Posted in Fiddle, Fiddle Progress Report, Fiddle Resources and Tools, Learning to Play Fiddle

Net Fiddler – I Bought a New Bow!

Note: This is not a sponsored post by FiddlerShop or anything like that. I just love the shop and their products!

I haven’t been writing a whole lot about my fiddle practice and progress lately. That’s because things have just been moving slowly but steadily lately with nothing earth-shattering to speak of. I’ve settled into a slightly less consistent practice schedule than last year (you can only practice every single day for so long). It’s pretty comfortable to practice after work every day and then take the weekends off.

That being said, I’ve had a little influx of cash coming my way between the stimulus check, an anniversary bonus at work and the tax return. So I’ve been looking at some new fiddle gear lately.

About Bows…

In particular, I was looking at bows. To be honest, the quality of your bow is almost more important than the quality of you fiddle (though having a good and well set up fiddle is very important). But as the sound and technique all come from the bow, having a well-balanced and easy to use bow is right up there.

I own three (usable) bows. My very first was a Christmas gift from Syn – it’s a carbon fiber Fiddlerman bow, and it has served me well for the 2+ years I’ve played with it. Seeing I’m still an early student, I’m not particularly rough on my bows yet. So it still has most of its hair, still has good buoyancy, and plays just fine.

I have a second carbon fiber bow that came with my Bunnel violin. I just never cared for the weight and balance of it. It’s also harder to tighten and loosen – it’s never felt right – so I keep it as a backup. I’ve used it a few times, but it doesn’t compare to my Fiddlerman bow.

I also have a wood bow that I picked up from Fiddlershop just out of curiosity of trying a wood bow. I got it on sale, and I don’t think this one is offered anymore at that price point. It’s a little heavier than my carbon fiber but also a nice bow for the price (under $100).

When looking at bows this time around, I considered some of the more expensive options. Even from the Fiddlershop, you can see that bows can vary in cost quite a bit – jumping from the hundreds to the thousands of dollars! I considered a more costly bow for a while, but then I got an email from Fiddlershop earlier this week…

Oooh… I thought. That snakewood frog (the frog is the name of the part of the bow where you grip) looks really sharp on a carbon fiber. I wonder what that would sound and feel like!

The cost was a little higher than the original carbon fiber, but seeing that I was curious, I liked how it looked, and I was of the bow-shopping mentality, this email hit right when and where it needed to.

My bows have served me well, but I was just reading up on how you should really be rehairing them every 6 months to a year for best playability. I’m sure this is more along the lines for the violinists who play a lot more than I do and are more rough on their bows – as I said, my bows are still in good condition and I’m not sure they’re in need of a rehair.

Even if they were, the cost of a rehair would be more than the cost of the bow originally. So it makes no sense to rehair when you can just replace it with a new bow and keep the old for a backup.

Still, I haven’t rewarded myself for consistently practicing in a while, and the cost of this bow wasn’t going to break the bank. So, I bought myself a new Fiddlerman carbon fiber bow with the snakewood frog.

Now, carbon fiber don’t generally have the same quality sound as a premium wood bow. But if you want a bow that’s durable, not susceptible to humidity and moisture, and that you can tote around without fear of breaking something that cost you twice as much… A good carbon fiber bow is a great investment that you’ll get a lot of mileage out of for the price.

Anyhow, I got my new bow yesterday, rosined it up and I’m quite pleased with it! It feels on par with the balance and weight of the original carbon fiber bow I’ve owned – so there’s not been much variation in make since I got my first bow two and a half years ago.

In fact, I don’t even think I need to say anything like “it’ll take me time to get use to this” because it feels so similar that I can just pick it up and play as normal. Or hopefully better than normal… I’m trying to get a little better every day!

Posted in Fiddle, Fiddle Progress Report

Fiddle Progress Report – February 2021

Just a short progress report from last month – a few things have changed!

It was the first full month of logging my practice into a Google Calendar system, and I think this is working just fine. It’s also the first month of hosting my fiddle content here on this blog. I haven’t been posting a lot about fiddling, I know, but at the same time, I don’t feel a big loss in not having it broken off into its own blog.

Another change is in the tools I’m using for practice. I picked up a new Samsung tablet with the intentions to replace the 7-year-old laptop that I’d been using as a dedicated practice machine. I moved all the practice files, music and sheet music to this tablet, along with the apps and programs I’ve been using. This has gone off seamlessly, and the tablet has 100% picked up doing everything the old laptop had done.

