Practice tips for the traditional Irish musician

Lonely FiddleFor the past 5 weeks I’ve been taking an Irish music class with The Vermont School of Traditional Irish Music and learning a new tune each week. It’s been great as not only have I been adding tunes to my repertoire but I’ve been learning some valuable lessons about how to practice. Here are a few:

    • Hop back on the train – One exercise we did in class was to have the whole class playing a tune while someone walked around and tapped us on the shoulder. Once we were tapped we had to immediately stop playing. Once tapped again we had to start again no matter where they were in the tune. (The way you could adapt this to your home practice is to play alongside your favorite tune and drop out randomly and drop back in randomly). This forced us to practice getting back on the train once we got off. Sometimes we make a mistake in a session or in a performance but you can’t really stop and start over, you just have to hop back on the tune.

  • The importance of listening. During one of our classes we had a visitor, piper, Jimmy O’Brien-Moran, who said “listening should be 50% of your practice time.” Since this music is passed down by ear, by listening you are subconsciously learning the nuances of the tune. That doesn’t meant to cut your practice in half it means to listen to more music. 🙂
  • Practice slowly  – If you can play it slow you can play it fast. But you have to able to play it slowly first and sometimes that’s harder than playing it fast. So practice slowly.
  • Don’t speed up – When in a session and someone starts a tune, players that jump in and play should stick with the speed of the person who started the tune. The only way I know how to practice keeping the same tempo is with a metronome. It’s tedious but it works.

Practicing can make the difference between a good player and a great player. Just playing tunes the way you always played them can be fun but it’s so much more fun when you’re actually making beautiful music. These are some ways to practice. Feel free to share your practice habits in the comments below.

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