How do I learn to play sweetly?

I’ve been playing fiddle now for 13 years. And let me tell you, I can learn a tune like nobody’s business. I learn them slowly and I learn them note by note. And sometimes I even play them in tune. But it seems like my notes just aren’t that sweet.

I’m not putting myself down here, I’ve learned a lot in the last 13 years. But what I haven’t learned is how to play sweetly, with passion. I think sometimes I’m so focused on playing the right notes and in the right order that I never actually lose myself in the music. And to me it ends up sounding more mechanical than melodic.

I listen to my favorite fiddle players and even the simplest tunes sound so beautiful when they play them. And I’m not sure how they do it. Is it the pressure on the bow? Is the pressure on the fingerboard? Is it simply their ornamentation? Or is it that they know the tune so well they don’t actually have to sing along in their head, allowing them to play freely? I’m not exactly sure what it is and I’m not exactly sure what to practice to grasp that.

Any ideas? Feel free to comment below:

18 thoughts on “How do I learn to play sweetly?

  1. Sounds to me like you’re over-thinking. True musical expression comes when you feel it, and have the chops to let it come out without worrying about how the tune goes, or if you’re playing in tune. For me it’s more about letting go than working harder.

    Do you really sing the tune in your head while you play? That seems unnecessary – let the fiddle do the singing, maybe. You might record yourself and listen to it, if you don’t do that already. It can be a painful experience (the listening part) but instructive. Something I should do more myself.

  2. Hi Katrina, my two cents:

    I’ve been learning to play the Celtic harp, and the experience you talk about sounds very similar. Almost mechanical as you said, then the melody creeps into my head and the vision of dancers (extra senses ?).
    Not all the way through the tune, but in and out.
    I think it really allows everything to meld together and become a heart felt experience.
    Sometimes you have to cross over the line so you learn where it is….meaning too heartfelt and the dancers are bumping into each other 🙂

    good luck, and thanks for sharing !

    Patrick Mckenzie

  3. Really enjoy these posts, Katrina. Many years ago, I remember Liz Carroll saying, “Even if you can only play one note, try to make it beautiful”. Perhaps easier said than done, but there’s truth in it.

  4. This is what I have to say, and I know it’s not what you’re looking for……You play most sweetly when you’re writing. When I was reading your “notes” about your playing I was very moved; almost to tears because I could FEEL your frustration, your desire, your passion. May we be wise enough to acknowledge the gifts we do have and go with them and be persistent enough not to give up on the gifts we which to one day do more sweetly. xo

      1. Well said! You’ll get there. And quite honestly, having a few ciders always helps me! I think I’m at my best when I am playing along with people who I know well, musically, that we’ve played together for a long time, and I know they can carry the tune. Then, not worrying about keep it afloat, I’m able loosen up a bit more and play out, experiment, and let my true player shine through

  5. Hi Katrina, I have a sister with a beautiful voice but to get her to sing is like pulling teeth, I on the other hand have a fair (not sweet) voice at best but I love what I sing and enjoy the joy of singing the song. The sweetness doesn’t always come through but the passion always does, as long as you are brave enough to let her rip. My guess is someone passionate enough about their music to write a blog about it, is passionate enough.

  6. My thoughts:

    Do play the simplest tunes, ones that you think are sweet. Play them simply. Listen to recordings of simple tunes played sweetly. Play with the recordings. Play quietly. Slowly.

    I remember a time when I didn’t think my playing was ever “sweet.” Now I think it is, sometimes. Keep playing. It will come.

  7. Katrina,
    Relax, enjoy playing and keep playing. It takes a long time and a lot of practice, but as long as you love it and keep playing you will continue to improve. Thirteen years may seem like a long time, but in musical years it’s not. The great players you revere have been at it much longer than that. It is the love of playing that matters the most.

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