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Nov 13, 2017 - 2:33:01 PM
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964 posts
Joined Aug 27, 2008

Nobody else has posted in 12 hours. It's a rainy grey day here, and I'm taking a break from carving the top for my latest violin, which is going to be a five string.

I played for a Contra dance on Saturday and afterward the caller said she loved us. She lives in a different part of the county, out on the coast, where I know there to be many more musicians than the town we were playing in, and I asked her what musicians she used there, and she said there were lots of musicians there who played very well, but hardly anybody who could play dance tempos all night, 8-10 minutes a tune. That gave me a sense of accomplishment. The band I'm in is essentially a bluegrass band, but I've brought several old time fiddle tunes to them, which is what we play for the dances. I'm the only one in the band who can drive the tunes and sustain them so they back me up and I go for it.

Endurance. It is both physical and mental for me. There have been topics here before about playing fast, something I always defend as being fun and musical. What is hard about playing fast is unneeded tension, and the way to get over that for me has been to work on playing up to speed for several minutes at a time. I have seen advice to stop playing when you feel fatigue, otherwise you will be training yourself to play with tension. At first, that's probably not bad advice, but you need to move on and play, and learn to let the tension go as you are playing. You need to fight mental fatigue, too. You need to know the tunes well enough to play without thinking too much. Thinking can trip you up. If you do trip up, let it go. Caring too much creates tension, too. Keep the timing.

The way to learn to play with endurance is to not falter on timing. Whatever else happens to your playing, the tune itself exists on its own, and you are playing along. You've got to feel the tune moving, and your job is to be there with it.

This is the 4th Contra dance I've played in a couple years. I'm 66 years old, been playing the fiddle for 13 years, and happy to find I am still getting better. I recommend playing dances. Now back to the shop.

Nov 13, 2017 - 3:08:17 PM

9759 posts
Joined Sep 23, 2009

Interesting! A lot to think about there...nice post.

Nov 13, 2017 - 8:30:52 PM
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Fiddler

USA

3615 posts
Joined Jun 22, 2007

You got it! Playing for contra and square dances is incredibly fun and richly rewarding. You hit the nail on the head about endurance and maintaining timing. I will add to that "phrasing."

I have regularly played for contra and square dances for almost 40 years. I dislike playing from dot (sheet music) because I lose the connection of the music to the dance and to the caller. In fact, the music is what directs the dance. The caller only reminds the dancers of the figures. It is the music that "tells" them when to do it - and sometimes it even "tells" them what to do!

I have played for some contras that lasted over 15 minutes!! Some callers will keep the dance going until the head couple returns to the top of the set. If I look down the set and see 30 couples in each set, I KNOW it's going to be lonngggg dance. I need to play tunes that I know well and that are "forgiving." In other words, the tunes allow me a little time to rest - they are not too notey. Or I can take a break by letting another band member to take the lead. Unfortunately, after about 14 minutes, I might get sloppy. I have learned how to play through the muck. And that only comes with experience.

Here's a little tip - watch the teaching/walk through. Know what the first figure is for the A part of the tune and for the B part of the tune. When you play for extended periods, you WILL go brain dead and you WILL lose your place. The dancers will tell you when you are on the A part or B part.

I see a successful dance as being a collaboration among the musicians, the caller and the dancers. If the communication breaks down, the dance fails. I can tell when the music is not right - wrong tempo, wrong tune, wrong phrasing. The dancers show it. I can tell when the caller is not right. The dancers show it. I can tell when the dancers are not "right" - something is distracting them.

But, when it does click, there is not a higher high. The exciting thing for me is when the caller backs away and stops calling. The caller has taught the dance well. The dancers are following your music. And, at the end of almost every dance where the caller backs out, the dancers erupt in cheers and applause. That is the ultimate compliment! You can't buy enough drugs for that high!! (If you do drugs, which I don't endorse or do myself!)

So, good luck and best wishes for your next dance!

