Play it clear

Towards the end of my trip I played an afternoon session in Galway at a place called Tig Choili. A lot of people were in town for Race Week and so it was crowded and noisy in the pub. I had a hard time hearing and picking up the melody. ย One of the fiddlers was playing heavy double stops and the accordion player was playing lots of chords. The “melody signal”ย was unclear because of the noise (from the crowd and also from amplified buskers on the street outside). But this is actually common in pub sessions. Siobhan Peoples told me that you learn to train your ears to filter out the noise and hear the music.

Eventually, the session ended and most of the musicians left. A man named Sean still wanted to play so I stayed on too.

Sean sounded like an old-time fiddler but he was playing Irish tunes. I suddenly was able to hear the melodies better and almost telepathically pick up tunes I hadn’t heard before. After a particular set I thanked him and told him how easy it was to play with him. He said, “If you know it, play it clear.”ย

Wow! What good advice. As much as I love adding variation to music, I probably try too hard to add some personal flair. Sometimes the very best thing to do is simply to play it clear.

Try out this attitude: though you are producing sound with an instrument, you are not creating this music, you are just joining in with it. The music has been flowing long before you were here and will continue after you’re gone. You take part in something eternal when you play.

Listen to the music you are making. What is it asking you to do?ย 

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15 responses to “Play it clear

  1. I love this!!! My friends often play old time tunes so fast and with so many double stops and embellishments that I cannot even figure out what key they are in, much less the melody. I have been toying with the fiddle for years but gave up as often as I tried to learn it. So glad to have FiddleHed to learn from at my own pace!

  2. I am all for playing it clear and believe sometimes that playing too many notes actually gets in the way of a good melody. But— maybe when time is right you can suggest techniques for improvising when maybe I don’t actually know the melody well enough to play it clear.



  3. Hi Jason,
    I’m spending the entire month of October all over Ireland. Besides Galway, did you hear or play in any sessions in other pubs that you can recommend?


  4. Having such fun learning my way with you, and love the advice “play it clear”.
    Your advice to not start “sliding” too early was good too. I have been doing that and it is obviously why I am having trouble playing the notes correctly…must walk before I run!

    Cheers, DrLesley

  5. Jason – such good advice from yet again “play it clear” “listening is practice too” “loop it” thank you so much for all you do, it is a great help
    Sounds like you had a great time in Ireland – so pleased – you deserve it!!