Turkey In the Straw

Here’s a tune you’ll want to play round the Thanksgiving table!  An American classic fiddle tune,  “Turkey in the Straw” sounds to me like it came from a type of old Scottish tune called the Scots Measure.

In that spirit, here’s a very simple version of the tune, but if you replace the numbered measures with the variations marked below the tune, you’ll see how this simple version might have developed into the tune we usually hear today.

The Scots Measure was a type of dance; there are many old tunes of that type but nowadays we have folded the Scots Measures into other forms such as hornpipes and reels. Below is a typical example of a Scots Measure Continue reading Turkey In the Straw

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

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

How music enhances our brain capacity

Learning and playing music is not only enjoyable, sociable, and expressive — it also develops our brains. A quick and fun summary of how this works can be viewed in a short animated video from TED-Ed-Lessons.

The video discusses neuroscientific research from the past few decades, which has revealed connections between activities and brain activity in real time. Scientists have found that each activity seems to have a corresponding location of the brain, where those efforts are processed.

Listening to music, however, appears to fire up multiple areas across the brain simultaneously, and even more brain activity among those who actually play music. The process of playing music results in intricate, complex, and incredibly fast signals in all parts of the brain, especially, auditory, motor, and visual centers. Regular musical practice appears to strengthen those brain functions, allowing musicians to apply them to all sorts of activities.

In particular, playing and practicing music increases  Continue reading How music enhances our brain capacity

About Auld Lang Syne (the tune)

New Year’s Eve is coming up, and the most popular song of the night will be Auld Lang Syne.  Did you know that the usual melody used for “Auld Lang Syne” song was not the original melody?  Below is the sheet music for both.

If you’d like to hear the song as originally intended by Robert Burns over 200 years ago, click here to open a new window and listen to it as sung by Mairi Campbell of The Cast.

Burns collected the song, which was already old at the time, and added some of his own words to it, to make it the song we know now. The melody we’re used to singing (click here to hear Dougie Maclean sing it) was apparently selected by George Thomson, an editor who included Burns’s “Auld Lang Syne” in his A Select Collection of Scottish Airs in 1799 after Burns died. It must have been a popular melody at the time, but Burns regarded it as “mediocre.”

Some say the “new” melody was composed by an Englishman named William Shield for an opera called “Rosina,” which was performed on New Year’s Eve 1782 in London. According to the score, he was attempting to imitate Scottish-style melody.

But others say that Shield was himself quoting an older Scottish melody which shows up in a number of 17th and 18th century Scottish tunes such as “Miller’s Wedding,” “Lasses of the Ferry” and a few others. One tune I think is closest is a strathspey called “Sir Alexander Don’s Strathspey,” but it’s hard to say when it was written because it wasn’t published until after 1815 in the Beauties of Niel Gow.

Whatever the history, the tradition of singing Auld Lang Syne at New Year’s is honored round the world, and a melody honored by so many people for so long means more now than it did when it was new. So while we can enjoy the beauty of the melody Burns selected, it’s hard not to appreciate a group of friends singing the song as we know it, locking arms and welcoming the new year.

Below is sheet music for both versions.  Have a good New Year’s!

 

Joining in a Session

In the last article we talked about hosting a multi-level session.  Let’s take a look at how to participate in a session, however it’s being hosted.  If it is a multi-level session of the type I described in the last article, it’s no problem for you to participate.  All you’ll really want to have ready is some tune that you like and know how to start, so that when it’s time for you to jump in, you know what to do.  You might want to have two tunes in mind, in case one of them was recently played already.  You’ll be able to start it at the tempo you like.

The most important trick to starting a tune at a session is to make its rhythm clear.  Even if people know the tune, they can’t join in with you until they figure out what kind of tune it is — jig, reel, strathspey, air, waltz.  For others to know, you have to know, and convey, the rhythm.  Regardless of your level as a player, you can certainly choose a reliable session tune for yourself, and know the type of tune, the title, and the key.  True, many session players don’t know these things, but if you just have a tune or two ready to pitch in to the group, it’s not so hard to look up and remember a few things about it.  It can help accompanists if you call out the key, and helps melody players to know the name of the tune if they ask afterwards.

To play with good rhythm depends on knowing the beat notes.  All you really must do to feel comfortable starting a tune at a session is

Continue reading Joining in a Session

Hosting a fun Multi-level Session

[Interrupting our troubleshooting articles — there will be a couple more articles about the left hand later — first, let’s take a look this month at hosting and playing in sessions.]

Most fiddling is very sociable — playing with others in a session, at a ceilidh, for dancers, providing support for a community function such as a wedding or funeral.  Even in the extreme situation such as an intense fiddle competition, you’re judged primarily on whether your spirit and sense of the tradition is convincing, and the audience is with you, not agin’ ya.

One of the best ways to get comfortable with fiddling as a participatory and sociable activity is through sessions.  Let’s talk here about hosting a good session, and next time about how a player can fit in to any session.

