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Mid January Update
January is already half over, and I've only written one blog post so far this month, so I thought I would just do a quick update.
I guess the main reason I have not written anything new is because I am not doing anything new right now. I have been practicing daily concentrating on two things, both of which were the subjects of my last two blog posts:
- In order to get more into the good habit of systematic practicing, I have been diligently structuring my practice sessions as I discussed in my late December blog post Remembering Fiddle Tunes. This has been working well for me as am beginning to remember more tunes by heart (A List) and am working on forgotten or poorly played tunes (B List).
- I have also been concentrating on my bowing wrist movement as I wrote about in Wax On, Wax Off in early January. This has taken a lot of concentration and observation, but I have noticed an improvement in my playing as I work on pulling the bow in both directions.
If you haven't been to the forum lately, I want to call your attention to a post made by Rick M called Playing at Speed. In this post Rick shared a video lesson by Kevin Burke about an approach to learning a new song and getting able to play it at the proper speed. While Mr. Burke was speaking about Irish tunes, his video is applicable to all fiddle tunes. It is a very good video, well worth the 15 minutes it takes to watch it. I have already viewed it several times. Here it is below if you haven't seen it.
After watching this video, I went back to a tune I learned recently called Annie Laurie. I learned the simple version of it, but because I like Vivian Williams rendition so much, I went back to the YouTube video, downloaded the mp3 track, slowed it down with Audacity and figured out each note of her rendition. I then took that and began learning it phrase by phrase, but up to speed as Kevin Burke suggested. I was actually somewhat surprised with myself how quickly I was able to play all the notes up to tempo. Of course, I do make mistakes, but I now have this tune on my A List and am getting better with it every day.
My final comment for today has to do with my fiddle teacher and my lessons. I have been giving it a lot of thought whether I want to continue or not with these fiddle lessons. I do like the lessons, but I can barely tolerate the 130 mile, 3 hour, round trip it takes to attend them. I haven't made up my mind about what to do just yet, but I think I am going to attend the Pocono Bluegrass and Folk Society Winterfest '20 to see if I can make contact with a possible fiddle teacher. The event is being held about ten miles from where I live. Perhaps I can finds someone who teaches closer to where I live. I'll let you know how I make out.
And, that's the mid January update for now.
I've learned that you don't have to be doing new stuff to be making progress. It wasn't until I slowed down and focused on the tunes I'd already "learned" that I felt like I was improving overall. So it sounds like sticking to what's been working for you is a great idea!
I was wondering how your lessons were turning out. I still have no luck finding anything nearby, but have plenty of online resources to keep me going. Let us know what you decide and have fun at the festival! Take pictures if you can!
"I’ve learned that you don’t have to be doing new stuff to be making progress. It wasn’t until I slowed down and focused on the tunes I’d already “learned” that I felt like I was improving overall."
Kevin's video rang a lot of bells with me, most of them about learning Morse code.
I learned to receive Morse code some years back, and instead of learning to receive at a couple of words per minute and building up the speed, I learned each character at full speed (20 words per minute), but at a slower word spacing. The result was that I quickly learned the sound of full-speed code (which sounds quite different to slow code), and then incrementally reduced the gaps between the words as I became more proficient. Kevin suggests learning music the same way; at speed, but in small, logical chunks (code characters, bars of music).
I tried Kevin's method briefly tonight on a tune I've been learning slowly, "Irish Washer Woman". This sounds a bit odd when you slow it right down; the notes are the same, the relative timing is the same, but it doesn't feel like the tune at all. I played the first bar and a half at full speed, and sure enough I had it down in no time. I just cycled over that phrase as a rhythmic unit, a tune in itself. Same for the next two bars, and then I was interrupted by family. It's too late to practice again tonight, and too early to give a full vote of confidence, but I think Kevin has nailed it, at least for Irish fiddle tunes and Old Time numbers.
I'll try again tomorrow night, but for now I've just given myself a tot of Jameson's instead.
So glad you linked to the Annie Laurie post, because Vivian's version is so good! I had seen the other - and it's heavenly, too. Re your lessons: For what it's worth, I would trade a 3 hour ride (plus lesson time) for four more hours of practice I could get in every week. That's just me. You're the kind of guy who takes responsibility for his own learning, I know. So, maybe you can put on the teacher hat, too, at least once a week, for yourself.
I'm a licensed amateur radio operator and I cannot believe that my own, similar experience learning to read/send code did not immediately spring to mind as something I could apply to playing fiddle tunes. You are exactly right. And I'm leaving my computer and rushing back to my fiddle right now. Thank you!
@P. A. Morris
Glad you found this video helpful, too. I like your comparison to learning Morse Code. Let us know how this progresses for you; I am interested, and hope you enjoyed your Jameson's. 🙂
@Susan Call Hutchison
While Vivian's version of Annie Laurie has a real nice old time waltz-ie touch to it that I like, I find Miclen LaiPang's version mesmerizing and keep listening to it. I watched a few of his videos on his YouTube channel, and he is such a passionate violinist. It's easy to observe his emotion as he plays.
While I have worked on a version closer to Vivian's, I think I enjoy playing it closer to a ballad more like Miclen.
Thanks for your comment about my lessons; I appreciate your input and agree with all you said. I did mention in this blog post that I am thinking of looking for another teacher who is more local, but I'm not even sure if my heart is in this.
I started learning the fiddle because I wanted to be able to play some songs for myself on the instrument I always wanted to play. I just about always use the term fiddle instead of violin, not because of any genre distinction, but because of my informal approach to learning and playing, and having some fun at the same time. I'm not real sure I want to formalize my learning with a teacher; never sure I ever really wanted to, but everyone kept saying "find a teacher", so I did. The same folks also said "go to jams" and "play with others" if you really want to learn and get good. But, I am learning, on my own, and enjoying it. My intent was and is not to "get good", but to enjoy what I am doing.
I enjoy learning on my own. (I've always been this way, even in school while growing up.) I enjoy reading about playing and watching videos. I like to experiment on my own. I like to figure out how to play songs I like, no matter what genre they may be. In each practice I put on my teacher hat while still remaining a student, and I think for now, I am content with this.
---a little rambling, but I think you get my idea and understand---
So, I tried using 'full-speed' phrase learning on the fiddle, and it didn't turn out as successful as I thought it might. The outcomes are:
(1) I am now learning new material in the time-honoured slow fashion, speeding up to tempo as it becomes familiar
(2) "Irish Washerwoman" is still dead in the water for me: I can't get it up to dance speed (yet).
We finished the Jameson's successfully, though.
@P. A. Morris
I tried it and was able to do it somewhat successfully, but haven't been back to it. I have really been concentrating more lately on my bowing for good tone, but I keep falling into old habits...I hear a song that I like and start learning it, and before I get it down, I find another one and jump to it. Not a good habit, but I find it hard to break. I must have over 30 songs in my Fiddle Tune Tabs section ( https://fiddlingforolderfolks.com/fiddle-tune-tabs/ ), and I only know about 6 or 7 well! 😐 I am also working...slowly...at learning to read music.
Looks like you need another bottle of Jameson's.
I very recently was given a version of "Irish Washerwoman" scored in D instead of G, and I'll be looking at that tonight. That lady will not get the better of me!
Bowing and tone are things I'm working on too. I put a critique video up on Pierre Holstein's Fiddlerman forum over the weekend, and the comments were mostly directed at those facets of my brief 90 seconds of panic.
The memsahib has an eye for a bargain, and always scans the spirits shelves at the supermarket for marked-down whiskeys and rums. I've learned to be patient.