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Jun 13, 2024 - 6:05:50 AM
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3420 posts since 10/22/2007

All this talk of excellence has got me thinking. Defining "good." How?
I can't stand to listen to myself.
Friends and family are too kind.
Strangers are too polite.
Free teachers? Don't you get what you pay for?
Paid teachers? Sometimes, I get the feeling they're trying to perpetuate their situation.
Who or what can one trust?

Jun 13, 2024 - 6:45:47 AM
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1543 posts since 3/1/2020

I would say it’s up to a knowledgeable audience to decide who’s excellent and who isn’t. An audience that’s not familiar with the style or instrument will have a hard time making judgments on skill and will focus more on ability to play to an audience (not an unimportant quality, but separate from technical ability and general musical understanding). An individual player will be positively or negatively biased. Even if the player’s perception of personal ability is accurate, it doesn’t really matter unless a knowledgeable audience agrees.

An audience can discern basic playing ability pretty well—poor intonation, rhythm issues, and flubbed passages come across fairly obviously. But discerning excellence is something else that not everyone can do without an understanding of what makes players excellent.

This is where criticism can be so important. One of the best examples of this comes from the life of Jascha Heifetz. In his early years he was phenomenally talented and achieved great acclaim before even hitting puberty. However, as he developed interests in things like fast cars and parties, he began to rest on his laurels a bit and stopped pushing himself to be excellent. This came back to bite him when he played a concert and received poor reviews from some very good critics who were present. Reading the reviews absolutely devastated him and imbued him with a desire to excel so that this would never happen again. Thereafter he completely changed his lifestyle. It led him to reach the greatest heights of playing and to become a household name among general and specific audiences alike. Even in this age where the wisdom of previous eras is treated with disdain, one cannot have a conversation about excellent violin playing without mentioning Heifetz.

Choosing a favorite is a subjective matter, but skill in violin playing is not subjective, and therefore defining excellence is a matter of considering the tangible qualities that make a player excellent. Excellent players exist in their own orbit, and which one is best becomes a matter of personal preference.

Jun 13, 2024 - 10:20:29 AM
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41 posts since 9/20/2007

Life’s too short to worry about getting “good”. Have fun!
Of course, make sure you have an in demand marketable skill that you can use to pay your bills.

Jun 13, 2024 - 10:50:27 AM

1543 posts since 3/1/2020

As far as the question of how to judge teachers, I’d say that’s determined by the success of their students. A teacher who sets students on track to be objectively good players is a good one.

Leopold Auer is arguably the greatest teacher in history because he fostered talent in some of history’s greatest players. You could say Benny Thomasson was a good teacher because of the success Mark O’Connor has enjoyed.

Jun 13, 2024 - 11:26:36 AM
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12 posts since 6/21/2023

What matters to me is just whether people are actually enjoying hearing me play. They often say they enjoy it. But to me the more accurate indicator of this is whether they move closer to me while I'm playing or if they move away. Of course many other factors are at play, but if I am playing somewhere public which I often do because I want to play wherever I am, and someone comes over to listen and doesn't quickly leave, that makes me happy. When people start moving and dancing that makes me happy. When I see people's faces light up on hearing the music.

None of this necessarily tells me much about where I fall on any spectrum of skill or technique but the more important thing to me is whether I'm bringing people joy or annoyance. The even more important thing is whether I'm bringing *me* joy - but I don't have to wonder about that - I am.

Jun 13, 2024 - 11:52:14 AM
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488 posts since 4/15/2019

I agree with George. If it sounds good to you and you enjoy playing it, what else matters?

Jun 13, 2024 - 11:56:35 AM
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2556 posts since 4/6/2014
Online Now

Go busking and see how much dosh you get, or go down the pub and see if someone buys you a pint or two.... Keep it real and keep going for it. until you can't no more.

Jun 13, 2024 - 1:43:27 PM
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1226 posts since 7/30/2021

I had a turning point the other day...
I was playing a pair of Scottish strathspeys and a couple (who did Scots dancing together as a hobby) got up and danced! There they were, dancing between the tables while I fiddled (solo*)! That's when I realized...I kind of can "fiddle" now. I can keep a beat! Not bad for an ex-violinist. Anyway if people get up and dance, that's "good enough" for me...it makes my heart happy to see them.

