Three Dennis McGee tunes, a pep talk to keep you inspired, and great deal for all my followers out there.
Some examples of third position in Cajun & Creole fiddle tunes.
Hi, I’m Mitch Reed and my vlog today is on how to practice seconding by yourself on the fiddle. Seconding is what the Cajuns call when you play chords behind a melody. So when you’re backing up the accordion, or another fiddle, or the vocals, you would second or some people call it playing the chords or comping; there’s all kinds of words for it. Down here, most of the people, the term you hear is seconding. So that’s just, you’re backing up another lead instrument with chords.
When I teach private lessons, a lot of people ask me, “well how can I practice that?”. Because, you know, it’s hard to back up a melody, it’s hard to play your chords and then play along with a record or you know really you’d have to go to a jam session to practice that…which those are all good things to do.
But if you’re still maybe at a beginner level and you’re playing at least six or seven tunes, you’re not ready to go to jam yet, and not quite sure how to play along with a recording or a record. I wanted to share with y’all an easy way you can start to practice your seconding and your chords.
So the first thing to do is to learn your chords. So I’m tuned down, Cajun tuning, which I usually…I’m always tuned that way. So that’s D-G-C-F. And what I’ve done is I’ve taken my iPhone or any smartphone you have and I’ve recorded myself playing a melody at a decent tempo, you know, something not…it doesn’t have to be too fast. It’s something at a good tempo that you can second along with when you play it back. So I’m going to…I just wanted to share this with y’all. This is how I actually practice. If somebody writes a song or wants me to work on the song and wants me to learn really both the melody and the accompaniment, this is how I work on it.
So there’s two ways you can go about this. So what I did first was I took my smartphone. And what you’re going to need is, you’re going to need to find, on an iPhone, you need to find the Voice Memos app, which looks like this, if you can see it. And on another type of smartphone, most of them have… Android has some kind of voice record or whatever. So what you do is you take that and you record yourself playing a melody. So it could be anything that you’re working on, something that you feel pretty good about so you can play it at a decent tempo.
So what I’ve done is I’ve recorded Mon Vieux Wagon which is a real common fiddle tune. Now what you do need is you need to know your chords. So maybe even before you try this, make sure that you can switch quickly from a G chord to the C chord to a D chord to an F chord. Those are the four chords that are most commonly used in a Cajun fiddle tuned down to Cajun tuning.
So you may want to do that first, just practice your G. So this is my G…[3:42] And the C…[3:46]. The D…[3:52].And then the F…[3:56] Okay. Pick a tune, so I picked Mon Vieux Wagon. Even if you don’t know the chords, this gives you a chance to play it and, you know, try different chords, see what sounds good and just trying to use your ear. It’s all about exercising your ear and getting confidence with your ear. This music is…well the tradition, it’s handed down by ear. So it’s not written down. There’s people now you can get lessons with that can explain it and give you theory behind it. But the real tradition is just people picking up an instrument and trying to play along with recordings and jam with other people and that’s how it works.
So what I’m going to do is I’m going to show you how you can practice your seconding. So I’ve already recorded Mon Vieux Wagon on my iPhone. I have it laying on a flat table because this will help the microphone to come out and be loud. So I’m going to lay it flat and…let me just make sure I got all this…okay. So I have the volume all the way up. That’s the other thing that’s important. Make sure your volume is all the way up. If you have an iPhone there’s a little icon, a little speaker icon, in the upper right corner. You want to make sure that’s blue. If it’s white, it’s just going to come out the headphone jack. It’s not going to come out the actual speaker. A lot of people get frustrated with that. So make sure it’s blue. Then you just hit play and you play along.
So I know the chords already, Mon Vieux Wagon, because I’ve recorded it. So I played it in the key of C so I’m going to start on the C chord and then it goes through a G. And that’s it. It only has two chords. And then, because it’s a two-step, I’m going to play a shuffle. So I’m going to play that, I call it that, “I’m happy you’re happy” rhythm. So it’s that, you know…[5:55 ]Okay?
