Concertina lessons?

I’ve been working mad this summer and recently my manager promised me to take some days off during the autumn. Not sure how it will work out but right now it looks quite good.
I counted the weeks wrong, and planned to go to the Ennis festival, and it seemed like my husband could take some holiday leave too. But last night it turned out that it is actually in October! So soon!

I don’t know if my husband can get time off other than during the weekend, and it won’t be at the time around the Ennis festival (if now there will be a festival this year because I haven’t found any info about it). I got the idea to go on my own for a few days and maybe find a concertina teacher to get some lessons. That would be brilliant! I got lots of inspiration during the concertina event in April, but sadly haven’t played it since then. Life has been busy and I’ve been focusing on the guitar.

I haven’t forgotten the tunes I used to play, but I have forgotten the tunes I just started learning earlier this year. And I still have lots of problems to play in D, but I guess it’s mostly a matter of practice. However, it would be great to get some hints and advice and hopefully some help to get a bit further. I hope to find a teacher in Clare, I could go to Ennis or something.. I posted a question on The Session, we’ll see how it goes.
in whatever case, I’m going to Ireland (if I get those days off, that is). And I’ll bring the concertina. My husband will check if he can take some more day off in that period so that we could go to our usual sessions in the Clonakilty area.

To be continued, I guess.

Tomorrow we’re having a big party to celebrate that we now are officially old, lol… I turned 40 in February and my husband turns 40 today. There are lots of musicians coming, and most of them are from our Irish music session, so there’ll probably be some good jamming. I’m not really looking forward to the big party (too much work, and I’m not that big party with lots of people person) but I’m looking forward to jamming some Irish music.

Time for some diddley-diddley

Now I’ve played strings for months, been flatpicking the guitar and practicing Norman Blake style licks as well as the usual bluegrass runs. But all of a sudden it’s autumn and my husband’s birthday. He invited for a big barbecue & music session at our house, and most of the people who showed interest were the people from the Irish session. So now I’d better start practicing some Irish tunes. I have barely touched my concertina since we came from the concertina event, not because it didn’t inspire me, but because I’ve been doing other things, and then because I’ve wanted to play the guitar instead. I actually started worrying that it might go bad, as it did some year ago when I didn’t play it for a long time. That was in the winter though. All instruments seem to hate the winter.

I can’t even remember what tunes I used to play, and what tunes I was learning. It’s not just to pick up where I left off. Sadly. But the three tunes I can remember, I can play fairly well. Boys of Bluehill, Cronin’s hornpipe and the-something-that-I-can’t-remember assembly, the later one is an English tune I learned at a workshop at Melodeons & more a couple of years ago.

2009 I bought an octave mandolin from a player in California, or better said, we did an exchange, so I sent him my bouzouki and he sent me his octave mandolin. It’s a beauty made by Gypsy’s music, and I’ve played it a lot, but lately it hasn’t been sounding great, like out of tune all the time. I was thinking I should leave it with someone who knows about those things and can give it some service, but it never happened. However, I haven’t played it much at all the last 2 or so years, and probably it’s just sick from being lonely and neglected, in combination with dry air. So I left it in the case with a set of Humidipaks for the summer, and I now took it out. It seems to sound quite ok actually, but needs to be played and tuned up.. I hope it is that easy. It’s a lovely instrument that suits so well in Irish music. Sadly my left wrist hasn’t been great lately and it always gets worse when I play the octave mandolin. But if all else fails, I always have the concertina, which is also the instrument I want to focus on in Irish music.

Mandolin and more picks

picks

Some time ago, after I had written about picks here, a kind gentleman from somewhere in the US sent me a little package loaded with picks for the mandolin. I’ve had a little pick crisis, and recently bought lots of picks, only to realize that I can’t play with the thick ones. They don’t give a good sound, and they do give too much click noise no matter what “everyone” says. I still played with the Fender heavy about 1mm. But I felt like, hmm, what’s wrong with me? All the pros say they use very thick picks, why can’t I play with them? And when I received the package they were all quite thin picks actually, so I was glad to know I’m not the only one, and that I might be normal. And after all, some of the American bluegrass pickers would probably drop dead if they saw the thin picks the mandolin players in Ireland use. :)

Now, I don’t want soft picks. They need to be hard and stiff to give a good sound, but thin enough to give a clear sound. I have some picks that are 1.50 mm and they are the thickest I can manage, I think.