*did not get stagefright...because my fiddling was in response to the fiddler next to me asking if I played Scots tunes and I just played that one set feeling like it was just a "sharing" between fellow musicians...

Jun 13, 2024 - 1:59:15 PM
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2556 posts since 4/6/2014
Online Now

"*did not get stagefright...because my fiddling was in response to the fiddler next to me asking if I played Scots tunes and I just played that one set feeling like it was just a "sharing" between fellow musicians..."

Solo! Nice one.!

Jun 13, 2024 - 3:14:19 PM
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3420 posts since 10/22/2007

The late and very quotable John Hartford once said, "If you can play a tune to suit yourself, then you're as good a fiddler as anybody else."
Well, once apon a time, I could play well enough to suit myself, until I found out what "suitable" was.
What does this say?

Jun 13, 2024 - 4:16:28 PM
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Quincy

Belgium

927 posts since 1/16/2021

quote:
Originally posted by NCnotes

I had a turning point the other day...
I was playing a pair of Scottish strathspeys and a couple (who did Scots dancing together as a hobby) got up and danced! There they were, dancing between the tables while I fiddled (solo*)! That's when I realized...I kind of can "fiddle" now. I can keep a beat! Not bad for an ex-violinist. Anyway if people get up and dance, that's "good enough" for me...it makes my heart happy to see them.

*did not get stagefright...because my fiddling was in response to the fiddler next to me asking if I played Scots tunes and I just played that one set feeling like it was just a "sharing" between fellow musicians...


Woohoo NC NOtes that sounds so great!!! I only took one year and a couple of months of classical / modern violin classes and I mentioned it here before but I found it very hard to unlearn this , I mean the classical way of bowing. Fnding the beat is still a challenge and a big puzzle to me but ....I just experimented with a waltz rhythm and it sounded like the real stuff hehe. There is an awesome short video on the Fiddlehed YouTube channel today on how to create a waltz rhythm, which was just what I was looking for and I just LOVE it! This short video put me on the right track to keep a beat.

I am cheering  with you here for the solo and congratulations for tackling stage freight. I bet you rocked!! Your fiddle future looks very bright if you ask me :-)

Jun 13, 2024 - 4:49:55 PM
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bacfire

USA

72 posts since 3/26/2008

quote:
Originally posted by The Violin Beautiful

           Choosing a favorite is a subjective matter, but skill in violin playing is not subjective,

 

I'll argue that you're correct here, but only because the world of classical violin has well-defined and relatively rigid standards and parameters.  Skill in traditional fiddling is much more subjective and can be defined by any combination of rhythm, dexterity, intonation (including micro-intonation/lack of intonation <g>), creativity, strict adherence to style, breadth of repertoire, and more.  If not, who's qualified to make the skill assessment?  The dancer, the casual listener, the trained violinist, the ethnomusicologist, other fiddlers from the same genre/sub-genre/style/mountain holler?

Jun 13, 2024 - 5:21:23 PM
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1543 posts since 3/1/2020

quote:
Originally posted by bacfire
quote:
Originally posted by The Violin Beautiful

           Choosing a favorite is a subjective matter, but skill in violin playing is not subjective,

 

I'll argue that you're correct here, but only because the world of classical violin has well-defined and relatively rigid standards and parameters.  Skill in traditional fiddling is much more subjective and can be defined by any combination of rhythm, dexterity, intonation (including micro-intonation/lack of intonation ), creativity, strict adherence to style, breadth of repertoire, and more.  If not, who's qualified to make the skill assessment?  The dancer, the casual listener, the trained violinist, the ethnomusicologist, other fiddlers from the same genre/sub-genre/style/mountain holler?

 

Regardless of the style of playing, it's still playing the violin, and therefore its skill can be judged objectively. There are details of fiddling styles that are unique, but the mechanics of playing are the same. Intonation, rhythmic sense, phrasing, cleanness of playing, bow control, and tone production are all things that can be evaluated by someone with a good understanding of playing.

