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 Resources and Tools

Collé – What I’ve Been Missing

For the past month and a half, I’ve been focusing on making a nice and consistent sound when I’m bowing. I mean, that’s something I’ve always tried to do. But lately, I’m trying to deduce why it’s not always happening.

I’ve known of collé for a couple months, but didn’t think it was so essential that I needed to start practicing it right away. I think I was wrong about that. In fact, I believe it may be what I’ve been missing and struggling without these past weeks.

The Violin Masterclass defines collé as:

Col-lé is French for ‘glued.’ It’s the essential exercise for ultimate bow control.

The collé allows you to calibrate the ‘click’ that starts the martelé stroke.

Your bow technique will gain a high degree of sophistication for clean and crisp articulation.

http://violinmasterclass.com/en/masterclasses/right-hand/colle

And they have a great video all about how to work up to collé.

But what really drove it home for me was the new Udemy course I picked up yesterday: 5 Power Moves for Better Violin Technique. The instructor’s first lesson was basically about collé, though he called it Pinkie Pushups.

However, the way he performed and explained the technique was what made me realize that this could be a big part of my tone issues. Not only did he show how to practice collé using a pencil and bow, but he also applied two exercises to scales which look super helpful.

I found this coupon which allowed me to pick this class up for free. I don’t know how long the coupon will be valid for, but if you’re interested in checking out the course, I’ve linked the coupon for you.

Anyhow, as soon as I was done with the first lesson, I added collé with a pencil to my practice. Even if you don’t pick up the lesson, the video above is still extremely helpful!

Posted in Fiddle Resources and Tools

Video: Vibrato Exercises

So, every now and then, I starting thinking about vibrato.

When should I start it? I don’t feel anywhere near ready for it. But that doesn’t mean I can’t start planning ahead.

I saw a question come across one of the adult beginner groups on Facebook about vibrato, and this video popped up in the suggestions. I took a look at it, and really, I like what I see — short exercises that I can add to my practice routine that will slowly build up to the motions of doing vibrato.

The teacher notes that some of these exercises need to be repeated for weeks, if not months. I figure… hey… getting started with the motions is better than not doing anything towards this at all.

They seem simple enough, but putting them into practice is a bit harder, especially since it relies on you to balance your fiddle between your shoulder and chin alone. Of course, this should already be a thing, but reality is, I often use my thumb as a balance point, too, and I know this.

So, overall, a great place to start, and I wanted to share and mark this resource for future use.

Posted in Fiddle, Fiddle Resources and Tools

Sight Reading Factory

One thing I have wanted to improve upon is my ability to read musical notation – to sight read.

When I started out playing fiddle, the method I used taught only notation, and I picked it up pretty quickly. However, I have one problem with learning notation — I end up memorizing the sound of the tunes too quickly to continue to practice reviewing the notation.

Since then, I’ve let myself slip away from learning to read notation. Either the method I was using focused on learning by ear (which I can do!) or the sheet music included tabs which… I quickly find myself “cheating” and using instead of the notation.

One thing has been clear: I need to find a way to focus on just notation learning outside of the tunes I’ve been playing. So I thought about it, and wondered if there were such a thing as notation “flash cards” so to speak.

I did a search to see what I could find in terms of sight reading tools, and quickly came upon a site called Sight Reading Factory. I messed around with the free demo tracks just to see what it could do, and was overall quite pleased with what I’ve seen.

To get a better feel of what it is, I’ll let the site’s own video speak for itself.

You can use it for free with some limitations, or for $35 a year, you can subscribe and get unlimited generated tunes to practice with. Considering the cost of other music sub sites, this seems rather inexpensive for what it offers. I’m really excited by what I see and I think this is exactly what I’m looking for in a sight reading tool!

I plan on trying out the free version during today’s practice (and slipping in some sight reading to my focus for this week). If I like how it feels, I think I’ll spring for the subscription. I think running through a couple of exercises during my daily practice will certainly help me work on my sight reading once again!

Image source: Etsy.

Posted in Fiddle Resources and Tools

ScanScore 2 – Convert Sheet Music to MIDI

I made a promise to myself last month that if I practiced consistently every day of February, I would reward myself at the end of the month.

I did manage to do this, and I did reward myself, as promised. What I picked up was software called ScanScore 2. The reason I wanted this was because it can take a PDF or image of sheet music and play it. Even more useful, it can export to MIDI — that was the major selling point for me.

While most of the violin books I’ve bought have some kind of CD or audio download, not all of them do. Also, picking up sheet music from online, there’s no promise they come with the audio either. I am very auditory when learning a song, especially if it’s one I’m not familiar with. I need to hear the tempo and the melody.

After searching for software, I settled on trying the free demo of ScanScore. You can import a score as PDF, image, or by using the ScanScore phone app to take a picture and import to the software. The demo allows you to do everything but export.

