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Instruments I wish I could play - Part 1

Mike Harding | 15:59 UK time, Monday, 21 June 2010

There was a tradition in my family that when boys got to seven years old they were given a mouth organ. I can't remember what the girls got, a drill or a shovel or something. Both my uncles played mouth organ, and played them very well; my Uncle Harry in particular could play really well in the old vamping style where you play a melody as well as the accompanying chords.

My first mouth organ was a Hohner in the key of C major and I can remember that the box had a boy on the front in Alpine costume blowing a horn. The first tune I learned was 'I Love To Go A-Wandering' rapidly followed by 'The Skye Boat Song' and 'The Minstrel Boy.' I stuck with the mouth organ for a few years, eventually learning to play blues harp after falling in love with the music of Sonny Terry.

My second instrument was the guitar, which I picked up during the skiffle boom and which led me into rock 'n' roll, from where I progressed into folk music proper, picking up the tin whistle, mandolin and banjo along the way.

Why I'm telling you all this is that I suffer from instrument envy, because the instrument I would really like to play is the fiddle. I can't think of any other instrument so expressive, whether playing slow airs or fast reels, whether played fairly staccato or with slides and glissandi. The bow and the strings together - to my mind - make some of the most wonderful music there is.

Listen to Dezi Donnolly or Aly Bain, listen to Eliza Carthy, John McCusker or Frankie Gavin; they're all very different in style but all play with wonderful soul and passion. Unfortunately I have a damaged left wrist which means my left hand won't turn over properly. The only way I could hold a fiddle in the correct playing position would be if it was nailed to my head.


  • Comment number 1.

    Would your wrist cope with playing cello? Folk cellists are a lot rarer than fiddlers, but they're definitely out there and doing interesting stuff -- have a listen to Barney Morse-Brown or Crooked Still.

  • Comment number 2.

    Prpobably all Mike.. I am a session playing banjo / mandolin player a wood be guitar. a dearly love to work fiddle. I on a good day can be thought of as good on banjo but can I play to my satisfaction?

  • Comment number 3.

    Mh. for me Tommy Peoples is the man for this GDEA (we are both familiar with( fiddle.

  • Comment number 4.

    Mike, thinking about it. Now long gone but maybe my first and I don;t play now was the mouth organ. It came as a surprise present to me. I woke up at about 3 in the morning and was able to play a tune by my parents waking up.

    Guitar came later believe it or not it started with a toy ukelele. A colleague of my mothers was a good uke player and picked it up and showed it could be played. He lent a book and my parents got me a guitar as I showed interest.

    Perhaps the one that I never really got to but always was there was piano. There was always one at home.

    I remember my first days of folk clubs. I would try to borrow or try anything hammered dulcimer, harp - you know if it was there you had to give it a go. Instruments were all exciting.

    I had a brief spell with melodeon before turning to the strings.

    Given my time back, the one I would have chosen most is the fiddle - it is so versatile. You may relate to some of this. I can play it like using a hacksaw badly. We as manodlin/banjo know where the notes are but my left arm slips down. My (not) technique causes me pain in my chest and it is so frustrating knowing where notes lie but struggling with something you think should be easy. Also, the bow is a total mystery to me.

  • Comment number 5.

    Drifting a touch but reading you first post, the great JM with the MB.

  • Comment number 6.

    First folkie instrument, anglo concertina, then got myself a melodeon (okay two but they are in different keys) and now....I've just started learning the fiddle after spending years thinking I could never possible try it as I had such a bad time trying to learn the guitar.

  • Comment number 7.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.


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