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Bluegrass Improvisation Blog 05: One Small Step for Fiddlin' Kind

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Well, my band's in the studio this month and we managed to record five tracks on our first day of recording - not bad for a bunch of novices! We’re doing it all live as well, with no opportunity for patching things up later – yikes. Amazingly, I’m actually doing a lot of improvising, nothing special, but at least it takes me one tiny step closer to my ultimate goal (of being a red-hot, devil-may-care bluegrass fiddler). Of course I’ve painstakingly worked out all my breaks in advance (and practiced them all a gazillion times) but when I’m doing backup I sort of mess around with various ideas I’ve been working on over the last few weeks. So that’s got to be a good thing (in theory)!

In other news, I learned a lot about improvisation this week in a lesson with a fiddler called Aaron Jonah Lewis, an American guy based in Berlin and currently doing some gigs in London. My brief to him was simple: I told him I wanted to learn to like Soldier’s Joy. I’ve always hated this tune; it’s just too happy and fiddley-diddley for my tortured soul. I prefer tunes that are spooky or sad, or that have some tension or emotion to them, but Soldier’s Joy just leaves me cold. Aaron started by teaching me a weird version that a friend of his made up. Just copying this note-for-note was an eye opener – it had me putting my fingers into shapes they had never known, and doing some dissonant double stops that sounded like cool mistakes.

He also had some excellent practical advice about different approaches you can take to improvisation. For example, take a tune and play it all using double stops. Or all fifths even. Play it in a different key and see how that changes what you do with it. Play an entire tune using hammer-ons, or the double shuffle, or slide every note. Not that any of these are necessarily going to sound good; they’re just excercises for generating ideas. But my favourite piece of advice was, pick something that you like doing (like a certain way of sliding, a certain shuffle, or whatever) and apply it to the tune. I had a go at Soldier’s Joy using as much double shuffle a possible. It totally works – you can replace those annoying arpeggios at the beginning with a double shuffle on a D chord, and voila! Soldier’s Joy suddenly sounds cool!

I think I might bin off the scales for a month and instead just loop some guitar backup to let loose with. (But let’s get this album out of the way first...)


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Playing Since: 2005
Experience Level: Purty Good

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Occupation: Company Secretary

Gender: Female
Age: 55

My Instruments:
Fiddle, double bass

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They're all great but Kenny's my favourite!

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Created 4/1/2009
Last Visit 4/5/2023

I first picked up the fiddle in 2005 and have been addicted ever since. I was a founding member of the Jolenes, a London-based bluegrass-ish band (we split in 2018). Current band is The Sisters & The Brothers - similar deal. But really all I want to do is play Old Time tunes!

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