The Musical Fork In the Road

It’s a nice time for a hike — smell the fresh air, step over tree roots and rocks, notice a fallen tree, glimpse a vista through a clearing.

Then comes the fork in the road. The trail diverges and we have to pay attention and make a choice of which way we want to go. Once we’re on the new path, though, we once again fork-in-the-road_300step over rocks, sniff the air, chat with a friend.

Playing a piece of music is a little like following a trail through the scenery. Our footsteps are the beats. We follow a trail through the notes. And often we play notes that follow the same path we’ve followed before–until we come to the fork in the road.

Familiar note patterns–whether from other phrases in the piece, other pieces we know, or from scales and arpeggios we’ve practiced–are very helpful in learning and performing music. But our fingers can also be duped by them. The fingers may happily follow a familiar trail as we busily watch all the scenery–intonation, tone, dynamics–only to find ourselves suddenly fumbling through the woods because we got off the trail.

Instead of being frustrated that we messed up, it may be that we just need to Continue reading The Musical Fork In the Road

The Amazing Bow!

The violin bow is an amazing contraption. Pick one bow up after another, and they pretty much look the same, but they may feel light or heavy, even though the difference in weight could be a tenth of an ounce (3 grams). More astonishingly, when you try playing with various bows you’ll find some that actually sound a lot better than others.

I remember making a number of drawings of violins and bows many years ago. Bows are very difficult and frustrating to draw because they so long, thin, and seem almost uniform in shape. The stick has a subtle arc to it, called the camber, which can be beautiful but tricky to draw, as it gently curves toward and away from the hairs. It’s a bit more interesting to draw the gracefully shaped tip, and the black curved block of ebony at the frog. (”Frog” is horse terminology — the bow hairs come from a horse’s tail, and the frog is named after the part of the horse’s hoof that’s in the middle of the horseshoe).

When you try playing with different bows, you find differences in responsiveness partly because of the type of wood and the quality of the carving, which affect the strength and springiness of the bow stick. A very weak stick could easily touch the strings with some pressure, and if the hairs are tightened too much, the stick might even arc the wrong way (away from the bow hairs). The camber of the bow, the way the stick curves toward the hairs, allows you to control the tension of the hairs against the strings.

I always recommend Continue reading The Amazing Bow!

The Beat Not Played

Most of the time, we change bow on every beat, in order to keep up a good sense of timing in our tunes. But there are lots of times when a beat goes by without a change of bow. That’s what I meant by the title of this article — “the beat not played.”  It could be a syncopated rhythm or it could simply be a dotted note, where the following note is played after the next beat has passed. We need to feel each beat, whether we play a new note on it or not — this is one basic timing question, not only for playing musically, but for being able to play with others; and it is why slow airs are more difficult than people imagine.

Syncopation is the focus of this month’s workshop tunes, because they all contain some syncopation that’s worth getting comfortable with. But let’s look first at the way slow airs often make you hold a bow beyond the next beat.

The beauty of a slow air depends on the placement of the notes, and if you are playing a very long note, the note that follows must be placed exactly in the right place, or the flow of the tune falters. We have to feel the beat throughout, but especially during the long notes.

Here is the beginning of the slow air “Da Slockit Light”:  Continue reading The Beat Not Played

Hidden Tips

Here are some tips for you about Fido (fiddle-online), including some “hidden” bits as well as a few basics worth keeping in mind.

Privacy

As far as your internet privacy goes, there is only one person (myself, Ed Pearlman) who designs, publishes and runs this site, so if you send a message or fill out a form, it doesn’t go anywhere else; there are no employees or third-party companies involved. When you send info about your interests, for example, not much happens with the information — for new people I try to look at their interests and recommend places on the site that can help them.

There is also privacy in the live workshops — when you learn specific things from the teacher, mikes are muted so that you hear the teacher to play along with, but nobody else hears you unless you choose to play a phrase or two for the class in order to get some comments. This allows people of all levels to take class because nobody can compare folk to each other; everyone is focused on improving their own playing.

Two Different Home Pages – Site and Personal

The site home page shows 4 choices – Workshops, Articles, Technique, and Sheet Music. Click on Workshops to view info about upcoming live workshops as well as info about materials available to you from past workshops. Articles takes you to this blog. Techniques takes you to info about 5 video groups of 10 videos each, a treasury of learning options to be used at your own pace for improving ergonomics, bowing, fingering, note patterns, ornamentation. Sheet Music gives you a listing of Tune Groups with 12 tune in each, for you to learn from (many tunes are also available from past workshop materials).

