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.

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, 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, 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, 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, Fiddle Resources and Tools

Replacing a Violin Shoulder Rest

The old shoulder rest

It only took me a few days of playing to determine that the shoulder rest that came with my cheat violin kit was… trash. Sorry. I hate referring to anything as “trash” but this thing not only did absolutely nothing to provide grip or comfort, but it was also too high with no way to adjust it.

The green cushion part was pretty solid and not soft. And hooking it on to the violin was rather confusing. In doing a bit of research online, you can actually pick this thing up for less than $3.00 here – but please don’t. It’s not even worth the materials it was made of. I’m not one who usually one to toss things in the trash, but as soon as I got my new shoulder rest and saw the difference, that’s exactly what I did.

By about day 3-4 of playing the instrument, I took note that I was having a lot of tension issues in my left arm. Doing research, I found that this could be caused by a combination of bad shoulder and chin rests. So, I set out to change the easiest one first, and ordered this nice Fiddlerman shoulder rest from Amazon. I’m quite pleased with it.

Not only does it actually support the violin and have a good shape for my shoulder, but it has adjustable legs on it, for people with much longer necks than my own. Really. I had to put it at the lowest setting to be comfortable. But hey, the option for adjustment is there.

Overall, I’m happy with the new shoulder rest, and coupled with a new chin rest (which I’ll talk about later), I think I’ve finally found a comfortable fit for holding my violin securely under my chin.