My mandolin-less experience, and playing the Gibson mandolin in Gränna, actually boosted my love for the mandolin. A lot. It was divine to come home and play my own mandolin. It is the best mandolin, really… And I’ve been playing more mandolin after that, although I must say that I haven’t played much of anything because I’ve worked a lot and had other projects after work. But I’m glad to have some inspiration to play the mandolin, because I really felt sad about not wanting to play it. I’m not sure what next step is but probably some Norman Blake tunes.

Wreck of the old 97

Right now I’m learning to sing/play the Norman Blake version of Wreck of the old 97. I didn’t really think of this event being based on a true story until I googled for the Norman Blake lyrics and found this article. I also found this video that tells the story about the event.

I’ve sung this song before but the more common version, but I really like Norman Blake’s version more. It’s slower and more of an observation, plus it’s easier to sing too. I hope I can learn to play the break too. Sadly I didn’t find a recording of him playing and singing it, but here’s the song performed by the Osborne brothers in 1984.

Gränna and new inspiration

I’m home after the bluegrass festival. We’ve had a great weekend!
Every time I go to events like this, I realize how much I suck at playing, but I get a lot of inspiration to learn new stuff. And of course I still enjoy myself jamming with old and new friends. We rent a little cabin with a friend of ours who is a brilliant guitar player. The weather is usually very unstable during this festival (at least the last 10 years) so it’s good to have somewhere decent to sit down and play if it gets too bad outside. This year the weather was actually brilliant. It rained on Friday afternoon but cleared up during the evening, and we had a good time jamming outside the cabin. Later when it got too cold we went inside, but took a stroll to check out other players before going to bed.

Gränna is such a beautiful little town. It has the old houses and the old charm, and although they’ve started to build modern apartment houses (that are crazy ugly) just outside of town, it’s still a nice town of the old style with wooden houses and cobblestone streets.

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The concerts are held up a hill above the town, but I think everyone agrees that the real festival is at the campsite. Most musicians stay there and there are jams and fun going on from Thursday to Sunday. There used to be a lot more jams in the past, I’m not sure why there are not so many people out there playing these days. We’ve been wandering around a lot, but these days we just stay around with friends and start our own jams, usually people show up and join us. On the Friday we played with a lady fiddler who lived in the cabin next door, and a friend of ours who also plays the guitar. We were three guitar players and then his girlfriend who just started out on the mandolin, but it actually sounded great with three guitars because we all have different playing styles.

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On the Saturday there were some good bands, my favourites were these guys, a very experienced bluegrass band from further north, they play good traditional bluegrass music. Then there was a great cajun band too. Both bands have been there before and always deliver good music and good entertainment. Generally what I miss up there is real traditional bluegrass music and old songs. So many bands write their own songs, and that’s good of course, but they all sound so mainstream. I like the old sounding stuff.

These were great, however.

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The festival has always been organized, and all bands presented by the brilliant Pelle Brandt. Nowadays his son is taking over but Pelle is still the conferencier. And sometimes he borrows a guitar or a banjo and plays a tune. That’s usually the best moment of the day! He’s a fabulous clawhammer banjo player, but mostly he plays the guitar. I have a video somewhere of him playing the banjo at the campsite. I’ll have to post it some time.

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The area where the festival takes place is very nice and there’s an incredible view over the town.

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You know, it only took me a couple of hours before realizing I was an idiot for not bringing my mandolin. I was happy playing the guitar, but I really, really missed my mandolin. I actually borrowed one for a little bit, from a girl who joined our jam.
Then yesterday up on the hill there was the guy who always come to the festival to sell banjos, mandolins, books, picks, strings and whatnot. And he had a nice Gibson A-style mandolin from 1938 that he had for sale, for not much money at all (for being a Gibson from 1938). The thing is that Daniel still wants to play the mandolin, but the one he has is in really bad shape, but he doesn’t want to buy just anything, but mandolin prices are crazy if you want one that is good. So this was a real bargain really. And, since I “needed” a mandolin for Saturday night, we decided to buy it. It’s a very nice instrument. I played it, and it drove me crazy because it wouldn’t stay in tune (because of the weather, and that it hadn’t been played and tuned for a long time), but it was lovely to play the mandolin!

