Forget About Forgetting!

Forgetting is not quite what we think it is. Every time we remember something we re-mind ourselves, recreate it, collect all the clues and revisit it — contrary to the imagery about the brain that has dominated since the invention of the computer, our brain is not a computer. It does not process data like a computer. In fact, it doesn’t even contain data.

This ties directly into learning the fiddle. I’ve addressed a few connected ideas in earlier articles — Turning Music Learning On Its Head, and Reversing Old Presumptions. We don’t really know much about what we can do, nor about our limitations, and I often find that learners of the fiddle get in their own way by trying to memorize notes, techniques, and following methods that they believe to be their “learning style.” The more I learn about how we learn, the more I realize how little we know! Neuroscientist Eric Kandel, a Nobel prize winner, said it would take a hundred years before we understand how human memory works.

A fascinating article by the prominent research psychologist, Robert Epstein, totally debunks the notion Continue reading Forget About Forgetting!

Artist and Technician

A technician is someone who is driven to explore and master the familiar. An artist is one who is driven to explore and manage the unfamiliar.

Once an artist explores the unknown and corrals a piece of it into their work, it becomes familiar, and the artist becomes a technician seeking to master it.

Whether artist or technician or some combination of both (as most people are), everyone needs to learn the vocabulary of their art, the technique, in order to know the possibilities of expression within their field. The more vocabulary they have, the more they realize how much they have to say. Beginners too appreciate the possibilities of expression, even if they’re not ready to say very much yet. In fact, these possibilities are what generally make someone want to learn in the first place.

How do you feel when you see someone else perform something that’s amazing?  If you’re more of an artist, chances are you’ll be inspired by the work of others, and sense new ways of approaching your own work.  If you’re more of a technician, chances are you might feel challenged or disheartened by brilliant performances, because a technician’s first question tends to be “Can I do that?”

I know an artist who achieved a level of accomplishment that drew many students and apprentices to his studio. One of these learned so well that she produced work that confused people as to whether the teacher or she had made it. At first, this artist was annoyed that his student had taken on his techniques and not developed her own. But then, he realized that the reason he was annoyed was that he had become only a technician and forgotten to move ahead with his art. He needed to dig into the vein of his own creativity to explore new, unfamiliar territory, new ideas and techniques that he could develop and master. He actually felt grateful to that student for inadvertently alerting him to his own plateau, and he went on to produce a great deal of new and amazing work.

These definitions of artist and technician are not limited to any particular field. I think of Elon Musk, for example, as an artist driven to explore the unfamiliar, manage his ideas, and then master them with a blend of new and old techniques of design and manufacture. High-profile (and wealthy!) creators often delegate much of the technical part so they can move on to their next project.

However, the skills of the artist, Continue reading Artist and Technician

Live Workshops — what to expect!

Fiddle-online.com has pioneered a mix of live online workshops with interactive sheet music — if you haven’t tried a live event, here’s what to expect.

We use Zoom to connect; you can learn more about it at this link. It’s high quality and easy to use. Once you sign up for an event, you’ll have access to a link, as well as learning materials. At class time, you’ll simply click to join the group.

Types of Live Events

There are several kinds of live events on fiddle-online.com — the monthly Sunday guest concert/workshop featuring top players from around the world, the Thursday tunelearning workshops with Ed Pearlman, which are centered around a monthly topic (see the past workshops page for a list of monthly topics), and the Wednesday classes which are 8-week sessions aimed at particular levels (starting with beginners in Sept and progressing to Intermediate level 2 in the spring).  When a new session is available for signup, there is an info button on the Current Workshops page.

Live Event vs Materials-Only

Learning materials for workshops are available 24/7 online, starting from the moment you sign up and lasting until at least 30 days after the live event. After a live workshop is over, a teaching video is posted for review, and for those who missed the live event. A performance video is also available from the concert/workshop. In addition to these videos, of course, you have access to

Continue reading Live Workshops — what to expect!

Musical Memory — more to it than you might think!

There is a kind of musical memory that everyone can learn and improve, and it’s not about how many tunes you know.

A good musician, while teaching a lesson or engaged in a rehearsal, can listen to an entire set of tunes, and yet keep in mind which parts were solid and where improvements can be made, noting ideas to heighten the impact of a phrase, smooth out a transition, fix a note mistake, change a bowing to bolster sound or timing, adjust a distracting ornament, and so on. A good lesson or rehearsal will include the chance to outline and work on all these points of improvement. And it’s only possible with a good musical memory.

Challenge yourself to not only play a tune or part of a tune, Continue reading Musical Memory — more to it than you might think!

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

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!)

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. Continue reading Medleys: the fiddler’s canvas

Controllers of the Left

In the last article we talked about “controllers” of the right arm and hand, as in remote controllers or video controllers, each joint having its role to play. The more aware we become of the role of each joint, the more efficiently we can play. We certainly don’t have to consciously think about these things once we’ve learned about them, but if we just play “naturally” without stopping to notice what “naturally” means for us, we may well be getting in our own way with misconceptions of what our body is actually doing. Video #9 in Technique Video Group 1 is called “Body mapping” and talks about common misconceptions about bowing and fingering that can block us from playing as well as we could.

Let’s try mapping the joints of the left arm and hand, and notice what they do for our fiddling.

Continue reading Controllers of the Left

Controllers of the Right

We understand controllers — computer mouse, keyboard, remote controls, steering wheels, clutch and stickshift, rudders, video game controllers — gadgets that we have to coordinate in order to get something done. Those who are good at typing, computing, driving, video games, know how to efficiently use those controllers to get the desired results.

It’s kind of like that with playing the fiddle. We have controllers on our right arm and hand, and controllers on our left arm and hand. For the moment let’s talk about the controllers on the right.

Once your right hand is positioned with right leverage to control the bow (see the first five videos in Technique Video Group 1), the primary controllers on our right hand are Continue reading Controllers of the Right