When I lived in Boston, I never once drove a vehicle. Since moving back to Cape Breton, I’ve been doing a lot more driving – it’s a must in Cape Breton to have a car – and I’ve realized how much I’ve missed cruising to the tunes- and how much practice time I’ve been missing out on. I always tell my students that listening time is just as valuable as hands on practice time. But without driving, I wasn’t making much time myself for listening. I’m not much for walking while listening to an iPod, or working in the house while listening to music unless I’m by myself, but these days, I’ve been doing a lot of solo driving and accomplishing a lot!
I’ve had one particular album in the car for over three months – just that one album because I love it that much- and one day last week I finally decided to take a crack at the new tunes I’ve been hearing on it. I pretty much had them exactly upon the first try. When you drive you probably do a combination of subconscious and conscious listening. Have you ever had a song or tune that you’ve been listening to a lot randomly pop into your head without trying to recall it? This is the first step to learning by ear- having the tunes firmly in your head so they just flow out of you.
So the next time you feel you don’t have time to practice, pop some of your favourite tunes in the car. Perhaps try and find some good recordings of the tunes you are learning if you don’t have any already. You don’t have to keep listening to the same recordings for 3 months (!)- but let them seep in for a good while. You’ll be surprised at how much you can’t get them out of your head!
Just finished a fantastic week at the Celtic Colours International Festival here in Cape Breton. It is always a wonderful time to catch up with musical pals and meet new folks as well.
I was a little nervous for this years’ festival just because I hadn’t performed in a few months due to the repetitive stress injury but I’m happy to say that things were feeling pretty good! However, I was reminded that performing and just playing with other musicians is much needed practice- not just practicing on your own. You’d think at this point in my career I’d take this granted! But I always find myself surprised to see the improvement in my playing and recollection of repertoire after good spells of playing with others.
I did mention this type of practice a while back in another blog but I think its worth reiterating. If you consider yourself a learner, you may feel like you are not ready to play with others. It’s true that you do need to work yourself up to a certain point-but once you have a few tunes under your belt that feel comfortable, it may be time to find some folks to play with. Things don’t have to be perfect.
Playing with other people helps spur the creative process. Things come together in ways you don’t think of. It’s a good opportunity to learn new repertoire. Just hearing the tunes and familiarizing yourself with the repertoire is a great help. It gives you goals to work towards.
So how do you find folks to play with? Start with a local session, fiddle club or group classes. I used to teach a Celtic ensemble at Club Passim in Cambridge, MA. After a few months of getting to know each other, the students began to get together regularly on their own to share tunes and ideas and practice what they were learning in class. The improvement was much greater than had they just gotten together for the weekly class and worked on their own. Their confidence soared and it showed in the music.
If none of these organizations are available in your area, the next best thing would be to attend a fiddle camp. There are tons to choose from and you’ll find them running throughout the year. A camp is a fantastic week of immersion through sessions, dances and other activities and you are more than likely to meet life long musical pals.