Learn to play like yourself

Irish Session in DurangoTo those who don’t listen to Irish music all that often, listening to a set of tunes may sound like one long song that goes on forever, kind of like what techno sounds like to me. If you listen long enough though, you begin to recognize the unique style of each musician.

If you’ve ever heard Martin Hayes play the Old Bush, you know he doesn’t play that reel quite like anyone else. Once you’ve listened to his version, you’d recognize it again just by the way he slows it down, elongates his notes and plays it with expression instead of at full speed in straight 4/4.

Miles Davis said “Sometimes you have to play a long time to be able to play like yourself.” I’m pretty sure Martin Hayes has been playing for a long time which is why his expression of the music is so unique. Me, on the other hand…I got some miles to go.

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How music is like mountain biking

Mountain Biker

Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

I have rediscovered my love for mountain biking. Recently, I went out on an all-women’s mountain bike ride. I have to admit I felt a bit out of shape, especially on the climbs where I held steady as the caboose of the group. (In my defense I still ride a hard tail and was most likely twice the age of the women I was riding with). While I was out there sucking wind, I realized that you don’t ever forget how to ride a bike. But, if you don’t keep it up, you do however, forget how to ride it well.

It’s the same with music. Unfortunately, you can’t just pick up your fiddle every once in a while and play like Liz Carroll. You actually have to practice it, and often. Otherwise, you get a bit rusty. Continue reading

The key to being a good musician

Key of a TuneI’m always impressed with melody musicians who can just call out the key of the next tune they are going to play. I have a hard time just lifting my foot to say I’m switching tunes. Not to mention, most of the time I have no idea what keys I play in. Aren’t all fiddle tunes in D or G?

I was talking to one of my friends the other day who is a great fiddle teacher. She said that when she teaches a tune to someone, she first teaches them the key and to get familiar with what notes might be in the tune. Then she teaches them the tune.

Because most tunes in this tradition are taught by ear, you may not know what key a tune is in. Here are a few ways to quickly figure it out on your own:

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Play like you have nothing to lose

Irish Band in Vermont

Green Corduroy playing in a tree-house in Moretown, VT

You just learned a new tune and you play it over and over in your living room when no one is home. Each time you play it, it gets better and better. At some point it sounds so good that you think of quitting your day job and taking it on the road. You envision yourself touring with your favorite band.

The tune is that good. And your playing of it, is that superb.

You then hit the session that week and decide to start that very same tune. You gather up your courage and step up into the silence to play the first note. Suddenly you can’t remember the rest of the tune. That tune you just quit your job for and became a rock star with suddenly is lost in the abyss of your brain and you start to panic.

After the freak-out passes, you eventually do get through the tune though it doesn’t sound anything like the monumental piece you practiced in your living room all week. (Thank God you didn’t really quit your day job).

This does happen to you, right?

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2014 in review

It’s been a great year. Thanks for your readership and your continued support of traditional Irish music and local bands.

Check out all that happened in 2014 on this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 8,700 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 3 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

What makes certain tunes so hard to learn?

I’m not sure if it’s because I started playing fiddle late in life or just that my brain can only fit so much information in it at any given time, but damn it takes me a long time to learn a tune.

I find some tunes harder to learn than others, like Spike Island Lasses for example (in the video above). I have literally been trying to learn this now for at least three weeks. I work on it a little every night but I just can’t seem to get it into my brain and I get tripped up on not only the notes but figuring out which part belongs where. It’s a complicated tune. Which is probably why I like listening to it so much.

I use a couple of tools to help me like the Amazing Slow Downer and Transcribe (depending on which laptop I’m using). Both of these are great because they can slow down the tune without ever changing the key. And you can segment different parts and play them repetitively to practice trouble spots.

I have to admit though, even with these tools this tune is getting the best of me. So what makes this particular tune so hard to learn?

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What I learned from my dog about music

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A few months ago I adopted Bloo, a rescue dog from a local shelter. And since we’ve been together I have to admit I have spent more time playing with him than I have been practicing my fiddle (look at that face, can you blame me?).

Today though, I finally got back to it and realized during the last three months I have learned so much about music just from hanging with my dog.

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