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This one will be perfect for Daniel, it’s heavier and has more “punch” in the sound than mine has, and will suits his playing style really well. Mine has a big sound but still a good chop and a good sound for bluegrass and oldtime. It took me a while to learn to play chops with my mandolin, since I was used to a mandolin with much less sound, but I learned a good working technique for it. Since I play this mandolin since 2009, it now feels weird to play any other mandolin. I’m so used to my mandolin now and that it doesn’t take much effort to make it sound, so playing that mandolin last night made my wrists hurt. It was great to play a mandolin but I was so happy to come back home to my own pretty mandolin. My wrists still hurt this morning but they have recovered during the trip back home. So tomorrow I’ll spend some time playing, and will try to figure out what I want to do next with the mandolin to get forward with it, and will also check out some guitar licks.

It’s bluegrass festival time

So now we’re preparing to go to the bluegrass festival. I’m actually off work for four days. That means that if I get inspired this weekend, I have the Monday off to play music. :)

This year I’m going to be wild – I’m going to Gränna without the mandolin. During the last few weeks, or even months, I’ve barely played it at all. And although I did get some inspiration back, I’m not good at playing it right now, I’m not “warmed up” with it, and so I’ve decided to only bring the guitar. And that’s fine! I’m going to have fun with it.
You know, if you’re not great at playing, or don’t feel like you are, it’s easier to bring a guitar. If you come with a mandolin to a jam people will ask you to play a break, or more or less assume that you will. With a guitar it’s more common that people don’t play breaks. Now I’m not sure if we’ll join any jams with people we don’t know so well (we didn’t last year) but if we do, I’ll feel more comfortable.

I’m NOT going to quit playing the mandolin. It’s just that I need a break with it. I’m improving on the guitar at the moment, but I don’t know how to get any further on the mandolin. When I know what the next step will be on the mandolin, then I’ll start working on it again.

This year it’ll be interesting to listen to the guitar players, their different styles, what they do, and so on. I’ve never really listened to the guitar players like that. It would be good to find someone who is good at playing Carter style, and especially if they live in the Göteborg area… It would be nice to have a teacher of some sort, to see sometimes for good advice, hints and inspiration. I work way too much to have time for regular lessons, but once in a couple of months is definitely good enough. I’ll see how it goes.

I’m really looking forward to this weekend, though! Check back for photos and festival reports!

Stumbling on the guitar

Ok, some people have been asking for it, and I have the day off and I’m all inspired for next weekend’s bluegrass festival. I stumble through my breaks but at least I can play the tune, I just need to practice playing more smoothly and with more control. My singing sucks but I WILL be back to my previous form.

End of disclaimer. I’m not ashamed of being a somewhat beginner, and this is what I sound like right now. And I’m having fun. But watch out for the guitar picker faces, lol.

The war against dry air

My husband was at an accordion festival this weekend, and had some problem with his guitar. He bought this one a year or so ago. It’s been having some troubles with the dry air over the winter, and he’s kept it in the case with a humidifier. Now lately it’s been fine (it’s summer with a decent rate of air humidity), but I don’t think he’s had the guitar out a lot. During the accordion festival it rained, and after that the guitar reacted on the changes in the air humidity.

We’ve had quite some problems with air humidity changes. After we moved back home from Ireland, my mandolin (that I bought when we lived in Ireland) got seriously sick, and wasn’t playable for months. Well, after the most acute phase I could play it, but it sounded like crap. I had to raise the bridge, put it in a room with a boiling water kettle, lots of green plants (they generate humidity), etc. I even put it in the bathroom with the door closed after I had had a shower. Daniel’s guitar, which he also bought when we lived in Ireland, also reacted on the dry air and he had to adjust the trossrod. We had to replace the bridges on both fiddles, and my bouzouki cracked.

So – now I have a lot of respect for air humidity and how it affects stringed instruments. FYI – the mandolin is fine now and sounds lovely. Same goes for the fiddles. The guitar is sold but it was in good shape when we sold it. The bouzouki went to the US, with the crack, but the new owner was going to fix it up anyway so he didn’t mind, or at least so he said.