Nov 14, 2017 - 5:50:35 AM

1310 posts
Joined Oct 22, 2007

Believe it or not, I contribute most of my endurance to my bow. I would say set-up next, but I've just installed a new L.R.Baggs bridge and I don't know if I'm entirely settled on it yet. Purists don't hate, but it really helps to have an amp for dances/shows. I don't have to stand "just right" under a mike. I don't have to "bear down." And of course, rehearse. I hate it, but that means playing standing up. If the only time you stand up for 3-4 hours is for a gig, it's gonna get ugly towards the end. I'm guilty of this, and you'd think I'd know better. I gotta do more walking.

Nov 14, 2017 - 6:36:46 AM

1770 posts
Joined Oct 1, 2008

Interesting BW. Thanks for the post. R/

Nov 14, 2017 - 8:41:34 AM

964 posts
Joined Aug 27, 2008

quote:
Originally posted by farmerjones

Believe it or not, I contribute most of my endurance to my bow. I would say set-up next, but I've just installed a new L.R.Baggs bridge and I don't know if I'm entirely settled on it yet. Purists don't hate, but it really helps to have an amp for dances/shows. I don't have to stand "just right" under a mike. I don't have to "bear down." And of course, rehearse. I hate it, but that means playing standing up. If the only time you stand up for 3-4 hours is for a gig, it's gonna get ugly towards the end. I'm guilty of this, and you'd think I'd know better. I gotta do more walking.


I haven't tried a pickup yet. I have used one in my mandolin and really didn't care for it much, though it helped cut through in a loud band with electric instruments in it. I wouldn't fault anyone for using a violin pickup, though. I fitted a Baggs bridge for someone once, but never heard how he liked it. Personally, I would hate the extra hardware hanging on the instrument. I also like working the mic as part of the sound mix, where I can back away when I don't need to dominate the sound. And standing just so under a boom mic seems kind of cool to me, for some reason.

I'm usually okay with standing up for a long time, but I recently bought one of those portable astronomer's stools that will adjust up to nearly butt height, so I can sit occasionally without lowering myself much.

Nov 14, 2017 - 5:18:28 PM

Fiddler

USA

3615 posts
Joined Jun 22, 2007

When I started using a pickup (Bartlett), I noticed a significant change in my playing. I let my instrument do the work of projecting rather than playing with a "heavy bow." I also notice less tension in my bow arm and hand. I could also be more expressive.

I have used a boom mic occasionally, and I resort to my old habit of playing with a heavy bow. I'm guessing that the sound board and monitors weren't set properly.

Has anyone else noticed a difference in their technique when playing acoustic, with a boom mic and with a pickup?

Nov 14, 2017 - 6:17:03 PM

964 posts
Joined Aug 27, 2008

quote:
Originally posted by Fiddler

When I started using a pickup (Bartlett), I noticed a significant change in my playing. I let my instrument do the work of projecting rather than playing with a "heavy bow." I also notice less tension in my bow arm and hand. I could also be more expressive.

I have used a boom mic occasionally, and I resort to my old habit of playing with a heavy bow. I'm guessing that the sound board and monitors weren't set properly.

Has anyone else noticed a difference in their technique when playing acoustic, with a boom mic and with a pickup?


Yeah, I can see how that would help. I’d like to try sometime. I have one violin that isn’t very punchy and I could put a pickup on it.

Nov 14, 2017 - 6:58:49 PM
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5432 posts
Joined Aug 7, 2009

quote:
Originally posted by farmerjones

 If the only time you stand up for 3-4 hours is for a gig, it's gonna get ugly towards the end.


We played a regular 3 hour gig once a month - and an ocassional 4 hour gig.  The playing was always fun. I would never realize how tired I had gotten until the music ended. When I would bend over or squat to put the guitar away - whoa - wasn't sure I would be able to straighten back up. surprise

Nov 15, 2017 - 7:15:08 AM
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robinja

USA

1077 posts
Joined Jun 25, 2007

Not a dance, but my band recently played wallpaper music for 4-1/2 hours outdoors. We took a 15 minute break halfway through. The kicker was that it was 40 degrees and windy! (An October evening in Atlanta...you just never know.)

We brought a small propane heater, which helped a little, but mostly we just toughed it out. Our audience was people standing in line waiting on a Halloween tour, and they seemed to really appreciate the opportunity to tap their toes. I was proud of our tenacity! Was a little sore around the shoulders the next day.

