April 30, 2013
When I first started playing Irish music, someone gave me a Martin Hayes CD to listen to. I have to admit his playing didn’t really touch me at that time. I thought his music was a bit slow for my taste. I wanted to play fast, hoppy tunes because that’s what my beginner ear thought Irish music was. All I knew at the time was Danu, Lunasa and Solas. And I wanted to play like just like them. So I put his music on the back burner in case there was a tune or two I might want to learn later.
Many years later, I was at Celtic Connections, a Celtic music festival in Scotland, where I not only got to see Martin play, I also took a master class with him to find out just what makes him tick musically. It wasn’t until then that I fully realized just how talented this man was. There is nothing like seeing a musician perform live and listening to the them tell you what these tunes mean to them. The experience was one I’ll never forget.
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November 28, 2012
There is nothing like Reese’s peanut butter cups. They truly are “two great tastes that taste great together.”
I bet you’re wondering what the heck candy has to do with Irish music and why I stuck this mouth-watering picture in my blog post.
Well, I was re-learning a great fiddle tune called The Wedding Reel. The funny thing is I was learning this from a recording of myself playing it. This is when you know you’re old, when you’re learning tunes from recordings of yourself.
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September 23, 2012
One of the things I love about this music is that it brings people together. Especially traditional music, the greats are easily accessible and are willing to share tunes, tips, tricks and stories. It’s what makes this music special.
Recently, I’ve been struggling with my playing. I feel like I have reached the point where I’m just not getting better. It takes me a long time to learn a tune and I learn it note for note exactly the way I hear it (which takes forever by the way). Then once I’ve learned it I can only play it that way, with those same ornamentations and bowings. It’s not actually my expression of that tune, I’m just mimicking someone else’s. But how do I get out of this rut?
I have tried things like playing some of the other instruments in my quiver, in hopes that “cross-training” will help my fiddle playing. Yet still I feel I’ve reached a plateau in my fiddle playing and I need to change something in my practicing so I can grow.
Yesterday at the session at Bagitos, we talked about this a little in between tunes and a flute player and teacher who was visiting, made some great suggestions that I wanted to share. His theory is to focus on the technical part of playing and the tunes will come more freely, easily and quickly later on. Here are some of the exercises he suggested:
- Listen to different versions of the same tune. Listen to as many different recordings of the same tune as you can. Play them until you can sing them in your head and then try to work them out on the fiddle. By listening to different recordings you don’t get caught up in one person’s version in one point in time but you hear different variations and ornamentations and you can pick and choose the ones you like.
- Practice Bowing. When Martin Hayes learns a tune, he first bows each note separately. He then plays the tune and plays as many notes on one bow stroke as possible until he feels comfortable no matter which way his bow is going. By practicing this way it allows us to play more freely without worrying about what we’re doing with our bow.
- Break it down. Take a small part of the tune, and play it as many different ways as you can. Not only will this allow you to really know the tune intimately but it gets you comfortable with playing variations on a whim.
I’m going to take these suggestions to heart and start practicing this way this week. I’ll keep you posted as to how it turns out.
September 15, 2012
See how far I’ve come? Ha.
If you’ve ever snowboarded, you know the first few times out there can be downright painful not to mention frustrating. At the end of the day it usually feels kind of like someone scrunched you up into a ball and threw you against the wall a few times because that’s how much your body hurts.
It does however get better, the more you do it. Eventually you learn to get down the mountain without bruising your tailbone, spraining your ankle or catching your downhill edge and getting whiplash as your head hits the ground (thank God for helmets).
One of the things that made me a better rider, believe it or not, was when I took telemark skiing lessons. (I mean I had to find one way to get down Mad River Glen). For some reason learning a different way to slide down the mountain gave me more confidence and skill on my snowboard. I’m not sure why exactly.
I figured if it can work with snowboarding, it can work with fiddling. I am always trying to improve my fiddle chops and I think sometimes its good to pick up another instrument for a little while. If for nothing else but for realizing that yeah, you can play fiddle.
Recently, I was asked to review an Irish Whistle Tutor. So I thought this would be a great opportunity to start learning another instrument – the Irish whistle. Luckily it is one that is still in line with the genre I play in not to mention, easy to transport.
So just as I learned to get better on my snowboard through teleskiing, I am hoping to get better on my fiddle through whistling (sorry neighbors). I’ll keep you posted as to how it goes. And check back for my review of the Irish Whistle Tutor.
July 21, 2012
Fiddler Liz Carroll
Photo: Knuff Photography
In my last blog post, How do I learn to play sweetly, I wrote about my struggles in learning to grasp that sweet fiddle sound that so many of my peers and heroes possess. I got some wonderful advice from those very same peers and figured I would share them so you too could benefit from their knowledge. Below are 11 ways to learn to play sweetly.
- Just play it. We spend so much time in our head over-thinking things. We need to learn to just play the darn tune and not to over think it. Trust your fingers will know where to go and just play.
- Let the fiddle sing. After you’ve learned a tune just let your instrument sing it.
- Envision the dance. Envisions dancers dancing to your music.
- Listen to yourself. You’d be surprised to hear what you actually sound like.
- Let that one note sing. Even if you can only play one note, try to make it beautiful.
- Acknowledge and embrace the gift of music.
- Play with people you’re comfortable with. This allows you to loosen up knowing that you don’t have to carry the tune.
- Let your passion shine through. Enjoy the joy of playing. If you’re enjoying it most likely the people listening will too.
