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, 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 Progress Report

November Fiddle Progress Report

I really, really wanted to write an October Progress Report, and just failed to do so.

I was disappointed in that because October marked the one year anniversary of the arrival of my Fiddlerman Master. I’m happy to report that I did not go out fiddle shopping with any great need or intention since it has arrived. I’m still pleased with it and enjoy playing it very much! I don’t foresee me needing a different fiddle anytime soon.

Now, on to consistency. On Thanksgiving, I finally broke my practice record of playing every day. I’m a little sad about it, but at the same time, I think I can grant myself a holiday considering I’ve practiced every day since February. The important thing is that I don’t let a day off effect consistency going forward. I actually think it’s a good test to see if I can allow myself a break here or there and still continue to be consistent otherwise.

Back in my September progress report, I’d just gotten a new Wolf Forte Secondo shoulder rest. I really like this shoulder rest, though I’ve been spending time adjusting it in order to play more comfortably.

At first, I kept all of the height settings to a minimum, still thinking I really needed a short shoulder rest for a short neck. But then I found my fiddle sorta… drooping… which makes playing on the E string challenging. So I started to adjust the side of the chinrest closest to my chest higher to prop the fiddle up more under the E string. Then I started to wonder if I’ve been slouching too much overall, and adjusted the other side of the chin rest higher as well. I’m still getting used to it and trying to find a good balance for comfortable playing – I have learned that the lowest setting is not good, though!

Back in September, I also put on a new set of strings – Thomastik Alphayue. Overall, I don’t feel like these have produced the best sound I’ve heard on my fiddle. I don’t know how to explain it — they’re more prone to be scratchy (to my ear) for some reason. I considered buying new strings during the Black Friday sales, but it seems a real waste to replace them so soon – though I have considered putting these on my Bunnel since I think I see some corrosion on the strings there.

In the end, I didn’t pick anything up for Black Friday. But I might look into it for Christmas sales. I’m not sure what to try next – I’ve heard D’Addario Zyex are nice. I also have a set of D’Addario Helicore on my Bunnel which sounded fairly good – but again, I don’t know how it will stack up for my Master.

Let’s see… I’ve added string-crossing exercises in conjunction with my long-bowing exercises this month. I feel like this is really something I need. It came to my attention that perhaps it’s playing on a 7/8 size fiddle that makes it easier to accidentally hit strings I don’t mean to, so putting time into mindful string crossings can help.

I’ve even rotated the bows I’m using again. I was playing with the Holstein sandalwood bow since about a year ago, but I wonder if it’s been causing me more bouncing and scratching issues than it should. I switched back to my original Fiddlerman carbon fiber bow and it feels lighter and a bit less scratchy. It could be player error, so who knows. I’ll keep experimenting.

I’ve got a much better grasp on 4th finger now – much thanks to the scales exercises and EEI tunes that have pushed me to incorporate 4th finger into things. I’m not perfectly great, but I’m doing a whole lot better than I was a few months ago.

I’m still working on colle, and improving on that. But vibrato has been a long, slow progress for me. I’ve even watched additional videos and implemented some tips from those. They helped, but I still see this as a long road to making anything close to a good sound with this technique. I just can’t seem to rock my hand fast enough at this point. Not going to stop practicing it, of course!

Other than that, I’ve been focused on moving very slowly through tunes now days. Much, much more slowly than I did last year. I’ve even been practicing Silent Night since last month – some days it sounds better than others.

That’s really all I’ve got for this update. I feel like I forgot a few things since this covers October as well as November. I’m just going to continue to focus on my practice and look forward to holidays in December!

Posted in Fiddle Progress Report

September Fiddle Progress Report

Let me start this post by saying: September marks 8 full months of consistent practice!

What hasn’t been so consistent is remembering to write progress reports. Trying to do them in the middle of the month doesn’t seem to work out so well. So I’m trying to move them to the beginning on the month instead. I really do still want to keep up with practice reports.

So what’s been going on?

Well, I got a new shoulder rest. Yes, again. And I need to write a post about what I learned and why. This time, I picked up a Wolf Forte Secondo shoulder rest which was quite affordable at Shar and actually pretty comfortable. While I liked my Play on Air shoulder rest, I had reasons for making a change back to something a bit more traditional. I like the Wolf far more than the more rigid shoulder rests I was using before, and I’ve been experimenting with different height settings to find what makes playing easiest for me.

I also got a new set of strings! The Thomastik Alphayue with Magic Rosin bundle was on sale at Southwest Strings, so I picked that up. I’m still working on breaking in the new strings, and haven’t quite formed an opinion on how they sound or feel in relation to the last set of strings – they were Obligatos and cost more than twice what these did.

I figure it’s time to experiment a bit, trying different price ranges of strings. Not that my playing skill actually brings out anything in any of these brands, but you never know!

