Hope for the Future: What I Learn from my Fiddle Students

small__390966934Today while I was teaching I started thinking about the future, and in particular, my future.  I began thinking about this as I was teaching a new beginning student, a man 80 years of age.  I teach students of all ages (today my youngest student was 4, and you have already met my oldest) and I enjoy them all for so many reasons.

In the past week I have had 8 new students join my studio, one 78 years old and another 80 years old.  My two elderly students got me thinking about what I might be doing when I am that age, and what I hope to be doing.  They are both charming, entertaining people who are not even sure that they should be coming to me for lessons, but wanted to try it out anyway.

They say that starting new things is a good way to maintain your brain activity and to develop new connections.  I hope that I too will be trying out new things, and wonder what they will be.  Will I start learning all the languages that I have been planning on learning?  Will I take up some sort of sport?  Will I continue learning new instruments?  Will I be travelling?  Maybe walking the Camino in Spain?

I hope to age gracefully, to still be out an about and to be as cheerful and charming as my two new students!

Please leave me a comment and let me know what you hope to be doing!

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Tips & Tricks: 4 Steps to Memorizing Fiddle Tunes

small__3462594915Memorization has been a hot topic recently on music blogs.  I love playing music from memory!  I feel more confident, prepared, and also feel more freedom if I am not having to read sheet music.  Having said that, the situation is key.  By this I mean that I usually perform solo repertoire and fiddle tunes from memory and chamber or orchestral repertoire from sheet music.  In the world of fiddle music, hardly anyone uses sheet music, so let’s get to the task of memorizing!

Here are 4 tips to help you along the way:

  1. Listen to a recording of the tune if you can and sing it back to yourself.  I find that unless I can hum a fiddle tune, I will not be able to memorize it.
  2. Know the format of the tune.  In fiddle tunes there are many parts that repeat.  Usually there is an “A” part that is played twice and then a “B” part that is played twice.  Even within these parts there are usually phrases that repeat, so look for these and know when they happen.
  3. Play the tune many, many, many times!  If I am trying to memorize I will play the tune once with the sheet music and then try it from memory, play from the sheet music, try it from memory…
  4. Set small goals.  Don’t set out to memorize a whole fiddle tune in one day.  Maybe just try to get the first half of it, maybe just the first 4 bars, maybe just one pattern.

I hope that these tips help you!  Please leave me a comment if you have any tips on how you memorize music!

photo credit: Marcos Molina (laro) via photopin cc

Tips & Tricks: How Violin is Like Hockey

small__4912748706Perhaps due to my classical training, I feel best about lessons that include technique, such as scales, as well as learning pieces.  Here is a conversation that often occurs as I am working on a study or scale with a student:

Student:  “What is the name of this piece?”

Me:  “D Major Study.”

Student:  “So, is it a song?”

Me:  “No, it is an exercise.”

Student:  “If it isn’t a song, why do I have to learn it?”

I would usually tell the student that you have to practice your studies/scales so playing pieces will be easier, but one day, in a moment of brilliance one day I told the student I was teaching at the time that learning the violin is like going to a hockey practice:  You don’t just play the game, but you also have to work on drills.  The reason for doing these drills is so that you can develop all the skills you need for playing in a game situation.  By already having the skills, you can react as needed when a certain situation arises.  That seemed to make sense to him.

In music, you should practice your scales and arpeggios so that when you come upon one in a piece, you don’t have to think about every single note individually. The pattern will already be familiar to you.  You should also work on exercises that will develop your technique.  This is again so that when you run across a specific technique in a piece of music, you will already have the skill needed.

Having said all this, there are some teachers who don’t believe in using studies, and prefer to teach technique by picking pieces that include whatever it is they want to teach.  There is definite validity to both techniques.  My teachers were great believers in scales and studies, and it is these habits and techniques that I aim to pass along to my students!

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A Violinist’s Experience Playing in a Chamber Orchestra

SINFONIA_LogoK+PMSMet117I play many forms of music with many different groups.  This past weekend I performed as part of the Atlantic Sinfonia, a professional chamber orchestra based in Fredericton, NB.  I got thinking about the rewards and challenges of playing with such a group and thought I would share them with you.

Formed in 2004, the Atlantic Sinfonia is a group of professional musicians from New Brunswick.  The ensemble alternates between concerts featuring a string ensemble, usually formed of about 13 members, and concerts featuring a wind ensemble.  As could be guessed, I am involved in the concerts that feature strings.

This group performs in an 18th century style, standing up instead of sitting down.  I actually prefer standing to play the violin as there is more freedom of movement.  Also, if you who have played your violin sitting down, you will know that you legs are constantly in the way!  Standing up eliminates this problem.

