Writing a Tune

You can learn a lot from writing tunes.  It doesn’t matter if you think you can or not.  Just do it!  Allow yourself to write a few musicconstructionbad ones before you make a gem of a tune.

Here’s why you should try writing a tune:

  • It’s fun.
  • It’s easier than you think (see below).
  • You get a better sense of how tunes are constructed, by phrase and part.
  • You learn a lot about why tunes are written down the way they are, and why there’s always more to a tune than can be written.
  • You get to name your tunes after somebody or something important to you (or name it something silly).
  • You learn about how music is written down.

Here’s how:
Continue reading Writing a Tune

Complete Guide to Taking an Online Class

In this article:zoom

  • Key Words Used in this Article
  • Equipment
  • Lighting and Placement
  • Signing Up for a Class
  • The Class Page
  • Scheduling
  • Class Levels
  • Credits
  • Class FAQ
  • The Class Experience:  What to Expect
  • The Class Experience:  How to Get the Most Out of It

Key Words Used in this Article

I’m going to be talking about online classes in the context of www.fiddle-online.com so I’ll mention “Zoom,” the service we use to connect students and teacher (it’s easier and more reliable than Skype).  You can learn more about this at www.fiddle-online.com/zoom.html

We’ll talk about the “Class Page.”  There is a section below discussing this.

A “Tunelearning Page” is a presentation of sheet music boxed and labeled by phrase, with audio buttons for each phrase.  This helps students learn a tune more easily and musically.  You can find a number of Tunelearning Pages available on this site, but the format is also used sometimes to help class students work on a tune on their own.


As a student you don’t need any special equipment.  All new computers, laptops, tablets, smartphones (yes, you can take a class with any of these) are equipped with a camera and microphone.  If you have an old computer Continue reading Complete Guide to Taking an Online Class

Auld Lang Syne, the song and strathspey

Happy New Year!

Did you know that the usual melody for that “Auld Lang Syne” song we often sing New Year’s Eve was not the original melody for the song?

If you’d like to hear the song as originally intended by the songwriter/poet Robert Burns when he published it over 200 years ago, listen to the beautiful version sung by Mairi Campbell.  Her duo with Dave Francis is The Cast, which sang this version for the movie Sex and the City.

Here’s the original melody:

auldlangsyne1Burns collected the song, which was already old at the time, and added some of his own words to it, to create the song we know now.  The melody we’re used to singing Continue reading Auld Lang Syne, the song and strathspey

Reversing Old Presumptions

There is a common presumption that learning a piece of music is processed in this order:

1.  The mind tries to understand what’s going on through analysis, reading, listening to the teacher.
2.  The hands are told by the brain what to do so they can practice and learn their job.
3.  The ears serve as audience and judge to see how it comes out.
More and more, I have come to realize that this presumption only creates frustration.  For example, some people have trouble being asked to play a note if they do not understand why or how it fits into what they’re working on.  Others might go over a phrase of music several times successfully, and then look up and say that they don’t know how to play it.  A fiddler may play several notes of a musical phrase and have their fingers poised correctly for the next note, but feel they can’t play it because they don’t “know” what comes next.

Some need to read the music and feel confused if asked to play even a few notes in a row without reading them.  Others may be in a class which is playing a phrase of music around them, and even though the teacher has just described how to start playing it, they balk because they don’t “know” what to do.

What is going on here?  Maybe that presumed order of learning music is not actually how it works.  Maybe there is a mismatch between expectations and reality.

Here’s how I think the process actually works:

Continue reading Reversing Old Presumptions

The harmonic series, tuning, and listening

In 7th grade, our music teacher tantalized us with ideas about the harmonic series. I remember asking him about it after class, and he gave me a copy of the Instrumentalist magazine with an article and diagrams showing the connection between music and the frequencies of sounds.

I was fascinated, and I’ve seen students be equally interested, and even taken by surprise, at this meeting of music and science. It adds another dimension to learning about music besides the struggle of trying to coordinate hands on an instrument and understand the organized beauty of melody and harmony.

