Sunday, July 8, 2012

Have a Finskogs Pols!

I played the harmony to this tune as I was figuring it out at a party last night.

I'm pleased to have figured out a (slightly) better way of recording myself.  I've had the problem that if I  listen on headphones to the melody while I record the harmony, the tracks aren't quite aligned.  I discovered by accident that if I play the melody out loud on my computer speakers while recording the harmony, the computer microphone will pick up both parts.  Obviously this decreases the sound quality a little but, but I'm ok with that.  I also find it easier to hear the mix of the harmony and melody notes when the melody is out-loud, but I'm not sure if there's a real difference in terms of the sound recorded or not.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Bellmans Polska

When I started recording this tune, I had a stately melody and a stately little harmony to go with it. Then, to check my tempo, I went and looked up this video on Youtube. After recovering from my pangs of 1. unspeakable inadequacy and 2. intense jealousy, and 3. deciding probably erroneously that I'm totally on track to be as good as these guys in ten years, I started over. This is what I came up with. It's much less boring than my first attempt.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Evil Diane

Parallel harmonies are not so much traditional for contra dance music, but this one was kind of asking me for one. It made me see some of why they aren't traditional. It's hard to play a harmony well going that fast, and even if you can really pull it off- well, that's a great chord but it's over already. Even so, I think this works.

Here's my recording.

I learned this tune playing in the open band for one of the BIDA dances this January. I've really wanted to play it on accordion, and I've worked quite a bit on it. I had the following exchange with my roommate about this tune:

Ruthie: I love this tune. I think it sounds great on accordion.
Ruthie's roommate: Yeah I noticed. It seems kind of repetitive to me.

I unfortunately think it will be a while before I'm happy with how this tune sounds when played up to speed on accordion, partly because I think I need to be better at accordion in general before I have the control to really pull it off. Also, I have some wrist sadness mostly caused by typing, but accordion seems to make it worse. We'll see how much this actually discourages me, but I do have another instrument I can play.

Other news in my musical life: the nyckelharpa I ordered last fall is done, and I only have to pay for it and then it will be shipped. And then it will be in the mail for 1-4 weeks. So no breath holding.

Friday, February 3, 2012

I decided to do change it up this time and record something on accordion. This is a piece called Gråtvalsen, which I think translates directly to "tear waltz," so it should be a kind of melancholy tune. Here's my final recording.

When I did my first recording for this, though, I noticed something interesting. This is what my typical fiddle recording looks like

So pretty curvy and varied.

This is what my first accordion recording looked like:

So pretty square. This is what that recording sounded like. Also pretty square and boring. So my second take I tried to play so that the recording looked curvy like my fiddle recordings. In the end, my recording looked like this:

Monday, January 23, 2012

I have a bunch of photocopies from a book of Swedish Allspel tunes which has the charming property of actually containing tunes that everybody knows. It also contains a lot of good tunes, and those are the ones I have copies of. I've been taping a few of them a week to the wall in my living room (yeah, I don't have a music stand) and practicing them until I like how they sound. You can tell which one's I've done this to already, because they have tape on them. This is one of those tunes.

This is a tune called Brudmarsch efter Täpp Erik. Like a lot of Swedish bridal music it is inexplicably minor and incredibly beautiful. I'm mostly satisfied with this recording of it, in that I think it reflects most of my skill as a fiddler, but listening to it again I do want to try to play with some of the dynamics more. Specifically piano. This tune could start quieter and build a lot. Unfortunately, as my roommate just pointed out, it shouldn't do that at 11 PM for the sake of the neighbors, so it won't, at least until tomorrow.

Listen here!

Monday, January 16, 2012

An Experiment


I'm going to try recording myself playing tunes with melody, harmony, chords, etc., all by me. You can hear my first (somewhat wanting) attempt at the bottom of this post.


I love my fiddle. I've been playing for years, and when I've done a lot of it, it's probably been the best part of my life. Now isn't one of those times though. I have limited resources like time and energy, and right now, there's not much to spare. I'm not entirely complaining- I'm do other awesome things, which I don't want to give up. I study math and computer science at MIT (that's not supposed to be easy) and I organize educational programs like Splash with MIT ESP ( and it's big sibling LU ( And I love doing these things.

Being busy does, however, mean that when jams happen on weekday evenings, I'm usually trying to finish a problem set for the next day, or fix a bug on the ESP website, and since I'm not playing with other people and learning new tunes much, my practice time, when it happens, tends to end with me running out of things I want to play and deciding to go to sleep. On a subtler level, the other things demanding my time are more structured and goal oriented. If I do my homework, I get good grades, and if I implement a new feature for the ESP website, my friends thank me. If I spend more time fiddling I... get better at fiddling.

This situation isn't what I want though. Eventually, I want friends who play in my living room every weekend and maybe a band that plays the occasional dance, and who needs other hobbies? I'm fine back-burnering that a little while I'm at MIT- as I said, I'm doing awesome things. But I also want to spend nonzero time on music now, and I think I can manipulate myself into doing way better at that than I have been.


1. Newly restrung fiddle and newly rehaired bow. (Aside- this winter is the first time I've gotten my bow rehaired and been able to feel the difference. And the new hair felt fantastic! I was so excited.)

2. One candy-apple-red piano accordion, including sticky key (high A).

3. A partly constructed nyckelharpa somewhere in Sweden, which I should get (completed) sometime in March.

4. The copy of Audacity I installed when I digitized my mom's record collection before coming to college (I basically didn't think could live a year without listening to scratchy recordings of Peter Paul and Mary or Holly Near. No comment on how that turned out, but I've gradually acquired non-scratchy recordings of all my favorite hippie folk singers).

5. My winter holiday present of headphones (finally) nice enough to allow me to listen to music which balances what I'm playing. Before, my own playing would always drown out the recording.


The general idea is this: I know a fiddler who has my skill level, my taste in music, and (importantly) my schedule. And that's me.

I'll simulate playing with myself by recording multiple tracks of myself playing. This will give me practice playing accompaniment parts, which is more interesting and challenging than just playing melodies over and over. I'll post recordings here, along with comments. This will motivate me to polish my work until it's something I'm actually proud of, allow me to share it with others, and give me a record of what I've done. Good plan, right?

Results (preliminary):

I've made a few recordings (enough to be convinced that it's going to work), but only one in any state to show off. It's not awesome- syncing myself up was not trivial, and I didn't do fifteen takes to get it just right, but I do think I sound like a decent sort of amateur Scandi group, if not a well rehearsed one. I do think the next one can be a lot better though.

I don't know what the tune is called, but it's the first part of a march I learned from my old group, Ingevalds Spelman (the second part was messier). I found the chords and harmony by ear, although mostly when I was playing it with real people.

Without further ado, click here to listen!