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After 4 years...

Posted by tonyelder on Monday, October 7, 2013

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My fiddling adventure is 4 years old now, and I thought I would share a few thoughts.

I’m fortunate to live in an area where the old time fiddling community is very healthy.  I am able to attend 2 strictly old time music jams each week (but I haven’t recently). I think we have as many old time fiddlers in our community as we have old time guitar, banjo, or mandolin players – combined.  And most of them are pretty darn good.

With that as a backdrop, perhaps it would be easy for you to understand why I might have thought early on – I need to learn as many tunes as I can, as quickly as I can – so that I can participate in and contribute something to  that community.

That was my mindset going in – and it still is. But I’m realizing more and more – there are a few things that deserve my attention.

One of the biggest problems that my “mindset” created for me:  I have learned to play a pretty good number of tunes, but I have a hard time remembering almost any of them of them when I am at a jam. I have a smartphone – and all it takes is for me to just cue up a tune and - quite literally - listen to the first second or 2, and I remember it. But it is embarrassing for me to have to depend on that.

Another problem:  I’ve been learning everything from available contemporary recordings and not from fellow musicians. That means – a lot of the tunes I have learned are not always going to be the same “versions” that are being played at the jams.  It’s not a real problem, everyone is very accommodating. But…  if it isn’t the same – well, it’s not the same.  And that happens more times than not.

And yet another problem is with how well I play.  I will cut myself a little slack here and say that I’ve learned a lot of tunes in 4 years. But I haven’t really taken the time I need to take to improve my technical skills with the instrument. And most of the tunes I have learned to play are still at a “fundamental” level – and needs to be polished and given more depth.

I have been willing to accept quantity over quality (but not ignoring quality). I realize that some folks would be quick to chide me for my attitude, and I accept that. It was a conscious decision I made – and to be honest - one I really don’t regret making.  I’m banking on time and effort being able to fix most of these problems over the longer haul.

But, I am trying to develop a strategy that will help me work on these problems. I want to break my dependence on cues for starting tunes. I want to pay more attention to the technical skills that will pay the biggest, quickest improvement dividends. I want to be able to play versions of tunes I know with enough confidence to lead the tune, and work harder on listening to what others are playing when I’m not leading.

I intend to share some of those strategies as I fix them in my mind. And I invite you to share your thoughts, suggestions and recommendations with me.


3 comments on “After 4 years...”

martynspeck Says:
Tuesday, October 8, 2013 @6:28:41 AM

I'm only at three years but I can share my strategy. On a regular basis I try to play through all the tunes I know. If you have enough you may need to do this on a rotation. Maybe 30 or so at a time.

Any tune that I can't start without hearing it or looking at the notes or I make an error on, goes on the practice list. A song is only 'learned' and off the practice list when I can play it up to speed without notes or cues 3 times through without error.

I try to only keep 5 tunes on the practice list. This includes tunes I'm learning and relearning.

Humbled by this instrument Says:
Thursday, October 10, 2013 @5:03:03 AM

If it works then it works. I'll take time with each tune and then come back to them later. My list is always changing. Tunes which were my favs only a year ago aren't even on my list now and probably will be again soon. Yet i do not have any jams like you do! I am jealous.

tonyelder Says:
Wednesday, October 16, 2013 @8:12:41 AM

hmmm.... been pondering this for a bit.

Martyn - I'm not real concerned over my errors. I accept that my playing will always be full of errors of one kind or another. Mainly because I’m never satisfied with leaving things alone – something else is always needed to make it better. So, I’m always changing things up a bit, or trying out new tricks or ideas, or.... any number of things that prevent me from settling on just one way to play a tune.

Perfection is a noble goal, but I've given up on perfection as a reality. Life became much more fun when I learned to laugh at my errors. Now, my life is FULL of laughter.

I think my attitude is similar to what Curt describes. And maybe some of what you are doing as well (if allowed to read your comments that way). My time spent practicing is not based on a set number of tunes or a block of time. I play everything cross-tuned on the fiddle. So the first thing I think of is what key do I want to play in? I have created playlists in mTrax for different keys with tunes and songs that I'm either playing or learning to play. I play off one of those playlists - picking tunes that have my current interest. Usually the one ones I pick are the ones that I'm polishing or learning - the ones that I find interesting and challenging. But I'll include playing a few “fun” ones too. I never have enough patience to spend more than 15 minutes on any one tune or song (in recognition of a 15 minute limit that I've heard said is about all that will ever be productive time).

So that whole routine usually works out to be somewhere in the neighborhood of about 30 tunes off of the list - give or take. And out of those, I'll usually have about 5 or so that I spend extra time with - during the course of the evening.

There are songs and tunes that have fallen off the list – for whatever reason. And I’m always adding new ones.

But, having said that – every song or tune I want to play stays on my practice list. No tune comes off a playlist unless I lose interest in it. They all get played –errors or no errors.

That aside - my biggest struggle right now is remembering of how a tune goes - cold. I just can't recall them when I need to hear it in my head. But - you let me hear a fraction of a second of the recording I learned the tune from - and it is all right there and I’m fine after that.

But - I had a similar problem with lyrics for a number of years. And NOW - I know a lot of songs - I really do. I still forget words occasionally, but – the difference is night and day.

So, I'm expecting that time and a lot of focused effort will take care of all this too - eventually. But I know there are probably things that will help move this along a little quicker. Maybe not.

I’m working on a method that I think will help.

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