Please let me know what you think!

Now that there are about 100 articles available to you here, I’d love to hear from you about the fiddle-online blog.  I tried that “surveymonkey” thing, which theoretically is great because it’s easy for people to submit answers to me — but nobody (not one person!) actually tried it!  (If you want to try it, here’s the link.)

So just email me!  Please take a moment to let me know your thoughts.

–How often do you read these articles?

–What topics have you found most helpful or thought-provoking?

–Have you used the Search box or the Archives to find past articles?  Or the recent links in the column at the left?

–Any suggestions for topics you’d like to read about or other ideas about the blog?

Many thanks!

–Ed

Guest Treasures

Without much fanfare, fiddle-online makes available performances and teaching 24/7 of some of the top contemporary fiddlers. As with everything at the site, it’s available a-la-carte and at a very low cost (80% of which goes to the guest artist, so an excellent cause!). See below for info about cost and logging in, etc.*

Below are some descriptions and links to more info about guest workshops by great players with varying styles of expertise: Scottish, Cape Breton, Irish, Quebecois, Old-timey, gypsy jazz and klezmer.

For the list and links, click Continue! —

Continue reading Guest Treasures

Shoulder Rests

Most fiddlers and violinists use a shoulder rest, but some struggle with finding the right one or adjusting it to their needs.

There are players who prefer not to use one, usually for reasons to do with convenience or authenticity: Old-style fiddlers didn’t use them, poor players couldn’t afford them, it’s more natural to just pick up the fiddle and play than to stop and attach an accessory first, and some say they feel the vibrations better without a rest.  Sometimes I go without it myself, if I need to quickly pick up the fiddle and play, but it doesn’t feel good to do it for long, or I have to keep adjusting my position so I don’t overuse certain muscles and get a cramp or strain.

I recommend that students use shoulder rests for two main reasons:  better physical health, and to allow the left hand to do its job.

Health-wise, it’s better for your body to play with both shoulders kept down in a natural position, and for the chin to stay back in its normal position rather than jut forward to accommodate the chinrest. Neither shoulder nor chin should apply pressure to squeeze the fiddle in place; that’s a recipe for muscle strain and misalignment.

As to allowing the left hand to do its job, take a look at the article about the joints of the left hand and arm, called “Controllers of the Left.”  Without a shoulder rest, the left hand tends to feel it needs to help hold the fiddle up, and this usually involves collapsing the wrist to use the palm as a support. Some traditional players do this, though one constantly touring fiddler told me she taught herself to straighten her left hand because her hand was getting numb — the collapsed wrist was cutting down on circulation. There’s an interesting theory that before the chinrest was invented (1820), players kept their left hand in one place, with the thumb halfway up the neck, allowing them to move up or down the fingerboard using the thumb as anchor, but that is a whole other technique of playing.

With a shoulder rest, Continue reading Shoulder Rests

Strategizing for Performance

Performing does not just mean playing while a bunch of people watch. You’re performing a tune any time you try to play all the way through it. But this is nothing to shy away from or build up as bigger than it really is — a performance could be for your teacher, or in a session, or even playing along with a recording on fiddle-online.com.

Perfection is not an issue when performing; in fact, “perfection” should be off the table. The goal in performing a tune is to get through it in time. How well you actually play it is for you to judge afterwards. Once you know you can finish what you start, whether a tune, a part or even a phrase, you can practice, polish, hone, develop your musical ideas. If you know you can get through the tune in time, you can play it with and for others, enjoying their company, enjoying the music, and learning what you need to work on in order to play it better.

A big part of practicing is strategizing for how you plan to play through, or perform, a tune — regardless of how well you know the tune. Don’t wait for that elusive moment when you think you know it “well enough to perform,” that future time when you plan to have all the notes nailed down. You wouldn’t want to nail a bunch of wooden boards securely in place without an overall plan for where they actually fit.

To strategize for performance, start at the beginning. Continue reading Strategizing for Performance

Links to Learning Tunes – part 2

Last time we talked about finding the support materials you’re looking for to learn different styles of tunes on fiddle-online.com with a bunch of links to the Scottish tunes you can find here.