Now I may have to play a little softer when I do this because I have to hear the speaker, okay? And I’m going to show you in a little while another technique you can use if you can’t hear it. But I just want to show you a quick and easy way you can do this without having to make a big production, okay. So here I go, I’m going to play it…[6:20]…and there’s the G…[6:26]
All right. So I just did one pass through the tune. Two A parts, two B parts. You can record it as long as you want and you can even do multiple songs one after another and this is a great way to practice seconding. Even if you don’t know the chords, this gives you a chance to just fool with different chords and see which ones blend and how they go. That’s kind of a skill that you need to develop anyway when you go to a jam session. Okay…
So I’m going to show you another technique that you can do with this. Say for instance you can’t hear. Your complaint is that, “okay, I’ve tried, I just tried this, I can’t hear the music. My fiddle’s too loud or whatever.” So what you can do is, if you buy a smartphone or you have a smartphone, we all have these. These are earbuds. So I use this technique a lot when I’m traveling with BeauSoleil and I need to learn a new tune or I need to practice a tune, practice the fiddle part and so this is a technique that works for me. May not work for everybody but I’d like to share this with you.
So what I do is I take my earbuds and I only put the left earbud in my ear. I leave the right earbud out. Because what I need is with this ear I need to hear the fiddle acoustically. But I put the earbud in the ear where the fiddle is because the fiddle is going to be really loud. So this way, I’m kind of creating this balance. So this way, the fiddle is not too loud because I have this ear bud in the left ear and with my right ear that’s kind of pointed away from the fiddle I can hear the violin. Okay, if I explained that right hopefully.
So now, you still need to kind of come up with a balance. If you have the volume all the way up the music might be too loud. So you may need to come down with it. But figure out, we all hear differently, so figure out what works for you. So what I do now is, again I just play that recording…[9:11]
Okay. This is a good thing. So remember the icon in the upper right, the little speaker icon on? This is only in the iPhone that I’m talking about. If it’s blue it’s going to continue to come out the phone. You have to hit that until it’s white and then it will come out the earbuds, okay? That’s an important thing because it frustrates a lot of people. Okay.
So, here we go…[9:40] Ok, it’s a little loud, I’m going to turn it down. I know you can’t hear the melody right now because it’s coming through my earbuds. So I turned it down a little bit just where it’s not crazy loud and then I’m going to play my fiddle and try to basically balance these two sounds…[9:57]…ah it’s perfect. So I can hear the melody in my ear… And I can hear my fiddle… If I need the melody to be louder… I can just play it out on my phone… So this is a great way to practice… All right.
So I just wanted to share that with you. That’s what The Vlog is this week. It’s all about practicing and it’s all about doing this every day, doing some kind of technique. You don’t have to second every day. I still feel like the most important thing in Cajun fiddle for a fiddler to do is learn your melodies. Learn all your…I would start with your standard, what I call standard melodies. So those are the melodies that you’re going to hear going to hear going to a jam session or most of the tunes that you’re going to hear on the current recordings. But learn the standards first. Learn your melodies because there are still…I feel like there’s still not enough fiddlers that know the true melodies of tunes. And when I say melodies, I mean what the accordion is playing when they kick off the tune or even what the singer’s… the melody that the singer is singing in a song. So it’s really important to learn that. So I always say, practice that, that’s the most important thing, and then the seconding. And you don’t have to do the seconding every day but you definitely want to practice it at least once a week in some kind of way. If it’s doing what I just showed or going to a jam session or playing along with the record, you can even just play through your chords without accompanying a melody just to practice switching from chord to chord.
So hope this all helps. It’s what I use on the road. It’s my little secret, my little technique. Stay inspired, keep on fiddling and hope to see you out there soon. Thanks so much. Have a great day.
