Saturday, October 20, 2007

Ten Tunes

Cello-eye view of Coonamessett farm, where we performed outside last evening.
Click to see better pumpkins.

At a recent fiddle session, one of the fiddlers admitted that, though he knew a lot of tunes, he did not know a lot of tunes well. He could play them in a group, supported by the other musicians, but sometimes had trouble with them on his own. So, he decided to learn ten tunes, really well. He learns all tunes by ear, as he does not read music or even know the names of the notes he is playing. But he is doing a good job with his ten tunes.

This seems like a reasonable strategy. I know a lot of fiddle tunes in a half-baked way: tunes I initially learned on the fiddle that I haven't really worked out on the cello; tunes I had memorized at one time, but keep forgetting; tunes I can play reasonably well at home, but not fast enough for the group. Tunes I fall apart in the middle of, for one reason or other. (This does not seem to be too uncommon--people agreed that the group sound is more than the sum of its parts and tends to make up for the inadequacies of the individual players.)

My first list of ten tunes to learn really well had more than twenty tunes on it. I eliminated the ones I know reasonably well and the ones that I need to rewrite for cello-friendliness, and just limited it to tunes my fiddle group plays with some frequently:

Over the Waterfall
Road to Lisdoonvarna
Spotted Pony
Jessica's Waltz
Westphalia Waltz
Golden Slippers
Two-Dollar Bill
Red-Haired Boy
Girl I Left Behind Me

Then I added five Scottish tunes that I hope to add to the group's repertoire.
Da Old Rocking Chair
Wagonwheel notch
Crossing to Ireland
Sister Jean


cellodonna said...

The fact that I'm supported by other musicians in the group is one of the reasons I like playing in the orchestra so much. That "noise-in- the-back" (I kid my trombonist husband) really covers up some of my own "half-baked" playing. Momentum carries me through difficult sections.

You're smart to focus on a specific set of tunes like that. I wonder if any of those tunes would be familiar to me if I heard them. The only one I recognize is "The Girl I Left Behind Me."

Maricello said...

I didn't know any of these tunes before I started fiddling. I wasn't really even a fiddle fan before I started fiddling. But I like the concept of fiddling, even the lack of sheet music, and the fact that everyone is playing a slightly different version of the tune. It is fun playing in a group, and despite all the flubs, I do agree that the momentum helps to carry you along.

Jeffrey said...


My wife plays cello and I have been learning the Mountain Dulcimer.

Do you happen to have any sheet music written down for 'spotted pony'?

Maricello said...

Here's a link to one version of "Spotted Pony"

We don't play it exactly this way, but that's the way it is with fiddle tunes!