Practice Loops

By Jaso’n k’Leinberg

It seems like I talk a lot about looping. Over and over again, all the time…OH! I guess that’s also a form of looping. If I said the same exact thing over and over again, it would be tedious and excruciating in a broken-record-player kinda way. But if I present this powerful practice strategy from a different perspective, then perhaps it will be helpful in a new way to you.


For those of you who’ve followed and subscribed to FiddleHed, you know that looping is a core practice I teach. You learn to loop on each quarter of a tune, like this:

I’ll Fly Away, A part, first-quarter

A1-D3-0-3-A1-0-1-L2-1

In addition to practicing these, I want to show you two new creative ways you can practice with looping. You’ll learn to construct practice loops. These are little routines that are tailor-made to help you practice any particular challenge you face.

There are two new types of practice loops I’ll go into in this post:

  • Loops of different lengths
  • Alternating between easy and challenging things

What’s amazing and interesting is that if you learn to practice creatively using looping, I think you’ll start to make music more creatively.


Changing the loop length

A simple thing you can do is to simply change the loop length. Instead of looping the whole first quarter (the first two bars) you could just loop the first bar:

A1-D3-0-3


Or just the second bar:

A1-0-1-L2-1


You might be thinking, “This sounds nice, but what is the point? How would it benefit me?”

The main benefit of changing the loop length is that you can hone in on what is challenging for you. Say you’re playing the first two bars of I’ll Fly Away and notice that the first bar is difficult. Then you just loop on that, as we did above. But if you are still struggling to get it to sound good (which is probably the case if you’re a beginner) then you could focus on just the first two notes:

A1-D3


And then the second two notes:

D0-3

After doing that, you may feel more confident about looping the first bar again, and eventually the whole first quarter. I call this micro-practice (also known as deliberate practice).

Make the loop length smaller to get more focused, larger to integrate the piece back into the whole. 🔬


More advanced players can practice loops of odder lengths (“crooked loops”, like “crooked tunes”):

Crooked loop: D0-3-A1-0-1-L2

Another benefit to changing the loop length: you’ll know the tune better. By taking different parts out of context, you’ll end up having more command of the tune. When you put it all together again, you’ll play it with more flow.

Finally, a benefit of playing with the loop length is that it will be more interesting which will keep your brain in the game.


Alternating between easy and challenging things

I like to think that every tune or piece has little exercises hidden inside of it. Think of the problems and challenges you encounter as opportunities, almost as if they are buried treasure.

This second main mode of practice loops is to alternate between something easy and something more difficult. When you return to the easy thing, it gives you a bit of relief and confidence. Then when you are more ready for the challenging thing.

It’s a form of kindness to yourself as you practice. At the same time, you’re not being lazy. You’re taking on new challenges, but in a way that allows you to have some perspective on your work.


Alternate between a scale and a phrase

One simple thing you can do is to alternate between a scale (easy) and a part of a tune that’s challenging. For I’ll Fly Away, we can alternate between the G Major scale (upper octave with two bows) and the first quarter of the A part. We can start by doing this in free time, which means playing it without a beat:

Once you get comfortable with that, try looping the same thing with a beat


Let’s practice

Now that you have the essential idea, I’ll just give you some more examples using play-along tracks. We’ll continue to use the first quarter of I’ll Fly Away as an example.

Drone alert

Besides talking about looping, another thing I drone on and on about is…yep, drone practice. When constructing your own practice loops, I encourage you to play along with drones.

Try the same exercise we just did (alternating between a G major scale and the first quarter of I’ll Fly Away) using a G drone:


Plucked up!

Plucking the fiddle is a great way to practice things. We can create practice loops in which we go between plucking and fiddling with the bow:


Expression 

We can alternate between “normal bowing” (in fancy music-speak this is called “legato”) and staccato bowing (stopping the bow abruptly). Note: most fiddlers don’t ever play with staccato. I teach it because it helps you to play with more precision.

Here’s a lesson on that: Staccato bowing. 

You can also create other expression loops:

  • Basic / tremolo
  • Basic / quiet
  • Basic / loud

Transposing

You can also create practice loops by alternating between the basic thing and a transposition. The easiest form of transposition is to just start it on another string with the same fingering. This is transposing by a fifth.

The transposed phrase is: E1-A3-0-3-E1-0-1-L2-1


Fiddling and singing

Singing what you play is one of the best practices a fiddler can do. It helps you to play in tune as well as remember melodies. Plus it’s fun, and fun is not over-rated.

Alternate between fiddling and singing the same piece:


Fiddling and audiation

Audiation is hearing music in your head. Singing is a precursor to this Jedi-knight practice. Simply play a phrase on the fiddle and then try to hear it in your head.

We can practice audition with a “call-and-response loop.” Listen once, and then audiate the same piece. Imagine what it sounds and feels like on the fiddle. If that’s hard, then try to softly hum the phrase in the gap.

Here’s a library of simple call-and-response loops: Tuning exercises

You can also practice this in more of a game format with these exercises, which are spread throughout the beginner part of the course:

Call-and-response Exercises 1.1

Call-and-response Exercises 1.9


Fiddling and chording

One last practice loop example for ya. If you know how to play chords, alternate between fiddling and chording on a phrase. Let’s do it for the first half of the A part:

Start by chording without singing. Once you can do it comfortably, try to chord and sing at the same time. This may take a while.


Double each rep

A simple way to vary your practice loops is to double each rep. So if you are going between bowing and plucking a phrase, you would bow it twice, then pluck it twice. This allows you more time to sink into each part.


Second-layer variations

The last strategy is to somehow add a second variation. For example, if you are alternating between bowing and plucking a phrase, try to add a slur pattern when you are bowing. Or add a double stop. Or transpose the entire practice loop to make a bigger practice loop.


Further…

There’s an infinite number of ways you can make practice loops. A few closing tips.

  • Repeat on each loop more than just once or twice. When you construct a loop that feels useful, do it a lot. Add second-layer variations like volume and tempo changes.
  • Remember that in addition to improving your technique, you are practicing the elusive art of creativity.
  • See the joy in this practice.

Related lessons and practice materials

Please let me know in a comment below what kind of practice loops you come up with. Thanks for reading 🙂


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9 responses to “Practice Loops

  1. I’m all for the looping strategy, it certainly works for me anyway. I also find that plucking can get me out of a rut when I can’t quite get something right.
    I am running up agains one problem though and would welcome anyone’s thoughts. I sometimes find that the transitions between the quarters become the problem. It’s particularly so when a tune may have 2 different endings. Ideally, I’d like a loop that goes over each of the ‘joins’. I’m getting special problems with joining parts 3 and 4 B in the Peacock Rag as an example.
    I’m finding it difficult to work out in my head what I’m supposed to be playing and thus I’m unable to make my fingers learn it. Hope this makes sense.

    1. Thanks for pointing this out. You can create loops to practice anything. So you could create a big loop of the third and fourth quarters of Peacock.

      But you could also create and practice a smaller loop, something like:

      A3-E0-A2 | A3-3
      A3-E0-A2 | A3-1-0-D3-2-0-1-2-0

      Does that make sense?

  2. Wow! This is quite a stretch. I’ve finally nailed the first half, but never played a tune before that ranges fro G1 to EL2. Good thing I don’t have a 5-string fiddle.

    1. Thanks @moonshadows 🙂

      By the way, i haven’t forgotten your advice for the forum. It seems we have successfully migrated the site to a more stable host, so now I can turn my attention to setting up the form in a better way. Of course it’ll probably take a long time because everything takes longer than you think it will. Anyway I hope you are well and finding some peace in this time.

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