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Mining for Tunes!

Posted by fiddlepogo on Thursday, April 10, 2008

Over the years, as a singer and fiddler, I've realized that looking for material is a lot like mining.

In mining, you usually have to go through an awful lot of rock, gravel, and sand to get to the gold, or whatever precious metal or stone you're after.  Here in the Gold Country of California, (actually just up in the mountains to the east of here) a lot of mining still takes place with dredges and sluiceboxes or just panning for gold... mostly for recreation, since most of the easy placer gold got taken out a long time ago.

There is so much material available now via the Internet.  Mountains of stuff.  More than anyone could learn or play in a lifetime.  The thing is, not all of it's equally valuable, even if you've found some treasure troves in a style you love.  I really feel it pays to learn only the best tunes in any genre- life is too short to play mediocre fiddle tunes!

Especially when there are so many good ones!

What I do is I put a bunch of midis or mp3s in a directory, highlight them all and press enter, then Windows Media Player plays them.  I have the player set to repeat.

After going through the tunes a couple of times, I really can't bear to hear some of them any more... I can tell that there just isn't enough there to motivate me to want to learn them.  Since I'm a packrat, I usually can't bring myself to delete them, but I make a subdirectory and mark it "low_priority", and move the "duds" there.  I want the best tunes accessible, I've found if I put the good tunes too far down the directory tree, they are so hidden I forget about them.  I need to keep stuff that needs learning very close to my desktop.  I've been going through this filtering or refining process recently with Stephen Foster and Scottish tunes.

Focusing on only the best tunes has a number of benefits.

1. It's a motivator for practice- it's the "spoonful of sugar" that helps the medicine of practice "go down"

2. While there's no accounting for taste, if you pick out good melodies, there is a better chance that audiences at gigs and while busking will agree with you, and like them- and your performance!

3.  A beautiful melody has power.  I would rather listen to a mediocre fiddler playing a beautiful tune, than a top-ranked fiddler playing a mediocre tune... because after hearing the mediocre fiddler play the beautiful tune, I will leave with that beautiful tune in my head, most likely!

4.  If a melody is strong enough, I find I never truly get bored with it- it becomes a part of me, and somehow bears repeating... which is a good thing, because by much repeating you can come up will really refined, well-honed versions.  Sometimes I'll wake up with a new variation for a tune I've known for years that makes it fresh, or there are so many versions of many good tunes that you can cobble the best parts of each into a "killer" version.

I really feel strongly that for success in gigging or busking, you have to offer the audience variety.  For instance, if I were busking with exclusively Irish tunes, I would want to play not just my favorite dance form, but keep a balance of jigs, reels, hornpipes, and even the better airs and harp tunes.  That gives people who've hardly ever heard the music before a chance to get used to the musical structures and idea with a variety of tempos and time signatures.  And if you can sing a few songs, do that too, although if you're not that good a singer, it might be best to sing funny songs or somesuch.

I personally am not that fond of waltzes, but for the sake of variety for my audiences, I need to do a few... and for my sanity's sake, they have to be the very best tunes.  For you, it might be jigs, or hornpipes, or modal tunes.  Don't reject a whole catego

4 comments on “Mining for Tunes!”

OTJunky Says:
Thursday, April 10, 2008 @7:43:58 PM

You didn't mention rags, but rags like Pig Ankle Rag and Beaumont Rag can be real crowd pleasers.  And that goes double for something like "Dill Pickle Rag" that most people have heard before at one time or another.


tiquose Says:
Thursday, April 10, 2008 @8:27:45 PM

Maybe, hint hint, you'll post "Don't Bet Your Money on the Shanghai"? That's my favorite Piney Creek Weasels tune.

John Gent Says:
Thursday, April 10, 2008 @11:16:48 PM

'Place in the Heart' is a mando waltz that I've done on the fiddle that might be one that you'd consider a keeper. You can listen to Scott Tichenor play a beautiful rendition here: - under Uncatagorized.

- John

fiddlepogo Says:
Friday, April 11, 2008 @12:01:14 AM

OTJ- You're right, I should do more rags. You know, it just occurred to me maybe why I don't- I think they are like bluegrass banjo in that they may need good backup guitar to sound right. And I gig solo most of the time. Tiquose, Maybe, it'll take some work- I just learned it... and I think I forgot it already- but it's not hard. Piney Creek Weasels, eh? More fellow Californians... and Sacramentans at that! I've only heard them on ezfolk, but I do like them enough to have some of their stuff on ezfolk on my OT "radio station" Excellent fiddler- does a great job on "Avalon". John, fellow Knilling Bucharest user! Thanks for the link- I'll give it a listen!

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