My new tablet used for fiddle practice

As for actual materials, I have moved on from a couple of songs during February. I felt like I’d put more than enough time into Liza Jane, and decided to work on a new tune from the Fiddle Primer: Blind Mary. I had no idea until I looked into it that it’s actually a song written by Turlough O’Carolan – one of my favorite traditional harpists. I eventually wanted to try to play some O’Carolan tunes, and didn’t expect to find one this early on!

I also finally moved on from EEI: Bingo after having played it for several weeks. It was simple enough that I felt I had a good grasp on it at this point. I’ve replaced it with a song called Variations on a Familiar Song which is actually just a couple of variations on Skip to my Lou.

I’ve been a lot more flexible with my practice this past month, especially on weekends. It seems like Saturdays are difficult days for me to swing a practice in particular. Despite not being as consistent as before, I don’t feel like it hurts my focus on practice on the days that I do. I also don’t feel like I am moving towards missing practice more consistently – I generally practice far more than I do not.

Posted in Fiddle, Fiddle Progress Report

Fiddle Progress Report – January 2021

I don’t have a whole lot to update about things in January, but what I do have is something very important!

Of course, my 2 year anniversary of playing fiddle arrived in mid-January, which is one thing to celebrate!

Secondly, as of February 1, my quest to maintain consistent daily practice also hit a 1 year mark. I did pretty well, too! Out of 365 days, I missed exactly 6 days of practice. Not quite a week out of one year, which is great!

I’ve been giving myself a lot more wiggle room to miss practice this past month because I’ve seen that I can bounce back and not let that effect my overall consistency in daily practice. Part of this is because I’ve got practice planned out well enough that I know exactly what I need to be doing every day.

Going forward, I’m going to continue striving for daily consistency, but also be more flexible in allowing myself days off when things get busy or I just can’t quite make time for it. I’m not going to let it become a habit, mind you, but I’m also not going to beat myself up for missing a day (which usually happens on the weekend).

I finally said farewell to Russian Folk Song (IEE) and Amazing Grace this past month. I didn’t have the Russian Folk Song down perfectly, but I’ve spent so much time with it and I was only seeing minor improvements, so it was time to move on. Amazing Grace was a tune that I was pretty comfortable with, so I didn’t see that drilling it was getting a lot in return.

The most important thing that happened in January 2021 for me was… actual music.

In exchange for Amazing Grace, I brought back in the Skye Boat Song that I’d practiced earlier last year. I’d improved a LOT on this song, simply due to practicing long bowing on Silent Night. So while it’s not perfect, it’s much better than it was before.

I realized that my Fiddle & Song book also had Skye Boat Song included, though a more advanced version. Most importantly, it had a really nice backing track on the CD.

The one thing I love about Fiddle & Song is that the CD tracks are like playing along with a band and the backing tracks are amazing. Though I was playing a much more stripped down version of Skye Boat Song, I found that I could still play it along with the backing track.

Then, suddenly, one day of doing this, I was struck by actual emotion while practicing. And not the emotion of frustration with my poor playing, either. Actual emotion that I was playing (decently) music to a lovely backing track and for a song that I really love.

Oh my gosh. It’s an even better feeling than I expected!

Again, I don’t play it beautifully, but it was good enough to sound alright along with the backing track. For the first time, I actually felt like I was playing true music on my fiddle rather than just drilling an exercise and being frustrated with my sound.

That was something I’ve been working up to for two years now. It may sound silly but it’s the biggest breakthrough I’ve had so far, and it helps to bolster my confidence that with time and practice, I can start to play things I like to hear.

Posted in Fiddle

Two Years of Fiddle

While this isn’t the exact date of when I first picked up a fiddle to learn to play, it’s the day I’ve dedicated as my fiddle anniversary. About this time two years ago, I was just starting to become serious about practice.

This hasn’t been a completely seamless experience for me – I had a couple months in the first year when I set the instrument down and wondered if I’d ever pick it back up. But I did, and I’m glad that I did.

This past year has been a focus on evolving my practice and being as consistent as I can with practicing every day. As of February of last year, I’ve only missed about 5 days of practice (a day or two was due to things I couldn’t control). That is absolutely astounding for me, and I’ve learned a lot by sticking to a schedule as much as I did.