I am noticing this pinging sound when I move from an open string to a slur on my D string. I don’t know what causes it. At first, I thought changing my strings would fix it, but it didn’t. Then I picked up my old Bunnel and tried the same fingering – that fiddle makes the sound, too! So it’s not just something with my Master Fiddle. I tried resetting the bridge, changing the strings, resetting the chin rest and different shoulder rests. None of it changed it. I just wonder what it is.

I’m overall pleased with my progress through my EEI book. These are generally easier exercises, but I’m happy that I finally got back to where I was in the book when I was first working in it last year. I’ve now moved beyond that point, though not hugely much. I’m not trying to rush through it, and I do spend several weeks on each tune.

Thanks to these exercises and the scales exercises from the I Love My Scales book, I’m happy that my 4th finger reach and usage has improved quite a bit! This isn’t perfect, of course, but far better than where I was several months ago.

I continue to work on colle exercises, and am slowly trying to integrate the motion into actual tunes when I play them.

I’m also still working on the vibrato exercises, though this has taken me sooo long. I watched a different video about vibrato, and think that maybe I haven’t been doing the motion exactly right – so I’ve been fixing it. I’m still only to the point where I’m making warbling on a string with one finger. I still have issues trying to bow and roll at the same time – my bow keeps wanting to stop when I need it to keep going! More practice, I guess!

Something I don’t talk about very much is my sight reading exercises. I’m really glad that I chose to add these to my practice every day, as I’m seeing improvement in my sight reading after several months of working on these random tunes at Sight Reading Factory. Lately I’ve been thinking about increasing the difficulty of the exercises just a little — adding more strings, that kind of thing. We’ll see.

I think that’s really all I have for this progress report. There’s several topics here I’d like to touch on in posts on their own if I ever get the time to sit down and write about them!

Happy October!

Posted in Fiddle Progress Report

August Fiddle Progress Report

Progress report is back!

I know I missed last month’s progress report, and almost considered putting them away for good. But I’ve decided to actually write one this month, and a day early, to boot. This is mostly because I’ve been doing a number of new things lately, which I do want to document.

Looking back at my June report, I see that’s when I started going back through the EEI tunes. I’ve continued to do that, especially focusing on songs that challenge me to make use of 4th finger.

Some new things that I’ve picked up in the last few weeks…

Collé — working on flexibility of my bow hand. I began by practicing with a pencil. But starting this week, I’ve actually moved on to practicing collé using the bow on the strings. I find this easier than trying to do it in mid-air. I feel like this is a pretty important skill to work into my practice for sure.

Vibrato rolls — I’m continuing to build on the vibration training bit by bit. It’s taken me a long time, and I’m still working to understand the newest motion — rolls. I’m starting to get better with this, I think. The next step will be actually applying bow strokes to the finger motion. But I feel that’s a while away yet.

New scales book — I Love My Scales. I bought a new book of scales that has replaced the old scale practice I was doing. I like this far more and feel like it gives me much more practice than just going up and down a scale. Especially since there’s a focus on 4th finger here, too.

Fiddle & Song book — Learning how to shuffle bow. This new book has really put shuffle bowing up first and foremost. I need to write a post about it eventually, but I’m having a great time with the technique!

Most of what I’ve been doing have been from various book/CD sets lately. I took a bit of a break from the AFM and other methods I’d been following. Also took a break from the Skye Boat Song, which I’d learned from my Celtic book all during last month.

All in all, I’m pleased with the variation I have in my practice and the different exercises I’ve picked up since my last progress report. I hope to see continued progress by this time next month!

Posted in Fiddle Progress Report

June Fiddle Progress Report

Hey, look! I’m on time with this post for once!

Also, I’m happy to say that another month has gone by and I still have not missed a day of practice. It’s come close a few times, but I’ve been able to stick to it. I know there will come a day I will break the practice streak, but I’m trying to hold fast to it.

I’ve been pretty pleased with my progress and feel like going back and refining older, simple songs had been a good experience. I seem to spend about two weeks on each of the tunes before feeling like I can move on to the next. At this pace, I have a few more months of review before I think I’ll start pulling in a random tune again.

Sadly, I hit a wall in my attempt to play the next song in the OAIM method. I’ve really, really enjoyed playing the first three songs, but then I hit Hole in the Hedge and realize that the difficulty leap is just too much for my skill level. This makes me sad because I really have had fun adding actual Irish tunes to my practice.

For now, I’ve had to put the OAIM sub on hold since I know it’s going to be a while before I have the skill to tackle that tune. I do still have the means to practice the songs I’ve already worked on as it’s encouraged that you download the sheet music and the play-along track. So, I’ll still work on reviewing what I have learned.

In the meantime, I’ve been picking at tunes in the Celtic Fiddle book I got for Christmas. I’ve only played through one of these so far – Rakes of Mallow – but hope to work on a few more soon.