- Play simple tunes simply. Play quietly, slowly and simply.
- Relax and enjoy it.
- Keep playing. Let’s face it, if it were easy everyone would be doing it. So don’t give up. Keep playing and enjoy it.
April 14, 2012
When it comes to learning tunes by ear, for some reason it takes me forever. And I’ve been doing it the same way since, well, forever.
I memorize tunes kind of like I memorized my lines in the high school play. I learn line 1, then learn line 2. Then I say lines 1 and 2. Then I learn line 3 and say lines 1, 2 and 3 and so on. So by the time I’m finished I know line 1 like nobody’s business.
I learn tunes the same way. I learn the first few notes of the A-part. I play that a few times then learn a few more notes and play it from the beginning and on it goes. The problem is, I end up learning the A-part of the tune really well and the B-part never gets enough practice.
This became really evident when I started learning the tune the Wise Maid. It’s kind of a notey tune. Especially in the B-part. So the more I played the tune, the more the A-part became second nature and B-part never fully got as much practice.
So…my new method is to learn a tune backwards. I’ll learn the B-part first then the A-part. I’ll keep you posted as to how it works out.
February 9, 2012
Every musician at some point reaches a plateau in their playing. During this plateau, we aren’t really that motivated to practice, or learn new music and sometimes it seems like a chore just to open up the case and tune the darn thing.
This happens at least once a year for me. During this “dark time” as I call it, I always feel like my playing is actually getting worse. This of course, discourages me from playing or practicing at all.
But each time this happens I take a short break from my music and then push myself back into it. And most of the time when I do, I actually find I’m just little bit better.
Here are some ideas to help you work through the plateau and become a better musicians because of it.
- Use the buddy system - Find a friend to play with and work on a tune-set a week (thanks Shaun for the idea). When you have someone counting on you to learn a tune you’re more likely to push through and practice.
- Take a music class of a different genre - Sometimes learning to play music of another genre can actually help refine your skills in the genre you’re playing in. Plus you get to meet new people and hear new music. Find a community music school in your area like The Summit School for Traditional Music, that offers a variety of music classes at a reasonable price. There’s plenty out there.
- Schedule practice time – Sometimes just writing it down and scheduling it forces you to be diligent about making time to play.
- Visit a local session without your instrument – Just go and listen. Try to see it from an outsiders perspective. You might be reinvigorated by listening to things you might not have heard had you been playing.
- Perform – Nothing motivates me more than when I have a gig to play for. It forces me to practice.
Feel free to leave me your ideas in the comments section. Now…go practice your instrument! Happy playing!
January 18, 2012
There isn’t one traditional musician I can think of, that knows the name of every single tune they play, never mind every tune they hear.
In the old days (you know, like a couple of years ago) you would probably have to play a tune to your friends, family, neighbors and your friends’ family and neighbors, just to find the name of the tune.
These days, now all you have to do is to play the tune into an iPhone app called Tunepal and voila, the name of the tunes is revealed. Seriously what did we do before the iPhone?
I use my iPhone to record sessions, check my email, update my Facebook status and oh yeah, make calls. And now, I can figure out what tunes are being played by the mere click of a button. Does it get any better?
Here’s a little about the app:
January 9, 2012
Once, while waiting for a session to begin, I overheard someone at the table sitting next to me explaining to her friend what a session was. “It’s where a bunch of musicians get together and practice,” she said. Practice, hmm…Interesting observation.
If you’re an avid reader of my blog, chances are you not only know what a session is, but you get why this explanation of it is so funny.
It did get me thinking though. I may take for granted that people just know what a session is all about. But in reality, unless you’re a traditional Irish musician, you probably don’t understand the true essence of a real Irish session.
I was reminded myself this weekend at the session at Bagitos when just about every top-notch player I know showed up to share some tunes. Tunes were played with precision and with the quality of music the session could easily have been situated in the heart of Ireland. This was no practice session.
Though there are a lot of different types of sessions, the thing that always remains the same is that the hosts and musicians want to maintain a certain caliber of music. Both for the audience as well as for the players.
Yes, random musicians show up and no one ever really rehearses together. We all just sort of sit down and play tunes. So I can understand the perception of it looking like practice time. However, there are hours and hours of practice and tune learning going on long before a session ever takes place.
What is an Irish Session?
Session Obsession – Seven Days
December 19, 2011
With Christmas fast approaching and panic starting to set in, you may be wondering what you should buy for your fellow Irish musician as a gift this year.
Here are some ideas to help you out:
- Patrick Ourceau’s Live at Mona’s CD – One of my all time favorite albums. It’s a recording of a live session at Mona’s in NYC. If you listen closely you can hear people shooting pool in the background, telephone’s ringing, etc. It’s kind of like you’re there listening to it, well, live.
- Tickets to Lunasa for this year’s St. Patrick’s Day concert at the Flynn Center in Burlington – It should be a great show!
- Gift certificate to a local music shop – Strings are expensive and we’re all pretty particular about what strings we use. It’s much easier to let us pick them out ourselves.
- Gift certificate to iTunes – a musicians best friend.
- Subscription to Fiddler Magazine.
- Humidifier for instrument case – This is a must-have, especially in Vermont in the winter.
- Metronome – Heck, we could all use a timing check.
- Rosin – You can never have enough.
- Music stand – Although most traditional musicians learn tunes by ear, it’s nice to have a stand when you’re practicing your, ahem, scales.
- Tuner – We all sound better when we’re in tune.
I hope that helps. Have a very Merry Christmas!