I learned to spend more time practicing songs, rather than just skipping off to the next tune in the book. I learned when to say when – identifying songs that were out of my skill range and were only causing frustration.

I found a way to consistently practice sight reading, and this has gone really well! I also started the process of learning vibrato – this has been a very slow, difficult journey. Honestly, I didn’t expect it to take as long as it has, but it’s been another learning experience.

I started to really focus on bowing exercises and found a more consistent practice book for scales. I also experimented with gear such as rosin, shoulder rests and chin rests.

I have to say that looking back a year ago, I’ve changed just about everything I was doing with practice except the fiddle and the bow! And even sometimes then, I do pick up my secondary fiddle just to mess around on it. 🙂

Being completely self-taught, I’m having to rely on resources in books and online for my learning. This has been a discovery process as I’m always looking to pick up some new knowledge and implement it to see if it works for me. I know that I probably would be much “further along” (whatever that means) if I had a teacher guiding me, but that’s not a reality for me at this time still. Maybe one day.

My focus for this year is to remain consistent in practice. I want to continue to evolve my practice exercises, work on finding good tone and clean string crossings, develop what I’ve started with my vibrato, and build up playing endurance.

My lack of playing endurance is what’s hurting me most right now. My practice sessions are getting longer, but my shoulders start to ache, and it falls apart near the end when I’m working on my most intensive tunes. I need to find a way to strengthen my shoulders in order to better finish out my daily practice and to just play longer over all.

Still so much to work on! I hope to be reporting good things come this time next year!

-Header Image Source-

Posted in Fiddle

Fiddle String Swing

Back in September of 2020, I picked up a set of Thomastik Alphayue strings for my Master fiddle. While I’m sure for the right instrument they could be a good set of strings, they just weren’t working out for mine. They sounded scratchy (due to certain rosin) and often muted on the G and D strings far more often than I’d like.

Also, when putting new strings on any instrument, there’s a period of time where the strings must stretch and settle. During this, you have to retune several times – sometimes even during a single practice session. I always check tuning before I practice, and a settled set of strings doesn’t usually need much tuning from day to day.

The Alphayue strings took weeks to finally settle. I’ve never had strings slide out of tune so much for such a long period of time after first putting them on.

While I did get the Alphayue on sale at a good price, I was still reluctant to switch them off for something new because I felt that I’d hardly gotten my use out of them. That’s when I noticed some discoloration on the strings of my Bunnel – indicating those strings would need changing pretty soon.

So, the idea came to me that I’d pick up some new strings for my Master and put the Alphayue on my Bunnel, which is my back-up fiddle. That way, those strings didn’t go to waste, and hey… they might even sound better and fit the Bunnel more. Who knows?

This time around, I decided to try D’Addario Zyex because not only do they have good reviews, but the D and G strings were available in silver. I’ve never tried a silver violin string before, but D and G on my Master have a history of being a bit nasal-sounding. So I was curious to see if this improved that.

I had an extra Hill E string (which remains my favorite) that needed to be put to use, so I only bought three Zyex strings and not a full set. My strings arrived yesterday, much to my surprise – they weren’t supposed to be here until Saturday – and I did the string swing between the two fiddles.

One of the first things I learned to do back when I got my first cheap fiddle was how to change the strings on it. I know some beginners are a bit antsy to mess with this, but it’s really not that difficult. I’m saying that without ever having a string break on me, though. I think I’d be a little more scared if one should pop!

Also, I used to practice learning guitar back in my high school/college days, so changing strings isn’t something unknown to me. …Despite the fact guitar and violin strings are very different animals!

Anyhow, I have one practice under my belt with the new strings. It’s hard to tell yet because they’re still stretching and settling in, but I think these are a marked improvement in sound over what I was using before. I haven’t had time to experiment with the Alphayue on my Bunnel to see if they sound similar on different fiddles, either.

I’ll let you know on down the line how it turns out!

Posted in Fiddle, Fiddle Progress Report

December Fiddle Progress Report

I know it’s a few days late to post a progress report from December, however, I had so many goal posts to make around January 1st, this post just got pushed back a bit.

So what all happened in December? Aside from me deciding to move my blog posts from my dedicated Fiddle blog to this (which is still in the works)?

