Toe-Tappingly Good Music

No matter how beautiful the notes, it’s timing that’s at the heart of the music, so it’s no wonder many players tap their toes.  Notes played badly but with good timing still present a recognizable piece of music, whereas notes played beautifully but with careless or unanchored timing can be confusing to listen to, or even unidentifiable.
How do we make certain of good timing?

There are many angles to that question but for the moment, I’d just like to comment on how musicians reinforce the beat with physical movements, such as tapping feet.

Those who play with the clearest sense of timing move physically in some way, as they play.  Those who have trouble with timing Continue reading Toe-Tappingly Good Music

Learning vs Memorizing

Memorizing a piece of music is different from learning it. Musicians who rely on written music, and then memorize it, have taken only a first step toward learning it.

Learning a piece of music involves making it your own, not just remembering the notes.  It engages your feelings and thoughts about sound patterns, rhythms, tensions and resolutions.

Research shows that playing music involves many areas of the whole brain (see the previous blog post), whereas reading music focuses on the visual and language centers. When we learn a piece of music we give it a much broader dimension than we can when we read it.

Reading music is certainly a helpful skill — essential for Continue reading Learning vs Memorizing

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 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

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

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

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

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

Pointers about Online Classes

Taking an online class is pretty easy on  — here are some pointers about making them fit your needs.

It’s easy — when you sign up for a class, you’ll find yourself on the class page where there’s a link.  No Skype calling or anything — you’ll just click the link at class time and join in.  For details and first time users of Zoom, see this page.  “Signing up” for Zoom can be done in advance or when you go to class, and takes a minute just to enter email address and the name you’d like other people to see when you’re onlinonline class screene.  You’ll need a computer, tablet, or smartphone with a camera and mike, which they all have nowadays.

Before signing up for a class you can hear an audio sample of the tune we’ll work on.  The class is never about just getting the notes; it’s about ways to understand, remember, phrase the tune, and how to think musically about it.  Technical ideas are integrated, and often relate to some of the technique videos available on this site.

Sheet Music
As soon as you sign up and go to the class page, you’ll have access to sheet music and audio of the tune in question, in case you wish to take a look before, during, or after class.  You get the most out of classes, though, if during class you try to learn by ear.

You see the teacher and other students on your screen, can speak or play any time, except at a few times Continue reading Pointers about Online Classes

Future Tech, or How to Learn Fiddle Without Really Trying

New technology, new pharmaceuticals, new strategies…you deserve to know the latest ideas to help you learn and play well without really trying.

An earlier article talked about ways to unlearn stagefright — well, some people just take pills, like beta-blockers — end of problem!  There are also physical gadgets out there — to keep a bow on track, fit your bow hand into a corrective mold, electronically play a the next note of a tune every time you tap on a drum, or show a piano student which keys to press remotely from an online connection.fiddle lying down2

Here are some products so advanced they haven’t been developed yet.

Magnetic Tune Teacher–electromagnets are embedded in the fingerboard and activated based on a programmed piece of music, while magnets in the student’s fingers are drawn to the right place at the right time for the right amount of time, thus teaching their fingers to play the music, or covering for them if they forget. One slight drawback is the minor surgery required to insert the finger magnets.  Continue reading Future Tech, or How to Learn Fiddle Without Really Trying