This time we’ll provide easy links to find lots of other styles of tunes.  When you look at the Past Workshops, you can also check out tunes based on the types and purpose of tunes, such as tunes to help you learn by ear, tunes to help learn ornamentation, a set of tunes teaching higher finger positions, and a group of tunes focused on syncopation.

Below are links for audio and info about learning Irish, Old-timey & other American trad tunes, jazz fiddle, Scandie, Quebecois, Cape Breton, and klezmer tunes!

Looking for Irish tunes?  Check out the following: Continue reading Links to Learning Tunes – part 2

Finding your style among over 150 choice tunes!

The support materials from our live workshops are extensive — performance and teaching videos, interactive sheet music with self-repeating audio for each phrase, a listening track, a playalong track, and often, additional information, audio and links. All of this is always available, whether you were there for the workshop or not.

Our summer break from live online workshops is the perfect time to explore these materials from past events. There are 32 past monthly workshop topics, each presenting 3-6 tunes and techniques for learning and playing them. There are also 24 past guest workshops presented by 15 different instructors.

We’ve covered many different kinds of tunes — slow airs, marches, strathspeys, reels, jigs, waltzes, mazurkas, jazz standards, klezmer ballads, hornpipes, polskas, and polkas.

Fiddling is fascinating because it is local music from around the world, and our workshops have addressed a variety of styles, often presented by guest experts — including Scottish, Irish, old-timey, Cape Breton, Shetland, Québécois, jazz, klezmer, contradance, Swedish, Danish, plus original contemporary tunes taught by the composers.

Below are some links to help you get more info and audio samples about these offerings.  Continue reading Finding your style among over 150 choice tunes!

Music is risky (but the stakes are low!)

If you don’t like taking risks, this article is for you. Maybe you are shy and worried about embarrassment, or you are competitive and afraid to look like you don’t know what you are doing. Perhaps you are risk-averse professionally, as a lawyer or accountant, for example.

There’s good and bad news for you. First, the bad news: Learning and playing music is risky! Not only is it likely that you’ll make bad sounds, hit wrong notes, and forget something you thought you learned — all in front of other people — but these “mistakes” are the only pathway to learning an instrument.

Now here’s the good news: Playing music is a very low-stakes gamble. Hitting a wrong note or a bad sound is not life-threatening, nor (contrary to some people’s fears) will it wreck your reputation.

Too often, learners derail themselves, and slow down or even prevent learning, by taking out precious time to berate themselves or apologize for making a “mistake”. I put “mistake” in quotes because Continue reading Music is risky (but the stakes are low!)

Is fiddle-online the future of technology?

Recently I added up what is going on in technology in many nooks and crannies of daily life for individuals, companies, governmental groups, and realized that www.fiddle-online.com may be just the kind of technology that’s going to be truly meaningful in the future.

Look around:

    • A concert streaming service couldn’t understand why musicians complained about getting contradictory and confusing information about their events.  The company explained the system’s intended logic, but all appearances are that the programmers of their system simply didn’t have the end users in mind when they devised their logical procedures.
    • A utility company has been accused of greed and scandal but one wonders if it had anything to do with their IT department.  It turns out that while some were wildly overcharged, others were not charged at all due to a new system.  Did the IT department get their side of the job done but skip a few steps crucial to customer service?

Continue reading Is fiddle-online the future of technology?

Medleys 2: Compatible Tunes

In the last article we talked about why putting tunes together into medleys is so important to fiddlers. Now let’s take a look at how to put medleys together. What types of tunes go together? Which keys are compatible? What if you want two tunes to go together but they break all the rules?

Which types of tunes go together?

For faster tunes it’s easiest to play two of the same type — jigs with jigs, reels with reels. Jigs and reels both have two beats per measure, so if you want to combine them, keep that beat at the same tempo, and listeners can continue tapping their feet or dancing to the same beat. It’s just that you’ll be playing 3 eighths per beat if a jig, and 4 per beat if a reel. If the new type of tune starts with a simple rhythm, it can be easier to make the transition. For example, if going from reel into a jig, a jig that starts with one or two dotted quarters can simplify the transition. If going from jig to reel, a reel with quarter notes or even a half note in the first measure can help you and listeners get a clear handle on the beats before you draw them into the reel.