I first tried the phone app, and I have to sadly admit, I had no luck with it. Maybe the lighting wasn’t right or something. I tried two songs and neither of them came anywhere close to being correct when importing.

So, I took a picture of the sheet music with my phone and transferred this to my PC. I then edited the image in Photoshop (this may not be essential, but I will do it for mine) to turn it grayscale and sharpen the brightness and contrast, hoping this would make it easier for the program to read the notes.

This worked pretty well!

It even scanned the lyrics!

Once converted within the program, it indicates areas that it had trouble with during the import. Usually this means it missed a note or something like that. Both songs I worked with today needed some editing, but nothing massive. And you can do that right there in the program by clicking to drop in notes.

I’m used to using programs like Noteworthy Composer, so this was no trouble to me.

One thing to keep in mind is that this program is looking for straight up notation. So, for example, I tried to scan in this sheet music, and ScanScore had no idea what to do with it.

The letters within the notes completely threw the program for a loop. So make sure you’re using clean notation with this.

Also, for sheet music that includes tabs below the notation, I edited out the tabs before importing just to be safe. This appeared to work just fine, as I converted Silent Night from BGD to a MIDI.

Once you’ve scanned the sheet music in, you can play it back within the program and make edits until it’s to your liking. You can even choose what instrument soundbyte it uses.

You can save the project as a ScanScore file just in case you need to come back and edit it more. Or, if you’re ready, you can export it to MusicXML file, which other notation software can use. The big one for me was exporting to MIDI, simply because I wanted a file format I could sample and listen to on the fly.

Adding the Songs to My Tune List

The one thing I did discover was that WordPress sadly has no embed for MIDI files. I really wanted to use these exports on my Tune List page for my own reference. So, I had to jump through a few more hoops to make that happen.

First, I had to convert the MIDI to a WAV file — there are several online converters that do this for free. Then, I installed the Html5 Audio Player plugin for WordPress. Because apparently WordPress also doesn’t embed WAV files. : /

A little bit of tweaking later, and Silent Night now has a WAV file as a tune reference on my Tune List page! This file was converted to MIDI using ScanScore, then converted to a WAV to embed.

Again, this is not meant to be a musical masterpiece, but rather a sound file that I can reference for when I want to remember how a song sounds. Usually, if I can hear the first few seconds of a song, I will remember how to play it.

When I purchased ScanScore, I went with the cheaper Melody version. I don’t foresee myself needing multiple tracks or anything like that. All I want is the violin main melody in a place I can hear it when I need to.

In the future, I hope to start converting all of the songs on my Tune List and embedding WAVs there. Then, it really will be the reference that I need it to be!

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

Warming Up For Fiddle Practice

Like when you do any exercise, warming up for fiddle practice is beneficial.

Yesterday, Violinspiration released a new video titled The Most Effective Warm Up for Beginner Violinists. Much of this I’d learned through the lessons at her violin academy, but I didn’t really think of it as a warm up, so to speak. Until now.

This video goes into a lot of detail, even showing how to play a scale and demonstrating the bowing exercises. But to summarize, she touches on scales, long bowing, slurs and bowing across strings. She even suggests the following scales for beginners:

  • A Major 1 Octave
  • D Major 1 Octave
  • G Major 2 Octaves
  • C Major 1 Octave

I’m quite pleased because I started adding these scales to my practice before Christmas. So I have part of the warm-up already built into my weekly focus! I think the rest of her advice is very good, so I will be adding more bowing exercises and slurs to my focus, and including a warm-up section starting next week!

Posted in Fiddle Resources and Tools

Humble Music Book Bundle – Fiddle for Dummies

Today I noticed that Humble store was offering a Making Music by Wiley Book Bundle. This is a huge bundle of e-books and online learning material for many different instruments, and includes a copy of Fiddle for Dummies.

This book has good ratings on Amazon, and would normally cost $13 for the ebook version. The bundle version is a steal – at $8 not only do you get the fiddle book, but guitar, piano, mandolin, drums, and lots of other music ebooks.

You get them in epub, ebook, and PDF format, and all videos/music come downloadable.

I’d just picked up some new strings for my guitar and mando, so the fact that this came with books for those instruments, too, might just get me to restring them and pull them out over the holidays!

This bundle is only on sale for 3 days and 19 more hours as of this writing. So, if you’re interested in picking up some bargain ebooks, give it a shot. I got mine and will let you know what I think!

Posted in Fiddle Resources and Tools

Violinspiration – Free Ebook & Online Learning

Over the past few months, I’ve gathered a bunch of bookmarks for fiddle/violin online resources and lessons. Just this week, I’ve set up a page where I’m gathering these links in one place. In the middle of looking over resources, I discovered this neat one:

Violinspiration

The teacher does have an online academy, which seems to have a waiting list. But aside from that, she also provides some really nice free resources. This includes:

I downloaded the songbook and checked out the lessons. They’re very well done considering they’re free, so I just wanted to share this discovery!