Last year we bought an air humidifier, a little box that we fill with water and it generates humidity and pumps it out in the room. It doesn’t seem to generate enough humidity though, or maybe it needs to be in a smaller room. It’s hard in the winter for us because Sweden is VERY dry in the winter. We are now talking about maybe buy a sort of closet for our guitars (and maybe the mandolin), to store them in the winter with the humidifier. We’ll see.

So today i started the war against dry air. I found hygrometers for the guitar case, so I bought one for each guitar case. I also bought Humidipaks for Daniel’s guitar case, instead of the thingy he’s been using before (some kind of plastic thing you put water into).
My guitar has survived the winter well, maybe because of the Humidipaks. They are little bags with a fluid that absorbs damp, and lets out damp it the environment is too dry. Very nice invention, it keeps stringed instruments in good shape. The bad thing is that you have to keep the instrument in the case when you don’t play, and at least for me it’s a fact that I play more of the instrument is out in the room somewhere, easy to access. But, I have to keep them healthy and happy too, and after all it’s not that hard to open a guitar case. :)

The mandolin and the choice of picks

The last few days I’ve been playing a lot, and I’m making some progress with the guitar. I can actually play some nice simple breaks, and some c runs too. :)

I’ve picked up the mandolin again. It’s nice to see how a serious break from it can trigger the inspiration.
Now after not playing the mandolin for a long time, I’m not at all happy with the tone. I need to play much smoother, and with better flow. I think I need to pick up my old scale exercises again, I remember they were very efficient with developing smoothness and flexibility of the fingers.
Also, I’m looking at what pick to use. Most better mandolin players use very thick picks such as the Blue Chip or Wegen picks. I’ve never been able go play with very thick picks, I think they kind of kill the sound. But it must be something with the technique, since “everybody” else uses them? I’m planning to go to Göteborg on Thursday, bring the mandolin, visit music shops and test picks. Now with thinner picks (1.0 and the likes) I think they give too much pick noise (the sound of the pick hitting the string), so I’m willing to try the extra heavy picks a chance. I don’t think anyone sells the Blue Chip over here, but maybe at least some of the other ones.

There is a bluegrass festival coming up in a few weeks and I can’t wait! When I go there I always realize how much I suck at playing (probably even more this year), but I love being there and it always inspires me. We also have good friends there, that we meet only at this particular festival, and that we enhoy jamming with.

Guitar talk

A friend of mine wants to learn to play guitar. She’s a super cool girl with all sorts of interesting hobbies, she’s a reseller for Tupperware and Partylite, she’s just simply one of the coolest people I know and she rocks as a nursing assistant. We got to know each other because we worked together in the respiratory ward, and see each other sometimes. So now she wants to learn to play the guitar, which is lovely of course. I’m just sad that I’m not competent to teach her.
Today we went to the “big city” which is Göteborg, to buy new tuners and strings. She has an old nylon stringed guitar, one of those that you’ll spend an eternity to get in tune and then it will be out of tune again after ten minutes. However, it’s better than no guitar at all.

I also bought some strings, picks and humidipaks for my guitar. I didn’t remember what size I had the last time, and got a 012 set of Elixir. The last time I replaced the strings it took forever to get rid of that weird clatchy sound of new strings, and the aha moment of the day today was that since Elixirs last longer than other strings, the sound of new strings will also remain longer. The other aha moment was realising that it’s not the strings that are particularly long, it’s my guitar that is particularly small. High level of thinking today, lol. :D

I played some after replacing the strings, and it sounded different, so probably I had heavier strings before. But it sounded lovely, and no “new-string sound”. I do like the punch it had in the sound before though, so the next time I’ll get 013 strings, and maybe something else than Elixir, to see what difference it’ll make.

I love my guitar though. :)
But I need to find out what to study to continue developing my picking. Today I played the C run up and down, some bass runs and Cherokee shuffle. Good stuff. I wish I had time to take lessons. The (in my opinion) best guitar player of Sweden lives in Göteborg.

And of course I’m excited to see if my friend starts learning. I told her to learn the G, C and D chords. That way we can play some simple tunes together.