunes and be able to play them.  How I learn them, how well I can play them, and be capable of leading them remain goals of the future.



4 comments on “Rambling Thoughts”

Corky Says:
Saturday, August 14, 2010 @2:10:20 PM

Hi Harlan:

I can sure relate to what you are saying. Sometimes I make music and sometimes I make noise! I really don't understand the reasoning behind these differences either. I guess it just is what it is.

I also can read music, however the reading is slow and the music shouldn't be played that slow.

I have been playing for a few years now. I started to try to learn to play by myself from books and cd's. Unknowingly I learned a bunch of bad habits that haunt me to this day. About 4 years ago I found a fiddle teacher that has helped me overcome some of these bad habits. Unfortunately some of these bad habits just refuse to give up. But I am like you, persistent and a little strong willed to give up. So I do as Canadian Fiddler Ned Landry says I"just keep atter".

I know why the fiddle is refered to as the Devils Box. I can't play it very well and I can't leave it alone either! Quite a paradox when you stop and think about it. The devil has to have a hand in this.

Anyway, Even though my progress has been painfully slow I would not trade the fun and the good people I have met for anything. Most musicians are the greatest people in the world.



mudbug Says:
Saturday, August 14, 2010 @3:15:31 PM

Hey, Harlan! Many good points. You know the direction you want to go in, and you want to devellop your ear better. Good idea to leave the guitar home. Don't worry about making those bad notes. It's a ratio with the good notes. In the beginning, it's more bad to good, and eventually, it's more good to bad........but you tolerate the bad ones less. It's a conundrum.

bj Says:
Saturday, August 14, 2010 @3:55:48 PM

Harlan, the groove happened for me when I finally "got" downbow on the downbeat. 'Tis the touchstone I always come back to even if I take the bowing in a different direction for bits and pieces of tunes, and that means I always come back to the groove. It's hard to "get" but once you do it makes everything else much, much simpler.

As to having the courage (or stupidity) to play in front of people even when you think you can't play well-- Jane pointed out to me early on that if people don't know the tune you're playing, how the hell can they recognize a mistake when it's made? ;-)

harwilli55 Says:
Sunday, August 15, 2010 @7:19:38 AM

Aye Corky, I have met and made friends with really great people because of playing music. That in & of itself is worth the price of admission. Last night, I went to an Irish Session, with a group of people( about 15) that I have been playing with for about 1 1/2 years. We had a short, but fun fun fun fast paced session. Afterwards, a bunch of us gathered at one of the members house to play OT into the wee hours of the morning. These are people whom have been playing since the late 60's & early 70's. As I was playing, I realized how lucky I was to be included in this abundant wealth of experienced knowledgeable musicians. While I am beginning to hold my own while playing along with them, I am no where near getting that OT fiddle sound......YET.....but I know I will get there.

LOL....Steve.....you put it so well.....yep.....I will truly find out who my real friends are as I stumble around making bad notes...acutally, though....it is because of their pushiness and telling me to put the mando & guitar away...that I am able to do that. Last night, I was able to get about 3/4's of some new to me tunes that were played......and that my friend is progress !!!

BJ, you know.....I can hear it as clear as a bell with the fiddlers I play with......and I know I getting close to having the.....hmmm...well.... I am controlling the bow with more clarity now, rather than the bow running amuck of its own accord.....which means that I am at that moment when it makes sense to really concentrate on technique ....huh :-D I am at the point, where intellectually I understand that the "downbow on the downbeat" is what I want to develop as an basis for bowing....but not where it comes naturally....I was playing with Ironworker ( FHO member) last night who has the OT fiddle style that I want ( You hear that Mike !!!).....so, I do have access to role models which I know will help tremendously.....and as for courage/stupidity......I have plenty......though there is debate which of the two I have more of !!! However, Jane is totally correct.....most people have no idea I am making mistakes when they are unfamiliar with the music I am playing......and no......they have no idea how badly I am playing.....that is why I am constantly surprized when they applaud :-D

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