Make Your Own Music

| 10/13/2008 11:22:25 AM

Tags: self-reliance, music,

While a lot of us homesteaders take pride in making our own food and energy, I take the most pride in making something far more important — my own music. It’s something I taught myself to do, and I'm certain you can too. Playing a musical instrument doesn't require a degree from Juilliard or amazing talent. It just takes some patience, a sense of humor, and good home instructional aids. It's also not a bad way to add some extra income into your homestead. When you invest the time and energy into learning an acoustic instrument you can reclaim that investment over time through teaching others. Something I just started this year at Cold Antler, and it's been one of the most rewarding aspects of my simpler life to date.

Jenna with FiddleAfter long weekends of working sheep, baking bread, sawing firewood, and mucking coops I put down the pitchforks and buckets and pick up my fiddle. The fiddle is my saving grace, best friend and instant therapist. I am fairly certain that if you were able to see my insides, my heart and mind would be connected by a set of steel strings and coated in rosin. Old time music (specifically southern mountain music) has its claws tight on my heart. The older I get the less likely I am to trust strangers if I find out they can't sing the first verse of  “Tennessee Stud or don't know the chorus “Angel Band.” Somehow, over time this music has changed me, and it's changed me for the better. After a few years of making those old songs mine I found they instantly relaxed me, calmed me down, and made me a solid contribution to any campfire jam. I have more good memories playing those old songs with friends and strangers than I can count.

A few years back, when I lived in Southern Appalachia, my weekends were spent splashing through Smoky Mountain streams on old hiking trails and lapping up that culture like a thirsty sheepdog. I fell in love with its music and I fell hard. I started playing the dulcimer when I lived down in east Tennessee (go Vols), and a few years later in Idaho I could saw out some solid tunes on the fiddle and banjo. Not bad for a gal from the suburbs.

Music is what fills the idle hours here at Cold Antler Farm. Sunday nights the Vermont woods are lit with the songs and squawks of beginner fiddlers. These are people learning hundred year old tunes for the first time. The very same tunes probably plucked and sang by people farming on those same hills a few centuries ago when Vermont was the epicenter of the Merino wool industry. Even though those old shepherds are long gone, I like to think there are a few sheep and fiddle tunes left in one Yankee hollow.  

You don't have to be a savant to teach lessons, ’specially beginner lessons. If you can help people pick out an instrument, play a few tunes, and teach them to teach themselves I think you're more than in a good position to offer someone advice and help. I'm not saying you should open a music business on just a few years of experience, but a few beginner banjo lessons in exchange for a bunch of home-canned tomatoes sounds like a harmless trade to me.

If you are interested in getting started along similar lines, I strongly suggest the materials created by Native Ground Music, an Asheville-based publisher that makes the easiest bluegrass and old time lessons you can buy (and cheap at the price — around $20 a book and CD). If you've been putting off playing that fiddle by the fireside or plucking a mountain dulcimer under a canopy of stars, don't wait any longer. Good beginner books like those will hold your hand and get you playing “Old Joe Clark in no time flat.

9/3/2009 12:21:19 AM

Making music is certainly one of the most important aspects of life for me. I'd like to add Klezmer to the list of wonderful folk music, especially soul-stirring Bessarabian and old world Klezmer that affects one so deeply you *have* to dance to it.

barbara gillihan
9/2/2009 11:07:17 PM

music is as basic as gardening. we all need to relax at the end of a hard day. music answers that need. we built our cabin of cedar and also make flutes of cedar. Sitting on the back porch on a cool evening with the moon above and the flute echoing off the woods, is pure contentment. loved your article!!

k williams
9/2/2009 8:07:02 PM

You've got it, April. As an almost-retired senior, I finally found time to start learning the fiddle, and budgeted nothing for lessons. After four years of working to get it down, I am un-learning a dozen bad habits with a first-rate teacher who allows me to come in bi-weekly. I guess there are those so musical they can make it on their own, but I'm in that vast crowd of the rest of us!
5/19/2009 7:23:26 AM

Hey Jenna, I've been playing bluegrass guitar for about 40 years now and let me tell you I have never taken a formal lesson and I'm considered around here to be fairly good at what I do. You keep trucking with the fiddle lessons, if you can teach what you know and inspire a youngun to take up the fiddle and go on to study with someone else or go to a school of music you have accomplished a great thing. Just because someone has a music degree does not make them a good teacher. Even a little music ability, just enough to strum a few chords or play Sally Goodin, can mean a whole lot of money otherwise spent on therapists, it is therapy for me, every time I pick up that old Martin. John from Oklahoma

april _1
11/15/2008 9:35:29 AM

This is a wonderful article; however, I would caution someone from giving lessons if they are less than an expert or taking lessons from someone who is less than an expert because fundamentals and theory are important, even for the most casual musician.

steve thyng
10/24/2008 6:32:07 PM

There are so many simple violin tunes out there that are very melodic. Not only bluegrass tunes, but Irish tunes, and those of the Renaissance and Medieval era. Folks should check out CD/book sets by Alan Alexander and others. They require very minimal technic and are very melodic. Once a fiddler learns these basic melodies and learns how to develop and extend them, there is no stopping him. It is a great way to relax at the end of a day, and as one plays these melodies over the years, they grow very rich in many ways.

10/16/2008 10:04:10 PM

I love your writing Jenna....keep up the good work!!!

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