Fiddle practice log 9/3/2021

I’ve been doing these posts on my Facebook wall for a bit, but realized that they would probably work a lot better as posts on my own blog.

This solves a couple of problems:

  • People who aren’t on Facebook can see my logs
  • It puts the content on my server, so it doesn’t have to be just on Facebook, and that’s always a good idea

So, some context for those of you who haven’t been seeing me put this stuff on Facebook. I’ve been taking fiddle lessons for several years now and my progress has been excruciatingly slow. Nor has it been helped by the pandemic and the attendant stresses of that.

Details on this practice and background for this behind the fold!

But I’ve been trying a thing lately with my teacher’s approval, wherein I specifically allocate about ten minutes a day, right after my lunch time, to just do a a little practice. This not only helps me establish a routine for practicing—because if you want to get better at an instrument, particularly this instrument, boy howdy do you need to practice—but also lets me do it in smaller chunks of time.

Which, given that I’m a worker in tech with a mentally demanding job that often expects me to work outside business hours, is an important consideration.

So the post-lunch 10-minute practice has been working pretty well. And I’ve been trying to log my practices for general accountability purposes.

Here we go then with today’s practice log!

Time practiced

10 minutes

Scales practiced

  • One octave A, D, G, in that order

Techniques practiced

  • Refinement of “stop, pivot & drop, roll”, to try to get a sense of what it should feel like when I’m not specifically doing that consciously, and instead just trying to keep the tune or scale moving
  • Singing my bow directions to myself on the various notes I’m trying to play

Tune practiced

  • More deep dive into Blarney Pilgrim

Commentary

First, commentary about the techniques.

The “stop, pivot & drop, roll” thing is meant to teach me how the various subtle little motions all ought to work when I’m trying to do string crossings. This is hard and it’s one of the things that’s been my challenge playing with learning this instrument for the years I’ve been at it. I’m still not good at it and this is why I have a teacher, because fucking around with it by myself ain’t gonna cut it. I did that mostly with guitar and that was okay, but violin is way harder than guitar and has a lot more angles of motion that you have to care about.

And they’re not intuitive motions, either. My brain keeps fighting me on them. So I have to specifically do things like stop just before I intend to do a string crossing, remember to move my elbow and put my fingers down in the right new place, then move the bow.

But of course if you’re playing an actual tune—especially if you’re playing an actual tune in a live session or for a dance, because Quebec trad music is dance music, like Irish trad—you can’t stop and do that every time. You need to get the motions into your muscle memory. And that takes excruciatingly focused practiced to train your muscles to do the right thing. Or at least, it does if you’re me!

So I tried that some today and I finally felt a thing my teacher Lisa Ornstein has been driving home to me all this time: that you need to get prepared to have your elbow or fingers in the right places before you actually need to be there. In this particular case, this meant I felt my elbow swinging even really before my fingertips had to go down in the right new places.

This was a promising thing to sense, and I hope to encourage that further.

Secondly, about the “singing bow directions to myself” thing. This is a helpful tip from my teacher, as a means of encouraging myself to think very clearly beforehand about which ways I want the bow to go before I do it. So if I have a phrase that goes:

B-A-G A-G-E

… then I might sing on each of those notes, but vocalizing the words “down” and “up”. So assuming I’m not slurring any notes, I’m singing:

“Down-Up-Down Up-Down-Up”

But if I start throwing slurs in, I might do something like:

“Dow-own Up Dow-own Up”

(Note here that I’m holding out the one “Down” across two notes here, as opposed to going “Down-Down” because that might encourage me to try to play two individual notes on the same down stroke and it doesn’t work that way. If you’re doing a single stroke and you play different notes, you get a slur.)

And with that in mind, here’s today’s deep dive on what I did with the tune. I poked at the slur patterns I want for Blarney Pilgrim’s A part, and I learned this thing:

Whenever this tune has descending notes, they’re almost always in triplet patterns. So it looks like this:

B-A-G A-G-E

But when I’m doing slurs on those, it seems like i do not want to slur the whole triplet for optimum ease of bow direction change and handling of string crossing. So the slur pattern works like this:

B-A (down)
G (up)
A-G (down)
E (up)

This also happens to be the way I’d play it on a wind instrument, and either way, it helps give those single notes a little extra punch that I like.

So I tried this today, and yeah, it made the whole A part a lot easier.

So I moved on to the B part to try it there, too. Which makes things a little more exciting as the first phrase of the B part crosses two pairs of strings, starting on the D string, then going up to the E, then back to the D, then down to the A.

Next practice will be exploring this further in the B part, and review of the A part as well so I don’t lose track of how to play that the way I want it.

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