With the passing of Christmas, I finally put away the only carol I’d been playing since November, which was Silent Night. I started playing Silent Night last year around the same time, and this year I feel that I’ve certainly improved upon it. Silent Night isn’t a difficult tune, but it has a number of long bows and stops that I’ve had to work very hard to clean up and make sound better.

It was during this that I started getting frustrated with bouncing and jittering on long bows. I began experimenting with different things to figure out what was causing it. I changed bows, changed rosin and tried to loosen the bow some. Turns out, what I needed to do was actually tighten my bow more than I though I needed!

While I still have a bit of jitter and bounce sometimes, tightening the bow made it all sound a whole lot better! Live and learn.

I’ve decided I really don’t care for the Thomastik Alphayue strings on my Master. I just don’t like how the D and G strings sound especially. I poked around waiting for some holiday sales on strings that never showed up (I guess they held off after Black Friday sales).

Yesterday, I just caved and ordered a set of D’Addario Zyex with silver D and G strings. I figure I can afford it after getting an unexpected stimulus check, right? These weren’t terribly expensive (Obligato were much more), and I’ve heard good things about them. I wonder if the silver strings will improve the muffled tone that I’ve heard on other strings. I guess I’ll find out – looking forward to trying them and reporting back next month!

I stepped up my sight reading exercises to Level 2 in the Sight Reading Factory. Level 1 was getting to be a little too easy with just two strings and little note variation. This adds the G string notes (which I really need to learn to read), eighth notes, dotted notes and some rests. It’s taken some time getting used to the variety, but I think it’s been a good change.

I haven’t made changes to the tune lineup in December, other than dropping Silent Night. I’m hoping to finally get to a point where I feel I can move on from Russian Folk Song so that I can make progress in my EEI book. Maybe soon?

My consistency was pretty good in December. I missed two practices, one on a day that I was in the ER with family for 7 hours… so I just didn’t have the energy to even think about practicing. I’ve been a little bit more flexible in allowing myself time off from practice because I’ve been able to bounce back each time and get right into the habit again. But I still want to keep my consistency as high as I can.

Onward into 2021!

Posted in Fiddle

Fiddle Goals for 2021

One last goal setting post for this year – I promise it’s the last one! This time, I have a list of goals for learning to play fiddle for 2021. I actually have a number of them!

Finish Book 1 of EEiVolume 1 of Essential Elements Interactive was the first method book I started almost two years ago. Because I’ve hopped between different methods, and even set this book aside for a solid part of a year, I’ve still not finished this book despite all the time I’ve practiced.

I received book 2 as a Christmas present in 2020, so that’s a sign to me that it’s time to work through the remaining content in book 1 in 2021.

Increase my playing stamina – Meaning, I want to strengthen my upper body in order to be able to play longer pieces or the same piece for a longer amount of time before my shoulders and arms start to ache. I’m doing far better than I did when I first started to play just by virtue of practice, but I really want to research strengthening exercises I can use, especially for my shoulders which seem to get to aching first.

Learn vibrato (better) – I started the process of learning vibrato last year. I’ve been working on learning the basic motion for many months, though I’m only able to do it slowly. All of the videos I’ve seen tell me that the next step is to set up a metronome and focus on getting a consistent vibrato at a specific speed. Then, once that’s achieved, speed it up a notch. This is the part I need to focus on now.

Listen to more great fiddle/violin music – I’ve listened to masterful Irish fiddle music all my life, and that’s the basic area of interest. However, musicians say that to develop an ear for what good violin playing sounds like, one has to immerse oneself in good music. So, this year, I’m going to research and expand the music I listen to in order to help develop my ear a bit more. Not just Irish/Celtic fiddle, but old time fiddle and classical violin as well.

I’m sure more goals will pop up throughout the year, but to start this year off, these are the areas I really want to focus on!

-Header Image Source-

Posted in Fiddle

Violin Tips I Learned in 2020: Experiment with Shoulder and Chin Rests

This has been a year of experimentation in gear for me.

I have a shorter neck, so I’ve always thought that I needed a shorter shoulder rest and chinrest combo, too.

I think I’ve found the right chinrest for my needs. I’ve been using the WAVE for several months now, and I still really like the way it feels.

