Every musician needs someone to follow, someone to imitate, someone to be inspired by in their musical journey. As a child I first became inspired to pick up the violin through listening to my older brothers play, Namely, Rudi. Rudi plays so clean, strong and smooth, with incredible control of his violin. Rudi, along with Chris, Justin and Ned, had a large part in inspiring me to be the best I could be on my fiddle, through their expertise on their own instruments (fiddle/guitar/piano/bass/mandolin/accordion), their constant encouragement and the time they took to accompany me and teach me so much.
After a number of years, my older brothers introduced me to some very special musicians who have also been a great inspiration to me. One of them is Johnny Gimble, whom I first met when he graced our Family Music Camp (the "Booher Family Music Camp") with his kind self back in 1993. I remember when he first arrived at our family home. I had already planned my greeting, which I said as respectfully as possible, "Hi Mr. Gimble." Johnny gently corrected me with a big Johnny Gimble smile, "just call me Johnny." So that's what I called him, and still do. Johnny spent some personal time with me that week at camp, and I still remember the very tune we went over: Maiden's Prayer. I was so honored. I remember him encouraging me to "play a lot of slurs." Another way Johnny helped me was to encourage me to change the way I was holding onto the neck of my fiddle, if I really wanted to be a great player, according to Johnny.
Years later I actually took his advice--thanks to the follow up I received through Johnny's older brother Gene (Gene has continued to mentor me in jazz, and is a dear friend and master western swing and jazz guitarist, whom I have had the great pleasure of playing with numerous times!). Johnny is truly my very favorite player. I admire his incredible ability in his swingin' to maturely and melodically express his heart through his fiddle or mandolin no matter what tune he's playing. No matter how many times I listen to Johnny play (I've played his recordings more times than I can count!) he always sounds fresh and totally amazes me with his perfect and natural solos.
Mark O'Connor has been another inspiration. I am sure that there is no other fiddler in the world that can top Mark O'Connor. Mark is a genius, and a self taught genius at that! He is so versatile, and plays things that seem downright impossible to play! Then there's Johnny Gimble's favorite jazz violinist, and mine too)! Svend Asmussen. Svend's style is so unmistakeable, like Johnny's. The way he gets around on his violin is extraoadinary, and the swingy feel is fantastic. J.R. Chatwell also, and his superb swing fiddling, so unique, dynamic and tasty!
Other greats who have influenced my playing include Benny Goodman, king of swing, with his happy, unbelievable and unbeatable never boring soloing. Oscar Peterson, legendary jazz piano extraordinaire. Barney Kessel, one of the world's finest jazz guitarists. And many, many more! I hope any musician out there might be inspired to seek out and find someone who you will enjoy listening to, study, and make them part of your playing. I have had a blast doing just that. -Brendan Booher
There is an incredible amount of joy that comes to any violinist/fiddler from playing a tune or piece well. Having it sing forth on your instrument, and bring joy even to others who might be listening. How can you beat that? And yet, there is still something that may be even better than that grand experience.
One word for it is “improvising.” Improvising is either adding a melodic expression/idea of your own invention into your perfected melody, or totally replacing your song with your own invention.If you have never tried this, I recommend it strongly. It is an experience you don’t want to miss out on, and I am confident that you won’t be disappointed for at least giving yourself a chance to take a swing at it!
I call improvising a need, because I believe that every violin player has to experience doing it in one form or another, in order to be really fulfilled. When you start improvising, you are really expressing yourself through your music more than you possibly could through performing someone else’s composition as it was written. I think that we should all learn to play in the same way that we creatively speak every moment that we converse. And the kind of playing that I’m suggesting might become just as natural (with a lot of practice, of course)!
What often keeps one from creative playing is fear. Fear of putting the wrong notes in the wrong places. This fear gradually goes away though as you continue, because you come to realize that you are going to put the wrong notes in the wrong places, but that’s all right! Because you are experimenting, just like a good inventor. Thomas Edison, in referring to his experience inventing the light bulb said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10000 ways that won’t work.” So please don’t look at messing up as failing, but rather as an opportunity to learn what not to play. Your mistakes just gain you more wisdom and valuable experience on your instrument.
In teaching the violin, I have often reminded my students that they should be mature perfectionists. A mature perfectionist is someone who strives for perfection, but allows himself to mess up without quitting or being discouraged, learning from his mistakes.
It’s a pity to see so many players who know their instruments so well through years of experience with even complex pieces, not use their knowledge and experience to be creative, and to even learn more by ear, which deserves another whole article.
The very first step on the road to improvisation on your violin is to obtain recordings of someone who is good at decorating the melody with nice, mature creative ideas, ideas that are pleasing to the ear and sound doable (or maybe kind of doable). The next step is to imitate what they are doing. many giants in the fiddling realm began as good imitators. Imitators of their heroes. Now they are someone else’s hero. To be a hero is not our goal (hopefully–although that does happen on rare occasions), but just to broaden our horizons on our instruments, and enjoy the experience. Maybe someone else will enjoy listening along the way, too.
Playing jazz also deserves an article all its own, and probably many more. But I hope that at least I have sparked a little interest for those who may not have spent enough time thinking about our topic. Or, maybe I have provided the last encouragement needed to get someone to step out and do the unthinkable. -Brendan Booher
It is often a question that students have in their minds, and I will answer it in short.
Doodling (playing around on your violin) is what often makes up a lot of any student’s practice time, but is this really quality practicing? Yes and no.
In my experience from watching a vast number of students develop their skill through the years, I have noticed that those who mix up their practice time with fundamental exercises, tunes and some goofing around are the most successful at obtaining their goals (written in order).
I recommend that immediately after picking up your fiddle (hopefully it is hanging on the wall. Seeing your instrument out where it will catch your eye encourages more time spent with it), you should get right down to the basics.
1. Bow exercises
2. Long slow bows on open strings, graduating to short fast bows
3. Your chromatic scale
4. Basic to complex major scales
5. Known (memorized) tunes
6. Tunes still in the learning process (you should always have something new to work on. Keep yourself challenged!)
7. Fiddling around with tunes adding in improvisational ideas.
8. Trying your hand at your own song creations.
Having goals is a good idea, and recording yourself every so often to see where you’re at will help you know more what you need to work on. You need to have a critical ear also, as you listen to yourself play. Also, obtaining recordings of fiddle and violin greats is an excellent way of getting inspired, and encouraging more effort. You will get out of your instrument the time that you spend playing it, and how you spend that time makes a whole lot of difference! Practice properly and you will play quality music. – Brendan Booher
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