New Year’s Resolutions

New Year’s Resolutions for Fiddlers

Resolved: My Fiddling this Year…

1. Demonstrates Better Practice Habits

Gary Halbert and John Carlton, two master marketers, were listening to Dickie Betts at a concert. Gary, knowing that John had worked professionally as a guitar player, turned to him and asked, “How does he do that?” Meaning, how can Dickie Betts create his incredible musical lines and ideas seemingly on the fly while playing?

John answered simply, “Ten Thousand hours.”

His concise, and even cryptic, remark asserts that if you practice three hours a day for almost ten years, you will reach a very high level of musicianship and performance.
There have been only a few stretches of months in my life that saw me practicing three hours a day. My freshman year of college stands out.

Even when I was preparing some major pieces for my master’s degree recital, I only practiced about two hours a day. My impression is that practicing three hours a day for twenty days may be more effective than two hours a day for thirty days. There is an intensity factor that multiplies your effort.

How much time you put in and how well you practice are the determining factors in how fast you progress.

How well you practice means three things.

  1. You practice good left and right hand technique.
  2. You use your practice time wisely and efficiently.
  3. You have a positive and empowering mind set while you practice.

2. Pursues Definite Goals

The most common goal, among fiddlers I’ve met, is learning new tunes. Usually the tune choice is a personal preference, whatever strikes the fiddler’s fancy.

I’ve made choices on that basis many times. I’ve also made choices based upon a larger project. The album, A Fiddler’s Year, is an example. I went through Fiddler Magazine’s tune a month calendar one year and learned all the tunes for that year, (except one that I just didn’t want to play).

Another example is the Money Tunes project. This year I’ve renewed my work on this.

My emphasis on teaching has also pushed me in the direction that supports the needs of my students. Much of my current Irish fiddle music repertory is directly inspired by leading my students where they wanted to go.

I’ve also chosen tunes that exemplify the playing of great players like Vassar Clements, Mark O’Connor, Liz Carroll and Darol Anger. Playing their tunes as close to the way those virtuoso’s play them makes you stretch beyond your comfortable choices of fingering and bowing. Mastering the licks of top fiddlers expands your ability quickly.

You may find the goal of mastering a particular technique to be the pole star of your effort. Early in my fiddling effort I put in weeks of focus on just the pinkie drone note effect. Then, a few years later i radically changed my left hand position and put in several weeks just getting used to the new way of holding the fiddle.

This may be your year to master vibrato for slow tunes, or get up into third position for a more advanced tune requiring that move.

3. Involves Other People

Playing with other musicians is the crowing glory of the music experience. As a fiddler you need only one other player to create a traditional ensemble. adding a guitar, a banjo or a piano enables you to make a danceable sound that has enlivened parties and gatherings for generations.

Even if you don’t have the ambition of producing a concert or a dance, you can get unparalleled enjoyment playing tunes with like minded partners.

In many parts of the country there are groups that get together to play fiddle tunes. In this area it’s the Bay Area Fiddlers Association, or BAFA as we call it. (Rhymes with “laugh uh.”)

Sometimes smaller groups will meet for slow jams. This is where intermediate fiddlers can have fun playing over their tunes without the pressure of keeping up with an advanced player.

Another possibility of sharing your music with others is putting on a performance. It could be for just a few friends and relatives.

Let me caution you about my experience. When I have visitors in my home, sometimes they ask me to play the fiddle. The usual response of this small audience is to start a conversation as soon as possible after I have played one or two tunes. Don’t expect to put on a whole concert informally for your friends.

Other audiences can be found who are more interested in listening than talking. Around Pinellas County there are many retirement homes and nursing homes that bring in performers of every possible entertainment. It would be easy to get a booking even if you presented yourself as an amateur.

4. Will Be Fun

And last, remember why you started learning the fiddle. You wanted to delight and amaze yourself first. Don’t neglect your favorite tunes. Even give a little time to those tunes you worked hard to learn even if they are not your favorites.

Sometimes students reveal that they haven’t played one of their good tunes in such a long time that it’s rusty. Before long the tune is back and sounding good. Chances are, if you play a tune well, you enjoy it. Don’t let it slip away and get corroded.

My resolution this year is to have at least a half hour of enjoyment fiddling every day, no matter how much other violin or fiddle “work” I need to do. Just allowing myself the liberty of playing for my own satisfaction keeps my relationship to the Music Spirit fresh and harmonious.
I wish the same of you all year.

[I wrote this back in 2006 and mailed it for January. It’s still timely.]