But my adventures with shoulder rests have been a different story. I knew that the standard shoulder rest, even with a little bit of flexibility in how to set it, felt too high. For a while, I tried the Play on Air shoulder rest, thinking the lower I went the better.

I did like the Play on Air, though sometimes I’d have to reinflate it from time to time. It also came off the violin back a bit too easy if I was not careful.

However, after a time, I started to notice that my violin posture wasn’t all that great. The Play on Air had no resistance or support at all, and allowed me to droop my fiddle down – where it was easier for my shorter arms to reach it. But the downside to this was that I felt I was holding it more and more incorrectly and it was effecting my play.

So, I researched shoulder rests yet again, and decided on a Wolf Forte Secondo shoulder rest back in September. I’ve found this to be a very comfortable and very adjustable shoulder rest over all. At first, I was a little taken back by the design, but now that I’ve used it for a while, I appreciate what it has to offer.

It doesn’t feel too rigid, but it does provide the support I need. And I found myself actually making the shoulder rest setting higher than I thought it should be in the beginning, to help support the violin under the E string so I can play better.

I was truly surprised that after a while I didn’t leave it on the lowest height at all! I really appreciate that I can experiment to find a height setting based on issues that have come up in my practice – especially with the E string.

Of course, all of this probably could have been resolved quickly by a teacher (again). But this was a learning experience for me. Don’t let your expectations become your “facts” because it could turn out wrong! Be open to experimentation and find what works best for you!

Posted in Fiddle, Learning to Play Fiddle

Violin Tips I Learned in 2020: Tighten The Bow More

This was one of those things I’m sure a teacher could have eyeballed in two seconds. For me, it was a learning experience that I want to pass along.

So, I own two different bows that I use depending on which violin I’m playing and where I happen to be practicing. One is a Fiddlerman Carbon Fiber and the other is a Holstein Sandalwood Violin Bow (which I also got from Fiddlershop).

I was having so much trouble with bouncing and bow stuttering when playing long notes during songs, but not when I was just generally doing long-bowing exercises. This was especially true of the Holstein bow, and it was driving me nuts when I was trying to play Silent Night the last few months.

I tried everything – changing rosin, switching bows, loosening the bow, tightening the bow a little bit… but in the end, I learned I was simply not tightening the bow enough.

This came from reading a review about the Holstein bow saying that the customer had to tighten it a bit more than they expected to get a solid sound. So, instead of loosening it, I decided to tighten it more than I thought I needed to. Sure enough, much of the bouncing and stuttering went away when I did!

I’m not going to say my long bowing is perfect now, but the issues I had due to the bow tightness are no longer causing the warbling I hear. I now know that it’s something to do with my bow technique when I get this sound and not the bow.

This may or may not apply to your bow as every bow is different, but just something to keep in mind if you’re also experiencing a lot of bouncing and stuttering on long notes.

Posted in Fiddle, Learning to Play Fiddle

Violin Tips I Learned In 2020: Practice Sight Reading

I’m the type of person who can eventually learn the tunes I’m playing by ear.

This seems great at first because it means I toss the sheet music over my shoulder after a certain point and just play. Of course, I’m also only memorizing simple tunes at this point, so I have no idea how this will relate to more complex songs in the future.

Talking with my brother-in-law, who is a music teacher (but not of orchestra), one of the first suggestions he told me was something I already knew deep down: I needed to try to learn and practice sight reading even if I tend to memorize the music instead.

But when you don’t even mean to memorize songs and it just happens, how do you find fresh material to practice on daily without trying to learn another song?

I did some research and I found a solution that has worked wonders for me: Sight Reading Factory.

Yes, it costs a low yearly subscription to maintain, but it has been absolutely worth it in the long run. SRF generates a new random “song” each day – or as many as I want to try – and challenges me with truly different notes to read every time. It’s not so random that it doesn’t sound like it could be a song, too.

I adjust the difficulty of the exercises, as well. Just lately, I felt like level 1 sight reading had gotten pretty route and easy. So I tuned it up a notch to level 2, and boy am I being challenged again. In a good way!

Since most of the methods books I play rely on notation (along with a CD), I’ve found myself much more comfortable and confident in approaching practice tunes now that I practice reading notation consistently now. I have a feeling that this is only going to become more important as I move into more difficult music, so I’m certainly glad that this is a practice habit I’ve built into my plan!