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

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

Music Doesn’t Fit In the Box

Music stands apart from many presumptions of modern life.

For one thing, there’s its sense of timing. I like to point out that music is not a to-do list but more like an appointment calendar. If you miss some notes, you have to get on to your next appointment on time, with the next beat or phrase.

Sometimes I speak of the Long Bows exercise (in Technique Video Group 1) as a great warmup because it can be a buffer between the demands of daily life and music. You have to settle into four beats per bow, allow for four bows per string, and all the while, you pay attention to sound, bow speed, pressure, continuity, differences in different parts of the bow. It’s not quantifiable.


Continue reading Music Doesn’t Fit In the Box

Holiday Gifts & Tune for You

Holiday gifts are available from fiddle-online (see below), but the best gift might be to play a fiddle tune for family and friends!

One place with a strong fiddle holiday tradition is Shetland, a fiddle stronghold halfway between Scotland and Norway. According to an observer writing about it in 1809, “long before daylight, the fiddlers present themselves at the doors of the houses, playing a tune called the Day-Dawn, the interesting association of which thrills every soul with delight … This tune has long been consecrated to Yule day, and is never played on any other occasion.” (Sir Arthur Edmonstone, View of the Ancient and Present State of the Zetland Isles)  The tune he refers to is still played today, and is still called “Da Day Dawn.” We’ll have to learn it some time in a fiddle-online workshop! Here is a recording of it I made for this blog:

“Da Day Dawn” traditional Shetland holiday tune, played by Ed Pearlman

If you’d like to give the gift of learning and playing more fiddle, here are some options for you!

  1. Without even visiting the fiddle-online site, you can get a fiddle-online gift certificate at the Paddledoo Online Store which will give your recipient 10, 20, or 30 credits when they register or update their profile on fiddle-online using a registration code you’ll  receive. (The Paddledoo Online Store contains many other surprises too!)
  2. If you have or wish to purchase credits on fiddle-online, you can use the Credits Store to purchase gifts from 5 to 30 credits, including CDs, January live workshops, materials from past workshops with Ed or with any of our world-class guest fiddlers, or a Finger Finder slide rule for finding fingering in any key, or a T-shirt that says “I played it better at home”! You can even order a private lesson for 15, 30, or 60 minutes to be scheduled at the convenience of your recipient.

Have a wonderful Christmas, New Year’s, winter break, or whichever holidays you plan to enjoy! I hope it includes lots of music!

—Ed

©2018 Ed Pearlman

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