Fiddlers Need Friends

fiddlers-friend-coverI like practicing the fiddle. Actually, I do a lot more practicing on my own than I do playing fiddle with others. And I do love a good tutor, exercise book, and DVD course. A kind friend let me borrow his Suzuki Method books back in the beginning, which I very much appreciated. I did try them out, but I found that what I really needed was something tailored more to the fiddler, and fiddle music. What I eventually found was a small booklet chock full of exercises ‘specially for fiddlin’ chops, called The Fiddler’s Friend–Forty Fiddle Exercises to Improve Fingering and Bowing, by Mr. Randy Miller. Randy is a musician, author and publisher who’s been playing sessions and dances for over 40 years, and publishes on a variety of music related topics. His work can be found at fiddlecasebooks.com, where you can also order The Fiddler’s Friend. He also leads the monthly session at McNeill’s Brewery in Brattleboro, Vermont, second Wednesdays at 7 pm.

The exercises in TFF seem to be organized from easier to more difficult, and there is an index at the front of the book that sorts each exercise into categories. For example, exercises targeting the first finger of the left hand are grouped together, as are those targeting the second, third and fourth fingers, and there’s also a group targeting bowing skills. Likewise, each exercise as written throughout the book has an illustration of a hand or a fiddle bow next to it showing what the emphasis of the exercise is, so you can easily find something appropriate on the fly. Bowing and fingering patterns are also written into the notation, and you are encouraged to follow these suggestions closely, as doing so should yield the best results. The author also says to “play the exercise(s) first at a slow tempo. Repeat several times, increasing the speed each time.” That’s good advice, and I would add that playing slowly enough to perform the exercises without mistakes is also key, and that you should not increase speed until you can do so.

One caveat–because there are no audio files accompanying the book, one needs to be able to read music at at least a basic level to use it.  I can read music at a basic level, fortunately, but I do better with something to play along with, so I have transcribed some of the exercises into a program called MuseScore, which will create a PDF (or .png, or jpeg) of the notation and also convert it into an mp3 file that you can play along to. MuseScore is free and can be downloaded from musescore.org. (There were a couple kind members of one of the fiddle-related forums online that shared some files of this sort with me awhile back, but I’ve since made a few more. If anyone is interested in them contact me via the contact form on this website.)

Here’s an example of one of the exercises from the book, called “Nimble Minor Pt 1.” They all have interesting descriptive names like that. This one targets the second finger and bowing. An MP3 can be found HERE.24-_nimble_minor_pt-_1-1.png

Now, as I mentioned audio does not come with the book. However, there is apparently an app for Mac iOS (8.3 or later) available on iTunesI have not used this app, so I can’t review it here, but it looks like it includes video clips of Mr. Miller playing the various exercises so that you can hear how they should sound and possibly even play along. If I manage to get a chance to use the app I’ll tell you what I think. the cost is $24.99, but I’m sure it’s worth every penny.

I highly recommend this book as an aid to finer fiddlin’! Go get it and start practicin’!

 

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The Kesh Jig-an Old Standard Brought to Life

Ok this is a bit of a teaser. It’s a video of Kevin Burke doing a tutorial video for an online service called fiddlevideos dot com. But, it is the abridged version of the lesson. They hope to leave you wanting more. I’m sure they have some great content, but this isn’t about them, it’s about the Kesh jig! Check them out, though, if you’re so inclined.

This video shows Mr. Burke playing the kesh jig right off the bat. I wanted to share this to show how this simple, perhaps overplayed tune can sound really amazing if its strong points are emphasized. It’s got a lot going on, lots of variety in melody and texture, so to speak, all of which can be emphasized to great effect. Here, have a listen:

Port na Seachtaine – The Gatehouse Maid

This week for Port na Seachtaine (my tune learning and practicing endeavor on YouTube) I decided to to one from the LVISS playlist–The Gatehouse Maid. A simple tune on the surface, but as I am discovering, it really isn’t at all.

Have a look at this video of Paul O’Shaughnessy playing it in a set for Irish Traditional Music Archive. It’s the second tune. And pay close attention to his pinky! I was watching it because playing this tune would be easier if I could use the pinky instead of crossing the strings, especially in the A part. Just watch it.

A New(ish) Thing I’m Doing on YouTube

Port na Seachtaine means “Tune of the Week” in Irish Gaelic. It’s also the title of an experiment I’m doing on YouTube lately, for the last 4 weeks so far, in which I pick a tune, record and post a video of me playing it on the fiddle on Monday, then practice it during the week. The following Sunday I’ll post a new video of myself playing it to see what a week’s worth of practice has given me. I’m also experimenting with video overlays–an editing technique that makes it appear that I’m playing along with another version of myself. I’ll do concertina first, then record myself playing along on fiddle. Paste the two videos together and VOILA! I always say I wish I could clone myself.

Let me know what you think, either here, or in the comments sections under my videos on YouTube!

For example—

MASHUP:

BEFORE:

AFTER:

An Fonn Fidle is Déanaí–Micho Russell’s Reel

I rarely hear it played at sessions, but Micho Russell’s reel is a really nice tune, very “dancy” yet very pretty at the same time, if you get my meaning. I guess what I mean is it has a lot of internal movement, but it also lingers on some notes which gives it, to my mind, that “dizzy” or “spinning” feeling. Don’t ask, that’s just how my neurons roll.

Specifically in the A part, there’s a great opportunity for a treble or roll on the G note, and this pattern repeats 6 times within each repetition. It’s fun to mix it up creatively between trebles and rolls, or to throw in a single long note in place of the triple. That’s one reason I like playing this on fiddle lately–not only is it a really great tune, but it gives lots of chances for practicing various ornaments. And boy, do I need that practice!

The B part offers plenty of chances for similar practice. Here–I’ll let Kirsten Allstaff from The Online Academy of Irish Music teach it to you:

And here’s Himself:

Plenty more on YouTube!