I’ve also had fun going back and reviewing songs from the EEI book. Though these tunes are simpler in composition, they have returned to me my old nemesis – the 4th finger. I’m really struggling to get it to work correctly (though I could have sworn I had it working before!), so I’ve added some focus on my 4th finger along with continuing to work on slides in my vibrato practice. I’m not quite ready to move on from slides yet, though.

I have converted a few songs using Scan Score since the last progress report — this is one of those ongoing project/goals. But I still have a ton more left to do. I also haven’t checked out the Udemy courses on fiddle that I picked up last month.

All in all, I’m going to stay on course and continue to do as I’ve been doing for yet another month.

Posted in Fiddle, Fiddle Progress Report

May Fiddle Progress Report

So May sped right by me and I completely missed the date on which I usually write a progress report.

I’d feel a little bad about this except for the fact that I know I missed the date due to being much more focused on doing daily practice. Plus, last week was the first week I added uke practice to the mix, and I’ve been diving into that world a bit — not to the point that I’m doing any less on fiddle, though!

Since April, I’ve once again changed things up in terms of what I’m doing with my practice. I continue to be consistent and haven’t missed a day of practice since the start of February! But I’m always refining and thinking about my next practice plan in terms of what I want to achieve.

This past month has really been about stopping and focusing. I haven’t moved forward with any new songs. Instead, I’ve gone back to the very beginning and started to refine the songs I’ve practiced since last year. The goal is to start with the easier ones and spend time, even slow practice, until I’m happy with how they sound.

I’ve been doing this with the AFM tunes to start with. So far, I’ve cleaned up Boil em Cabbage and Shortnin’ Bread in D and A. Each week, I’ve also reviewed one of the OAIM songs I’ve learned, and have done the best I could to play that song well, too.

Another thing I’ve done is gone back to working through the EEI book. This was actually more challenging than I expected it to be, because, again I’m working towards playing the songs well before I move on. Some of these tunes I haven’t played in a year (so weird to say that!), and it’s been a while since I’ve been forced to play with my 4th finger.

I eventually want to get back to the point I was at before I put the EEI book down last year, and then continue to work through it. I’d like to eventually finish it — because that would be one book I’ve actually completed out of the many I own! However, the rate I’m working through this, I don’t really see this happening anytime soon. I’d be lucky to get it under my belt by the end of this year if I continue with consistent practice.

I STILL need to go back and start converting tunes with ScanScore! That was something I noted in my last progress report, and I’m still dragging my heels. I don’t really have an excuse, especially since I’m going back and revisiting old tunes. I just need to get in there and do it.

I also haven’t picked up any new scales or technical things… aside from starting vibrato exercises. I think this has been an interesting little addition to practice — nothing too overwhelming. Just a daily hand and finger exercise to work up towards the motion of vibrato over time.

I did buy a couple of Udemy courses last week — one that seems to focus on a lot of technical playing topics — that I want to look into. I might start using that for things like scales and music theory.

Overall, things are going well, and there’s still lots to work on!

Posted in Fiddle Progress Report

April Fiddle Progress Report

Here’s what’s been going on in the world of fiddle for me since the last progress report.

I feel like I’ve weeded out most of the songs I’m going to from the Tune List. This ended up only being two so far. I reviewed several the past month to see if I felt like the tune difficulty led more to relearning than reviewing, and I hope that the ones left will continue to be good review.

I decided to put more focus on learning to sight read again. So I picked up a subscription to Sight Reading Factory, and I really feel like I’ve been making progress there! This has been a excellent choice, and is something I’ve used just about every day to drill a bit on sight reading.

In celebration of two months of consistent practice, I also picked up a new set of strings. I think they sound better than the old set, but I’m not finding any miraculous sound from them. Probably because I simply don’t have the skill to bring that sound out on the strings. Considering their cost, I think I’ll continue to shop around next time I need a string change.

In terms of songs, I’ve added Amazing Grace, Terry Teehan’s Polka and Rakes of Mallow to the Tune Review since last month. I’ve started Eternal Wind, which I’m in the process of working through still, and just begun with Britches Full of Stitches this week. I seem to be working through songs for about 3-4 weeks before feeling they’re good for the Tune Review list. I certainly haven’t found any that were too easy, but I am taking care that they’re within my skill level before graduating them.

I’ve also remained consistent in my practice since the first of February. This month, I’d like to go back to considering a new chin rest as the reward for continuing to play every day.

I’d also like to finally sit down and put all the remaining songs through ScanScore 2 and get them up on the page. I don’t want this to become too overwhelming a task as I keep adding new songs to the Tune Review.

One last thing I’d like to look at before next month is moving on with a few more technical videos and maybe getting another scale or two added to the mix. I could use more variety there for sure!

Overall, I’m happy with the progress I’m making, even if it seems slow. The Fiddle Focus has kept me on track, and I continue to try to be consistent with my practice as the days go by.