Judy

Nov 15, 2017 - 9:36:26 AM

816 posts
Joined Mar 19, 2009
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abinigia
I play Barndances & Square Dances often here and certainly understand the endurance factor. I timed the Virginia Reel once @ it lasted 20 minutes.
One suggestion I might offer . . . try playing more melody and less around it. Being a Bluegrass fiddler, you probably play around the melody a lot which makes for lots more Notes and more work on yourself than necessary. Itís fine when youíre putting on a Bluegrass show or playing in a contest, but not necessary for a dance. Dancers prefer to hear the basic melody & beat.

Nov 15, 2017 - 9:54:17 AM

964 posts
Joined Aug 27, 2008

quote:
Originally posted by jefferylong

abinigia
I play Barndances & Square Dances often here and certainly understand the endurance factor. I timed the Virginia Reel once @ it lasted 20 minutes.
One suggestion I might offer . . . try playing more melody and less around it. Being a Bluegrass fiddler, you probably play around the melody a lot which makes for lots more Notes and more work on yourself than necessary. It’s fine when you’re putting on a Bluegrass show or playing in a contest, but not necessary for a dance. Dancers prefer to hear the basic melody & beat.


I think you give good advice. In fact I was trying to keep that in mind last Saturday. You're right, I get too notey sometimes, and made a conscious effort to stick to the melody this time and embellish or vary it very little. Part of my trying not to think too hard while playing was, ironically, resisting the temptation to play variations. If I make a habit of it for dances though, I won't be distracted by it.

Nov 15, 2017 - 10:08:18 AM

816 posts
Joined Mar 19, 2009
Online Now

abinigia
I played Bgrass for 30 years and I know how notey it can become. Not that their’s anything wrong with that in the proper place, but for a dance it’s not necessary. They’re not paying that much attention . . . mainly listening for the beat.
Good luck with your dances. I really enjoy them. To me the ultimate compliment is for someone to dance to my fiddlin’.

Edited by - jefferylong on 11/15/2017 10:09:18

Nov 15, 2017 - 11:24:45 AM
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DougD

USA

8353 posts
Joined Dec 2, 2007

Regarding his popular square dance records, Tommy Jackson said  “I always kept the tunes as simple as possible, ’cause I was selling a beat,”

Edited by - DougD on 11/15/2017 11:25:34

Nov 16, 2017 - 3:46:29 PM

5969 posts
Joined Mar 19, 2009

The idea of Endurance is exactly why I hesitate to be the Only fiddler for a contra dance.. Even though my energy level is always elevated at a dance, I still need that second fiddler to keep me "normal". Plus, It is not beyond me to ask a caller to be considerate of the band .. Some callers just have no idea just how hard playing for a dance can be..

Nov 17, 2017 - 5:49:42 PM

62 posts
Joined Aug 10, 2017

A couple years ago my friend organized a weekend camping trip--Thurs-Sun--for all us old-time musicians to get together. It was held the same weekend as the old-time fiddler's convention which is on the Sunday afternoon of that weekend. I showed up on Friday after work. We played until after midnight on Friday, we played all day on Saturday until the park rangers came and shut us down at 10pm, then part of Sunday morning. Then we jammed all day at the convention. My fingers were so sore! Shredded, really. My brain was melted. I literally could no longer play. I made so many mistakes by Sunday afternoon. But once I recovered from it, I a) had calluses like you wouldn't believe that have not gone away and b) I made real leaps in my abilities. This was with my mandolin.

I had hoped the same thing would happen this year with the fiddle but alas, I still suck at it, although I am a lot better at intonation than before.

In any case, I don't have much trouble with my stamina to play for however many minutes it takes to go through an entire square dance. I learned all these tunes by ear to begin with, and the process I went through to do that was to start with an outline of the tune and try to add more notes as I could. I can always fall back to the simplified outline or create a little variation that gives me a little rest whenever I want, plus it adds (I hope) to making the tune a little less monotonous.

I don't know how far Boonville is from Mendocino, but a friend of mine has moved to Mendocino. Banjo Bob Larkin. I have no idea how to find him, but maybe you can find him. He can play old-time all day no problem.

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