Posted in Fiddle Resources and Tools

Buying a Violin Online: Clearance Violins

While I did post about why you shouldn’t buy a cheap violin as your first instrument, I’m still all about saving money if I can. While I was shopping around for my improved violin, I discovered that a few places online provide clearance sales on some of their instruments. I did some looking around, and found a couple locations – Shar Music and Kennedy Violins.

When I purchased my Bunnel, I was drawn to the idea of picking up a deal in exchange for a slightly less than perfect instrument. Clearance violins are functionally the same as a full-price instrument — they sound the same and perform the same. There’s simply some cosmetic imperfections in the make. Maybe the finish isn’t perfect, or there’s a tiny dent that doesn’t change the way the violin sounds (as was with mine). Whatever the reason, it cosmetically did not come up to the maker’s standards, so rather than trash it as a failure, they sell it at a clearance price.

Shar Music

I’ve not purchased from Shar, but I’ve heard lots of good things about them. They’re one of the online sellers who provide pre-setup violins, and they also have a clearance section on their website. In the case of Shar, they offer an upgrade/exchange system if you buy a new instrument through them. This means that you send in your used instrument (as long as it meets their resale standard) and put it towards the cost of an upgrade.

Their clearance section often provides the pre-owned instruments at a discount, along with blemished brand new instruments. Because of this, the stock you’ll see on this page varies, so keep checking back.

Kennedy Violins

My second violin was a Kennedy Bunnel Premiere, which I bought on clearance from Amazon. I was a little antsy about getting something on clearance, but overall, for the the cost in savings, I’m very pleased with the instrument I got. I had to actively look for the blemishes on my violin — they were nothing you’d outright see if you weren’t aware of them. And I figure, over time, I’ll probably end up nicking it here and there, anyhow.

There’s a couple places to browse the clearance violins from Kennedy. You can do it from their main website here, or you can look for the items marked as clearance on their Amazon storefront. I picked the Amazon store because of the fast Prime shipping, and because Amazon is pretty good about refunds if anything big happened to go wrong. Unlike Shar, I don’t think Kennedy sells pre-owned as clearance, so all of these are blemished new instruments.

So far, I’ve had my Bunnel for about a month, and I’m quite happy with it overall. I’d like to change out the strings on it eventually, but it’s exactly what I was looking for in a lower-range priced violin.

If you’re violin shopping online, keep an eye out for clearances – don’t dismiss them as they can be great little instruments for a lower cost! There may be other makers who provide something similar, but in my searches, these are the two I found. Good luck!

Bunnel I bought on clearance

Posted in Fiddle Resources and Tools

Buying a Violin Online: Set up Violins

Most folks will tell you if you’re shopping for a violin, you should stick to brick and mortar shops. You need to hold the violin in your hand, hear it, try it out and get a feel for each potential instrument before committing. This is good advice, however…

What about the folks who don’t have a local music shop? Or if the one that they do have doesn’t specialize in violins, so the selection is thin and the prices are out of budget? What if there’s no promise that the music shop really knows how to set up a violin properly? And the nearest luthier is hours away (such as in my case).

It’s no wonder that folks in this Amazon age turn to the Internet to shop for a violin. And this isn’t a terrible idea, as long as you know what you’re getting. Beyond just the quality of the violin and the reviews you read, an important thing to make certain of is that the violin you purchase is properly set up before it comes to you.

By set up, I mean that the instrument has been checked for proper alignment and approved by whatever the maker’s process is, the bridge and strings are in place, and with a little bit of tuning, it’s ready to play out of the box. I don’t include tuning in this because new strings can’t be expected to hold tune during shipping — most instruments will need some tuning upon arrival.

Some violins, especially in the lower price brackets, will require setup. You will need to place the bridge (with no promise the bridge is properly shaped to the instrument) upon arrival, and this runs a risk of the sound post coming loose during shipping.

Plus, an instrument that hasn’t been run through an approval process and professional setup may require extra cost just to get it in playable condition. That $100-$200 violin from Amazon may cost you another $100-$200 to ensure proper setup from a professional in the end… which is a doubled hidden cost you really can avoid by paying for a quality, set-up instrument from the start.

I’ve gathered a list of online shops that have been confirmed to pre-setup their instruments for online sales. My Bunnel from Kenney Violins came set up, and I know for sure Fiddlerman (some brands – double check) sets up theirs, too. The others I’ve heard as suggestions from the community — so be sure to read the product pages and reviews when looking to purchase to ensure they have gone through some approval process and include set up.

There may be other shops that provide set up online as well. These are just the ones I’m fully aware of. Hopefully this helps you to know a bit more of what to look for if you decide to shop for violins online!