Hi, I’m Mitch Reed, welcome to my vlog. today I’m going to talk about how to practice quietly. Not something that I like doing,but you do have moments and times where you want to practice but there’s people in the house or maybe you’re staying in a hotel, maybe you get really inspired at like three in the morning when you get up and you make you a pot of coffee and you can’t sleep and you want to play your fiddle but you don’t want to wake anybody up. So this happens and it’s totally normal. And the thing about fiddling is that whenever you get that inspiration, you have to seize the moment, you have to take advantage of it and use that fuel to get better on the fiddle. Don’t let it just go away because those are the important magic moments that you need to keep on becoming a better fiddler.
So of course the first thing I would recommend is a mute and there’s a couple of different mutes, there’s one that I’m going to talk about that I don’t have with me. I actually used to have one and I lost it. It’s a metal mute so it actually looks like this. This is what we call rubber mute, let me see if I get the camera angle right so you can see the thickness of it, and what this does is it fits on the fiddle like this. See how it fits on there okay. So imagine this thing being metal and the metal ones are the most quietest ones. So they really clamp on and they really absorb the vibration on the bridge. And that’s basically how it works is that sound starts here on the bridge of course because the strings are here, so the strings are vibrating, and the sound travels through the bridge and then there’s a sound post in here that’s like an electric cable that brings all the sound to the back of the fiddle and then once it vibrates the back of the fiddle which (the back of the fiddle is made of a hard maple) it just shoots it out. The top is made out of spruce and it vibrates as well so it’s more flexible wood and the back is basically like a shield that kind of blast it back out through the f-hole.
So this is the rubber mute. This one I totally recommend and I can even show you. So if you want to practice a tune, it can be anything you know…[2:40]… That’s kind of loud. That would wake somebody up for sure but it’d be good. It’d be a good kind of way to wake up. Okay. So I’m going to put on the rubber mute and I’m going to push it all the way down. So the rubber mute, what’s interesting about it is, depending on how far you push it down, is how much sound you’re taking away. So by pushing it really hard and going all the way down, I’m going to get the most quietest effect. So here it is now…[3:23]
Sounds like a little mouse playing the fiddle. So if that’s too quiet, just kind of lift it up a little bit, that’s what I use when I’m in a hotel room and I have to practice and it might be a little too early and I know people are sleeping, so I’ll lift it up a little bit and get a little bit more sound but I’ll push it all the way down and that way I know I’m not bothering anybody. If I wake people up with that then…you know I haven’t even turned my TV set on, I know the TV would wake you up more than that would, so here’s just about halfway…[4:07]…alright.
So the thing about mute is you do lose tone. Some people that have a real tinny or shrill sounding violin will actually use a mute just to give it some warmth. So that does work. But if you have a really nice violin that you like the sound of, when you use a mute you actually lose some of that tone. So you do sacrifice tone for the ability to practice while people are sleeping and that’s just how it goes. So if that’s still too quiet or you just don’t like the tone, you can lift it up even a little bit more. So this is the mute with it just barely kind of on there, just sitting on the top…[4:52]…Alright, kind of sounds like it’s through an old telephone, you know? But hey! It works.
So the other kind of mute that’s not as harsh, you don’t have as much control but it gives an interesting sound, is just a regular orchestra mute. So you see these things are used in an orchestra if the conductor wants the violins or the violas to play a certain part…even the cellos….You put this in the middle. Let’s see how it goes, if I remember correctly. So it goes like this on the fiddle…[5:33] It just fits on there. It actually looks like a little fiddle. So it goes on there and let’s see what it sounds like…[5:43] I really like the tone of this. It actually gives it some bass or some boost. Kind of takes away the aggravating highs…[5:55]. So if you have a (I hate to use the word but it’s going to come out: crappy fiddle) if you have a crappy fiddle that you paid you know whatever for, you might try this it might work. And then what’s cool about this is you can leave it on your fiddle, look at that. You leave it on you just slide it back and then it has no effect… but it’s always on there in case somebody shows up, “Oh! Somebody’s here, I don’t want them to hear me,” so you have that kind of thing, okay?
