Monday, April 9, 2007

Fiddling goals

I have been attending fiddle sessions sporadically for the past three years, and not making much progress. I became discouraged because I couldn't play fast enough, and my memory of the tunes faded in a group setting, largely because I don't practice fiddle consistently enough.

I recently switched to cello in the fiddle group. As the only cellist, I add something more to the group than being the worst violinist. I have learned a handful of tunes on the cello, but it is even harder to play them fast enough on the cello. I bought several books on playing cello accompaniment for fiddle, but have really not had time to study them.

My strategy at the moment is to play the tunes I know, when they come around (at Friday night's session, the ones I knew on cello were Angelina Baker, Mari's Wedding, and Ashokan Farewell), and just play "notes that sound good" (hopefully in the proper key), until I can learn proper accompaniment methods. I play pizzicato for variety, and when I am really not sure what I am doing. The other players are wonderfully supportive.

The group includes fiddle, mandolin, guitar, tin whistle, dobro, washtub bass, bodhran, and, of course, cello. The bass player and I talked. He is self-taught, and also trying to figure out how to accompany, so my plunge-right-in method is not crazy, or at least not unique.

I love the idea of fiddling, the spontaneity, the lack of sheet music, the shared common knowledge of the music. I also like that the fiddlers perform frequently. I love performing (why, I don't know, as I am not the world's greatest musician), especially outside, and the fiddlers have numerous outdoor performances planned for the summer. Sometimes I play the concerts with them, but more often not. I decided to join them for a bluegrass festival on June 9. That gives me two months to learn a few more tunes and get a better handle on the theory of accompaniment and try to hear chord changes.

So, my cello fiddling goals for the next 2 months:
  • Go to at least 2 fiddle sessions a month (I have been attending only one).
  • Practice fiddle tunes as part of regular practice (not just the day before fiddle session).
  • Practice reading from treble clef and transposing an octave down mentally, to avoid having to transpose tunes on paper, just to memorize them. I can read treble clef because I play the flute, but I have to really concentrate in order read treble clef while playing cello an octave lower. I want the low sound, not the thumb position sound.
  • Study the cello fiddle accompaniment books that I have (the best one, I think, is by Renata Bratt).
  • Learn a few more tunes in Abby Newton's book, Crossing to Scotland, even if they are not in the fiddlers' current repertoire. I love this book, and the group is usually happy to learn new tunes.


Gottagopractice said...

That sounds like fun. And learning "trouble" clef well will also bear fruit in all of that lovely Dvorak chamber music.

Maricello said...

Thanks for mentioning that! I hadn't thought of that. It will give me more motivation to work on this, knowing I can use this skill with Dvorak.