As a beginning fiddler, it’s exciting to learn your first tune. Once, you learn a few, you start to see how the process works and then you want to keep charging ahead, consuming one tune after another.
It’s great to be excited about learning, and I would never want to dampen the inspiration and pleasure you get when you are successfully able to play a new tune. BUT, I suggest channeling some of this energy into working on your overall sound: tone, tuning, timing and flow.
A FiddleHed student named David McGowan recently wrote me an email along these with the subject of “Stop learning tunes”:
If you take the time to make something sound good, you get something much greater than the feeling of accomplishment (which doesn’t last). You get the ongoing joy of making music in the present moment. Take a moment to think about that.
Would you rather feel good at some uncertain point in the future, or would you rather feel good right now, moment after moment?
You might be thinking, “I do want my fiddling to sound good right now, but it just doesn’t!”
Can you make the very first note of a tune sound amazing? I bet you can. It follows that you can make the second note sound amazing, and that if you continue with deliberate practice, you can play the first two notes together and they’ll sound amazing.
This may sound like a pain-staking process. But I’m here to say that it’s actually a “joy-staking” process (OK, that term is kind of dumb, but I’m going to let it stand!). Try to change your attitude so that you enjoy the sound of those first few notes played together. Just loop on them and let the increasingly good sound make you happy!
If you can take this attitude, then it only requires a small leap of faith to see that this will eventually lead to the whole tune sounding good, and the next tune will eventually sound good too, and the next! Furthermore, if you practice this way, you’ll start to get them to sound good sooner because you have a better practice technique.
In addition to this deep dive into good sound for already learned tunes, you can have fun making connections. What is the scale of each tune you play? What is the genre of the tune? What other tunes do you know like it? Can you string them together into a set? What other versions can you listen to? This process will enrich the experience of playing a tune you already know and help you to learn it more deeply.
Learn more about making connections in the article Three Phases of Learning A Tune.
So the hidden message of “Stop learning new tunes” is “start learning to love what you’re doing right now”. If you can make this attitude shift, you just might find that the new tunes will come to you more effortlessly.