Keep practicing fun!

by adminKFS on · Leave a comment

Finding an effective and efficient practice routine can be challenging.  We are all different when it comes to finding a plan that works, no one way works for everyone.  But of course the best way to keep playing is to make it fun!

Just play….

The violin is one of the most awkward instruments to play. The more you work with it, the more natural it will feel over time. Approach playing like a child would. When I was a beginner, I remember that quite a bit of my practice time was spent simply playing, more so than practicing individual techniques. I didn’t always focus on whether or not I was in tune or if I missed a few notes. This is not to say you shouldn’t worry about technique at all.  But it is very important to set aside time just for playing and not to constantly focus on making everything perfect.  Just playing for the sake of playing can be just as valuable practice as working on a particular technique.

Separate and isolate.

It can be frustrating when things don’t come together at once. Even though you might work on improving your bow hold, improving your intonation and learning a new tune all at the same, it is nearly impossible to concentrate on everything at once. Work on your bow hold by just playing open strings. Separate that as it’s own technique for a while before trying to integrate your fingering.  Once you feel you are getting the hang of it, see if you can keep the new grip when you play a scale.  Likewise, when you are working on intonation, don’t worry if you are holding the bow perfectly or working in suggested bowings. Keep your focus on your fingering. Separating and isolating new techniques helps you integrate them later.

Play along with recordings.

Playing with recordings to accompany you gives a different sense of the music than if you were to just play on your own. It is also a lot of fun. It takes the focus away from sounds you make that you might believe are either out of tune, or not as clear, and helps you internalize the music in a different way. If you don’t have access to a live accompanist to play with, playing with a recording is the next best thing. Play along even if you don’t know all the notes to the tune. There is some great software available to slow tracks down. I like to use the Amazing Slow Downer

Learn on your own.

Venture out and learn something that your teacher didn’t give you. Try learning a new tune that catches your ear, even if it is fast and in a difficult key (a slow downing program would be a useful tool for this). Sound out a new scale in a difficult key like F major or E major. You internalize things in a different way when you figure out on your own how they work.  Don’t shy away from new things that sound challenging just because someone hasn’t shown you. You may surprise yourself.

Find a buddy.

Having a buddy for any new challenge helps you stay motivated. If you don’t know anyone to play music with, try and find an organization in your area that you can join such as a fiddle club, a session or a strathspeys and reel society.  Fiddle camps are also a great way to meet other players at a variety of levels.  Also, If you’ve had the chance to play in front of someone, you understand that it feel like an entirely different experience than playing for just yourself.  It is a different type of practice and very valuable.

These are some easy ways to change up your practice routine and help you stay motivated.  It is easy to get in a rut of playing the same tunes and practicing the same way all the time.  The best way to improve is to keep it enjoyable, and sometimes that means trying something new.  Please feel free to share your experiences here.

Liberating the Ear…

by adminKFS on · 4 comments

The first time that I learned a tune by ear was one of the most liberating experience of my life. I had been playing the fiddle for about 5 years at that point, learning all of my tunes from sheet music. There were so many instances of feeling frustrated and helpless when I heard a tune that I wanted to learn but couldn’t find the music. I heard a tune called ‘The Dawn’ from one of Natalie MacMaster’s early records and was desperate to learn it. The only place I could find the music to a tune called ‘The Dawn’ was in an Irish collection and it resembled nothing like the tune on Natalie’s record. I knew then, that If I wanted to learn the tune I would have to do it by ear.

At that time, there was no software readily available to slow tunes down. So I sat in my room, constantly hitting the rewind button on the cassette player. I was never going to be a slave to sheet music again. I learned the tune that day, but it pretty much took the entire day. But, the more I did it, the quicker I was able to pick up tunes. It is a very empowering skill.

You become your own teacher when you learn by ear. You begin to internalize things that you don’t even realize. Of course, it is a daunting exercise if you have little experience. So it is important to start off small. Sing a note, then try and match that pitch on the fiddle. Try and sound out a really common simple melody like Mary Had a Little Lamb. If you can do that, there is no reason you can’t learn by ear. But there is much more involved than matching pitches on the fiddle.

One of the more difficult aspects of learning by ear is retaining the melody of the tune you are trying to learn. That is why it is so important to listen to the tune for a while before even trying to pick it out on your instrument. If you can sing it to yourself, then you’ve internalized the tune. It’s like learning the words to a new hit song on the radio. It’s pretty hard to get all the words after the first time you hear it, but once you’ve heard it over and over on every radio station, you magically start to sing along. When you’ve internalized the tune, you begin to realize that there aren’t as many notes to learn as you maybe originally thought. The first phrase probably sounds like the third phrase. That is because it usually is. All good tunes have themes within the melody that usually repeat throughout the tune.  So if you can break the tune into distinctive phrases, it’s not so much of a daunting task. The more you do this, the more you adapt to the structure of tunes, and the easier it will be to internalize them. One of the most valuable things you gain from learning by ear is associating melodic intervals to finger shapes.  For example, if you hear a big jump in the melody, how big of a jump is it? Do you have to skip one finger to get to the next note? Two fingers? Do you have to cross a string? After a while, when you hear an interval of a third, you will automatically skip a finger playing the two consecutive notes. You might not even know what a third is, but you will still associate the pitch with the shape. So the next time you take a fiddle workshop, do not be discouraged if you the tune doesn’t stick with you after one class. Take the tune home with you and listen – and listen a lot. Sing it to yourself. Break it down into phrases and start learning one phrase at a time. It gets easier. And it will be empowering.

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