The site home page also has a green button for joining, sort of a registration form. Anonymous lurkers and freeloaders are not appreciated here, it’s more of a small international community of learners. The red button is for logging on, once you’ve joined. This takes you to your own personal home page, which gives you direct links to any resources you are currently subscribed to, shows their expiration date, tells you how many credits you have, offers an online pitchpipe for tuning, and explains the menu items at the top of each page. There’s also a link there to Continue reading Hidden Tips

60 Interactive Tunes in the Tune Groups

When you click on “Sheet Music” on the home page, you are taken to the world of the Tune Groups. Each of these gives you interactive sheet music and audio for a dozen tunes for 3 months. If you learn all 12 tunes, that’s a tune a week!

I’ll describe below how these work, but keep in mind that this interactive sheet music format can be found in all of the Workshop materials as well! A sample of this kind of sheet music is linked prominently in pink on the Tune Groups information page.

What tunes will you find in these tune groups? Tune Group 1 offers a nice mix of Celtic, American, and Canadian tunes, and also is good for beginners because it’s the only group that offers both the sheet music and music by numbers. Tune Group 2 continues with a nice variety of tunes — Scottish, Irish, American, and Quebecois. Tune Group 3 is all about Scottish tunes, and Tune Group 5 contains popular Irish tunes. Tune Group 4, Shetland tunes, is currently only available on my old site and works great but only if you can use flash media; it will eventually be added to fiddle-online so it can be used by all devices.

Here’s how it works. With each Tune Group, you get access to that tune group’s home page, with links to each of the 12 tunes in that group. When you visit one of the tunes,

Continue reading 60 Interactive Tunes in the Tune Groups

What’s a mistake?

How we think about musical mistakes has a huge impact on how we practice, how we learn, how we perform.

How do you think about making a mistake? We all think differently. For you, does making a mistake feel dangerous, like falling off a bicycle? Scary and disorienting, like finding yourself on the wrong path in the woods? Painful, like tripping on a tree root while hiking? Frustrating, like hitting the wrong floor button in an elevator? Hard to erase, like dropping the wrong ingredient into a recipe?

Or is it something that passes by, like saying the wrong word, or missing a fly with a fly swatter?

How you think about mistakes determines your response to making them.
Some players seem so worried about hitting the wrong note or making a bad sound that their playing sounds like they are tiptoeing through the music, afraid of being mugged by a mistake. Since there are always going to be mistakes, their fear is bound to be realized sooner or later!

The main thing to remember is that the greater musical skill is found, not in avoiding mistakes, but in recovering from them — staying on track, keeping the music going. To do that, you need to have a sense of where you are in the music, to keep it going in your head, in your body (feeling and trusting the beat). The fingers don’t always cooperate, but we don’t have to allow them to hijack a performance.

This is one key benefit of learning tunes by phrase, as can be found throughout the fiddle-online.com site — this helps you keep the structure of the tune in mind, and helps you get back on track, rather than be derailed by missing a note or two.

As listeners, dancers, or fellow bandmates or session players, we want musicians to play with confidence. A wrong note doesn’t stop us from tapping our toes or nodding our heads with the passion of the music. But a timid or fearful sound, or fuzzy timing, does affect us with uncertainty, and it’s hard to feel the music when you’re not sure it will carry through to the end.

Ultimately, of course, it’s not the mistakes or the missed opportunites we care about, but the performance, the music, the flow and the spirit of it. The goal is to allow the music to flow, and studies have even measured the healing effects of flow in music.  One study about how people engage with music said, “Playing and performing music has the potential to induce a flow-like state”.  Another study looked into the effect of flow in music.

If you are a worrier about making mistakes, just consider the listener’s point of view— it’s not what was missing that we remember, but what was there.

©2018 Ed Pearlman

A Treasury of Techniques, in short video form

Fiddle-online.com has a unique offering in its Technique Video Groups. Each group has 10 short videos (except #2, where the ninth video is actually 3 videos on learning vibrato).

