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The Music in my Head

Posted by bj on Friday, December 10, 2010

Every now and again I'll be listening to different Oldtime fiddlers and one version of a tune will be so  . . . different. Distinctive. And it isn't a huge difference, but just a changeup in the way rhythm is approached, or the way the shuffles are woven together, or  . . . something.

The first couple few years playing I basically chose one of those versions of a tune and copied it. That was an important part of learning, since I was learning the mechanics and the note phrase vocabulary that learning tunes would give me. And I've done justice to those versions, as evidenced by some mad fiddler having a bad hair day wandering over to me at Black Creek early morning pre-coffee and just done with his wakeup outhouse visit and sporting a peculiar look on his face while asking me where I got that version of Lowery's Quadrille. When I told him it was from a recording of some guy named Mike Jarboe he started laughing, then stuck his hand out and said, "Hi, I'm Mike Jarboe."

But now it's time for something new.

Now it's time for me to pull the music outta my head. Or I dunno, maybe I need to pull it from somewhere deeper still.

Sometimes bits and pieces of it happen spontaneously as I'm monkeymind playing during a jam, without thinking of much of anything. Those times are wonderful, and I'll find myself grinning and looking at my bow and wondering where the hell that came from. It's not whole tunes, but bits and pieces that just magically appear, like some gift from the cosmos transmitting itself directly into my fiddle.

Other times I'll try to catch those bits and pieces and consciously work on them, but I'm finding that to be much less successful. Hugely less successful. What happens is that if I consciously try to change up a tune that I've been playing a certain way for a long time, my bow and left fingers go back to the original way, like a phonograph needle stuck in the groove.

So I experiment on a micro level. Adding a little sawstroke here and there (this seems to be the thing that works in more places than not!) Playing that little bit there with a Nashville groove, or maybe even bowing the whole thing Nashvilled but only one time through. Or adding a more swingy feel overall to a version by a slight microsecond hesitation on the downbeat. Or starting that B part with a before-the-beat power stroke, but only sometimes. Or switching octaves for one run through of an A or B part. Or BANGING the bow on that note (I love doing this!) or sometimes even banging out a three note run. Or . . . Or . . . there's a whole bag of tricks, and a lot I haven't learned yet.

And this seems to be morphing things in wondrous ways, but nothing is finished, and I suspect nothing ever will be. And I think that's a good thing. Though I dunno. I think of Lester McCumber's version of Yew Piney Mountain and how he basically plays it almost exactly the same way every time and how I'm grateful for that since I doubt his version of that tune could ever be more perfect than it is now.

What a long strange trip it's been . . .

9 comments on “The Music in my Head”

richdissmore Says:
Friday, December 10, 2010 @7:16:18 AM

i was in a class takeing fiddle from bsed he told us play any christmass song we wanted i tryed to think of one. . this one guy were i had worked every day he would whisel good king winsel i could not get that song out of my head i could not think of any other song so i played that one it came out fine

TopCat Says:
Friday, December 10, 2010 @8:09:44 AM

Great blog as ever. I particularly like the Mike Jarboe story.

FiddleJammer Says:
Friday, December 10, 2010 @8:11:14 AM

Lot's of xmas tunes fall under the fingers in the key of G with lots of automatic low drones. Good King Wenceslas can really kick the tinsel up with an OT beat and shuffle. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, and Jingle Bells, too.

BJ, you are having too much fun in that right side of your brain. :-) Good on ya.

mudbug Says:
Friday, December 10, 2010 @12:02:01 PM

Yeah, great storey about the Mike Jarboe incident.

harwilli55 Says:
Saturday, December 11, 2010 @12:57:49 PM

I was cracking up reading the Mike Jarboe account !!! That sounds so like something I would do :-D

I like how you describe your learning process bj. It sounds like you have reached a point in your music where you have the confidence to go beyond imitation and leap into creative individuation. I would imagine that your friend Jane Giday would say " Quit with Da Thinking BJ, Play it how you feel it " :-) And so you shall and those magic moments will become more and longer the less you think :-D

mike jarboe Says:
Saturday, December 11, 2010 @2:55:17 PM

Thank you for the Mike Jarboe story...sounds like a real card... :)

bj Says:
Saturday, December 11, 2010 @3:17:19 PM

Oh yeah, that Mike Jarboe, is a real card. He's the same one who, when he realized I couldn't easily pick up a crooked tune on the fly, laughed hysterically every time I screwed it up. ;-)

Humbled by this instrument Says:
Saturday, December 11, 2010 @5:25:58 PM

I always re-work tunes. But so does everyone else. It's all a process, then a product, then more process, more product. What happens is I practice a tune, then improvise a bit, and sometimes the two intermingle, truly. The new product or tune doesn't always "work," but it's what i do. Thanks again for sharing, bj, for I do enjoy your insights and musings of course==

playmorebluegrass Says:
Monday, December 13, 2010 @6:26:57 PM

inspiring as always!!!!!! hope you are having a good holiday!

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