Intonation and Mother Nature

Mother Nature provides us with many ways to learn to play in tune, and also ways to mercilessly annoy our friends and neighbors.  This is because we all have a very good sense of pitch.
For example, we can wiggle our 3d finger on the A string around a D# and produce a sound that anybody could mistake for a mosquito.  That note vibrates the air around it at about 600 times per second, the same frequency as the beating wings of a mosquito.

This means that everybody is able to recall and match pitches that they have heard many times.  Of course, it is also just plain fun to know how to imitate a mosquito — or a bumblebee or a housefly (wiggle the first finger right at the nut on the G string — this is close to 200 vibrations per seconbeed, same as the bee and fly).  Below is a chart of how some natural sounds match up with musical instruments, in case you’re interested in other annoying sounds.

Those who think they have a bad sense of pitch, I find, are usually focusing their attention on their muscles and not their ears.  Often, singers who can’t match a pitch are Continue reading Intonation and Mother Nature

Pentatonic is Everywhere

One of the most popular note patterns in musical styles around the world is the pentatonic scale.  I often start beginners off  with tunes based on this scale because they can be great tunes, but easy to learn.  Some pentatonic fiddle tunes use only 2 fingers.
This scale has been used for centuries in Celtic music, American folk, gospels, blues, country, rock, jazz, East European, West African, Chinese, Mongolian, Japanese, Greek, Native American, Southeast Asian, South American, Afro-Caribbean — in fact, it’s hard to find places where the pentatonic scale is not in common use.  It has been important in classical music as well, particularly in Romantic and impressionistic music.

Carl Orff believed the pentatonic scale was natural for children, so the Orff method focuses on its use for younger learners.  It’s also part of the Kodaly method, and us used in Waldorf schools, for similar reasons.
piano keyboard
It’s easy to visualize the 5 notes of this scale when you see it on a piano:  Continue reading Pentatonic is Everywhere

Is Stagefright Learned?

It’s natural to feel nervous energy when performing.  We know that in performance, nothing is guaranteed, and that’s part of what makes it exciting and fascinating.

But nervous energy is different from performance fear, stagefrightwhich we usually call “stagefright.”  Stagefright seems to happen when performers focus mostly on their weaknesses instead of their strengths.  They worry about what people might think, whether they’ll get through a tricky spot, or whether some unforeseen problem will throw them off.  They might even feel unsure if they’re “deserving” of being out on stage.

In other words, people with stagefright are thinking about themselves, not about the music.

My theory is that stagefright is learned, and can be unlearned.  Often I see advice to people about special tricks Continue reading Is Stagefright Learned?

Good and Bad Perfectionists

Perfectionists are everywhere.  In fact, without them, not very much would get done well!

But there are good and bad perfectionists.  Neither is ever satisfied — for the good ones, this is because they always find something to improve.  For the bad ones, it’s because they always find a mistake to fix.
This difference in approach is very real, and in music, it has a noticeable impact on how people learn, how they perform, and how they play with others.

It’s not so hard to turn a bad perfectionist into a good one.  The “cure” became clear to me when I heard about a theater game taught by an improvisation instructor.

One of the stumbling blocks for bad perfectionists is that, while they may believe that “practice makes perfect”, they often don’t know which things need to be perfected, or how, or when.  As mentioned in the previous article, cognitive scientists have found that “learners are very poor judges of when they’re learning well.”  If students’ priorities are not on target, judging themselves harshly may only be getting in their own way.

Jack, for example, was so wrapped up in getting every note right that he didn’t stop to realize how weak his bowing was.  We focused on making his sound more confident, on bowing to match the timing of the tune, on finding the right ratio of bow speed and pressure to make a clear sound, and Jack made a lot of progress.

I complimented him on this progress and encouraged him to keep it up and pay attention to it when he played.  But all he could do was frown and look at me as if I was crazy.  He pointed out each of the notes he’d missed, especially one of them that had been way out of tune.  I explained why his new bowing skill made all the notes sound much better and more in time, even the notes that weren’t perfect.  He looked askew at me as if I was either deaf, or lying in order to make him feel better.

This was when we talked about the improv exercise.  Here’s how it worked:  Continue reading Good and Bad Perfectionists

Turning Music Learning on Its Head

A ten-year study of learning, published a year ago, came up with some surprising conclusions that, for some music students and teachers, might turn music learning on its head.   One is that drilling a passage of music over and over is not the way to master it.
It turns out that working in a focused way on one thing yields results, but they’re only temporary.  One example is the way someone might cram for a test and get by, but then forget most of the material soon after.  But it applies to learning music or any other subject as well.

A couple of other strategies work much better than single-task practice, if the goal is mastery and long-term results.  One way is Continue reading Turning Music Learning on Its Head

Welcome! Here’s what to expect —

Here, on a regular basis, you can find new posts featuring:

1.  Current News

Fiddle-online blog posts will bring you news about upcoming classes, newly posted videos, and guest workshops.

2.  Pointers to help you better work with videos, classes, and materials.

3.  Ideas abEd (2)out how people learn fiddle

These articles will explore fresh ways for us to think about learning, practicing, and playing the instrument.  I draw upon many years of teaching experience, recent published research, and adaptions of over 150 blog posts I’ve written for a music teacher’s site.

Your comments and questions are always welcome, and may well serve as topics for future articles.

–Ed Pearlman