The Ultimate Beginner Pitfall

A FiddleHed named Dave wrote to say that he was struggling with the Blackest Crow variation. He also said that he was working in Module 1.4 of the course, which means he hasn’t been playing that long.

The Blackest Crow variations are challenging if you are new to the fiddle. Even just playing double stops on two open strings is challenging at this point, let alone, doing it on a tune with all the other things you have to remember and get right.

One of the biggest pitfalls beginners face is that they try to do stuff that’s too advanced. I get it. They are super-excited to be learning the fiddle. They learn a few tunes and start to feel good about this new venture. Without noticing it, they start getting impatient to learn the next thing. Then it’s off to the races…  

The danger is that you might get discouraged if you play stuff you’re not ready for. Or, some students might never fully learn one thing because they’ve already leapfrogged to the next thing. The overall effect is that you are just treading water instead of swimming. In either case, all that excitement and momentum might turn into frustration and doubt.

I don’t like to hold people back. If someone is excited to learn something, I want to harness that excitement. With in-person lessons, I can usually tell if a person is not ready for something. Then I’ll suggest they put it on a “Things you want to learn” list and hold off for now. As an online student, you can create this list for yourself using the Master Practice List (also found in the Practice Toolkit at the bottom of all lesson pages).

Other lesson sites restrict users from doing more advanced stuff until they finish the basics. It’s a good idea in theory, but people learn at different rates in different ways. And so I like to keep the teaching open and flexible.

So I recommend that whatever you do, go deep into it.  Start with very simple tunes. How good can you make Oh Susannah sound? You may think this is easy-peasy, but how well can you actually play it? And how creatively can you practice this one thing? Keep playing it until you get bored. If you go a little further, it might become interesting again. What can you do to re-invent it?

  • Start it on another string (transposition).
  • Play it at different speeds.
  • Add different textures: staccato, tremolo, plucking.
  • Alternate between singing and playing.

You might find that you breathe new life into the tune (as you say) when you approach it this way. You’ll also wind up with a better sound. This will give you the confidence to do more advanced tunes and techniques. But most important: it will bring joy in the present moment of playing music. 

 

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