Slower tunes are a little different.

Continue reading Medleys 2: Compatible Tunes

Medleys: the fiddler’s canvas

There is creativity lurking everywhere in music, and one of the most creative parts of fiddling is the building of medleys. A big part of the fun of learning to play fiddle is that it can be as simple or as complicated as we want to make it.

As you get to know a tune you can make it your own, whether on purpose or subsconsciously. I learned one tune from an old book only to discover years later when I looked at the book again that I had unknowingly developed my own version — and I liked mine better! In some styles of fiddling such as jazz or Irish, people improvise new notes to dress up the tune or express their view of it. But improvisation of some kind goes on all the time even if more subtle than actually inventing notes. It is improvisatory to play a tune differently one time than another, inventing bowings, ornaments, and rhythms to suit the mood.

Making medleys is not improvisation but it is certainly creative. Once we know some tunes, we can find ways to put them together in interesting or exciting ways. The tunes may be given to us by tradition, but we can use them to create a bigger picture. They can be the colors of our canvas.
Probably the simplest reason to make medleys is because it allows us to play longer. Old-timey fiddlers like to play one tune for a very long time, but in most types of fiddling, the player moves on after two or three times through a tune.

How do we make medleys? In this article we’ll look at the basics and some suggestions for fun ways to do it. In the next article we’ll discuss how to find tunes that are compatible with each other, based on key and style.

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The first thing to know about making a medley is that we want listeners or dancers to keep those feet tapping. There should be no gap in time between any two tunes in a medley. That means that beat 1 of the first full measure of a tune should arrive exactly where beat 1 would have arrived if we had repeated the first tune. No skipped beats or extra time added.

Pickup notes that lead into a second tune can be shortened, stretched, changed or eliminated to allow the beat to continue from the first tune without interruption. If you are changing tempo, say from a waltz to a jig, the last measure of the waltz must complete three beats in waltz time before the first full measure of the jig begins. If there is a pickup to the jig, it has to fit into waltz time, because the new jig tempo doesn’t start until beat 1 of the first full measure of the jig.

One fun way to start building a medley is to take two tunes and play the last phrase (four beats) of one tune right into the first phrase of the second tune, keeping in mind what I just said about allowing no gap in timing. No need to play the full tune into the second tune, just try the transition of going last phrase of one to first phrase of the next. Then try the reverse — put the second tune first and see how they go together. If they go well together, bingo, you have a two-tune medley!

As soon as you make a medley, you have a longer piece of music to play. When playing with others, it’s great to start one tune when you already have in mind a tune to play next; it keeps the music going longer. A session can be a drag if everyone has to stop after every tune and figure out what to play next.

In order to remember the order of tunes in your medley, try using the tune titles to tell a story. If I want to play “Leaving Lismore” and then “Captain Campbell” and “Mrs MacLeod of Raasay” I could imagine leaving the island of Lismore on a boat, running into Captain Campbell on the shore, and together heading over to visit Mrs MacLeod for a picnic. Or maybe there’s romance involved, or a fight, or who knows? The story in your head will not only remind you of what order the tunes are in, but if you actually develop a story that goes along with your music, you will play the tunes better — kind of like playing music for a silent movie. And nobody has to know what story you’re dreaming of as you play — it could be funny, tragic, or bawdy. It will entertain you, and inform your playing.

I once had a student who had difficulty thinking of another tune to play after she finished one. We tried creating story lines with the tune titles, and it wasn’t long before she was able to play 16 tunes in a row — four chapters of the story, with four tunes in each chapter!

Feel free to experiment with putting any two (or 3, or 4…) tunes together into a medley. Be creative!

There are traditions for finding tunes that go well together. We’ll look into that in the next article!

©2019 Ed Pearlman