The harmoniharmonicwavesc series explains why anyone can match two pitches, and why octaves have notes of the same name, and are almost as easy to identify as unison pitches. The fact that one octave is double the frequency of the lower one helps string players understand why a string rings sympathetically if the octave note above it is played in tune. Even beginners can hear this, and since there’s a physical, scientific reason for it, they don’t have to worry that it’s tied in with talent, or years of study.

Anything in the world that vibrates at high speed will create a musical pitch–a hummingbird wing, or a card buzzing on bicycle spokes–and if we know how fast it’s vibrating, we know what pitch it is. For example, the hum in our houses and our sound systems is between an E and an F, because it’s a multiple of the 60-cycle vibration of our electric current.

It’s amazing to see   Continue reading The harmonic series, tuning, and listening

Avoiding injury and stress

Practicing and performing music is a very physical activity.  In spite of all the mental and emotional exertion that goes into it, we must always remember how physical it is.

Below are some thoupainghts about avoiding physical injury and stress while playing music, and here’s a website link that can give you lots of information about this subject, including practical tips, anatomical information, and a list of excellent books.

The exercises in the Technique Video Groups are based on the idea that building awareness through simple physical exercises teaches muscles new movements that can then find their way into your playing.  They are not exercises to do and check off your list, but more like rituals that continue to help your playing at any level.  For example Continue reading Avoiding injury and stress

Slowing Down and Editing Recordings

Editing music files can be a big help for learning tunes.  You can work with recordings on your computer to slow tunes down or do a host of other things with them.

I’ll mention a couple of programs you can use — one is free (Audacity), the other (Riffmaster) costs something but offers a free trial.

The free one is Audacity, which was first introduced to me by a Maine minister well into his 80s!  It is open-source, which means the code is open to the public and it has been developed by experts for public use rather than a for-profit company.
Audacity logo
With Audacity, you can import a music file and work with it, if the file is an mp3, WAV (CD quality), AIFF (iTunes), OGG or a few others.  If your music file is a WMA (Windows Media file) you’ll need to convert it first (here’s a link to a good free converter).  You can also record anything your computer can play, and create your own sound file

Inside Audacity, you can manipulate a music file in a ridiculous number of ways.  You can Continue reading Slowing Down and Editing Recordings

An Interconnected Musical World

My friend Mary was once cornered by a 4th grade student who told her, “You’re pretty smart, for a music teacher.”

Mary asked the little girl why she thought most music teachers weren’t so smart.

“Because you only teach singing and playing instruments.  Can you multiply?  Can you divide?  Can you do fractions?”

This tells us quite a bit about our compartmentalized world!  The little girl was learning about music but was not aware of the connectiinterconnected musicons music has with everything else.

Linking music learning to people’s work lives, to school subjects, to decisionmaking, to learning — all these help people learn music better, and makes for better-rounded individuals.

Below are some connections that might provide food for thought on this subject…

Continue reading An Interconnected Musical World

Mind Over Muscle, or Muscle Over Mind?

Muscles are worse than teenagers — you can’t tell them what to do.  All we can really do is remind them to do something they already know.  If you think you can tell your arm or hand or finger to suddenly behave differently, you are likely to be disappointed.  This is why reading about hand positions or finger movements, and understanding them intellectually, is not enough to learn how to do them.  Even if you do know what to do, as you add more tasks, combining bowings and fingerings, the brain simply can’t keep up unless you have muscle memory working for you.  It’s kind of like trying to speak while spelling out in your mind every letter of every word you’re saying!  You just can’t do this without slowing the whole operation down to a snail’s pace.

The technique videos on this site are geared toward remedying this problem, by providing simple isolated exercises that allow your muscles to learn movements that make playing much easier.

You can also making the physical learning easier by customizing your movements to your own experiences.  For example, Continue reading Mind Over Muscle, or Muscle Over Mind?

Physicality: Preventing Injury When Learning Fiddle

Practicing and performing music is a very physical activity.  In spite of all the mental and emotional exertion that goes into it, we must always remember how physical it is.

Below are some thoughts about how to play and learn in a healthy way so you can prevent physical injury from playing music, and here’s a website link that can give you lots hand painof information about this subject, including practical tips, anatomical information, and a list of excellent books.
Continue reading Physicality: Preventing Injury When Learning Fiddle