Tips & Tricks: The Three P’s of Learning the Fiddle

small_2559344065I have recently started teaching a group of adults to fiddle.  One of my students came to me ready to quit after 3 lessons.  This raised the question in my mind of what it takes to learn the fiddle.  I think in some ways it is harder for an adult to learn to fiddle because you can understand so much and you are used to being able to do things well.  Adults want to be able to play right away (and something more complicated than “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”) whereas most kids are excited to be making sound at all.

My student and I talked about why he should continue learning.  This brought me to the realization of the three P’s of Learning the Fiddle:  Patience, Practice and Persistence.

  1. Patience:  You will not be able to leave your first lesson playing fiddle tunes well.  It takes time and patience to learn.  I often have adult students wanting to quit shortly after they begin because it is hard to have the patience to get through the initial learning process to get to a point when you can play a fiddle tune that really sounds like something.  As I tell my students “If you could do this easily right away, you wouldn’t need to take lessons!”
  2. Practice:  In order to learn the fiddle you have to repeat the exercises over again many times!  The best plan is to practice every day.  At the beginning, it will just be for very short periods of time, but the more often you play, the more quickly you will progress.  Also, don’t ignore the initial exercises while trying to jump ahead to learning fiddle tunes.  Keep working on the basics along the way!
  3. Persistence:  I often run into students who panic at the first squeak that they make.  As soon as they hear a note that does not sound right, they ask me what is wrong.  It is good to try to figure out what is going on, but at times what you need to do is just try it again.  You need the persistence to go back and work on getting better even when your playing does not sound very good.

So keep on working, be patient, practice as often as you can, and to be persistent!

Tips & Tricks: Overcoming The Dreaded Plateau

progressRecently a student of mine was getting very frustrated because she was working really hard, practicing regularly, and felt that she was not improving.  I have been through this many times over the past 20 years.  We all think that progress should be a smooth curve, like the image I have included here.  It is not!

In reality, even though you are practicing regularly, there will be times when you won’t feel like you are progressing at all!  There will then be times when you will feel like your playing has improved immensely over night.  The plateau periods are incredibly frustrating and make you feel like you might as well quit trying, but over time, it will all pay off!

So, once you hit a plateau period, what should you do?  The big thing is not to quit trying, but to persevere.  I will often change my practice routine.  I honestly don’t know that it helps break the plateau any faster, but it does help your morale!

Something else you should know is that I still experience plateaus at this point in my career.  I still practice and am still aiming to improve.  I also still experience the moments that seem like sudden improvement.  So, when you run into a plateau, don’t get discouraged and keep on working!

Please leave a comment if you have a great way to break the dreaded plateau!

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!

photo credit: Paul L Dineen via photopin cc

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

Tips & Tricks: Know when to walk away…

ImageYou have been practicing really hard, you have been making progress, and now things seem to be getting worse instead of better.  It feels like nothing is working and like you have completely forgotten how to play the violin/fiddle.  I am sure that we have all been there!  So, on a day like that, what do you do?

1.  Don’t panic and don’t beat yourself up!  This happens to professional musicians as well, so it is nothing to worry about, but is incredibly frustrating!

2.  Slow the passage down to see if you can play it slowly.  Sometimes if I can prove to myself that I can play the passage slowly, I am able to speed it up again.

3.  If that doesn’t work, try to play something else.  Something familiar, something that you enjoy and can play well.  I like to do this just to see if I can break whatever pattern is occurring.  I sometimes do this in lessons with my students as well if they are having trouble with a passage on a given day.

4.  If you really can’t seem to get beyond the frustration, step away from the violin and come back to it later.  At this point it is good to do something unrelated to music.  Go for a walk, read a book, or do something that will relax you.  Once you hit a certain point with frustration, you can actually just be compounding the problem by continuing on.  Sometimes I return to the passage later that day, sometimes I wait until the next day.

I don’t have a good reason for why this happens, but I do still days like this at times!  I hope that you don’t experience this too often, but remember when you do, that you are not alone, and it will get better!

If you have any good suggestions for how to beat these days, please leave a reply below.

photo credit: thecrazyfilmgirl via photopin cc

Tips & Tricks: Four easy steps to playing sixteenth notes evenly

Have you ever been playing a piece with a lot of sixteenth notes and found that they were sounding uneven? I have a trick that will help you to even out your playing! I was introduced to this technique by my high school violin teacher and have used it ever since with great success!

Here are the 4 easy steps to playing sixteenth notes evenly using this sample passage:

1. Get your metronome. Your metronome is your friend when you are trying to solve rhythm and evenness issues. I usually slow the passage down while working on it, but if you already have the notes down, it may not be necessary.

2. Play the passage using the following rhythm:

3. Play the passage again using this second rhythm:

4. Play the passage as it was originally written.

You will find that once you have used the two altered rhythms (especially the second one) that playing the passage with straight sixteenth notes is much easier, that your rhythm is much more steady, and likely you will even be able to play it faster than before.

Why is that? Well, when you think about it, to play the dotted rhythms, you have had to move your fingers and your twice as fast as when you were playing the straight sixteenth notes, so by playing both the dotted rhythms, in a way you had to play the whole passage as thirty-second notes.

Likely, it will not be enough to play the passage once through each way and be able to play it perfectly once you are done. Spend some time on each step and make sure that you are playing all the notes in the correct rhythm and that your bow and left-hand fingers are coordinated. Depending on how long the passage is, it can be a challenge to maintain the rhythm in step three.

This is a tried and true technique that is one of the most useful in my toolbox. Let me know how it works out for you!

photo credit: amandabhslater via photopin cc