The ideal session is a repeat event with a fairly consistent group of players that get to know each other and their repertoire.  But every session, even such an “ideal” group, has to deal with players with different levels and experiences.

Here are some ideas for hosting a successful and fun multi-level session.

Continue reading Hosting a fun Multi-level Session

Music & Arts in the Real World

music-brainLearning how to play music, and making music, have benefits that are well recognized by science and society.   We know how important music is to us all, but it’s nice to see this sense backed up by research.  Science has shown that learning to play music improves brain functions, and creates additional neural pathways that may prevent or slow down the effects of conditions such as dementia, Alzheimers, — or even “senior moments!”  For more details, take a look at our article called “Shoring Up Your Brain with Music” — just select “Feb 2016” from the archives at the bottom of the column at the left of this page.

Learning music from a teacher or at a music camp can yield tremendous benefits mentally, physically and socially.  Learning online, as with www.fiddle-online.com, when you don’t have a teacher who can help you with the information or style of music or teaching you are looking for, can yield the same benefits as live lessons because it requires mindfulness and gives you an opportunity to work at your own pace.  On fiddle-online.com, the live workshops, as well as subscription to tune or video groups with reasonable but limited timelines, give you a push to stay engaged and make progress.  I have two mottos that are relevant here — One is “you don’t get good at this, you just get better!”  The other:  “The more you play, the better you get; but the more mindfully you play, the faster you get better.”

What’s strange, when we musicmakers look around us, is the disconnect in society about music and the arts, when it comes to support for arts education, careers, and organizations.  Sometimes we have to fend off this disconnect and keep in mind how much it means to us all to learn and listen to music.  Why do educators and policymakers so often take music and the arts for granted, when all evidence shows them to be indispensable?

musicworldMost people can hardly last five minutes without listening to music; music pervades advertising, television, radio, internet, performance, and ritual whether secular or religious.  By contrast, people can go years without personal interaction with lawyers, corporate leaders, soldiers, even doctors.  Artists design packaging and presentation for every product manufactured; writers are responsible for screenplays, monologues, content of newspapers or news shows, speeches, ad copy, and books, both fiction and nonfiction.  In the U.S., leaving aside hobbyists and part-time workers, there are 2 million full-time jobs in the arts, more than there are doctors, lawyers, and about the same numbers as in the military — and they earn higher than the median income.

Yet the average presumption in schools and the media is that students majoring in English or the arts are impractical dreamers!  The governor of Florida, for example, pulled money away from liberal arts to fund subjects that “create jobs.”

Here is a smattering of information that may help us connect the dots: Continue reading Music & Arts in the Real World

What’s in a fiddle style?

The magic of a fiddle tune is not in the notes, but in the feeling, the cultural need, the “style” that produced the tune and uses the tune for listening, dancing, marching, or other community functions.  Even in classical music, where many musicians play all their music with the same sound, the pieces come from different eras, different cultures, and sound better when the musician draws upon those characteristics.  Some classical musicians specialize in renaissance music, or baroque music using original instruments, or German romantic, or American modern, etc., and may play these types of music quite differently.palette

Fiddle music is local music from around the world, and has not only noticeably different styles from one country to another, but usually is played differently from region to region, or even from village to village.  Some local styles are built entirely on the playing of a well-respected fiddler.
I once heard a concert by a group that presented an eclectic mix of folk tunes from around the world.  When the group got around to some of the tunes and styles I knew best, it became clear that while all the melodies were interesting, they were all played the same way, because that group was not knowledgeable about the many styles they were drawing tunes from.

To those who know a style, it is truly moving to hear a great player from that tradition.  It can be entertaining and impressive, but not moving, to hear someone get all the notes of the tunes but miss out on the soul of the style.  There’s a song that says it best:  no matter how amazing the player, “it don’t mean a thing if ain’t got that swing.”

How do you learn a fiddle style?  Like anything else, what you learn depends on what you become aware of.  The more you are aware of, the more you hear, and the more chance you have of incorporating that awareness in your playing.  If you want to find out what “that swing” is, you need to listen to really good players from the tradition, and try to get a sense of what they are trying to do.  What is it that moves those who care about that kind of music?

The best goal is to learn a style from within, rather than Continue reading What’s in a fiddle style?

You Won’t Believe the Music Out There

Expose yourself to as many styles of music as possible.  Step out of the box and check out the rich music available to us, fiddle music from around the world.

Every style of playing music embraces players of top quality.  Find them or recordings of them online or in a CD shop.  Nowadays media companies try to control what most people hear in order to sell lots of their own product.  They know that people like what they hear the most.
worldflags
Too often we are skeptical about a whole type of music without really listening to it, or without listening to good practitioners of that style.  For example, many people cringe when they think of bagpipes, because there are very few top quality players of the instrument.  There are only 30 Grade 1 pipe bands in the whole world, and only three in the U.S.  This gives an idea of how few top players there are.  Think too, about music you might feel you’re very familiar with.  Have you taken care to listen to some of the best musicians in that style?  Below is a list of many fiddle styles you might want to tap into.

Continue reading You Won’t Believe the Music Out There