3 Practice tips to improve your playing

Practicing FiddleOne 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Happy practicing!

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5 thoughts on “3 Practice tips to improve your playing

  1. Mike McHale has said many things at CIAW that have stuck with me. One was that, because the house he grew up in was the house in town where the music & dancing parties were always held, he “knew all the tunes before he ever even played a note” – even before he could even walk or talk, he “knew all the tunes” because they were already in his head. All that it took was to transfer them to his instrument. There is something to be said for learning tunes by osmosis, I suppose.

  2. How is the cycling going? As I recall, you were looking for a commuting route, and I recommended MAPMYRIDE. Did that work for you? Alan, Essex Junction

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