I like just about all music played on what some call the violin and others call the fiddle. More so than the style or genre of music, it is the sound of the instrument, or what I like to call voice, that first attracted me to it. And, after a little more than a year, I find the voice I can produce when playing much more satisfying than the actual song I am playing. My goal is to learn how to make my fiddle speak to the best of my ability.
Now, the fiddle speaks through tunes and songs, so when I first got my fiddle, I thought I would try to make my fiddle speak through Old Time. I’m not exactly sure why I chose Old Time except I really like Old Time music, and I was listening to a lot of it when I made my first fiddle purchase. So, I set off on my goal of making my fiddle speak through the method of Old Time music.
I began learning Old Time songs like Angeline the Baker, Julianne Johnson, Rock the Cradle Joe, Arkansas Traveler, Soldier’s Joy and more. And, while I could play them, I couldn’t get them up to tempo. I began concentrating on tempo. I read dozens of articles, watched hours of YouTube videos and practiced many exercises designed to help a fiddler increase tempo. And, while I saw some improvement in tempo, I was not happy with the sound when I increased the tempo. My fiddle ceased speaking coherently and sounded more like it was sick. This is not the voice of the instrument I desired or wanted to hear. I knew this was going to take a long time, and as I worked on it, I became more frustrated and discouraged. As more time passed, my fiddle sessions moved from being enjoyable to tedious. Not something I wanted! Perhaps I was just not cut out to play the fiddle…
Then, one day, I learned Jessica’s Waltz, a lesser known but beautiful waltz. One of the things I really liked about Jessica’s Waltz was I could play it, play it fairly well, and AT tempo, all while regaining that feeling that I was making my fiddle speak in a pretty way.
I picked out another song with a tempo I thought I could handle, the Tennessee Waltz. Hey, this was fun! I moved onto others, even trying some early American, contemporary and folks songs. I learned Hard Times Come Again No More, Annie Laurie, The Presence, Ashokan Farewell, and The Band Played Waltzing Matilda just to name a few. Before I knew it, my fiddle sessions were less tedious and much more enjoyable. I really began to like the sounds I was making with my fiddle and couldn’t wait until my next session, even extending sessions and playing extra at times I would not normally play.
I have found that by playing songs that are more within my tempo ability, I am able to concentrate more and improve upon fundamentals, which I feel will, in turn, help me increase my ability to play songs at faster tempos like those Old Time songs. So, I am sticking with this for now. I haven’t given up on playing Old Time; I just given up, for the time being, trying to play songs beyond my tempo ability! Faster tempo will come in time.
It took me a while to come to this realization, but I am glad I did. Otherwise, by stubbornly holding on to trying to play some of my favorite Old Time songs up to tempo, I might have set myself up for failure. I had to sit back and realize the goal was more important than the method, something I wasn’t seeing before. I was concentrating more on the genre of music than the goal of learning to play the fiddle well.
I have added these two sayings for reminders, hanging them on my practice room wall.