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. Continue reading Medleys: the fiddler’s canvas

Pickup Notes: don’t play without ’em

What are “pickup notes”? They are notes that lead us into a beat note. They are easy to notice at the beginning of tunes, where there might be one or two notes before the first beat or bar line, but as we’ll see, they really can be found everywhere, and our awareness of them determines how musical our playing is.

The colored boxes marking phrases in the interactive sheet music on www.fiddle-online.com serve several purpose — first, they allow us to learn manageable building blocks of a tune and understand how the tune is put together, and second, they include pickup notes as part of the phrases. Written music shows us where the beats are, but not where the phrases are.

We can quickly understand pickup notes if we remember that the language of music matches up with spoken (or sung) language. The two beats in the proclamation, “Let’s go to the store” are “go” and “store”. These tell us the main idea, while the other words add nuance. The syllables before those two beats are pickup notes leading to the beats — “Let’s” belongs to “go”, and “to the” belongs to “store”. In music this sentence might be written in jig time:

If we split up the words by beat (which is what the written music shows us), we’d say “Lets. Go to the. Store.” It doesn’t make immediate sense in words or music that way. In order to play naturally, the way we talk, we need to be aware of the pickup notes, so we can say/play “Let’s go” followed by “to the store”, or “Let’s GO to the STORE.”

Pickups at the beginning of a tune lead us into the tune. They prepare us for the tempo and beat of the tune. But they’re not essential to Continue reading Pickup Notes: don’t play without ’em

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

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