Tuesday, May 1, 2007

How to find the skeleton?

Sometimes tunes just seem more complicated than they ought to be. I've been thinking lately about how it is that I 'simple down' tunes to digestible parts. The answer is: I don't have much of a clue. I leave out portions of the tune that are more ornamentation than the melody line, I think. Not intentionally, as much as an attempt to play what I can and let the rest wait. But, I'll try to show an example.

Billy in the Lowground is a tune in the key of C. The version that many people play is rather complicated. First, let's take a look at why this is so.

One thing is that it uses all 4 strings. When I was just starting out, I was most comfortable on the higher toned strings. By that I mean the high E string and the high A string. Gradually I got more and more comfortable and accurate on the D string, but the sense of dread (and the miserable accuracy rate) hung on when the melody when down to the G string. Tunes in the key of C often use the G string, so they make good practice if that's your weakness.

What helps? Golly gosh, I heard an Irish fiddler recently describe rotating the fiddle clockwise (for righties) to make those notes easier to catch. I can't say that I've tried that much, but hey, there are many ways to cook this goose. I tend to raise my bow elbow up for a better angle on the G string. And, much as I avoid doing scales, I bet there are lots of traditional violin teachers who would advise practicing your scales for getting over the G string hump.

Another gripe of mine about tunes in the key of C is that my left hand gets a cramp. Now to keep things brief here, there's been tons written about ergonomics and healthy ways to play the fiddle. Now go forth and Google and Wiki to your heart's content about warming up, positioning the left hand, repetitive stress injury, and preventing fiddling cramps. I'm obviously no expert on that. Suffice it to say that I'd rather save the C tunes until I've warmed up on all other keys and a few shots of whatever's going around.

Now for the real meat of the matter. I recently learned John Morgan Salyer's version of Billy in the Lowground. Sweet. Sweet. Sweet. And, so much fun to play with a group of folks. It is much simpler and a bit different than the version that gives me such trouble. I learned it from some sweet folks at the Yarra Junction gathering outside of Melbourne, not from the original 1940's recording. You can hear the JMS version on the Digital Appalachian Library online.

Disregard the rest here. I no longer have podcasts online. It's a Mac thing. They just did away with the hosting product. Poof.  My most recent podcast has many different tempos as examples. Give it a listen. You might find a speed that fits you.

Here's what I suggest. Listen to both versions and notice what I leave out. The tune's still there and I'll work out the fancier parts over time. In the mean time, I've got enough notes to have fun jamming along. And, if you've been following my posts all along here, you'll know that all I care about is having fun. Accurate notes be durned, and ornamentation can get flushed until our skills improve through sheer perserverance and determination.

PS If you're new to blog navigation, my podcast links are on the right side of your screen and all of my older posts are further down the right side of the page, labeled 'Archives'.

Another PS I got my back-up bow and just in time. It's looking like my old bow has seen better days unless a compatible frog is found. Uh... that means now I need another back-up bow.

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