Friday, May 26, 2006

Practice: Listening Speed

People tend to discuss the speed at which they play dance music quite a bit, but lately I've been thinking about the speed at which I can listen.

Before I started learning to play the whistle a lot of dance music sounded like a blur to me. It was too fast for my mind to follow. Learning about different rhythm types helped a lot since I could follow the structure of the tune. So did counting reels in cut time.

But more than anything it seems to be a matter of practice. I'm learning to "listen quickly." The more active listening I do, the better I can follow fast tunes, and the more satisfying the listening becomes for me.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Practice: Stuck in Your Head

When I started learning to play the whistle I chose tunes based on what other people I knew were playing and which tunes I liked at the moment. But lately I've been using a different strategy, with great results.

Ever hear of an earworm? It's just a word for songs which get "stuck in your head." Not surprisingly, this started happening with tunes as I started listening to more and more Irish and Scottish music. One day, unable to get "Harvest Home" out of my head, I decided to put my affliction to good use and learned the tune. I found I was able to memorize it in about half an hour or so, instead of the large number of days it had taken me to memorize tunes the past.

Since then, I've seen "earworms" as opportunities. Whether or not a tune is on the list of tunes I think I want to learn soon, when it gets stuck in my head I work on learning the tune. I find that having the tune cycling in my head means that I'm less likely to have my own mistakes confuse me as to how the tune actually goes. This is part 1 of the basic two-step process for learning a tune.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Shows: 2006 Dublin Irish Festival Entertainment Announced

The Dublin Irish festival is, I think, the best ITM entertainment value in the midwest U.S. It's simply amazing how many great bands you get to see for eight bucks a day, when you'd have to pay several times that amount to see any of these groups individually. I also got to interview Colin Melville of the Tannahill Weavers. Here's my roundup of posts on last year's festival, for those who couldn't make it.

The festival just announced this year's entertainment lineup. See you there!

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Whistles: Larry's Low Whistle

I mentioned earlier that Bardic Circle is a beginner-friendly session. Here's a shining example: Larry Shicks, one of the guys from that session, showed up one day and told me he'd made me a whistle. So I bought him a pint, which seemed like a good way to say thank you. That's it on the right, and there's a close-up of the fipple at the end of this post. Click on the pictures to enlarge them.

The whistle is a low D made of PVC, with a wooden fipple. Note the offset finger holes and decorative paint. It's pretty quiet, requires a good bit of air, and has very little back pressure. The sound is reminiscent of a pipe organ or pan pipe.

I'm having a somewhat tough time getting a great tone out of it consistently. This is my first low whistle, so it could be just my own inexperience. The air requirements and back pressure are very different from my soprano whistles. Reaching the holes is no problem; standard grip works better for me than piper's grip, though. The only thing I have a hard time doing is keeping my bottom hand pinkie on the whistle.