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I agree that they are pretty "out there" talent-wise, but that should
by no means be a stopping point. About 90% of what makes the music
good is a SKILL, and the result of hours of practice. What (to me)
make a trad musician geat is their love of the music, which in turn
causes them to practice and play almost incessantly. Most
professional musicians (classical) that I know practice about 5 hours
or more a day, and here lies the point- To really be inventive with a
tune, I believe that you need to play it seven bizillion times, and
every now and then you will try something new, and every now and then
it sounds good. Eventually, you build up your own arrangements of
tunes and they get REALLY good.
 
    A lot of the tricks that His Johnnyness does on the fiddle sound
pretty unattainable, but they aren't his private property- just
things that he is VERY good at. For me, I was wowed by anyone who
used 16th note runs instead of triplets in a strathspey, but after
starting with easy ones, I can get some more complex ones now. Speed
is all very relative- once you know a tune cold slow, you can speed
it up almost at will, to the limit of the speed of your hands. I must
say that after all these years, I can play "The Merry Blacksmith" and
"Scatter the Mud" quite quickly if I have a hankering.
 
     One of the neatest feelings I get from playing a tune is
learning from an album, being able to first duplicate the setting
exactly, and then to go beyond it.
 
     Techniquewise- one of Johnny Cunningham's signature techniques
is a sort of bow bounce. You may have seen it used somewhere before-
the bow is bounced off of the strings rapifly to create the extremely
rapid stacatto cuts. This is also used in old-timey tunes, I seem to
recall an old video or film of a guy playing the William Tell
Overture using this technique. This sort of stuff is easy to "cheat"
on with a plectral instrument- on a mandolin you can sneak a triplet
by what Mark Bickford calls "dragging the pick", meaning that you
angle the pick at a 45 degree twist with the point facing towards
you, and do a downstroke that sounds each of the two strings
individually, and then you can twist it back up rapidly. Anyway,
practice a tune like "William Tell overture" to learn the tricks of
speed.
 
Can't wait for Milwaukeefest to see His Johnnyness again. Early
reports from here is that he and brother Phil are coming, Craobh Rua
will be back in town, and Cherish The Ladies are probable as well.
Further bulletins as events warrant.
 
Anyone else have Strathspey techniques (fiddle or plectral) that work
really well?
 
Dan