Visit the TechVids page https://www.fiddle-online.com/technique/learning.php to learn more and/or sign up. There is a video introduction describing each group videos, and there is even a sampler which has one video from each group for only 3 credits. Each full video group of 10 videos is 12 credits for 2 months, and only 8 credits to renew. These videos are practical and help you work with them for about 3 minutes each. They’re great to keep coming back to for maximum benefit, as physical games/exercises, and awareness builders. They’re not really for people to accomplish and move on; they’re really for all levels. This includes Group #1 even though those exercises are really helpful to beginners as well.

Let’s take a quick look at what each group of videos offers —  Continue reading A Treasury of Techniques, in short video form

Fiddle for the Classically Trained

Many fiddlers started playing the instrument with classical training, and some who are classical players are interested in learning fiddle. First we’ll take note of the differences between classical and fiddle, and then we’ll talk about specific ideas to help classical players, to help classical players appreciate and play fiddle music better.

I’ve always noticed that the best fiddlers and classical violinists are good at everything, even if their styles differ. Their pathways to the top, though, expose very different priorities. Fiddlers tend to care most about these things, in roughly this order: timing, energy, bow articulation, expression, ornamentation, tone, intonation, clean notes. Classical violinists tend to care about roughly the same things, but in a different order: Tone, intonation, clean notes, vibrato, bow articulation, expression, timing, energy.

Two items are not shared between the lists. One is ornamentation, which is very important in fiddling, but it is written in for most styles of classical violin, and is executed the same as playing notes cleanly. The other is vibrato, which is essential to classical violin, but is used more as an ornament in fiddling. There is a little more blurring of the lines when speaking of baroque violin playing, where vibrato is also used as an ornament, and ornamentation is often improvised as part of the expression of the music.

In fiddling, timing is essential, and determines whether a fiddler can play for dancers, move the listeners, or play along with, or be listened to, at a session. Notes could be missed, as long as the beat (and preferably also the correct beat notes) are kept up. For classical players, tone and intonation are primary. I’ve heard some very good classical players who have

Continue reading Fiddle for the Classically Trained

What to do this summer!

Our live workshops on fiddle-online will take a break from June through August, but there’s lots to do here! Don’t forget to consult the Quick Guide at the left of the home page to help answer any questions you may have.

Instead of joining us for the live workshops, why not use this summer to catch up on past workshops? Click on the blue “Workshops” bubble on the home page and then click on the blue button that says “Click to see what’s available.”

There are two kinds — the left column shows buttons linking you to information about 23 regular Thursday workshops. Each has materials from at least 3 workshops, arranged by the topic of the month. Many seem self-explanatory but if you click on them you will be able to hear an audio sampling of the tunes and see a description of them.

Some of the titles of the workshops are not so self-explanatory. For example, “Tunes for Ornamentation” offers two slow airs, a jig and a reel as vehicles for learning and making use of different kinds of ornaments. “Tunes of Love” presents Continue reading What to do this summer!

Finding Articles You Want!

There are some 70 articles in this blog!  Apart from the more recent ones highlighted to the left, you can check out past months in the archive, if you know which month you want, or if you want to hunt through them all.  But the easiest way to find something useful to you is to use the search box at the left.

Here are some keywords you can type into the search box to bring up selected articles you might enjoy.

“advanced” — tips for use of fiddle-online by advanced and professional players

“tuning” — about tuning the violin

“mind/hand/ears” — reversing presumptions on how to learn to play

“playing faster 1”, “playing faster 2”, and “playing faster 3” — three articles setting you up for learning to play faster and understanding how fast to play various tunes

“mapping” — how to “ear-map” your tunes and learn most efficiently

“clarify” — once you’ve “ear-mapped” your tune, how to clarify and embody that map

“troubleshooting 1” — how to handle and avoid various physical problems from playing

“troubleshooting 2”, “troubleshooting 3”, and “troubleshooting 4” — understanding and improving bow control

“troubleshooting 5” and “troubleshooting 6” — addressing left hand problems

“stagefright” — is it learned?  New and organic ideas on how to avoid and handle it

“style” — what are fiddle styles?  how to learn them from within

“nature” — about intonation and mother nature, including a comparison of musical pitches and those of various insects around us

“motivators” — ten aids for motivating your practicing

“brain” — how learning and playing music enhances brain capacity

“musical fork” — how to avoid being derailed by wrong notes

“jokes” — 60 jokes making fun of every kind of musician!  Perhaps the most useful article of all!

**Have any favorite articles you’d like to recommend?  Leave a comment!**

©2018 Ed Pearlman