Hello everyone! Here’s another long rambling post from me – so grab a cup of coffee or tea and find your comfy chair! This post is full of music geekery, just to warn you.
I’ve had a very intense but also enjoyable week. It was the first week of March, which, like last year, meant Noel Hill’s Irish concertina school. I received the very good news a while ago that he would go on with it in an online setting, with a very limited number of places, and I managed to get a spot in the intermediate group.
I hadn’t practiced the concertina with any regularity for a long time, for the simple reason that I’ve almost exclusively played the guitar since last summer. Also, the less I’ve felt that normal life will return soon, the less I’ve been inspired to practice concertina, because it is very much a trad session instrument. This is true especially now when my husband is totally focused on bluegrass mandolin, his accordion and fiddle are both collecting dust, and we mainly play bluegrass at home. But I really want to also play Irish music, there WILL come a time when we can play music with local people again and then I’ll want to be able to be somewhat competent with the concertina. Also, it’s a lovely instrument, and the people in our weekly online session group keep asking for concertina tunes.
With the lack of practice I worried about whether I would be good enough to be in the intermediate group, but the organiser didn’t doubt that, and it was also my only chance to do the workshop. After all, the worst thing that could happen would be that I couldn’t follow everything in detail but that I would still learn a lot, so.. nothing bad. 🙂
I practiced a lot the week before and came back to my skills of last spring (and a bit further, actually) and the workshop went way over my expectations. Like last year, I’m fascinated with how much I can learn in a short time if I just focus and dedicate my time to practice. Since we had only one class every day this time, there was also more time to practice, and I learned even the advanced tune quite ok. Of course I have a long way to go with these tunes, but I’m still very happy with what I achieved this week!
Online it can never be as good as a “real” workshop, but I’m so thankful that I could participate. It was lovely to meet the people again, even if it was only through screens. Seeing Noel and studying Irish music again gave me the feeling of being back to some kind of normality and real life. Time passes so fast and sometimes I forget how much I miss real trad sessions, hanging out with people in the pub, having good chats, playing tunes, getting to know new people, learning more about Irish tunes and musicians, all those social things that contributed to our decision to come to live in Ireland.
Since around Christmas, I don’t go anywhere. The only people I see (other than my husband) are the postman, the local vegetable farmer and random couriers, and doing this concertina workshop online sort of gave me a reconnection to real life – the life we want to come back to. It was very inspiring and uplifting, and this was exactly what I needed to kick off my concertina playing again. Now I’ve made the commitment to play the concertina every week in our Wednesday session so I’d better go on with it!
The guitar, practice habits and the concertina
I have an advantage now that I didn’t have after last year’s workshop, and that is a better mindset around practice. You see, I’ve played music for many years but in recent times, say the last 10 years or so, I’ve been very lazy with practice. I wanted to and meant to practice, but the job I had made it difficult to make time for it and I didn’t know where to start, what to focus on and how to organise it, so real practice didn’t happen. After we moved to Ireland I fiddled around with different instruments and I still didn’t get anywhere, because I wanted to do everything.
This changed last year. I first started working on my guitar playing with a local teacher, and then during the concertina workshop I made the decision to stop fiddling around between instruments and instead focus on what brings me most enjoyment – guitar and concertina.
Since we started our mandolin-and-guitar project last summer, we are both much more serious about practice than we’ve been. We’re determined to finally become good at playing our instruments, and to achieve that you need to look at the details and overcome whatever stops you from playing better or from learning more advanced skills.
Music practice is problem solving. Why can’t I play up the neck? Why does my F chord sound bad? I’ve stopped being lazy and I now look into it to find the problem and solve it so that I can get further with my playing. But it’s also about other details – what IS good playing? What does it mean to me and what does it sound like? I look at details such as learning how to get a nice tone, get the best sound out of the guitar, getting the right groove, working on clean playing, clean notes. It’s also about your posture and hand/arm position, because if that’s not good you can’t play relaxed. Good playing is more than hitting the correct notes!
This is perfectionism of sorts, but in a good way. Perfectionism in music practice means to always strive for development, to learn more and to get further with your playing. The better you play, the more fun it is, and if it’s fun you’ll play more. And so on.
My improved practice habits are now applied to the concertina too. After many months of not practicing at all, obviously any concertina practice is good practice. But I also want to dig into tricky bits and work on what gives me problems in tunes. Obviously I did this earlier too – how else would I have learned to play the rolls and grace notes in the previous workshop tunes? But I now analyse a tune lots more, to find the parts where I don’t perform well and try to find out exactly why so that I can fix it. This should be obvious for everyone learning an instrument, but previously I tended to simplify difficult parts to be able to play the tune, and instead worked on broadening my repertoire so that I could join in with other people in a session. This is a good thing, but I’ve come to a point when I want to develop the quality of my playing, improve my skills, and the only way to get there is to work on the difficult things and overcome them.
Likely, if I hadn’t started with bluegrass guitar last summer, I would probably still be on the lazy side with technique, but the last 8 months have helped me get a better attitude, mindset and patience around music. So playing the guitar instead of the concertina during this time has been a good thing! Now I want to make time for both instruments.
If I can keep doing this, I have high hopes for my future concertina playing. Now I just need to convince the cat that it is a good idea…