I don't agree that skill in fiddling is subjective. There are competitions for fiddlers that are judged and there are players who are considered "better players" among most. Instructors are chosen for workshops based on their widely accepted superior playing skill. I don't know about anyone else, but the first thing I do when I hear about a workshop is to look at the faculty to see how good the instructors are. In Irish and Scottish fiddling, being a champion fiddler gives a player an elevated status. There's a highly decorated Scottish fiddler in my area and his presence is considered a great honor at any Celtic session. We've also got a couple Irish players who have been all-Ireland champions. Their playing is revered, they teach the best students, they lead the best sessions, and they draw crowds at just the mention of their names. 

Jun 13, 2024 - 6:47:14 PM
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6529 posts since 9/26/2008

Our very own JonD, early in our musical relationship, said sometime song the lines of "you are easy to play with." Greatest compliment I've ever gotten and makes me think I'm doing okay.

Jun 13, 2024 - 7:13:50 PM
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bacfire

USA

72 posts since 3/26/2008

Tommy Jarrell.

Jun 14, 2024 - 7:06:53 AM
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142 posts since 4/17/2023

in the little corner of appalachia i grew up in, people would just say it. when i'd play for a good musician, friend or family, they'd just flat out tell you if it wasn't good. or let you know somehow you're not cuttin it. after living coast to coast and now in the midwest i think that old mountain culture might be unique, maybe a little edgy to some.

Jun 14, 2024 - 7:33:31 AM

291 posts since 11/26/2013

You want to know if you are any good? Go busking. Learned that many, many moons ago. You busk. If you have a crowd of people listening, you are good. If no people, then its back to the woodshed. An old BG band I was with used to busk in Central Park and Washington Square Park in NYC on a regular basis. If a song or tune thinned the crowd out, we knew it needed more work. Heck we even got a pail of dishwater dumped on us one nite in the East Village. LOL, that tune got scrapped that nite!

Jun 14, 2024 - 6:56:19 PM
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899 posts since 6/11/2019

quote:
Originally posted by bacfire

Tommy Jarrell.


Who?

Jun 14, 2024 - 7:23:23 PM
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15029 posts since 9/23/2009

I agree if you enjoy your own playing, that's 99% of what you're aimin' for.

It's even better if you have pals to enjoy playing with. And even more better (uh-oh...not allowed to say it that way...better yet?) if you have an audience and you like playing and especially if they react in some positive way to your playing. But, if you love to play...you will play anyway, pals or not, audience or not, etc. That's just my own two cents. I mean if someone stopped playing because of how a person reacted, or what somebody else said about your playing...that's just a horrible shame. Should not let that happen. I've told the story many times, you know, like old crazy people do, about the time we took grandson to sugar camp and tapped trees in the snow, laughing and freezing to death, and wafting through the holler and trees was very sweet fiddling by some ol' guy who could barely play...yet, to me, and I'm sure to allt he others there, whether they consciously realized it or not, the fiddling...not really that good technically, yet, it just fit the day, the time, the atmosphere, the group...the work...it just fit and made that day so much more meaningful and fun. I told him so...I mean, honestly, you could easily have found a better fiddler...but he was there an he did a great job supporting the mood and family atmosphere of learning and fun. It would have been a lot emptier and colder without his amateur fiddling. So there. And I betcha not many people, if any besides me at all, thought to tell him...I had to tell him because I realize how lack of feedback can hurt a musician. If 100 people hear you play, and half of them get some kind of emotional well being from it, and nobody bothers to let you know...you can start the self-doubting to the point where it messes with ya quite a bit. Anyway...I think it's a tragedy for anyone to let silence or even a bad rap cause them to stop playing when they enjoy doing it.

So how do you know if you're any good? You love to do it...that's good. Just my two cents...let's see...that comes to four cents so far.

NC...you might wanna start playing a mind game when you fiddle..."I'm just doing this to show something to the other fiddlers," instead of focusing on audience...lol...might work, hey?