The big challenge of playing in such a group is that we don’t have a conductor.  This means that we are playing more as a chamber group than as an orchestra.  We have to be really in touch with the other players to stay together.  During rehearsals we have to decide who is going to cue each beginning in the music.  For the most part, it is our concertmaster, so he is not only playing his own part, but cueing the rest of us.

We also spend time in rehearsal making sure that we are all on the same page as far as expression, dynamics and bowings.  Without a conductor, everyone is more a part of the decisions about expression in the music.  It is a more democratic setting than working with a conductor.

As far as rewards, I love being in a small group and feeling like I am really important.  I know that all the players in a symphony are important, but when you are one of 10-12 second violins, you don’t always feel that way.  In the Atlantic Sinfonia, there were only four second violins.  Playing in a chamber orchestra you definitely feel like you are making a difference!

Please leave a comment if you have any experiences playing in a group that you would like to share!


Tips & Tricks: Four Reasons Why a Digital Recorder Should Be in Every Fiddler’s Tool Kit

medium_3353936487Hearing yourself play any instrument is kind of like hearing recordings of your own voice.  It is terrifying, but one of the best things you can do to improve your playing!  I know that I am guilty of not doing this enough.  After recording my first CD, I learned to record myself at home before I go to the studio.  This is a good habit whether you are releasing a CD or not!  Here are the kinds of things I notice when I listen to a recording of myself.

1.  All of my little mistakes are obvious.  I pick up the big mistakes when I practice, but smaller inaccuracies in my playing (notes that aren’t clear) become obvious in a recording.

2.  Any little squeak or squawk is amplified.  I think of my playing as being very clean, so I am always surprised to hear squeaks when I listen back to a recording of myself.

3.  Tuning, tuning, tuning!  Again, all inconsistencies become obvious to me!

4.  When I was taking lessons, I remember my teachers complaining that my dynamics were not varied enough.  There is nothing like hearing a recording of your own playing to realize that they were right!

You don’t need to spend a lot of money on fancy equipment in order to do this.  Most computers now come with recording software and there are digital recorders at all price points as well.  The important thing is to get recording and listening to your own playing!  It is terrifying, but an important step improving your playing!

Leave a comment to let me know if you have experience with this and how it helped you with your fiddling!

photo credit: Beverly & Pack via photopin cc

2013, Here I Come: This Fiddler’s Goals for the New Year

small__8318609968I know I have said this before, but I love this time of year!  It is a new start!  A do-over.  Time to look at where you have been and decide where you are going!  Here is what 2013 looks like:

Goal #1:  Improve my health (does this sound familiar?)

This is an ongoing goal that I will have for the rest of my life!  I have come so far in the last three years and want to continue!  I don’t have a set goal weight in mind, but am just following this journey until it seems right to stop.

Goal #2:  Work on getting some of my music placed in movies/TV

Last year I took a course on music licensing, which is the term for getting your music placed in movies and on TV.  I did not have much time to spend on the course, so this year I will be taking more time to focus on it.

Goal #3:  Publish a fiddle tune book

I have been writing tunes for quite a while and now am in the process of entering them into Finale.  I am going to be compiling them along with some traditional favourites.  My goal is to have this done by the summer.

Goal #4:  Record CD number 4

I have some ideas for several CDs, but my aim is to get one done this year.  I believe it is going to be a Christmas CD.  We shall see…

Goal #5:  RCM Grade 6 cello exam

Last year I did my first paid gig on the cello.  I need something new to focus on so I will continue to work on the instrument, so I have decided that I would like to do my grade 6 exam with the Royal Conservatory of Music.  I need the pressure to excel!

Goal #6:  Read two books a month

A friend and I have been talking about how much time we spend on-line playing around on Facebook and other such sites.  I used to read a lot, and have decided to return to this excellent pastime.

What goals do you have for this year?

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Tips & Tricks: Step-by-Step – Why it is Important to Learn to Fiddle at Your Own Speed

small__3955533735Periodically I come up against the same dilemma:  it feels like everyone else in the world is progressing really quickly, in whatever way, and like I am moving very slowly.  In the end I always achieve more success when I remember that I need to progress at my own speed.  This applies to all aspects of life, including learning the fiddle.

I have noticed that many of my adult students have this same concern.  “Am I learning at a normal speed?”    This is a question that I often hear from my students.   Our concern about “normal” is interesting.  I have watched students at fiddle camps get frustrated because other students are learning at a faster speed.

So, what is the problem with comparing yourself with others?  Often it can get discouraging.  The more time you spend worrying about how well others are doing, the less time you are putting into your own progress.  Also, the more frustrated you get, the worse things seem to go.  I have experienced this many times!  There seems to be a loop of negative feedback where the more you want to progress, the worse you get, the worse you feel, and the more others seem to be getting ahead!

What is the solution to this?  Focus on your own progress, compete with yourself, and relax.  Traveling at your own speed works out for the best, and you will actually progress faster in the end.

photo credit: Evalia England via photopin cc