How To Get Off Of That Learning Plateau

buzzcutOne of the reasons I decided to organize the Lower Valley Beginner Irish Session was that I felt like I had reached a plateau in my playing. I had been playing mostly by myself, and occasionally at regular sessions in the area, but neither was giving me quite what I was looking for–playing alone gets old, and trying to keep up at a fast-paced session can be discouraging, even if the folks are as nice as can be (which at my regular they are!)

My, my. It IS lonely and kinda windy and cold up on this here plateau. Time to build a fire…

So the slow session is great because on the one hand the Irish music is a social thing, meant for dancing, or playing with other people. Plus we help each other learn to listen and play with other people. It’s what it’s all about, really.

But if your playing isn’t improving and you’re really stuck in a rut, you need a coach. Someone who understands how you should sound. Someone who isn’t afraid to tell you like it is. Someone who will bring your weaknesses to your attention, so that you KNOW what they are, because if you DON’T know what you’re doing wrong, you can’t work on it, right?

This article on The Bulletproof Musician is basically all about that. I highly recommend reading it and browsing the other articles on the site. The article explains how this process of mastery can be broken down into four stages of awareness:

  • Unconscious Incompetance
  • Concious Incompetance
  • Concious Competance
  • Unconscious Competance

It’s a progression, really, from flailing about in the dark, wondering why you aren’t getting any better, to mastery of your chosen skill. The plateau exists at the “unconscious incompetance” stage. To break through to the next stage, you need someone to point the way. It isn’t always easy to take criticism, whether it’s constructive or not, but in order to progress we have to have our eyes wide open.

Just make sure your coach isn’t Bradley Buzzcut from Beavis and Butthead.

Anna Falkenau and Ivan Murray @ Hampshire College, Oct. 30

ImageThe Hampshire College Music Program presents an evening of Irish traditional music and song with Anna Falkenau and Ivan Murray

Wednesday, October 30th, 2013 @ 7:30 pm

Free and open to the public.
Music Recital Hall, Music and Dance Building
Hampshire College, Amherst, MA

Anna Falkenau (fiddle, vocals) and Ivan Murray (guitar, vocals) hail from Galway on the West Coast of Ireland where they are well known for their spectacular traditional instrumental tunes and songs. An outstanding Irish fiddler, Anna Falkenau also rocks the house with the occasional driving Appalachian old-time tune. Ivan Murray sings both original and traditional Irish songs and ballads, accompanied by guitar and fiddle. The duo recently returned from a tour of Germany, including a critically acclaimed performance at one of Europe’s biggest festivals, the Rudolstadt World Music Festival

Further information, contact: Becky Miller (

Check out artist info: facebook/murrayandfalkenaumusic

Willie Clancy And The First Tune I Learn on Any Instrument

willie gold ringI recently downloaded an album of music played by the late Willie Clancy, a well known uillean piper from Islandbawn near Milltown Malbay, county Clare. Willie is a very well known figure indeed in the history of Irish traditional music, in fact, there is a music school in Milltown Malbay that bears his name–the Scoil Samhraidh Willie Clancy–a week-long summer school teaching music and set dancing, which has been running since Willie’s death in 1972.

The album in question is called The Gold Ring (An Fáinne Óir in Irish, in case you wanted to know!) It’s a double length affair curated by RTÉ presenter Peter Browne which brings together recordings from many different times and sources. It’s a wonderful resource, and a great bunch of samples of an older style of traditional playing that is seldom heard these days.

Willie was influenced by a man named Garret Barry, a blind piper from Inagh, Clare. A number of Mr. Barry’s tunes were passed to Willie through his father Gilbert Clancy. Some of you may know a tune called “Garret Barry’s jig.”–this jig is included on The Gold Ring, and also happens to be the first tune I learned on both the whistle and the concertina. There’s something about that particular tune that grabs me–I’m not really sure what it is. Maybe it’s the phrasing, or the ups and downs of it. It’s bold and confident without being haughty or arrogant, and has a satisfying resolution. It’s very satisfying for me to play it anyway.

So to wrap this up neatly–here’s Willie Clancy playing this very jig in 1967, two years before I was ever thought of. Yet I think that, somehow, I was floating around in the ether of pre-consciousness learning this tune before I could ever hope to hold a whistle. Well, whether that’s true or not I do know this–I will probably never take up the pipes. But if I do, I know that this will be the first tune I learn to play on them.

By the way, Willie’s a lefty on the pipes, like I would be. ;)