Jun 14, 2024 - 8:27:08 PM
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1226 posts since 7/30/2021

Yea, this kind 0f belongs in the “stage fright” thread… but well, the session was over and people were packing up, but the other fiddler kept talking about Cape Breton tunes she plays, and how they stay in the same key for sets, and then about Scottish tunes, and she talked about the “scotch snap” and I said, “Yea I think I do that” and I played her the only pair of Scottish tunes I know…and suddenly two people in the pub got up and started dancing. And then I was so happy just watching them, and really getting into playing the music, that I forgot to be nervous. LOL. It was like magic. Maybe I just need dancers to watch every time!!

Anyway they told me that they met when they were taking Scottish dancing classes together, and she said she thought he was kinda cute and she was hitting on him….now they’re a middle-aged married couple…cute story to go with the dancing! Maybe it’s another story like Peggy’s snowy day story, where as a musician you can just be a little part of people’s lives and brighten their day.

Anyway sorry, back to topic!

Jun 14, 2024 - 8:48:56 PM
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bacfire

USA

72 posts since 3/26/2008

quote:
Originally posted by Flat_the_3rd_n7th
quote:
Originally posted by bacfire

Tommy Jarrell.


Who?


Ah, nevermind him.  He was just some old scratchy, thin-toned, out-of-tune, jiggy bow hillbilly violinist who never won a contest that I ever heard of.  The only scales he'd have known anything about woulda been on a bluegill.

Jun 14, 2024 - 10:27:51 PM

1543 posts since 3/1/2020

If liking your own playing is the way to determine whether you’re good, then the most egotistical players will be the best and anyone who thinks their playing isn’t very good will be a bad player. I can’t agree with that at all.

People just aren’t always very good at judging themselves. Many are too hard on themselves and just as many don’t challenge themselves enough. Even the same person can experience both of these things. That’s where having some kind of gauge of ability provides a reality check.

I’ll never forget an experience I had as a teenager. My father and I had been asked to play our arrangement of the Star Spangled Banner for the flag ceremony at the Boy Scout summer camp I attended each year. While we were rehearsing in our troop’s campsite, an older scout from another troop showed up and listened. When we stopped playing, he walked up and said (with absolute seriousness) “Hi, I’m ____ and I’m the best fiddler there’s ever been. I can play anything and I’m better than anyone you’ve ever heard.” I just stood there dumbfounded but my father didn’t even miss a beat. He said “Richard, this is a wonderful opportunity. It’s such an honor to meet you, _____ and to talk to the best fiddler of all time. It’s an incredible accomplishment to have reached such a great height. Would you do us the honor of playing something for us?” My father told me to hand him my violin and bow. The next couple minutes were priceless. His expression changed immediately as the color drained from his face. We patiently waited as he attempted to start a tune over and over, but he couldn’t make it even a measure, not even enough for it to be recognizable. He then tried to start other things but he’d just play a few random notes and then freeze. He started to come up with excuses about having trouble remembering how to start tunes and then sheepishly handed back the violin and bow. We invited him to come back later and play some fiddle tunes with us but he made a very hasty exit and never reappeared.

Jun 15, 2024 - 5:00:27 AM
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2596 posts since 10/1/2008

Well.... I'm better than I used to be. I will never be as good as I want to be. After twenty plus years of fiddling I still take lessons and go to workshops. Each step forward is a reward. Each set of strings worn out is a triumph. When I play a song or tune well it is bliss. R/

Jun 15, 2024 - 5:37:51 AM
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1543 posts since 3/1/2020

I suppose we should consider the “obvious” answer to the question:

You’re good if you can beat the devil in a competition and save your soul. If you win you get a golden fiddle. So look for the fiddlers with them and you’ll know right away who’s good!

Or you could look for the fiddler whose tone encapsulates the Mountain Whippoorwill.

Jun 15, 2024 - 8:26:58 AM
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Mobob

USA

252 posts since 10/1/2009

or as Groucho Marx used to say, "or would you prefer to answer another question?"

Jun 15, 2024 - 12:24:28 PM
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2518 posts since 12/11/2008

I play well enough to please myself a good third of the time. If I hear a good comment from somebody as they walk by, even better. Bottom line, though, I fiddle simply because I love to do it.

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