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!

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