So the first mute I have ever even heard of was I went to this great fiddle players housing Lynn Harrington, he’s from Lafayette. He used to play in a band called Filé and another one called Couche Couche. He was a really neat guy. He moved from here, I don’t know where he is now but I used to go to his house and just visit with him and listen to him play and he had a fiddle that he claimed was just a little too shrill for him, you know? He found it, well…he bought this old house and he found this fiddle in the attic, you know. classic story, and the fiddle was you know probably played by a violinist more than a fiddler. It had more of a shrill sound like a cutting sound and he was looking for the warmth that a lot of fiddle players are looking for in a violin. So he actually he would use this which is just a clothes pin and this can actually give some interesting tones. So what you do is you just put it on your bridge like that…[7:43]. Sorry, I’m dyslexic so I have a hard time seeing, feeling which way to go. So okay, you got that on there and you can try it anyway like right now I have it pinched on the high strings side…so it will take more of the highs off so you’re going to get a real bass sound…[8:00]…alright. So watch this, I’ll put it now on the bass side and this should take some of the bass off a bit…[8:19]. Yeah, so here we go…[8:21] Alright!
So again that’s just something that most people have around their house. I don’t think this is quiet enough to a play while somebody is sleeping, I think it could probably still wake them up. But if somebody’s in the other room watching TV and you just don’t want them to hear you practicing because you’re trying new stuff, you know? And I totally understand that! When I practice I don’t really like people to listen to me either because when I practice that’s when I’m going to work on stuff I’m not very good at and you know things that I’ve done in the past that I remember kind of messing up on and I’m going to go back and I’m going to maybe break it apart. Or try to figure out why am I having a hard time with it and so I don’t want people hearing me do that either. So I totally understand you know for those of you out there who were asking about this.
There’s another trick too that I do sometimes when I’m traveling and I’ll get inspired to play the fiddle and it’s kind of late in a hotel room but I don’t have a mute with me or I want to try some things and I don’t want to hear a muted sound, I want to hear a fiddle you know but I want it to be loud. Now you have to have a pretty good fiddle to do this but the other little trick is this, it’s just tuning your fiddle down, and I don’t have a particular pitch that I’m tuned into, you can say B flat maybe, so if you bring your D string all the way down to a B flat. I usually just do this because the lower you go, the lower you can get the strings to go in pitch but remain at a good quality where they’re not muddy, not too muddy. That’ll bring the volume down and this works well. So I’ll just give you a quick example of what I mean by that. It’s kind of ridiculous but it does work…[10:37]. If you’re new at the fiddle this might throw you off because you might be used to using a tuner and stuff so I’ll show you anyway…In case you ever hear a crazy sounding fiddle, it’s me staying at a hotel next door to you…[10:55]. So let’s see…I actually like doing this. It just really changes things up; it’s like you’re playing a different instrument. Like I said, I didn’t really tune into a certain pitch, I just brought it down. If I go any lower with the G string…[11:43]…it’s not going to sound very good. So for this particular fiddle this is about the lowest I can go…[11:50] okay. Still kind off loud, this feels kind of loud…[12:06]
So the other thing I’ll say real quick too is loosening your bow. If you loosen it more than you would normally and then just play a little bit lighter, you might avoid playing double strings just so you can practice melodies and stuff without being heard by people or bothering people or whatever. So now you can hear…[12:32]…It’s really fun because it just totally changes the sound, you know?
Again playing waltzes, playing soft, single strings, tune your fiddle down, might not bother anybody at all. These are the tricks that I use and hope I’ve helped you out. If you have any questions feel free to leave me a comment or email me but like I said this is what I use. Now some fiddlers just don’t care and they just play until the manager calls the hotel and says you know, “one more time and you’re going to be sleeping in your van,” believe me I’ve been there. Alright, well thanks so much for joining me today. Stay inspired, keep on fiddling, no matter if there’s somebody in the house that doesn’t like your fiddling or thinks you need to practice more or whatever, don’t listen to them. Just have fun, play when you’re inspired to play, play every day and love every minute of it because that’s what I do and that’s what you should do. Okay, have a fantastic day. Thank you so much.